The Book of Revelation opens, “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” From the outset the book claims, straightforwardly enough, to be about the revelation of Jesus Christ. And as a revelation it involves the “re-veiling” or removal of a veil, the uncovering of veiled or hidden things.
The revelation of Jesus Christ is his unveiling. It removes the veil and calls us to enter into something hidden, something beyond what’s readily apparent, into the reality of who this man Jesus Christ really is.
And when we see Jesus with the veil removed, what do we do? Do we ignore him? Do we avoid him? Do we try to control him?
Or do we fall on our faces because our weak knees can’t handle the power of his magnificent love and the triumph of his majesty? Do we stand back in awe and reverence because the love of Jesus Christ is more overwhelming than anything else we can imagine?
This is a man who has come back from the dead. This is a man who stands before us absolutely triumphant, holding in his hand the keys to death and hell. This is a man who does not fear death because he’s tasted it, defeated it, and taken it from the enemy. Now death belongs to Jesus.
So the saints are told to wait. They’re told to wait just a little longer, until the number is completed of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed. They’re told to wait not because Jesus is out-of-control, but because Jesus is in such total control, because he possesses all the power in the world.
The Book of Revelation begins:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw – that is, the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
John testifies to everything he saw in the vision he received. What he saw was the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. This testimony comes from the word the tradition uses for martyrs and martyrdom, since martyrs are ones who testify unto death and receive death on behalf of their testimony. Martyrs bear a resolute and inextinguishable testimony – the testimony of their death – and so they live the complete martyrdom.
At the unveiling of Jesus Christ, when the veil is pulled back and what is hidden is seen, John saw the Word of God and the martyrdom of Jesus Christ. He received a vision of the Word who became flesh, the Word who is the inner logic of history, a vision of the Lamb who suffered and so entered into his glory.
The revelation of Jesus Christ is an unveiling of the hidden reality behind history. It’s an unveiling of what lies hidden behind the collision between Jesus Christ and the Roman Empire. If the Book of Revelation has anything to do with the Roman Empire (and I’m inclined to think it does), then it has to do with what happened when the Word became flesh, when the Lamb who was slain before the foundations of the world came into the world and ascended his cross and rode it into glory, straight into death and hell, straight into his victory over the world.
John seems to be saying that what happened when Jesus collided with the Roman Empire wasn’t something entirely straightforward or easy to understand. It’s like he’s saying that when Jesus collided with the ancient Roman world, that ancient pagan world of idolatry, power, might, prestige, and violence, that there was a battle and that battle was an exorcism. It was an exorcism of the demons behind idolatry and persecution, the demons behind sexual immorality, drunkenness, and blasphemy.
The unveiling of Jesus Christ reveals the spiritual conflict going on behind the veil. It reveals what happened when the Word became flesh and the Lamb entered his glory.
The arena of this conflict is worship. What John sees when he enters behind the veil is the glorious and never-ending worship that the saints and holy angels give to the Lord forever and ever. Throughout Revelation worship is on-going – it surrounds the beginning and end of the vision, and it also fills the middle, where things are the most graphic and disturbing. And when we look, we see that the most graphic things that happen come from the worship of the Lord.
In Revelation 8:5, the peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightening, and earthquake come from the censer the angel filled with fire from the heavenly altar and threw to the earth, which the angel did surrounded by smoke from the incense and the prayers of the saints.
In Revelation 14:19, the great winepress of God’s wrath begins when angels swing their sickles on the earth according to the direction of other angels who come from the heavenly temple and the worship at its altar.
In Revelation 15:6, the seven angels with the seven plagues follow upon the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. The plagues themselves coincide with smoke from the glory of God filling the temple and rendering it inaccessible.
When John takes us behind the veil, what we see is that the worship of the Lord is an act of direct conflict with the spirits of idolatry, blasphemy, and immorality. It’s like the worship of the Lamb rouses the angelic host and makes it excitable and extremely zealous. And this angelic zeal is a staggering thing to imagine and a terrifying thing to oppose. No evil has more boldness, strength, or power than the angelic host consumed by doxology.
Perhaps Satan is more frightening. Perhaps the devil himself is more terrifying than the holy angelic host. Perhaps. Though perhaps not. In John’s vision, Satan is cast from heaven by Michael and his company of angels, who overcome him by the word of their testimony, which is the great hymn of the heavenly multitude:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!
The power of Michael’s doxology opposes Satan and overcomes him and casts him down. His doxology has power because it declares that Jesus Christ is the one who is worthy to receive power, since Jesus Christ is the Lamb who was slain.
When John takes us behind the veil, we see that the further we enter into worship, the more we’re able to see that worship is more important than we can imagine. We also see that blasphemy, idolatry, and false worship are far worse than we can imagine.
In Revelation 13:5-6, the worship of the dragon and the beast, and the beast’s blasphemy against God, are the engines behind the beast making war against the saints. It’s like the conflict in John’s vision revolves around the power of worship, like the great enemy of the Lord is blasphemy, idolatry, false worship, and mockery. And mockery may be the worst of all.
Throughout his vision, John opens our eyes to the terrible reality of mockery that lies hidden behind the veil – the mockery that distorts, confuses, disfigures, and hates the glory and beauty of God. We find this in the whore of Babylon in Revelation 17, who stands as a direct mockery of the woman clothed with the sun, the woman who gives birth to Jesus in Revelation 12.
The woman clothed with the sun is taken into the desert where she’s rescued from the dragon. The whore of Babylon, however, has always lived in the desert, but the desert isn’t where she’s saved, it’s where she dies. The woman clothed with the sun receives the two wings of a great eagle for protection and care. The whore of Babylon, however, rides a horrible beast that hates her, brings her to ruin, leaves her naked, eats her flesh, and burns her with fire. The woman clothed with the sun gives birth to Jesus and those who obey God’s commands and hold to the testimony of Jesus. The whore of Babylon is said to be a mother as well, but rather than the mother of the saints, she’s the mother of prostitutes and abominations of the earth.
What John shows us is that the enemy responds to God’s holy things with mockery and that the whore of Babylon is a mockery of Jesus’ mother. The whore looks like his mother and acts like his mother, but distorts her, disfigures her, and mocks her.
This mockery goes on throughout John’s vision. So we also see in Revelation 13:11 that the Lamb who was slain is mocked by the beast that looks like a lamb, but talks like a dragon.
The things of Satan look like Jesus, but they sound like Satan, like they’re filled with the sound of the voice of mockery. When John leads us behind the veil, what we see is that the enemies of God don’t have any true power. The only power they have is the power of mockery.
The enemy mocks us. Jesus never does. Jesus rebukes and corrects, he warns and admonishes, and he calls us to repentance, but he doesn’t mock us. Jesus forgives us. He doesn’t ridicule us or embarrass us or ignore us because his voice isn’t the voice of mockery. The voices we listen to are enormously important.
What voices mock us? What voices tell us how worthless we are, how ugly we are, how disappointing we are, how stupid we are, how cowardly we are, how lazy, how fat, how skinny, how weak, how small, how dumb, how poor, how hopeless? How we’re a joke? How we’ve got a past we’ll never escape and a future that’s always forsaken, forever without beauty, joy, peace, and love?
What voices mock us? Not the voice of Jesus. Jesus may be firm and hard and direct and what he says may hurt, but his voice is one of respect. It’s a voice of utter seriousness and it’s a voice that’s sincere, kind, and wise. Jesus doesn’t mock us. The enemies of God are the ones who mock us. They’re the ones who carry weapons of mockery because mockery is their only hope.
And the greatest mockery of the enemies of God is the claim that they’re the ones who control death, that they can use death to defeat the saints, that there’s nothing behind the veil, that they’re the ones who can oppose Jesus, that they’re the ones who can conquer him. Their greatest mockery is the claim that Jesus is weak and out-of-control.
But Jesus Christ cannot be conquered and he cannot be defeated because death belongs to him. He’s tasted it and defeated it. He’s defeated death. He’s defeated defeat. Now death and defeat belong to Jesus. Jesus will not be mocked.
When John takes us behind the veil, we see that the worst thing you can do to the saints isn’t kill them. The saints praise the Lord when they’re alive and they praise the Lord when they’re dead.
The worst thing you can do to the saints is silence their song.
It’s the worst thing you can do because the song of the saints is the power of God. But the saints cannot be silenced and their songs will never end.
In Revelation 18:21-22, nearing the end of his vision, John tells us:
With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be found in you again.
When Babylon is thrown down and defeated, there’s no music in Babylon anymore. There’s no more singing and no more worship. No noise. No praise. No celebration. No joy. No gladness.
The end of the enemies of God is the silencing of their songs. There can be no singing and no music in the things God rejects and condemns. So there’s no music and no singing in Babylon, when Babylon is thrown down.
And then John tells us this in Revelation 19:1-7:
And after I saw Babylon thrown down I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God” …. And again they shouted: “Hallelujah!” …. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!” Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!” Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”
From behind the veil, John calls us to make ourselves ready for the Lamb. He calls us to enter into worship with eyes to see hidden things. He calls us to be overtaken by beauty, splendor, and wonder, to be consumed by the worship of the Lord, to be filled with the power of doxology. The revelation of Jesus Christ is an unveiling that the doxology of the saints is their victory, for the Lamb is the one who is victorious and the Lamb is the one who is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise forever and ever. Amen.