My Dear Shepherds,
A few years ago my friend, Pastor Adam Magnuson, brought these words to life with his church:
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Rev. 1:3)
They planned a special Sunday evening service to read aloud the entire Book of Revelation using a verbatim script of the book for four readers and a small choir. The choir led the congregation in ten songs interspersed through the book, and read the “crowd” parts of the book. This unique worship took two and a half hours, including an intermission. Adam said, “The thing that people enjoyed the most was that reading it all in one sitting brought together the message of the whole book. Revelation is like an unfolding drama that hits you in scenes.”
The Greek word that John used for “read” doesn’t necessarily mean “read aloud.” The same is true when 1 Timothy 4:13 refers to “the public reading of Scripture.” But in those days, almost no Christians could read Scripture privately. But in both cases, the public reading, preaching and teaching were in view.
This verse is one of seven beatitudes in Revelation, short statements beginning, “Blessed are ….” They appear like rest stops along the celestial highway of this book. We’ll pause at each of them in the weeks ahead leading to Easter.
When I was young, preachers in my theological neck of the woods were often drawn to preach on the end times. We loved our prophecy conferences! Now, not so much. Instead of seeing the “Blessing Ahead” sign upon rounding the corner of 3 John, preachers seem to see a sign ahead warning, “Beware All Who Enter Here!” Many preachers prefer to avoid the Apocalypse.
Revelation has a voice like no other Scripture. We’ve all seen the enormous public appeal of fantasy books, graphic novels, and Marvel movies, each one more fantastic than the last. Supervillains and superheroes, universe-threatening plots, CGI spectacles, dystopian worlds giving way to utopia. Such is Revelation, only it is all true to the bone, fantastic but never fantasy.
Whether we read this book on our own or preach it, we must set aside some of the analytical sensibilities we bring to Matthew or Romans. Not even John himself could’ve explained all he saw. A sensible preacher might be wise to say, “Just listen to this,” read a chapter or two, and stand back to let people’s imaginations marinate before we try to expound.
Blessed (divinely rewarded) are those who “take to heart [i.e., keep] what is written.” Later, we’re told seven times, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” This internalizing pertains not only to Revelation’s commands, promises, and warnings but also to the grand anthems of the saints and angels, to the upsweep of hope lifting us above the tumult of this world, to the astonishing, counterintuitive vision of time and eternity, and, most of all, to our worship of “him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.”
We’re assured the Lord’s blessing if we take all this prophecy to heart now “because the time is near.” Despite the passage of 2000 years since this alert was first given, as far as you or I are concerned, the time is very near indeed! Scant years at most separate us either from death or Christ’s second coming. Our time for perseverance and faithfulness, for rising hope and expectant worship, is now. After all, Jesus himself testifies, “Yes, I am coming soon!”
Be ye glad!
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