Summary: John’s message to the churches of his day (and to us) is that all that is seen is not all that exists. Indeed, the reality is much greater than what is seen on earth.
Revelation 4:1-11 The Worship of Heaven
4/2/17 D. Marion Clark
Can you identify where this quote is from?
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
If you answered Hamlet, you got it right. I open with this quote for two reasons. First, it expresses, in one sense, the message of Revelation. John’s message to the churches of his day (and to us) is that all that is seen is not all that exists. Indeed, the reality is much greater than what is seen on earth.
The other reason has to do with a published lecture I stumbled across in my college days in the school library. It was a lecture by C. S. Lewis given on the subject of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. His basic thesis was that most critics miss the point of the play. They focus on Hamlet’s character and so they argue without ceasing just what that character is, in particular why Hamlet takes such a long time to avenge his father. Reams and reams of paper have been written on the subject and still no consensus. But Lewis claimed that Shakespeare was not writing a play about what concerns one man so much as about what concerns mankind. In this case of the play Hamlet, it is about death – i.e. what lies beyond the veil in that dark terrain of death. When the focus turns to psychoanalyzing Hamlet’s character we lose the focus of what really matters for the play – which is to feel the pathos that afflicts mankind – the state of death. “To die- to sleep. To sleep- perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub!”
In the same way we can lose the focus of what John is attempting to do as he reveals the visions given to him. And that is particularly true as we read chapter 4. We can get caught up trying to figure out what every element in the depiction of the heavenly scene stands for (something which scholars have debated for centuries) and lose the impact that John is trying to create for us. This is one time in which how we feel matters more than how much we understand. By having the right feeling we can understand the right message.
With such in mind, let us read the worship of heaven.
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! 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 behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, 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 the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11 “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.”
So how do you feel? You are standing in the doorway to heaven. Before you, taking central stage, is God sitting on his great throne. You cannot make him out clearly because of the dazzling splendor. You see something like bright, beautiful jewels. An emerald rainbow surrounds the throne, and from the throne shoots forth flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne stand burning seven torches of fire. Can you feel the majesty of God?