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In Bible blog I have just completed a look at Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian Assembly. You can find these and all my 1778 blogs by date on my archive, or by googling: emmock.com topic, or emmock.com bible reference. My new project is an examination of The Revelation, the final book in the Christian Bible. It’s controversial but fun, offering trumpets, angels, the four horsemen, a beast from the sea and the whore of Babylon. What’s not to like? It begins on 30th July. Join me. The headlines are reminders of the world we live in:
4 After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ 2 At once I was in the spirit and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 3 And the one seated there looks like jasper and cornelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. 4 Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 6 and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
‘Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.’
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
11 ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
Yes, by your will they existed and were created.’
After recognising the witness of the seven church assemblies in Asia, and giving them the messages from the risen Lord Jesus, the prophet John recounts his vision of heaven. It’s vital to keep in mind the function of “heaven” in this and the following visions:
- Heaven is the COUNTERPART of Earth, that is, it is not utterly separate but is related to earth as to the other side of a coin. Events on earth have their counterpart in events in heaven.
- Heaven is the FINAL FUTURE of earth, that is, the heavenly reality points towards new heavens and a new earth. Scholars have called this the eschatological reality of heaven.
Both of these functions can be seen in this opening scene of the heavenly drama.
Jesus summons the prophet into heaven and he finds that it has an open door. We remember that Jesus Messiah keeps the “key of David” which opens the door of God’s Rule. He enters on a scene of worship. God is described by not being described. God is like the shining of precious stones in a nimbus of green light. His/ her presence is beautiful and dazzling, that is, it resists full comprehension. The 24 elders represent the people of God who share God’s Rule ( crowns) because they have shared in the suffering of Jesus (white robes). When they throw down their crowns in front of the throne they show that their power is not their own but from God, whom they surround as counsellors on earth would surround their monarch. When they prostrate themselves before God they mime the devotion given to worldly monarchs or emperors but show that this should only be offered to God, the creator.
The four living creatures stand for created life in all its variety in images borrowed from Ezekiel and Isaiah. The gift of observation and understanding is especially emphasised ( eyes). God’s creatures are meant to be aware of his glory. Like the seraphim in Isaiah chapter 6, they express creation’s worship of its creator as the holy, powerful Lord of past, present and future.
Some scholars insist that all the beings in this heaven are different sorts of angels. I want to insist that what they are is given by the author’s description, and that they stand for humanity and living things. The only exception I would make is for the seven spirits who are clearly part of God’s being.
If we interpret this scene first of all as a counterpart of earthly reality, we can see it as the perfect prototype of the worship offered to God by the church assemblies. They may seem to be just a few believers gathered in someone’s house but they share in the beauty and perfection of the worship of the heavenly court. In particular such worship denies the blaphemous claims to divinity of earthly rulers. The worship of the living creatures is the counterpart of the honour given to God by the lives all his earthly creatures. The heavenly worship reveals the meaning of life on earth.
If we interpret the scene as the final future of the earthly reality, we can see it as an image the perfect ordering of life which God’s Rule will bring about: human beings and other living things are being brought into a true relationship with each other and the creator, which bestows dignity on all, and in which all can express gratitude for their lives. The Presbyterian Shorter Catechism, which I learned as a child says that the ” true end of Man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” The powers that rule the earth on the other hand have no place in this future because they have usurped the place of God and refuse to recognise his rule.
Robert Burns once wrote, “There are no words that confer greater dignity on the human race than these:’Let us worship God.'”