Revelation 22:12–14 (NRSV)
12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.
Revelation 22:16–17 (NRSV)
16 “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
Revelation 22:20–21 (NRSV)
20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
The best thing about the Revelation of Jesus as recorded by the Apostle John, is that it shows that even when everything seems to be in total chaos, God is still with us. The seven churches that first heard these words read to them face troubles that were beyond our ability to imagine. If we were to just read through the book of martyrs we would soon find story after story of people putting their lives at risk for the sake of the gospel. These stories are testimonies of the lives that faced the realities of this apocalyptic witness. These stories are filled with tragedy after tragedy, barbaric acts that would even make Hollywood cringe.
This book told them that these things were going to happen. Verse after verse revealed to them that trouble was on the way. Each verse shed more light on the inhumanity that they would face. Yet through it all people continued to embrace the gospel. Consider this for a moment. There really was a time where the government required their citizens to offer sacrifices to their supreme ruler, and for anyone to participate in trade they would have to prove that they had participated in these acts of piety. Families would be unable to purchase food or clothing without presenting the vendor with proper documentation, and these families would gladly face the torture.
The question is why? Why would we face ridicule from the people? Why would we endure discomfort and persecutions? Why? Because the gospel is greater than the world.
The churches of Asia knew something that was greater than anything this world had to offer, they knew the reality of the Gospel. They knew the reality because they lived within that reality every day. Were they perfect absolutely not, but they were real. They knew the teachings of Jesus, they watched the various apostles and elders living out the holy rhythm that Jesus demonstrated while he lived in this world and they saw and experienced the abundance that that lifestyle had for them.
They saw the kingdom of God all around them. It was in the lives of those that they worshiped with, it was shown through the mercy of the brothers and sisters as they tended to the wounds inflicted by the empirically sanctioned hate. They lived simply, sharing all that they had and their numbers grew daily.
These people faced the worst yet they endured joyfully because of Christ. Jesus said to them, I am the Alpha and omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Have we considered what the means? I am the alpha, the first, the beginning. I am the omega, the last, the end. I am. God is the beginning and will be the end. God is.
When persecutions rise God is there, when the way is straight God is there, when the journey is difficult God is with you. He was there when the world began and will be there to the very end. God endures all and will see us through. But that is not all that Jesus said. “See I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s works.”
Let us break that down a bit. See I am coming soon. This one phrase tells them that what they are currently enduring is not the end of the story, there is a glorious future just beyond. This word of coming can be interpreted in a couple of ways. It can be the literal return of the ascended Christ. It can also mean the coming of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven and the prayer that Jesus used to teach his disciple to pray states. I am coming soon. I want us to think for a moment about the second interpretation. I want us to consider this because this is a letter of hope. Jesus in this letter to the churches gave a testimony to the positive and negative aspects of each of the congregations. Some were very good at preserving the proper teachings, others were faithful even through the early stages of persecution, while others were great with their generosity. These each are aspects of the coming kingdom of God. Yet Jesus also gave words of warning. You have lost your first love, you tolerate or embrace idolatry within, or you have focused on personal gain instead of the needs of the community. Within those words of blessings and warnings Jesus call the people to embrace the lifestyle he showed to the apostles and which they showed to them. If they embrace life with Christ they will see his blessings if not they will face judgement.
The blessing that they will see will be the coming kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven. A community that is dedicated to Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. A community that makes it their customer to worship in the meeting places, to encourage one another to continue the journey and follow the rabbi. They will withdraw to isolated places to pray and seek direction and embrace personal intimacy with God, and through that intimacy and through the encouragement of others they will embody the love of God with those around them as they minister to the needs both inside and outside their congregation.
I am coming soon. The trouble we now face will not last forever. My reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s works. This second part is one that we might have a tendency to overlook. My reward is with me and I will repay according to everyone’s works. This again redirects our focus back to that holy lifestyle, the rhythm of life that Jesus taught and demonstrated for his followers. Those that faithfully embrace and entrust every aspect of their lives to the kingdom of God will see profit. When they are obedient to the various calling and utilize the gifts that God has entrusted to them they will see the kingdom expand around them. And as the kingdom grows and people utilize the various gifts that God grants we see the miraculous happen around us. We see lives changed, we see the hungry fed, the thirsty refreshed, the weary finding rest, and the injured gain healing and the blind have renewed vision. Each of these take on various forms both physically and spiritually. When the gifts are applied and the community actively seeks to follow the leading of God we will see blessings in some form. The community may grow in number or the community may deepen their relationships with God or each other. But within that blessing is a declaration of judgment, “I will repay according to everyone’s works.”
The call to discipleship requires more than just confession, it requires action. To be a disciple or a follower of Christ, our words must move our feet. We cannot expect to see the rewards of God in this life and in the next if we are not obedient to his calling. Just as James said in his letter, Jesus is telling us that faith without works is dead. Paul asks how will people be save if they do not hear and how will they hear if someone does not preach, and how will they preach if they are not sent. We are saved by God’s grace alone, but if we are not willing to be obedient to the call of Christ, we will miss out on the blessing of helping others along their journey. The reward and repayment of works is in direct proportion to how engaged we are in the coming kingdom. The kingdom of God emerging all around us.
But will we see this kingdom or will we be engulfed in judgement. This takes us again the statement, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” God is at work and is calling us to participate in his work, even though we may not see His kingdom where we are. We may see chaos, we may see depravity and evil all around us, but God is there in the midst building His kingdom. Are we able to see through the fog? This statement is encouraging us to stay focused on the proper things. God will endure, so keep looking toward God. Though the sun seems to turn blood red, though the waters are turned bitter, though the war rages on focus on Christ. He was, He is, and he will be forever. Though your candidate won or lost trust in God, though your business failed or succeeded trust in God. Though your health or the health of someone you love may be failing focus on God. Praise him in the bounty and praise him in the drought. Praise him through the fire and praise him in the gentle showers. Praise him and follow him because He was, is and will be for ages to come.
Do we see the encouragement in these words? Are we able to see that Jesus encouraging us to stay focused on what is the most important through it all? He is the one that was prophesied about from the ancient of days. He is the one that conquered the sting of sin and death. He is the alpha the omega the beginning and the end. It is all about Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the root and the descendant of David, He is the light that enlightens man. Praise him in the storm, praise him in the harvest, praise him in the struggle and praise him in the relief. Praise him and encourage others in the journey as we also follow him.
There is much to learn from scripture, and from the Revelation of Christ as witness by john in particular. We learn that life is difficult. We learn that not everything goes exactly as we might like it to go. We go through trials and some of those trials shake us to the very core of who we are? But what do we learn from it? Will this cause us to turn from God or will it drive us to the foot of the cross? Will we live out our lives according the lifestyle demonstrated by Christ or will we be drawn into the lifestyles of mankind? He is the Alpha and Omega, He is the one that will repay according to our works. Our works of blessing or damnation. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. What he says is through everything I will endure. Nations will rise and fall, people will gain power and lose it. Yet He will remain as he was, as He is, and will always be. Come if you are thirsty and he will refresh you will living water, come if you are wounded and he will cleanse you and allow you to eat of the tree of life. Come and he will meet you, and will walk with you as you walk through the trials of life.
As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends, let us reflect on Him the one who was, is, and is to come. Let us reflect on what that means for us today, and let us honestly say come Lord Jesus, however that may look. Come in your glory or come in our work, but let us see you in all.