March 18, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy XXXVIII: Deserved Praise To The Only One Who Matters

God and Christ Are Glorified (4:1–5:14)

The main point of Revelation Chapters 4–5 is God’s redemptive purpose for the world beginning to be accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ. God’s divine purpose for creation will be consummated in divine glory accomplished by the end of Revelation. The purpose is to show suffering Christians that God the Father and Jesus are sovereign and that the events that the Christians are facing are part of a sovereign plan that will culminate in their redemption and the vindication of their faith through the punishment of their persecutors in the end.

The theme of “overcoming” mentioned in the letters to the seven churches is especially exposed in chapter 5. Believers are exhorted throughout the letters to “overcome” tribulation because of temptations to compromise under persecution and pressure. Nowhere is this more exemplified in the fact that Christ has faced suffering and death and overcome them is a basis of assurance to believers suffering for their faith. Christ has overcome the world.

John 16:33 ~ I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

We need to also understand how the Old Testament symbology, typology and imagery profoundly affect how we read Revelation. Failure to do this often leads to the nonsensical rapture ready and “end times” web sites that pervade the internet and TBN. Symbols in Revelations and figurative language are often taken literally or totally out of context.  Things in Revelations are totally removed from their Old Testament roots and therefore the message gleaned from Revelation is devoid of its intended Old Testament associations.

An overview of the chapters 4 and 5 together reveals that they exhibit a unified structure which corresponds to the structure of Daniel 7 in a striking manner.
  • The introductory vision phraseology (Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:1)
  • A throne(s) set in heaven (Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:2)
  • God sitting on a throne (Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:2)
  • God’s appearance on the throne (Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:3)
  • Fire before the throne (Daniel 7:9–10; Revelation   4:5)
  • Heavenly servants surrounding the throne (Daniel 7:10; Revelation 4:4) 
  • A book(s) before the throne (Daniel 7:10; Revelation 5:1–5)
  • The book is opened (Daniel 7:10; Revelation 5:2–5)
  • A divine figure approaching God’s throne to receive authority to reign forever over a kingdom (Daniel 7:13–14; Revelation 5:5–7)
  • The kingdom’s scope: “all peoples, nations, and tongues” (Daniel 7:14; Revelation 5:9)
  • A Seer/Prophet’s emotional distress on account of the vision (Daniel 7:15; Revelation 5:4)
  • The seer’s reception of heavenly counsel concerning the vision from one of the heavenly throne servants (Daniel 7:16; Revelation 5:5)
  • The saints given divine authority to reign over a kingdom (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27; Revelation 5:10)
  • Concluding mention of God’s eternal reign (Dan. 7:27;Revelation 5:13–14)
  • Both visions also contain the image of a sea (Daniel 7:2–3; Revelation 4:6)

Striking! You would think these two were meant to be viewed together or in association. Many never make this connection and they are at a tragic loss because of that fact.

We then also see the parallels to Ezekiel. They are not as thorough as Daniel but still striking. Below is a further comparison between Revelation 4:1-5:1 to Ezekiel 1-2
  • The opening of books
  • The approach of a divine figure before God’s throne to receive authority to reign forever which consists of all peoples of the earth
  • The reign of the saints over a kingdom
  • The mention of God’s eternal reign. 

Vision Terminology (Revelation 4:1–2)

Using Daniel 7 and Ezekiel 1 as a template, Revelation 4 starts with vision phraseology: “after these things I saw, and behold.” Just as in the OT and Daniel visionary passages we see εἶδον/“I saw” and ἰδού/“behold” put together for effect so the reader/hearer pays close attention. The “after these things” in verse one are the start of a new vision separate but related to the seven churches. Many infer that the “after these things” comment is a direct and unequivocal reference to the “latter days”. This quite possibly could be something as simple as the fact that the vision that starts in Revelation 4:1 comes after the one that just ended that pertained to the seven churches. We need to remember that chapter divisions are not inspired and were not in the original manuscripts. John might have been simply delineating that one vision had stopped and another was beginning. I am not convinced the wordage here is a reference to the latter days as the very next section launches into a vision oriented around God's throne which is essentially...outside of time. There is nothing in the context to lead us to believe that John is making a direct reference to the latter days here is only orienting himself relative to the last vision. We must remember as readers that John being in the Spirit is not necessarily dealing with chronological order or chronos/Χρόνος. Out of the Spirit or not being in the Spirit would’ve allowed him to orient himself in sequence so that the reader/hearer did not get disoriented. I think what John is saying here is that these visions did not happen simultaneously as we will see in other places in Revelations visions happened in rapid succession or nearly simultaneously in a panoramic fashion… “Μετὰ ταῦτα εἶδον/ after this I saw (or heard or perceived)”…over and over in the later chapters of John’s vision.

God Sitting on His Throne (4:2–3)

The Old Testament theophany(s) form the background for the next two verses. According to the similar order of images in Daniel 7 and Ezekiel 1, the image here of a divine being sitting on a throne can refer to either. A throne is symbolic of collective sovereignty. This is further emphasized by John because it is the center of his heavenly cosmology. Heavenly beings find significance based on their placement or orientation around the God’s throne as is humanity. The most prominent symbology is rooted in Ezekiel 28 and Exodus 28 when referring to the three stones mentioned in Revelation 4:3 are also mentioned in those chapters. The three stones appear to be an anticipation of the fuller list of precious stones in chapter 21, where the glory of God is revealed, not only in heaven but also in the new creation. The stones intensify the light around the throne by reflecting the unapproachable brightness, and hence glory, surrounding God himself.

The “rainbow” seems to be  tempered with considerations of mercy (i.e.: Noahic covenant). Above all, the rainbow gives light to God’s glory, since Ezekiel 1:28 metaphorically equates it with “the appearance of the surrounding radiance”.

Throne, Attendants, Fire and A Sea (4:4–8)

Now a heavenly entourage around the throne is pictured. The elders are identified as among other things as stars, angels, Old Testament saints, angelic, heavenly representatives of all saints, patriarchs and apostles representing both testament saints together and finally there are representatives of the prophetic revelation of the twenty-four books of the Old Testament. The truth is that identification of the elders should not be held to dogmatically but the evidence in Scripture makes it highly probable that they represent the Body of Christ.

The most fascinating aspect of this vision is that it gives us a look into heaven to see that the saints of old together with deceased Christians who have persevered have received the heavenly reward of crowns, white clothing, and kingship…and all are equal in Christ. It is visions like this that give believers assurance that we and those that pre-decease us like our faithful parents will be joined in unity in heaven around the Lord’s throne. We can be assured that we too will receive a like reward, if we are faithful to the end. This assurance is intensified since the vision actually portrays the reward of saints of all ages, including those yet to die! Like I said…apocalyptic visions are not chronological per se. God sees things from outside of time or independent from it.

This is one of the areas when it comes to understanding prophecy and God where people really get messed up in their interpretation. We must never forget that God is eternal…therefore timeless. When visions are given to men in the Bible they are the insight of events revealed from a God who sees all time as the “eternal present”. His throne would therefore be outside of time as would those standing around it. In other words they are timeless. Things that unfold or transpire "in the Spirit" or during visions are not always locked into the same temporal rules that things of the Creation are per se. Furthermore, John being in the Spirit does not necessarily subject him to the sequential unfolding of time as we would understand it from man’s point of view. Prophecies are given from God’s point-of-view in a way that allows man to marginally comprehend the knowledge of God. When I hear people on TV, radio and the Internet saying stuff like, “this happens and then this and this unfolds like this and once all of this happens then this can happen”…I know almost immediately I might be dealing with a literalist or person that might be totally failing to understand that some events are not meant to be understood from a chronological sequence or unfolding of time as humans would normally understand it. Sometimes this concept just totally evades people. If it is “timeless” or outside of time they just don’t get it. This leaves their interpretation subject to question because it is evident they do not understand the basic concepts involved with interpreting divine prophecy and apocalyptic literature. If the writer does not specifically state sequence or timing…none can be assumed and this chapter is a perfectly clear example. 

Conversely, what follows the introductory verses does speak to what appears to be future events as none of them have happened as outlined that we are aware of. The truth is that we cannot divest ourselves totally of a time-bound concept this side of Heaven because everything would then become symbolic…then its prophetic significance dwindles to nearly nothing. The first verses here appear in the context of the vision but afterwards refers to the things that address man’s future. In other words the episodes in John’s vision appear to be outside of time “in the Spirit” but the events that the characters speak of in the vision appear to at least sequence events outside of the spiritual realm in a time-bound manner…but not necessarily sequenced or chronologically at all times. As context seems to shift back and forth in Revelation we must be diligent to ascertain the context of every verse, probably more so than we do elsewhere. Especially since John is in and out of the Spirit, in and out of visions and because the narrative is constantly changing source and person (I said, they said, etc.). Person, source and context must constantly be re-established when reading or interpretation can run errant.

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