Today’s reading from the Book of Revelation moves from the epistolary form that we heard on Monday and Tuesday and presents us with the first of many visions about which the sacred writer writes. This vision is filled with important symbols that wed the Christian and Jewish Scriptures
The seer is led through an open door, a reminder that Jesus has reestablished access to God which had been lost by Adam. Seated on the throne is One whose appearance sparkled, unnamed so as to avoid violation of the commandments. The twenty-four thrones provide for the elders of the twelve tribes of Israel and for the Twelve Apostles. The twenty-four elders are dressed in the white garments of baptism. The traditional natural phenomena of a theophany, lightning and thunder, are present. There are seven flaming torches/spirits representing the seven archangels who traditionally stand before the throne of God (Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Selaphiel, Raguel, and Barachiel). The seven archangels are sometimes related to the seven days of the week.
Before the throne is a Sea of glass. The sea represents chaos for these people. However, in heaven the sea is perfectly calm, so much so that it looks like a piece of glass. The four living creatures represent the creatures of the earth - domestic (the calf or ox), wild (lion), bird (eagle) and human. They also represent that which is noblest (lion), strongest (calf or ox), swiftest (eagle) and wisest (human) of the creatures. They first appear in the prophet Ezekiel and then become symbols of the four evangelists in the Christian tradition. The chant the hymn which has become a central part of our liturgy.
Thus the vision of heaven incorporates all of the various traditions of Judaism and early Christianity. Because God was understood as “King of the Universe,” the vision of heaven resembles that of an earthly throne room for a king or emperor. Rather than courtiers, the heavenly throne room is populated with angels, animals and human beings which figure in the religious tradition of both cultures.
The vision is offered as an explanation of what is in store for faithful Christians: “Come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards” (Revelation 4:1b). In other words, this is the end of the story. Think of it in terms of reading the last chapter of a murder mystery and learning “who done it.” The Book of Revelation was written to explain the fate of those who were undergoing the persecutions brought on by the Roman Empire. Such persecutions are still part of our world. The fate of our brothers and sisters from the early Church and the fate of latter day Christians is the same. We are destined for greatness. Just as the crowds of heaven stand around God’s throne, we stand around God’s throne here on earth, the altar of sacrifice wherein we find a foretaste of our destiny.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator