Last week, Kathleen and I read the last chapter of Revelation together, thus completing our most recent read-through of the Bible — at the rate of one chapter a day.
This “revelation,” or unveiling, which God gave through Jesus to show the exiled John was more puzzling to us than our usual daily Bible readings. It was given for the benefit of the seven churches of western Asia. Its scrolls and seals and plagues; beast and dragon and Abyss; different colored horses and symbolic numbers; and all the scene-changes — these came at us in such rapid succession that our imaginations were severely challenged to try to keep up!
To me it seemed kaleidoscopic. Kathleen was a little more nimble in moving from one curious picture to the next.
Having completed the entire Bible, our custom is to turn the next day to the first book of the Bible, Genesis, to begin our next read-through. But we decided instead to travel through the Revelation once again, this time taking it even more slowly if we must. And that’s what we are currently doing — with great profit!
But first we had to be clear about what sort of literature “the Apocalypse” is.
We know from the name of the book that it is a “Revelation,” an “Apocalypse” — which means an unveiling. But the writer also calls it a prophecy (1:3). That is, the spirit of prophesy has been awakened and God is once more speaking through a man. But to do so, it appears, he will use what someone has called cartoon language, filled with concrete images, rich in symbolism. Thus, he gives his servant, John, visions through which he conveys his word about “what must soon take place” (1:1).
In our second reading it is already becoming apparent that he speaks to the fears and uncertainties of believers who wonder: where is God when evil appears to be so powerful and destructive, and when will he bring the present iniquitous and frightening age to some positive turn towards him, or judgment? And how will a new age, free of such hurtful evil, be brought about?
Kathleen and I are already several chapters into the book in our second read-through.
Chapter four has always been among my favorites. What holds my attention in chapter four is that in the heavenly world — not seen to the human eye but seen by revelation to the spirit — there is a throne, and that throne is occupied! It has not been vacated, captured, or in any way damaged by attacks.
And when one reads the chapter again and again one sees that the word “throne” appears repeatedly. It is “in heaven” and it turns up ten times in eleven short verses. This is obviously intentional and must tell us what the real issue of Revelation four is: however dark our circumstances and however menacing the times, God is on his throne — he rules!
One thing I’ve learned about life as a serious believer in Jesus Christ is that when issues arise that threaten to shake my foundations, that picture in my mind of the throne of God seems to quickly firm up my faith. It stabilizes me.
We know already from our previous reading that there will be heavy judgments ahead to be visited on the world for its evil, like storms visited upon ships at sea, but the ships of the faithful will not capsize because God is on his throne.
The mystery of evil is still with us. At times it perplexes, even nearly overwhelms. It turns up at the power-center of nations, in small communities, often in families, even in the church. But the Eternal God rules from his throne, high, lifted-up, and in charge, in the face of every storm!