throneReflecting on the text

Begin today by reading through Revelation 4.

One of the things John is clearly emphasizing is the throne. In fact, out of 62 times the word “throne” is used in the New Testament, 47 are found in the book of Revelation. And of those 47 in Revelation, 19 occur in chapters 4 and 5.

When you think about a throne, what comes to mind? What is (or was in the ancient world) true of the people who sit on them? (Obviously, they are kings and queens, but how does that play out?)

A major question that apocalyptic literature wrestles with is, “Who is King or Lord of all?” In other words, who rules the world? Who is in control? Who has power, authority, dominion?

To ask, “Who is on the throne?” is also to ask, “Who deserves our absolute allegiance? Who is worthy of our devotion?”

John’s throneroom vision draws heavily on three Old Testament passages in particular: Isaiah 6.1-5; Ezekiel 1.4-28; Daniel 7.9-14

In all of these visions (Revelation included), who is on the throne?

God, of course. But here’s the problem: If you were to ask an average person living in the first century Roman world who was presently sitting on the throne, who had ultimate power and authority, who was running the world, they would have all given you the same answer: Caesar.

The Emperor sat on the throne, both literally and symbolically. Or so it seemed. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly the idea John is denying.

While John seems to explain his vision primarily in terms recalling similar Old Testament visions, some elements of this throneroom scene deliberately parody the royal court of Rome’s emperor himself.

– The phrase “You are worthy” (4.11; 5.9,12) reflects the acclamation used to greet the emperor during his triumphal entrance.

– The title “Lord and God” (4.8) is exactly the way the current emperor, Domitian, demanded that he be addressed.

– John portrays twenty-four elders surrounding the throne of God, exactly the number of bodyguards who surrounded Domitian.

– The elders placing their crowns at God’s feet echoes the ancient custom of kings paying homage to other kings the exact same way.

In a scene intentionally subversive of imperial pomp, John unmistakably claims that God is the Ruler of the world. (This statement is both “political” and dangerous.)

Think about this for a minute. Only God is Lord. Only God is worthy of worship. God is the most powerful being in the universe. Only God can save the world from evil. (You might want to read that one again.) Only God deserves my absolute allegiance.

Living what we learn

So what does this mean in our world? Well, who seems powerful today? Who seems to be calling the shots? Who (or what) has real power and authority in our world? For one thing, this passage means that their power must always be relativized by the power of God. We must see them all in their proper relationship to – that is, below – the One Who Sits on the Throne.

It also means that we have to choose who we will confess as King. Not just confess with our mouths, but with our lives.

In addition to parodying Caesar’s entourage, the 24 elders probably symbolize the people of God (the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles). That means us.

So let me ask you a question: where are the 24 elders (before they hit the deck, of course)?

That’s right; they’re on thrones.

So if thrones symbolize rulership, what are people doing on thrones? Apparently God wants to share his dominion. It seems that God invites us to participate in his rule. Come to think of it, that sounds an awful lot like Genesis 1 & 2. What do those stories say God created us for? To extend God’s loving dominion through all creation.

This also sounds a lot like Revelation 1.5-6, 3.21, 5.10, and 22.5. Apparently we are part of the answer to our prayer, “May your kingdom come” (Matthew 6.10).

In other words, our  task is to embody and continue to spread the kingdom of God.

This means, for one thing, that part of our witness is making clear that God, and not empires or nations, rules the world. May we have ears to hear.

It also resonates on a smaller-scale. Our society tempts each of us to take the reins of our own personal universe. We often even try to fit God into that picture as one of the marionettes we get to control. We’d never say it this way, but what else is disobedience but putting God in his place? Why do we get mad at God when we don’t get what we want? Why does our vision of God seem to look a whole lot like us – spiritually, culturally, economically, politically?

What would it like for God to truly become king of…

       Your family?

       Your job?

       Your free time?

       Your church community?

       Your neighborhood?

This is our calling, each and every one of us: to manifest and spread the loving, peaceful, life-giving rule and reign of God wherever we go.

We can say one thing for sure: if God is King, then we are not. Say that to yourself as many times as you need to: I am not the King or Queen of my world. I am not on the throne in the center of the universe; God is.

I don’t think it’s any accident that John shows these 24 elders, representing us, laying down their crowns.

Maybe we need to take a few minutes and do the same.