A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 4:6b-11
If Revelation is known for anything, it’s for being “that weird book at the end.”
I once heard a story of a person who had never read the Bible before, but was given one as a gift when he became a believer. He read the whole thing cover-to-cover, and when he was asked what he thought of it he said, “It’s pretty good. I especially liked the science fiction stuff at the end.”
Sounds about right. What else would you call it?
Academics call it “apocalyptic literature,” but let’s just stick with “the weird stuff” at the end of the Bible. The problem with being weird is that no one pays attention to you, because they have no idea what to make of you. Not that I would know. Especially not in elementary school.
Most people steer mostly clear of Revelation, mostly because it is so weird and they don’t know how to make sense of it. Some people, on the other hand, get so into revelation that they start making charts and timelines that they hang on their bedroom wall and thus become so weird that people can’t make sense of them. Both extremes are unhealthy. But we need to read Revelation because it’s God talking to us. And I think once we see what’s really there, we’ll love reading it. Revelation 4 and 5, in fact, are two of the most powerful and wonderful passages in the entire Bible.
Picking it up halfway through 4:6, where we left off, we step further into the throne room of the King, and are immediately confronted with some pretty bizarre imagery:
“In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 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. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings…” (Rev. 4:6-8)
What the what?
Now, first of all, let’s remember not to get so literal with this imagery that we’re imagining completely preposterous things and missing the point (see my previous post). These creatures are representatives of the animal creation, including humans as merely one creature among the others at this point. The lion has always been recognized as the king among wild beasts. The ox is the massive leader of domesticated animals. And the eagle is the iconic king of the birds. Their wings portray their readiness to do the will of God anywhere and everywhere. The eyes covering them all around denote both a sleepless commitment to keeping watch for God over his whole creation, and also depict them as agents of God himself, who is all-seeing and all-knowing.
The most stunning reality of these creations, however, isn’t their appearance. It is the fact that they are praising God. And not only are they praising God, but they never stop praising him:
“Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.'” (Rev. 4:8)
Have you ever seen a lion praising God?
How about an ox? An eagle? You ever seen mountains and hills burst into song, or trees clapping their hands? (Isa. 55:12; I’m reminded of one of my favorite Sufjan Steven songs.)
The remarkable truth is that if you have seen a lion, you’ve seen a lion praising God. If you’ve seen an ox, you’ve seen an ox praising God. If you’ve seen mountains, you’ve seen them singing to God, and if you’ve seen trees, you’ve seen them clapping their hands for Him.
Look out your window. Can you see a tree?
That tree is clapping, cheering for God. Right now. As you’re looking at it.
All of creation was designed to point to its Maker in adoration and to reflect his glory. Humans, apparently, are the only part of creation that is capable of turning praise off. N.T. Wright observes,
“Only humans, it seems, have the capacity to live as something other than what they are (God reflectors, image bearers). Trees behave as trees; rocks as rocks; the sea is and does what the sea is and does.” (The Case for the Psalms, 120)
If we were living according to our design we would constantly—with every word, thought and action—be falling down before him who sits on the throne, casting aside our proud crowns of self-rule, and worshiping, singing:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (4:11)
Everything in the book of Revelation is ultimately about worship. The creation and everything in it was designed to worship. Constantly. With full enjoyment and perfect happiness. That’s our design, just like it’s the design of lions and eagles and rivers and canyons. But that design was marred. It was distorted. It’s broken. And everything in Revelation is meant to show how God is acting decisively to put things right. God isn’t discarding it and starting over again. He’s going to war against the forces that have corrupted and defaced it, and which threaten to destroy it.
And every act of worship we undertake—in word, thought and action—undoes some of the damage. God is recreating his world through us. We are joining with all creation, participating with its original and perfect design, pointing to the one we were made to reflect.
This Sunday as you sing, think larger than the congregation of people you’re standing among. When we worship, we worship with mountains. We worship with redwoods. We worship with bees and fleas, and with planets and stars. All of them singing. All of them part of the congregation of Creation, pointing with one voice to the greatness of the King, who is restoring all things.