Thursday, 13 January 2011

Heaven's Open Door

Revelation chapters 4 & 5 give us a glimpse of a different reality than what we are used to day-to-day. Chapter four begins with a door open in Heaven and an invitation to John; "Come up here and I will show you.....". The book begins with John having a revelation of Jesus in chapter one. The next two chapters contain letters spoken by the ascended Lord Jesus to be sent to the seven churches of Asia Minor; seven real historical churches that John gave oversight to.

But there is more to 'show' John; more for him to 'see'. And in order for him to see clearly he needs a better perspective, a higher perspective, a heavenly perspective. So a door is opened in heaven with an invitation to enter. Heaven's open door is in fact a door into heaven's reality. To see things from heaven's view. This is the only way to truly understand life. Life must be lived with both feet on the ground but it is understood by setting our affections on things above, Col 3.2. The issue is not, 'What do I think?', or 'What do you think?'. Rather it is, 'What does God think?'.'What is heaven's view?'

Without a heavenly perspective on all that goes on in the world we may be left discouraged, discontented and disconnected from what God is doing. God doesn't want this. He wants us to know what He is about and to partner with Him in bringing about His purposes, "On earth as it is in heaven", Matt 6.10. The book of Revelation is meant to encourage the church to be overcomers - just like Jesus. Specific promises are given to those who overcome. And now in chapter 4 of this amazing book, John is invited into the very presence of God.

The scene that confronts him is overwhelming. For those who struggle with loud music in church I wonder how you would get on if you shared John's experience? The voice he heard was, 'Like a trumpet speaking', Rev 4.1. 'From the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings and voices', Rev 4.5. There is 24 hour proclamation, Rev 4.8. A strong angel speaks with a 'loud voice', Rev 5.2. They sing new songs, Rev 5.9-10. John hears over 100 million angels speak 'with a loud voice', Rev 5.11-12. The whole experience is a visual and auditory extravaganza.

Now this door is in heaven. It is open and he is invited in. Before John has time to think about how is he going to do this he is, ' the Spirit', Rev 4.2. With the invitation comes the empowerment to experience what lies before him. I like that. With every invitation that Jesus gives, comes the empowerment to act on what we are invited to do. "He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it", 1Thess 1.3. "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure", Phil 2.12. Without any effort on John's part he is there, in the Spirit; in heaven; in the presence of God. Immediately!

For now I want to focus on three things that impressed John as he enters this scene. The first thing is the throne of God and the one sitting on the throne. In other words the first thing that strikes him is God's Kingly authority. For all thrones carry that meaning. Despite what is happening on earth God is in charge. He is the creator. His throne is above all things and at the centre of all things. And He is on His throne. No power has succeeded in dethroning Him. God's authority stands.

Not only that, the promise given to the church was for us to share the throne with Jesus, just as the Father had allowed Jesus to share His throne; Rev 3.21, "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne". Thus the throne is not just picturing God's authority it is also representative of our destiny, if we overcome. Right at the beginning of this experience two things are placed together. Divine authority and human destiny.

Later John sees the 24 elders, 'Each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints', Rev 5.8. The harp is a musical instrument that was a part of Israel's history and often used by David in worship, Psalm 33.2; 43.4; 49.4; 149.3; 150.3; 1Sam 16.23. The golden bowl full of incense is reminiscent of the alter of incense that stood before the veil where the Priest entered the Holy of Holies. We are left in no doubt as to the meaning of these bowels of incense. They are 'The prayers of the saints'.

This is amazing. In this heavenly scene we begin to see the connection between heaven and earth, between God and man, between authority and destiny; between purpose and prayer. Something we do here has impact there! Much Calvinistic teaching here wants to persuade us that it's all in God's hands, exclusively. He controls everything. Our choices don't make any real difference ultimately. They are anticipated and planed for. The Biblical view is more subtle. It is more nuanced.

The book of Revelation shows us that the end of history is certain. Christ will be the ruler over all things. "The kingdom's of this world have become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ and he shall reign for ever and ever", Rev 11.15. This is indisputable, unalterable, unimpeachable. God's overall strategy is secure. Yet within that strategy God has left room for tactical changes. Human choices that can change the future to some degree without changing God's overall objective.

Think of Jesus when He predicted the destruction of Jerusalem in Matt 24. He said to pray for two things in particular, "Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath", Matt 24.20. Destruction is coming but the prayers of the saints can determine the month and the day! A tactical impact, not a strategic one. They were not allowed to pray that the destruction wouldn't happen. That would be to work against the plan and purpose of God. But they could pray that the flight was not in winter, (when it is cold and difficult to survive without adequate shelter) and not on the Sabbath, (when everything closes and transport and movement is almost impossible).

And so in heaven we see the elders before the throne. Harp in one hand and sweet smelling bowls of incense in the other - the prayers of the saints. I love the thought that God experiences our prayers as incense. They are a delight to Him. They move Him to act. David asked the Lord if the men of Keilah would betray him onto the hands of King Saul, 1Sam 23.12. The Lord was clear in His answer, 'They will deliver you'. So David acted promptly and escaped. Prayer and revelation helped him change the future. His own. From our perspective he changed history. And God let him.

The second thing that John noticed was the Focus of Heaven. Everything came out from a centre. On the outside were millions of angels. As we move in we see 24 thrones and the elders worshipping. These elders are universally recognised as representing the saints; for they sing, "You have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation", Rev 5.9. Only people like you and me can sing that song. They are also clothed in white robes. Rev 7.13-14 give us further insight. They are those who have, "Washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb", (see also Rev 3.4-5).Further they have crowns, another thing promised to the overcoming saints, Rev 2.10;3.11.

But why 24? Let me offer a couple of reasons. The worship that goes on in heaven is 'day and night', twenty four hours. David arranged for 24 divisions of priests to offer praise to God continuously, 1 Chronicles 24:7-18. Also in Paul's writings he shows that in Christ God had torn down the wall of division between Jew and gentile and created one new man, who both have access to God the Father through Christ, Eph 2.11-18.

The way of identifying Israel in the Bible was through the twelve tribes. It is the names of these tribes that appear on the City gates of the New Jerusalem, Rev 21.12. But the church is founded on the twelve 'apostles of the Lamb' and their names appear on the foundations of the New Jerusalem, Rev 21.14. Thus together we have 24; Jew and Gentile together as one. This is the fulfilment of Jesus' promise in John 10.16, "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd".

Moving in from this circle we now come to the 4 living creatures. The first thing John notices is that they are 'full of eyes in front and in back', Rev 4.6; 'around and within', Rev 4.8. They see. They Look. They watch. They do not rest, day or night. They are vigilant. They seem to co-ordinate the worship of heaven to give, "Glory, honour and thanks to Him who sits on the throne", Rev 4.9. Thus they direct all the praise to God. (They seem to be the same creatures seen by Ezekiel in his vision while in Babylon, Ezek 1.4-14).

Now at the centre we are back to the throne. The Father sits with a scroll in His hand. A question is asked, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?" Rev 3.2 Notice how John is caught up in the moment. Our theology tells us he could have answered this question. But it seems that he is caught up with the utter sense of futility that no one could be found either, "in heaven or on earth or under the earth", Rev 5.3.

This scroll appears to contain God's purpose for the reign of humanity on the earth. This mandate was given to Adam but handed over to satan through sin. No one was found worthy to take it back until Jesus. And so we finally come to the focus of heaven. "And I looked and behold in the midst of the throne......stood a lamb as though it had been slain......Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne", Rev 5.6-7. All these angels. All these saints, The four living creatures. But at the heart of it all, Jesus - the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David. The one who is worthy.

No wonder Paul was so Christ centered in everything he did. He understood heaven's focus. He could confidently declare to the church at Colossi that in all things Jesus must have the preeminence, Col 1.18. If Jesus is the ultimate focus of heaven then we must live life in a way that makes Him our ultimate focus too. Yes there is family. Yes there is work. Yes there is ministry; but at the heart of all this must be Jesus. He must be at the centre and not on the periphery. Notice too that heaven worships Jesus; "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals....", Rev 5.9

Only God is worthy of worship. Yet here the Father hands over the scroll to His Son, who has prevailed; who has lived life in a way that has pleased the Father; who embraced the cross to redeem humanity and restore human destiny. Fully man. Fully God. Worshipped by heaven. And loved by you and me. John tells us in one of his letters; "We love Him because He first loved us", 1John 4.19. It is this 'first love' that Jesus implores the church at Ephesus to return to, Rev 2.4. For what we love captures our hearts and becomes the object of our worship.

Finally, John begins to understand the language of heaven. How we speak says a lot about us. The words we choose, the way we phrase things, our tone. All these things make up language. Even in silence we cannot not communicate. John learned that heaven's language is centred on the Holiness of God, the worthiness of God, the power of God, the plan of God and the purpose of God. It led to humble, heartfelt appreciative worship.

I'm sure we can learn something here. Have you noticed how the apostolic writers encourage to live life with praise and thanksgiving at the heart of all we do so that God gets the glory, Eph 1.12; Phil 1.11; Heb 2.12;13.15; 1Pet1.7; Col 3.22; 1Cor 10.31; 2Cor 4.15. The language of heaven is filled with praise, thanksgiving and appreciation. Not only that, it has the right evaluation of people. The saints in heaven have been made worthy, they have been clothed in robes of righteousness, they wear crowns.

How do you see your brothers and sisters in Christ? Can you view them this way? We need to ask the Father to give us heavens view of one another. So often when we speak to each other we do so on the basis of our history together; our successes and our failures. But heavens language goes beyond this. Jesus knew that Peter would betray Him. At the time that Peter was confidently boasting of his willingness to die for Jesus; Jesus knew differently. But what did He do? He prayed! He didn't react. He didn't get disappointed. He didn't drop him from the apostolic team. He didn't choose another leader. He prayed. He heard from heaven.

And as He prayed He got heavens perspective and spoke heavens language over Peter's life. He knew the strategy of the enemy was to sift and destroy Peter, "Satan has asked for you that he may sift you as wheat", Luke 22.31. So Jesus prayed, not that he wouldn't fail, but that his faith wouldn't fail. Not only that, He spoke to Peter's destiny. "And when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren". How amazing. Peter will betray Jesus three times and here is Jesus using the language of heaven. It is the language of hope, the language of faith; language that speaks to Peter's destiny, more than his failure.

I believe we need to get heaven's perspective on the lives and ministries of those we know. When we do, we should speak heaven's language to them. The language of praise, appreciation, purpose and hope. This can help people walk through difficult times. Failure does not have to be what defines us. Through encouraging words, through heavens language, we can build them up and help instill hope into their hearts. I pray that as a church we get a glimpse of the Throne of God. In doing so we will begin to see the focus of heaven and, in time, we will learn to speak the language of heaven.