By: Cade Campbell
“There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, Speaking of the Gospel in his essay “On Fairy Stories”
I love good stories. I love the epic journey of the Fellowship of the Ring to defeat the evil Sauron in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I love the birth of a “new hope” to defeat evil with the emergence of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. I love the magical power of sacrifice and love to destroy Voldemort and all his horcruxes in Harry Potter. I absolutely love these tales. And you probably do too; maybe not these particular ones (although they’re great) but we all love good tales. From childhood we’ve fallen in love with stories where the danger is great, the stakes are high, the enemy is ruthless, the hero is an underdog, and evil is defeated. We love stories where good triumphs and the bad guys lose. We long for stories that really do have a “happily ever after.”
That’s one reason I love reading Revelation. It’s a cosmic drama, an intergalactic multi-dimensional thriller about the defeat of evil and the triumph of the most unlikely of heroes…a crucified carpenter from a no-place bumpkinville named Nazareth. The book of Revelation can be divided and outlined in a number of ways but one of my favorite ways of summarizing the book’s structure is simply to present it as a two act gospel-opera introduced by a prologue (chapters 1-3). Act I (chapters 4-11) portrays believers triumphing in Christ as Christ, the sovereign ruler of all things, completes his plan, fulfills his promises, and unleashes the totality of his wrath on his enemies. We’re shown a vision of all of history (past, present, and future) in which Christ is victorious and his people triumph through the persecutions and sufferings they endure at the hands of God’s enemies, being assured of their final victory and vindication as those same enemies endure fierce judgment at the hand of Christ.
Act II (Revelation 12-22) rewinds and restarts the story and portrays that same drama from a completely new vantage point. Readers are given special 3D “glasses,” by which we are allowed to see the true but veiled expanse of the story we find ourselves in. Reality is shown to be far deeper, far deadlier, far scarier, far larger, and far grander than anything we could ever expect. The story that we’re caught up in spans all of heaven and hell, the physical and spiritual dimensions, earth and space, all creation. The veil is lifted to show us the truth about reality. We’re caught in the middle of a truly worldwide war.
That means the truest thing about your life isn’t what it appears to be. The most fundamental facts about who you are and why you exist are not limited to chores, deadlines, commutes, bills, school, housework, meals, and sleep. All of these parts of our lives are merely the environment in and through which a much larger story is unfolding. The truth about who we really are is epic. We are real-life, living characters in a story far older, far stranger, far deadlier, far more dangerous, and with an ending far more delightful than anything we could ever imagine. Knowing this helps us identify our greatest enemy. Your greatest enemy isn’t you spouse, boss, job, kids, parents, teachers, coworkers, friends, or neighbors. Our greatest enemy is far worse than Sauron, Darth Vader, and Voldemort combined. And Revelation unmasks him. Our greatest enemy is “He Who Must Be Named.” He is the emperor of evil. He is the devilish dragon of demons. He is Satan himself.
And he wants to destroy everything good and bend it to his evil purpose. Allied with him is a host of forces: demonic spirits, sinful desires and rebellion, the power and prestige of the world, and the blindness that so often keeps this true story hidden from everyday view. This dragon and his allies are warring against his enemies, the people of God. They have invaded God’s creation. They have flourished under creation’s curse. They are rabidly seeking to steal, kill, and destroy everything that God has created good.
But God, the good king of all that is or ever will be, will not let the dragon win. Standing against the serpent is a Lamb, not a small and timid farm animal, but a wild and roaring warrior: the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Lamb and his Army assemble against the forces of evil. They array themselves in bloodstained robes of Calvary’s clothing and they charge into the mighty throngs of demonic dominion.
And the Lamb wins.
That’s the story Revelation 12-22 narrates, and that’s the story we find ourselves living in as participating characters. That is the reality behind all that lurks outside (and inside) our windows. That is the truth about who we really are and where we really are. Listen closely and you will hear the sound of tumult and feel the rumble of the battle that is raging all around us. The most ordinary moment of a Christian’s life is a battlefield.
Awake from your drowsed stupor, the spell that you’ve been put under. Christians find themselves in the midst of what is truly the greatest story ever told. We find each day of our calendar to be another page in a tale from this our perilous realm. We find ourselves living among forces far more powerful than comic book heroes. We are in league with a company, a community of men and women far larger and far greater and far more victorious than the Rebel Alliance or the Fellowship or Dumbledore’s Army. We find ourselves in the ranks of martyrs and missionaries, suffering saints, ordinary yet faithful believers all over the world who are allied with all creation into the Lamb’s Army.
Our universe is more compelling and more spectacular than anything Marvel or DC could ever conceive. The gospel is the heart and core of all story. In fact, all other stories (The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Avengers, etc.) are merely fictionalized and faint echoes of the deepest depths of reality, reflections that point us to the True Story, the Real Story.
And that real story is no imaginary fiction, although it did begin once upon a time and will definitely have a happily ever after.
Cade Campbell (M.Div, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and his wife are originally from Mississippi. He serves as Associate Pastor for Preaching and Discipleship at First Baptist Church Henryville, Indiana. You can follow him on Twitter at @DCadeCampbell.