Beyond the Lectionary Text: Revelation 4
by Mary Stegink
Ah, Revelation – interesting language, vivid pictures, and challenging symbols – all pointing to that Day of Days when evil will be defeated once and for all, and God will gather up his own and take them home. After explaining what he’s about and admonishing the seven churches, John turns his eyes toward Heaven, walks through the “door standing open” and gives us a peek at the life to come.
Along with John, we find ourselves in the throne room of heaven – a place full of dazzling light, spectacular color, 24 elders, and those four interesting living creatures who sing God’s praises day and night. John picks up imagery from the Old Testament – from Ezekiel and Isaiah – the visions they saw are a few steps closer to completion. Now, if you came to this page for an enlightened and informative essay on what all of this represents – you may be disappointed. Who are those elders? Where did they come from? What do those four interesting living creatures represent? Well – I am going to be bold here and say that the point of who these creatures are or what they represent is far less important than what these creatures do. This chapter is about the ceaseless praise and worship that happens around the throne of God. It is a foretaste of the worship and praise that will be sung to the King of Kings, the Lord of Lord, the Victorious Lamb Upon the Throne!
Thrones represent power. Rulers (usually kings and queens) sit on thrones. I am thinking of a scene in the Oscar winning film, The King’s Speech. King George is getting ready for his coronation, but he has also discovered that his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, isn’t a true doctor. They’re standing in Westminster Abbey and King George is going on a rant about how he’s been deceived, how the people of England deserve someone better than him – a speechless king – and then he turns around and discovers that Lionel is sitting on the Throne of Scone (which, I just learned, is the throne of Scotland). King George goes ballistic – “you can’t sit there, that is the Throne of Scone!” And Lionel answers, “it’s just a chair.” King George is outraged – it’s not just a chair – it’s the seat of authority and power – it belonged to a long-gone king. Eventually Lionel gets up, helps King George find his voice, and the movie continues. The point being – thrones are special, almost sacred things. They aren’t meant for just anyone – they are meant for royalty. They symbolize the seat of power. And the Throne in Heaven is the throne to outdo any of our earthly visions of a throne. And the Throne in Heaven represents power that has no equal here on earth. It is the seat of God’s authority, it is the seat of the One who defeated Satan and death – the Lamb Victorious. And throughout the book of Revelation the Throne will go on to represent the dwelling of God. Worship takes place around the Throne, voices will come from the Throne, and the river of living water will pour out from the Throne. (Rowland, NIB). The Throne in Heaven – the seat of ultimate power, ultimate authority, ultimate love, mercy, and grace! And it is the Throne that will never be defeated! And the purpose of the elders and the four living creatures is to offer their praise to the source of this power, authority, love, mercy, and grace! They gather around the Throne to sing praise to the Worthy, Victorious Lamb.
But we’re not there yet – we’re still in that time-in-between Christ’s advents. As we watch the world around us descend into darkness, we wonder. We wonder if the Throne is still in charge (resounding YES! Here). We wonder if the Throne hears our cries for justice, love, and mercy (again, YES!) We wonder – are those elders and those creatures singing so loudly, the King upon the throne can’t hear us? Well – here is a reminder that our advocate, Jesus Christ, brings our hearts to the throne. As I was preparing this piece, the song Before the Throne of God Above kept playing in my head.
Before the Throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea,
A great High Priest whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on his hands,
My name is written on his heart;
I know that while in heaven he stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
Charitie Lees DeCheney Bancroft
Yes, that Throne is amazing, that Throne is surrounded with praise, and the occupant of that Throne knows you, knows me, and knows the ones we love. The Lamb opened the way back to that Throne.
On Good Friday, a small group of Jesus’ friends gathered around the foot of his cross. They watched as he hung there – bleeding, torn, thirsty, and in agonizing pain. Without realizing it, they watched him take the weight of human sin on his shoulders and carry it away. A few of those same friends gathered on the morning of the first day of the week to visit the tomb – and, much to their surprise, they found the tomb to be empty! The broken Lamb of Friday became the Victorious Lamb of Easter! And now we await the final gathering – the gathering around the Throne to celebrate Christ’s victory over sin, death, and Satan himself. What a gathering that will be!
Think about all of the places people ‘gather around.’ As I write there is a fairly popular movement among high school students (in both private and public settings) to gather around the flag pole before school starts to pray. They gather around the pole. Family and friends gather around the bedside of a loved one who is critically ill. They gather around to sing and to pray that person back to wellness or they sing and pray them on their journey home. Christians across the globe gather around the Table – the Feast of Heaven and Earth – when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. They sing, they pray, they remember and believe that the Lamb’s sacrifice was for each of them. Each of these gatherings remind us of what’s to come – that ultimate gathering when our voices will be raised in praise – right alongside of those elders and those living creatures.
Rev. Mary Stegink is the pastor of Ridgewood Christian Reformed Church, Ridgewood, NJ.