John In God’s Presence.
From our reading of Scripture, it becomes evident that unadorned human vocabulary miserably fails to describe Yahweh and His heavenly milieu. Nevertheless, due to the reality of His desire to communicate with us within human space-time, our intensely relational God wisely utilised a diverse gamut of linguistic tools via Biblical writers to express Himself, through the construct of genealogies and histories, stories and parables, dreams and apparitions, requiems and hymns, signs and epistles, metaphors and symbols, and even fables. Old Testament figures of speech and incomprehensible visions were pieced together repeatedly by differing authors to bring marginal clarity and understanding, little by little, within the texture of our time. Some of these philological devices were applied in this evocative segment in the Revelation of John when in the Spirit he was summoned by the Lord Jesus Christ into God’s presence to be shown a slice of the future (Rev 1:10-12). What exactly did John see?
After Christ’s pronouncements over the seven churches, John walked through an opened door. He instantly caught sight of the inexpressible magnificence of the Almighty God (c.f., Isa 6:1-5); an apt reminder to his persecuted readers that the thrones of the high priest and Caesar were inconsequential in contrast to Yahweh on this single throne in heaven. What followed was a portrayal of God as an uncut composite gemstone, a shimmering and continually changing iridescent figure, immersed in a rainbow of bright colours fuelled by His brilliant luminosity (Rev 4:2-3). This representation challenges the imaginative capacity of each reader. After being transfixed by God’s dazzling presence, John’s eyes adjusted to the heavenly space away from the central throne. He noticed 24 thrones surrounding the latter and occupied by magnificent celestial beings in white, with golden crowns (Rev 4:4; later in Rev 5:8-9, they sang a new song, indicating that they distinctly identified themselves from humans; c.f., Rev 7:9-11 & Rev 14:3-4).
Within seconds, John’s attention was again distracted, and on this occasion by flashes of lightning and peals of thunder coming from the central throne. The elements of lightning and thunder depicted the sheer energy and power inherent in our Creator (c.f., Ex 19:16-20 & Ex 20:18-20). Then he noticed the presence of seven lamps and the sea of glass before it (Rev 4:5-6): the seven lamps of fire representing the seven Spirits of God that facilitates His presence among us, prior to the final judgment of His creation (c.f., John 14:16—17, 26; c.f., Isa 11:2). The Jews had always viewed the open sea as a place of chaos, danger and judgment, therefore, the imagery of the wildly reflective sea churned up by the storm from the throne represented an impassable gulf that existed between a holy God and sinful humanity (c.f., Rev 21:1).
In the centre and around the throne were four uncharacteristic angelic beings that looked like a lion (characterising dignity and sovereignty), a calf (typifying constancy and power), a man (symbolising astuteness and intellect), and an eagle (signifying speedy obedience and protective ability). (Rev 4:6-7; c.f., Isa 6:1-4; Ezek 1:4-12; Ezek 10:3-17). These six-winged interminably observant and infinitely intelligent beings (i.e., in their uncanny perceptive ability represented by their multiple eyes) reflected God’s omniscience, and part of their responsibility was to lead the daily worship of Yahweh in the heavenly domain (Rev 4:8-11). The heart of their adoration was the distinctive holiness of I AM THAT I AM; the Holy One separated from every other created being from eternity. All authority held by these four heavenly beings derived from God, and they bow in acknowledgement to Him (c.f., Col 1:16-17; John 1:3).
The heavens praise your wonders, Lord,
your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord?
Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?
In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared;
he is more awesome than all who surround him.
Who is like you, Lord God Almighty?
You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.
(Psalm 89: 5-8).
The basis of any fellowship with God is always within the framework of His holiness, and similarly, for us, a relationship with Him is only possible due largely to the imputed holiness through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins. And being found in Christ, we can confidently worship Him in spirit and truth (Rom 12:1-2; John 4:23-24).