Msgr. Robert Nusca is the pastor of Merciful Redeemer Parish in Mississauga, Ont. He was president and rector of St. Augustine’s Seminary from 2001 to 2014. To learn more about Msgr. Nusca’s work on the Book of Revelation, visit his website here.
The fantastic and often bizarre images that one encounters in the Book of Revelation have fascinated, repulsed, perplexed, alarmed and inspired successive generations of readers into the dawn of our new millennium.
The ‘Four Horsemen,’ the ‘Seventh Seal,’ Armageddon, ‘the Number of the Beast,’ visions of Michael the Archangel and Satan engaged in spiritual combat, visions of earthquakes, locusts and falling stars, have exercised a curious fascination upon the human imagination over the centuries.
What’s far from obvious is that John, the prophet exiled on the island of Patmos in modern day Greece, has written down his visions to convey to his largely urban audience a message of hope.
What kind of hope?
Experts tell us that the hope expressed in the book is not so much a hope in the future, but hope in a time of crisis. Apocalyptic hope is hope in a time of danger. As the world falls apart amid “wars and rumors of wars” (Mt 24:6), as chaos reigns and the faithful are persecuted, John offers his audience a view that looks upward “through an open door” into heaven (Rev. 4:1ff.).
As the kings and magnates of the earth become more and more ruthlessly self-serving, as foreign troops march through the gates of the city, as false prophets abound (2 Peter 2:1) and the poor languish in the margins of society, John’s apocalyptic visions inspire the faithful of “the seven churches” to place their hope and trust in God.
For in this dangerous time God is about to intervene, as Jesus Christ, the rider on the white horse (described in Rev. 19:11 and following), will descend from Heaven to usher in the long-awaited (and hoped-for) City of God.
It is in the light shining forth from Heaven, through the door opened by the Holy Spirit that John, that leads his audience on a journey between two worlds, as we are led to contemplate an old, sinful, corrupt order that has turned away completely from God and is fading into oblivion. We are called to set our sights upward in the Spirit so as to be renewed by inspiring images of the new creation that is already – right now – in the process of arriving through the life of grace and faithful witness to the Gospel.
The path and goal of this journey were first signalled in the life of Jesus Christ who shows us the way of the Cross, and overcomes the powers of sin, evil and death on Easter Sunday morning when as He walks away from the empty tomb.
A number of things emerge and we will have the opportunity to reflect upon these things over the coming weeks.
Apocalypse Is a “Revelation of Jesus Christ”
Too often overlooked are John’s inspiring and complex portrait of Jesus Christ; his glorious visions of the open Heaven and the choirs of angels who worship God and Christ; as well as his description of the sparkling new city – the New Jerusalem – that will descend out of Heaven at the end of time.
In addition to these inspiring visions beyond the open door to Heaven, we learn that God’s world is a world filled with song, as the expanding circles of angels give praise and glory to God and the Lion/Lamb of God without ceasing.
And so, on our own journey, we are called – amid the upheavals, sorrows and disorders of the age – to live in two worlds at the same time: one that is rapidly fading; and one that even now is in the process of coming into being through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In this way, John’s visions invite us to step into an “expanded universe” (in the words of Leonard Thompson).
An expanded world is one where we are called to add our voices to those of the choirs of angels, so as to become “one Church of angels and human beings” (in the words of Andrew of Caesarea, a theologian and bishop of the early Church), united in the praises of God and the Lamb.
As St. Cyprian of Carthage, the 3rd century bishop and theologian, observes:
The spirit of a strong and stable character strengthened by meditation endures; this unshaken spirit, which is strengthened by a certain and solid faith in the future will be enlivened against all the terrors of the devil and threats of the world. During persecution the earth is closed off from us, but heaven lies open; the Antichrist threatens, but Christ protects us; death is brought on, but eternal life follows.
If the Earth is closed off, always remember that door to Heaven remains open. John leads us, then, to look beyond visions of “the end of the world,” to expand our horizons and to place our faith and hope in the God of Jesus Christ whose final word in the Bible is:
“Behold, I make all things new.”
“All things new”? As the commentators observe, ‘newness’ is an important idea in the Bible.
The story of creation in the Book of Genesis finds its analogue in the New Creation described at the conclusion of the Book of Revelation.
Again, John speaks of the inspired “new song” of the praises of God and the Lamb (5:9; 14:3; cf. 15:3), a new name (2:17; 3:12; cf. Is 62:2; 65:15), the new Jerusalem (3:12; 21:2; cf. Test. Dan 5:12), a new Heaven and new Earth (21:1; cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Is 65:17), all of which are reflections of God’s promise to make “all things new” (21:5).
Elsewhere in the New Testament the sacred authors speak of a “new covenant” (Heb 12:24), a “new commandment” (Jn 13:34; 1 Jn 2:7, 8; 2 Jn 1:5) and a “new teaching” (Mk 1:27). The newness that John describes speaks to the mystery of that radically new creation – that glorious ultimate reality – which God is already in the process of bringing about.
It is, therefore, toward this newness of life in Christ (Rom 6:4) that John invites his audience — both ancient and modern — for wherever Christ is present, there is the new creation (2 Cor 5:17).
 Leonard L. Thompson, The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 32.