Reading for Thursday, Nov 15: Revelation 4
I have to say up front: this is a little long. But some places require greater explanation. I hope you’ll join in the discussion.
With this chapter, John’s vision extends beyond the isle of Patmos to an altogether transcendent scene: the courts of heaven. John responds to the Voice that calls out to him: “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this,” (v1). The Spirit whisks John to a scene of glory unfolding before the throne of God. As we mentioned in yesterday’s study, this throne will be one of the crucial images of John’s vision. We read all that follows in light of what is here: God, seated on His eternal throne, reigning over His creation.
The throne of God is surrounded by 24 “lesser” thrones, representing the completion of God’s covenant promises mediated through the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the New Covenant. We discern this as a demonstration of completion, further signified by the seven torches / spirits (seven being commonly understood as the number of completion, drawing on the creation narrative of Genesis 1).
Four living creatures surround the throne of God: one in the image of a lion, another in the likeness of a ox, the third with the face of a man, and the fourth a flying eagle. These strange images call to mind the fullness of the created order. All living creatures are represented here in their proper state of worship, crying out the confession of God’s holy nature:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (v8)
At this, the 24 elders bow down in worship before the One “who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever” (v10). As they cast their crowns before him, they sing:
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things and by your will they existed and were created,” (v11).
What are we to make of this beautiful scene?
We live in a broken world. Genesis 3 tells of the tragic, systemic consequences of sin being unleashed in the cosmos. As Paul has reminded us, all creation is awaiting a glorious redemption, the final frame when things are set right once again. Read this from Romans 8:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from the bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:18-24)
All creation is animated toward this glorious conclusion when God is to be praised for all eternity. In our times of trouble and adversity, this truth groans from our lips. Intrinsically, we know something is wrong. But we hold fast to the hope of this final scene. We trust that evil and sin do not have the last word. We believe in the God who reigns eternally from His throne. In hard times, we ask ourselves, “Who is in charge here, anyway?” John’s glimpse into the inevitable reality of all things buoys us with hope that God reigns eternal, in spite of circumstances that at times seem to declare a contrary experience.
Hang on to this image, John whispers to us.
The image of the Eternal One, seated on His throne.
This is how all of this ends.
And glory of glories, the ending has intersected the middle.
And we revel in hope.