I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Mountains and hills! bless the Lord. (R./)
Everything that grows on the earth! bless the Lord. (R./)
Springs of water! bless the Lord. (R./)
Seas and rivers! bless the Lord. (R./)
Sea beasts and everything that lives in water! bless the Lord. (R./)
Birds of heaven! bless the Lord. (R./)
Animals, wild and tame! bless the Lord. (R./)
Jesus told them a parable:
"Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
The Book of Revelation is typical of apocalyptic literature but today's gospel speaks in plainer language. From the example of the budding fig tree we can tell that summer is near. So "when you see all the things happening, know that the reign of God is near." Both the readings offer signs whose meaning must be discerned, and the instinct of faith attunes us to what God is saying by the world about us.
The wildly colourful book of Revelation was written under the pressure of persecution by the Roman empire, when the church felt hounded on all sides. The inspired seer of Patmos predicted the collapse of the tyrannical empire that would lead to a period of peace for the church. After that would come the second appearance of Christ, the new heavens and the new earth, the new holy city Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, radiant as a bride prepared to meet her husband.
The fig tree is in full bloom and the harvest is near, yet in our everyday lives we have to be realists. A strange advice: to be sober amid the weird symbols of the apocalyptic seers. Realists in digging beneath the surface and perceptively listening for the hidden message. This message will not go away, for it is the word of God, predicting the new heavens and the new earth. Weird as the vision may seem to us, our world will blossom into the beautiful Jerusalem, like a lovely bride meeting her husband.
We live in a world of rapid change that many find disconcerting and unsettling. We need some constants in our lives, and we find change easier to manage if at least the basics remain the same. In the gospel Jesus speaks about change on a cosmic scale, hugely significant change, when heaven and earth will pass away; it is hard to imagine a more radical kind of change than that.
But after predicting radical change, he promised something unchangeable. His own words, he says, will never pass away. During even the most radical changes, the word of God remains constant, because God remains true. He is the rock that endures when all else passes. Even during disconcerting change we trust that when all else is shifting, he remains steady. Being anchored on him keeps us steady when all else seems ready to fall apart.