Monday, September 30, 2013

Oldest complete commentary on Revelation

Revelation 4:6-8 "and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.7 The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”                                          

Yesterday we considered the theme of Heavenly worship in Revelation 4:6-11.  We noted that heavenly worship consists of testimony, thanksgiving and total awe of God.  Undoubtedly this text is Revelation is breath-taking, and in today's post I wanted to look at it again through a different set of eyes.  The earliest complete commentary on the Book of Revelation was composed by an early Christian commentator by the name of Victorinus in the late 3rd century (nearly 1800 years ago). The full text of his insights on Revelation 4:6-8 below will serve to give the reader an example of some of the rich, unique and at times imaginative insights that can be gleaned from reading older Christian writers. I hope you find Victorinus' commentary both edifying and interesting.a  I now present to you his comments on Revelation 4:6-8 in their entirety:

Victorinus' Commentary on the Apocalypse of John.

"The four animals are the four Gospels. He says The first is like a lion, the second is like a bull, the third is like a man, the fourth is like a flying eagle; having six wings around them, eyes both inside and outside, and, he says, never ceasing to say.....b Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.

Twenty-four elders sitting, having twenty-four judgment-seats: are the books of the Prophets and the Law, relating the witness of the Judge. For the twenty-four fathers are the twelve Apostles and the twelve Patriarchs. Therefore, the animals which are different faces, have them for this reason.

The animal like a lion is the Gospel according to John, which, while all the other Evangelists announced that Christ was made man, it was for him to announce that He was God before He descended and took on flesh,The Word was God, and because he proclaims like a roaring lion, his preaching bears the face of a lion. Like a man. Matthew made an effort to announce to us the family of Mary, through which Christ received flesh. Therefore, when he recounts from Abraham up to David, and from David up to Joseph, as though spoken of a man, thus his preaching receives the image of a man. Luke also, when he recounts from the priest Zacharias offering a sacrifice for the people and the angel appears to him, because of the priesthood and the sacrifice, this writing bore the image of the bull. Mark, the interpreter of Peter, wrote a record of those things which he generally taught, but not in order, and begins with the word of prophecy announced by Isaiah.

Therefore, they begin thus, saying: John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;c this is the face of a lion. And Matthew: The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, son of God, son of David, son of Abraham;d this is the face of a man. And Luke thus: There was a priest of the name Zacharias, of the course of Abia, and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron;e this is the image of a bull. Mark begins thus: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah;f it begins with the Spirit flying, therefore, it also has the image of a flying eagle.

And not only the prophetic Spirit, but also the Word of God the Father Almighty, Who is His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, bears the same images in the time of His appearance to us. For when, it was predicted like a lion, and like the cub of a liong because for the salvation of men, He was made man, conquering death and freeing all; because He offered Himself as a sacrifice to God the Father for us, He is called a bull; and because He conquered death, ascended to heaven, extending His wings and protecting His people, He is called a flying eagle. Therefore these announcements, which are four, are actually one announcement, which came out of one mouth, like the river in paradise, from one source dividing into four parts.

And these animals have eyes inside and outside, that is the preaching of the New Testament; it shows Spiritual providence, which both looks into the secrets of the heart, and also sees things yet to come, which areinside and outside. The wings are the witnesses of the books of the Old Testament, and therefore they are twenty-four, which is also the same number of elders on the judgment-seats.h As an animal is not able to fly without having wings, so neither does the preaching of the New Testament have faith without having the previously announced witnesses of the Old Testament, by which it takes off from earth and flies. For always, when what was said before is found to have happened later, this makes an undoubting faith. For again, if wings are not attached to animals, they have no way to prolong (?) life. For without those things previously announced by the prophets being accomplished in Christ, their preaching will have been made worthless."i

b The original had the Greek text translated "holy,holy,holy", namely "Αγιος, αγιος, αγιος" (hagios, hagios, hagios). 
c Jn 1.1 
d Mt 1.1 
e Lk 1.5 
f Mk 1.1-2 
g Gen 49.9 
The curious reader may wonder why Victorinus would mention only 24 books in the Old Testament, when in our English Bibles there are 39 books.  The answer lies in the fact that in the translation of the original Hebrew manuscripts and copies of the Old Testament, some of the Bible books were originally written as one volume.  So for example, the books of 1 Samuel were originally one book of Samuel, the books of Kings were originally one book and then the books of Chronicles were also originally one book.  The twelve books at the end of our English Old Testament called the minor prophets were originally included on one scroll.  Whenever the Jews translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek (a translation call the Septuagint), the bigger books or bigger sections of the Old Testament were turned into two books or separate books without altering the words.  Hence we still have the words as originally inspired by God, even though the arrangement of the volumes may be different.  Much like older and newer editions of books that come out today, an editor at a later time may choose to take bigger books and divide them into two or three volumes for ease of use, while still retaining the identical wording and intent of the author. 
i 1Cor 15.14

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Heavenly Worship - Revelation 4:6-11

Revelation 4:8 "And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

The late great Bible teacher and scholar Dr. John Walvoord notes this about the worship scene in Revelation 4 - As if anticipating the ultimate consummation where all recognize the exalted name of Jesus whether in heaven or hell, Revelation 4 reveals this intimate glimpse of heaven where all created beings join in a symphony of praise and give their honor and worship to the Almighty God.  The worthiness of God to receive such praise is related to His sovereign right to rule as the One who sits upon the throne." Walvoord later writes: Wise is the soul who finds in the Scriptures the revelation of such a God and who bows now in this day of grace in faith and worship before the God whom He will serve in eternity."1  As we enter into the scene of God's Heavenly throne room once again, we are struck by the Heavenly worship being done by the angelic realm and the realm of men. The 24 elders represent believers of all ages as the church triumphant. The angelic realm is represented by a particular order of beings called elsewhere in scripture by the title "cherubim". (Ezekiel 1:10; 10:1) 

As we explore Revelation 4:6-11 in today's post, our aim is to understand what particular elements are associated with Heavenly worship. Why? Because we as the saints of God here on earth, the church militant, as well as those saints in the Old Testament - Israel, were called to heavenly-type worship. Two texts will serve as prime examples of how Heavenly worship is meant for both heaven and earth. Psalm 150:1-2 "Praise the Lord!Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty expanse. (2) Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness." Romans 15:11 "
And again, 'Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.” When we think of what worship means, commentator Robert Mounce notes: "The word 'worship' originally involved the idea of prostrating oneself before Deity to kiss his feet or the hem of his garment."2 With those introductory thoughts we now ask the question: what is entailed in heavenly worship? Note the following three main thoughts:

1. Testimony.            Revelation 4:6-8
2. Thanksgiving.        Revelation 4:9
3. Total Awe.             Revelation 4:10-11

Testimony.     Revelation 4:6-8
What is a testimony? Essentially it has to do with telling who God is and what He has done, is doing or will do. Three particular features of this text bear out three particular emphasis about God in this text. 

1. Testimony of marvelous grace. 
Much ink has been spilled in trying to explain what exactly the "sea of glass" is before the throne of God in Revelation 4:6. As we have noted in past blogs on Revelation, the book of Revelation has its own built in interpretive system.  When you turn to Revelation 15:3-4 you find the saints who came out of the Tribulation, who overcame the beast, standing around this "sea of glass, mingled with fire". Now what are they doing? They are testifying of God's marvelous grace in enabling them overcome. 

The text states that they sang a combination testimony song composed of "the song of Moses" and the "Song of the Lamb". Whenever you study those passages which record songs composed by Moses for God's people (Exodus 15, Numbers 21, Deuteronomy 32), they are songs that testify of God's marvelous grace of deliverance.  The song of the Lamb speaks of the type of songs sung in Revelation 5 that extol the victory of Jesus Christ in winning salvation for His people. God will see those saints through the extreme difficulties that will attend the tribulation period. We as Christians in this currents age worship with the testimony of the grace of God revealed to us in the fullness of time. (Titus 2:11) But notice a second great theme of testimony in heavenly worship, namely...

2. Testimony of majestic holiness. 
Revelation 4:6b-7 records these words: ..."four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.(7) The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle."  The particular angels spoken of here in Revelation 4:6-7 are those same Cherubim we see in Ezekiel 1 and 10. The Cherub is an angel that was created by God to "testify" of God's character and holiness. 

Cherubim were included in the furnishings and design of the tabernacle.  For example, we read in Numbers 7:89 - "Now when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, so He spoke to him." Two golden Cherubim made out of one piece of solid beaten gold composed the lid of the ark called "the mercy seat". They were associated with the very furnishing, the "Ark of Testimony" that communicated God's holy presence among His people. 

The description of these Cherubim merits some explanation, being that it contributes further to showing how these beings testify about God. You will notice how these beings have the face of a lion, calf, man and eagle. These four "animals" represent the greatest examples of God's visible creation: the lion - king of the beasts; the calf or ox, chiefest of the the domesticated animals; man, the supreme pinnacle of the visible creation and then the eagle, master of the flying creatures. These Cherubim, in representing the interests of the highest orders of earth, point to the Holy One who is responsible for life in both heaven and earth. 

Now we know that the Cherubim's purpose for existence is to testify of God's holiness. Consider Revelation 4:8 - "And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”  Much as their counterpart Seraphim sang in Isaiah 6, these Cherubim are testifying in ceaseless praise the Thrice Holy Triune God. 

In that testimony of God's holiness we see them singing about His excellent character ("holy, holy, holy"); endless power ("is Lord God Almighty") and His eternal existence ("Who was, and Who is and Who is to come"). More could be said, but we must move onward to the second element of heavenly worship, namely....

Thanksgiving.   Revelation 4:9
Revelation 4:9 states - "And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever." Let me ask you something dear reader: when was the last time you thanked God for being God? Heavenly worship certainly must testify about God, but there must be thanksgiving as well. Our problem as God's people lies in our too frequent lack of gratitude. We complain and gripe more than we celebrate and glorify God. 

We don't thank Him enough for who He is and for what He has done. These angels were moved to give thanks to God, and when you consider the numerous passages that command us to be thankful, you see why heavenly worship is meant for us Christians here on earth. Psalm 136:1 tells us - "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,For His loving kindness is everlasting." Ephesians 5:19-20 "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; (20) always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." Other texts command us as believers to be ever thankful. (Colossians 3:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Hebrews 13:15) 

When you and I are consistently thankful, we are mirroring conditions as they are continuously in the third heaven. In a world that is un-thankful and unbelieving (Romans 1:28), thankfulness can function as a taste of heaven invading the darkness. Heavenly worship destroys bitterness, loosens the chains of bondage and liberates heart to fully testify and thank God for Who He is and what He has done. But now let us notice one more trait of heavenly worship, namely....

Total Awe.        Revelation 4:10-11
The worship scene switches from the angelic worshippers to the human ones. Once again we see the appearance of the 24 elders in Revelation 4:10.  Who are they? These 24 elders are most likely representative of the Old and New Testament saints. Other scriptures speak of 24 orders of priests and singers representing Israel in 1 Chronicles 24-25, as well as 12 patriarchs or sons of Jacob and the 12 apostles of Jesus. These 24 elders are representative, are human beings, and depict for the reader the activities Christians are and will be doing around God's throne. 

One important point to bring out about heavenly worship as it pertains to this final aspect of total awe is that the audience is not us. Its not the angels. God and God alone is the Audience to whom we direct our attention. Our worship here as Christians here on earth ought to be marked with the total awe of God.  1 Thessalonians 1:8-10 describes a church who was in awe of her Savior - "For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. 9 For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." Another text where we see the urgency to have the awe of God in our worship services, 1 Corinthians 14:25 "the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you." 

Whenever we typically consider what marks an exceptional sermon or song service, most people think in terms of "relevance" and "connection on a personal level". And rightly so. Numerous passages speak of the need to come together as a church body and connect with the Lord and with one another. (Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25)  However there must needs be another theme that marks our services and sermons - total awe of God.  There needs to be times in a sermon and song service where the worshipper, and song leader and preacher are absolutely blown away by God.

This type of impulse is created inside all of us when you think about it. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Its what drives people to travel hundreds of miles to see the Grand Canyon or to peer through a telescope into the night sky or pay good money to see professional sports or to see an action packed movie.  Whenever you say the word "awesome!", that's the language of worship.  We know this to be the case in activities and entertainment.  How much more must it be in the songs we sings, the sermons we preach and the types of lives we live. We ought to be a people who are known for being in awe of God and who project to others how awesome God is. 

In our time here in Revelation 4:6-11, we have discovered the following traits of heavenly worship: testimony, thanksgiving and total awe. May you and I, believer, be those who are about the heavenly worship of our Great God and Savior this day!  

1. John Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Moody Press. 1966. Page 112

2. Robert Mounce. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Eerdmans. 1977. Page 139

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Satan's Disastrous Fall, Christ's Decisive Victory

Ezekiel 28:11 "Again the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God....'".

As we turn our attention today to Ezekiel 28, we will be looking at verses 11-19. Ezekiel 28 represents a series of prophecies against the nations of Tyre (28:1-19) and Sidon (28:20-24), with a final section promising the restoration of Israel at Messiah's (Christ's) return to earth. (28:25-26) The wider context prior to Ezekiel 28 shows an extended denouncement by God of Tyre, beginning all the way back in Ezekiel 26. It is important to consider the context because it provides the springboard into what will be the prophetic account of Satan’s disastrous fall.1 The King of Tyre here in Ezekiel's prophecy would had exhibited the traits of pride and violence, thus mimicking the cosmic, disastrous fall of Satan right after creation's completion.2 Undoubtedly Tyre was held responsible for introducing idolatry into Israel - most notably the worship of Baal, during the days of Ahab and Jezebel in 1 Kings 16. Fast- forwarding some 250 years later, the meteoric rise, unimaginable pride and polluted character of the King of Tyre in Ezekiel's day propels us into the text that speaks of an ancient disastrous fall of cosmic proportions - namely Satan's fall.

Satan's identity and disastrous fall
As we turn our attention to Ezekiel 28:11-19, we see a shift in scenery from the earthly to the heavenly. As already mentioned, God is using an earlier event to emphasize why it was he was proclaiming judgment against Tyre. The figure depicted in the text is called an "anointed cherub". Depending on how much we parallel Isaiah 14:12 with this text, the name "Lucifer" or "Star" is assigned to this angelic being. His activity in heaven would not only identify him as an angel, but a very powerful one and perhaps the greatest of God's angelic creations (or at least one of them). The late great W.A Criswell notes this about Lucifer: "Who is that Lucifer whose pride, whose beauty, whose wisdom lifted him up against God Almighty? The Book says: "Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth,' the one whose wings outstretched over God's creation and in whose beauty and wisdom and care, God gave the keeping of all His vast universe. In his pride and his beauty, he lifted up himself against God brought sin into heaven, brought sin into this world and destroyed God's beautiful creation." 3

From what we can gather, this grandest of Cherubim's fall was disastrous and tragic. This wondrous angel, created good by God, chose evil and thus became Satan. This disastrous fall is the first among the many subsequent judgments that God issues and will issue against Satan in scripture.4 In this particular disastrous fall, we can note the following details about him gathered from the text:

1. Master of Heavenly ceremonies. 28:11-15a
We know that Ezekiel is shifting gears by the wording of Ezekiel 28:11 "Again the word of the Lord came to me saying....". As you go down through the text, you see how Lucifer (or the anointed Cherub as deemed here in Ezekiel 28) was undoubtedly a master of ceremonies among the angels. The main verbs in the text tell us how wonderful God had made this amazing creature.

First, we see this master of ceremonies in regards to his perfection. 

Ezekiel 28:11 - “You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty...". The tragic tone is in what Lucifer, now Satan, "had". The original text brings out the fact that he had all these qualities as much as a creature could have. God spared no effort in his creation of this amazing angel. Among the firmament of heaven's hosts, Lucifer outshone them all. Whenever Lucifer led the proceedings of heaven's throngs, all eyes were on his leadership as he in turn directed all eyes to the uncreated God who gave each of them, including this former master of angelic ceremonies, the gift of life.

Then we see Satan in regards to the place he dwelt. 

Ezekiel 28:12 these words: "You were in Eden, the garden of God....". No doubt the earthly Eden had some type of heavenly counterpart, paradise of heaven as so termed by Jesus Himself to that thief on the cross in Luke 23:43. The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:4 also speaks of this Heavenly paradise, the "third heaven". This was the former grand Cherub's home and his "tromping grounds" so to speak. Right now Satan is a transient visitor who at times appears before God, like He did throughout the Old Testament, to bring accusation (for that is what the name "Satan" means = accuser). However when God created Him, he was a perfect created being, at home in heaven.

Thirdly we see the position he once held          

Ezekiel 28:14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers....". By the wording in the original we gain the sense that Lucifer stood as a screen between the angels of God and the infinitely High and exalted Triune God. Though Lucifer was just as infinitely inferior to God as the rest of creation, nevertheless among the angelic orders, Lucifer was held in the highest esteem for his integrity, character and magnetic influence. This former Cherub’s mighty wings shielded the angelic choirs who sang their praises to the God of glory. His position was about as high as any created being could be.

Fourthly, we see this creature's former perfection.                                               

Ezekiel 28:15 “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you." He was, in the wording of the original language: sound, without flaw, complete in every respect, peerless, full in every creaturely way. Then that terrible word spells the beginning of the end, "until". Unrighteousness, evil, was chosen in the heart of the creature, by the creature. Lucifer began reflecting on his creaturely perfection, rather than God's infinite perfection. He choose the good over the supreme, and a rotteness, a void, a fissure appeared, and Lucifer chose to rebel.

This Master of Ceremonies, with unrighteousness being found in him, went headlong into his...

2. Massive Fall. 28:16-18
This massive fall of disastrous proportions was motivated by....aggression (28:16); Absolute Selfishness (28:17) and Alluring rebellion (28:18; Revelation 12:4). Satan's belief was that he had somehow been cheated by God, even though God gave him, above all other created beings, the most beauty and most wonderful position any creature could have. We get a clue that this former grand anointed cherub believed God was holding out by the lies he speaks to Adam and his wife in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:1-5. His aggression was fueled by his absolute selfishness. Evil's character is that of self-consumption. The more it gets, the more it wants. Evil in and of itself is not so much a substance as the absence thereof. Like a rotted place in a piece of fruit, or a shadow in an otherwise lit room, evil's dark flame consumed Satan (Ezekiel 28:18), and would soon consume 1/3 of the Angelic host in an alluring rebellion that ended in Lucifer's first disastrous fall. (Revelation 12:4)

The consequences of this massive fall would lead to....

3. Morbid outcomes.
As you survey scripture, what morbid outcomes can we note? For sake of space and time we will note three main morbid outcomes of Satan's disastrous fall: 

a. Demonic realm or fallen angels (Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4)

b. Fall of man (Genesis 3:1-14)
c. Curse (Romans 8:21-25

But that's not where the Bible ends. Remember, this all took place at the beginning, right after the creation week. God's plan and purposes for His creation were not frustrated. Why? Because God had already planned for....

4. Christ's Decisive victory 
Thanks be to God, Satan's disastrous fall did not render God's will frustrated and mankind without hope. Indeed, Lucifer, who became Satan and those angels who rebelled with him forever sealed their doom. However Christ would come to win a decisive victory that would aim specifically at the morbid outcomes of Satan's disastrous fall.

1. Defeated the darkness. Colossians 2:11-15

2. Delivers by grace all who by grace through faith believe on Him. Ephesians 2:11-12
3. Reverses the curse. 

Because of what Christ did, the disastrous fall of Satan did not frustrate God's will. Christ's decision to come to this earth in His incarnation eternally prefaced creation and was an agreement He, The Father and the Spirit worked out as the One glorious God. (Ephesians 1:11) How do we know that Christ's victory on the cross and at the empty tomb truly accomplished the decisive victory? Because the promise God gives to Israel in Ezekiel 28:25-26 will take place at Christ's second coming. Unless Christ had been victorious in His first coming, there would had been no basis for God promising Israel's restoration at His second coming. If God's will for Israel will succeed (and it will), then we know that His promises of redemption for His people in the here and now are not frustrated. Satan's defeat at Calvary spells his eternal destruction.


1. The great commentator Albert Barnes notes: "The prophecy against the prince of Tyre. Throughout the east the majesty and glory of a people were collected in the person of their monarch, who in some nations was worshipped as a god. The prince is here the embodiment of the community. Their glory is his glory, their pride his pride. The doom of Tyre could not be complete without denunciation of the prince of Tyre. Idolatrous nations and idolatrous kings were, in the eyes of the prophet, antagonists to the true God. In them was embodied the principle of evil opposing itself to the divine government of the world."                                 

2. According to history and scripture, Ithabaal I (or Ethbaal I) was the father of Jezebel, the wicked queen who married Ahab in 1 Kings 16:30-31. Much later on another King, Ithbaal III, ruling in the days of Ezekiel's prophecy. The pride of Tyre and the wickedness that ensured from its history came to shape its place in God's program of judging the nations in Ezekiel's prophecy against it in Ezekiel 26-28. Tyre had carried the traits of pride and foolishness throughout its existence in antiquity and experienced repeated falls, never learning from its errors. Little wonder that God, in His providence, finds Tyre's propensities as being similar to those of the enemy of our souls and his ongoing efforts to rebel.
3. W.A Criswell. Expository Sermon's on Revelation - Volume 3. Zondervan. 1961. Page 49. Sixteenth Printing. 1982

4. These subsequent falls or defeats of Satan will be covered in future messages. For reference sake I will list them with their respective scriptures:

a). Disastrous fall at creation: Ezekiel 28 (Isaiah 14?)b). Disabled in Christ's earthy ministry: Luke 10:18
c). Defeated at the cross: Colossians 2:11-15; Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8
d). Decisive outcasting during Tribulation. Isaiah 14:12-23 (Ezekiel 28?); John 12:31; Revelation 12:7-17; 13:1-15:8
e). Debilitated at the Millennium (Revelation 20:1-3)
f). Destroyed eternally in Lake of fire (Revelation 20:7-10)

Friday, September 27, 2013

God sits on The Throne - Revelation 4:1-6

Revelation 4:1-2 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne."

How much does it comfort you to know that your life is not pointless and random? Commentator Sam Hamstra Jr. writes the following helpful comments about Revelation 4 - "John provides a vision that affirms the Sovereignty of God, who holds the affairs of the world in His hands. This vision serves as a postscript to the previous vision and a prelude to all the follows." He later writes: "Yet, no matter what the church endures on earth, it should never forget that God is Sovereign. In the midst of trial, the church should gaze on the One who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords".1 The Sovereignty of God is the headliner doctrine of this text.  As Christians, we believe that the universe, life and humanity is not governed by pointless chance, but by the Sovereign God Who governs with a pointed purpose. John quite simply under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit sees in prophetic vision "One sitting on the Throne". (Revelation 4:2)2  This gives us the chief central focus and title of today's post: "God sits on His throne". As we focus our attention on what exactly is happening around God's throne, and why this scene is both meaningful and practical to our application of the book of Revelation, we will use the acrostic "s.i.t" to draw out three comforting truths that derive from knowing that God sits on His throne:

1. Sovereign Savior occupies the throne. 4:1-2
The first two verses of Revelation 4 give us the identity of the One Who is on the Throne.  Two phrases are key to our understanding of this opening sequence in Revelation 4:1-2. The first is where John states in Revelation 4:1 -  "and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet."  Who was addressing John? Thankfully the Book of Revelation has its own built in interpretive system.  When we turn back to Revelation 1:9-10 we read - "I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet." John saw the Savior, Jesus Christ, in His ascended glory in Revelation 1.  Jesus Christ, the Savior and His church, became John's focus in Revelation 1-3. How appropriate to begin this second sequence of Revelation 4-5 with the voice of the Savior summoning John to come and behold "what must take place after these things". 

Jesus the Savior will become more of the focus in Revelation 5, being that He is seated in equal glory at the right hand of the One Who is the focus of the second important phrase in these verses: "The One sitting on the Throne" in Revelation 4:2. Who is this "One"? The Sovereign Father, the First Person of the Triune God. When the text says that He is the One "sitting on the throne", that is in reference to God as Sovereign. Sovereignty is God's comprehensive authority over all peoples, places and times. God reigns Sovereignly not only over every place and space but time itself. He is Sovereign over the now and the future. Revelation 4-5 overlaps the present age depicted in Revelation 1-3 and previews the ending of history and the age to come in Revelation 6-22.  Daniel 2:21 reminds us - “It is He who changes the times and the epochs;He removes kings and establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men. And knowledge to men of understanding." God rules over all places and times from His throne. 
The term "throne" speaks of the seat of His authority.  For example, when we speak of the City of Idabel, it is referred to as the "county seat" of McCurtain county. In other words, the center of the governmental affairs of our county is located in Idabel. John here is seeing in vision the Divine seat, throne of the universe. How Sovereign is God on His throne? Jeremiah 17:12 for instance - "A glorious throne on high from the beginning." Isaiah 57:15 gives us the comfort of God's Sovereignty - "For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite."  And so the Father is the focus of Revelation 4:2, and the Son is the One referred to in 4:1.  

So now in what way is John is seeing the Father and Son Who are the One God, the One Sovereign Savior? We must be reminded that though John is seeing the Son and the Father, He is seeing One God. To say the Father is Sovereign is to also say the Son is Sovereign, since both share the same fully Divine nature. Hebrews 8:1 states - "Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens." Jesus Himself had to remind His disciples in John 14:9 "Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?" The Father is called "The Savior" in the sense that He is the source and planner of salvation. (Isaiah 43:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:15-21; Ephesians 1:3-6)  1 John 5:20 tells us why we can say that in seeing the Father and the Son, John is seeing the Sovereign Savior who is One: "And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."  

Though you and I may not be able to comprehend the Triune God in all His Sovereign glory, nevertheless it is our job as Christians and readers of Revelation to find comfort in knowing God is on the throne.  This Sovereign God is the Father of every child of God. It is He Who authored salvation and planned by His grace definite opportunities for sinners to believe and be saved. This Sovereign God is also the Son who accomplished salvation and purchased forgiveness to be applied to everyone who by the Spirit's convicting work believes on Him.  
So John's vision of God sitting on the throne beholds the Sovereign Savior.  But notice secondly how this Sovereign Savior, on His throne...

2. Interracts with His saints. 4:3-4
When you read Revelation 4:3-4, two particular ways of interaction between God and His saints are depicted.  

God interacts by clear promises
First, we note that there is a rainbow around the throne. Now when you search the scriptures concerning the meaning of rainbows, you discover that they are connected to God's promises.  Genesis 9:16 is the first mention of a rainbow, connected to God's promise that He would never again destroy the world with a flood.  Isaiah 54:9, pointing back to that promise made to Noah, reiterates God's promise and pledges to His people. 2 Peter 1:3-4 says this of God's promises - "For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust." At least 8,000 promises exist in the Bible, awaiting our interaction with the Sovereign Savior who made them.  The colors which John sees associated with the rainbow around the throne reveals an additional truth: that these promises are ever associated with Jesus.  How so? The colors and the stones mentioned correspond to the stones and colors worn by Israel's High Priest. The emerald stone in particular was the stone used to represent the Tribe of Judah from whence Christ is humanly descended.  All of God's promises are confirmed in Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:8) We also see a second way in which God is interacting with His saints around the throne, namely....

God interacts through Christ's righteousness
Revelation 4:4 states - "Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads."
These 24 elders are most likely representative of the Old and New Testament saints. Other scriptures speak of 24 orders of priests and singers representing Israel in 1 Chronicles 24-25, as well as 12 patriarchs or sons of Jacob and the 12 apostles of Jesus. These 24 elders are representative, are human beings, and depict for the reader the activities Christians are and will be doing around God's throne.  The robes in the passage speaks of the righteousness of Jesus Christ that is credited to every sinner who by grace through faith believes on Jesus Christ. (Romans 4:3; Revelation 7:13-14) God's interaction with the saints, both here on earth and in heaven, is by way of Christ's credited righteousness.  The crowns that we see on the heads of the saints represent the rewards they acquired in exercising their practical righteousness in this life.  The practical righteousness exercised by the Christian is experientially based upon the credited righteousness of Jesus Christ. Five such crowns are mentioned in scripture, standing for various acts of faithfulness done by Christian's in sanctification following their conversion.3  God is the Sovereign Savior who interacts with His saints and Who desires their interaction. Whether we are speaking of the church triumphant in Heaven or the church militant here on earth, we ought to be about making our relationship with the Sovereign God the chiefest of priorities. Heaven will be highly interactive.  As powerful as the Sovereign Savior is over His people, He is also very Personable. So when we say God is sitting on His throne, we are speaking of the Sovereign God, who interacts with His saints and Who does so by the testimony of the Spirit.

3. Testimony of the Spirit. 4:5-6
We have seen the Sovereign Savior on the throne and we have witnessed His interaction with saints around the throne, and now John is going to focus upon the One Who is bearing testimony of these things proceeding out from the throne. The thunderings and lightenings bring back to mind the wonderous visions of God witnessed by Moses and the Israelites on Mount Sinai or the visions witnessed by Isaiah and Ezekiel. The phrase of interest in this text is where John sees "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirit's of God." Again we turn to Revelation itself to understand what exactly John is meaning, as well as scripture.  First, the terms "seven lamps" and "seven spirits" are closely linked, being that John saw the churches to which he wrote as represented by the lamps, with the Holy Spirit speaking seven times in each of the seven letters to the seven churches. (compare Revelation 1:20). We furthermore know that the "seven spirits" is most likely referring to the "seven-fold" character of the Holy Spirit due to Isaiah's seven-fold description of the Spirit in Isaiah 11:2 as being connected closely to the ministry of Christ. Christ of course is the One showing John this vision. The Spirit's role in scripture is to make known to Christians the Person and work of the Son. John 16:13 states - "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come."  Just as a physical thunder and lightening storm causes us to rush to the windows to look up into the sky to see what is happening, the Spirit's role is to get the saints of God to look up to the throne of the Sovereign Savior with Whose glory He equally shares. The Spirit's testimony is truly the testimony about Jesus Christ, the focal point of all prophecy. (Revelation 19:10)  Were it not for the Holy Spirit constantly speaking through the scriptures, you and I would not know who God is, nor His Son. As Professor Mark McClellan 
writes concerning relating to the Father, Son and Spirit: "to know Christ is to know the Father and to know the Spirit is to know the Son, and thus the Father."4 Truly the Holy Spirit is the One who bears witness to the Christian about all the great things of God and His Word. (1 Corinthians 2:10-13) As John is writing under the Spirit's Divine Inspiration, the same Spirit superintending the writing of Revelation is the Same Spirit who eternally proceeds from the throne, pointing the way to the Sovereign Savior, who interacts with His saints by the Spirit's testimony. 

1. Stanley Gundry., Series Editor; C. marvin pate, General Editor., Sam Hamstra. Four Views on the Book of Revelation. Zondervan. 1998. Page 103

2. The word "throne" dominates this section of Revelation 4:1-6, appearing seven times in five verses, with one commentator noting that the word "throne" appears some 47 times in Revelation.  

3. Those crowns are: Imperishable crown, given to all Christians in 1 Corinthians 9:25; the crown of life or martyr's crown in Rev. 2:10; the pastor's crown or crown of glory in 1 Peter 5:4-5; the crown for those looking forward to His appearing in 2 Timothy 4:8 and finally, the soul-winner's crown in 1 Thessalonians 2:19. 

4. Mark McClellan is the Dean of Hershel H. Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry, and Professor of Theology and Missions at OBU.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Biblical survey of Election - 2 John & Revelation

2 John 1:1 "The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth."

We will be bringing our Biblical survey of Sovereign election to a close today as we consider what the Apostle John teaches in his letters and the book of Revelation.  There are over 100 texts throughout scripture that speak on the subject of God's elective purpose of grace.  In this study we have discovered the following five truths:

1. Election's purpose - Godliness
2. Election's motive - God's love
3. Election's targets - helpless people
4. Election's blessing - comfort
5. Election's timing - Eternity

We have also labored to understand that when the Bible speaks about the subject of Sovereign election, it also teaches the responsibility of every person to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of their sins.  The scripture clearly teaches that anyone who rejects the Gospel does so of their own choice. Likewise anyone who trusts in Jesus does so because of God's elective purpose of grace.  As the Baptist Faith and Message notes: "Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility."

What John has to say about God's elective purpose
2 John 1:1 refers to the church he wrote as the "elect lady".  Depending upon which interpretation on takes, whether she be an individual lady who was elected or a church full of elected people, the point is that John uses this description of God's people.  We can by this point include the entire counsel of God's word in stating what John is saying here in 2 John.

In Revelation 17:14 stands as quite possibly the final mention of the word "chosen" in the Bible.  John writes in Revelation 17:14 "These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” Why would John make mention about the Christian's sovereign election? Again to bring comfort to a people who were under persecution and pressure.  In that final passage we see mentioned together the doctrines of Sovereign election and the Christian's free moral decision making - i.e faithful.  Though God has chosen the Christian unto salvation and godliness, yet it is at the same time the Christian's responsibility to live out the Godly life. (Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:6; 2:12-13)  

As we draw our study to a close, we have discovered, in the course of surveying the entire Bible's treatment on Sovereign election, the following five truths and crucial observation:

1. Election's purpose - Godliness
2. Election's motive - God's love
3. Election's targets - helpless people
4. Election's blessing - comfort
5. Election's timing - Eternity

The crucial observation of course has been that only God can design a salvation wherein there is no contradiction between Sovereign election and human responsibility in salvation.  This means then that election does not quench the need for evangelism, but only heightens it, since God ordains the ends and has so included the means (soul-winning Christians) to accomplish His ends.  May we be faithful to go forth in obedience in the domain of the Spirit's sanctifying work and Christ's finished work and bring glory to King Jesus - the purpose for which God chose believers in His Son. (Ephesians 2:8-10)