Now and Then and on the Way

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Christ the King
November 21, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: For the writer of Revelation, there is One who is God today and was God yesterday and is the God who is coming - coming from the future. God's future, the resurrection of the dead on the last day, has already begun with the Easter resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those who know that Christ is king form a community to call all people into God's future.

For this last Sunday of the church year, our text is from the last book of the Bible, Revelation. Its author is a Christian named John, who may or not have been the apostle with that name. Revelation can be a confusing book, with its numerous symbolic figures, alternating visions of conflict and disaster on earth and scenes of worship and praise in heaven. A lot of readers may feel that Revelation isn't really very revealing. But we don't need to go into all of that in detail to get the point.

The book starts as a letter to churches in Asia Minor. One thing we do need to know about the book's later chapters is that the churches to which it's sent are suffering under persecution from the Roman imperial powers and their representatives in Asia Minor. The opening greeting that forms our text tells us who is really in control.

"Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come ..." is the way it begins (starting in verse 4). That of course refers to God. It means that God is God right now, and that God was God in the past, and - what? That God will be God in the future? That is certainly true but it's not what the text says. God is "the one who is to come" or, to translate the Greek more precisely, God is "the one who is coming."1 God is not just planning to show up some day but even now is on the way.

God is coming now and always. God is not just waiting for the future to arrive but is coming to us from the future - from God's own future.

What can "coming from the future" mean? We could look at science fiction stories about time travel or serious scientific discussions about the possibility. But it's more to the point to consider what the Bible has to say.

Many Jews in the time of Jesus had come to believe that the dead would be raised at the end of history. When Jesus' friend Lazarus had died and Jesus told his sister Martha, "Your brother will rise again," she replied, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."2

Soon after that, Jesus died on the cross and on the third day rose again. That wasn't a temporary return to life but resurrection to a new kind of life, unending life. "We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again," Paul wrote in Romans. "Death no longer has dominion over him."3 If that's the case, then the general resurrection has started. The German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg wrote, "If Jesus has been raised, then the end of the world has begun."4 He is "the firstborn from the dead" but he will not be the last.

The coming of Christ

I broke off our text in mid-sentence so as not to let that point about God coming from the future slide by. Strike while the iron is hot, if you wish! But we need to pick it up again now. "Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come," John wrote, "and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth."

Closely associated with the one who is coming are seven spirits who, as we'll be told later are "spirits of God"5 and Jesus Christ. This seems to be a way of speaking about what would later come to be the Christian doctrine of the triune God - Father, Holy Spirit and Son.

Jesus Christ, who was a faithful witness to the point of death, is risen and is "the ruler of the kings of the earth." That is a message that the recipients of this letter needed to hear! They knew that some of their fellow Christians had been put to death because they refused to offer sacrifice to pagan gods or swear by the guiding "genius" of the emperor. They could be put in the same position tomorrow if someone reported them to the authorities.

But John assures them that Jesus Christ is the true ruler of the world and has shown that death does not have the last word. He tells them - and he tells us - that Christ has "made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father."

And we're called to a vision of his "coming with the clouds," an image that goes back to the vision of Daniel who saw "one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven."6 This time it will not be any private vision. "Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail." It may seem strange, when we expect to be told that the one who is coming is the risen Christ, to have our attention called to Christ who died on the cross. But resurrection doesn't change the reality of crucifixion, and in fact continues to remind us that the risen one is the one who died for us. In two of the gospel accounts of the risen Christ's appearances to his disciples, he identifies himself by showing them his wounds.7

Mention of "those who pierced him" comes from the scene in John's gospel where a soldier thrusts a spear into Jesus' dead body.8 The "wailing" of those who persecuted Jesus when they see him returning in glory is often assumed to be because they know that they're doomed, but the text says that it is "on his account," rather than their own that they will wail. That may suggest that the wails are of repentance rather than of despair.

A community of the future

We're told here that Christ has made us to be a "kingdom" - a community might be the way we would put that today - and to be priests serving the Father. The God who is coming from the future has called into being this community through Christ's cross and resurrection. And since God "desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,"9it doesn't seem too speculative to suggest that the priestly service of God's people is to invite all into that community of the future.

God was working toward that goal far back in history. As scripture tells the story, Jesus' ancestor Abram didn't leave his native country to go to the land of Canaan just because he thought that things might work out well for him and his descendants if he did that. It was because God promised that he would become a great nation and that "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."10 God was summoning Abram and Sarai and their descendants into God's future, and through their particular descendant Jesus of Nazareth, God has created a community of the future.

John closes this opening greeting by emphasizing again who is calling us. "'I am the Alpha and the Omega' [the beginning and the end of the Greek alphabet] says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty."

That's good news.


COVID-19 and Proclaim Sermons : We are very aware of the innovations pastors are making to bring their preaching directly into homes. We want to help in every way we can. Please feel free to use Proclaim Sermons in any way you need to in your efforts. This includes copying it into emails, using it in video broadcasts or on your website ... frankly, please use it however you think will best serve your congregation.