Tuesday, June 03, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Throne in Heaven

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series on the book of Revelation, click here.

I now leave the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia. It is time to look at the vision that John sees of the throne in heaven. It must have been an amazing thing to see:

After these things I looked, and there was a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said: “Come up here so that I can show you what must happen after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit, and a throne was standing in heaven with someone seated on it! And the one seated on it was like jasper and carnelian in appearance, and a rainbow looking like it was made of emerald encircled the throne. In a circle around the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on those thrones were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white clothing and had golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came out flashes of lightning and roaring and crashes of thunder. Seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God, were burning in front of the throne and in front of the throne was something like a sea of glass, like crystal. 

In the middle of the throne and around the throne were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second creature like an ox, the third creature had a face like a man’s, and the fourth creature looked like an eagle flying. Each one of the four living creatures had six wings and was full of eyes all around and inside. They never rest day or night, saying: 

Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God, the All-Powerful, Who was and who is, and who is coming!” 

And whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne, saying: 

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, since you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created!” (Revelation 4:1-11)

Of course, John was not the first to see a vision of the throne. Elements of what John saw are seen in Old Testament accounts of similar visions. I have a theory that each vision was substantially the same, but given the newness and surrounding events not all details were perceived and/or remembered. So I will walk through these earlier visions and show how they build on each other. I then want to conclude with the very unique perspective of John's vision and its theological implications.

I will start with the book of Job. Even though Genesis tells older stories, Job is likely the oldest book that we have in the Bible. He had a vision of the Lord, but the description is quite scant:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: (Job 38:1)

That's it. The significance, as I will show, is that the whirlwind is a part of several other visions, some quite detailed. I suspect that the interrogation of Job during this appearance was such that Job did not look up to really see what was before him.

The next leg of this journey appears in Exodus:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from a distance. Moses alone may come near the Lord, but the others must not come near, nor may the people go up with him. (Exodus 24:1-2)

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet something like a pavement made of sapphire, and clear like the heaven itself. But he did not lay a hand on the leaders of the Israelites, so they saw God, and they ate and they drank. (Exodus 24:9-11)

Moses, Aaron, Aaron's sons, and the seventy elders of Israel saw a vision of the throne from a distance. Notice the reference to the "pavement made of sapphire a clear like heaven itself." Compare this to John's "in front of the throne and in front of the throne was something like a sea of glass, like crystal." The common elements link these two visions as seeing the same thing.

Next stop is 2 Kings and the chariot that took Elijah to heaven:

As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses appeared. They went between Elijah and Elisha, and Elijah went up to heaven in a windstorm. While Elisha was watching, he was crying out, “My father, my father! The chariot and horsemen of Israel!” Then he could no longer see him. He grabbed his clothes and tore them in two. (2 Kings 2:11-12)

Note the windstorm, just like Job saw. And there are what appear to be a fiery chariot and fiery horses. However, I suspect that what Elisha saw was very similar to what Isaiah and Ezekiel would see later. Here is Isaiah's vision:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. (Isaiah 6:1-4)

Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne. He also saw beings that he named "seraphim" or "fiery ones." Isaiah coined this term to describe them, and it will not be until Ezekiel that these are revealed to be cherubim. He had more time to look at them than did Elisha, for I conclude that these seraphim and the fiery horses are the same. This is further evidenced by what Ezekiel saw:

As I watched, I saw a windstorm coming from the north—an enormous cloud surrounded by a radiance and a fire flashing forth, and in the fire something like a glowing substance. In the fire were what looked like four living beings. As for their appearance, they had human form. Each had four faces and four wings, their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like calves’ feet. They gleamed like burnished bronze. They had human hands under their wings on their four sides. Each of the four had faces and wings; their wings touched each other. They did not turn as they moved, but went straight ahead. Their faces had this appearance: each of the four had the face of a man, with the face of a lion on the right, the face of an ox on the left and also the face of an eagle— thus were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each had two wings touching the wings of one of the other beings on either side and two wings covering their bodies. Each moved straight ahead—wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. The appearance of the living beings was like burning coals of fire, like torches. The fire moved back and forth among the living beings. It was bright, and lightning was flashing out of the fire. The living beings ran backward and forward like flashes of lightning. As I looked at the living beings, I saw a wheel touching the earth beside each one of the four. The appearance of the wheels and their construction was like jasper, and all four wheels looked alike. Their structure was like a wheel within a wheel. When they moved they would go in any of the four directions they faced; they did not turn as they moved. Their rims were high and awesome and the rims of all four wheels were full of eyes all around. (Ezekiel 1:4-18)

Ezekiel saw it all: the windstorm, the seraphim (which he later identified as cherubim), the wheels, and the flashes of lightening. Ezekiel goes on to describe more:

Over the heads of the living beings was something like an expanse, glittering awesomely like ice stretched out over their heads. Under the expanse their wings were stretched out, each toward the other. Each of the beings also had two wings giving cover—each had two covering the body. When they moved, I heard the sound of their wings—it was like the noise of mighty waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stopped moving, they lowered their wings. (Ezekiel 1:22-24)

Ezekiel also saw the clear expanse that Moses and the elders of Israel saw.

Putting it all together, we have this composite picture:

  • A transparent expanse (Exodus and Ezekiel)
  • A whirlwind (Job, 2 Kings, Ezekiel)
  • Chariot like appearance (2 Kings, Ezekiel)
  • Other beings (2 Kings, Isaiah, Ezekiel)
  • Throne (Isaiah, Ezekiel, and possibly Exodus)

You can see that Ezekiel records all the details only partially recorded by the other accounts. There are a few reasons for this. One is that he had the descriptions of the other accounts so the vision was not entirely new. Second, he saw this same vision at least twice and was able to record and remember more details.

Now an interesting and important point about all these Old Covenant visions is that the everyone looked up. They were below the throne and their ability to see who sat upon it was limited.

Now I will return to John's vision. He does not record everything, but he does add new material:

  • John sees the expanse as a sea of glass like crystal.
  • Although there is not a whirlwind, he records lightning and crashes of thunder.
  • He sees the four living beings.
  • He sees the throne of God
  • And he sees Seven lamps and elders.

But the most remarkable thing is that John sees the throne of God at eye level. He is not below. He is there! As Revelation chapter 4 begins, "Come up here." For John there was a door open into heaven and he walked through. That was the difference that Jesus' death and resurrection made. This is what Jesus has provided in the New Covenant. We have access that the Old Covenant saints did not have. We have the Son's blood that cleanses instead of animal blood that covers our sin. We have the Holy Spirit within us. As the writer to Hebrews says:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

John's vision of the throne of God at eye-level speaks the same truth as Hebrews. He is there because of the blood of Jesus. The 24 elders are there because of His blood also.

It is only a matter of time, before we will also see this sight. There will be one final difference. What Job, Elisha, Moses, John and the others saw was a representation of heaven. We must not confuse it with heaven itself. As Ezekiel put it:

The appearance of the brilliant light all around him was like a rainbow in the clouds after the rain. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Lord. When I saw it, I threw myself down with my face to the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking. (Ezekiel 1:28)

The "appearance of the likeness" is at least two steps removed from reality. It might be compared to a color photograph of a splendid sunset that is subsequently used to create a pencil drawing. John and the others saw the drawing and we read a description of those drawings. We are three steps removed. When we see it finally, it will be the very Glory and Magnificent of God Himself.

Wednesday: The Sealed Scroll and the Lion-Lamb

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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