By Tom Bair
A Reading from Revelation 4:1-11
1 After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 3 And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. 4 Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and back: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”
This mystic, cosmic vision of the heavenly realm is beyond imagination, and it is coherent in its scriptural allusion:
Jasper and carnelian were the first and last stones of the high priest’s breastplate, the breastplate of judgment, that the one seated, the Lord our judge, rightly resembles.
The twenty-four Elders (from Chron. 24, 25) now dressed in the righteousness of Christ, cast their victor’s crowns before him, signifying that these victor’s laurels were won by his glorious Passion.
The lightning represents the presence of Christ and the thunder his divine power.
The flaming torches are the seven expressions of the Holy Spirit: 1) Spirit of the Lord, 2) Spirit of Wisdom, 3) Spirit of understanding, 4) Spirit of counsel, 5) Spirit of strength, 6) Spirit of knowledge, and 7) the Spirit of the fear of the Lord.
Something like a glass sea (where sinners are cleansed) lies before the throne, crystal clear of any taint.
As for the four living creatures, we refer to Pope St. Gregory the Great:
These four-winged creatures would designate the four holy Evangelists, the beginnings of each one of the Evangelical books testify. For because he began with (Christ’s) human begetting, Matthew by right (is signified) by the human. Because of the crying in the desert, Mark is rightly designated by the lion. Because he commenced with sacrifice, Luke is well signified by the calf. Truly, because he began with the divinity of the Word, John was fittingly signified by the eagle — he who stretched (upward), saying “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1) while … in the same substance of Divinity; as if he fixed his eyes on the sun in the manner of an eagle.
The living creatures are the precious gift of the Gospels, and the whole of the picture is that of eternal worship of his divine majesty.
Tom Bair serves as a lay leader in the Episcopal Church. He teaches stewardship and holds an Education for Ministry (EFM) practicum from the University of the South. He is married to the Rt. Rev. Gerry Wolf.
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