Worship in Heaven

Below are my notes from Sunday morning on Revelation 5:8-14. I have titled the post ‘worship in heaven’ because so much of the scene is set around the worship of God. Enjoy!

PJW

5:8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

This is a beautiful chapter, and as we enter into the second half of the text of chapter five, we read some more amazing things. Hendriksen says, “No sooner has the Lamb taken the scroll, and thus accepted the office of King of the Universe, than there is a great burst of triumph and exuberant joy in three doxologies.”[i]

The Prayers of the Saints

Here the prayers of the saints are represented as incense in golden bowls, later we’ll read that the saints are made priests to our God. The chapter, and indeed looking back to the first chapter (1:5, 6), is replete with this imagery of Christians as priests. The incense being offered in golden bowls is part of that picture, which we’ll come back to in a moment.

Saints and Christians

Another interesting thing to note is that unlike the Catholics, we don’t believe that the word ‘saint’ carries any special designation other than belonging to God as one of His children. Indeed, to be a ‘Christian’ is to be a ‘saint.’ We see that throughout the Scriptures, nevermoreso than here in Revelation, where we read that the prayers in heaven are represented as incense in golden bowls, as it were.

George Ladd rightly remarks, “’Saints’ is the most common term used by John to designate God’s people (8:3, 4; 11:18; 13:7, 10; 14:12; 16:6; 17:6; 18:20, 24; 19:8; 20:9), and this is also one of the most common Pauline terms to designate Christians.”[ii]

Nor is this unique to this passage as Ladd points out throughout the book of Revelation, Christians are referred to as saints (among other titles) and unbelievers are generally referred to as earth-dwellers.

I only mention this in particular now because it is the particular privilege of God’s children to claim for themselves that designation which God himself bestows upon them. In other words, let us think God’s thoughts after him. Let us use that vocabulary which he has assigned to us. Let us call things after their proper designation according to the mind of God, which in scripture, means that ‘saints’ are ‘Christians.’

5:9-10 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, [10] and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

The Gospel and the Need for “Ransom”

George Ladd says that this word “ransom” is a Pauline word and some of the instances that correspond with it in Paul’s writing are as follows:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— (Galatians 3:13)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [5] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

“This is Pauline word and has as its background the possibility of a slave purchasing its freedom from bondage by a certain sum of money… the cost of the purchase is Christ’s blood… the objects purchased are men… from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Here John’s vision extends beyond his own immediate horizon to include the entire world – peoples to whom the gospel has not yet reached.”

This is the very heart of the gospel, that because of your sin a price needed to be paid. That price was the blood of Jesus. As Anselm explains:

And this debt was so great that, while it was man alone who owned it, none but God was able to pay it. So he who paid had to be both God and man… so that man, who in his own nature owned the debt but could not pay, might be able to do so in the person of God.[iii]

This is what is bound up in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus; he took our place and paid the penalty of our sin.

That is the picture of the spotless lamb that we see here. Jesus, though without sin, took our place on the altar outside the city.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

All of this is for a purpose – to make us priests and kings who reign with Him…

Priests to our God

When we look at verse 10 we know that the purpose for which we have been ransomed is to be made a kingdom and priests to our God. This is nothing short of an amazing promise. Have you ever wondered what the purpose of your life is? Have you ever wondered why it is that God saved you? In these verses we find the answers to those questions.

As I’ve mentioned before, Revelation is a series of scenes (sometimes the same scene) recapitulated from different perspectives. Each section of the book gives fresh incite into the work of Jesus and his plan for the church.

Because of the greatness of the destiny of Jesus, and because of the fact that you have been united through his death with Him (Rom. 6), you therefore have a great destiny just as he does. This will come to light as we explore some more.

Now, Beale makes the connection that what we’re witnessing here is nothing less than the coronation of Jesus after his resurrection.

“…the making of the saints into a kingdom and a priesthood serves as another basis for the lamb’s reception of authority. In view of the connection with Revelation 1:5c-6a, Christ’s reception of authority in 5:7, 9b should be seen as enthronement, especially in light of the mention in 1:5 of Christ’s resurrection to his office as ‘ruler of the kings of the Earth.’”[iv]

As it said in Hebrews:

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, [13] waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. (Hebrews 10:12-13)

What we see here is that God in Christ is making us both priests and kings, specifically we see here the priesthood of the believer. This is what was spoken of by Peter when he said:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

The idea of believers being priests was not always something accepted throughout church history. It is a doctrine that the reformers had to recover in the Reformation. It was told to the average serf that he had no right to come before God except through the intermediary of a priest. Nor did he have the mind or right to interpret the scriptures for himself. Not so according to the scripture, however, as we have seen so clearly here.

This idea of priesthood isn’t unique to the NT. Its roots are found all the way back in the book of Exodus:

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. [5] Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; [6] and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:4-6)

These ideas in Revelation have the motif of Exodus in mind, but they also have the worldwide implications of Daniel in mind as well.

Beale comments:

… in 5:10 the influence of Exodus 19:6 (“a kingly priesthood”) is also present in the phrase “a kingdom of priests.” In this regard, Revelation 5:9b-10 is also a reworking of Revelation 1:5c-6a in light of Exodus 19:6 and the Passover idea of the slain lamb. This means that the Exodus idea of the kingdom and priesthood have been universalized and woven into the concept of the saints’ universal kingdom of Daniel 7. Strikingly, Israel was chosen “from all the nations” (Ex. 19:5) to become “a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6); in Revelation 5:9 Israel’s’ election “from all the nations” has been widened, via an interweaving of the Daniel 7 formula of universality, to include people “from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.”

What he is saying is that just as God drew the people out of Israel to be a light to the world, to rule over Canaan and to show the world what it was like to be in a right relation with God, serving Him as priests, so we too are drawn out of slavery (to sin and Satan – Eph.2) to serve God. It is the slain Passover lamb that frees us and leads us in exodus to a new land.

We are not simply saved from something; we are saved for something. And that is why John picks up on the Danielic language of universality.

A Kingdom for our God

God isn’t just satisfied to have a people serving Him in a small strip of land in the Middle East; instead he’s redeeming a people from all over the world, to rule over the world.

This is what we also read in chapter 20:

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. [5] The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. [6] Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6)

The scene in Revelation 20 is similar to the scene we find here. The emphasis in chapter 20 is on the reign of the saints with their Lord after the victorious cross work of Jesus. He has made them alive through the new birth, and they are reigning with him for “1000 years”, the time between the two advents of Christ. The emphasis in chapter 5 is on the atonement specifically, though all the same themes are found here.

So what we find here in chapter 5 is the view from heaven after Christ’s victory on the cross.[v] On earth his kingdom had been inaugurated with the goal of worldwide redemption. The song of the elders and of the angels “is the song of redemption.”[vi]

These ideas are powerfully combined with the idea of our reigning[vii] with God – itself an amazing promise. How are we to reign? Well, as it is pictured here, it is through the intercessory prayers of the saints (and their work of proclaiming the Gospel and the worthiness of the Lamb) that the nations gradually succumb to the iron rod of Jesus.[viii]

Some of the background texts from Daniel might be helpful in understanding these ideas further:

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. (Daniel 7:13)

And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14)

But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’ (Daniel 7:18)

…until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom. (Daniel 7:22)

And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’ (Daniel 7:27)

Therefore the ideas of priesthood and kingship/rule are combined here in Revelation 5, and we start to see that the reign of God as portrayed both here and in Daniel 7 is universal. By way of a side note, it might as well be said that Daniel is not alone in seeing the future kingdom of God as universal. David saw it, and stated as much in his reaction to the covenant God made with him. This would be picked up in the Psalms where Solomon saw the role of the Davidic king as one day ruling over all the earth. Isaiah likewise saw a kingdom that stretched over all the earth, where gentiles and their kings would come and pay homage to the Lord (Is. 66 especially comes to mind).[ix]

Saints share in that rule, and by way of conclusion, Beale says, “This rule is exercised now in a real but limited way, triumphing through the way of cross, but will be fulfilled triumphantly in the kingdom of the final new creation.”[x]

5:11-14 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, [12] saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” [13] And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” [14] And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

The praise of the Lamb moves out in concentric circles, as it were, from the Cherubim (the four living creatures), to the elders (the universal church’s representation), myriads of angels, and finally ever creature in heaven and earth.

The picture is clear: all the earth will bow before the Lamb.

And the specific focus of His worthiness in this chapter is not simply due to his deity, but due to his work of atonement (hence the slain lamb who “takes away the sins of the world” John 1).

The Content of Worship

I have briefly mentioned this in prior lessons, but I want to talk here about the nature of what they are saying. Worship, as I mentioned before, is more than just an experience or an “encounter with God.” Worship has content. It is ascribing to God the truth of who He is.

Conjoined to what we say to God in acknowledgement of who he is must be a heart that is pleasing to him. In the OT, the center of worship revolved around sacrifice, it was a worshipful thing to give God a sacrifice and it was necessary b/c of the sins of the people. But now, we have a sacrifice, Jesus Christ. For as the author of Hebrews has said:

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. [25] Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, [26] for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:24-26)

Furthermore, it is our attitude, our heart, that God is seeking as Samuel said:

And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)

So, in worship we have both content and a heart which must be right before God. Having the right attitude as well as the right doctrine is important. Worship isn’t simply an emotional encounter with your own feelings during the music on a Sunday morning. It is the combination of a heart that has been changed by God, realizing all that He has done for us in Christ, and pouring out of that heart in words of truth (content) to Him. Worship certainly involves the emotions because it involves the totality of who we are as living sacrifices. Therefore, it is not less than an emotion that we experience, but it certainly is more.

Application for Us

What is it that drives us to worship? It is the truth behind these images that Christ has died for our sins so that we might live forever. It is that he became a bloody sacrifice so that we might escape hell and eternal pain.

As Ambrose said:

He became a small babe so that you could be fully grown perfect human beings; he was wrapped in swaddling clothes so that you might be freed from the bonds of death; he came to the manger to bring you to the alter; he was on earth so that you might be in heaven.[xi]

 

Footnotes

[i] Hendriksen, Pg. 91.

[ii] Ladd, Pgs. 89-90.

[iii] Anselm of Canterbury, Cur Deus Homo, Book Two, Chapter 18 (modernized English).

[iv] Beale, longer commentary, Pg. 362.

[v] In my mind’s eye I picture the session of Jesus with all the resulting pomp and ceremony entailed therein, while on earth Steven (the first martyr) looks up into heaven and sees Jesus standing before the Father in authority as the one who has conquered death and risen to eternal life and rule over all the universe.

[vi] Hendriksen, Pg. 91.

[vii] The word that corresponds with “reign” here is difficult in terms of determining whether it’s in the present tense or whether it’s in the future tense. Beale really works through some of the options here pretty intensely (no pun intended) and says that given the context, it is best to think of this as being in the present tense. I think he’s correct – the context especially demands it.

[viii] That is not to say that the iron rod imagery is symbolic simply of subduing the nations via only the spread of the gospel, but also entails end time judgment and the nations which will face their maker, Jesus Christ, upon His second advent. As we share in our reign with him, we subdue the Earth, which was the creation mandate given to Adam, who presumable was to gradually subdue all the Earth, not just Eden, the temple sanctuary of God. So we now subdue the earth, first through the spread of the gospel and the intercessory prayers we offer God but later upon his return, Jesus will put all things under his feet, not simply spiritually speaking but physically as well.

[ix] Stephen Dempster’s book ‘Dominion and Dynasty’ picks up on this a little.

[x] Beale, shorter commentary, Pg. 118.

[xi] Ambrose of Milan, as quoted from ‘’The Story of Christianity, Justo Gonzales, Pg. 221.

Living a Life of Expectancy

Be Ready: Living a Life of Expectancy

What does it look like to live in such a way that we if we were to know Jesus was going to come back tonight we’d be ready to welcome Him with open arms? Living in light of the reality that He could come back at any moment is what the Christian life is all about.

I think we are going to find two different kinds of motives for living a life of expectancy when we examine Scripture.  So in this post, which is a copy of my notes on Luke 12:35-48, I’ll examine these and other important lessons.  So let’s dive into the text…

12:35-36 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, [36] and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.

The first hint we have that Jesus is using an analogy here is that he says be “like” so and so. He is saying there is a mindset we need to have, a worldview, if you will. And that mindset is to inform the way in which we live our lives.

The kind of mindset is said to be analogous to that of servants who are anxiously awaiting their master’s return from his wedding feast. No sooner will the master return than the servants are to “open the door to him.” The picture is clear – these men haven’t gotten dressed for bed and haven’t turned off the lights, so that when the master comes back, they are ready to greet him.

12:37-38 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. [38] If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!

From a context perspective on the matter of these “watches” of the night, it is helpful to understand that the Jews and the Romans divided up the night into 3 and 4 sections respectively. The ESV Study Bible helpfully explains:

Most interpreters think Jesus is using a Jewish understanding of “three watches of the night” (6:00–10:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m.–2:00a.m., 2:00–6:00 a.m.). However, others think he is using a Roman understanding of four watches (6:00–9:00 p.m., 9:00p.m.–12:00 a.m., 12:00–3:00 a.m., 3:00–6:00 a.m.). In either case, the point that Jesus is making is that “the master” could come at any time, even when one is not normally prepared.

Now, as to what Jesus is saying, it is an interesting point…He is saying that if these servants just stay awake long enough and are ready for the return of their master, the it is the master who will serve them – a role reversal is taking place here.

Therefore they are called “blessed” because they are on the receiving end of this service.

The reason for the role reversal is simple. The servants were up at all hours of the night because it was a dangerous thing to leave the master’s possessions unguarded for fear of thieves. But if they stay awake and guard their master’s possessions, then they will be rewarded by the master – in fact he will personally serve them. This is quite an honor.

This tells us that the master values his possessions and appreciates those who are responsible guardians of the things he cares about.

Remember that servants are responsible to obey and execute their duties. There is no obligation on the part of the master to treat them with this much dignity. Yet that is the picture Jesus is painting.

This leads to the first reason we should be always “ready”: We ought to be ready because there is a great joy and blessing awaiting us if we are faithful to the Lord until He comes back. We have motivation for faithfulness born out of the joy we know He wants to reward us with. This tells me that God really does care about our well being, and it is His desire to have us happy – to have us find joy and to look forward to that just as Jesus Himself did.

There are two further passages that verify what I’m asserting here. The first is found in John 10:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

Interestingly, in this passage Jesus uses the analogy of thieves again, but this time in a different way. Here Jesus contrasts His own ministry with those pretenders to the office of shepherd in this passage in John.

The second passage is from Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

This is a passage we’re most likely all familiar with. But I want to point specifically at this part where it says that Jesus endured the cross because He had a great joy that was motivating Him to do so.

So we, like Jesus, need to keep in mind the reward. In fact, it wasn’t only Jesus who was motivated to faithfulness by the joy that awaited Him, the entire chapter preceding this one speaks of saints who were motivated in a similar fashion.

For example, Abraham was motivated by a better place of dwelling with God:

For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10 ESV)

And…

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)

Moses is said to have the same drive:

He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:26)

Finally the author concludes:

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, [40] since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Therefore it is right for us to be motivated by these things, not simply because these men and women were also, but because our supreme example, Christ Jesus, focused on the joy that awaited Him and we are told to “look to Him” as our model.

12:39-40 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. [40] You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Now Jesus begins to mix His metaphors a bit. He was the master in the story, but now compares his return to that of a thief in the night, which is done elsewhere:

Paul says:

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thess. 5:2)

Peter says:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10)

Then later in Revelation, Jesus warns the church:

Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. (Rev. 3:3)

Then He sums up with the clear message that He is coming back and you don’t know when.

That leads us to ask the question: What does it mean to “be ready”? What does that look like?

12:41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?”

Peter – still trying to figure out how the kingdom of God will be setup – asks a good question (at least from a human perspective). He wants to know if Jesus is giving instruction to those who will rule over the kingdom – the hierarchy, if you will, or to everyone who is following Jesus at the time.

Jesus, like He did so often, doesn’t directly answer the question, but answers in a richer way by the exploring the analogy further. The purpose behind using the analogy/story to answer the question is (in this case) not to create confusion but to give His disciples a deeper insight into the doctrine he’s teaching them.

In other words, Jesus is teaching them to think. In fact, you might say He’s teaching them to think His thoughts after Him.

12:42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?

So Peter – the answer to your initial question is that Jesus is addressing anyone who is a manager over the things God has assigned. A servant in the House of God. And, I believe it is right to say, we have all been entrusted with responsibility in these matters.

12:43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. [44] Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.

Jesus reiterates what He stated before, but now giving another dimension to the blessing: Management of all of the master’s possessions.

And this makes sense. God put Adam in the garden originally to rule over the earth. The purpose of God for Adam was thrown away when Adam traded God’s sovereignty for his own selfish whims. When the Master came to check on His household, He found that Adam had not been responsible with what God owned.

God’s plan for us is that we will reign with Him over the new heavens and new earth. However, our bridegroom Jesus Christ is away for the time being. When He returns, He wants to see we have been good stewards of what is His. And, what is His is everything. Perhaps more specifically His house includes His people called after His name and according to His purpose.

12:45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, [46] the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. [47] And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. [48] But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

This last section gives us the second reason/or motivation for “being ready” for His return: There is punishment that awaits those who aren’t.

The example that’s given is this sadistic servant who is charge of the household while the master is away. Hendriksen rightly calls the man a sadist, and says that he shows evidence of being a brute who likely isn’t even a true believer.

Therefore there are a few layers to be unpacked here.

  1. Fear of the Lord is a Proper Motivation: Those who are arrogant and do not fear the Lord will not go unpunished, and those who neglect their duties as leaders of the flock will have to answer for that neglect on Judgment Day. The warning is stern, and it is clear. God cares so much for the souls of His people that He will punish those who neglect, starve, or inflict pain on those souls. He loves His sheep and will not tolerate their neglect, for their purchase cost Him dearly. We ought to be motivated by this to care for people and value them as much as God values them.
  2. Degrees of Reward/Punishment: It is implied here that even though the leaders of the household will receive a beating far worse for their neglect, yet those who disobeyed will still receive punishment for their sins. There seems to be a gradation in the punishment. This fits will Gods ideal for justice. People will be judged according to their works and words.
    1. You may have heard of the case of the Nazi hunters who have spent the last half century hunting for ex-Nazi party officials and those complicit in their misdeeds. It has been the excuse of almost all of the lower ranking officers who carried out orders that they were just following orders. That being said, the courts have in many cases found that while they are not as responsible for the deaths of million of Jews (among other crimes), yet they are complicit and therefore bear some amount of responsibility. You cannot use your leaders as an excuse for immoral actions. And, in fact, as Hendriksen rightly points out, “ignorance is never absolute.”
  3. Eternal Hell is Real: There is even the possibility held here, so it seems to me, that those who mismanage God’s household could be found not to be Christian believers at all and will therefore be cut to pieces and thrown into the fires of damnation along with “the unfaithful” – the imagery is reminiscent of what occurred to those false prophets of Baal after Elijah’s contest. Elijah took them to the river and cut them to pieces. Why the harsh imagery here? Cutting someone to pieces seems, well, quite brutal. I believe its because Jesus wants people to know the stakes. This is very important to him. And what is important to God ought to be important to us.

In Conclusion

The summary here is one we’ve heard quoted for years by both Christian and un-Christian alike. So popular are these words that they have been almost universally accepted as a maxim for leadership.

Jesus says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”

There is a great responsibility within the church to lead people in faithfulness. I believe that life is structured this way – those who are leaders of nations bear an enormous responsibility. And they will pay for their negligence if they’re found wanting on the Day of Judgment.

How much more so will those who hold sway over the souls of men (in the church) be held responsible for their keep.

In sum, this passage ought to instill in us two kinds of motivations. 1. A motivation toward the joy that awaits us in heaven, which Jesus Himself looked forward to, and 2. A proper fear and reverence of the Lord, knowing that God has an abiding love for His sheep, and He will not spare the sword from those who neglect what He paid so dear a price to purchase.

Let us keep these things in mind as we raise our children and attend to our responsibilities in the church. Let us keep in mind His coming could be any day now.

Weekend Reading: May 15, 2015

Welcome to your weekend. I’ve been putting off this post, not because I didn’t read much this week, but because I fractured one of my fingers and typing has been, well, interesting.  Still, I hope you enjoy these articles and videos!

You might have seen this, the U.S. House approved a 20 week abortion ban.  Learn more here.  Meanwhile Tony Perkins at the Family Research Council says not everyone was pleased with the vote. He minces no words.

Is Christianity dying? It is according to Pew polls this week. Russell Moore says let American “Christianty” fall.

Hilarious: how to have the talk with your kids (h/t Kate)

Could machines take over the job of an anesthesiologist?  Quotes from family friend Bruggeman here – h/t Alex Wenzel

If you follow politics at all, you know that rival political campaigns and opposing issue groups hire people known as ‘trackers’ to film their opponents in hopes of catching them in a gaffe. Those trackers are universally despised by campaign staff. This week one such tracker got a little more than he bargained for…….

Speaking of politicians, I found this article on the faith of Marco Rubio interesting, but also telling

Also, for you musically inclined people, check out this website. So much fun. My girls and I played around with it this week, typing in our respective names to see who had the best rythem. (H/t Tim Challies)

Favorite blog post of the week from Challies: Drink it Straight!

Interesting article on ‘how Christianity invented children‘ – the title maybe goes too far, but his points are worthy of the read.

Speaking of interesting articles. If you don’t subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, you’re missing out. If you do, then check out this piece on how the US is running out of Internet addresses, this story on the Kentucky Derby winner who might be too work out to continue the success, this one on how it’s been 50 years since Jim Ryun set the record for the four-minute mike as a high school student,  and this article on how Manhattan condos are quadrupling in price     

Google is finally putting out a few driverless cars for road test. I might be in the minority here, but 1. These cars look stupid and 2. I don’t want anyone to drive my car! I want to drive my car!!!  Maybe on a long trip it would be good I suppose, but other than that, take your hands off my wheel google!

Ray Ortland posted on DG this week about 10 lessons on fatherhood that he learned from his dad.  It was pretty good. Convicting. Though, I’d think the power of this article would have been magnified had his dad not been a preacher.  Also, he said his dad always showed energy – I don’t necessarily agree that is possible or desirable. Sometimes kids need to know you are human and to watch you work through those things. That’s how they learn to see God working in you.

Check this out – I love seeing small business success stories! (Especially about hoodies LOL)

Lastly, I’ll leave you with one of CH Spurgeon’s morning devotionals from this week that was really good — have a great weekend!

“He shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord.”
Micah 5:4

Christ’s reign in his Church is that of a shepherd-king. He has supremacy, but it is the superiority of a wise and tender shepherd over his needy and loving flock; he commands and receives obedience, but it is the willing obedience of the well-cared-for sheep, rendered joyfully to their beloved Shepherd, whose voice they know so well. He rules by the force of love and the energy of goodness.

His reign is practical in its character. It is said, “He shall stand and feed.” The great Head of the Church is actively engaged in providing for his people. He does not sit down upon the throne in empty state, or hold a sceptre without wielding it in government. No, he
stands and feeds. The expression “feed,” in the original, is like an analogous one in the Greek, which means to shepherdize, to do everything expected of a shepherd: to guide, to watch, to preserve, to restore, to tend, as well as to feed.
His reign is continual in its duration. It is said, “He shall stand and feed”; not “He shall feed now and then, and leave his position”; not, “He shall one day grant a revival, and then next day leave his Church to barrenness. ” His eyes never slumber, and his hands never rest; his heart never ceases to beat with love, and his shoulders are never weary of carrying his people’s burdens.
His reign is effectually powerful in its action; “He shall feed in the strength of Jehovah.” Wherever Christ is, there is God; and whatever Christ does is the act of the Most High. Oh! it is a joyful truth to consider that he who stands to-day representing the interests of his people is very God of very God, to whom every knee shall bow. Happy are we who belong to such a shepherd, whose humanity communes with us, and whose divinity protects us. Let us worship and bow down before him as the people of his pasture.

The Lamb who was Slain

Revelation 5:1-7

When we come to chapter five, we’re essentially coming to a continuation of the previous chapter. John has seen a vision of the heavenly throne room, and God is illustrating to Him what things are like from His perspective.

5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.

Throughout chapter 4 there was a strong parallel to Ezekiel 1-2, and Daniel 7 as well. Now as we get into chapter five, the Ezekiel references fade a bit into the background, but in verse one, there remains a very strong allusion to the scroll mentioned in Ezekiel. Yet as well see momentarily, there are also Isaianic and Danielic references that come to the forefront.

The passage in Ezekiel we ought to take note of it this:

And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. [10] And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe. (Ezekiel 2:9-10)

Note that like the passage before us, this is a scroll written on both sides. The scroll in Ezekiel has to do with judgment that is about to befall Isarel, but the scroll here in Revelation has both judgment and redemption concerns. Therefore it is probably best to think of the scroll as containing those plans which God has for the world. The destiny of mankind is the topic of this scroll.

Note that it is sealed with seven seals. In Roman society, legal wills were sealed with seven seals (noted by everyone from Walvood to Beale). The imagery suggests that, like in Roman times, once the will was opened two things would happen 1. The will would be executed and 2. The time for waiting to see the contents of the will would be at a conclusion.

In terms of this imagery and the idea of the sealed will, many theologians see a clear reference to Daniel where twice the “sealing up” of a vision is mentioned:

The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.” (Daniel 8:26)

But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (Daniel 12:4)

I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” [9] He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. (Daniel 12:8-9)

The passages in Daniel 12 were written in the third year of the reign of Cyrus the Great. The people were back in the land, rebuilding of the temple had commenced, and yet things weren’t as they should be. The future that the prophets had promised with so much enthusiasm didn’t seem to be so glorious – at least not yet. It was a slow process – much like our own day, we wonder “when will Jesus come back and restore the earth”, well they likely wondered “when will the glory of Jerusalem return in the way prophesied? When will the line of David be restored to the throne?”[i]

Some see Isaiah 29 (verses 11-12 are instructive) as a background thought here as well. Consequently, Is. 29 is a parallel passage to some of Isaiah 6 – the portion that speaks of the people essentially not having ears to hear the word of God. The idea is that God has sealed the truth of this Revelation until the right time – the time of Jesus’ ministry. Thus, God has now allowed John to see and proclaim what Daniel was told to seal up, and what Isaiah bemoaned would never be seen or heard by the Israelites in his day because of their hardness of heart.[ii]

There is a possibility that the meaning of the scroll having been written on front and back has to do with 1. The fullness/completeness of the message and 2. The fact that when something was written front and back it was therefore not completely sealed off from all knowledge content-wise. That is to say that there was a portion of God’s revelation that was readable – some make the connection between this and the fact that Daniel (for instance) had to know what God had in mind, even if he didn’t share it with others. So in some sense at least one from among men knew God’s plan prior to the seal being opened. I’m not entirely sure how strong of an observation this is, but it made some sense in my mind – some of this is predicated upon the imagery of a scroll and not a codex being what is intended, I suppose.

5:2-4 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” [3] And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, [4] and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

Now I always found this interesting. Why would John be weeping about the scroll not being opened? It wasn’t until I put some study into this and realized that the scroll contains the future plans of God for both judgment and redemption that I began to understand the angst of the apostle.

Hermeneutical side note: If we are reading this literalistically, we’d get tripped up by the phrase “And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.” Would not our immediate conclusion be that no one – including Jesus – was able to do this? The right way to read this is as a generalization/hyperbole on John’s part. We actually use this kind of language all the time. We say, “no one understands my point of view” or “no one on earth is good enough to marry my daughter” and so forth. When we don’t mean that not ever single person, rather it is a generalization and one that is usually limited to our own awareness of the situation. Now, no one that I have read from any camp sees this as an issue, but that’s because they don’t apply their own hermeneutic to it! Therefore we must be consistent in our understanding of grammar and literary forms and structures.

So why is John so upset? Because no one can open the scroll, which is tantamount to saying that all of God’s plans for the future of the world cannot be achieved. Sinners who hate God and His children will go on persecuting them, and Christians will never be united to their Savior. This would indeed be a sad state of affairs.

Beale helpfully comments:

Once the seals are opened, the readers can understand the decretive nature of the book and, therefore, the purpose of history. They can discern that even their “sufferings are according to the will of God” and can be comforted by “entrusting their souls to him,” since he employs suffering to “perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish” them (1 Peter 4:19, 5:10). Despite the chaos and confusion of the world, there is an ordered eschatological plan, which cannot be thwarted and is, indeed, already being fulfilled.”[iii]

Lastly, just note the worldwide nature of the situation here. In the Isaiah 29 background, the author was speaking more specifically to the house of Israel, but Daniel 12 speaks to the entire world and deals with the consummation of world history. That isn’t to say that John didn’t have the Isaianic text in mind, but I point it out so that we can understand the contexts of each passage – only then are we able to see how they are transformed across the canon. But again, it is notable (according to Beale and others) that when you have read Daniel 7 and 12 you begin to see that the plans God has in this scroll are universal in nature. So there seems to be a specific aim in the Daniel passages that finding its teleos in Christ and is aimed at prophesying what John is seeing here, whereas the Isaianic passage had perhaps a dual role 1. To be fulfilled in their time by the invasion of Babylon and the captivity due to Israel’s disobedience and 2. To find even greater fulfillment in Christ in that it anticipates a day when One will come who will unseal the mysteries of God – not on the basis of the righteousness (or lack there of) of the people, but on His own righteousness and worthiness. He will soften the hardness of human hearts by supernatural work of the Spirit in the setting of a new covenant.[iv]

5:5-6 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” [6] And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

The elders end the weeping of John by pointing to the Lion of the tribe of Judah. In here there is a mini-Biblical theology of the conquering of Jesus. The key here is to think of the central idea of the conquering of Jesus. It begins with Genesis 49 as the background:

Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? [10] The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. (Genesis 49:9-10)

Jesus is the seed of the woman who has sprouted from the tribe of Judah. This is then picked up in the prophets who call him the “root of David”

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)

And…

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:10)

Then of course the text we all are familiar with from Isaiah is it pertains to the Lamb:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. [5] But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. [6] All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. [7] He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:4-7)

Jeremiah combines the image of the tree branch and the lamb:

But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” (Jeremiah 11:19)

And…

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. (Jeremiah 23:5)[v]

And the very last prophet in a long line of OT prophets, John the Baptist finally beholds the Lord incarnate and proclaims what we now have come to call the Angus Dei:

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

All of these images are meant to bring to our minds the plotline of the Bible. God is in control of history and is moving it to a conclusion which centers around His Son. And His Son is worthy because of the redemption He achieved. Ironically, He died in order to live. He lost physically in order to conquer spiritually.

The atonement motif is especially vivid here, with the bloody sacrifice being portrayed in the imagery of the lamb.

It’s worth noting that the word “slain” here is in the perfect participle. So that in this sense He “continues to exist as a slaughtered Lamb” which “expresses an abiding condition as a results of the past act of being slain” (Beale).

Because of all of these things, and the great victory He has achieved on the cross, Jesus is worthy to execute and handle all of the events of judgment and redemption bound up in the scroll.

Horns and Eyes

Finally, the imagery here suggests characteristics which can only be appropriated to the Deity. The lamb is said to have 7 eyes and 7 horns. The 7 eyes are the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the Member of the Trinity who appropriates the work of God’s redemption to individuals on earth. Jesus’ victory is appropriated to individuals, and that happens through spiritual renewal, through new spiritual life, the application of which comes from the Holy Spirit who is said to have fullness of knowledge – the 7 indicates fullness, and the eyes indicate the full knowledge of God.

When King Asa has relied on the Syrian king for help instead of God, a prophet told him this: “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)

The point is that nothing is hidden from the eye of God. God’s eyes search the earth and He knows all. As it relates to the lamb who was slain, and there is an obvious redemptive tie. The Spirit only applies redemption to those whom God has foreordained to that end. Revelation knows nothing of man’s “free will” in matters of salvation or escape from judgment.

The horns on the lamb are indications of power – the fullness of power. This is OT imagery. A few examples should suffice.

When Moses blessed the tribe of Joseph he said:

A firstborn bull—he has majesty, and his horns are the horns of a wild ox; with them he shall gore the peoples, all of them, to the ends of the earth; they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.” (Deuteronomy 33:17)

When Ahab sought advice from prophets as to whether he’d be victorious in battle, we read of one prophet saying this:

And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed.’” (1 Kings 22:11)

The Psalmists says…

For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted. (Psalm 89:17)

Of course the passages in Daniel 7 and 8 are replete with examples of this as well.

Summary of vss. 1-6

As the hymn says, “what shall we say to these great thing? To mysteries sublime, for if he is with us we can sing, now and for all time!”[vi]

Beale has two pages of wonderful conclusionary statements on these verses, but here is one of my favorite parts in which he is discussing the prominence of the “lamb” motif in this passage. What he is noticing is that Revelation 4 and 5 are parallel to Daniel 7, but the main difference seems to be that John substitutes the “son of man” title in these chapters for “lamb of God.” This is his conclusion:

…John is attempting to emphasize that it was in an ironic manner that Jesus began to fulfill the OT prophecies of the Messiah’s kingdom. Wherever the OT predicts the Messiah’s final victory and reign, John’s readers are to realize that these goals can begin to be achieved only by the suffering of the cross. That this is the intention of the juxtaposition of “Lion” and “Lamb” in 5:5-6 is discernible from the pattern elsewhere in the book: visions are placed directly after heavenly sayings in order to interpret them.[vii]

How does this apply to us? Beale says:

Consequently, the Lion conquers initially by suffering as a slain lamb. This juxtaposition implies that, in their struggle against the world, believers should remember that Christ also suffered at the hands of the world but triumphed over it. His destiny is to be theirs, if the persevere.[viii]

So there are two things I’d say that really impressed upon me as I studied this passage. 1. The imagery used here is meant to bring to mind the words and promises of God. All that was bound up in the Pentateuch was picked up and interpreted by the prophets, and found its “amen” in Christ the lamb who was slain. And 2. Because of His intercessory atoning work on our behalf, our sins have been forgiven, and because we have been united to Him through the baptism of the Spirit (Rom. 6), we share in His destiny – which we’ll see in chapters 6 onward is a good thing.

So often we hear the secular liberals of our time saying “you Christians are going to be on the wrong side of history” with regards to gay marriage or other social issues. But from what we read here, we’re on the right side of history. Our futures are tied to the one who has control over the future, and that is a very comforting thought indeed.

5:7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.

Just another hermeneutical side note: we must not press imagery too far inter literalistic oblivion. For example, if everything must be exactly literal, then how in the world are we to picture a slain lamb (that was supposed to be a Lion) handling a scroll? Last time I looked lambs have hooves, which make it rather difficult for them to clutch parchment. You see my meaning.

Now the idea of the image here is that the lamb is approaching the throne of the Father and is taking the scroll from his hand. This image really conveys a boldness that only one with the right to be there would have. I don’t want to blow this too far out of proportion, but if I were to ever enter the throne room of Queen Elizabeth, I might stand there on the sideline as a spectator, but I wouldn’t have the right or position to approach the throne. But the Lamb in this picture does just that. He approaches and takes the scroll, because He Himself is royalty, and because He is worthy to do so.

In this picture we see the authority of the conquering Christ. He reaches out and grabs the scroll, thereby taking charge of world history. He alone decides the fates of men, and is the only name by which any man may be saved.

Footnotes

[i] My thoughts on this passage were formed in part by E.J. Young and Ian Duguid’s commentaries on Daniel12.

[ii] Admittedly Beale says that Is. 29 forms more of a background, but I can tell that he wants to have the parallel made. I see a real connection there between God’s providence over the progressive revelation of His plan and the hardness of man’s hearts. But I am not an OT scholar.

[iii] Beale, longer commentary, Pg. 342.

[iv] Alex Motyer’s commentary on Isaiah has proven somewhat helpful here in understanding the background of this passage. Is. 29 really parallels Is. 6 post-call of Isaiah. In that passage the people are said to have ears that won’t hear and feet that won’t obey etc. And that Isaiah is being sent to them even though they won’t listen because they have hardened hearts. It is a mission of judgment, one might say. So even though these passages don’t form a direct prediction-to-fulfillment in the same way Daniel 12 does, they do provide the background against which the plotline is unfolding. And they (Is. 29 verses) give us an understanding for a fuller context in which the sealing up of God’s plans for His people was occurring. His people weren’t ready for the unsealing of His promises. And the world wasn’t ready either. Only when Christ came did these plans get really inaugurated – as Churchill once stated about a turning point in WWII, it wasn’t the beginning of the end, but only the end of the beginning. I don’t know if that is precisely accurate here, but Christ did inaugurate a new covenant with major consequences for humanity, solving a lot of the issues that Is. 29 was bemoaning (people’s hardness of heart + one worthy to bring God’s promises to consummation). That’s a long way around explaining some of the background thought that is built in to these images.

[v] Zechariah also says, “Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch” (Zechariah 3:8).

[vi] These Great Things, a hymn from ‘Glory to the Holy One’ by R.C. Sproul and Jeff. L.

[vii] Beale, longer commentary, pg. 353.

[viii] Beale, longer commentary, pg. 353.

Weekend Reading: May 8, 2015

Good Friday morning – the weekend is almost here!  I’ve been keeping up on the news and other interesting items so you don’t have to; now you get to catch up on all that matters over a nice cup of coffee! So here are all the interesting stories and videos worth the click:

In international news, Conservatives wiped the floor with the liberal party in England’s elections – now sure how this happened w/Obama strategist David Axelrod was helping the libs…surprisingly I have yet to find a story about his failure when just days ago the media were proclaiming his brilliance.

Here in America, a major federal court ruled that the Obama NSA’s mass gathering of American’s data is illegal. A pretty significant victory for privacy.

And the hits just keep coming…the U.S. Senate handed our Muslim-loving President a defeat by voting 98-1 in favor of legislation that would give them review authority over the Obama-Kerry Iranian deal. It moves to the House now for their vote.

An interesting post by a mommy blogger who is re-thinking her idea of rest. It’s not terribly deep, but a practical perspective about the selflessness necessary for families to function. (h/t Kate)

Brutally honest blog by Tim Challies called ‘I Have Cursed You’ that is some of his best work.

The BBC has an interesting story about the Austrian castle that was liberated in WWII by both German and American soldiers.

And this is just weird…from the left coast – a fake police force got in some trouble this week, (not surprisingly?) some of those involved are aids to top Dems. So is this the liberal equivalent of state militias???

Provocative column with interesting comments section below about two black men who were cuffed after being pulled over for….having a cracked windshield. The story coming out of Colorado Springs on this seems mixed with different conflicting “facts.” I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon and bash those who have faithfully protected our cities, but at the same time, one has to wonder if there’s an endemic problem among police officers.

Israel, a great place to visit, has great restaurants – but now they’ve taken it to a disturbing new level…

Russell Moore has a great column on finding a mentor this week. Definitely worth skimming.

On the wild side, come click bait from the Weather Channel pertaining to an overgrown fish.

Fantastic post from the Kuyperian peeps re: Manny Pacquiao. 

The Wall Street Journal has a piece about Baltimore entitled ‘Baltimore is Not About Race’ arguing that there is a more comprehensive poverty issue behind it. 

Similarly, Alan Dershowitz comments on the Baltimore felony charges leveled against the police officers who were in charge of Freddy Gray. Dershowitz addresses the injustice of the charges. 

And when you run for president, buying the .org is a good idea lest this happen to you…

Along similar lines, Scott Walker had some pretty hip tweets this week, and Mike Huckabee announced his candidacy. 

Well that’s it – go enjoy your Friday!

PJW

Revelation 4: The Throne Room

Last Sunday I taught on Revelation chapter four. Inevitably the discussion was richer than the notes reveal, and I mentioned other verses that sometimes I would normally add back in after the fact, but for this post I’m going to leave it as is simply due to time constraints. That being said, I hope you enjoy the notes, and allow some grace for their brevity. Looking back on the matter, I would like to have taken more time with this chapter, which is what I’m planning to do with chapter five (slated for this Sunday morning).

Chapter 4

We are now done with the letters to the churches, and John receives a new vision. Remember, he has already seen a vision in chapter one (Jesus walking in the midst of the churches etc.), and this is a new one with a new scene.

There are certain passages in Scripture which cause us to meditate upon the beauty and majesty and power of the Lord God, and Revelation 4 and 5 are two of the most majestic of those types of passages found in the sacred Text.

To frame this section of scripture, I want to quote from Hendriksen because while he definitely agrees with other commentators on these things, he seems to say it a little better:

Chapters 4 and 5 teach us one main lesson. Unless we clearly grasp this point, we shall never see the glorious unity of the Apocalypse. We shall lose ourselves in allegorization. That one main lesson may be expressed in the words of the Psalmist: “Jehovah reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits above the cherubim; let the earth be moved.” The assurance of this truth should impart comfort to believers in the midst of fiery trials. That is why this vision of the universe governed by the throne precedes the symbolic description of the trials through which the Church must pass, chapter 6. This is a very beautiful arrangement.[i]

Indeed these chapters are a great gift to the church. For as Jim Hamilton notes, “Our need for this text is much the same as the need of the seven churches to which John sent this letter.”[ii] Which is to say that we need to have our faith in the living God bolstered, and these chapters leave us in awe of who He is, and remind us again of His great sovereignty over all life.

4:1 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

The first thing we ought to note is that these images that John sees are often described using the words “like” or “likeness”, and this is because he is transcribing things that are difficult to describe and is using the best words he knows how in order that we might profit from the vision. These words should not be taken as anything less than inspired, however. We ought to remember that while John is writing about amazing things, things difficult to grasp, he is seeing things God has purposefully shown in a way God has purposefully shown, using words that God has purposefully superintended.

With that said, we ought to first note that there is a door open in heaven. That means that God has opened up a window to see into the great things of heaven. In other visions the separation of physical and metaphysical has been opened using similar expressions. For example, at the very beginning of Ezekiel we read:

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. (Ezekiel 1:1)

The voice he hears is like a trumpet – which is to say it is very loud! It got his attention.

The voice says the he will “show you what must take place after this.”

There is some debate about what “after” means, but I think the easiest and most natural understanding of this is that we are beginning a new vision. It doesn’t mean “after this chronologically”, but rather “the next vision I saw.”

This is where dispensationalists say that the church has been raptured, that the trumpet blast is the blast of the final trumpet at the return of Christ, and that the elders represent the church in heaven, and so on. But there is nothing to indicate that John’s beginning of a new vision has anything to do with the rapture of the church. Furthermore, it says that the voice of God is like a trumpet, not that it was a trumpet that he heard here.

It is one thing to try to understand the meaning in a symbol, it is another to insert something that doesn’t quite fit simply in order to conform to a certain system of thought.

Nevertheless, it is clear that what we have here is the beginning of a new vision, and thus a new division of the book.

4:2-3 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. [3] And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.

Again, similar to how Ezekiel described his own experience, he first says that the heavens were opened, and then notes that he was under the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now John sees something amazing – it is a throne in heaven and there is someone seated on the throne, and John is concerned to explain this person’s appearance. So he says that he is like “jasper and “carnelian.” These are gems of presumably great value. Little is known about “jasper” now, and it is said to perhaps be a diamond that he’s referring to. The point though is that the one who sat on the throne is of exquisite beauty.

Have you ever noticed how the lighting in a church sanctuary really causes your jewelry to sparkle? I just think that some lighting in certain places really brings out the “bling” in gems and jewelry. Well, think of the most precious gem you have ever seen, surrounded by the most radiant and pure light you’ve ever beheld, and John says you’re just starting to get at what the one seated on the throne looked like.

Furthermore, the throne is surrounded by a rainbow that must be green, for it “had the appearance of an emerald.” In other words, it is beautiful, it is majestic, it is valuable/precious exquisite scene.

4:4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.

The twenty four elders seem to represent believers – God’s elect from across time. Perhaps a reference to the sum of the 12 patriarchs and the 12 apostles is meant here, and “taken together, represent the church in its character as a universal priesthood of believers.”[iii] Though they may actually be angelic representatives offering prayer on our behalf (Morris). Beale makes the distinction because he notes that the elders are “distinguished from the multitude of the saved in 7:9-17. And the fact that they present the prayers of the saints in 5:8 and sing of the redeemed in the third person also distinguishes them from believers.”

Beale’s conclusion makes some good sense of the OT backdrop:

Remembering that in the letters the angels were identified as representatives of the seven churches and that in Daniel 10-12 angels represent nations, the elders here are to be identified as angelic beings representing the church as a whole, including the saints of the OT. If the four living creatures are heavenly representatives of all animate life throughout creation (as most interpreters think), then the elders are probably heavenly representatives of God’s people. The four living beings represent general creation and the elders the elect of God’s special creation.[iv]

These elders are wearing “white garments” and have “golden crowns on their heads.” Even though I disagree with much of what John MacArthur says about the timeline of this chapter, I think his description of the white garments here is great:

Christ promised the believers at Sardis that they would “be clothed in white garments” (3:5). He advised the apostate Laodiceans to “buy from Me…white garments so that you may clothe yourself (3:18). At the marriage supper of the Lamb, His bride will “clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean” (19:8). White garments symbolize Christ’s righteousness imputed to believers at salvation.[v]

Golden crowns are likewise described as part of the garb of these elders. They are thought to symbolize victory, since in the preceding chapters Jesus promises golden crowns to those who overcome (cf. 2:10, 3:11, 18 etc.). There was also many times in those letters that Jesus promised we would sit with him on thrones – similar to what we see here as well.

4:5-7 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, [6] and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: [7] the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight.

A Familiar Scene

If this scene sounds familiar, then it’s because you’ve read something like it before. The lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder that accompany the presence of God’s throne here are likewise given in Ezekiel 1 and Isaiah 6:

As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. (Ezekiel 1:4)

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6:4 ESV)

Likewise, in both Ezekiel and Isaiah the descriptions of these creatures are very similar. Here is just a portion of that description from chapter 10 of Ezekiel:

These were the living creatures that I saw underneath the God of Israel by the Chebar canal; and I knew that they were cherubim. [21] Each had four faces, and each four wings, and underneath their wings the likeness of human hands. [22] And as for the likeness of their faces, they were the same faces whose appearance I had seen by the Chebar canal. Each one of them went straight forward. (Ezekiel 10:20-22)

And Isaiah 6…

Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. [3] And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:2-3)

They are described as being “full of eyes” in front and behind. Similarly in Ezekiel 10 we read:

And I looked, and behold, there were four wheels beside the cherubim, one beside each cherub, and the appearance of the wheels was like sparkling beryl. [10] And as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness, as if a wheel were within a wheel. [11] When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went, but in whatever direction the front wheel faced, the others followed without turning as they went. [12] And their whole body, their rims, and their spokes, their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around—the wheels that the four of them had. [13] As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing “the whirling wheels.” [14] And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was a human face, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. (Ezekiel 10:9-14)

So right away we understand that God is using imagery that John and his contemporaries would understand and be familiar with. They’d no doubt read about and maybe even recited aloud the words of Ezekiel’s book growing up in that Jewish culture.

The Imagery

We encounter again the “seven spirits of God, which we noted earlier represents the fullness of the Holy Spirit. And here we are told of another descriptor for the Spirit, that He is like seven torches burning before the throne of God. When we think of fire as it relates to the Spirit, we are reminded of Pentecost and the symbolic fire that appeared in the likeness of tongues on that day. It was a notification to God’s people that He was amongst them.

The storm is like a great reminder that God is in control of nature, and more poignantly that He is powerful and awesome in His presence. “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods” (Ps. 96:4 also cf. 1 Chron. 16:25).

This imagery reminds us of the interaction Moses and the Israelites had with God at the foot of Mt. Sinai:

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. [17] Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. [18] Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. [19] And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. [20] The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. (Exodus 19:16-20)

There is also a sea of glass before His throne, like crystal, as it were. This was the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around. I found a lot of help from Katie who threw out several ideas – each of which commentators also mention, which just shows you that much of these images are rooted in what we already know about the Bible and God. As we got to be talking through it, I read her the notes from the Reformation Study Bible (this is the first edition, not the latest one), and it was helpful in summing up some of the ideas about what this sea is:

This imagery might suggest a number of associations. The parallel verse in 15:2 calls to mind the waters of the Red Sea. The defeat of Pharaoh and the pushing back of the waters foreshadowed God’s final victory over evil (Is. 51:9-11). If so, the sea of glass pictures water subdued under God’s power. Moreover, the extent and beauty of the crystal—like sea, when taken together with the precious stones in vs. 3 and 21:18-21, suggest the magnificence and preciousness of Gods’ throne. The numerous parallels elsewhere with the temple might suggest that this sea is the heavenly counterpart of the sea in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:23-25). Finally, the picture of heavenly water might suggest that God faithfully supplies water from heaven (Deut. 11:11). It is consistent with the style of Revelation to weave together a number of Old Testament images.

George Ladd says, “The easiest interpretation is to see in the glass sea a picturesque element adding to the majesty of the divine presence.”[vi]

Then we encounter the four living creatures, which we noted that Ezekiel explained were the Seraphim who are constantly before the throne of God worshiping Him. And this is what they say…

4:8-11 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” [9] And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, [10] the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, [11] “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Worship of the Holy One

Notice that whatever the Seraphim do, the elders do. The three-fold song of “holy, holy, holy” is constantly on the lips of these creatures and the response of the elders is to agree by proclaiming the worthiness of the Lord.

This ascribing of worth to the Lord is the content of true worship. Worship is not simply an “encounter with God,” it is our reaction to that encounter in a manner that is true. It is ascribing to the Lord all that is due to Him.

This worthiness is specifically tied to God’s absolute power as the Creator. All things exist because His wills them to exist. In fact, the word “absolute” is an apt descriptor because what these beings are saying is that there is nothing which comes even close to God’s glory, His honor, or His power. That He “lives forever” reminds us of His eternality. He is in a class entirely by Himself.

When God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to show that He was the One true God, He constantly reminded the Israelites that He was the creator, as opposed to the idols they worshiped.

One such example is from Isaiah 40:

To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? [19] An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. [20] He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move. [21] Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? [22] It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; [23] who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. (Isaiah 40:18-23)

Remember now the idolatry and false teaching that Christ addresses in the letters to the seven churches. I don’t think the placement of this scene coming right after the letters is coincidence. It is as if to show the majestic God of heaven in great contrast with the gods of our appetites and the idols of our lives. This is the Lord. This is the maker of heaven and earth.

Addressing God

It is typical of our vernacular to generalize things in everyday conversation. We say “He always does this” or “We never go there” or “He is the only person I know who can do this” and so forth. We know in the back of our minds that our generalization is hyperbolic because it is applied to creatures are necessarily finite. Yet this is not the case with God. We can apply these general-type descriptors to God because He is eternal, immutable, and absolute in His character.

Therefore He is the only being worthy of worship. All lesser beings simply do not have the ontology and character worthy of our worship.

I mention character because one of the things that makes God so worthy of our worship and of our “giving thanks” is His loving-kindness to His creatures (us). His presence is awesome and awful in its power and majesty. Yet, He is loving and beneficent to His image bearers.

So it is not wrong for us to be reminded from this passage once again of the reverence we ought to have when addressing God in prayer and in worship. We need to keep in mind whom it is that we are standing or kneeling before. This is the great God, the maker of heaven and earth, by whom all things existed.

Similarly, we are thankful to Him for His Son who died for us. Paul certainly captures a majestic image of Christ as co-equal in stature with the God we are reading about here:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. [16] For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. [17] And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [18] And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. [19] For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, [20] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

Summary

Why are we shown this majestic scene? What purpose does it serve? I think that it is clear from the imagery and the words written here that the attributes and reign of God are front and center. God Himself is the chief subject of this text. His sovereign reign over all the created universe is what is clearly portrayed here, and I think when we ponder the throne scene in Revelation 4, we are immediately thinking about reality from the vantage point of God.

What does this mean? Well it means that God is in absolute control of all things. All of the persecution that the church faces, all of the toil that the church endures, all of the rejection and hatred of the world is all seen in contrast the absolute majesty of God. If He reigns, then all things truly do work together for the good of those called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). If He is in control, then we have no need to fear. If He is sovereign, then we have no call to be anxious about tomorrow (Matthew 6), for He knows all that we need, and will provide and care for us until He brings us home.

Therefore let us continually behold our God. Let us worship him by ascribing to Him all that is due Him. Let us behold and be transformed by what we see in His word. As the hymn says:

Who has held the oceans in His hands?
Who has numbered every grain of sand?
Kings and nations tremble at His voice
All creation rises to rejoice

Who has given counsel to the Lord?
Who can question any of His Words?
Who can teach the One who knows all things?
Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds?

Who has felt the nails upon His hands
Bearing all the guilt of sinful man?
God eternal humbled to the grave
Jesus, Savior risen now to reign!

Behold our God seated on His throne
Come let us adore Him
Behold our King nothing can compare
Come let us adore Him!

Footnotes

[i] Hendriksen, Pg. 84.

[ii] Jim Hamilton, Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, Pg. 141.

[iii] Beale, Shorter Commentary, Pg. 102.

[iv] Beale, Shorter Commentary, Pg. 102.

[v] MacArthur, Volume 1, Pg. 149.

[vi] Ladd, Pg. 77, On page 76 Ladd also discusses the fact that the sea seems to remind us of Solomon’s “brazen sea” from 1 Kings 7.

Weekend Reading: May 2, 2015

Welcome to the weekend! It’s been an exceptionally busy week for me, but I still managed to read and watch some interesting and uplifting stuff. I hope you enjoy!

Bernie Sanders joined the race for President – and raised about $1.5m in 24 hours. Never heard of Bernie Sanders? Where does he stand in the race? Well…

Sanders is losing

The main news story this week was the rioting in Baltimore. And the most popular story coming out of that mess was related to this mom. 

Interestingly, NASA’s Messenger spacecraft crashed into Mercury this week. It basically ran out of gas. But unlike when your car runs out of gas and coasts into a gas station at 2mph, this craft touched down at over 8,700mph creating a 50ft crater in the planet!

Ravi Zacharias is on a mission trip in Armenia to commemorate the 100yr anniversary of the genocide that took place in 1915. Very interesting historical update in his video. 

John Piper posted the latest in a three part series on ‘Look at the Book’ where he examines Matthew 6. I liked video two, ‘Do Not Be Anxious About Tomorrow’

Piper

Ligonier Ministries (R.C. Sproul) decided to publish several teaching series on YouTube this week. It signals a minor departure from a pay-per download model.

Russell Moore wrote an article which was published by Desiring God, discussing how the Prosperity Gospel is equivalent to witchcraft. This comes in the wake of Creflo Dollar asking for donations to pay for  new $65million jet.

What does it mean to be ‘Truly Human”? Jill Carattini gives a thoughtful answer.

seinfeldJerry Seinfeld turned 61 this week, and HuffPost has a fun article in honor the comedian. (h/t Katie)

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing – a great article about a great hymn (one of my kids’ favorites!)

This week President George W. Bush was asked about some of Obama’s policies, and his answers were surprisingly blunt. 

Jonathan Parnell has a thoughtful article called ‘Die Well’ that I enjoyed earlier this week.

And this is both creepy and hilarious…probably the PERFECT white elephant gift!

Are there unicorns in the Bible? Maybe so…(h/t Katie)

Samaritan Purse has setup a fund to help persecuted Christians in the U.S. – they’ve added the couple who are being forced to pay $135,000 by lawless judges for not baking a cake for a lesbian wedding. According to Fox News, over $100k was raised very quickly to help the family.

Lastly, the one article I didn’t get to read this week but wanted to: ‘Why God’s Will Isn’t Always Clear’

Have a great weekend!

PJW