I first visited San Antonio in 1995. At the time, I was still in high school and was here for our church body's national youth gathering. It is still one of my fondest memories. The Alamo. The Tower of the Americas. The food. I had never enjoyed true Texas barbeque before that week. "And my first taste of Texas," as Ed Bruce once sang, "still lingers in my heart and on my tongue." After visiting for the first time, I knew I just had to return to Texas. And I did the very next year to attend college in Austin. I have been an "imported native" ever since.
One of the highlights of my maiden trip to the Lonestar State was taking a riverboat cruise down the Riverwalk. I suppose it's practically mandatory for anyone visiting San Antonio for the first time. And I remember being fascinated by what I learned from our very animated and friendly tour guide. They really constructed the Hilton Palacio Del Rio by stacking fully furnished rooms, one on top of another? Incredible! And Casa Rio, my favorite Riverwalk eatery, has been around since 1946 and was the river's first restaurant? Now that's longevity! And a Spanish expedition really held a mass on the river's famed Marriage Island all the way back in 1691 at which time they christened that spot "San Antonio"? Amazing! I tipped our tour guide that day. For I was truly appreciative of all he taught me.
Today in our "Word for Today" readings, we begin the book of Revelation. This book is the apostle John's account of a time when he was whisked away on a whirlwind tour of heaven: "After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven" (Revelation 4:1). And on this tour, John, and by extension, we, encounter some of the most fascinating, most incredible, most amazing, and most puzzling pictures in all the Bible. Lampstands and seals. Beasts and dragons. What are these all about?
Thankfully, we have a tour guide to lead us through these strange scenes. John describes him thusly in Revelation 1: He is "someone 'like a son of man,' dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance" (verses 13-16). This is quite an impressive and even awe-inspiring tour guide! And lest we have any doubts as to this tour guide's identity, he identifies himself: "I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades" (verses 17-18). Our tour guide is none other than Jesus.
Part of the reason so many people become so befuddled by Revelation is because they follow the wrong tour guide. They read fantastic works of Christian fiction describing catastrophic disasters and bloody wars. They peruse strange internet conspiracy theories explaining how our precise moment in history is aligning perfectly with the visions of John. But in the midst of such fantastic portraits of the earth's final days, may I suggest two things to you?
First, if you're reading such fanciful and probably non-scholarly literature about Revelation rather than the literature of Revelation itself, you're following the wrong tour guide. For Revelation already has a tour guide. And it's not a best-selling Christian author nor is it some faceless internet conspiracist hiding behind a computer screen. No, Revelation's tour guide is none other than Jesus. And I suspect he's a much better tour guide than any human. As the great Christian theologian and humorist G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators" (Orthodoxy, 29). Revelation, if you follow the tour guide who is Jesus, is not nearly so weird as some would make it out to be.
Second, most of the exotic commentary that surrounds Revelation leads to only one thing: fear. And this is terribly tragic. For as our tour guide Jesus begins taking us on a truly extraordinary journey, the first words out of his mouth are, "Do not be afraid" (verse 17). For the Christian, Revelation is not meant to incite apprehension but to invoke hope in our conquering Lord who will one day bring to us his "new heaven and new earth" (Revelation 21:1). So as we begin reading Revelation, rather than grimacing at the prospect of reading the Bible's strangest book, delight in the prospect of taking a tour of heaven with Jesus as your guide. I promise, it'll be even better than a Riverwalk cruise. And you won't even have to tip your tour guide.