In the Center – Revelation 4:3-5 11/08/20

In the Center – Revelation 4:3-5 11/08/20

We are now far enough into the Book of Revelation that it becomes important for us to keep track of where we are. We need to keep both the immediate and overall context firmly in mind if we’re going to avoid interpretational mistakes (at least as much as we’re able!). I provided a fairly detailed outline of the Book of Revelation based on the work of Robert Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 4th Edition, a couple of weeks ago, if you need a copy just let me know.

If you have the outline handy, note that we’re now in the fourth major division which deals with a vision of the heavenly throne of God. So far there has been the introduction, Jesus was revealed as our royal High Priest, and the universal Church has been addressed by its Lord. From there, John is taken into the Heavenly courts: this major division runs from Revelation 4:1 through Revelation 5:14. It addresses the worship of God and the appearance of the Lamb that was slain.

Our text for this week is Revelation 4:1-11, although we’re actually focusing on Revelation 4:3-6-ish. When we read through the description of the heavenly throne room, we find God is at the center of it all. Before we begin to get buried in the details, note that everything we will discuss, all the interpretive challenges, all the symbols and undefined creatures, all center their attention on the One who sits on the throne.[1]

The throne itself serves to emphasize God’s majesty and power, but note that God Himself is never described.[2] Instead, what John describes is the nimbus of glory that surrounds this most holy One.[3] This passage draws heavily from the Old Testament, with references from Ezekiel 1:26-28[4] and Ezekiel 9:2.[5] Elements of each of these have been combined in our passage today.[6]

Next John notes “rainbow” (ἶρις),[7] which can also mean “halo.”[8] Images of some form of rainbow are common when God is present. The use of the “rainbow” can hardly fail to point us back to Noah and God’s covenant in Genesis 9:12-14. The implication is that God’s acts of judgment, which are about to be revealed, will be tempered with considerations of mercy.[9] Remember that all of the Book of Revelation is to be interpreted through the lens of God’s love; 1 John 4:16.

But notice that there’s something different about this rainbow (or halo). Rainbows are polychromatic,[10] but here, using highly symbolic language to describe the indescribable, this rainbow is monochromatic. It has the appearance of an emerald, a green glow. Frankly, as I was doing my research this week I found little agreement on the significance of the color. I’m sure it means something, but I have no idea what!

What’s more, it’s interesting that this rainbow forms a complete circle surrounding the throne.[11] This tends to emphasize “halo” over “rainbow.” But what we should note is that, again, it centers on God.

Then we are introduced to the four living creatures, a little out of order, in Revelation 4:6. The imagery of these four beings existing in the midst of the throne, and yet around the throne is difficult to wrap our minds around.[12] What they look like is equally difficult to interpret. I remind you that John has been tasked with describing the indescribable.

Then, as we move out from the throne, we hit a real interpretive challenge. The heavenly court around the throne of God is described;[13] Revelation 4:4. The identity of these “elders” has received a wide range of proposals;[14] in fact, there are at least thirteen different proposals regarding who, and what, these beings are.[15] Interestingly, they’re always associated with the four living creatures from verse 6. So we have the elders responding to the worship of the four Creatures.

The word “elder” is (πρεσβυτέρους) [16] and means “older,” or simply “old,” but with none of the negative connotations that our culture may apply to the title.[17] Instead, in the Mediterranean world it conveyed a sense of venerability.[18] In ancient Israel, and in fact most of the ancient Near East, the term “elder” was a designation of authority and leadership.[19] This inherent authority was true in a wide range of settings; family life, clan life, tribal rule, and governance of cities.[20]

With this in the background, we then find the term referring to persons of responsibility and/or authority.[21] But we still don’t know who they are. We can start by deciding who they are not. It is unlikely that these would be heads of the twelve tribes of Israel, and/or the twelve apostles, or any other collection of saints.[22] The reason for this is that the “elders” are specifically distinguished from the saints in Revelation 7:9-13. It is not likely that they’re angels either. We find that the elders are specifically distinguished as a separate group from the angels[23] in Revelation 7:11-12.

It’s my (very tentative) conclusion that these “elders” are most likely a class of heavenly beings involved with the purposes of God on earth and involved with His worship in heaven.[24] Certainly, we will find them falling down before the Lord in worship multiple times as we work our way through the Book of Revelation.[25]

Following this, moving further away from the throne, we find various things described, all evoking a sense of power, and frankly, of dread. But I do want to spend a little time looking at the seven burning lamps; Revelation 4:5. We noted, a couple of weeks ago, that this could point to the Holy Spirit and His complete ministry to the Church; Revelation 1:4. Now we again find the seven torches situated “before the throne.” It seems reasonable to me that they reference the same Person and the same ministry.[26]

I recognize that I’ve provided very little in the way of interpretation. That’s because, frankly, I’m not sure what they mean. What’s more, I see little value in guessing at it. But there are things we can observe that do not require any guessing. It’s entirely too easy to get buried in the details and miss what the passage actually tells us. So, once again, let’s take a step back. In the midst of all these details, what we see is God at the center of it all.

That is the focus That applies directly to everyone who claims the name of Jesus. Our call as Christians is to live in the reality of the centrality of God in our own lives. In your more contemplative moments, are you able to honestly say that God is at the center of all things for you? Really, of all the questions this passage generates, this is the only question that really matters.

[1] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 462. [2] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 462. [3] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 462. [4] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 320. [5] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 320. [6] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 320. [7]Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 4:3. [8] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 930. [9] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 321. [10] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 930. [11] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 564. [12] Richard Eckley, Revelation: A commentary for Bible Students, Wesleyan Bible Commentary Series, gen. publisher, Donald Cady, exec.. ed., David Holdren, managing ed., Lawrence Wilson, theological ed., Stephen Lennox, snr. ed., Darlene Teague, (Wesleyan Publishing House, Indianapolis, IN.: 2006), 89. [13] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 322. [14] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 322. [15] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 462. [16]Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 4:4. [17] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 931. [18] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 931. [19] David E. Aune, Revelation 1–5, vol. 52A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1997), 287. [20] David E. Aune, Revelation 1–5, vol. 52A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1997), 287. [21] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 541. [22] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 326. [23] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 322. [24] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 462. [25] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Revised, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. eds., Ned Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1998), 121. [26] David E. Aune, Revelation 1–5, vol. 52A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1997), 296.

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