Last Saturday was the winter meeting of our executive committee. The meeting always includes prayer and reflection and this one was no different. This time it was on Revelation 4. Let us know what you think.
'After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in
the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the centre, round the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and behind. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all round, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: ‘ “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,” who was, and is, and is to come.’ Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’ ' (Revelation 4:1-11 NIVUK)
What kind of authority do we wish from our rulers? To what kind of power will we submit?
These are questions which are pertinent to all people in all places and times of history. In our time, people are increasingly less likely to submit to political powers and authorities - rather seeking greater self-determination and independence. This is expressed in a desire for greater, so-called 'freedom', whether from the powers of central government in Westminster, or European government in Brussels, or from the regulations of markets, or from the burden of taxation. Even in the church, the battle-lines are drawn over whether we can assert a right to self-determine our stance on biblical interpretation, Christian sexual ethics or the role of women in leadership.
And yet as Christians, we proclaim Christ as King and Lord. We gladly attribute to him the very kind of power we so often seek to resist elsewhere. Last week, many Christians celebrated the feast of Christ the King, and reminded ourselves of Jesus' ultimate authority. From tomorrow, throughout Advent, we will turn our minds to that final day when he shall finally be revealed and present to us as ruler and judge of all.
Every king has a throne, and every throne has a throne room, and every throne room is designed to remind us of the power of the one who sits at the centre.
The symbols and embellishments may vary, but every throne and throne room, from the tribal kingdoms of Papua New Guinea to the various throne rooms of British monarchy, the basic picture is the same. When we're in the throne room, when we gaze upon the throne, we are concerned with the power and authority of the one who is there enthroned.
In St. John's vision of the heavenly throne room, we see perhaps the clearest elucidation of this principle - every symbol, every embellishment, everything described is intended to inspire our awe and submission. Robes, crowns, precious jewels, thunder and lightning, song, submission, peculiar living creatures - all focused on the one who is there enthroned. Surely the one enthroned bears power and authority beyond anything we've previously encountered? Surely this is beyond our wildest imagination? Surely this is power and authority beyond compare?
'Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.' (Revelation 5:6 NIVUK)
John's vision continues with a vision of the one who sits on the throne. The one who had the appearance of jasper and ruby is now joined by a lamb that has been slain.
The lamb is given all authority and power. The lamb is co-heir with the one enthroned. The lamb is indeed enthroned.
The vision of St John in the midst of fierce persecution in the first century Roman Empire is not of a ruler or king who will slaughter or vanquish our present foes, but of one who delivers us from a much more profound tyranny.
The true throne room of God is a hill outside Jerusalem, and he is not seated but rather nailed and hung on this wooden throne. And from this rugged throne he exercises his rule and authority over the powers of sin and death. And he does this not for his sake, but for ours.
Those of us who seek justice seek power, and those of us who seek power seek the capacity to act. But the one true act of godly rule and authority is the act of sacrificial love.
James and John wanted seats beside the throne in the kingdom of heaven, but they did not see that the seats were cross-shaped. The son of man came not to be served, but to serve with sacrificial love - and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Tom Wright observes:
'In the kingdom of the Son of Man, the power that counts is the power of love. It is the rule of Emmanuel, God-with-us.' (Wright, 1994, p96)
As we strive for a more just political settlement, as we labour for the flourishing of all in our society, as we work to make our prayer a reality - that God's kingly rule may be seen here on earth as in heaven, let's also remember today that the one who rules in power is the one who serves - and the one who has power to act, acts sacrificially for others.
Revd Graham Hunter
Vicar - St John's Hoxton