Do not be afraid. Even when you are scared to death.
Isn’t fear the obnoxious substance of our very lives? Isn’t it fear that cripples us in the moments of greatest uncertainty? When we have every natural reason to fear? And when we don’t have any reason to fear at all?
Seven churches received admonishment, rebukes, and encouragement, in the first three chapters of the New Testament book of Revelation. It is an apocalyptic book, common to a long-standing and accepted writing style which preceded it. A mixture of real historical comments and steep symbolism, we have nothing that comes close to it in current literary genres.
But there is something real about what God, through the Word, and through John, shared with these seven churches. Because they each, in their own right, received the same encouragement.
For the church in Ephesus:
To him who overcomes … (Revelation 2:7; NIV84)
For the church in Smyrna:
He who overcomes … (2:11)
For the church in Pergamum:
To him who overcomes … (2:17)
For the church in Thyatira:
To him who overcomes … (2:26)
For the church in Sardis:
He who overcomes … (3:5)
For the church in Philadelphia:
Him who overcomes … (3:12)
For the church in Laodecia:
To him who overcomes … (3:21)
This is the central mission of the believers. To overcome. Remain faithful. In spite of what will happen.
To him who overcomes …
And then, we turn the page, to today’s reading, from Revelation 4 through Revelation 6, and we, along with John, and these believers, get a glimpse into what will happen.
He was expected.
The vision was prepared for him.
Nothing was a surprise.
Nothing was spontaneous.
Everything John would see had a succinct purpose.
Moreover, according to Revelation 4:1, the events he would see were future events. They were things that had to happen “next.”
It is dangerous, though, to try to interpret each individual sign with a literal, physical, historical marker. That doesn’t seem to be the intent of the letter. If those believers, along with you and I, are encouraged, in spite of our weaknesses, to remain faithful, then let’s keep it there.
I write that, simply, because I believe that the power in John’s vision is completely lost when we try to make assumptions about who each person, or beast, is. We rob the text of its power and its mystery when we do that.
Look carefully at what John sees.
- God is on his throne, yet cannot be seen, because his appearance is as dazzling as the most precious jewels John can remember.
- There were 24 elders, surrounding this throne, reminiscent of 1 Chronicles 24, and the 24 divisions of the priestly order from Aaron.
- Thunder and lighting came from the throne.
- A sea of glass surrounded the throne. It was like glass, and like crystal. But wasn’t.
- Surrounding the throne were four creatures, who absorb all possible information, because they were covered with eyes. And they led the worship of the scene, because whenever they began to worship, the 24 elders would follow.
It is here, then, that John weeps. The vision is so overpowering, and he is so enraptured by the scene – by all that he had heard, and now, all that he had seen – that all he could do was weep. Of all he had witnessed so far in this room, of the elders and the creatures, it was obvious to him that no one there, even how remarkable they appeared, could open it.
It was no ordinary Lamb. It looked as if it had been slain. But it was alive. And it had horns of strength and eyes of wisdom.
The Lamb took the scroll, and at that moment, every angel, thousands upon thousands, and every living creature on planet earth began to worship the Lamb. No moment in the history of worship in the kingdom of God will ever compare to the moment when every created thing claims, with one voice, the worthiness of the Lamb.
The scroll had seven seals, and when the first four are broken, four horsemen are loosed, bringing with them, upon the earth conquering and death and famine.
Yet remember: each of the believers in the seven churches were to overcome, regardless of what would happen.
These events are not meant to frighten the believer at all.
The martyrs cry for justice when the fifth seal is broken, and a violent earthquake happens when the sixth seal is broken. The stars fall from the sky, and every ruler and every slave runs and hides.
It is a terrifying scene. Yet two things are immediate.
One, this vision of what happens when time is over, is superseded only by a God who cannot be removed from his throne. All praise, and all violence, are under his sovereignty. That is why you and I, dear reader, are to not be afraid. We serve a God who controls all of the calamity, and all of the blessing.
And two, the very prayers you offer God, prayers filled with requests for blessings and prayers filled with praise and worship, are so special to God, so sacred to him, that they are placed in golden bowls, and are offered to him by the elders around his throne. Not one prayer spills from those bowls. Not one. Our prayers are incense before God. Every prayer is a sweet aroma, and fills the throne room with the scent of beauty and gentleness and peace. It’s true.
And when [the Lamb had taken the scroll], the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Revelation 5:8)
The encouragement to overcome will naturally be filled with prayers of protection when whatever calamity befalls any believer. God welcomes your cries for his name, and yearns for his throne room to be sweetened by their scent.
Yes. The Lamb is worthy today. Yes, he is so worthy.
So do not be afraid. Even when you are scared to death.