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A couple weeks ago, I posted this quote from Allan Boesak on my blog:

“[Jesus Christ] is the ruler of the kings of the earth. Not Caesar’s is the final word the church shall hear, but the Word made flesh. Not Caesar is ‘Lord’ or ‘Saviour,’ despite his claims, but Jesus Christ. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. It is he who through his love has made you a kingdom, priests to serve his God. So to whom do we belong? Whom do we serve? Do we belong to Pharaoh? Even as he challenges the power of the Living One, Pharaoh and his armies and his horses are drowned in the sea. Do we serve Nebuchadnezzar? Even as he builds his image, he learns the truth about himself and the true God in the obedient refusal of three young men. Shall we fear the emperor? Even as the beast raises its head, it must face the Lamb that was slain. For above all kings, however powerful, is Jesus Christ. And he is Lord.” [1]

After posting, I teased a follow-up post that never came.

It wasn’t that I decided not to write it, nor was it a matter of feeling like I no longer needed to write it (far from it). Rather, it simply fell to the wayside as the pace of ministry and life increased; meetings with students, writing sermons, council meetings, and family appointments. However, as I have the week off from preaching, I wanted to return to this quote and to why I think it is significant for the church today (there may be a shameless plug for an upcoming sermon series later).

Allan Boesak wrote this commentary as a prophetic word of challenge and hope arising from the South African experience. In many ways, it mirrors the original purpose for the Revelation of John. It was Christ’s word to His Church; a letter of challenge and hope for those struggling in the shadow of Roman persecution. Through its vivid, symbolic imagery, the Revelation paints a picture of Christ’s triumph over the powers of evil (antichrist) warring against His Church and seeking to exalt themselves to the place of God. And in Boesak’s book, you can see connections to apartheid—the powers of evil on display in South Africa—on every page.

Whether it be the early church in Asia Minor, or the Dutch Reformed in South Africa, the Revelation is a call for the Church to trust in the lordship of Jesus Christ and to know that nothing can stand in the way of His redeeming, reconciling, and renewing reign. It is a road running through the entirety of the Old Testament, where again and again, God reveals His sovereign power and authority against empires and idols. Even as he challenges the power of the Living One, Pharaoh and his armies and his horses are drowned in the sea.

Other signposts litter the path: Joshua and the conquest of the Promised Land, David and his battle with Goliath, or Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Even as he builds his image, he [Nebuchadnezzar] learns the truth about himself and the true God in the refusal of three young men.

And in Christ, we see this road reach its cosmic climax, as He defeats the powers of sin, death, and the evil one. In the end, it’s not Rome that rises to the pinnacle of power, nor the religious leaders and Jewish politicians, but rather the humiliated, crucified Jesus who is raised up in resurrected glory to the highest throne, given the most honored name, and before whom every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Phil. 2:8-11).

The hope of the Revelation comes as we embrace this Jesus. The lord, savior, and ruler of the kings of the earth. He has the final say, the last word. Not Pharaoh, not Nebuchadnezzar, not Caesar, nor, in Boesak’s case, the National Party regime.

But therein lies the challenge: To whom do we belong? Whom do we serve? Heidelberg Catechism Q&A#1 reminds us that we belong, body and soul, in live and in death, to our faithful savior, Jesus Christ. And yet captivation, corruption, and compromise all line the highway leading to the New Jerusalem—tempting roadside attractions and dangerous obstacles—beckoning with their earthly visions of the kingdom and threatening any and all who would stand in the way of their program.

In his masterful book, Between the Beginning and the End, missiologist J.H. Bavinck writes:

God’s kingdom comes by battling hostile powers from beginning to end. Why? Because throughout history there have always been secular powers that merge to form empires which, upon closer inspection, have no other goal than to establish a human kingdom, a kingdom where deified man celebrates his triumphs…it aims at collective self-deification, with is the root of sin. The empire of humanity has as its most basic aim the shared desire to construct an orderly world, but a world without God, in total disregard of him. That human empire is an imitation of God’s plan: it is an attempt, by hook or by crook, to rob God of his great plan and thus try to make God’s plan come true through human culture. [2]

It is this empire, this imposter kingdom and its king, that lies at the heart of the challenge for the church. The early church faced the challenge to remain faithful in the face of false teaching, to endure imperial persecution, and persevere on the narrow way, serving as an embassy of the Kingdom in the world. Similarly, Boesak’s book was a call to the church to reflect on her worldly allegiances, to resist sin and injustice, and, for the sake of her gospel witness, pursue unity, reconciliation, and peace.

In our own day, we read the Revelation against the backdrop of deep political polarization that has taken many Christians and churches captive through fear-mongering and worldly visions of power, status, and salvation. We are pressed on every side by those who would desire to cancel us for being bigots or woke, too conservative or too liberal; and the church is tempted to compromise orthodoxy, adopting more culturally palatable theological positions that are nonetheless false teaching.  

And personally, the weight of life and its struggles can be wearying. We carry economic, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual burdens that threaten to crush us. In my own life, the past month has been marked by several of these, as we live in limbo, waiting for the South African government to approve our three-year visas; our daughter began occupational therapy; and I see the deep disparities and hear the stories of struggle from church and community members alike.

But this is exactly where Boesak’s quote offers hope, because no matter the principalities and powers, the political, social, or personal forces that press in on the church and our lives, ultimately they must face the lamb that was slain, Jesus Christ. And he is Lord.

He is our Lord. The one we rightly fear, who fights for us, and promises to be with us until the end of the age. And it is in this context that He gives John the messages to the seven churches that we find in chapters two and three of the Revelation. After Easter, I’m excited to explore these texts and consider the ways they offer our church—and me—the hope that sustained the early church and the challenge that moved the church in Boesak’s day to simultaneously persevere in the face of injustice while also working for truth, justice, reconciliation, and peace.


[1] Allan Boesak, Comfort and Protest: The Apocalypse of John from a South African Perspective 

(Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1987), 47.

[2] J.H. Bavinck, From the Beginning to the End: A Radical Kingdom Vision (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 37.

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