A few days ago I opened my Greek New Testament. What was once a constant companion in daily use now had to be dusted off. While my Hebrew OT has not been touched in any meannigful way for almost a decade, Greek was my one constant. I used it to prepare for any and everything – Middle School Bible Study and sermons alike. My grades in Hebrew were better than Greek. But I preferred the latter.
The other night I awoke at 2:20. And while fighting a losing battle to regain sleep, the thought kept looping through my mind drunk on sleeplessness – I am not a good banker and I have fogotten my Greek. It sounds funny now even as I type it, but those thoughts came with all the terror that comes at that time of night.
So I woke up the next morning and walked back to the office and pulled my Nestle-Aland 27 off the shelf. The spine has been taped multiple times and its body has been worn soft and supple.
Where should I start? Romans and Galatians would be easy. I’ve taught through those the most. 1 John is the easiest to naviagte in the original. But I chose Revelation for two reasons. One practical and the other possibly born of a little hubris and more than a little hope.
I don’t know the book of Revelation all that well. I’ve taught through the words to the seven churches but that is as far as I’ve gone. So I chose John’s letter from Patmos because it was unfamiliar to me and I would be learning the book as a I relearn the language.
And the Aplostle John wrote this one while in exile. He was not where he wanted to be. And his enduring ministry while he was in exile is his writing. I am not sure what his exile looked like on Patmos. But I assume the ones who put him there were not concerned with what made his soul sing. He might have despaired. He might have felt isolated. He might have wondered about about his call.
Last Thursday I began with the first three verses. Most of the vocabulary was familiar. But there was difficulty for them to take me a couple days of spending fifteen minutes here and 30 minutes there to get those first three verses.
The value is twofold. First, it’s true, much is lost in translation. Not meaning so much as depth of meaning. Second, it makes me read slow. I see things I would have never seen in the bare English because I have to read so much slower and more careful, laboring over words in Greek I would just breeze through in my native tongue.
So, three verses.
The third verse is the one sticking. The blessing of reading and hearing and keeping the prophecy John is about to reveal is enough to make me pay attention. And then he says the reason.
For the time is near.
A lot Revelation is confusing. But it’s timeless message is not. Kingdoms will rise and fall and bare their teeth in pursuit of the body of Christ. And within the church apostasy will rage. But the King will triumph and will reign in truth and grace and provide an unimaginable peace until time is no longer worth the measuring.
And if you read this and listen to this and keep what is written, there is a happiness (makarios which we translate as “blessing” is best understood as “happy”) when you face these things.
Apart from the reading and listening and keeping, there can be no reason for happiness. The bloodshed, the pain, the frustrations, the struggle…all of it makes no sense for the believer. But if you read about the triumph of The King and you listen to stories of what the king has done and will do and you pay attention when told of the suffering that will come, there is a reason for happiness the systems of the world will not understand and cannot overcome.
Our own hearts will fail to understand in the dark moments. But when we pay attention to what he has told us – who he is, what he has done, what will happen, and what he will do for us – happiness. The kind of happiness we all ache for. The kind of happiness we catch in the breezes of spring and in the smiles of those we love. The kind of happiness that we know must exist for all our longings. The happiness of freedom from all the aftershocks of the Fall.
The kind of happiness that compels me to read and to listen and to keep.