This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for May 8 ) is written by Tom May who serves with Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
Perpetual Praise (Revelation 4)
By Thomas May
Revelation 4 provides another of many transitions in the final book of the Bible. John is given a glimpse of the end of time. Picture someone looking at a two-sided coin. On one side, John sees images of God with his people, protecting and encouraging regardless of the apparent circumstances of life; and on the other side are inscriptions of the judgment that will come on those who are not his people.
Much like the different camera angles we see while watching a big game on television, Revelation provides a variety of vantage points upon which to view and understand God. Whether it is the image of one like the Son of Man walking among the lampstands (Revelation 1:12-20) or the image of the living Christ providing a personal message to the seven churches (Revelation 2 and 3), the message of God’s involvement with his people is clear.
The lens of John’s revelatory camera zooms in through a beckoning open door to the very throne room of God. With a blasting voice that only a saxophonist sitting directly in front of a band’s trumpet section can fully understand, John is invited to witness events that “must take place after this” (4:1). The imperative “must” assures John of the authority of the voice and the surety of his vision.
In the Spirit
Immediately John’s circumstance changes. He finds himself “in the Spirit” (4:2), for no man can look upon God. John’s real challenge is to use words to describe something of a heavenly realm that had never been seen. Would you describe Niagara Falls as “wet?” As is common in his Gospel and Epistles, John chooses to use images and figures to better convey meaning.
The glory and brilliance of God and his throne is described with comparisons to precious stones, to the rainbow, and to glass (vv. 3, 6). By both posture and position, God is in control of his kingdom. Even though his throne is high and lifted up, he is not far from his people. Surrounding God’s mighty throne are 24 smaller thrones and the elders who sit upon them (v. 4). These elders have white garments and golden crowns.
John’s contemporaries understood the meaning of elders and thrones, for they knew the place of government and authority. A king would find it necessary to have elders (leaders), though unidentified here, serving under him. The entire picture reminds the reader of who God is—and of his closeness to his servants. The “white garments” add to our understanding of the scene—whether we recall the white garments of the glorified Christ in Revelation 1 or the promised garments to the overcomer in chapter 3—and a fully developed picture of God with his people is provided.
John reminds his readers that God is the Creator and giver of life. While relating to the elders on the thrones, acknowledgement is given to God’s other beings in the heavens—whether angels, spirits, or living creatures (vv. 6-9). These winged creatures are ready to perform whatever service God requires. Together the elders, spirits, and creatures help express to the reader who God really is. The result of that understanding finds all shouting praise to God.
In Our Lives
What lessons can we learn from peeking over John’s shoulder?
Take in the whole scene. Don’t be tempted to identify the meaning of each eye or each elder. Imagine the camera from an overhead blimp slowly zooming in on the sporting event taking place on the field. Envision first the magnificent “big picture” of the presence of God in Heaven: a throne so spectacular that only the Creator could occupy it. Look next to worshippers so grateful they can do nothing but lay down their personal trophies and acknowledge that God is the only One who deserves praise. Clench your eyes tightly and see yourself praising in their midst. Oh that will be—glory for me.
Offer praise and worship. Unlike today, there is no controversy surrounding what was taking place by humble, thankful worshippers around the throne of the Almighty. Whether the exclamations of “holy, holy, holy” reflect the hymnal words of Reginald Heber or the contemporary rock anthem of Third Day, the One lifted up is entitled to all that and more. Whether the chords be from the twang of a steel guitar or the majesty of a pipe organ or the festive pomp of an accordion and tuba, they fall far short of what God deserves.
Even if my lips can’t find the tune, in my heart there rings a melody; and like in the shower, in my heart I’m an awfully good singer. Even if I don’t know the words, I surely know the sentiment and the God to whom the words are directed. How can I not praise him? Holy is the Lord, God Almighty!
Be humble. We live in a society that celebrates talented people. Thousands crowd into stadiums to cheer athletic teams. Music halls are filled to overflowing for popular musicians. But when the last song is sung and the final race is won, the applause won’t be for the singer or the runner. Crowns abandoned. Trophies tarnished. All will be tossed as worthless before God’s throne. Paul put it this way: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Don’t be deceived into thinking that leading others’ praise through voice or instrument is deserving of personal accolades. The real praise goes to the only One who is worthy.
And while I ponder the majesty of what John saw and yearn for the day when I, too, see the Lord face-to-face, perhaps I will get out my saxophone and practice a bit. Just in case.
*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.
|HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS|
|May 2: Psalm 11|
|May 3: Isaiah 6:1-5|
|May 4: Exodus 6:2-8|
|May 5: Psalm 24|
|May 6: Psalm 10:12-16|
|May 7: Psalm 96|
|May 8: Revelation 4|
ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Thomas May serves as minister of discipleship with Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville, Indiana.