20 June 2019Revelation 4:1-11
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power. (v.11)
Psalm: Psalm 146
Today’s passage comes from the last book of the New Testament, the Revelation to John. This is an example of apocalyptic literature – a word that comes from the Greek, meaning ‘to reveal’ (apocalypto). There are other examples of this genre in the Bible, most importantly the book of Daniel, and they share certain common characteristics, including an individual being granted a vision about the future, a time of trial leading to ultimate deliverance and judgement, and a call to stay faithful in the face of persecution.
The use of symbolic language and complex allusions often makes this material hard to read. We are also unsure exactly who the John of the book’s title was, and precisely when he was writing, although some time during one of the persecutions of the early church (AD 54-68 or AD 81-96) seems most likely.
In these verses, John recounts the first of a number of visions he is granted of the heavenly throne room. His guide, the one with a trumpet-like voice (v. 1), is Jesus Christ, who appeared to John during his imprisonment on the Greek island of Patmos (1:10). He reveals a scene that is very similar to the ones described in the Old Testament (1 Kings 22:19-23, Job 1:6-12, Isaiah 6:1-8), and the author of Revelation was clearly deeply influenced by the Hebrew Scriptures. In particular, the scene is very reminiscent of Ezekiel’s vision of God, which also refers to precious stones and jewels (Ezekiel 1:16, 26, 27) and a “dome, shining like crystal” (Ezekiel 1:22). We also find reference in Ezekiel to the “living creatures” (Ezekiel 1:5-25), who seem to be angelic figures that surround God, and to their four faces – human, lion, ox and eagle (Ezekiel 1:10). John’s vision is subtly different, though, in that here the living creatures’ role is solely to offer unending praise to God, and they each take on the guise of only one creature (Revelation 4:7-8). In later Christian writing, these creatures came to act as symbols of the four evangelists.
The 24 elders that worship before the throne may represent the original 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles, symbolising how, in Christ, God has brought together all the peoples of the world in worship.
- How does this sort of visionary writing help our understanding of the nature of God?
- What should John’s description of heavenly worship tell us about our own worship?
- What do we actually worship in our own lives? What do we treat as “worthy” (v. 11)?