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~ The Great Celestial Symphony ~

Stories and films of fantasy are intriguing, revealing and abundant in shadows of truth. Some may dismiss them as “just fantasy” meaning “unrealistic.” However, the fantasies that arise from the soul of human consciousness, wondrous as they are (such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy), pale in comparison to the fantasy-like or fantastic Revelation of the Christ to the apostle John.

I find it sad and distressing that the Revelation has been reduced to novels addressing the end times, popularizing prevalent interpretations of the “rapture” and the calamities of nature and nations during the years known as the “tribulation.”

The first three chapters of Revelation are devoted to profound revelations of what Christ lauds and condemns in the seven churches, bypassed by many literary authors and film producers since they are not media moneymakers. Same with chapters 4 and 5.

Many people’s images of heaven are so immature they are laughable. Indeed the images of us lying on clouds playing harps have been the brunt of jokes. Doing that forever is boring and unappealing, except for those who envision heaven as a haven for couch potatoes who would love to extend their comfortable days of watching television into eternal rest.

Parents often face the question of their children about whether their pets will go to heaven. Adults dance around such questions that are plainly revealed in Christ’s Revelation to John and to us.

The apostle John was the only among the twelve who didn’t die at the hands of persecutors, though they did try. (Jesus predicted this in John 21:22-23.) The authorities gave up and exiled him to a penal colony on the island of Patmos. Christ was saving John to record a fantastic glimpse into the heavenly realm and the future of all things.

Let’s vicariously share in John’s vision, as Christ intended. Imagine sitting alone on a rocky island and seeing an open door revealing the heavenly realm, accompanied by a booming voice sounding like a trumpet announcing the start of a grand symphony. The voice beckons, “Come in...” (Rev. 4:1.) Suddenly, through no effort of your own, you are “in the Spirit” peering at a magnificent throne with “someone” sitting on it adorned with the appearance of precious jewels. An emerald rainbow encircles the throne and the One on it. You see more thrones, twenty-four circling the center one, occupied by “elders” clothed in brilliant white robes wearing glittering gold crowns. (Rev. 4:2-4.) The throne emanates “flashes of lightning, rumbling and peals of thunder” unlike you ever saw or heard on earth. In front of it are blazing sources of light, the seven spirits of God. These brilliant lamps protrude from “what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.” (Rev. 4:5-6a.) You realize, in your fear, trembling and overwhelming awe, you are gazing into a tiny aspect of the Kingdom of God.

Should your vision end here, you would have seen and heard enough to change your life and perception of “reality” forever. But there’s more!

Imagine the fantasy-like spectacle as your eyes gaze at “four living creatures, covered with eyes, in front and in back.” One looks like a lion, one like an ox, the third with a man’s face, and the fourth like a flying eagle. All of them have six wings and eyes are even looking out from underneath them. Imagine their voices that never stop singing in ethereal tones: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” At this chant, the twenty four elders fall from their thrones before the One in the center, laying their crowns before Him, singing their praises and adoration: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Rev. 4:6b-11.)

This celestial symphonic liturgy now shifts into a moment of unbearable anticipation. The hand of “him to sat on the throne” holds a scroll “sealed with seven seals.” What is it? What does it say? In a loud voice, an angel of great power asks, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” The apostle John cried in trembling sorrow because no one “in heaven or on earth or under the earth” was worthy to open or read it. An elder pointed to a Lamb, looking as if it had been butchered, rhetorically asking, “Why are you crying? See, the Lion of Juda, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

The Lamb, standing in the middle of the celestial assembly, is a frightening site, wounded, butchered, with seven horns and seven eyes “which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth." (Rev. 5:1-6.)

The Lamb is a picture of contrasting dimensions. In this triumphal scene He emanates incredible power, presence and holiness. Yet, His “slain appearance” and woundedness still speaks of His passion of suffering in love. Even in this splendor of the heavens, He is the sacrificial Lamb. He takes the scroll from the right hand of the One on the throne, at which all fall down before Him, holding golden bowls full of incense “which are the prayers of the saints.” Our prayers!

Then they sang “a new song”: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:7-10.)

As though this experience wouldn’t be enough to transform body, soul and spirit, imagine being there and witnessing and hearing “ten thousand times ten thousand” angels encircling the throne and with all in attendance, singing in a grand, bone-penetrating voice, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev. 5:11-12.)

But there’s even more! “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” (Rev. 5:13.)

Paul tells us, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21, NIV). The psalms declare that all creature praise God in their own way and also tells us to also sing to Him “a new song.” Tell your children about John’s vision and how all creatures in the heavens, on earth, buried in the earth, and even in the seas, which must include their beloved pets, will join them in singing a new song to the Lamb of God who was made “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 7:11.)

Some readers and scholars may write me saying, “Wait a minute. Let me tell you what all this really means.” But the visionary John didn’t venture into that ground. He repeated the invocation, “Let him who has ears understand.” Paul wrote that we only see these things as through a dark glass. I’m old enough to have done much of my writing on a mechanical typewriter. I understand those machines. I liked to take off the cover and watch how pressing down on a letter key would move the print key to strike against the ink ribbon and leave a mark on the paper. Absolutely no mystery. How my piano worked was just as clear and understandable.

That clarity became a fog when I first played an electronic keyboard and booted up my first computer. The emergence of new life in this springtime is a mystery. So is the infusion of an eternal spirit in the penetration of a sperm into an egg. My science studies gave me many models of how all this happens. The wisest scientists, however, have never confused their models of reality for the real thing.

The apostle Paul was also taken into the third realm of the heavens and he wasn’t sure if he was in the body or spirit. He was reluctant to even mention his glimpse, only to say he couldn’t speak of it in human language. Ah, blessed be Paul and the humble example he left for us.

I love divine mystery, partially addressed in the medieval classic The Cloud of Unknowing. We live in mystery and it lives in not only every single cell of our bodies but in every single atom of every cell.

For the majority of people who live lives of struggle, suffering, oppression and confusion, the notion of “eternal rest” sounds appealing, but it’s not biblical. I thank God heaven isn’t a place or state of eternal rest. One thing in common between those in hell and those in heaven is there is no rest. It will take us forever to explore the infinite depths of divine mystery, to which I look forward. Interestingly, Psalm 139 notes this: "To me, how mysterious your thoughts, the sum of them not to be numbered! If I count them, I must be eternal, like you."

Meanwhile, in my solitude of my beloved mountains, forests, steams and oceans, I look to the sky, or into the whispering streams, and imagine being with John, looking through that open door into the heavenly realm, feeling no temptation whatsoever to stir up my latent arrogance in feeble attempts to explain what I see and feel to you or me. It is enough to join in fear, trembling, excitement and awe with those fantastic beings surrounding the One of the throne and all of creation in singing a new song to the Almighty. We don’t have to physically die to do that, to “worship Him in spirit and truth.”

Christ’s revelation to John wasn’t for John, but for all the churches and all humankind. Christ calls us to participate in that same vision, in that wondrous mystery. Not to make a canned theology of it, but to live it now. This sounds very much like our call to participate in John’s vision: ”But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all people, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24). This is a wondrous echo of the scene in Revelation 4 and 5. It is for us to participate in right now.

The next verse in Hebrews, however, is a cryptic warning: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?” So characteristic of our loving God, His “warning” comes in the splendor of a gift, a glimpse into the heavenly realm that isn't confined to paper, but inviting our experience of it, here on earth, “as it is in heaven.” How can we spurn such a gift?

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
   in the Christian Faith ~

Spiritual Resource Services  © April 23, 2004

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