March 21, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy XXXIX: Christ's Beautiful Bride

Jesus’ Beautiful Church and What She Will Become

The church may be pictured in angelic guise to remind its members that already a dimension of their existence is already heavenly, that their real home is not with the unbelieving worldly unbelievers and that they have heavenly help and protection in their struggle to obtain their reward and not be conformed to their pagan environment. Paul understood this and said so in Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”

One of the purposes of the church meeting on earth in its weekly gatherings is to be constantly reminded of the existence of our heavenly counterpart. What we do here is literally a model or heavenly worship and liturgy by the angels in heaven around God’s throne.

Holy, Holy, Holy indeed (Isaiah 6)!

The actual wording of verse 5 is influenced by the description of fiery theophanies in Ezekiel. The first phrase, “lightning's and peels of thunder,” is repeated verbatim in Ezekiel. This therefore also means that other similar phrases identify God as the source of later judgments. This should terrify non-believers but should come as assurance to Christians who are under tribulation and suffering, that their God is sovereign and has not forgotten them because he has not forgotten their persecutors…who are now in really deep do-do.

The living beings are said to have been “in the midst of the throne,” which probably means that they stood near it. This is clarified by the following clause, which says that they were “around the throne” This is elucidated further by the fact that later in the book the living beings fall down in worship before the throne. The scene in Isaiah 6:2 is most influential at this point, since there the “seraphim stood around” the Lord.

The next thing we come across of particular note are the four living beings. Are they intended to be understood as literal heavenly creatures of a high angelic order? The likelihood is that they are only a symbolic depiction, since they differ from both from Isaiah 6 and in Ezekiel 1, which also differ among themselves. The number of wings vary — four on each creature in Ezekiel, six on each, in three pairs, in Isaiah, and six undifferentiated wings on each in Revelation. Their position varies — standing above the throne in Isaiah, forming part of the base of the throne together with the “wheels” in Ezekiel. The descriptions of the faces, eyes, and wings and the vocal role of these beings is somewhat different in Ezekiel and Revelation. For example, in Ezekiel 1 each of the creatures has four faces (lion, ox, man, and eagle), whereas in John’s vision each has only one of these faces. Some Old Testament cherubim are different. In Jewish tradition the cherubim are portrayed together with the seraphim in singing praise to God, as they do in Revelation. In Ezekiel 1 they do not do this.

If the “book,” “seals,” “lion,” “lamb,” “horns,” and “seven eyes” are all symbolic (which they probably are), it is highly probable other features of the vision are also. The hymns in these verses interpret the vision of God on the throne surrounded by heavenly beings, fire, and a sea (verses 2–8) to mean that God is holy (verse 8) and sovereign over creation (verses 8, 11), which demonstrates his “worthiness” (verse 11) to be praised, worshiped, and glorified (verses 9–11).

The hymns make explicit the main point of the vision and of the whole chapter: God is to be glorified because of his holiness and sovereignty. The verse in chapter 5 show that this is not only the ideal purpose for all creatures but also that someday this purpose will actually be fulfilled, not only in heaven but also on earth, since it is an anticipation of the coming Kingdom on Earth in full effect!

Verse 8’s cherubim’s praise appears to be ceaseless in an absolute sense, though their chanting in appears to be a different activity, composed of distinct acts with a beginning and an end. The influence of Isaiah 6 is obvious…even the, “Holy-Holy-Holy” in triplet.

Through John the readers are being given information from the heavenly, secret council room of the Lord.  The titles show that the intention of this crucial vision is to give the supra-historical perspective or timeless nature of “the one who is, was, and is coming”. The One who is can bolster the suffering believer to see his eternal purpose and so motivate them to persevere faithfully through their tribulation.

As if on-queue, the twenty-four elders fall down and worship at the prompting of the four living creatures: “whenever” the latter worship, the former immediately begin their praising. It is orchestrated of performed as if it is a symphony…and perhaps that is exactly what it is. We see past and future believers and angelic beings in perfect unity, through Christ, worshiping God. Can there be anything more perfect?

I think not. It is the sole reason we exist. Is there anything else, any other purpose for our existence? I think not.

In both Daniel 4:34 and Daniel 12:7 this expression of God’s eternity is intended as a contrast with the temporary reigns of evil kings whose rule has been taken away because they have fraudulently claimed to themselves entitlements of deity. We see the same here and will see more of it as the chapters of Revelation blow open in the firestorm of unfolding prophecy. Again we see the contrast between God’s eternal kingship and that of temporal rulers is meant in John’s closing statement/hymn. It is apparent from the striking similarity of the divine title “ὁ κύριος καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν /the Lord and our God” in v 11a with the title, “Dominus Et Deus Noster”/“Our Lord and God”, which was used to address Emperor Domitian during John’s time. What we see here in this statement is John giving a clever backhand slap to the current world ruler who was nothing more than a megalomaniacal tyrant like many before him and many after him. They could not hold a candle to the blinding brilliance of our Lord’s holiness and Shekinah. Nor can any future dictator or self-absorbed tyrant. So please sense the framing of later chapters of Revelation here. God is in control…even during the worst of our sufferings and tribulations.

The chapter closes with further deserved praising of God.

Holy! Holy! Holy!.. is the Lord God Almighty…all the Earth is filled with His glory…Amen. 

May Christ's bride be as beautiful forever as my wife was on the day we married.

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