Today’s reading from the Book of Revelation presents us with a vision of God’s heavenly throne room. Much of what we read in these verses reflects the reality of the Middle Eastern culture and the Roman Empire. The details that the sacred writer presents to us all point to one overwhelming point; namely, that God must be the sole object of our worship.
The first detail that strikes the reader’s consciousness is that of an “open door” (Revelation 11:1) and the fact that John is invited to enter. In the very first book of the Scriptures, we are told that Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden and that Adam was no longer permitted to walk through the garden with God in the evening hours. Access to God was cut off by sin. However, through his death and resurrection, Jesus has provided us with access again. Consequently the door is open and all sinners are invited to enter the heavenly throne room.
Seated on the throne is one whose appearance is compared to precious stones. The throne is surrounded by a “halo” or rainbow. This halo is reminiscent of the bow placed in the sky by God after the flood, a rainbow that was to remind Noah and his descendants of God’s mercy and forgiveness, promised in the universal covenant into which God and Noah entered after the flood. God’s beauty, represented by precious stones, is further enhanced by God’s mercy.
Flashes of lightening and peals of thunder emanate from the throne. Both of these remind the reader of the scene on Sinai when God entered into a further covenant with Moses and the children of Israel. The seven torches remind them of the seven branched menorah as well as the seven archangels of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Next we are told of a sea of glass. For the Israelites, the sea was the place of chaos. The angry waves of the sea and the fabled sea monsters struck fear into the hearts of the people of Israel. The Gospels portray Jesus as the one who calms the angry sea. Notice that the sea of Revelation is a sea of glass; the waters are calm and chaos is conquered by the one who is seated on the throne.
The four living creatures of Ezekiel are cited as standing around the throne. These mysterious beings could be interpreted in several ways. One interpretation sees the eagle as the mightiest of the birds, the lion as the mightiest of the wild creatures, the ox as the mightiest of the domestic animals, and man as the mightiest animal of all. Thus the whole order of creation is seen as worshipping the One seated on the throne.
Next we are introduced to the twenty-four elders seated on thrones around God’s majesty. There are various ways to interpret these thrones. They may stand for the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles, thus indicating that both Jews and Gentiles are united in worshipping God. Other commentators see in the twenty-four elders a representation of the twenty-four signs of the Babylonian zodiac. Some see them as representative of the twenty-four orders of priests in the Jerusalem Temple (1 Chronicles 24:1-19). Finally, a much simpler explanation would be that there are twenty-four hours in the day thus indicating that the fullness of time is present before God and that their purpose is to praise God ceaselessly. The twenty-four elders prostrate themselves before the throne of God and offer God their crowns. Here we have an obvious reference to the fact that God must be the object of all worship. The custom of falling down before the Emperor of Rome and offering him a crown is the source of this part of the vision.
Finally, we are told that the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures are occupied with the singing of a hymn of praise. They are worshipping God. It is this worship that we find the heart of this vision. One commentator writes: “Worship is so important in the book of Revelation because John rightly understood that worship is a political act. Through worship one declares one’s allegiance, one’s loyalty. Through repeated acts of worship, one reconfirms that commitment.” (Reddish, Mitchell; Revelation, p. 104)
As we listen to the Word of God today, the worship of the One who sits on the throne is presented in terms so extravagant that there can be no question that the sacred writer is asking us to join in that hymn of praise of which he writes, to remember that it is God who is Holy and God who is the object of our worship. Everything else stands in second place.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator