It  isn't  over
until  it's  over

The book of Revelation is a collection of the correspondence and mystical visions of a Christian in exile. John has seen the ugliness and evil of an empire determined to control the world, and he envisions an end to it.

He also imagines a new beginning.

Right now, though, we're in the middle.

The Spoken Version

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The Scripture

Revelation 6:1-8, 12b-17
the visions of John of Patmos

Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four terrible creatures shout with a voice of thunder, “Come forth!” And behold! A white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he went out to conquer and to vanquish.

When he opened the second seal, I heard the second terrible creature call out, “Come forth!” And behold! A horse, scarlet red; its rider was to withdraw peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another; and he was given a huge sword.

When he opened the third seal, I heard the third terrible creature cry, “Come forth!” And behold! A horse, black as the depths of an empty well! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand, and I heard a voice that seemed to come from the midst of the four creatures, “A day's wages for a pound of rice, twice as much for a loaf of bread; but don't harm the fine wines and rich foods of the elite!”

When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the fourth terrible creature shout, “Come forth!” And behold! A pale horse, sickly gray! Its rider's name was Death, and all Hell followed him; they were given authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.

…. and there came a great earthquake; the sun turned black as coal, the full moon blood red, and the stars thudded down to earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a storm. The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was shattered. Then the rulers of the earth and the tycoons and financiers, the generals and the rich and the powerful, alongside the commoners, hid in the caves and among the boulders where the mountains had been, praying to the stones and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for now the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

But all is not finished! for later:

Revelation 21:1-6a

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among humans. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." And he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

Photo of a flower

In the Middle by Deborah Beach Giordano

Between the Beginning and the End

It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the beginning and the end!

John on PatmosThe beginning is over and the end is yet to be… and, irresistibly, I'm reminded of an oldies song: “Stuck in the middle with you.”

Or, in John of Patmos's case, in the middle of an island in the Aegean Sea.

There he sits: exiled, frustrated, fuming as the Empire continues its death march of destruction; unmindful, uncaring of the wickedness it spreads like a plague. “Some day,” he tells himself (and us), “Some day this will be changed; evil will get its comeuppance — dramatically and vividly, so that all will see the results of wicked choices and hateful behaviors. The evils that have been sown shall be reaped — abundantly, by the tyrants and terrorizers, and all whose consent and complicity brought their poisonous crops to harvest. Ah, but then! Then, oh glorious day, a new world will be brought forth, beautiful and gracious, perfectly in line with God's good will.”

And, in the meantime: Stuck in the middle with you.

A Different Future

We've all been there, stuck in a lousy place; mentally, or physically, or spiritually — or a combination of all three: distraught, distressed, surrounded by a sea of troubles and worries. At such times it's pleasant to imagine a future free from trouble; where all that is mean and hurtful is banished, where those who quarrel and fight and strike with a wicked fist are no more.

Noah's arkThe situation can seem so terrible, the evil so entrenched, the odds so great against us, that the only reasonable solution is a clean slate, a fresh start, a massive tidal wave to wash away the wicked and their works. (Oh, wait, that's already been tried!)

That's where John's thoughts go.

It will be, he imagines, as if powerful, inexorable beings break forth upon the earth, initially masquerading as forces for good, then assailing foolish humankind with deceptions and deceit, endless conflicts and violence, agonizing pain and suffering, sickness and disease, poverty, pestilence, famine, and death upon the unrepentant wicked of the earth.

It will be as if an invading army descends from above, wave after wave of terrors and tribulations, each worse than the one before it, no relief or respite, only “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” The faithful few are spared and brought to the heavenly sanctuary to sit alongside the holy martyrs, where they watch as Armageddon unfolds.

Social Disease

Merciless and implacable, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the gruesome creatures and terrible events that follow in their wake are carriers of “social disease.” The miseries, destruction, and disasters come not from the Most High God, but from the gods the people did worship: the idols and ideals of their society.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Cruelty was celebrated, violence and bloodshed served as entertainment, corruption was rewarded, wealth and status were glorified, the emperor was held to be divine. Dissenters were threatened and harassed, attacked, tortured, fined and imprisoned; some, like John, were sent into exile, while others died to the cheers of the spectators in the Coliseum. This was the way of the empire: the twisted path it followed and the misshapen, malign gods it worshipped.

Actions have consequences, and great evils can bring catastrophic consequences.

The Punisher

God doesn't need to punish: wickedness generates horrors on its own — the results of which appear sometimes sooner, sometimes later; sometimes upon the individual evildoer, sometimes upon innocent victims, sometimes upon whole nations and peoples. We survive only because, in His great love and mercy, the Almighty intervenes for us, and holds back the destructive forces which evil engenders.

Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
    ~ Lamentations 3:22-23

angel of the apocalypse

John of Patmos envisions what would happen if God ceased to protect and defend us; if, one (not so) fine morning, the Lord decided He'd had enough, and allowed all of the consequences of human misconduct and malice to reign, unchecked.

John sees the decrees unsealed: the judgments are pronounced. He hears the forces approaching on thundering hooves; a storm breaking over the nation. It may already be too late, for God has been pushed away, His teachings ignored, His great works forgotten, His followers tortured and killed. Perhaps He will not hear the cries of distress, perhaps none will call out to Him. Perhaps the people will die as they lived: absorbed in ugliness and hate.

Beginning at the End

But wait, there's more!

Although John foresees terrible suffering and immense destruction upon the earth, that is not the end of his prophecy. There is, finally, the Omega event: the ending that is also the beginning — where we began our story today. The Seer envisions “a new heaven and a new earth” after the old ones have been swept away. Disaster and death are not the last word (they never are), instead we hear Christ's shout of delight:

"Look! I am making all things new. The work is complete! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

The Lord is the Alpha and the Omega — and the Omega and the Alpha, too: the end and the beginning. Jesus uses what I'll call an “eternal” or “everlasting” tense in saying that this renewal isn't going to happen: it has happened and it is happening. It's an on-going event, with no sign of stopping: all things are being made new, continually.

The Lord is at work, always. And always working on our behalf — in our beginnings, our endings, and our middle times.

He's ♫ right in the middle with you. ♪

(Note: not stuck in the middle with you.)

Truth that Heals and Inspires

That's an important, healing, inspiring reality to live by. When we feel isolated, alone, stuck, trapped, hemmed in, at the end of our rope — we are not alone, for Christ is with us, even when we doubt or disbelieve. Nor are we stuck: we may be in a holding pattern, experiencing a slow down, or even making a U-turn, for all things have a purpose in God's great majesty.

Joseph and his familyWhen his brothers attacked Joseph, shredded his fancy coat, and tossed him into a dry well, it seemed like the end; when they then sold him to the Ishmaelites, it seemed like a disaster; when they, in turn, sold him to an Egyptian soldier, it seemed as if things had gone from bad to worse: a slave, helpless, alone in a foreign land, forgotten. Talk about feeling stuck! And yet, Joseph was able, many years later, to recognize that God was in the middle of it all. As he tells his brothers,

Now don't panic; don't be frightened, or reproach yourselves for selling me — because God sent me here to preserve life. … God sent me to be here before you to save some, and to sustain the survivors. So it wasn't you who sent me here, but God;
    ~ Genesis 37:12-36

All through the times when Joseph felt well and truly alone and forsaken, God was there: leading, guiding, sustaining, and inspiring him. (And Joseph had a number of other experiences that could have robbed him of hope.&41;

Back to the Beginning, Again

Likewise with us: how often has what seemed a disappointment, a troublesome detour, even a dead end or outright disaster brought us to a new and a better place? And what of the strength that upheld us when we stumbled or struggled; the grace that sustained us, that inspired us to continue despite the odds against us, and the weariness of our souls? Also, of equal, or perhaps greater, importance, we may have, unknowingly, blessed and sustained others — because we made that unexpected stop or landed in that unexpected place.

We are never alone, never abandoned, never forsaken — not when our enemies assail us, our allies fail us, our leaders betray us; not even when our own faith crumbles. God is with us always — in good times and in bad, and all of the “middling” times in between. When all seems lost, even when it seems we have reached the end of everything, God is with us. Do not be afraid.

So rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to the Lord your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, patient, abounding in loving devotion. And He relents from sending disaster. Perhaps he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him.
    ~ Joel 2:13-14

Jesus blessing

For our God is the One who “makes all things new”: who forgives, restores, heals, and blesses.

All the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
    ~ John 6:37

May the Lord bless you and keep you,
and strengthen you in faith and hope and courage,


Suggested Spiritual Exercises

Be of good faith and great courage, and know that wherever you are in your journey, God is with us. Always.

An inspiring hymn

"How Can I Keep from Singing?" Meritage Vocal Arts Ensemble