(Copyright: Marcelo A. Tolopilo)
On Sunday mornings in our home church, we are doing an overview of the book of Revelation. Even though I’m not a fan of fast fly over studies of complex material, one upside is that such an approach does give a bird’s-eye view of the big picture realities of any book of the Bible, including the book of Revelation. Seeing the big picture proved to be a great encouragement to me a couple of weeks ago.
We were coming up to chapters 4 and 5, having looked at the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor (chapters 2 & 3). The context in which these churches found themselves was becoming increasingly anti-Christian. Two of the churches (Smyrna and Pergamum) were heading into a satanically inspired headwind of persecution which included imprisonment and death (2:10, 2:13).
A journey of suffering
These were difficult days indeed for God’s people. Persecution was ramping up. Life was becoming more difficult. Anger toward God and His truth was beginning to boil over in society. These were tumultuous days to be a Christian. Yet, these difficult times were but a harbinger of more onerous times ahead. As you may know Revelation is largely a prophetic book (Revelation 1:3, 19; 4:1; 22:7, 10, 18, 19), and it warns of tempestuous days ahead for that future generation that remains on earth to witness the closing cataclysms of this current age.
Whether we’re looking at the past or at the future, I think you would agree rough seas have generally been the reality for our journey through this world.
A transcendent vision
You may ask, “So what was the comfort you found in the big picture of chapters 4 and 5?” The comfort I found was obviously not in the certainty of suffering—past or future—but in the transcendent vision John received in these chapters. You see, in the maelstrom of present suffering and the tempest of future persecution, chapters 4 and 5 give us a clear glimpse of heaven. In the midst of what seems to be unbridled earthly chaos, the eternal realities of heaven are sure and unfailing.
Four encouraging truths about heaven
There is so much to learn about heaven in these two chapters, but allow me to share four brief observations that captured my attention and were supremely encouraging to me. As you know, all of heaven centers around the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As such, heaven is the unique home of 1. God’s glorious sovereign presence which in turn 2. makes it a place of unparalleled beauty, 3. a sanctuary of absolute peace and rest for the beleaguered believer; and lastly, 4. heaven is an altar for the exuberant worship of the Lord our God.
Heaven’s crescendo of worship
One last arresting observation about heaven from Revelation 4 and 5 is the vibrant worship we encounter there. Peace and rest doesn’t mean heaven will be like a library where everybody needs to keep discussions down to a whisper and set their harps on low. No indeed! God’s presence will be celebrated with the boisterous praise and worship He deserves and we long to express.
Please notice the beautiful crescendo of worship offered up to the Creator (chapter 4) and extended to the Lamb (chapter 5). It starts with the four cherubim who continually call out to God with the words “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME”(Revelation 4:8). This ensemble grows to include the 24 elders around the throne (Revelation 4:9-11). From this point the irrepressible worship of heaven multiplies exponentially and expands to the innumerable angelic hosts of heaven (“myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands”)
as they burst forth in their praise of God and of the Lamb (Revelation 5:11-12). Finally, no creature in God’s created order can hold back its praise, and all creation euphorically erupts in worship of the Father and the Son as they confess, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever. And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped”(Revelation 5:13-14). I can hardly wait to see, experience, and contribute to this worship service!
We too live in worrisome times
Our present day experience as Christians is not as dire as the days that will be faced by this future generation of believers described in Revelation 6-19. That said, these are difficult and tumultuous days for us. Our culture seems to be fraying on the edges, there is much political uncertainty and racial unrest. We are still in the throws of a pandemic, violent protests are a matter of daily course in many of our cities, there is a growing antagonism to God, biblical faith, and Judeo-Christian values. These are worrisome times to be sure.
Heaven, unaltered, unimpeded by the troubles of earth
But let’s not forget that heaven is unaltered by the troubles of this earth. God is not pacing the streets of gold, wringing His hands in fitful concern about the outcome of our upcoming elections. He reigns from His throne! Hallelujah!! Heaven is our future home where God’s beautiful, magnificent glory infuses everything and everyone in His presence. In heaven, we will enter into eternal, unbroken peace and rest from our toil and suffering. Heaven is where God’s praise is growing until it envelopes all of His precious redeemed people—including you and I—“And I (we) will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6). “And so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
When this world feels like you’re watching an accident unravelling out of control, turn your eyes to heaven, and be encouraged; your redemption draws near (Luke 21:28)!