Staff Note – Michelle Young: Christ in Revelation

Each June I revisit the image of the Church gathered around Christ in Revelation 1-3. I do this as I prepare to teach our Residential Fellows; I also do it because it is good for me. I have grown to love the image. It speaks of the relationship between Christ and his Church, reminds me of what I am to expect as a member of the Church, and re-grounds my imagination in Scripture, shaping my hopes and actions.

As other writers in this edition of Common Ground have said, the Church is made up of very regular people, and it can be a very messy place. But it is here, in the midst of a messy and motley crowd, that Christ has chosen to dwell. This is very good news.

In Revelation 1, John gives us the image of Christ, in all of his resurrected glory, standing and walking among the churches. He lives with and among his people. The churches are seven churches from the first-century Asia Minor and represent the Church catholic across space and time.

Living within the Roman Empire, under Roman rule and pressure, only a few decades after Christ’s death and resurrection, the seven churches are having to grapple with what it means that Christ’s kingdom has come, but that the kingdom looks different to what they have hoped for and imagined.

They faced the reality that God, human agents, and Satan were all at work. God was at work bringing his kingdom; they were at work choosing their allegiances, who and what they would serve; and Satan was at work, though with limited power, seeking to undermine God’s people. This was the reality for the churches in Asia Minor. And it is the reality for the Church today.

Into this reality, Christ appears, and the picture we are given of him is one of incredible care and intimacy. Christ knows these churches. He knows their situation, the places they live, the challenges they face, and the struggles they have.  He has things to say to them; they are encouraged to listen: “He who has an ear, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 2:7).

In his book Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination, Eugene Peterson speaks about these messages and the relationship between Christ and the churches.  He sees Christ as a Spiritual Director. Because Christ loves the churches, he wants to train them; his words are pedagogical. He gives them an identity that is grounded in him, encourages them where they are doing well, challenges them where they are falling short, and motivates them to continue on in the faith.

This picture of Christ and his Church leads us to a realistic, rather than an idealistic, understanding of the Church. We should expect the Church to be a messy place, a lived-in place, where God’s people are working out what it means to be faithful followers of Christ. We should expect to see God at work forming us in his ways. We should expect God to speak, encouraging, correcting, and motivating us to be his people because he loves us and wants us to bring his life to the world.

This is an image of the Church I return to each year. It is an image that keeps me grounded in and prayerful for the Church. Christ is and will always be with his Church.

If you have never looked at the image of Christ and the Church in Revelation 1-3, I encourage you to read this passage. And if you need some help along the way, Eugene Peterson’s book is a great resource.

(Image: “Jesus Christ reveals himself to John, Revelation,” by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld, CC Zero)