Does the church have a message of hope for the world?
Netflix has loads of post-apocalyptic movies, portraying a dark future. To be honest, these dystopian disasters seem a bit overblown while I’m sitting back in a comfy chair, connected to the internet, streaming to a big TV. But movies allow us to explore alternative realities, and that experience can help us shape our choices today.
So where will technology take us? When the industrial revolution took off, the mood was unbridled optimism, the expectation that technology could solve all our problems. Today the mood is darker. Post-apocalyptic movies explore the destructive power of war. We build underground bunkers to survive after we’ve nuked earth’s surface. We search for another planet to call home after messing up this one. We imagine a violent world where people kill for what little is left. Perhaps we’ll face extinction if the machines evolve faster than we do. Only the most brutal survive in this post-apocalyptic world.
You know what bothers me most about this dark picture? This is how the church’s message has been heard. The word apocalyptic comes from the Bible. The Apocalypse is the Book of Revelation. People imagined that Revelation was about the end of the world, so post-apocalyptic has come to mean after the end of the world as we know it.
That’s so wrong! Apocalypse (apokalypsis in Greek) actually means uncovering, revealing what’s underneath. Revelation is a book of hope — raw, honest hope. Revelation pulls back the covers to expose the bad stuff that’s going on in the world, but it does so to reveal what God’s doing about it. It’s not a timeline of a disastrous events; it’s a revelation of Jesus, the king who resolves everything that’s wrong, setting the world right under his rule. At the end of the Apocalypse, the post-apocalyptic world is absolutely brilliant! The only way to misunderstand the Apocalypse as a disaster is to leave God out.
Revelation is no head-in-the-sand escapism. It squarely faces the tough question: If God is running the world, why do bad things happen? Revelation says that God is our sovereign (he’s on the throne, Rev 4), but his plans are not playing out as you’d expect (his script is sealed up). We want a conquering Lion to crush the rebellion against God, but what he gives us is a Lamb who is killed. God doesn’t force himself on us: that’s why the Lamb is the only ruler worthy of the name. God raised him up from death to the throne. The king of kings has overcome evil and death like no other (Rev 5).
In John’s vision, the Lamb proceeds to break the seals, so God’s script can play out. As he breaks each one, it exposes the evils that contravene God’s purposes — stuff like war, famine, conquest, and killing. These are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, some of the scariest images in the book (Rev 6). Of course it’s scary: this is sin revealed. The rulers of this world gain power through these evils: war, starving out their opponents, conquering other rulers, unleashing Death against those who resist them.
But the vision is not about the power of sin: it’s about the Lamb breaking the power of sin. Jesus didn’t acquire kingship through the usual means (war, famine, conquest, death). He received the throne by appointment from our ultimate sovereign who raised him up when the rulers killed him. Jesus breaks the seals — dismantling the powers, exposing the evils of this world for what they are.
The Apocalypse is not a message of doom and dystopia, where earth is destroyed. It proclaims liberation and hope: earth is released from the power of sin, restored under Jesus’ reign.
C’mon church! We need to find our voice and announce this message of hope, this good news of God restoring the devastated world through the only ruler worthy of the name. We don’t deny the present pain, but we’re not stuck in a downward spiral of evil.
Down with dystopia! The message of the cross is that the Lamb entered our pain, and he has overcome. He’s restoring everything as new creation:
Colossians 1:20 (Msg) All the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe — people and things, animals and atoms — get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.