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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - The Unveiling of a New World

Robert Barron - The Unveiling of a New World

Robert Barron - The Unveiling of a New World
TOPICS: Book of Revelation

Peace be with you. Friends, on the Second Sunday of Easter, we commence a reading now for the rest of the Easter season of the book of Revelation. So it's the second reading for the rest of the Easter season. So I want to take advantage of this opportunity to talk in a sustained way about this great book, a book that has fascinated Christians and non-Christians for the past two thousand years. It's the final book of the Bible, and that's of course interesting, isn't it? Because at one point the Bible was compiled. You have all these texts that were floating around, both the Hebrew texts and the Greek texts, and at a certain point the Church canonized them, it just means the Church put them in a particular order, and it put the book of Revelation last.

Now, anybody with a literary sensibility knows that what comes last in a poem or an epic or a novel or a play is of great importance. Very often the beginning, think of "Moby Dick," "Call me Ishmael", the opening line often will tell you a lot about the story; but the way the story or the play ends is of extraordinary significance. So the Church decided very early on the entire biblical revelation would end with this book of Revelation. So we should look at it with great interest. That's why the Church now during this holiest of seasons focuses our attention upon it.

Now I've shared some of this before, but it's a very important point, I want to make it again. "Revelation," it's an English word, comes from a Latin "revelatio," which in turn translates the Greek "apocalypsis," apocalypse. And right away, "apocalypse," it means the end of the world, it means the whole world falling apart, it means the stars falling. But see what the word means. "Apocalypsis" in Greek means "unveiling," taking away the "calypsis," the veil, which is why "revelatio," taking the "velum," taking the veil away, "revelation". So it's not precisely about the end of the physical world. I'm going to suggest that it's more of a symbolic language. Rather something is being revealed in this text. Something that was hidden is being unveiled to us.

Think about this too, everybody. If the book of Revelation were primarily about the end of the physical cosmos, it was describing what that will be like, then the book of Revelation would be of real interest only to one generation, the generation around when the physical world comes to an end, right? So for the past two thousand years, Christians have been reading this text liturgically and otherwise. Well, the world hasn't ended. Therefore, if that's all the book means, then it really has had no significance. If the world doesn't end in the next, what, twenty-five years or so, it has no significance for me.

Why am I bothering with it? But in point of fact, the Church from the beginning has put this great text at the very end of all of Sacred Scripture because it's meant to speak to every generation. It's meant to unveil something that every generation of Christians needs to see. People wonder, well, there is an awful lot of violence and upheaval, and there are indeed descriptions of stars falling from the sky and earthquakes and floods and disease and famine and all these terrible things, and it certainly sounds like the end of the world. Let me suggest something to you. I think what's being described there in very evocative language is what it's like when an old world is giving way and a new world is being born.

Think of, it's less true out here in California, we don't have that many storms; I think of my Chicago background, and there's always storms rolling through, that when two weather systems meet and they're opposite, different temperatures or whatever, different pressures and so on, that tends to produce storms. Think of this book as describing the meeting of two kind of weather systems, the weather system of the old world predicated upon violence and oppression and cruelty and so on, meeting the new world, listen now, which is being unveiled. It's being revealed to us, this new world. Well, what that produces, storms, upheaval, yes, things like earthquake. It means that the old world's giving way and the new world is being born.

Now, let me give away the game at the beginning, and we'll just keep explicating this as I go. What's the new world? The new world that is born of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I talked last week on Easter about this strangeness and the radicality of this claim. Jesus rising from the dead means that the whole order of the world is shaken. Yeah, right. It unveils something. It reveals something, the world that God wants to be born out of the ruins of the old. I think that's the right way to approach this text.

Okay. With all that introduction in mind, so that's kind of introduction to the next several sermons I'm going to give, but let's now look at the reading for today from the book of Revelation. The very beginning, we hear this: "On the island of Patmos because I proclaimed God's word and gave testimony to Jesus". Who's speaking here? Well, he identifies himself as John, and the tradition identifies him with John the beloved disciple, John the evangelist. Read the scholars on this and they'll put you to sleep with discussions of who this might be. We don't know for sure, but he calls himself John. But what I want to draw your attention to is the fact that he's on the island of Patmos.

Now Patmos is a little island off the coast of present-day Turkey, and keep in mind, Christianity sort of comes of age in that part of the world. Paul was preaching in Asia Minor, and then over into Greece, and so on. Well, Patmos is a little island off the Turkish coast, but at the time it was a sort of penal colony, a place where Rome sent prisoners. Think of across the centuries in places like that, where pretty serious criminals were put because they were dangerous and they had to be isolated. So here's this figure. Why is Rome afraid of him? Why has Rome put him in a penal colony? Undoubtedly, because he's declaring the lordship of Jesus risen from the dead. The Romans knew. They knew how revolutionary that message was. They knew that message meant the old world was giving way and a new world's being born. And so that's why our author is on the island of Patmos.

John tells us, "On the Lord's day". Now very important, let's not run past that: the Lord's day, Sunday, Resurrection day. What is the unveiling of this new world? It comes from the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It's the Lord's day. Moreover, what was the Lord's day? The day when Christians gathered to pray and to worship. So Jews would've gathered on the Sabbath day. Christians said no, the next day, the Lord's day, the day of Resurrection. So John's going to tell us about something that happened to him on Resurrection day, when Christians gather to praise and to worship. Listen now. He says he was "caught up in spirit".

Well, it's what happens to us when we pray. We're caught up in the spirit of Christ. We're drawn, as it were, up out of the ordinary world into a contemplation of the higher world. So he's deep in prayer. He's deep in call it maybe a mystical rapture, and then he hears a voice like a trumpet telling him to write down what he hears. He turns to see who's speaking to him, and he says, "There was a figure with an ankle-length robe and with a gold sash across his chest, and he was standing amid seven lamp stands". Okay.

Now, we hear that in the twenty-first-century West and we say, okay, I don't know what that means. But trust me, no Jew in the first century reading this text would've missed those references. What's the ankle-length robe? Well, that's the ephod of a temple priest. The person he sees now, he's caught up in rapture on the Lord's day, the day of Resurrection, the person he sees is a priest. The gold sash, that's a kingly symbol. He's a priest, someone who gives God right praise, and he's a king who is exerting a new kind of authority and power in the world. Now, keep going. He's standing among seven gold lamp stands. Now, we've seen these, the menorah, the seven-branched candelabra. It was one of the accoutrements, one of the furnishings if you want, inside the temple. What's being emphasized here is this is a priest-king in the temple.

Now, what was the temple for a first-century Jew? It was the place where God dwelled. It was the place where we met the God of Israel, the place where heaven and earth come together. Do you see how richly Christological all this symbolism is? He hears a voice, he turns to look, and he sees the priest, the king, who is among the seven lamps, the God of Israel. This is the way the Christians understood the power and significance of the person of Jesus. He is in person the God of Israel, who will function as high priest and as king. Temple, the place of right praise. John has been invited by God into this place of encounter. He meets the priest and the king, and he will begin to give this God right praise because he has introduced a new order into the world. Listen, now, as he goes on. "He touched me with his right hand," so "he," the priest and king in the temple.

"Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever". So Jesus now speaks to him. Don't you love that the first thing he says to him is "don't be afraid"? There's that line that, it's been pointed out, appears 365 times in the Bible, once for each day of the year. It's the word that Jesus, upon his Resurrection, said to his disciples when they saw him. "Don't be afraid". So this is the risen Christ offering his peace, and then, "I am the first and the last, the one who lives". This is the resurrected Jesus. The whole book of Revelation, friends, is going to unfold as a meditation upon the power and meaning of the Resurrection. "Once I was dead," put to death by the power of Rome, put to death by a fallen world, "but now I am alive forever and ever" through the power of God the Father. The Son is now alive forever.

Here's the thing now, listen to me. What does the world look like in light of this Resurrection? It's going to look like the old world falling apart. It's going to look like earthquake and flood and famine and destruction of the old way, represented indeed by the Rome that put this Jesus to death. That world is giving way and the new world is being born. The very people who persecuted the early Church, the very people who put John on Patmos as a prisoner, I know they seem powerful, but their world, it's going away, and the new one is coming to be. Friends, this is what's going to be unveiled to us in the course of this book of Revelation. Follow me the next several weeks as we now see the full implication of this unveiling. And God bless you.
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