Fear. Chaos. Protests. Economic injustice. Consumerism. Trade. Political divisions. Fierce competition. A fight for survival. For many this could describe Hong Kong right now. But in fact, this is a description of the Roman empire in the 1st century. And Christians felt the full weight of the pressure. For it was they who were often the target of opposition, the ones scapegoated for the city’s problems. In 66AD, Emperor Nero blamed Christians for starting a fire in the city of Rome and as a result executed or exiled many. Christians felt the unfairness, they felt like a persecuted minority. They had no voice. No freedom and the world around sought to squeeze them back into its mould. Nero’s successor Domitian was not much better. Power-hungry he sought worship from the empire as a god.
The book of Revelation was written to small groups of Christians at this time, meeting in houses, many of whom met early on Sunday mornings before sunrise – in the dark with flickering candles, singing hymns to Jesus, and reminding each other of the gospel message before they took communion and commissioned each other to love one another and those around. And here was John’s message. When you feel under pressure, when you don’t know what’s going on. When it seems like the political rulers and oppressors feel invincible – where you have nowhere left to run. Remember to see human circumstances with spiritual eyes.
Revelation means “unveiling”. And the book starts “a revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place….write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” In other words, this book is God’s perspective on what is happening right now politically, spiritually, economically and how this will unfold. Imagine that. God, the creator of all, is giving a sneak VIP preview to back stage in heaven right now. With all the troubles politically around the world at the moment, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be a fly-on-the-wall inside these political meetings with Trump and Kim Jong Un or Boris Johnson and the EU, Beijing and Tokyo. Well, here God allows us into the throne room – to see that God actually knows what he’s doing. And what you see is not what you expect. He’s working out a history plan through suffering and then glory.
Some people believe that Christians should dominate all of media and politics and culture so that we get our message across whichever way possible. If Christians could just get in power, then the world would be a better place. But Revelation says “No!” The place of Christian’s greatest power is when they are on the margins. When they are suffering. When they are weak. For it is there that they demonstrate the way of the cross. The way of perseverance. The way of faithful love. The way of forgiveness. The way of Jesus. To die is to live.
So with all that is happening in Hong Kong, will we be willing to see the circumstances with spiritual eyes? To see God is still on the throne? “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” (Ps 46:2) This is our hope. A heavenly perspective. As we look through the book, we will see God challenge us to our core. He’ll challenge our expectations of comfort and our fears for the future. But he will also bring great comfort that not one word, not one incident is outside of God’s sovereign control. He reigns. So let’s not use human eyes to view human circumstances, but ask God to open our spiritual eyes to see what he is truly up to.