There is no more appropriate book for the season of Advent than Revelation.
But why? Advent is preparation for Christmas, right? It’s the season of the church year where we prepare ourselves to remember the coming of the Christ-child, the coming of God into human flesh to bear our sins and be our savior. Revelation doesn’t even talk about the Christmas story at all. Its focus is on the last things, i.e. eschatology, not Jesus’ birth.
However, when we understand what Advent is really asking us to focus on, I think we see that it drives us to meditate on the Last Day and what Revelation reveals to us about that.
Advent = The Coming of Christ
To be sure, Advent is about the coming of Christ. After all, that is what “Advent” means, “coming.” But it is not just about the first coming of Christ in 1st century Judea. It is about Christ’s coming in its totality. This begins most obviously with his coming in the flesh two thousand years ago. But it continues even today. Christ may have ascended into heaven after his resurrection, but he reminds his disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). So, we remember Jesus’ coming not just when we set up our nativity scene in the front yard to remind people that Jesus is the “reason for the season.” Rather, we remember Jesus’ coming when we recognize how he is present among us even today. He, the Word of God incarnate, is present wherever sinners hear the word of the gospel proclaimed for their forgiveness. He, the Son of God, is present wherever sinners are baptized and adopted as God’s sons and heirs of the promise. He, the sacrificial lamb, is present wherever sinners eat and drink his body and blood, sacrificed on the cross for their forgiveness.
The coming of Christ begins at Christmas, but he never stopped being present with his people. Sure, he is not physically present in the way he was with his disciples, but he is still present in immediate and tangible ways in his Word and Sacraments as found in his bride, the church.
The Final Coming
But this is not the way it will be forever. Too often, we pretend like the Christian hope is simply that when we die we get to go to heaven instead of hell and that’s it. We float around as spirits in a Platonic cloudscape free from the shackles of the physical world.
The essential Christian story, as we normally tell it, is that people are sinful because of the fall into sin where we became separated from God. The Father then sends his Son to pay for our sin. When an individual is brought to faith in the Gospel, all their sins are forgiven and they are declared righteous before God. After this, they go out and serve their neighbor and spread the Gospel until they die and get to go to heaven. That’s basically it.
But that is not the story of the scriptures. There’s much more.
The fall is not just the fall of mankind, but of all of creation. All of creation has been cast into sin and chaos because of the fall. Thus, the hope of Christians is not to leave this creation when we die so we can be made new, but the hope is that all of creation is going to made new. We, as God’s holy and redeemed people, the crown of God’s creation, get to be a part of that recreation that is ultimately anchored in brought about by the suffering and death of Jesus. We have a hope not to be spirits floating around, but to be restored to our bodies in the resurrection of all flesh. This is what Paul is talking about in Romans: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:5). Christ did not just go to be with the Father when he died, but he rose bodily from the grave. So too will all of us when Christ comes again.
This is our hope. We look forward to the final coming of Christ because it is the fulfillment of God’s promises going all the way back to the Old Testament.
Eschatology and Revelation Reclaimed
Too often we have left discussions of eschatology and Revelation to cultists and the Left Behind crowd. However, studying Revelation is not about decoding secret symbols with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Revelation is in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets as it points forward to the day when Christ comes to conquer evil and vindicate his people forever. No longer will they suffer, no longer will they wait, no longer will they cry out, “how long O Lord?” He comes conquering sin, death, and the devil, to make all things new. This is the completion and culmination of Christ’s work that he began in his first coming by taking on human flesh and making his dwelling among us.
In this vein, John writes in Revelation, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (21:3-5).
So, Revelation is the perfect book for the season of Advent because it shows us what Christ’s coming is ultimately about: the restoration of creation and the vindication of God’s forgiven and redeemed people. Advent is just as much about looking forward as it is looking back. We do ourselves a disservice if we forget that even though Christ’s work is completed, the full reality of it has not yet been made manifest. We wait in tension between what we possess now, but do not yet have fully. Revelation points us to this fullness.
Finally, this understanding of the Last Day allows us to enthusiastically pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus,” because we know that the Last Day holds promise of blessing and life for us, not judgment and destruction. The second coming of Christ is just like his first coming in that he comes not to condemn his people, but to save us.
So as winter comes upon us, as the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer and darker, as we retreat from the cold and darkness outside, we look forward to the coming light who comes to shine the glory of his presence to all people. We pray that this Son of God, this light of the world would come and dawn in the midst of the darkness of our fallen world. This is what Advent is all about.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.