Teaching Revelation to Teenagers in the Year of Our Lord 2020
Studying and teaching Revelation during a global pandemic, an election year, civil unrest, wildfires, hurricanes, and earthquakes is a surreal experience. These events have crystallized a thought that I have often had: what the future holds is terrifying. Reading about the judgements, the bowls, the plagues, the terror, and destruction that is going to happen is frightening.
If I am being incredibly honest with myself and others, I don’t want the world to end. Despite my studies on the glorious things to come and despite the fact that I will be in a New Heaven and New Earth (one that puts this earth to infinite shame) with my Creator for eternity, there is a large part of me that does not want this one to end. I think that this is true for several reasons. On the one hand, this world, these people, are all that I know. I do not handle the unknown very well. Even though there is some idea of what is to come, my human, earthly mind cannot come close to understanding what that will be like. The thought of the world as we know it changing makes my stomach churn.
Selfishly, I consider how much I want to do and experience here on this earth. I want to travel and see the wonders of God’s creation. I want to have children, experience life through their eyes and watch them grow, and someday have grandchildren to love and spoil. I want to spend more time with my wife and dogs. I want to hunt with my family, catch fish on the banks of Roaring River, watch the Chiefs win more Super Bowls, lift more weights, and get into better shape. I want to continue to live and enjoy life on this earth. Thinking about the possibility of these things ending in an instant makes me sad.
I also think that many of these feelings are a result of being born in America. When I have shared these burdens with people I trust, they remind me of people in other parts of the world, whose families are buried alive because of their faith, who wish the end would come sooner than later. When I read about the persecution that early Christians suffered, it makes sense as to why they would be begging for Jesus to come back, why they could not wait for the end to come, for Jesus to return and make all things new.
But I am spoiled rotten. Even my worst days do not compare to being at risk of execution simply because I profess Christ. This might be one of the downsides of living in America where I am free to practice Christianity, free to avoid persecution and anything that makes me uncomfortable. Spiritually speaking, I am like the rich young ruler in Mark’s Gospel. Out of all my hopes and dreams, am I willing to give them up for Christ? Am I willing to give up my family, my football, my weightlifting, everything that I hold dear? Are these hindering me from coming to Christ and putting all of my faith and trust in Him? If I were to say these things to Jesus, what would He say to me? The same thing that He said to the rich young ruler?(Mark 10:17-27)
As an American, I have a lot of barriers when it comes to having communion with Christ. The things I hold dear can and do cause me to wish He would not come back sooner. I almost feel like asking God if He could hold off of sending Jesus back so that I can live my life and do all of these things I dream of doing and die a peaceful death.
James 4:14-15 says this: “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’.”
James reinforces the idea that we shouldn’t rely on our own plans but rather trust in the Lord and His will. At the end of the day, I am not the one in control, God is. My life is simply a mist, here one minute and gone the next. What He wills will come to pass regardless of my feelings and what I want. Sometimes, though, it seems that God’s will is harsh and brutal.
What brings me comfort and hope is knowing that others have felt this way. Even John, in Revelation 10:9, was told to “Take and eat the Word; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” The message of God can be bittersweet. There are parts of Revelation that frighten, but at the same time there are wonderful promises. What I must come to realize is that I have no say over my own fate. Only my Creator, who loves me enough to send His Son to die on the cross for my sins, doubts, and fears, determines the course of my life. If I truly believe that He loves me and cares for me, I don’t have to be afraid of the future. I can live with confidence, knowing that whatever is coming, God has already planned it out and it is good.
The world that we are living in now is fraught with fear and anxiety, especially for teenagers. When studying through Revelation with them, it is helpful to show that yes, while crazy stuff is going to happen, God is still in control and it is all a part of His plan. This is an important point for any Christian, but especially a young one, to understand. Believing that God is good and in control can provide them the opportunity to live with confidence and be a strong witness to their family and friends. It is important for teenagers to understand that when they have deep and dark thoughts, they know that they can turn to Christ because He will listen and He cares. He loves us despite our fears and failures. He doesn’t mind being asked difficult questions, as long as we trust when He calls us to trust.
Whenever we study scripture, especially scripture that can be difficult and confusing, it is good to pray: O Lord, may you transform my heart to love you most of all. May you assuage my fears, doubts, and worries about the future. May you cause me to live every day, every minute, every second like it is my last. May you cause me to not waste any of the precious time that you have given me. May my life be well lived and pleasing to you.
Please also see:
And, from our 2014 conference audio: Mark Howard on Teaching Revelation