Episode 30: The Book of Revelation (3) The view from heaven
Paul and Dan move on from scribbling diagrams of the structure of the whole book and get into some of the detail of the first few chapters. They find that, right from the start, the word-pictures that John presents come straight from the Old Testament. As they move into chapters 2 and 3 they discover the difficulties facing some of the early church communities and it all seems quite familiar and down to earth. But suddenly with chapter 4 the perspective changes with a view of a throne in heaven. The rest of the episode is Paul and Dan reflecting on how the church’s down-to-earth experience and the view from heaven might come together.
Having put pen and paper down and stopped drawing pictures, Paul and Dan get into some of the early sections of Revelation in a bit more detail, and in particular look at the perspectives from heaven in the book of Revelation.
The Son of Man caring for the church communities
First up is chapter 1 in which John sees a striking vision of someone described as ‘one like the Son of Man’. By making connections back to similar images in the Old Testament they identify the figure as a representation of Jesus, the exalted human who is the first to be truly in the image of God.
But, while he is described with features used of God in the Old Testament, this figure that John sees is walking among 7 lampstands which represent real church communities full of real people. Jesus clearly cares for and is concerned about these communities.
The perspective from earth
Paul and Dan then move into chapters 2 and 3 and explore the 7 letters to church communities in the Roman province of Asia (Turkey today). They observe that each letter is structured in the same way. They discuss what might be a theme that runs through them all; factions of people that claim to be something, but in reality they are not (e.g. false apostles, false prophets, those that say they are Jews but are not). That might be a relevant point as the book develops…!
Heaven in the book of Revelation
Moving into chapter 4 sees a dramatic change of direction. John is invited (in his visions) to come up into heaven and see what things look like from there! He sees this amazing throne room scene with angels and elders and strange creatures with 4 heads giving praise to a figure on the throne. Again, Paul and Dan spend a bit of time exploring the Old Testament sources for these images and conclude that it is a representation of God, with all creation praising him, and exercising control over everything.
With that point established, this sets up a real tension for the first hearers of the book of Revelation. They are down on earth where all sorts of things are going wrong. What good is it knowing that God is in control in heaven? Will God’s control ever be exerted down here in our difficult lives on earth? Will heaven and earth ever come together?
Bringing together earth and heaven in the book of Revelation
As they move finally into chapter 5, John carries his hearers and readers along as he sees a sealed scroll. Surely here are the answers to the tension between the earthly letters and the heavenly throne scene?
In the final section of this episode they talk about who is able to open the scroll. John hears a description of a conquering lion, a proud, fear inducing, mighty beast. But when he turns to look at it, he sees a slaughtered lamb, alive before the throne! Paul and Dan reflect on what this says about the nature of the victory Jesus has gained and what it mean for his followers.
Chapter 5 closes with praise to the lamb that can open the scroll and leaves us poised to find out what is in the scroll in the next episode!