The Apocalypse Week 1: The Great White Throne

July 17, 2016

The Apocalypse week 1

The Great White Throne

Key Text: Rev 4:1-11

Revelation has been a book of great debate and controversy over the years.

Many Christians read it with great interest, however, are lost in the language and images used in this book.

Hopefully, over the next few weeks, we will break down those apprehensions and develop an appreciation for what the book is saying.

So let’s just dive in how do we understand the book of Revelation?

Well, first of all let’s look at Rev 1:1-3

1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

Essentially Revelation is a book of revealing; it reveals firstly Christ and what must take place soon. But it is a book of blessing; it blesses the reader and hearer of it. It blesses the one who takes what is says to heart. Why? Because the time is near and because it reveals Christ in this!

It blesses the reader because it speaks to the reader, and it blesses the one who takes it to heart because it directs the one who takes it to heart to love God more and to see Him more as He truly is. Essentially the book is exactly what its title says it is; it is a revelation; a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Revelation is a book about God and His people!

But even in this, there is a problem. How often have you read through Revelation, and after going through beasts with 10 heads, Lambs, lampstands and angels, we kind of get lost on what is being said? The language distracts us from the glory of God, and we end up just confused or scared.

This is because Revelation is written in a very particular language style. Kind of like poetry, or songwriting. Now you wouldn’t read and interpret poetry as you would a factual science book. And that is where our problem with Revelation lies is that we read it wrong.

We read it like a factual science book rather than in the language style it was actually written.

The Revelation is written in a language style called Apocalyptic literature. Which is a fancy word that means a language used to reveal. And essentially it deals with things that strait talking language just cannot describe.

It’s like trying to describe a cell phone to someone from the ancient Greece. They have no Idea what radio waves are, what a screen is, what buttons are.

You will overcome the gap by using highly symbolic language and try and relate this unknown object to someone who has no idea what you are talking about.

Now with Apocalyptic language we have a bigger problem, the writers of these books have seen into heaven, the have glimpsed a view and the unfathomable, and they are charged with trying to bring these unfathomable pictures to make sense to the people that they are writing.

So Revelation has to be understood in terms of this. John uses pictures to teach a lesson. These pictures need to be interpreted to be understood. And we must be careful of not taking them too literally. Because they were never intended to be taken literally.

So what is the key to interpreting Revelation? Well

—  The first key is: understanding the images of Revelation lies in knowing the Old Testament.

 lies in the fact that Revelation has over 500 references and 249 specific quotations to the Old Testament or images used in the Old Testament. To give that relevance the next best is Mark with on 96 references. In fact, all the New Testament Combined does not quote the Old Testament as much as Revelation quotes it in one book.

So the understanding of the images lies in knowing the Old Testament.

The second key lies in when the book was written. It was written in a time of great persecution against the church. The Roman government had started actively persecuting and killing Christians. And some say that if God had not changed the circumstances some few years later Christianity would have simply been killed out.

The Third key is that it was describing the ‘end of days’ which the churches that John was writing too were in, and we now live in as well. It is an encouragement to stand firm under persecution, for the churches 2000 years ago and for us today.

So with those in mind let us look at Rev 4:1-11

Now, remember we have to read this in light of what I have just said, these are images to teach us something and to encourage us and that will be our guide in understanding what John is saying here.

Revelation 4New International Version (NIV)

The Throne in Heaven

4 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first 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 before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. 4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits[a] of God. 6 Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy

is the Lord God Almighty,’[b]

who was, and is, and is to come.”

9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

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 were created
    and have their being.”

        

John gives us three images here in this passage, and all of them point to one overriding truth: that is God is Holy, above and in control.

The three images are:

1.      The One on the Throne

2.      The Twenty-Four Elders

3.      The Four Living Creatures

So let’s look at the first image

1.    The One on the Throne

This is a vivid picture that John gives us here in Revelation a picture of a great throne, and even in his picture, you can see he is struggling for words to describe the wonder and amazement at this one who sits upon the throne.

The first thing that we must take from this is that God is upon His throne, a throne set up in Heaven, above every ruler and every point of authority. This throne like all thrones is a symbol of authority, judgement, and honour.

So in light of the suffering churches of Asia Minor, this picture becomes a source of great hope. The same God who they know is this same God who is securely upon His throne.

The next significance is that John avoids any uses of features to describe the One who sits upon the throne. He uses images to show his complete brightness, power, awe and otherness.

 Rather John uses images that transport the reader to the complete beauty and power of what he had seen.

Reading you might not know off hand exactly the imagery behind the pictures, but you are transported by John’s words to know that what he saw was beyond amazing.

The stones used in Johns explanation we not chosen haphazardly.

For

Jasper stone

was last of the twelve stones in the High Priest's breastplate (Exo_28:20; Exo_39:13), and the first of the twelve stones mentioned in the foundation of the New Jerusalem (Rev_21:19). Also, the stone employed in the superstructure of the wall of the Heavenly City (Rev_21:18). The stone itself was of different colours, the best being purple. According to Rev_21:11, it represents a crystalline brightness. The exact meaning of the symbolism must remain uncertain, owing to our ignorance of the precise meaning of “jasper,” a name which seems to have covered a variety of stones now known under other classifications. Some interpreters, assuming the jasper to be sparkling white, find in it a representation of the holiness of God

With carnelian or sardius or ruby

Rev., Sardius. The sixth foundation-stone of the Heavenly Jerusalem in Rev_21:20. was a red stone. It derives its name from Sardis where it was discovered. Others have a yellowish red. Some interpret in the fiery sardius (or ruby) a representation of His wrath. I find this a good interpretation.

Finally the rainbow of Emerald

It is claimed that the real emerald was unknown to the ancients. However, this same stone is the stone on which Judah's name was written, in the high priest's breastplate; it signified brilliance, and some say has the connection with grace.

Picture the great glories of God, his brilliance, his wrath is before John and surrounding Him is a delightful glow of grace, as someone once said how delightful to see is the covenant of grace to a believer!

John finally adds to this by describing the great lightning and peals of thunder that are emanating from the Throne to symbolise immense power, we who live in the Highveld have no problem imaging the power related to the sight and sound of thunder and lightning.

To this John says around this is the seven lampstands which he explains is the Seven Spirits of God. now it must be said there is one spirit. However, in the Hebrew understanding which John was –seven always represents perfection. What John is doing here is ensuring that His believers understand that this image is God himself; sitting upon His throne in glory, wrath, and brilliance, surrounded by grace.

The next image is that of

2.    The Twenty-Four Elders

This image is quite contested in term of how do we interpret it. Yet when we look at it we can instantly see that these elders were dressed in white and had crowns of glory.

This jumps us completely to the imagery of who but those who have been washed in the blood of the lamb, those who have been washed whiter than snow.

And when understanding that the other parts of the imagery become clear.

So what does the number 24 stand for?

Well, some have argued that it stands for the number 12X2 in other words, the tribe of Israel and the church. For which it is not a completely incorrect interpretation.

Remember we need to interpret Scripture with Scripture and Revelation leans heavily upon the images given in the Old Testament.

So where do we find this 24 in Scripture?

Well

the number "twenty four", in allusion to the twenty-four courses of the priests, into which they were divided by David, 1Ch_24:1, and to the twenty-four stations of the Levites, who in turn attended the service of the temple daily, and represented the whole body of the people of Israel, in putting their hands upon the sacrifices, and praying for them; add to this, that in twenty four places the priests and Levites kept watch in the temple; so these twenty-four elders before the throne of God, in his temple, represent the whole of Israel of God, all the members of the Gospel church state, from the first to the last of it; pre-Christ and post-Christ.

They are the symbol of all those who have come before, who have been saved, both before Christ and after.

These 24 elders are the representation of the eternal and universal church. This is the church that God has been working with since He first called men to follow Him.

And what do they cry before the throne of God?

We read about it in vs 10-11

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 were created
    and have their being.”

They worship the one who is worthy!

The final image in this passage is that of the

3.    The Four Living Creatures

Once again a peculiar vision from John but this vision strikes a definite resemblance to the vision of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1:5.

Turn with me to Ezekiel 1:5

[READ 5-11 and  28b (28b is the NB part)]

5 and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures.In appearance their form was human,6 but each of them had four facesand four wings.7 Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze.8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands.All four of them had faces and wings,9 and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.

10 Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.11 Such were their faces. They each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body.

 

VERSE28Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.

This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of theLord. When I saw it, I fell facedown,and I heard the voice of one speaking.

The reader of the Revelation would have thought about this message from Ezekiel and they would have recognised that what John was emphasising was, in fact, these angels are the representation of the Glory of God.

And the declaration is such that cannot be missed; Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty, who was and is and is to come.

God’s glory is revealed and that glory reveals that the Lord is indeed holy!

John writes to reconnect a terrified church to the one who is above all, who is totally worthy and who is holy above all.

This is the God revealed in the revelation and this is the God whom we serve.

It is this realisation that the rest of Revelation is based. God is in control he is glorious and he is holy.

In all this there are applications:

1.      Surrender, for God is on his throne

2.      Worship, for God alone is worthy

3.      Be in awe, for God is holy!

If we can take this and live it out no matter what the world can throw at us we too will be encouraged to stand firm, and we will be blessed in our knowledge of God.

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