16 June 2017

Revelation 4:1-11

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (v. 11)

Psalm: Psalm 150


Revelation is the most amazingly complex and mind-boggling book in the New Testament. It is a series of visions and mystical experiences given to a Christian disciple called John, exiled on the island of Patmos because of the way he was testifying about Jesus the Messiah. This was probably not the same John who was an apostle of Jesus. Scholars disagree on whether the Gospel of John, Letters of John, and Revelation to John were written by the same person. However, the identity of the author is insignificant when we consider the powerful images and experiences recorded. He was a follower of Jesus and a servant of God. Surely that's all that matters!

Chapters 1-3 give an introduction, where the risen Jesus appears to John and dictates seven letters for him to take back to the churches in and around (present-day) Turkey. In chapter 4, John is taken through a door into heaven. But it's not heaven as we might imagine it; the final resting place of God's people. That would be something for the future. Rather he is given a behind-the-scenes pass into the very throne room of God; the control centre of the Almighty! Later, the author receives visions of things to come in pictorial and metaphoric language. But chapters 4 and 5 can be understood as the present reality of heaven, usually hidden to mortal eyes. In modern science fiction we might say he was transported to a parallel dimension, but that doesn't really do it justice. In theological language we could say he went 'through the veil' that presently separates earth and heaven (although the two are often closer that we think, and are brought together in the person of Jesus). It is a distinction that will be abolished altogether at the coming of the New Jerusalem, as John sees in the final part of this book (Revelation 21).

As we read John's description of the heavenly throne room, we might conclude that heaven is in fact very difficult to describe! There are images which take us to other parts of the biblical revelation of God: the rainbow, for example, in verse 3, reminds us of the promise of God in the story of Noah (Genesis 9), and also of the prophet Ezekiel who had a very similar experience (Ezekiel 1). There are the mysterious 24 elders, sitting on their thrones - who most likely represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Twelve Apostles, forming a united government. (In which case, John the Apostle would surely be one of them!) There is thunder and lightning, which suggests that presently heaven is not 'peaceful' but rather a place of power and holy wrath, engaged in a dramatic battle. But most striking of all is the worship... First the song of the four living creatures (representing the worship of the animal kingdom) and then the worship of the elders themselves. Imagine the sound of that choir!

To Ponder

  • The worship of the 'living creatures' is emphatic and unqualified: God is just to be worshipped! The worship of the elders, however, adds reason: "For..." / "Because...". How important is it, as human beings, to understand why God is to be worshipped and glorified? Why?
  • Today's passage is hard to appreciate in a detached or academic way. As with all the readings this week, we are 'invited in' to God's presence and purposes. Spend some time meditating and praying through the images of the throne room of God. Let yourself be transported into worship.

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two children, Phoebe (aged 4) and Benjamin (aged 18 months). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and over the border into Northants). Previously, Andy’s ministry was based in Barwell in the Hinckley Circuit for eight years. And before that, he trained at the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, close to his home-town of Consett. Andy has a passion to help God’s people grow in faith, and occasionally writes hymns, sketches and songs. Spare time includes trips to play parks, watching Disney films or Postman Pat, reading Mr Men books, visiting Middle Earth, and reminiscing over the good old days of supporting Newcastle United. In the picture, Andy is the one in blue (and the snowman’s name is Olaf)!