There is a higher throne
We cannot allow our appointment of Douglas Humphris as young adult and international student worker among us to pass without saying how full of anticipation we are for God’s using his coming to work among us.
It was quite remarkable, the way in which at every stage the decision- making bodies of the congregation gave their warm affirmation to the project. It was as though we could see it as something God is doing in front of our eyes.
They saw Douglas’s appointment as from Him and to be welcomed, supported and prayed for, as do I. Let us be sure to stand by that perception especially in the opening months of his time with us.
I want to write, this month, about the effect on me of starting our studies in the next section of the book of Revelation.
It is inevitable that the world we inhabit in our bodies should tend to dominate our thinking; but the Christian life is far healthier for our not letting it do so.
For, as the resurrection of Jesus makes clear, the material world is neither the whole of reality nor the most important part of it. We see the same truth from the direct way he spoke Person to Person with his heavenly Father in prayer, day by day while here on earth.
Yes, there is a spiritual world and we are spiritual beings. As St Augustine observed, ‘You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in You.’
Learning in a new way to live in the reality of this is the main benefit of taking the book of Revelation seriously, and I trust will be the main fruit of our studying it in the evening service.
Having noted the letters from the glorified Jesus to the Christian church (chapters 1-3) some time ago under the title ‘A spiritual check-up,’ we are starting a sermon series taking up where we left off, from the fourth chapter. It introduces us to the substantial world, the world of God and his angels. It does so in highly symbolic form, probably because we are not able to understand the life of heaven while still on earth. We can learn what the symbols teach us about heaven, but we cannot appreciate the reality until we get there.
The reason for the book of Revelation’s coded language might well also be because John wrote it as samizdat: clandestine literature written from prison camp to encourage his fellow believers during a period of persecution. If he had stated in plain terms ‘Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord,’ Revelation might never have been allowed off Patmos, the Alcatraz of his day where he was detained.
I’ll never forget first coming to Revelation ch. 4 personally. A door in heaven! At last, information on the Other world, the real one!
And what information! The first object that drew his attention was a throne, and Someone reigning from it. Amidst the persecution of the Church by a state which insisted people worshipped Caesar as Lord, the message is that God is supreme. He reigns: all things move only at his bidding. There was someone on the throne. Our destiny is not controlled by blind fate; there is a Person at the centre of our universe, and his enthronement tells us of his total, actual sovereignty.
Indeed ch.4 is the central vision of the book of Revelation, and the truth it teaches is the central fact about our world and human history. This is the key to understanding our perplexing, enigmatic universe: the existence in heaven of a throne. And seated on the throne is the Lord God almighty, the Father addressed by our Lord Jesus: he is reigning.
Now the point of this teaching is that it needs to be the starting point, not just of John’s explanation of history and the suffering of God’s people, but of all our thinking about life; and especially (to quote Rev Eric Alexander’s sermon on Revelation ch. 12) the mysterious areas of life and the dark periods of history. ‘The downtrodden, besieged, persecuted believers of John’s day needed this perspective, and there is no question also that we need the same perspective for our life: in order to see the whole of life - our own life, the nation’s life, the world’s life; and above all the Church’s life, from the vantage point of the throne of God.’
The evening we studied Rev. ch. 4 we noted also the main teaching afforded by the other symbols. Immediately surrounding God’s throne was a rainbow: a reminder of Genesis ch. 9 and God’s covenant with creation never again to flood it in judgement leaving but a handful of humans (no more floods - but fire next time).
Surrounding God’s throne but at a greater distance, John saw the 24 elders representing all God’s people on earth (the 12 tribes of the Jews and the 12 apostles who are the foundation of the New Testament church): assuring us that that is our home, for those representing us are there already.
Put together these parts of the vision and we are reminded, as we sang that night:
There is a higher throne than all this world has known,
Where faithful ones from every tongue will one day come ...
And there we’ll find a home, our life before the throne;
We’ll honour him in perfect song, where we belong.
The thunder and lightning coming from the throne teach us that God’s reign is altogether more powerful, and more to be feared, than all the ragings of those - whether men or devils - who oppose him.
The four living creatures John describes, in their creaturely and human variety and yet singing one song, assure us that God’s power operates through every aspect of his universe. In all the collisions of nature and history, the Spirit of the living God is there. The whole cosmos dances to his tune and moves as one at his command. And their song -
'Holy, holy, holy Lord God the All-mighty, the Eternal One
You are worthy to receive glory, honour and power,
For You created everything, and it is by Your will that they have their being' -
- their song tells that the story being told through it all, and which we shall see put on display whatever the attempts of devils and men to resist it, is the glory of God.
The great lesson for us is this: that while things often seem out of control or threatening, and suffering meaningless, John asserts a different interpretation of reality and invites us to take a different view of it. The true picture - that the Lord God is dynamically in control on behalf of his church - gives us significance, and offers us a heavenly Father, and tells us that since the throne of the Almighty is over all, all manner of things shall be well; and even the tragedies will find their explanation, their place and their fulfilment.
We may walk with the world’s Author; and what an Author. It’s OK.
It is inevitable that the world we inhabit in our bodies should tend to dominate our thinking; but the Christian life is far healthier for our not letting it do so. Treat God as king, and let us entrust all to his care.
C Peter WhiteView All Letters