For the Love of God, Volume 2/June 2

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By D.A. Carson About Devotional Life
Chapter 153 of the book For the Love of God, Volume 2


Deuteronomy 6; Psalm 89; Isaiah 34; Revelation 4

REVELATION 4 IS TO REVELATION 5 what a setting is to a drama. Revelation 4 is a description, in apocalyptic symbolism, of the throne room of Almighty God; Revelation 5 plays out a drama in that setting.

John identifies the voice he hears as the voice he first heard speaking to him like a trumpet (4:1)—the voice of the exalted Lord Jesus (1:10-16). John is called up through an open door into heaven to see the elements of the spectacular vision that unfolds in the ensuing verses. Immediately he is “in the Spirit” (4:2)—perhaps some Spirit-imparted trance or vision, or perhaps, like Paul (2 Cor. 12:1-10), John does not really know the nature of his movement. But what he sees is clear enough:

(a) John sees the centrality and ineffable majesty of the Almighty (4:2b-3). He does not let his readers forget that above all temporal thrones, some of them responsible for appalling persecution, stands the ultimate throne, the throne of God. He describes the blazing glory of light refracting over precious gems, like the crown jewels in the Tower of London. One cannot come away from this vision and draw God. This dazzling, fiery beauty commands awe but permits no replicas (cf. Ezek. 1:28).

(b) John sees the divine throne enhanced by spectacular heavenly beings (4:4). Although it is possible to take the “elders” as representing believers from both old and new covenants, it is better to take them as a high order of angels. They offer the prayers of God’s saints to God (5:8), an angelic function (8:3). Believers sing a new song that the elders cannot sing (14:3). In the visions of 7:9- 11 and 19:1-4 the elders are found in concentric circles between angels and the four living creatures (the highest order of angelic beings). An elder frequently interprets what is going on (e.g., 5:5)—a common angelic function in apocalyptic literature. Here they enhance the throne and participate in worship.

(c) John sees the holy separateness of the Almighty. That is the point of the three vignettes in 4:5-6a. The massive storm reminds the reader of Sinai (Ex. 19:16). The sea serves as a symbol for the entire fallen order; that is why in the new heaven and the new earth there is no more sea (21:1). John is distanced from the Almighty by these and related phenomena.

(d) John sees the four living creatures, described in terms drawn from Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1 and 10. They are the highest angelic beings, orchestrating the praise of the Almighty and reflecting his transcendent administration (4:6b-11). God alone is to be worshiped, for he alone is the Creator (4:11), and all other authority derives from his (4:10).

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