15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
Can we live without hope?
The great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis struggled to understand life and death and what awaits us after death. He had a respect for Christianity but ultimately his unorthodox views got him excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox Church.
Tragically, Kazantzakis came to see hope as a negative thing. He wrote this about the meaning of life and how to live it:
We all ascend together, swept up by a mysterious and invisible urge. Where are we going? No one knows. Don’t ask, mount higher! Perhaps we are going nowhere, perhaps there is no one to pay us the rewarding wages of our lives. So much the better! For thus may we conquer the last, the greatest of all temptations—that of Hope.
Kazantzakis believe that man had certain duties in life. Kazantzakis’ first duty, in the words of John Messerly, is “to bravely accept our cognitive limitations” and the second is “to accept the heart’s anguish at being unable to find meaning in life.” But what of the third duty? Kazantzakis writes:
The moment is ripe: leave the heart and the mind behind you, go forward, take the third step. Free yourself from the simple complacency of the mind that thinks to put all things in order and hopes to subdue phenomena. Free yourself from the terror of the heart that seeks and hopes to find the essence of things. Conquer the last, the greatest temptation of all: Hope. This is the third duty.
Kazantzakis’ most profound and tragic statement on hope came from his own hand but did not appear until after his death. I am talking about the inscription on his tombstone: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”
I am moved by the second statement: “I fear nothing.” I am inspired by the third statement: “I am free.” But I am positively chilled by the first statement: “I hope for nothing.” And what makes this first statement even sadder to me is that it is written on a tombstone that is itself standing beneath a cross.
Why does this sadden me? Because the cross is humanities great hope! Because time and time and time again the Lord God in the scriptures and the Lord Jesus in the gospels and the witness of the New Testament at large offers us precisely this: hope. Hope! A reason not to despair. The certain knowledge that Jesus wins in the end and that all is not for nought.
I want to argue today that nowhere is the offer of hope more powerfully evident than in the book of Revelation. This will strike some as odd because they find Revelation frightening. I understand that. Parts of it are. But all throughout the book the Lord offers us time and time again the gift we most need: hope.