Revelation (Part 10): First Scroll Section
One adjustment is necessary for the general outline given last time for the book of Revelation that should clear up a misdirection. Each scroll presentation chapter (5, 10, and 20b) lies between a prequel and sequel of contrasting elements. As noted below, the first contrast is the holiness of God versus the unholiness of humanity. The second scroll section contrasts the judgment of the human-focused with the gathering of the God-focused. Finally, the last section contrasts the suffering of the God-focused in this present age with the satisfaction of the God-focused after final judgment.
1b–3 Discussion of the God-focused
4–7 Scroll Presentation 1—Redeemer Identified
4: Holiness of God
5: Redeemer identified
6–7: Unholiness of humanity
8–11 Scroll Presentation 2—Redemption Identified
8–9: Judgment of Human-focused
10: Redemption identified
11: Gathering of God-focused
12–19 Discussion of the Human-focused
20–22a Scroll Presentation 3—Redeemed Identified
20a: Suffering of God-focused
20b: Redeemed identified
21–22a: Satisfaction of God-focused
But these contrasts are not meant merely to show contrast. The purpose of their existence surrounding the presentation of the scroll in each case is to show movement from a particular problem or difficulty in the prequel to the resolution step for that problem through the Redeemer in the sequel. This is probably most easily seen in the last of the three sections. The suffering of the God-focused as we live in this sin environment during this period of gospel proclamation is resolved through our names written in the book of life (the heart of Jesus) carried to everlasting relationship with God without sin, as shown in the chapters 21-22 sequel to that Great White Throne scene.
However, returning to the first scroll presentation, merely recording the prequel and sequel as holiness versus unholiness does not offer the same kind of movement. The problem is that labeling the sequel (chapters 6-7) as the unholiness of humanity provides no new situation. Holiness by definition means a separation of the true, good, and beautiful from that which is not—thus, that which is holy from that which is not. Therefore, the emphasis of the holiness of God in chapter 4 necessarily includes the assumption of unholiness of some sort from which God is separated. This means that chapters 6 and 7, although they do show the unholiness of humanity, should be labeled by the result of the Redeemer’s influence rather than simply by a condition that was also true in chapter 4.
The change, then, to the above outline regards the label for chapters 6-7. Instead of the unholiness of humanity, we will label it God’s Involvement. First, God’s involvement with unholy humanity does show a significant contrast to chapter 4’s emphasis on the holiness of God. How can God be holy (separated from sinfulness) when he is doing the exact opposite—interacting with his sinful creation? It is only through the redeeming activity of Jesus that this is possible. The problem of chapter 4—necessary separation—is resolved through the Redeemer presented in chapter 5 to have God interact with his creation in chapters 6 and 7.
We had been discussing the particulars of the scene in chapter 4. All the imagery of that chapter is focused on the holiness of God. The throne, appearance of stones (jasper—brightness of purity; carnelian—warding off of illness), rainbow, lightning and thunder, seven fiery torches, and the sea of glass all speak of the holiness of God in maintaining separation from his sinful creation.
The only other elements of chapter 4 are two groups: the 24 elders and the four living creatures. Both of these groups are composed of heavenly beings. Before specifically discussing them, we need to talk about angels in general.
The word angel is translated from a Hebrew (OT) or a Greek (NT) word meaning messenger. It is important to point out that not all angels act as messengers at all times. We usually see them function as messengers in bringing some message from God to humans (e.g., angel bringing message to Joseph in a dream—Mt 1:20 or to Mary—Lk 1:28). This ought to give us pause to wonder whether our use of the term angel to classify one of these heavenly beings is actually correct. We have humans on earth that sometimes carry messages. When they do, we call them messengers. But we wouldn’t think to use the term messenger as synonymous with the term human. Sometimes humans act as messengers, but delivering a message is a function, not a classification of being. I believe it is the same with the heavenly host. The term angel means messenger. Sometimes (actually often in the Bible) God sends one of his heavenly host to deliver a message. And when he does, that one is rightly called an angel—a messenger. But when we speak of God’s heavenly host, they should not necessarily be referred to as angels (since it is not a classification of being) unless their activity at the time is actually delivering a message. Thus, it should come as no surprise to find Jesus himself called a “mighty angel” in Revelation 10. It does not mean that Jesus is one of these lesser heavenly beings. It means only that Jesus is mighty in bringing the ultimate word of God (he is, after all that Word made flesh)—that gospel message—to the world.
Even our sub-classification of these heavenly beings that we call angels into cherubim and seraphim is questionable. Seraphim is a Hebrew word meaning fiery serpent. It was used of the serpents sent by God in Numbers 21 to plague the Israelites with their venomous bites. It is not translated seraphim there, but the same word is translated (or transliterated) as seraphim in Isaiah 6 as Isaiah sees these creatures over the throne of God. Rather then Isaiah naming these creatures Seraphim, he may simply be using that word to describe what he sees: these heavenly creatures looked to him like fiery serpents.
The Hebrew word for cherubim does not have as sure a derivation. However, some scholars see its root in a Persian word meaning to hold or take hold. This definition does seem to match with the activity of the cherubim in guarding the holy. God stationed cherubim at the entrance to the garden of Eden after the fall to guard entrance to the holy. Cherubim images were ordered by God to be placed over the ark of the covenant, picturing the guarding of that holy vessel. Thus, again, the word itself is a verb function—guarding—rather than a classification of being. These hosts of heaven are, therefore, described as to function as messengers (angels) or guards or guardians (cherubim) and also described as to appearance as fiery serpents (seraphim).
Thus, when we meet some of the heavenly host around the throne of God in Revelation 4, we don’t have to doubt that they are indeed heavenly host simply because the text does not use the terms angel, seraph, or cherub. They are heavenly host whose functions are shown to coincide with the chapter’s theme of holiness.
The 24 elders sit on thrones and wear crowns. This is not to imply that certain angels have jurisdictional control over something or someone. Rather, the elders (like the gems, rainbow, sea of glass, etc.) image the heavenly governmental judgment against unholiness and for the holiness of God. The number 12 speaks of government. Doubling that number in the governmental concern of God for holiness most likely can be related to the governmental order in both the old (Adamic) covenant and the New Covenant.
The four living creatures are described in terms very similar to the cherubim described in Ezekiel 1. The number four (the number associated with the earth) seems to indicate that these particular spirit beings are acting as guards, preventing the unholiness of the earth to approach the holiness of God. These cherubim call out “Holy, holy, holy” just as the Seraphim of Isaiah 6 did, signifying again that the terms cherubim and seraphim are not angelic classifications but rather simple descriptions of function and appearance.
Chapter 5 opens with God holding a scroll in his hand. We have already discussed that this scroll represents the heart of God for his creation. But the scroll is sealed shut seemingly without hope. A mighty angel (Christ?) calls out for someone worthy to open the scroll. But there is no response. John bursts into tears as the weighty despair sweeps over him.
But one of the elders tells him to stop his crying because someone has prevailed. The elder is the one that speaks to John because the one who prevails is deemed worthy according to the heavenly governmental justice.
The Redeemer is presented (1) as from Judah and David (2) as having the seven Spirits of God, (3) as a slaughtered Lamb, and (4) as taking the scroll from the hand of God. If we recall our study of kinsman redeemer qualifications from the book of Ruth, we learned that the redeemer must be a kinsman. Point (1) shows Jesus as kinsman to humanity, and point (2) shows him as kinsman to God. The second qualification is the ability to pay for the redemption. Point 3 shows Jesus with the payment price. The final qualification is that the kinsman must want to redeem. Point 4 reveals that Jesus shares the heart of God by taking the scroll for himself.
When Jesus does take the scroll, a three-part progression of praise rings forth. First, the elders and living creatures (the representatives of holiness) sing his praise. Next, all the host of heaven join in praise. Finally, all creation joins the host of heaven in praise.
Not only is there a progression of groups praising the Redeemer, but also is there a progression in what is said in praise. First, he is praised in that he was slaughtered and he redeemed. In the next song, he is praised as the one who is worthy. Lastly, he is offered blessing forever and ever.
Notice that this fulfills Christ’s claim in Revelation 1:8 as the one who is and was and is to come. It also may relate to Revelation 1:19. In that verse, Jesus tells John to write what he had seen, what is, and what is to come. Remember that the book is about Jesus, not events. So, John—charged to write of what he had seen, what is, and what is to come—would write of Jesus the Redeemer.