Revelation 4.5-11 – People and Living Creatures

5 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.

8 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.”

Today there are people and living creatures present, present in heaven with the Lord God Almighty (which, by the way, is a triple strength superlative for our great God; Lord, God, Almighty). There is life in heaven!

The first person present is the person of the Holy Spirit; before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God.The Holy Spirit is a visible presence in heaven, quite a contrast to His current role as the active member of the Godhead in the world today, unseen but very present and at work.

There are also cherubim present, angels of the Lord God Almighty. Not people, but living creatures. Could they be the creature Ezekiel saw in Ezekiel 1.4-14 and 10.20.22? Quite possibly. Quite possibly they are the cherubim of the Lord God Almighty. What are cherubim? This sums it up well,

The cherubim serve the purpose of magnifying the holiness and power of God. This is one of their main responsibilities throughout the Bible. In addition to singing God’s praises, they also serve as a visible reminder of the majesty and glory of God and His abiding presence with His people.”

So, we have the visible presence of the Holy Spirit, cherubim magnifying the holiness and power of God through constant worship, and we have people. The twenty four elders (12 tribes and 12 apostles) are also engaged in this never ending cycle of worship of God,

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.”

Basically, then, all the time!

The elders are definitely people, not more angels. God has promised those who love Him a place in this eternal forever. Paul had a firm grasp on this truth;

Romans 8.16-17

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

2 Timothy 2.11-13

The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he also will deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful– for he cannot deny himself.

 

The question today then, is, do we want to find ourselves part of this never ending cycle of worship in heaven?

Do we want to see and experience this all first hand, with our own senses?

 

If we do, the Word of God is so clear on what we must to ensure this, Romans 10 reads

5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.

6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

 

Revelation 4.1-4 – Symbols and reality

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.”

2 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.

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.

Chapter one detailed things in the past, chapters two and three in the present, and from chapter four onwards we read of things yet to come, literally, meta tauta, after this…

Chapters four to nineteen of Revelation details God’s judgement (hold on to your seats), from His throne in heaven and via a seven-sealed scroll which we will get to. After chapter nineteen, He’s back; Jesus’ earthly reign begin. Four to nineteen, then, details what most people would call the Great Tribulation, God’s judgement being poured out.

There are lots of symbols in this short section, lots of things which paint us a picture of what John saw. Remember, he simply didn’t have the vocabulary to describe the glory of the things he saw, so he used the words he had to paint us as accurate a picture as he could. The really important thing though is to remember that a symbol is never greater than the reality.

Take for instance, our church logo;
Logo w. Mission

It’s clear, striking, shows what we value, says who we are, says what we (are aiming to) do, this particular version is black and white which is often a symbol of a clear cut right/wrong situation.

However, the church family is more than the logo, the church experience, the worship experience, is more than the logo…

Consider even this symbol;

Unknown

It means a great deal to us. By it we have life. Through it we are alive. On it our sacrificial Saviour gave His life to save us from death. But, even the symbol of the cross is nowhere near as powerful as the real thing, are you with me?


Basically, symbol < reality.


Here, then, John sees God on His throne, wow!

Here’s our first symbol,

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

The appearance ofappearance of

We know from the Old Testament that rainbows represent God’s promise never to wipe out humanity through a flood again, Genesis 9 says,

11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Using word pictures to describe the supernatural isn’t something only John did, in Matthew 28 we read,

1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

But, symbols are never greater than the reality.

This means that throughout the coming chapters when we are awed by what we read, what we are reading of is actually even more awesome than we can imagine.

But, on the other side of that coin, when we shudder at what we read, this is even more terrible than we can imagine.

Both should point us in the right direction, this one…

Unknown

 

Revelation 2 and 3 – Synthesis

The seven churches addressed in Revelation 2 and 3 were real churches at the time of writing (in the 90s…90s A.D., not the 1990s, John did not write this whilst listening to the sweet melodic tunes of the Backstreet Boys…).

There were others in the region that were not written to (Colosse for example). So, the fact that Jesus spoke to this seven is significant. Theories abound on this; for example, the order of the seven churches is representative of the pattern of church history. Interestingly, Paul also wrote to seven churches (bonus points if you can name them in the comments below) and Jesus Himself gave seven “Kingdom Parables”.

Big word time; Jesus is not capricious in His choice here. Simply, He chose these seven churches for a reason. Why, we are not told explicitly so there has to be a certain amount of reasoned and considered conjecture.

The church age theory is very interesting;

Ephesus – Apostolic age

Smyrna – Age of persecution (remember Polycarp)

Pergamos – Imperial Church age

Thyatira – Age of Papacy

Sardis – Reformation age

Philadelphia – Missionary age

Laodicea – Age of apostasy

 

Alternatively, we could consider the overall characterisation of each church as key;

Ephesus – backslidden church

Smyrna – persecuted church

Pergamos – promiscuous church

Thyatira – lax church

Sardis – dead church

Philadelphia – favoured church

Laodicea – lukewarm church

 

If we take just the final four – Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea – there is certainly a lesson for us to take from this.

  • We can be unrepentant and unfaithful as a body of believers, not taking our call to be holy and separate seriously.
    • If this were us, the Great Tribulation awaits.
  • We could be empty in our practices, be a church of head but not heart, present in the body but absent in the Spirit.
    • If this were us, empty religious practices would characterise us.
  • We could remain faithful to the Word of God, seek to love and care for others above all our own personal wishes and desires.
    • If this is us, the promises of the true and faithful witness will be ours.
  • We could be lukewarm, feeling that we are actually doing well but in actual fact causing our Lord and Saviour to spit us from His mouth.
    • If that doesn’t jolt us back into line, so to speak, I’m not sure what will.

 

We are encouraged, repeatedly, to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. There is something for us to take from each of the seven churches written to in the then-present day immediate context of Revelation. The problem with the church age theory is that, in the words of Joseph Seiss,

‘There are…holy ones in the midst of abounding defection and apostasy, and unholy ones in the midst of the most earnest and active faith; light in dark places, and darkness in the midst of light.’


We do, though, have characteristics of all the churches, both good and bad.


It is the responsibility of all of us to work together to make our local expression of the wider, global, capital C Church a church that our Lord looks at and says you have kept my word and have not denied my name…because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

What can we do to help that today?

 

31.10.18 – Happy Reformation Day!

On this day, 501 years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 proposals for the Christian faith to the church door, better known as Luther’s 95 Theses. This wasn’t as radical as it sounds, nailing things to the door was a way to get a conversation going, to engage people in debate, and it wasn’t necessarily the grand protest-starting gesture we think it was! However, if you come to the church office and start nailing things to the door that you want me to read, we might have a problem, you could just call me! But, in the time of Luther, this was pretty normal.

He was a German monk who gave his life to God after being providentially saved from a terrible storm. Seeing that he was delivered, he came good on his word and joined a monastery wherein he lived a pretty austere life of prayer, confession, prayer, confession, prayer, learning, prayer…you get the picture.

It was his reading of the Bible that led him to the point of realising that God is good, we as people are not, and that through faith in Jesus Christ alone God would count us as righteous.

His coming back to the sole authority of the Word of God had profound impacts on his own life, on the life of the church, and on our lives too; we hold to the principle of sola scriptura due to men like Luther who passionately argued for the authority of the Word of God.

This two minute video from Ligonier Ministires is well worth a watch…

Revelation 3.14-22 – Lukewarm

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

Interestingly, in some translations of the Bible, this last address is written to the church of the Laodiceans, rather than to the church in Laodicea. A small difference, but important. Laodicea means ‘rule of the people’, so straight away we see what kind of church this was; too many cooks spoiling the broth, because everyone wants to be the leader, the broth spoils and is not fit to eat anymore, it’s lukewarm and inedible. That’s not God’s design and structure for the church, for the workplace, for government, for the home, for life! Who should really be in charge of the church, the big cheese, who is the man? Jesus. Always. Period. Full stop.


Jesus is the Head of every church.


Again, another important, wealthy city…again full of Caesar worship and pagan worship (remember Asklepios the pagan god of healing?). This city had a poor water supply meaning that they were susceptible to being conquered by siege. So, to compensate for this, they made deals with enemies and tried to befriend everyone rather than making a principled stand against what was wrong and defending what was right…

They are described as lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. Hot water cleans, cold water refreshes. Men on fire for the Lord serve and give and do…men who are cold and in despair are often at a point of realising they need a Saviour…but lukewarm people are neither, it’s empty religion, empty practices, trying to please both God and man, the world and Jesus.

Interestingly, the very thing they boasted in was what they needed most…ironic, no? Their main exports were financial services, textiles, and eye salve. What does Jesus counsel them to do?

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

Man, he knows these people intimately, doesn’t He?!

The point for us is so clear, isn’t it…the very thing we think we are good at, the very things in which we boast, the very areas of our lives that we think we are doing so well in are exactly where we need Jesus the most. This might sound counterintuitive, but think about it…

  • Are you doing well at work?
    • Does Jesus go with you to work every day and do you seek to glorify Him through your actions and reactions all day?
  • Do you feel you’re caring for your family like no other parent you know?
    • Does your family acknowledge, together, God the Father’s loving presence?
  • Are you on fire spiritually?
    • Did you by some self-given means begin to understand the Scripture in a way you never have, or does the same Holy Spirit who inspired the human authors also illuminate the Scriptures for you?

Friends, we need to acknowledge our need for His presence in our lives, acknowledge that our beloved is knocking (Song of Solomon 5.2), and acknowledge that without Him in our lives we are, at best, lukewarm.