Kathleen Nielson, “Through the Open Door: The Transcendent and Redeeming God”
These two chapters are like two acts of a play; Rev. 4 sets the stage and chapter 5 develops the drama. Two acts, one theme: creator redeemer God reigns! There’s only one response: to worship Him! Worship of this creator God is what our lives are meant to be all about, from today’s nitty gritty through eternity.
5 questions we will answer as we look at Rev. 4:
*At the end of the Bible. Revelation is the consummation of the bible story line, this big story of God redeeming a people for Himself through his Son. Maybe Revelation is so hard for us because we don’t know the rest of the Bible!
*In the midst of persecution. Historical context: horrific persecution under 1st century Roman emperors. John is imprisoned at Patmos on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. This context helps us grasp the purpose of the book: not just for end times but to encourage God’s people to persevere in faith to the end even through suffering and persecution.
*Personally: linked to a blessed chain of recipients. See 1:1-2. There’s a revelation being passed on. Clearly all about Jesus, “revelation of Jesus Christ”. Jesus is the subject, receiver and revealer of the revelation. “Which God gave to him to show to His servants”: God is initiator, given to Jesus Christ, through the angel to John to God’s servants. See 1:4. Not just a message from John, the chain stretches all way back to God. Stretches forward as well, all the way to us. How do we know that? Note that the number 7 symbolizes perfection or completeness. Revelation is full of 7’s. So these 7 churches are meant to represent the complete church, in John’s time but by implication for all times. We are a link in this chain, so this letter is for us personally. We are not on the outside, but on the inside linked in to the source of it all, recipients of this chain of revelation. We have a promise that this revelation keeps sending down a blessing to all those links. Blessed are those who hear. We are blessed this morning as we are privileged to receive this part of God’s word!
*Specifically in this chapter: in heaven! God’s Spirit leads John into this vision. Previously glimpsed through the prophets but here we enter heaven’s throne room through John’s vision. This vision gives us access to realities that are invisible and yet so close. Isn’t it wonderful? A picture of a door standing open? It’s right there, just across the threshold, not far, far away. Other glimpses: Elisha, Stephen. Through Revelation we can begin to see what is invisible. A special genre of revelation: apocalyptic. Unveils heavenly realities through words sent from God. Often it reveals visions of future realities. We have a sense of anticipation here from the start: heavenly realities that are true right now but also future realities of eternity.
We might think the second question would be Who? God! But what would you say about God? Seated on throne. The throne is mentioned before God. Apocalyptic: the what question reveals the who question. Symbolic pictures.
No logical outline can get us close to reality of who God is. But pictures, symbolic word pictures, don’t distill but expand our comprehension as we begin to see more vividly. Revelation gives us a vast array of pictures to ponder. In heaven you can mix your metaphors and no one cares! The point is not to make pictures work logically, the point is to see the pictures and ponder them. Puts things we recognize together to symbolize things we don’t recognize. Pictures make us taste and long for seeing Him face to face! We are children poring over picture books.
The huge “what” of these pictures: the throne. What does this throne look like? We don’t know. What does it symbolize? The sovereign rule of God. It’s in the very center with layers of things around it placed in relation to throne center. Everything exists in relation to the throne. Always in view. Template for how we are ought to live our lives.
Six layers of things:
1. Layer of reflective beauty with precious stones. They are reflecting and shimmering, not cut like they are today. Natural, no light of their own, shimmering with light of one they reflect. Rainbow reflecting as well. This luminous color is shining forth God’s majesty as a picture of His glorious being. Suggests the whole spectrum of his being, indicating his covenant making with Noah reaching here to the very end. Language of the description indicates we can’t get to this picture directly. Separates us from the real thing: “had appearance of”. Ezek: such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord
2. Ring of 24 thrones, 24 elders. Who are they? Perhaps a high order of angelic beings surrounding God’s throne. Do these heavenly pictures reflect earthly reality or vice versa? We tend to want to start with what we know. This is the real heavenly throne and everything exists in relation to it. Like a Copernican revolution. Bible pull us to understand earth in terms of heaven. Makes sense these elders should be heavenly meanings. Later in Revelation they are clearly distinct from the people of God. This vision is all “other” all different form us.
3. Lightning flashes, peals of thunder from the throne. Like Moses at Sinai. Here we are at the very presence of the source of the storm.
4. Seven torches of fire burning before the throne. Told 7 torches are the 7 spirits of God: consistent picture of the Holy Spirit. 7 pictures Spirit as perfect, complete though manifested in variety of ways. Draws us and yet separates us from throne.
5. As it were, a sea of glass like crystal. No way to say directly what this is. Ezek saw shining expanse. Clearly reflects God’s shining glory. Biblical context: throughout the bible the sea is not our friend, consistently identified with chaos and evil. Sea still there yet completely subject to God’s throne.
6. 4 living creatures. Make us think of N, S, E, W. Constant motion. Surround and reflect and continually praise. Cf Is. 6. Always near throne, close to God, reflect most dramatically the glory of God.
What do all these layers show us about the “who”? This is the holy, holy holy Lord God Almighty. Holiness: transcendence, otherness. What God is. Nothing else but God according to which we can define holy, can only repeat it over and over and over. All these layers not only show us shining glory of holiness but also how afar we are separated from.
Holiness directly related to His eternal nature. God is God because He has eternal life in Himself. Everything else that lives lives only with life derived from Him, totally dependent on our Creator. It makes sense that these final lines of chapter praise God as Creator.
What’s point? WORSHIP. v. 10 24 Elders fall down and worship, cast their crowns before Him, acknowledging utter dependence, declare his worthiness, his Godness. Their words reflecting Him here, the Almighty Creator God who reigns.
When does it take place? Now. Unfolding of future doesn’t happen until after this vision. Rest of book flows out of the high point of these two chapters at the throne. This throne is the center of universe now with ongoing worship of God. There is a throne in heaven NOW, right now, as if through a door. Let’s think on this throne and the praise we are joining.
Rev. 5 unpacks the drama. In chapter 4, where’s John? Observer and recorder. In 5, John becomes active participant.
Same place. Looking to the throne.
New answer. The scroll, the heavenly book, is rolled up and sealed with 7 seals. Completely, perfectly sealed shut. What makes a drama is a crisis: note the remarkable moment of tension in v.2. Who is worthy to open the scroll? No one!
What is the scroll? The context of scripture helps. Ezek receives a scroll that he is commanded to eat. Daniel receives a book he is instructed to close. Represents God’s decrees for human history. Inscribed on both sides, both needed for every last detail of his decress for the unfolding of human history. Not opened: history would not unfold according to God’s decrees but at mercy of human whim and evil hurtling forward with no point or meaning at the end. Explains the despair: what if there is no larger purpose, no ultimate justice? John weeps at prospect of a universe cut off from God. Open scroll: not just to reveal plan but having authority to bring those plans to pass. Would have to be as worthy as the one who decreed them.
Names used are pictures that tell us who Jesus is and what he does for us. Lion: Gen. 49. Root of David: Isaiah pictures Messiah as a shoot from Jesse, Is. 11:10 the root of Jesse. Descended from as well as the source of. There is only one who can approach the throne and open scroll.
It is a Lamb standing as though it had been slain. This is the Lion but as John looks he sees a Lamb. The Lion is the lamb. How did this conquering lion conquer? As the lamb who was slain. The key is that he died. The whole course of human destiny is at stake and everything depends on the lamb’s death. 7 eyes represent His pervading spirit, His omniscience. The central truth of this figure is that He is a lamb slain, the ultimate sacrificial lamb who bore our sins on the tree that we might live.
The gospel is the message of the cross! Paul’s aim to know nothing but Jesus and him crucified. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for many. He is praised because He did it!
Let’s glory in this lamb slain to purchase us for God . This is our Redeemer, the great “who” of all of God’s revelation. A new song to the Redeemer. Creator Redeemer God reigns: the theme of both chapters. Glorified ascended Son is at the right hand of the Father. One Creator Redeemer God. The aspect of creation is not left behind. What is redemption? A new creation!
Now. Pictures heaven now, between Christ first coming and coming again. This is the now in which we live! Christs reigns over human history until He comes again. A “now” that is in motion, and grows as all nations coming to know and join in the worship of the Lamb.
Same answer: worship! But now with the full drama of redemption unfolded and we get to be a part of it. Focus of this worship: God redeeming a new people for Himself, making a kingdom of priests just as He promised. The promise of Ex 19:5: He’s done it! Only because this lamb was slain can we join this amazing swell of praise and loudly v. 12. Every creature joins in! A universe-wide song grows here anticipating the end of the story as words pile up (7) wisdom, power, glory… Collectively praising Him who sits on throne and the Lamb of God.
This is what we should be after every day: the worship that is happening right now at the heart of universe just across the threshhold.
We don’t make worship happen, we either join it or we don’t.
Let’s join and invite others to join the worship of our Creator God who reigns, our Lamb who died for us. This is the template for our life day to day, and will shape our life into one of worship.
Note: these are my notes that were hastily typed during the presentation. Any and all error in transcription is mine and not the instructor’s. Also, please excuse the multitude of grammatical errors!