Sometimes I liken the book of Revelation to the music young people listen to these days. If I did not have teenagers in my family, I would avoid it all. I would never listen to it. Most of us would never have read much of what we were assigned to read in school if we had had a choice but we would have missed out on Shakespeare and Poetry, much of the classics and other very important writings.
Because I am forced to listen to it, I have developed an appreciation for some of the music and for the young people who listen to it. Some of it is quite powerful. Because I was forced to read it, I love Shakespeare and a lot of other authors, books and poetry. The book of Revelation is one of the most misunderstood and misquoted books of the Bible. Because it is difficult to understand, many Christians simply avoid it. But when we avoid things we don’t understand, we miss out on a lot of meaningful things.
The last book of the Bible is called Revelation – not revelations. In Greek Revelation is Apocalypse, which mean “unveiling.” But while the title may mean unveiling or revealing or shining the light on, in reality this book has provided more confusion and misunderstanding for Christians than enlightenment.
Revelation was written between the years 92 and 96 CE to the churches in the western part of Asia Minor which is now called Turkey. It was written by a Jewish Christian prophet named John. While it is not probable that the same person wrote Revelation, the Gospel of John and 1,2, 3 John, scholars do believe that they may have all been from the same community. And most people believe that community was Ephesus which was also the place the Apostle Paul spent a great deal of time and the place from which he wrote many of his letters.
The book of Revelation, along with all Biblical apocalypses, was built around a vision or visions given to someone by a divine being. Sometimes the human is taken to a high place in order to view the vision. Sometimes the human is taken to another realm to see the vision. The secrets revealed in the vision involve a cosmic transformation that usually includes divine judgment.
One of the best known apocalypse is Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones that he saw come to life? In the vision, God directed Ezekiel to tell the bones that God would make breath enter them. The dry bones came together, flesh developed, skin covered the bones, God’s breath entered them and they stood up! At that time, like unburied skeletons, the Hebrew people were in a state of living death. They had been exiled from Judah, their home, from their land and their place of worship, the Temple, to Babylon. The reviving of the dry bones signified God’s plan for their future. New life would come as a result of God’s grace and blessings. God’s Spirit/breath in the bones showed that God would restore them physically and spiritually.
Ezekiel’s vision is apocalyptic and while strange it is not difficult to understand. But sometimes apocalyptic writing is so “out there” it is difficult to understand its meaning. Apocalyptic writing is rooted in prophecy. Prophets sometimes had visions or dreams wherein they were brought into a heavenly court in God’s presence and introduced to a mysterious plan of God’s.
The book of Daniel is the only other full-blown apocalyptic book in the Bible. Daniel describes wild visions including four monstrous beasts. Apocalyptic visions often included symbols and numbers that would have had meaning to the original audience but sometimes their meaning is lost on us. Apocalypses are almost always addressed to people living in times of suffering and persecution—where the author believes that they are living in the final days. The hope is no longer present in the world but with God and God will have the final word and God’s justice will reign.
At the time that Revelation was written, the emperor Nero had viciously persecuted Christians in Rome and the current ruler, Domitian, ruled in a tyrannical fashion that also included some persecutions of Christians. Many saw the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 72 as the beginning of the end. When Revelation was written the Temple lay in ruins and the persecution of Christians was increasing. Revelation was a hopeful vision of God’s divine judgment on all who opposed Christ and God’s eternal blessings on all who followed Christ.
The vision is the revelation of Jesus Christ given by an angel to the author John while he was on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea about 65 miles southwest of Ephesus. He may have been on the island to escape persecution or possibly he had been exiled there.
The revelation was for The Seven Churches located in the western area of Asia Minor. It was not written for us here at Providence or for any other church. It was not written about our national government or the global situation today. The end of the world has been predicted based on Revelation many, many times through the years and, best I can tell, none of them have been correct.
The details describing the seven churches and seven cities demonstrate that John knew the area well. He may have even visited all of them. Revelation addresses each church separately starting in the east and moving north and then west and then south in a not so perfect circle. Seven, as you know, is considered to be a perfect number, seven churches in seven cities that more or less make a circle is significant, maybe even perfect.
There were three sorts of problems in the seven churches that John addressed: false teachings, persecutions, and complacency. After the seven churches are each addressed the vision begins in chapter four with “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.”
Once there he saw a beautiful sight with One seated on a throne surrounded by 24 elders dressed in white with golden crowns seated on thrones. On each side of the main throne were 4 creatures each with a different face: a lion, an ox, a human and an eagle. All of the creatures have 6 wings and all are “full of eyes in front and behind, all around and inside” and all of them sing day and night without ceasing.
In chapter 5, the One on the throne was holding a scroll with seven seals and an angel asks, “who is worthy to open the scroll.” And it was said that no one in heaven or on earth or even under earth was worthy which made John so sad that he began to weep. But one of the elders told him not to weep because “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And all of us readers rejoice with John because we realize that the lion is Christ! The Lion of Judah, the root of David. Hurray.
We now expect a big beautiful lion to step forward. For those of us who are fans of The Chronicles of Narnia Aslan is who we have in mind. In our minds eye, we look at the four animals and wait for the Lion to step forward to open the scroll. And it is here that it gets really good. Because it is not a big tough beautiful wild lion that steps forward, it is a Lamb – a lamb that looks as if it has been slaughtered. Not only does it appear to have been killed, but the lamb has seven horns and seven eyes which John tells us symbolize the “seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” — The slaughtered lamb takes the scroll from the One on the throne, and the 4 living creatures and 24 elders fall and worship him singing a new song.
Our passage today is a continuation of that new song. More have joined in the singing; the angels and the living creatures and the elders numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands. Then every creature in heaven AND on earth AND under the earth AND in the sea all joined in one voice singing “to the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb — blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” These famous words became an important part of Handel’s Messiah, which are most appropriate for our Resurrection celebration.
When we open a book of poetry, we read it looking for symbolism. We know that the author is describing something deeper than the meaning of the words on the page. The best poems take on new meaning each time you read them. For those of us who like to read non-fiction, who like facts and figures that mean what they say, we should read National Geographic. We should read articles and books on science, history or news. Each book of the Bible has its own literary genre and sometimes one book holds more than one.
The book of Revelation is powerful and beautiful. Each time we read it, something new stands out and touches us, something makes sense to us for the first time. I used to steer clear of this book because I did not understand it. It was one of the last books to be accepted into the New Testament but I am so glad it made the cut.
As we think about who we respect in our lives, who we go to to seek counsel, who we strive to be like or emulate – it is often the lions in our lives. The large and beautiful, the loud and proud, the mighty and powerful – but our text today reminds us that as followers of the Lamb of God, we must see and interact in the world differently. We must respect and seek counsel from people who have sacrificed. We must strive to be like little children. We must look to those who are quiet, who live simple lives, who work to serve others and not themselves.
Just before our passage today, an incredible scene was laid out before us. An apocalyptic scene – an other-worldly scene. A Lion, an Eagle, a Human and an Ox with 6 wings and eyes all around are singing. Twenty four elders are there but the only one worthy to open the Holy scroll was the lamb who was slain on our behalf.
Weakness is stronger than any power. It is not the mighty and powerful that will be deemed worthy, they will not be first in line. It will be the lowest of the lowly. It will be those who live and serve like Christ who lived and served and died for others, who lived and served and died for us.
Revelation reminds us to have hope and assurance that one day, all creatures will sing together “Worthy is the lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.” It is an incredible image, an awesome revelation, a wonderful teaching to take into your heart and to cherish today and all your days.
And the four living creatures said, “Amen”