David Mathewson helps us all read Revelation more intelligently
This first paragraph by David Mathewson (A Companion to the Book of Revelation.) could change a million mistaken sermons. When we move from the clearly historically-situated churches in chps 2-3 to the heavenly courtroom/throne room scences of chps 4-5 we are not entering into “now” vs. some “way off in the future” time but we are seeing what John wants those churches to know about what is going on now.
JOHN’S “VISION PROPER” BEGINS in 4:1 and extends through 22:5. It is important to recognize that chapters 4-22 do not refer to events and information that takes place chronologically after chapters 2-3. Rather, 4-22 cover the same ground temporally as 2-3. That is, they refer to the same time, events, persons, and places as 2-3, but now from the perspective of an apocalyptic vision. Chapters 2-3 could be seen as a more straightforward prophetic critique of the churches and their situation. Chapters 4-22 will now address the same churches and their time and situation, but in the form of an apocalyptic vision. Chapters 4-5 are foundational for the entire book of of Revelation.
What we see in chps. 4-5 then is the ultimate vision of what God is and will be doing in the world. Nothing more vital for a Christian view of the world than these two chapters.
As we have already seen, the rest of the book of Revelation tells the story of how this scene in heaven, where God and the Lamb are worshiped and their sovereignty acknowledged, becomes a reality on earth.
For those who don’t want to turn to a Bible, here are chps 4 and 5:
Rev. 4:1 After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! 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 there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 3 And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. 4 Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 6 and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
Around the throne, and 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 a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
11 “You are worthy, 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.”
Rev. 5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 2 and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4 And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Rev. 5:6 Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8 When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 They sing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.”
Rev. 5:11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 singing with full voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
That vision in heaven where the Lamb alone is worthy to open the scroll is vital for a Christian understanding of history. What are the major elements? The Lamb is Christ; the scroll is the message of the judgments to follow; the 24 elders (perhaps) heaven’s reps of those on earth; the 4 living beasts represent all creatures
Chapters 4-5 draw primarily on similar heavenly throne room scenes found in Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1-2, but probably also draw on Roman imperial court scenes, where Caesar is on his throne,and his cohorts surround him and render him acclamation and allegiance. Johns vision, then, would be a parody of the Roman court scene and will counter imperial claims. It is not Caesar who is at the center of the universe, in control of all things, and worthy of acclamation and wor-ship. God’s throne, not Caesar’s, stands at the center of all reality. Only God and the Lamb who are sovereign over all things are worthy of worship.
Yes, Mathewson I think is right: a parody of the emperor and imperial ideology. John wants the churches to know that God is going to judge, Rome is not the way, and they are called to enter into the Way of the Lamb.