This week we are studying Revelation 4-5. This is our entryway into John’s fantastic and dramatic vision of God’s war against the world rulers of this present darkness and the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. If you have time, please also read Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1. Our reading this week is a reworking of these two visions.
Revelation 4-5 gives us our two primary protagonists in this spiritual conflict, the relationship between the two, and our relationship with them. The two heroes of John’s Revelation are God and the Lamb. God is described in Revelation 4 and the Lamb is described in Revelation 5. The description of God and the description of the Lamb are very similar. To use a later turn of phrase, God and the Lamb are two persons but share the same nature. Our relationship with them is also the same. Our primary task is to worship them in their splendor of holiness. (See, Pss. 29, 96). The coming war is over the issue of who do you worship?
The Majesty of God:
John begins by describing the majesty of God in vv.1-8a. The majesty of God is of such transcendence that John does not use any proper name or terminology for God but simply uses the term “the one seated on the throne.” (v.2). This is where our journey into the vision begins and where our very knowledge of God starts.
The vision opens with John walking into the throne room of God with voices sounding like trumpets. John’s vision of the Deity can only be described as if looking upon precious jewels of jasper and carnelian with a rainbow like an emerald enveloping the throne. Different commentaries may assign different meanings to the jewels themselves, but the overall message is the majesty with which God shines. John’s description is very similar to that of Ezekiel 1:26-28.
Within God’s presence are numerous beings giving worship. Around the throne are God’s twenty-four attendants. This is either a reference to the twenty-four priestly orders instituted by David that would serve God in his (eventual) temple (1 Chron. 24) or may refer to the twelve tribes of Israel plus the twelve apostles (Rev. 21:12, 14). Before the throne are the seven torches of fire which are the seven spirits and in front of the throne is a glassy sea like crystal. And over the throne are four living creatures, with six wings, full of eyes, and each representing a type of animal. These creatures are an amalgamation of the cherubim of Ezekiel 1:4-14 and Isaiah 6:2.
Within these verses, John is not only trying to communicate what it appears like to come into the very presence of God but to draw a comparison between God and Caesar, the ruler of the present age of darkness. The palace of Emperor Nero (d.68) (more on him later in Revelation) was called the Golden House because of its splendor. The Flavian Palace built by Emperor Domitian in 92 AD, was similar in its extravagance. Like John’s vision, the Roman emperor would have also been surrounded by a retinue of dignitaries and lesser officials. John wants to draw these parallels to create a binary choice between God and Ceasar so that choosing both is not an option.
The Worship of God:
More than the identity of the various creatures in God’s presence is their activity – constantly singing a pair of doxologies extolling the holiness and power of God in the first hymn and the honor due God as the creator in the second. The first line of the first hymn is taken directly from Isaiah 6:3 – “Holy, holy, holy.” The second line reflects the name of God as the I AM in Exodus 3:14. The name itself is an indeterminate verb tense and thereby can be past, present, and future.
The second hymn had a more imperial beginning. The Emperor Domitian required that he be addressed as “my/our Lord and God.” This hymn is being sung by the twenty-four elders who cast down their crowns (the power and authority) before God. (Domitian’s retinue was also required to wear crowns with the emperor’s image inscribed upon them.) If the one seated on the throne is Lord and God, then the emperor is not Lord and God, and the emperor is not worthy of our submission. This hymn also asserts that it is this God from which creation came, and none other. The God that created in the first place necessarily has the power to make all things new again (Rev. 21:5).
In giving us a glimpse of this heavenly worship, Revelation makes two fundamental points. First, John wants his audience to see that the power and pageantry and splendor given to the worship of the Emperor belongs first and only to God. The worship of God is greater than that of the emperor because God is greater than the emperor.
Second, John wants his audience to see that the worship in which they engage in their congregation is a reflection of and a participation in the on-going heavenly worship of God. When the poor church of Smyrna or the dispossessed church of Philadelphia engages in worship, they also participate in this splendor of John’s Revelation.
Within this worship, all of Christ’s congregations also participate with one another. In the very earliest notations of Christian worship that we have, the Sanctus is sung. It is this hymn that we still sing every Sunday, joining our voices not only with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, but also with all of those in Christ who have come before us and who will come after us.
Dinner is at 6:30. Dinner is turkey meatballs and polenta. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here.
Holy, holy, holyReginald Heber (1826), 1979 Hymnal 362, v.2
All the saints adore Thee
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee
Which wert and art and evermore shalt be