Seeing God by what Heaven Sings
I am regularly amazed at what I finally learn when I am willing to do the work of reading! For years I have enjoyed Revelation 4 and 5, and not until this week did I read it at a pace where I could stop and ask how 4:1 fits with 4:2!
John begins the chapter by relaying that the voice (from 1:10) having shown him “the things that are” as he received the letters to the seven churches, now invites him to “come up here” and see “the things that must take place after this”, thus enabling him to fulfill his divine commission from 1:19.
As a result of this call, John is capacitated to see in the Spirit, and in vs. 2 he records that he saw “a throne [standing] in heaven, and one seated on the throne.” Ironically, in my rush to get to the glory of vs. 3, I usually run right past the bumpy intersection between vss. 1 and 2. But what we are being shown in these first two verses is how to see! Here is the dissonance I heard, “I will show you what…I saw one.” The invitation seems to anticipate events (like begin in chapter 6), but it results in the revelation of a Person!
Remembering that John sees “these things” in order to show them to the church, we hear the message that the most desperate and pressing need for the church in this hour of history is to carry a true and compelling vision of God. We are equipped to navigate the “tribulation that is in Jesus” with “patient endurance” (1:9) not by arming ourselves with a chronology of events, but by locking the eyes of our heart on the beauty of a Person!
And it is just here John throws us another curve. In the description that flows out of vs. 2 we see a throne, the radiant light of jasper green and rich carnelian red, an emerald rainbow dotted with the white garments and golden crowns of the 24 elders, flashes of lightening and torches of fire reflected off a crystal-smooth sea of glass…but no form, no person! We must see God and yet we can see Him only by the brilliant technicolored glory of His presence.
Of course we are granted to see Him in chapter five as John turns to see “a Lamb standing as if it had been slain” (5:6). As John tells us in his Gospel, no one had seen God until the only God (namely the Word made flesh) made Him known in the fullness of His glory and grace (Jn. 1:14-18). And Jesus, in the same Gospel, announces that to see him is to see the Father, since the two are One (Jn. 14:9). We cannot emphasize this too much – the glory of God is seen in the slaughtered Lamb! But there is something for us to learn before we get there.
The way John is granted to “see” the Father is through the songs of heaven. This means the eyes of the church are opened to see who He is and what He is like as our ears are opened to hear His praise! The first hymn (4:8) shows us the perfections of God within Himself, He is the all-holy, all-mighty, ever-living One! The second hymn (4:11) grants us to see His glory in His work of creation. “Worthy” carries the idea of being of equal weight (like the old science-class scales). So we are invited to pile all the glory, all the honor, all the power, all the wealth and wisdom, all the might and blessing on one side of scale, and see that it is not too much for the One who is the Source and Sustainer of everything that is! He is worthy of the weightiest worship we can give! The third hymn moves us to contemplate God’s glory in His work of redemption. In fact the final three hymns of these two chapters are devoted to seeing and celebrating this theme! The cross is the capstone, revealing the greatness of God’s glorious grace, and it will be the focus of our wondrous worship forever!
All of this and more (if you have time, go for it!) we learn about our God by listening to what heaven sings. The eyes of our heart (Eph. 1:18) are opened to see Him through these songs!
So – John was invited to see a what and he saw a one. We then look for the one and we hear a song! Which means that all of the events (see chapter 6) are released in and lead to worship! These songs are the soundtrack attending the events that are released in heaven and experienced on the earth at the end of the age! Knowing the power music lends to what is unfolding on the screen – putting us in the proper mood and helping us interpret or even anticipate what we are watching – this is a soundtrack we want to get!
But practically, I think we can learn alot about how we should relate to one another in the church by observing that John sees God by what heaven sings. If he is supposed to write what he sees and send it to the church, then my desperate, unchanging need is to see God! And I learn from John’s record of his vision in Revelation 4 and 5 that my eyes will see Him, my heart will encounter Him by hearing His praises on the lips of His people! It is hearing the testimony of His perfections (I think of AW Tozer on The Attributes of God or The Knowledge of the Holy), hearing the testimony of His work in creation (I think of Loui Giglio’s Indescribable here), hearing the testimony of His work in redemption (I think of Packer or Piper on the atonement here) that shows me what I so desperately need to see. I think Paul knew this – knew that God dwelt in unapproachable light (I Tim. 6:16) and knew that God was seen by what heaven sings (II Cor. 12:2!) and was trying to teach us something similar in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16.
So let’s be a people who regularly and rejoicingly speak of the glory of God! Let’s commit to helping one another see God by what (and how!) His people sing! I need it! Those who are yet walking in darkness need it! And it may be that God has appointed us to see it in you!