For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18
I grew up at a time of heightened interest in the book of Revelation and biblical prophecy in general. Sparked by books like The Late Great Planet Earth, Christans were fascinated by questions about when the rapture would occur, how beautiful the Millenium would be, and who the Antichrist might be.
There were rapture movies – basically trying to scare people into heaven by saying that if you don’t become a Christian, you might have to live through the Great Tribulation. There were even Christian celebrities who were advocating tribulation survival packs – in case you got left behind. People were buying land in Montana and getting ready to run for the hills. Now – one thing we learn from all the books and movies and teaching at that time – if you start with a wrong idea when you come to the Bible, you can end up in a really weird place.
But it wasn't just sensationalistic Americans who embraced inaccurate theologies about the future - the disciples of Jesus had a few wrong ideas. It's true - they did have a hope in the future. But their hope was that Jesus was the messiah - and would remake Jeruselam as the centre of the world and restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Here's how Jesus answered them:
"He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority" (Acts 1:7).
He then went on to describe to them how they would take the gospel all over the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes - Jesus had hope for the future. Hope that people all over the world would come to know God through the gospel.
And in Romans chapter 8, Paul describes his hope for the future - hope that is wrapped up in the word revelation. The word he uses for revelation is apokalyptÅ - the same word for the name of the book of Revelation. This word means to uncover, to lay open what has been veiled or covered up, to disclose, to make bare, to make known, to make manifest, to disclose what before was unknown.
In Romans 8:18, Paul is teaching that God is going to unzip and open up a package of glory - (splendour, brightness, majesty).
And he says that in light of that, the sufferings of the present time are of no account.
In this passage, Paul makes some dramatic claims about this future glory to be revealed:
- the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:21).
- we are waiting eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)
That's some rich stuff - there's more in there, but let your mind get wrapped around the idea that creation will be set free from bondage, that we will experience the fullness of adoption as God's sons, that our bodies will be comletely redeemed.
The truth is, we can barely comprehend the reality God is going to unpack. But Paul is saying that once this glory package gets opened . . . what currently seems like a long wait will feel like a fleeting dream from last night.
That's why Paul describes how we should live:
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:24-25).
We don't see it - but we hope for it. We don't experience it - we have walk with patience through the stuff of life, knowing that God has ordained a glorious future for his children.
And this brings me back to the book of Revelation. It is an apocalpyse - an unveiling. The object of its unveiling is stated in verse 1, in the first few words: The revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:1). The ultimate game changer, the ultimate trump card, the ultimate final shot in the final moment of the game is when Jesus is ultimately unveiled as the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Alpha and Omega, the Lion of God. That's what the book is about.
Paul is reminding us that in the day to day messy struggle we call life, we can sometimes lose sight of the very good, very glorious ultimate ending that God has destined.
It reminds me of the story of group of seminary students. After class one day, they were playing basketball in a gym hall. When they finished, they noticed the janitor in a corner, reading a book. The asked him, “What are you reading?”
“The Bible,” he said.
“What part of the Bible?”
Being Bible-scholars-in-training, they thought, "We’ll help this poor soul." “Do you understand what you are reading?”
They were astonished. “What does it mean?”
“It means that Jesus is gonna' win!”
The unsophsticated janitor with the most profound book in the world gave the most sublime answer ever: "Jesus is gonna' win!" That’s what the book of Revelation is about - it is the unfolding of a picture of God's ultimate victory.
Whatever it is you may be experiencing today - Paul wants to remind us that these momentary sufferings pale in comparison to the future glory that will be opened for us. In the last chapter of Revelation, in case we missed the point, Jesus gives us a straight up reminder:
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 22:13)
Jesus not only has the first say in your life - he has the last - and He is going to win.