The One Who Holds the Stars

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Are you afraid of the dark?

Or are you not so much afraid of the dark as you are afraid of what could potentially be in the dark? The mystery. The unknown. The uncertain.

The what could be.

In some ways, being afraid of the dark is really being afraid of the future. When we hear a strange noise from the comfort of our bed in the middle of the night, we're afraid of what could happen next. Was it an intruder? Are the kids safe? Is the cat plotting our demise?

For many of us, these are the same fears that prevent us from opening up the book of Revelation. We're afraid of what we'll find in it. Dramatic imagery, startling violence, strange rituals... We stumble through it as though we're in the dark. If these are the things of the future, we want nothing to do with the last book in the Bible.

Revelation may as well not even exist in our Bibles, for all the attention we give it.

Already, before we even crack open our Bibles, we’re approaching Revelation in the wrong way. Darkness can evoke terror, but it can also soothe and comfort. Darkness can be frightening, but it can also evoke feelings of quiet, peace, awe, and wonder.

This is the darkness of Revelation: not to frighten, but to challenge and soothe.

During the time Revelation was written, the early Christians lived in fear of what their future could hold. The signs of the times were pointing toward persecution. They felt threatened by the tyranny of the Roman Empire. The future felt bleak. It was dark.

But in the opening portion of Revelation, John refers to Jesus as the one who holds the "seven stars" (Rev. 1:16; 2:1; 3:1). In John's world, the "seven stars" were the sun and the moon, along with the five planets humans can see with the naked eye (Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mercury, and Mars). These stars were thought to be divine entities that controlled the events occurring on the earth. People in ancient times charted the stars and used them as maps to predict the future. A new star could mean the birth of a king (as exemplified by the magi's interpretation in Matt. 2). A short lunar cycle was a bad omen and could signify death and destruction.

Many scholars believe that Revelation was written during the time of the Roman emperor Domitian's rule. If this is the case, there was a coin in circulation during Domitian's reign that depicted Domitian's son surrounded by seven stars. This was representative of the Roman Empire's belief that their emperors were gods, capable of controlling the present and the future.

But in this passage it is Jesus who holds the stars, not Rome, not Domitian, not Domitian's son. It is Jesus who holds the future.

Revelation, then, is not meant to frighten; it is meant to comfort. For the early Christians, Revelation was not a horror story - it was a lullaby, soothing the believers worries about the future.

Revelation tells us that yes, the bough may break, and yes, the cradle may fall, but Jesus is there to catch us in his loving arms. Revelation challenges us to live faithfully in spite of the terrors of the night, trusting the One who holds the stars in his hand.

We don't need to be afraid of the dark.

P.S. Over the next few weeks I'll be posting a series about how to interpret Revelation in a way that is faithful to its first century context. Check back and join me! In the meantime, what have been your experiences with the book of Revelation - the good, the bad, or the ugly? Tell me about them!

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