Breaking Open the Word: Revelation Ch. 4-5

By Medieval [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Medieval [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

October 21st, 2018: Rev. Ch. 4-5

               “There was silence in heaven for about half an hour . . .” (Rev. 8:1) Many apologies if our month-long hiatus had you thinking of this verse!  Today, however, we finally resume our Scripture study with Revelation chapters 4 and 5, which describe the glorious heavenly Liturgy and introduce the all-important figure of the Lamb.

               Chapter 4 begins with an “open door to heaven”, which brings to mind the door mentioned in the Letter to Philadelphia: “I have left an open door before you which no one can close” (3:8). But what is this door? One Sister suggested that it is the “rent veil” of Heaven, which Christ has opened for us by His Passion, death, and Resurrection. In fact, He has won for us the privilege repeatedly offered to Israel, that of universal priesthood; in other words, every Christian has the mind-boggling prerogative of free access to the Divine Presence anytime, anywhere. As one of our Scripture commentaries noted, this is utterly unprecedented in the history of world religions!

               Another point we discussed briefly was the symbolism of the jewels used to describe God in verse 3: “a gemlike sparkle as of jasper and carnelian.” Both of these particular precious stones were used in the breastplate of the Jewish high priest. In fact, they are the first and the last as listed in Exodus 28: 17-20 -- perhaps an “Alpha and Omega” reference?

               One Sister had a beautiful reflection on what could otherwise be a strange image in Rev. 4:6: “four living creatures covered with eyes inside and out.” Through this symbolic imagery, John is emphasizing the need for both exterior and interior sight. Only those who possess the ability to “look within” will be able to behold God, and Christ has come to give us these all-important spiritual “eyes.”

               Some interesting reflections also arose as we pondered Rev. 5:4, where John “wept bitterly because no one could be found worthy to open or examine the scroll.” What is this scroll, and why are its contents so important? Someone suggested that it represents the ultimate purpose of human life, which sin had “closed.” Perhaps John’s reaction itself could also be a clue. Human beings have an innate desire to know, and the proper object of this knowledge is God Himself. When we cut ourselves off from God by sin, we frustrate that desire for true knowledge and may be led to “[weep] bitterly.”

               However, our God will not allow the scroll to remain closed forever. Enter Christ, the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” whose victorious death renders Him alone worthy to open the scroll. But rather than a Lion, John is shown the figure of “a Lamb standing, a Lamb that had been slain.” (5:6). As if to underscore the paradoxical quality of such a weak creature being the ultimate victor, John describes Him using a very unusual Greek word. This noun refers not to a sacrificial lamb (amnos), but to a tiny newborn lamb (arnion). What a powerful statement of that central theme in salvation history: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52)! In fact, this plan of God is so glorious that it inspires the angels and saints to praise Him in an eternally “new hymn” that will never exhaust itself (Rev. 5:9-10).

               Thank you for continuing to keep up with our Revelation Scripture sharing series; join us next week for Chapter 6, where the Lamb begins to break the seals of the long-awaited scroll!