Finding Consolation in the Book of Revelation

By Nina Sophie Heereman

Consolation might be the last word you would ordinarily associate with the Book of Revelation. And yet, it is exactly what the Holy Spirit intends to give us through this last book of the Bible. In his final discourse, Jesus says to the disciples: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it very clear that he wants his disciples to know everything that the Father has made known to him, without holding back anything. However, he also tells them that they are not yet able to bear everything that he wants to say to them because they have not yet received the Holy Spirit (cf.16:12). “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come”(16:13). It is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus continues to speak to his Church and reveals the things that are to come. And that is exactly what is happening in the Book of Revelation. Even though Jesus has already said the same things in a more succinct fashion in the Gospels (e.g., Matt 24), in God’s mercy and through the Holy Spirit he now gives his people an even deeper understanding of “what must soon take place” (Rev 1:1). “For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
The Book of Revelation was given to the Church at a time of great persecution, that is, toward the end of the first century, when the Roman emperors had declared themselves divine and all the subjects of the Roman Empire had the choice between either worshiping the emperor’s image or being put to death. It was clear to the Christians that emperor worship was idol worship and would constitute a direct breach of the first commandment. Many of the early Christians preferred death to apostasy and shed their blood in faithful witness to Jesus Christ. Yet the whole situation of death and suffering was very confusing to the Christians. Why, one can imagine them asking (and we are still asking the same question today) is it that the evil one still has so much power over the world if—as we confess—Jesus has overcome sin, death, and Satan through his own death and resurrection? The monstrosity of evil that perdures in world history constitutes an enormous temptation for the faithful of every generation to doubt that God is really all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving. Why does he permit so much evil and suffering? In response, God has given us the precious Book of Revelation. It constitutes an antidote to the temptation to confusion and doubt. Its symbolic language makes it very clear that the situation of those Christians suffering under the hostile Roman Empire typifies the situation of all Christians of all times.
As the title of the book, “Revelation,” illustrates so nicely, in this book Jesus takes away the veil that covers the mystery of history and allows us to see it from a heavenly perspective, from the perspective of his and our final victory. It is a revelation that God the Father has given to Jesus to be revealed to his Church through his prophet John (Rev1:1). From a heavenly perspective, it gives us a synopsis of the battle between good and evil from before the foundation of the world(that is, the fall of the angels, 12:7–9) until the second coming of Christ and the final consummation of the world. Unlike the case of a novel, where the reader is held in suspense as to who the winner will be, the Book of Revelation makes it clear from the very outset who the victor is: Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, and those who belong to him. Through this book Jesus himself speaks to us with the same words addressed to the prophet and visionary St. John. He commands us: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forever more, and I have the key to Death and Hades” (1:18). If Jesus has the key to Death and Hades, then it follows logically that Death and Hades have no more power.
However, we live in a world that still seems to be under the almost-total control of the evil one. Death is powerfully at work, both through the enemies of the Church, be they religious fanatics(like ISIS) or political leaders, as well as through natural powers, like pandemics caused by various diseases. Wherever we look we see the footprints of Death and Hades. And that is exactly why God has given us the consolation of this book’s revelation. In the face of persecution, war, famines, natural catastrophes and plagues (Rev 6), Jesus wants us to know that, although it might look as if the powers of evil are stronger than God, in reality they have already been brought to naught. Whatever havoc they are still creating on earth, nothing, absolutely nothing, is happening without God’s permission. Contrary to what it looks like from our earthly position, God is not indifferent to the fate of his creation, abandoning it to let things take their own course. Rather, he, God, is the primary actor of history, acting with humanity—and, if need be, even against it—to bring creation to its final destination. God wants us to know and understand that everything that is happening is under his control—and that all evil, which he permits us to suffer, has a purpose, is part of a divine plan, and will contribute to the bringing about of a new creation in which “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain,” as Revelation 21:4 so beautifully says. God wants us to be assured of the final victory so that, comforted and encouraged by our sharing in God’s heavenly perspective, we will not be afraid to participate in the battle, in which we all play a vital role, and will not shrink from what we have yet to suffer (cf. 2:10).

NINA SOPHIE HEEREMAN is associate professor and department chair of Sacred Scripture at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University in Menlo Park, California. She holds a License in Sacred Scripture from the Pontificial Biblical Institute in Rome and a Doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the École biblique et archéologique de Jérusalem. She is a regular contributor to Catholic media in her home-country Germany, where she is also active in youth evangelization and retreat ministry.

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