On Earth as in Heaven

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” so said the mighty Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her companions stood before the scary scene of peels of thunder, lightning, and an impressive visage when they believed that they were before the Wizard of Oz. Once Toto pulled the curtain back, they saw the reality for what it was. The Christians suffering and about to suffer in Asia saw the spectacle of terror before their eyes, but John the Divine was given a chance to see reality for what it was by peering into heaven. He did so by going through the open door into heaven (Rev. 4:1). Earthly events have their origin in heaven, so if we’re to understand real insight into the history, we have to see the matter from a heavenly vantage point. Scripture is replete with examples of this. Jacob’s impending reunion with his brother was something not untouched by heaven (Gen. 28:17). When Ezekiel sat in exile among an encampment of his fellow Israelites, the vision he saw lent itself to the reality he experienced (Ezek. 1:1). The baptism of our Lord was overseen by heaven (Mark 1:10), and upon his martyrdom, Stephen revealed to the crowd that would put him to death what was occurring in heaven at that very moment (Acts 7:56). Understanding the demands of our current situation entails understanding it from a heavenly perspective, and this was what John would see and inform those in Asia regarding.

What we’re going to notice from Revelation 4–5 only makes sense if we’re acquainted with Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1, 10. Isaiah saw the God of Israel in his magnificent glory, as well as the angels that attended Him. The seraphim were either fiery or serpent-like creatures. The term seraph is indicative of burning and serpents (Num. 21:6–9), respectively. They are depicted as above the throne of God, while in Ezekiel, cherubim have a single pair of wings and are associated with the throne of God (Ezek. 1). A thorough reading of these two prophets and all that they saw in heaven helps make better sense of what one will read in Revelation 4–5. John participates in the prophetic history of seeing the throne-room of God, just like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and others before his time. What takes place in heaven directly affects the events on earth, but, also, what occurs in heaven is the model for what should happen on earth in some part.

Derivative Worship 

Not but a couple of decades earlier, a Jewish Christian wrote a letter to the Hebrew believers wherein he noted the superiority of Jesus above all that the Jews held dear—angels, Moses, the law, etc. Among the many considerations of the letter to the Hebrews is what appears when the author informed his audience that Christ was High Priest of God’s people, taking His own blood to offer for the sins of the world (Heb. 9:11–15). He goes, not into the copy and shadow of what is to come, but into heaven itself—the true tabernacle, after which the one on earth and temple were patterned (Heb. 8:1–2; 9:24). Consider this: from Hebrews 8–10, the author compares what Christ does with what the priests did at the temple. Christ was in the heavens, and the temple and tabernacle were patterned after what occurs in heaven. Therefore, earthly worship is a heavenly activity. If we are to truly worship in a manner pleasing to God, our worship must be patterned after what occurs in heaven. In Revelation 4–5, we see just what takes place.

What’s most important to note, from the start, is that these things happen before the presence of God. John, first, sees a throne and the one who sat upon it (Rev. 4:2–3). He’s surrounded by a rainbow—the sign of God’s covenant with humanity to never flood the earth again (Gen. 9:12–17). Next, there are twenty-four thrones which are believed to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles of the New Testament, or both covenants. Seated and crowned upon them are twenty-four elders who fall before God in worship (Rev. 5:14; 11:16; 19:4). Not only do they fall before God, but they do so while simultaneously praising Him (Rev. 4:11; 5:9–10; 11:17–18; 19:4).

Next, we have the angels who unceasingly praise and pray to God (Rev. 4:6–8). They would appear to be a hybrid of cherubim and seraphim from the description and what we know from Isaiah and Ezekiel. Nevertheless, their hymn is tightly worded to what we see the seraphim sang in Isaiah 6:3. This particular doxology was a staple in synagogue praise in the first century,[1] and it even became a part of early Christian worship, as seen here and in 1 Clement 34.6. It has been a part of hymnody since Isaiah’s time, in the eighth century BCE all the way through today, making it the most ancient of hymns. The elders, in turn, prostrate themselves before the Lord, casting their crowns before Him in recognition of their honor and glory deriving from Him alone.

When looking at this scene, we note a few truths about Christian worship. It is before God and according to the covenant under which we willingly entered. When we worship the Lord, we join the procession of divine worship already ongoing, something that occurs night and day and is unceasing. It’s our opportunity to return to God and attribute to Him whatever we may think are worth is and blessings are, because what we all are we have because of who He is and how richly He’s bestowed it on us. Thus far, worship has been binary, including the Father and Spirit, respectively (Rev. 4:2–5).

Next, however, we see the Son, the Lamb slain for the sins of the world. He’s standing because that’s what priests did when they ministered to the Lord (cf. Acts 7:55–56; Heb. 10:11). The scroll in the hand of the Father has to do with events happening on earth, and the Lamb of God will be the only one worthy to break the seals, which will be discussed in the next lesson. Nevertheless, His appearance is as a slain lamb, but the elders told John that He’d prevailed (enikesen). The taking of the scroll to Jewish Christians was reminiscent of the manuscript of God’s word being taken, opened, read, and then explained as in the synagogue services. Because He who sits on the throne has a scroll to be opened and read, we have to understand that early Christians believed, as we should today, that the Word of God is a symbol of what Christ has accomplished.[2] Upon taking the scroll, the angels and elders do to Him what they had done to He who sits on the throne. He, too, receives praise and prayer (Rev. 5:8–10).[3] Next, we see heaven and earth united in the worship of God and the Lamb (Rev. 5:13). When we worship in song and prayer, we join with heaven in worship. What we sing here, they sing there.

As we progress, it will be incumbent upon the reader to note that as the drama unfolds, this occurs in heaven, on the Lord’s Day, in the worship of God and the Lamb. The stage has thus far been set, but one may ask how this might have brought any comfort to the suffering Christians in Asia. First, their God and His kingdom haven’t been thwarted. Because it isn’t of this world doesn’t mean that it has nothing to do with this world. God reigns upon His throne in majesty, and the Lamb who died holds history in His hands, even as it unfolds. Second, the most comfort that can be found will be in worship. When we correctly understand worship, we’ll come to find that in worship, we are with God the Father, Son, and Spirit. The angels are singing and rejoicing. In a tumultuous world with its troubles, we can find consistency and solace in the worship of our Lord and Savior. When correctly done, our focus can turn to God on the throne, and the Lamb who’s prevailed. He reigns, and as He has overcome, we can fix our hope on Him in the darkest of times, because He isn’t surprised by what surprises us. He isn’t overwhelmed by what causes us anxiety. He has a plan that’s working to the good of us who love Him and are called by His name.

[1] Craig S. Keener. Revelation: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 175.

[2] Patrick Henry Reardon, Revelation: A Liturgical Prophecy (Yonkers: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2018), 51.

[3] In churches of Christ, who are known for acapella praise, a matter of the mention of harps here often arises as contention for including instruments in earthly worship. The reason we refrain from using instruments is simply that the early church didn’t use them. This isn’t to negate harps in heaven, but to acknowledge what occurred on earth in the first century. Harps are mentioned here in Rev 5:8 as well as 14:2 and 15:2, but as much as the golden bowls of incense are explained as the prayers of the saints in Rev 5:8 (cf. 8:3–5), so we may assume that the harps represent the praise of the saints as well (Farley, Apocalypse, 76).

Author: Steven

Minister at Glendale Road Church of Christ (Murray, KY)

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