Not a Game, but the reality of The throne – Wednesday, 33rd Week in ordinary time – Revelations 4:1-11

Not a Game, but the reality of The throne – Wednesday, 33rd Week in ordinary time – Revelations 4:1-11

Chapter 4 and 5 of the Book of revelation do not make for easy spiritual reading unless you have a mind that can pull out references from the Old Testament in order to makes sense of this vision. Our text of today is eleven verses, the whole of chapter 4 and it essential covers a vision of ‘John.’ After the letters to the seven churches, the rest of Revelation is devoted to a series of prophetic visions expressed in very symbolic language and images.

The symbolisms mentioned in this text can set your head reeling for a while. To understand these and all such apocalyptic texts we need to understand that apocalyptic writings come from a definite era in history of almost exactly 300 years, 165 B.C.-A.D. 135 or what is called the intertestamental period, or the years between the Old and New Testament.

These years extend from the rise of Judas Maccabeus in opposition to the persecutions of the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes IV, to the final subjugation of the nation of Israel by Rome after the second futile attempt against the oppressor in the days of the emperor Hadrian. For centuries Israel had been subject to one foreign oppressor after another. Dreams of a restoration after the Babylonian captivity had proved disillusioning. The Jews were forced to change from a nation with its own king to a religious community with a priest at its head.

When your read apocalyptic literature you begin to wonder what’s with the symbolisms? One must admit that much confusion has been caused by these terms used in the book. Actually, such books were not written, as has been often assumed, as puzzles for the curious, to afford glimpses of prophecies in the future. Rather, they were intended as sources of strength and confidence for the people living at the time of the author who were in a period of crisis and needed encouragement to stand firm in the testing days immediately at hand. Their message was that despite the machinations of wicked men and nations, shameless in their opposition to God and his chosen people, it is God who will deliver the final blow against the enemies of his faithful; but till then they must stand firm in the faith.

Chapters 4 and 5 consist of visions of God enthroned in heaven, surrounded by his worshiping hosts and angelic attendants, and of God’s giving the book of his will to Christ, the Lamb. These scenes are meant to be an assurance to Christian readers that God and Christ are shortly to intervene in the affairs of this age and to deliver the faithful from the domination of Satan and his demonic powers as experienced in the Roman state.

In today’s text, the author has a prophetic vision of God’s throne. We get a glimpse of heaven and the “first voice” heard speaking is that of Christ himself. John is summoned before God’s throne and is then “possessed” by the Spirit in a kind of mystical experience in which he is given a vision of God ruling from his throne in heaven.

These texts are not given to us to imagine it literally as corresponding to the reality of God.
It is simply the use of language and images to express the inexpressible. For example, God is described as being like jasper stone (diamond), a sardion (ruby) and a rainbow that looked like an emerald. It is possible to impute meaning to these colours. For example, some may hold that these colours are the colours of blood and water flowing from the heart of Jesus as in the image of the divine mercy. While we cannot rule this out for sure we cannot say for sure what the book wanted to communicate regarding these symbolic colours. John is careful not to describe God in any human-like terms but only as an overwhelming impression of light. These images are derived very much from Ezekiel, chaps 1 and 10, who liked to use apocalyptic language, and also Isaiah 6. Also, we should keep in mind the nature of symbolism: the symbol is always less than the reality. The reality of heaven is even greater than the description we have of it.

Around the throne John sees 24 thrones seated with 24 elders clothed in white robes and with gold crowns. But more than anything our eyes will settle on a familiar imagery we see often in our Churches mentioned in 6b- 8a; that of the four living creatures around the throne. These creatures that look like a lion, a calf, the face of a man and one of a flying eagle have been the representation of the four evangelist. But this description is also found in the Prophet Ezekiel who describes them as cherubim.

But it is what happens from the throne of God that the author wants to really communicate. It is in the presence of God that the cherubim worship a Holy God constantly. More than that, they declare that the Lord God is Almighty, implying that he is greater than any earthly ruler who may be the cause of persecution of God’s people on earth.

It is before this almighty, omnipotent God that the 24 elders, stepping down from their thrones, prostrate themselves while laying down their crowns. For only God is “worthy to receive glory and honour and praises.” Interestingly, the crowns mentioned in Revelation 4:10 are the stephanos crowns, the crowns of victory, not royalty. These are the crowns of achievement that a winning athlete would receive at the ancient Olympian Games. The twenty-four elders, representing all the redeemed of God, threw every achievement reward they had back to God, because they knew and proclaimed that He was worthy to receive glory and honor and power.

All of this was also an allusion to a practice in the Roman Empire. The Emperor of Rome ruled over many lesser kings, and these kings were at times commanded to come before the Emperor and lay their crowns down before him in homage. Then he would give them back, as a demonstration that their crowns, their right to rule, their victory, came from him.

The message to the Christians who lived through these times of great tribulation and persecution under Roman religious suppression was clear. This text was to be the billboard in flashing lights; a reminder of how majestic and powerful God was and that the rulers of this world would one day have to bow before his majesty. This was a reminder to the Christians, not to bow before any earthly ruler, even if one’s life was at stake.

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