We continue with our ever so brief reflections on the book of Revelation with chapter 4. Really, chapters 4 and 5 are the heart of the book, but we can only tackle one this week. Rev 4:1 says, “after these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.” When we last left off, Christ was standing at the door and knocking. Now we see that as Christ is asking all of humanity to open their lives to Him, so is He opening His life to all humanity. There is an interesting parallel, or overlap, at work here of God’s call to faithfulness and His initiative in working out His salvation on earth as it is in heaven. The call to faithfulness is grace-ful. God is at work—he is among his people (Rev 1:13)—strengthening and preparing them to follow Him.
The voice of the glorified Christ (“the sound of a trumpet speaking”) then calls John to “come up” and see “what must take place after these things.” What John sees is a scene of the heavenly throne room. Here is a scene of all creation rightly order around God’s rule and reign. This is the “vantage point” for which John wants his readers to makes sense of everything that He is going to say (Koester, 75). It is from this reality that they are to make sense of the world. There is a lot going on in this scene. Notice the rainbow around the throne draws our imaginations to the story of Noah. God is intent on a peaceful creation. We see that humans are not the center of everything. In fact they are sort of ambiguously positioned in terms of the twenty-four elders, which seems to highlight their role as having dominion over creation as God’s image bearers. But they are also positioned as one of the four creatures flying around the throne where they are given equal status with the rest of creation, as these four creatures are symbolic of creation as a whole. There is also mention of the sea. Throughout Scripture the sea is symbolic of chaos. It is symbolic of the collective powers of evil at work in the world that contradict the rule and reign of God. On the one hand we are encouraged by this because the sea is still. God has calmed the waters (Mark 4:35-41). God has overcome the power of evil. God is sovereign over all things. On the other hand we are a big discouraged because the sea is still present. God has over come, but not rid the world of the potential of evil. This is part of what is at work in this revelation. We are going to see God’s subduing and final defeat of every force of evil at work in the world that contradicts His rule and reign.
Perspective is central again. Depending on whether or not persecution, accommodation, or complacency characterizes the situation of the seven churches (and we could also say our own) will determine whether or not this vision of the heavenly throne room is a good thing. The one who walks with His people, amidst their life circumstances where persecution, complacency, and accommodation are possibilities, is the one at the center of it all. John draws the imagination of His readers into the reality that from God’s perspective, all of creation is rightly ordered around and is going to finally be right ordered around His rule and reign. The eschatological tension is clear here. God is already sovereign, but there is still work to be done in finally ridding the world of evil and maybe even the potential of evil. This is a vision of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to the seven churches that those who conquer will sit with Him on his throne (Rev 3:21; Koester, 71).
This is actually a question I am asking of Revelation. What of the absence of the sea in Rev. 21:1? Does this simply mean that evil as been finally overcome or that even the potential of evil is overcome?
One other thing John is doing when he writes this vision of the throne room is calling into question other such displays of praise of earthly rulers. It was common for public appearances of the emperor to resemble the throne room, with the ruler sitting high on the throne accompanied by the praise of those seeking to rise up in social status heaping their praises. John wants his hearer/readers to see that such popular displays of power are really a parody of the true rule and reign of God (Koester, 75). Clearly, the nature of the churches participation in the social order is going to be of great importance throughout the rest of the book. We have already seen this in the seven churches.
It is important to let the book of Revelation stand on its own as a piece of literature. Those in a hurry to discover “what must take place after these things,” as if the bible were a puzzle book of answers such that all we have to do is piece it together, will miss the significance of the vision of the heavenly throne room. Of first importance for faithfulness is not insight into current events in terms of times and place and players, as we see in popular culture and theologies such as Left Behind. Rather, the first thing we need is a vision of the reality of God rule and reign and the understanding that whatever is to unfold is based on the reality of God’s rule and reign. Our first response to God in this world as his followers is not fear and condemnation of others, but worship and submission to a way of being in the world characteristic of Jesus, which leads us nicely into Chapter five where we learn that we are priest, which anticipates also another sustaining vision of the heavenly throne room in Rev 14:4, where we learn that are called to follow the lamb wherever He goes. But I am getting way too ahead of myself. I hope you are beginning to see at the very least how it all connects and overlaps and repeats for the sake of what is actually a very simply revelation in terms of its message. But we’ll get to that also.