Read Revelation 4
Today, as you open your newspaper, turn on the television, or click on your news app, what do you see? Coronavirus, coronavirus, coronavirus! Either that, or the images and symbols that have become associated with this pandemic. Hazmat suits worn by doctors. Face-masks worn by the general public. Endless graphs produced by epidemiologists. The Zoom grid-view on screens, now familiar to office workers everywhere.
When the first readers of the book of Revelation looked around, what did they see? Rome, Rome, Rome! Everywhere they look, the images and symbols of Rome’s power were there. The eagle, the symbol of Rome’s strength, was everywhere in public. Look at a lamppost and you could even find an eagle affixed there. Or look at their coins – with the images of Caesar embedded onto it. They were constantly reminded who appeared to be in charge.
In Revelation 4:1, John invites us now to look with him. “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.” A voice has invited him, which from 1:10 we know is the voice of Christ. Vern Poythress, the New Testament scholar, describes this invitation as a little like a visit to an airport control tower. At a busy airport, everything looks like a blur of messy activity, with planes coming and going, luggage loaded and unloaded, a whole range of airport vehicles rushing about in different directions. But come to the control tower, and suddenly the goings-on down below make more sense. And as we follow John, we are now entering the control tower of the universe. In doing so, we see the airport of the world in a new light.
What do we see? There are many details which we could concentrate on, but central to this vision of John is the throne of God. In eleven verses, it is mentioned 11 times. It’s as if we’re given a panoramic view, with verse 4 bringing us to encircle the throne, verse 5 showing us what comes “from” or “before the throne”, and verse 6 taking us to the front and around the throne. And the one who sits on the throne has precious stones and flashes of lightning associated with him (4:2-3, 5). In Ezekiel 1:26-28 and Exodus 19:16, Moses and the prophet Ezekiel witnessed these very things as they encountered God. It is the LORD God, the Creator of the Universe, who is seated there.
So what is being communicated is clear: God alone is at the centre of the universe. He sits in the command chair of the control tower. There are 24 elders right there with him with their thrones (4:4), representing either the universal church or the order of angels, but whoever they represent, they give glory and worship to the Enthroned One (v. 10). John is proclaiming to us: see what stands at the centre of the universe! The glory of God. The majesty of God. The universal kingship of God.
This is brought out further by the description of the throne’s guardians in verses 6b-8. Once again, these are pictures drawn from the Old Testament, especially Ezekiel 1 and 10 and Isaiah 6. They reflect something of his attributes – for instance, the many eyes of these strange creatures point to God’s all-seeing eyes. We’re not meant to worry so much about what these creatures actually are, but to appreciate them as signs that point away from themselves. They all point one way – in the direction of the one true, living, sovereign God. “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come”: they cry (v.8). That is what even the eagle-like creature of verse 7 does. The very image of Rome’s power also has to bow before the throne.
Just imagine what kind of impact that had on the first Christian readers of Revelation, living under the oppressive rule of Rome. God is saying – he still reigns, even when all appearances point otherwise. He has his plans, he has his agenda. His power is infinite, his wisdom is unfathomable. And this is still true today. God is still on the throne. That truth alone should give us great comfort and humility. We are comforted, knowing that though it is difficult to make sense of the statistics of the day, with its mounting number of actives cases and death tolls, God knows what it all means. But it humbles us as well, because it reminds us we don’t direct the flow of history. We’re not even in control of our own destiny. God isn’t here to serve us. We’re here to serve him. So it is his agenda we follow.
But there is great freedom in that, for as the subsequent chapter, Revelation 5, reminds us, the One who actually sits on the Throne is none other than the slain Lamb and the Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ. The King on the Throne is the King who left his home in heaven to do his priestly work of atonement for you. As a result, the One who died for You is now enthroned. And all who are presently distressed or discouraged, can seek sanctuary by putting their faith in him and casting their cares upon him.
So read the newspaper. Be confronted by the images. But after that, lift up your eyes, and ask God to help you see with his eyes, the throne-room of God, the control tower of the universe. Then give him all the praise and honour and glory.
- Pray that God will help us see the world through his eyes. Pray that even in the midst of all the uncertainty, we will know in our very being that God remains on the throne, and that we can trust him in all things.
- Pray for the Rohingya refugees. Pray that all their basic needs will be met, for them not to be exploited, and that a viable solution which will protect their human dignity and help their community in the longer term would be found. Pray that the Christian community will not participate in any xenophobic attitudes towards them, but desire for these refugees to discover the mercy of God.