During the final weeks of the church year our weekday readings at Mass for the 33rd and 34th weeks of the year are from the Book of Revelation, which describes the last days when God fulfills his promise of a kingdom. The Gospel readings for these weekdays are from Luke 17-21, also about the coming of God’s kingdom. Appropriate readings for our seemingly apocalyptic times.
The author of the Book of Revelation is John, who writes from the prison island of Patmos to the churches of Asia Minor. In strong, imaginative and often violent images, John pictures the final triumph of Christ after a decisive battle between Christ and his followers and Satan and those who follow him. For John, Satan’s kingdom is Rome, the new Babylon. He tells the churches of Asia Minor to resist this evil empire without compromise. The battle is enjoined and the kingdom is coming soon.
John is invited to behold God’s glory in heaven’s court, portrayed resplendent with gems and other traditional symbols expressing God’s majesty. This is where God wants us to be. A great assembly praises God “who created all things” and the triumphant Christ, the Lamb who was slain and reveals the plan of God:
“Worthy are you, O Lord, to receive the scroll
and break open its seals,
for you were slain and by your Blood you purchased for God
those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.
You made them a kingdom and priests for our God,
and they will reign on earth.” (Revelation 12,10-12)
John in his writings borrows from Jewish apocalyptic writings before him, Daniel, Ezechiel and others. He writes to give hope to a people in crisis, suffering like him. Commentators say he is possibly a disciple of John, the apostle, whom tradition associates with the church in Asia Minor, and they date the book to the time of a Roman persecution under the Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81–96).
Some commentators challenge seeing the book responding to the Roman persecution under Domitian. They claim, instead, that Revelation is directed against Christians in Asia Minor who have become too much at home in Roman society. Following the Pastoral Epistles of Paul, the churches of Asia Minor, according to John, have lost their zeal for the gospel and need to be warned about increasing mediocrity. (cf. Revelation, Wilfrid J. Harrington, OP, Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press 1993)
The writer of Revelation warns against seeking a comfortable life here on earth. Christ is not just an earthly companion seeing us through the day; he calls us to a life beyond this.
“‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
then I will enter his house and dine with him,
and he with me. I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne,
as I myself first won the victory.
and sit with my Father on his throne.” ( Revelation 3, 14)
The best commentators on scripture are often the scriptures themselves, St. Augustine taught, and so perhaps as we read the Book of Revelation these last days we should also hear Jesus in Luke’s gospel. He kept calling sinners as he made his way to Jerusalem, even as he died on the cross. He never told Zachaeus the publican to give up his job. He warned against burying your talent in the ground while the Master’s away. He also said not to search into the time and the day the Son of Man will come. Keep your eye on the daily cross that’s yours.
But Jesus also told us he’s coming again.