Revelation is the ultimate answer to the Lord’s prayer — hallowed be your name; your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s glory, kingdom and will are coming from heaven to earth. The question is “How?”
Revelation 1 depicts Jesus as the Lord of the Church on earth. He walks among the churches and holds the keys to death and Hades, the enemies of God’s people on earth. As the Church’s Lord, he then addresses the local churches in chapters 2 and 3. He commends and corrects each congregation in a way that is unique to their locale in order to prepare them for an universal exhortation — to overcome. This is a military charge from a commanding general to his troops. The local churches’ situations, whether external oppression or internal compromise, are part of a larger cosmic battle against ultimate evil, which John will reveal shortly.
A key to understanding the Revelation is that heaven and earth are interlocking dimensions of creation. They are not distant locations, but intermingling and coexisting aspects of the same reality of creation. Chapters 1 to 3 have focused on Jesus’ presence with his people in the earthly dimension. But chapters 4 and 5 open our perspective to God’s heavenly dimension as simultaneous with chapters 1 to 3. It is a picture of the “as it is in heaven” portion of the Lord’s prayer. Remember, John is writing the Revelation to encourage God’s people as they endure suffering, martyrdom and temptations. Jesus, the Lord of the Church has spoken from “on the ground.” Now John reveals several things are happening right now “from above” that directly impact our earthly dimension.
One of the first things we notice is that God is on his throne. Even though it may seem contrary in the earthly dimension, God reigns supreme and all creation acknowledges this through worship. God’s plan is being accomplished.
This leads to the next observation. The worship of God shifts in theme, focus and intensity to mirror the climactic unfolding of his plan to bring his kingdom from heaven to earth. In chapter four, creation (the four living creatures) declares God’s holiness (cf. Psalm 19). A quick sidenote: God is described as “who was, and is, and is to come.” Notice the change in verb. God’s eternal being is not described as “who was, who is and who will be.” His eternal futurity is described as the one who is coming. God’s coming was always associated with his salvation and justice to his damaged creation. In other words, God’s eternal future is now intimately connected with the very creation he has made. God’s people (the twenty-four elders) witnesses this wonder and articulates and harmonizes creation’s worship. God is worthy of all glory because he is the good Creator of all things — a Creator who has not just made everything, but is forever connected to his creation in loving salvation and reconciliation.
Chapter five picks up this theme in a new way. The song of creation is replaced by a new song — the song of redemption and New Creation. And the focus of the worship shifts from God to the Lamb — worthy is the Lamb. Why? Because he alone is able to unlock and implement God’s plan for New Creation. And he accomplishes this by purchasing people from every tribe, language, people and nation, who will in turn reign in the earthly dimension.
This is a politically charged statement. Caesar reigns the nations. He is the “lord and savior” of the world. But in this prophetic moment of worship, John reveals that God will bring his kingdom to earth through the reign of the very people that Caesar is oppressing. Caesar will be overthrown and replaced by the very ones he is oppressing. The song of the New Creation is joined by music and prayers. Then the angels join in the worship worship. Then the worship shifts focus to both God and the Lamb and finally crescendos as creation resounds with a loud and longing “Amen” (cf. Romans 8: 19-21).
Another observation is a literary device that John will use again in the Revelation. At first, no one can be found worthy to bring God’s kingdom from heaven to earth (the scroll in God’s right hand). But John hears, “the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.” The “Lion of Judah” is a military title for the Messiah. And John looks, expecting to see a great conquering military leader who has triumphed or overcome (the same word used in all seven exhortation to the churches). But what he sees is vastly different than what he has heard. He turns and sees a sacrificial lamb. In other words, God’s kingdom can come to earth not because of military might or worldly influence. Instead, Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are the climactic events in human history that alone make it possible for God’s kingdom to come to earth. It is no insignificant thing that Jesus overcomes through sacrifice, and not power or influence. He has let evil do its worst to him, and he has emerged victorious. As Jesus’ has overcome, he exhorts his Church to overcome. God’s people, living in the shadow of a mighty Empire, must overcome the evil embodied in the Empire with goodness and sacrifice (Romans 12:21).
This means that the Church “on the ground” doesn’t exist for itself. Rather, it exists to participate in the implementation of God’s kingdom coming from heaven to earth. God’s people are the implementation of Jesus’ victory through the cross and empty tomb. We are the means in which God’s kingdom comes from heaven to earth. And this happens as we overcome as Jesus did — through lives that embody the sacrificial love of God, even in the midst of the darkest and most oppressive evil. And as we learn to overcome as Jesus, we learn to reign as Jesus — again, with sacrificial love.
Another important observation from Revelation 4 and 5 is the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has two designations in the Revelation. Whenever John depicts the Spirit’s work in the Church, he calls him “Spirit.” But when John shows the Spirit’s ministry to the world, he calls him “the sevenfold Spirit.” A key passage in Revelation 5 is the depiction of the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, which are the sevenfold Spirit. It is important to keep in mind that seven is the number for fullness. Horns symbolize power and eyes symbolize discernment. What John is saying is that the sacrificial lamb, who alone is worthy to implement God’s plan to bring his kingdom from heaven to earth, has the complete fullness of power and authority (Matthew 28:18) and the complete fullness of discernment (Zechariah 4:10). And this fullness of power and discernment is through the complete fullness of the Spirit (Zechariah 4:6; Isaiah 11:1-9) sent to the earth to bring God’s kingdom from heaven.
How is the Spirit sent to the earth? Each message to the seven churches ends with “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” In other words, the fullness of the Spirit is sent to earth in order to implement God’s plan of bringing his kingdom from heaven to earth. And the Spirit accomplishes this by his prophetic ministry to and through the Church (Revelation 19:10).
Finally, Revelation 4 and 5 look forward to Revelation 22:3-5. At the end of John’s grand vision, God’s throne finally comes to earth from heaven in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2). This is significant. His throne has finally shifted from the heavenly dimension to the earthly dimension. When that happens, God’s people will see his face!
Throughout Scripture, this has been an impossibility. No one may see God’s face and live. Even through the Revelation, John describes God’s transcendence through the title “the one who sits on the throne.” In chapter 4, John also uses the traditional Jewish method of describing God’s transcendence with precious stones. But when God’s glory finally fills the earth and his throne rests in the earthly New Jerusalem, humans may finally enter a level of intimacy with God that has previously been impossible!
Along with this intimacy will be complete continuity between the character and mind of God and the character and mind of his people. They will have God’s name written upon their foreheads. This will in turn, allow God to release his people to reign alongside him in full human freedom. It is the full reconciliation of the ongoing tension between God’s sovereignty and human freedom.
Dallas Willard says that on that day, humans will be free to truly do whatever we want. We will be free to commit as much murder, adultery, fornication, and greed as we like, which will be absolutely none, because we will truly be like God in our character and desires. Rather, we will love, give and serve fully and freely as God. We will truly be imitators of God in the fullest sense (Ephesians 5:1-2).
But as Revelation 6 through 20 will show, it will get a lot worse before it gets better…