April 3, 2008

Revelation week 4

4:1 After these things I looked, and there was a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said: "Come up here so that I can show you what must happen after these things."

After receiving the letters to the Seven churches from the Risen Jesus, John looks and sees a doorway into the heavens that stands open. He is invited to come into the very presence of God (as we will see shortly) where he will be shown a vision of what is about to begin happening in the world.

It's important to note what this passage does NOT teach. This is in no way a description of "the Rapture" as many Dispensational writers claim. To read the rapture into this passage is precisely that--to read it INTO the passage (the term for reading a meaning into a text that is not there is "eisegesis" and is to be avoided at all times). There is no rapture, no 2,000+ year gap called the "church age", no final trumpet, nothing like any of that in this passage. Rather, this experience of John's where he is taken up into the heavenly realm and shown amazing things is much closer to the experience Paul had of being taken up "to the third heaven," which Paul himself describes as a "revelation" (2Corinthians 12:1-4).

2 Immediately I was in the Spirit, and a throne was standing in heaven with someone seated on it! 3 And the one seated on it was like stones of jasper and carnelian in appearance, and a rainbow looking like it was made of emerald encircled the throne.
4 In a circle around the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on those thrones were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white clothing and had golden crowns on their heads.
5 From the throne came out flashes of lightning and roaring and crashes of thunder.
Seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God, were burning in front of the throne 6 and in front of the throne was something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
In the middle of the throne and around the throne were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second creature like an ox, the third creature had a face like a man's, and the fourth creature looked like an eagle flying. 8 Each one of the four living creatures had six wings and was full of eyes all around and inside. They never rest day or night, saying:

"Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God,
the All-Powerful,
Who was and who is, and who is coming!"

9 And whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne, saying:

11 "You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
since you created all things,
and because of your will they existed and were created!"

What is going on here??

Any of Johns original readers who were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the books written by prophets who had experienced exile as he himself was experiencing (Moses, Ezekiel, Daniel, etc.) would immediately recognize all these elements in a description of God's presence. God's throne (which also doubled as a chariot driven by 4 living creatures) was envisioned by both Ezekiel and Isaiah (Ezek. 1, Isa. 6). It was also described briefly by Daniel in his famous "Son of Man" vision (Dan. 7), which will come to the forefront in the next few chapters!

The 24 victoriously-dressed elders around God's throne would likely bring to mind the concept of God's People--both under the Mosaic Covenant (12 Tribes of Israel) as well as the Messianic New Covenant (12 Disciples). ALL of God's people, Jews under the first covenent and Jews/Gentiles together under the New Covenant, are represented before His throne.

What about 7 torches/spirits of God? As we briefly discussed when we looked at chapter 1, these either represent the 7 Archangels of Jewish lore, or more likely in my opinion, the sevenfold (that is, the complete and full) Spirit of God, aka. the Holy Spirit.

The 4 living creatures also appear, though in a slightly altered appearance, in Ezekiel's vision of God's throne. Though there remains a strong element of mystery surrounding them (as well as most of the symbols in Revelation), it is likely that they are representative of the whole higher created order. The lion representing the wild animals, the ox represening domesticated animals, the eagle representing the birds of the sky and the human representing humanity. They are full of eyes, possibly alluding to the fact that all creation watches and bears witness to God's glory (though of course this is somewhat speculative). However, unlike the earthly reality they represent, these living creatures have wings, like the seraphim in Isaiah's vision of God, signifying that they are heavenly in origin. God is not wholely separated from His creation; He is intimately involved with it and oversees it--even the dreadful source of chaos and evil, the sea--as the true and ultimate King of the Universe!

And it is as not only King, but also as Creator, that God is worshipped by all of creation symbolically in this heavenly vision. He is praised for creating such an amazing and beautiful universe--despite sin and decay entering in to it, it remains a good creation of a good God!

It's worth noting, contrary to some popular worship songs and sermons, that this is not a picture of what ultimate future existence for eternity in Heaven will look like. No, this is no picture of the ultimate destiny of God's creation; it is a picture of the current nature of God's creation! As we will soon see, there remains much to be done from Heaven's perspective; the scroll has to be opened; the Lamb has to be enthroned. As N.T. Wright has noted so well in his FANTASTIC new book, "Surprised by Hope":

The wonderful description in Revelation 4 and 5 of the twenty-four elders casting their crowns before the throne of God and the lamb, beside the sea of glass, is not, despite one of Charles Wesley's great hymns, a pictrue of the last day, with all the redeemed in heaven at last. It is a picture of present reality, the heavenly dimension of our present live. Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life--God's dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever. And when we come to the picture of the actual end in Revelation 21-22, we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace." (pp.18-19)

Next up: Chapter 5 "Enter the Lamb"!

See you then!



ken carter said...

thank you for this blog. i also love nt wright's new book---i really drew from it on easter. i have just ordered the simply christian videos for next fall

God's blessings,
ken carter

JMS said...

Thanks for posting, Ken! I purchased the Simply Christian study last year and am hoping to have a small group do it maybe over the summer.

Take care,

JM's Audio Teaching Archive

Check out sermon.net/jmsmith for some of my messages and teaching sessions:

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