13 June 2020Revelation 4:1-11
Day and night without ceasing they sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’ (v. 8b)
Psalm: Psalm 150
The links between today’s passage and Isaiah 6:1-8, which we looked at on Wednesday are very clear; a vision of God, a throne, six-winged seraphim flying around and again the chorus of "Holy, holy, holy". There are also similarities with Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 1) as we shall see. This time the vision is given to John, sometimes known as ‘John the divine’, thought by some to be the writer of the fourth Gospel and by others to be someone from that school of theological thought. This John has been exiled on the Greek island of Patmos, probably as a result of anti-Christian persecution under the Roman emperor Domitian at the end of the first century AD.
Whilst in exile John receives a series of visions that make up the final book of the Bible, Revelation. The book is written in a style known as ‘apocalyptic’ where much is in visionary form; there are many symbols, codes and ciphers, and events are not always described chronologically. The other main example of apocalyptic writing in the Bible is the book of Daniel.
The description of this vision is made all the more striking as John moves (verse 3) from the past tense to the present tense; we are caught up with him in this extraordinary scenario where a figure on a throne looks like jasper and cornelian, a rainbow looks like an emerald, there are flashes of lightning all around and rumbles of thunder, we are surrounded by flaming torches, all set above a sea like crystal! Perhaps our Protestant tradition trembles at all this extravagance?
The living creatures described are akin to the beasts in Ezekiel’s vision; there are differences, but the four faces of those living creatures, representing a human being, a lion, an ox and an eagle are here all enfleshed as these four creatures. The four creatures are frequently used in iconography to represent the four Gospel writers (Matthew as the man, Mark the lion, Luke the ox and John the eagle). The numerous eyes perhaps suggest the all-seeing nature of God.
John has been told at the start that his vision is of "what must take place after this" and we can imagine the heartening effect of such a vision on a persecuted Early Church. A time would come when God was seen to be God, when God’s glory would be universally displayed and when the world would be caught up in ceaseless praise.
- In what ways, if at all, have visions played a part in your spiritual journey so far? Do you think visions are important for the Church today?
- If things are hard in our current strange situation reflect on the positive, praise-filled nature of this vision and listen for the ongoing song, day and night, of "Holy, holy, holy".
- If you have time, find out more about the persecuted Church today and pray for them. You can find out more at this link.
- You may want to browse some images of the four creatures, related to the four Gospels here.