Saturday, September 10, 2016

IN THE THRONE ROOM OF GOD

(I am currently writing a series on the last two chapters of the Bible. These chapters are the only two in the entire Bible that are dedicated exclusively to telling us what eternity will be like for the believers in Christ)
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In the same breath as saying that there will be no longer be any curse in the New Jerusalem, John tells us that the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in that city.
All throughout history, thrones have been the customary places where kings would sit and oversee their kingdoms. Although the thrones in different lands have also differed in appearance, the position and meaning of the throne has crossed many cultural barriers and has existed in many cultural settings and societies.
 
Concerning the throne room of God, there are several places in the Bible where we read of it. Of course, no one who has lived on earth has actually been in God’s throne room and then returned to describe it to us. All of the accounts in the Bible are from visions that were given to prophets of God. When we read these accounts, I am not certain if it is helpful thing to draw upon our own ideas about what we think a throne room is like to help us to picture it, or if it is better if we try not to put our preconceived ideas about what we already think that we know about throne rooms.
 
Sometimes, when we read words written by prophets, it is difficult to know exactly where the literal ends and the metaphor begins, or the other way around. Generally when I read the Bible, I am a literalist. I try to take what is written in a literal sense. This is my default position. However, I also understand that much is written that is intended to be metaphorical and should be taken figuratively. The difficulty sometimes comes in knowing which is which.
 
Sometimes the prophet will say what he saw “looked like” something that we know, or it “had the appearance” of something in our experience. This tells me that there is some figurative language here. The best that I can tell you about this is that I believe that my method is the best, that is, to try and first take things literally. But the very best is to ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into understanding as to what these words need to say to you. (press the READ MORE button below to continue)

Two Descriptions of the Throne Room
I am going to take the time to include two of these accounts of God’s throne room. Reading them is a little lengthy, but try to read them slowly and attempt to picture what is written. The first is from earlier in the book of Revelation:
 
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.”
 
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.
Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.

The four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

When the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” (Revelation 4:1-11).

The next of these accounts is from the Old Testament, from the prophet Isaiah:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.

Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”
I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8 NAS) 

Thrice Uttered “Holy”

These are two amazing accounts. As in other things that we have read about John’s vision of the New Jerusalem, when we compare it with similar visions in Old Testament, there are some things here that are similar in both the Revelation and the Isaiah accounts, and some things that are different.

Among all the things that are written about the throne room in these two accounts, I would like to point out just one similarity between them. That is the two quotes of what the heavenly creatures are saying before the throne.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” These are the words that John heard and wrote down in Revelation. Isaiah heard this: “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”

Significant in what the angelic beings were saying in both of these accounts is the three-fold, “Holy, holy, holy.” It is often said that this thrice-uttered expression is an indication of the three aspects of God, revealed to us in Scripture as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I tend to agree with this assessment, since you will notice in the calling of Isaiah, the voice of the Lord was heard saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

God spoke in the first person singular when he asked whom he should send, but then he also put it in the plural. “Who will go for Us?”

Isaiah replied, “Here am I. Send me!”

Worship at the Throne

I would also like to point out two additional aspects of what we are told concerning what was happening in the throne room, especially as given to us in Revelation. As God remained sitting on his throne, John witnessed the twenty-four elders, who had been seated on their own thrones, all fall down before God. The twenty-four elders removed their crowns and cast them before the throne of God, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

I have already mentioned that John heard the “four living creatures” around the throne, day and night repeating their phrase of “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

In chapter fifteen of Revelation, John also tells of a similar scene, this time of men and women in the throne room of God. These were people who had resisted Satan and his forces during the last days, and apparently had been martyred because of their stance for Jesus Christ. These also were before the throne of God singing what John calls “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” Here are the words to the song:

“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you,
For your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:-4 ESV)

In yet another vision that John had of the throne room, this one in chapter nineteen, John writes this:

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just…And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” (Revelation 19:1-2a, 4-5 ESV).

What John saw and what Isaiah saw in the throne room of God were angels and other heavenly beings, and men and women worshiping God. The words that we just read are words of worship, and these words do not cease to be uttered. They continued day and night, apparently throughout eternity.

To us, all of this may seem a little much, and we may even think that it perhaps even could begin to be a bit annoying to hear these words and similar words over and over and over without end. But, once again as in  numerous times when we read something about the New Heavens and the New Earth, we need to try and separate ourselves from our own understanding that is limited by our experiences and especially limited by the temporal. We need to try to understand what is involved with the concept of worship.

Concepts of Worship

Worship is one of those words that may be a little difficult to define or to envision. If you type the words images of worship into the search bar of the internet, what you see are many photos of people with their hands raised above their heads. To many people, this is what they envision when they think of worship. Presumably, most of these photos on the internet are taken during the time of the church service that is in many churches and is called the “worship time.” This is a time that is set aside for the singing of songs, mostly contemporary in style, and not only one song, but perhaps they sing four or five or more in a row. To many, this period of the church service is synonymous with the meaning of worship.

King David certainly worshiped in this way. David was the singer of many songs and writes, “I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name” (Psalms 63:4).
Or, perhaps the first mental picture that you think of connected with worship is the image someone bowing down before God. Throughout the Bible, when someone had an encounter with God, their reaction was to bow low before him – and that is putting it very mildly. What they actually most often did was to fall at his feet. It is often described as a falling like one suddenly falling dead.

This was John’s reaction when he first began to have the visions of the last days. After meeting and describing the appearance of Christ, at least describing it the best that he could, he said, “I fell at his feet as a dead man” (Revelation 1:17).

The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, in his own vision of the throne room of God, was able to keep his presence of mind long enough so that he was later able to describe what he saw (again, at least describe it the best that he was able), but at the moment that he saw the Lord, he fell on his face (Ezekiel 1:28).

When God came to Abraham, the old man also fell on his face before the Lord (Genesis 17:3).
This falling one one’s face before God is not only a sign of worship and adoration, I think that much of it must have to do with one’s strength of body completely leaving him when confronted with the great God of the universe.

But it is not always this way. Several times in the gospels, we see people bowing at the feet of Jesus as a sign of gratitude. The woman who was grateful for the forgiveness of her sinful lifestyle, placed herself at the feet of Jesus, anointing them with costly perfume and wiping them with hair (Luke 7:37-50).

Also, the story is also told in the book of Luke of the time when Jesus entered a village and ten leprous men, standing at a distance, called out to them. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Jesus called back to them that they should go and show themselves to the priest. The priest was the person who would have to inspect them to pronounce them cured. As the lepers were on their way to see him, they suddenly realized that the leprosy had left them. Only one of them returned to thank Jesus, but when he did, it was by falling on his face at the feet of Jesus and glorifying God in a loud voice that he expressed his thanks (Luke 17:11-19).

In the throne room of God, we also see the twenty-four elders falling down before him, and like the woman anointing the feet of Jesus with her costly perfume, these elders cast their crowns before him, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Revelation 4:11 NAS).

Sometimes the people of the Old Testament somehow managed to both bow their heads and raise their hands. In Nehemiah 8:6, we read, “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (ESV).  Perhaps they did not bow so low or maybe Nehemiah meant that they did not do this at the same time, but first raised their hands and then bowed low to the ground. 

Worship by Deeds

These physical actions of lifting one’s hands and bowing low may also be worshipful to you, but nearer to your idea of worship may have more to do with being faithful and a good steward of that which has been entrusted to you. The raising of your children in the very best manner that you know how is your worship to God. Loving the unloved is your worship to God. Helping those in need, giving aid in time of tragedy, supplying food for the hungry: these are all your worship to God.

James writes, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit the orphans and the widows in the time of their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).

The way that you worship may also be a whole host of other actions that you do, not because it is convenient for you, not just for making a good show of it before others, not for any reward or recognition that you may receive, but only because you love God. You may not even have a great deal of love for those whom you serve, but you serve because you love God. This is your worship.

The best way that I can think of to summarize this concept of worship is with what the Apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans: “I urge you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, well pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1 NAS margin).

Paul continues by saying that just as a body has many members, each one with its own purpose, so do we, as the collective body of Christ, have different gifts and different ways to serve. It is in doing what has been given to us to do, that we worship God.

A few posts ago I spoke of the nations bringing their “honor” into the New Jerusalem. I mentioned that what is called their honor are those things that are best about the various cultures and ethnic groups. I spoke of how we are different as peoples of the world, and this is something that pleases not only God, but if we are able to put aside our own ethnic pride and our prejudices, it also makes our own lives very rich and interesting. It is splendid for all of us to see the wonders of other cultures. 

The Essence of Worship

In this respect, it is the same with our worship to God. We are all different as women and men and as boys and girls, and each of us expresses our worship to God a little differently than someone else. There is no one and “proper” way to worship. We worship God in the way that he has gifted us.

But despite our differences, there is one truth about worship that does not vary. This truth is the very essence of worship. Without this truth, what we do may appear to others to be worship, and we may even deceive ourselves into thinking it is worship to God, but it is not. Indeed, this essential truth is the very meaning of worship.

That essential element is found in the words the four living creatures at the throne of God. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

It is found in the words of the Seraphim, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory.”
This essential element of truth is found in the words of the martyrs around the throne of God. “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! …You alone are holy.”
It is found in the words of the twenty-four elders as they cast their crowns before the throne. “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

The essential element in worship is always this: The simple and clear recognition of the sovereignty of God, the creator of you and me and the creator of all that there is. There is nothing without God, and without him, nothing can be sustained. We are entirely dependent upon him and we have absolutely nothing of ourselves that we can offer. It is one hundred percent God, and zero percent us. He alone is our Sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords. To him we raise our hands in praise, we fall like dead men to the ground, we serve as good stewards of what he has given us. He is our Lord.

These truths, in whatever way that God has given us to proclaim, we will proclaim as worship throughout all eternity. Our praise to God will not cease.
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Next week - Slaves Forever
 
 
 
 

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