The Throne Room of God
"In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne; His train filled the sanctuary. Above Him stood seraphs, each one with six wings: two to cover its face, two to cover its feet and two for flying; and they were shouting these words to each other:
Holy, Holy, Holy is Yahweh Sabaoth. His glory fills the whole earth.
"Beyond the solid surface above their heads, there was what seemed like a sapphire, in the form of a throne. High above on the form of a throne was a form with the appearance of a human being. I saw a brilliance like amber, like fire, radiating from what appeared to be the waist upwards; and from what appeared to be the waist downwards, I saw what looked like fire, giving a brilliant light all round. The radiance of the encircling light was like the radiance of the bow (rainbow) in the clouds on rainy days. The sight was like the glory of Yahweh. I looked and fell to the ground, and I heard the voice of someone speaking to me."
This is the third section of the Covenant Treaty. The Ethical Stipulations declared the laws of citizenship that were required for the people of the Covenant. St. Paul understood the commitment required in this regard when he wrote that "it is in Him that we live, move, and exist.." (Acts 17:28). Paul was expressing that God is the foundation of our very existence. He is the center of our actions, our thoughts, and every aspect of our lives. And a central aspect of our relationship with Him is His Sanctuary where we come to worship Him in the sacrifice of the Mass when we are united with Him in the mystery of Holy Eucharist. An important concern of the Stipulations section of the Sinai Covenant (which Yahweh made with Moses and the people of Israel) was the establishment of One Holy Sanctuary:
"You shall seek Yahweh your God in the place which He will choose from all your tribes, there to set His name and give it a home: that is where you must go. That is where you must bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and offerings held high,..."
The earthly Sanctuary of Yahweh in the Sinai Covenant was an image of the Sanctuary in heaven. (See Ex. 25:9, 40; 26:30; Num. 8:4; Acts 7:44; Heb,8:5: "though these maintain the service only of a model or a reflection of the heavenly realities; just as Moses, when he had the Tent to build, was warned by God who said: 'See that you work to the design that was shown you on the mountain.'"; and Heb. 9:23 "Only the copies of the heavenly things are purified in this way; the heavenly things themselves have to be purified by a higher sort of sacrifice than this." In Chapter 4 you are about to be ushered into the heavenly Sanctuary!
I suggest that you print off a copy of the List of Ezekiel's vision from the Charts and handouts section of this study. We will be referring to the list of Ezekiel's visions frequently. Beginning with chapter 4 of Revelation, Ezekiel's visions duplicate John's visions with amazing accuracy.
Read Chapter 4: 1-11
Verse 1-2 "Then, in my vision, I saw a door open in heaven and heard the same voice speaking to me, the voice like a trumpet, saying, Come up here: I will show you what is to take place in the future.' With that I fell into ecstasy and I saw a throne standing in heaven,..." John has another vision. He says "Then in my vision, I saw" or the New American translation reads "After this I had another vision". This expression, with slight variation, is a formula that always introduces a new vision. This expression, or in its variations, is used 7 times in the book of Revelation: 1:13; 4:1;7:1, 9; 15:5; 18:1; 19:1. John's new vision is an open door to heaven. Notice that he doesn't see it opening. The door is already opened. Isn't it amazing to think that the door into heaven stands wide open waiting to receive us?
John hears "the voice like a trumpet," which is probably the voice of Christ. We have already seen in Chapter 1 the connection between God's voice and the sound of the shofar (ram's horn trumpet). Question: What is the command that John hears and what day is it? Answer: It is the Lord's Day, Sunday (see1:10); the day John celebrates Holy Eucharist. On this day John will celebrate the Lord's Day as he ascends to heaven...as he did and as we do every Lord's Day in the weekly ascension of the Church to celebrate heavenly liturgy. Every Sunday The Church acts out St. John's experience in chapter 4 of Revelation at the Sursum Corda of the Mass, when the priest, reflecting Christ's call "Come Up!" calls out to the assembly "Lift up your hearts!" And the assembly replies in unison, as one voice, "We lift them up to the Lord!" St Germanus, Bishop of Paris d. 576AD, must have been thinking of this moment when he wrote: "The Church is an earthly heaven. The souls of Christians are called together to assemble with the prophets, apostles, and hierarchs in order to recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the mystical banquet of the Kingdom of Christ. Thereby having come into the unity of faith and communion of the Spirit through the dispensation of the One who died for us and is sitting at the right hand of the Father, we are no longer on earth but standing by the royal Throne of God in heaven, where Christ is, just as He Himself says: 'Righteous Father, sanctify in Your name those whom You gave me, so that where I am, they may be with Me.'"
1:b:"I will show you what is to take place in the future."
Question: What was Christ's command to John in chapter 1 verse 19?
Answer: to write down all that (1) you see, and (2) of present happenings, and (3) what is still to come.
What John saw was the vision of the glorified Christ (chapter 1). What was presently happening was the condition of the 7 churches (chapters 2-3). Now we will see what is to happen in the future. The burning question for Biblical scholars is "How far into the future?" If the answer is that these future events will take place 2,000 years in the future, it would have very little relevance for John's audience. If the John is writing in AD96 during the reign of Roman Emperor Domition, Christians have experienced relatively little persecution since the death of Nero in 68AD and relative tolerance during the rule of the Flavian Roman Emperors: Vespasian, Titus, and Domition). However, for the next two hundred and forty years, persecution of Christians will sporadically continue with periods of intense persecution followed by relatively minor persecution until one last great surge of persecution (AD 300-312) before the Church comes under the protection of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine I. But, if John is experiencing his vision in 68 or 69AD the approaching disaster will be God's judgment on apostate Israel with the fall of the Old Covenant Church and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, with the surviving population sold into slavery. Now the Jews will have two clear choices: reformulate a new worship of Yahweh devoid of the Sinai Covenant (since the Temple no longer exists) or turn to the Church founded out of the Old Covenant by Jesus the Messiah of the promised New Covenant Israel (Jeremiah 31:31).
Verse 2 is perhaps better translated: "Immediately I was in the Spirit." We have already discussed in chapter 1 verse 10 that the expression "in the Spirit" is technical prophetic language which refers not to St. John's feelings but to his objective experience as an inspired receiver of divine revelation: God's holy prophet. Being "in the Spirit" was the special privilege of God's prophets but to be "caught up in the Spirit" was to be received into the heavenly assembly. Only a very few of God's prophets had the privilege of standing before the heavenly court to deliberate in the council of the angels. But now, with the coming of the New Covenant what was at one time a special prerogative of God's holy prophets has become the privilege of all of those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb. John is caught up before the heavenly assembly and he sees God sitting on His throne.
Verse 3 "..and the One who was sitting on the throne, and the One sitting there looked like a diamond and a ruby. There was a rainbow encircling the throne and this looked like an emerald." Notice in the description of God's heavenly sanctuary that John never describes God, only what surrounds God and he gives a wonderful description of the Throne of God. John is very interested in thrones, especially God's throne which he mentions in almost every chapter. Using two complete concordances (to double check) I counted that John uses the word throne or thrones (thronos) 47 times out of a total of 62 times the word is used in all of the New Testament. The next most frequent use of the word throne is in the Gospel of Matthew where it occurs only 4 times. The Christian church in John's time was familiar with earthly thrones, and they were especially concerned about Caesar's throne and all it stood for. John will remind them that there is another throne that is above all other thrones!
The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel also described this scene of God's heavenly throne room. Read Isaiah 6:1-4 and Ezekiel 1:1-28. Chapter 4 of Revelation is the beginning of the amazing parallels between John's vision in the 1st century AD and Ezekiel's vision in the 6th century BC.
Notice the mention of the rainbow in Ezekiel's vision in Ez.1:28.
Question: Where is there another Old Testament passage that recalls the rainbow?
Answer: Genesis chapter 9; God's Covenant with Noah after the flood. It is interesting that John sees a rainbow around the Throne of God that looked like an emerald. Actually John mentions 3 precious stones.
Question: What are the 3 stones John mentions?
Answer: (in New Jerusalem translation) diamond, ruby, and emerald. Other translations read "And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance.." or "...jasper and carnelian. Around the throne was a rainbow as brilliant as emerlad." The lack of specific terminology in ancient writings makes it difficult to identify these precious and semi-precious stones with complete accuracy. These 3 stones, in the original Greek = iaspis (perhaps an opal or diamond), sardion (a reddish stone which was perhaps a ruby), and smaragdinos ( which may have been an emerald), represented 3 of the 12 tribes of Israel on the breastplate of the high priest (see Ex. 28:17-19); these 3 stones are also mentioned as being in Eden (Ezek, 28:13). In John's vision (and in Ezekiel's; see 1:26-28) God is seen surrounded by a blaze of brilliant light.
Verse 4 "Round the throne in a circle were twenty-four thrones, and on them twenty-four elders sitting, dressed in white robes with golden crowns on their heads."
Question: Who are these 24 elders?
Answer: Some scholars say these 24 are representative of the Old and New Covenant Church, (the 12 patriarchs of the Old Testament and the 12 Apostles of the New Testament) while other scholars say they are heavenly authorities (angels of special rank). There is evidence at least that 12 of these elders may be the 12 Apostles.
Question: Do you recall a promise that Jesus made to the Apostles that concerned "thrones"? Hint read Matt. 19:28
Answer: Jesus promised that they would sit on thrones in His heavenly kingdom: Matt. 19:28 "Jesus said to them, 'In truth I tell you, when everything is made new again and the Son of man is seated on His throne of glory, you yourselves will sit on 12 thrones to judge the 12 tribes of Israel."
The key to their identity is, I think, in the use of the word "elders." The use of the word elders most likely indicates that these represent the Church. In Holy Scripture the term elder is given only to men and never to angels. The possible exception might be Isaiah 22:23 and this is the verse that proponents of the "elders as angels" theory point to. However, it is not clear from this verse that the elders are angels since the context is the Day of the Lord (judgment) which could mean these elders represent the Church enthroned with God as Jesus promised. The other argument the "elders as angels" scholars use is that the Church will not be seated, white-robed and crowned, in the presence of God until after judgment day therefore, the elders of John's vision have to be a special class of angels. But Paul clearly says in Ephesians 2:6 that "..it is through grace that you have been saved'and raised us up with Him and gave us a place with Him in heaven, in Christ Jesus."
From earliest times in the Church the term elder has stood for those who have power and authority within the sacred assembly of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant Church: Ex 12:21; 17:5-6; 18:12; 24:9-11; Num. 11: 16-17; Acts 15:23; 22:5; Rom. 9:!2; 1Tim. 3:1-7; Tit, 1:5-9; Heb. 13:17; James 5:14-15; and 2 John 1 to give you a few examples. In different translations the Greek word presbyteroi (plural) or "presbyteros" (singular) is translated as "elders" or "presbyters" and can also be translated "priest", in the New Testament. The Old Testament Hebrew has separate classifications between elders and priests. Our English word priest comes from the Greek presbyteroi . 1Tim 4:14 uses "pressbyterion" = body of elders: The New American translation is: "Do not neglect the gift you received when, as a result of prophecy, the presbyters laid their hands on you." This passage is surely referring to the ministerial priesthood of the New Covenant Church. The function of the ministerial priesthood in the Old Covenant Church and the New Covenant Church was the same. The priest was the link between God and the people. In the Old Covenant the priest represented God the Father while in the New Covenant ministerial priesthood the priest represents Christ to the assembly. The chief difference between the two is that the Old Covenant priesthood was hereditary through Levi's line (Levi was the son of Jacob/Israel and Leah) while the High Priest could only come from Levi's great-grandson Aaron (Moses's brother). In the New Covenant, Christ is our High Priest and the ministerial priesthood is now a calling by the Holy Spirit and is only dependant, not a human blood line, but by God Himself.
A second important observation in determining their identity is that they are sitting on thrones. John already told us in Rev. 1:6 that Christians are reigning with Christ, that Christians will wear crowns (2:10; 3:11), that Christians have been granted kingly authority with Him over the nations (Rev. 2:26-27), and that they are seated with Christ on His Throne (Rev. 3:21). It seems likely to me that this is consistent with (and a continuation of) what Christ has been revealing John in the Revelation chapters 1-3.
Question: How many times, do you suppose, does John use the word "elder" in Revelation? Hint: read the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture." Hint: it isn't 7, which is spiritual perfection.
Answer: John uses the word "elder" 12 times in Revelation: Rev.4:4, 10; 5:5, 6, 7, 11,14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; and 19:4.
Which brings us to consider the symbolism of the number 24. 12 is the number of perfection of government and is Biblically associated with the people of God: the 12 tribes of the sons of Jacob which became Old Covenant Israel; the 12 Apostles, the New Covenant Israel (see Matt. 19:28; Mark 3:14-19; Acts 1:15-26; James 1:1). 24 is a multiple of 12 and therefore it is reasonable to assume that the number 24 is also associated with the Church. Multiples of 12 are part of the symbolic structure of the New Jerusalem as we will read in the final vision of John's prophecy in Rev. 21:12-14. And there is also a connection between the number 24 and the Old Covenant priesthood and Temple worship: there were 24 divisions of priestly families (1Chronicles 24) and 24 divisions of singers in the Temple (1Chron. 25). 24 elders had been a feature of the worship of God's people for over a thousand years so it is reasonable that John should see the 24 elders who are both kings on thrones and priests in the presider's chair. This is, in my opinion, the representative assembly of the Royal Priesthood, the New Covenant Church. In the Old Covenant Church only the High Priest wore a crown, now the Old Covenant priesthood of Aaron has been transformed and transcended. With Christ as our high priest, the other representatives of the New Priesthood all wear crowns. For information on the white robes of the elders see the notes from the letter to Laodicea, Rev. 3:18 in the previous lesson.
Verses 5"Flashes of lightning were coming from the throne, and the sound of peals of thunder, and in front of the throne there were seven flaming lamps burning, the seven Spirits of God.."
John's vision of the heavenly court recalls the manifestation of God to the people of the Old Covenant Church at Mt. Sinai in Ex.19:16-19 "Now at daybreak two days later, there were peals of thunder and flashes of lightning, dense cloud on the mountain and a very lout trumpet blast.." Also see Ezekiel 1:4 & 13. These are visual effects that accompany the "Glory-Cloud" of God. This verse also recalls John's vision in chapter 1 as once again the imagery is shown to be the heavenly original of the earthly Tabernacle (Heb. 8:5; 9:23) with the lampstands burning within the Holy Place. The 7 flaming lamps and the 7 Spirits of God = the 3rd person of the Holy Trinity in His sevenfold fullness of activity. As in chapter 1 we have the combination of the 3 aspects of the Glory-Cloud imagery in Rev. 4: 1-5.
Question: Can you name these 3 aspects?
Answer: (1) found in ch.4, v.1, the Voice; (2) found in v. 3 the brilliant Glory of God; (3) found in v5, God the Holy Spirit.
Verse 6-7 "In front of the throne was a sea as transparent as crystal. In the middle of the throne and around it, were four living creatures all studded with eyes, in front and behind. The first living creature was like a lion, the second like a bull, the third living creature had a human face, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle." This is another point in which John's vision recalls the vision of God's prophet Ezekiel in Chapter 1:1-14 When you read this passage keep in mind that John and Ezekiel are seeing the Throne from two different perspectives. John is standing in the heavenly court itself and he is looking down on the "sea" of glass while Ezekiel is standing at the bottom of the Glory-Cloud and is looking up through its open center so that the "sea" at the top gives the appearance of a blue sky or "firmament" above him. When Moses and the elders of Israel looked up to see God when they gathered for the sacred meal at the ratification of the Sinai Covenant, the firmament-sea appeared as a sapphire-colored pavement in Ex. 24:9-10: "Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Aabihu and 70 elders of Israel then went up and they saw the God of Israel beneath whose feet there was what looked like a sapphire pavement.."
Please read the Ezekiel 1:1-14.
In the earthly Tabernacle that Moses was commanded to built, each of the pieces of the earthly Tabernacle's furniture corresponded to the heavenly Tabernacle. Moses was commanded to build a bronze Laver which was called the "sea" (in Ex. 30:17-21) which was placed in front of the opening to the Holy Place. It was made from the mirrors of the women so it would have reflected the water beautifully. This Laver or "Sea" represented the sapphire or crystal transparent sea.
Another parallel to Ezekiel's vision is that John sees 4 living creatures standing in the middle of the Throne and around it as they supported the Chariot-Throne of God: Psalms 18:9-10 "He parted the heavens and came down, a storm-cloud underneath His feet; riding one of the winged creatures, He flew, soaring on the wings of the wind." Notice the closeness of the Living Creatures to God's Chariot-Throne.
Question: What positions do they occupy near the Throne?
Answer: verse 6: in front and behind, or in the middle and around as other translations read. The multiple eyes symbolize that they are all-seeing; nothing escapes their gaze or God's ceaseless watch over every part of creation.
Question: Compare the living creatures of John's vision with the cherubim in Ezekiel's vision and the six-winged seraphim (literally "the burning ones") in Isaiah 6:1-4.
Answer: That there are 4 Living Creatures is important. 4 in Scripture is usually the number which represents the earth. The earth is also related to the altar of God. Each are said to have 4 sides, therefore the earth is said to be altar-shaped. You can compare the Biblical ideas of the 4 corners of the earth, 4 winds, 4 directions, 4 seasons of the year, 4 rivers from Eden that watered the whole earth and so on. These 4 living creatures are not cuddly little angels they are awesome, amazing creatures that are the visible indications of the presence of Yahweh the Almighty! Some scholars have suggested that the 4 Living Creatures stand for God's world (or nature) as the 24 elders stand for the Church.
Let's turn to a study of the amazing appearance of the 4 Living Creatures. Ezekiel had a similar vision of these Cherubim. Read Ez.1:4-15 and 10:4-15.
Question: What 4 forms do the creatures take?
Answer: (1) a lion, (2) a bull or ox, (3) human (4) eagle. Ezekiel 1:4 lists the same 4 faces but in a different order: human, lion, bull, eagle and in Ez. Ch 10 he lists them as ox or bull, human, lion, eagle.
The Four Living Creatures of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John
ISAIAH: -4 Living Creatures
Is. 6:1-7 -Called Seraphs which means "the burning ones."
-6 wings: 2 covered their faces, 2 their feet, 2 flying.
-he couldn't see their faces; covered by their wings
-They sing before the throne of God: "Holy, Holy, Holy"
-One purified Isaiah with a burning coal
-encircle the throne of God
There are no other references that I could find to Seraphs or Seraphim outside of Isaiah ch 6 except a possible connection with the fiery serpents of Numbers 21:6,8 and Is. 14:29 (some scholars suggest a link). Hebrew = sarap, plural serapim. Etymology = fiery one
EZEKIEL: -4 Living Creatures in what looked like fire
1:1-26 -4 faces and 4 wings
10:1-18 each face on 4 sides: (Ez 1:10): man, lion, ox and eagle
(Ez 10:14): ox, man, lion, eagle
-legs straight , feet like a calf, hands like a man
-(ch 10) called cherubim
-10:12 full of eyes
-they carry the fiery chariot of God. Ezekiel could see the throne above them in the throne room of God = 10:18 (some translations vary on how they list this verse but it comes after 10:17).
Here are a few other references to Cherubim in the Old Testament: I found more than 80 references. The etymology is uncertain. Hebrew = kerub, plural kerubim
-Genesis 3:24 = a Cherubim with a flaming sword guarded the Tree of Life.
-Exodus 25:18-19; 37:8 = statues of 2 Cherubim molded in pure gold on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant
-1Kings 6:24-27: two huge statues of 2Cherubim in Solomon's Temple in the Holy of Holies from the floor to the sealing & from wall to wall over the Ark of the Covenant.
-Ez. 28:14-16 and 41:18
REV. 4 -4 Living Creatures covered with eyes front and back
-faces: a lion, ox, man, eagle
-6 wings; eyes front and back, inside and out.
-sang Holy, Holy, Holy but different second verse from Isaiah
-around the throne of God
We seem to be dealing with two classifications of heavenly beings: Seraphs and Cherubs.
There is another aspect of the symbolism of the 4 creatures that has caused scholars many debates and that is the connection between the 4 creatures and the signs of the zodiac. The word zodiac is not an occult word. Zodiac come from a Greek word that means 'circle' or 'path' and refers to the path of the sun through the heavens. It is interesting that a number of linguistic scholars believe the Greek word comes from a primitive Hebrew root word zodi (or sodi) which means 'a way' or 'a path.' The word zodiac refers to the 12 major constellations that are the groups of stars arranged along the sun's path.
The inspired writers of the Bible were familiar with the same system of constellations that we known today except with some substitutions like the scorpion for the eagle. These symbols for the constellations date back in history to the beginning of civilization. The same (or similar) 12 signs, their names, and their order are found in every ancient culture from the Chinese, to the Chaldeans (Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldeans) , and the Egyptians. Complete records of the zodiac symbols have been found to date from 2,000BC but references and artifact have been found that may date the symbols of the zodiac back to 4,000BC.
I mentioned that there have been some substitutions; for example the scorpion for the eagle and the crab whose name in ancient Greek means 'to hold together' and in Arabic 'the rest' or 'everlasting habitations.' Some scholars have suggested that the substitution by Biblical writers of the eagle for the scorpion may have been because of the association between the scorpion and the serpent, a creature symbolic for the devil (see Luke 10:17-19). But archaeologists have discovered that the ancient Chaldean system of constellations also had an eagle in place of the scorpion. Perhaps the scorpion form is the newer innovation and the Zodiac symbols were usurped and perverted by Satan and the occult. (seeRichard Hinckley Allen, Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning , New York: Dover Pub., 1899, 1963 p. 57;cf p. 362).
In any case, it is very interesting that the 4 Living Creatures John saw (and Ezekiel) are the middle signs in the 4 quadrants of the Zodiac. John lists them in counterclockwise order, backward around the Zodiac (perhaps because he is viewing the scene from above in heaven and not from below on earth). However, he does list them in the structure of his prophecy in the direct order of the seasons of the year...each sign coming exactly mid-season.
There may also be a connection between the 4 Living Creatures and the divisions of the Book of Revelation. After the Preamble in chapter 1 the book is divided into 4 different quadrants and these are perhaps symbolically ruled by each of the Living Creatures. Here is the argument that could be made to support that theory: The first quarter = Chapters 2-3 would be ruled by the creature with the appearance of the Bull with emphasis on the "Seven Stars" (Rev. 2:1). There are 7 stars on the shoulder of the constellation Taurus (the Bull). The second quarter would be Chapters 4-7, ruled by the figure of "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah" (see Rev. 5:5). The third quarter in Chapters 8-14 ruled by the Eagle who flies between earth and heaven with cries of woe throughout the third quarter. And finally the fourth quarter in Chapters 15-22, which is ruled by the Man, the sign of Aquarius in the Zodiac symbols, the "Water-Pourer. In this last quadrant we see the pouring out of the Chalices of wrath, and also the River of Life flowing out from the New Jerusalem which is ruled by the Son of Man in all His glory. This seems to me to be a very interesting connection that is perhaps more than coincidence.
The Bible strongly condemns all forms of occultism (the desire for any form of "wisdom" or "knowledge" through secret means apart from God and included in this condemnation is astrological occultism (see Deut. 18:9-13; 2Kings 23:3-5; Is. 8:19-20; 44:24-25; 47:8-15). St. Augustine refuted astrological occultism in his book City of God. We should be diligent in avoiding all forms of astrological occultism including the seemingly harmless daily horoscope that appears in the daily newspapers. Nothing about astrology is either benign or harmless. All forms of occultism are satanic and extremely dangerous! But this does not mean that the constellations themselves are evil or that the symbols that stand for them are evil any more than pagan sun-worship should keep us from seeing the sun as a symbol of Christ the light of the world. The constellations were created, we are told in Holy Scripture, to manifest God's glory (Ps. 19:1-6). They are not random groups of balls of gas but instead are part of God plan and have been specifically placed where the are by God Himself (Job 9:7-9; 26:13l 38:31-33; Amos 5:8). Even the arrangement of the 12 tribes of Israel around the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Numbers ch.2) corresponded to the order of the Zodiac (3 tribes on each of 4 sides of the rectangular Tabernacle forming a cross pattern). And what is more amazing in this connection, like the four Living Creatures, 4 of the tribes represented the middle signs of each quarter: The tribe of Judah was the Lion, the tribe of Reuben the Man, the tribe of Ephraim the Bull, and Dan the Eagle. It is possible that God wrote the whole plan of Salvation History for us in the constellations of the heavens from the Virgin (Virgo) to the Lion of Judah/ Christ (Leo). If you begin with the Virgo and go completely around the Zodiac you will end on Leo. It has always been my theory that the Egyptian Sphinx is connected to the Zodiac in this way: the head of "the Woman" (instead of a man) and the body of "the Lion." This Zodiac connection is a fascinating study. As I said, every ancient culture from the Sumerians to the Egyptians to the Chinese to the Greeks and Romans had these same signs and they are even found in mosaic floors of 1st century (and later) Jewish Synagogues. If you are interested in further study of the relationship between the constellations to the Biblical message see Joseph a. Seiss, The Gospel in the Stars (Grand Rapids: Kregel Pub., 1972); Ernest L. Martin, The Birth of Christ Recalculated (Pasadena, CA: Foundation for Biblical Research, second ed., 1980), and the Richard Hinckley Allen book already cited. For more information about the stars and God's plan of salvation see addition notes at the end of this lesson.
The Fathers of the Church also saw a symbolic link between the 4 Living Creatures and the 4 Gospels with each creature representing a one of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Unfortunately they didn't always agree on which Creature represented which Gospel with the exception of John who was always the Eagle!
I have Perpetual Adoration on Friday mornings from 8-9AM. During that time, on most Fridays, our Parish school children are celebrating the liturgy of the Eucharist. This past Friday, as I was reading John's vision of heavenly liturgy in chapter 4, I could hear our priest call out the Sursum Corda: "Lift up your hearts" and I heard the response of the assembly "We lift them up to the Lord." I reflected on this connection between the Mass and John's heavenly vision a few moments and then I read verse 8 ...
Verse 8: "Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was studded with eyes all the way round as well as inside; and day and night they never stopped singing: 'Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty; who was and is and is to come." Just as I read this verse I heard our priest say: "And so we join the angels and the saints in proclaiming your glory as we sing..." and then I heard our children responding as one voice the Sanctus: "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest." At that moment I got, not "goose bumps," but "God-bumps!" I thought, how perfect that at this moment I should be reading about the heavenly worship just as our children are experiencing it in the Sursum Corda, followed by the Sanctus just as it is in the book of Revelation! Then it occurred to me...there were three elements God has put in place in divine worship; the same three elements He installed in the ritualized worship set in place at the Sinai Covenant and to which we, in the New Covenant Church are faithful.
Question: Can you name these 3 elements? To help you with your answer continue reading verses 9-11
Verses 9-11: "Every time the living creatures glorified and honored and gave thanks to the One sitting on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the 24 elders prostrated themselves before Him to worship the One who lives for ever and ever, and threw down their crowns in front of the throne, saying: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you made the whole universe; by your will, when it did not exist, it was created."
Answer: The heavenly assembly'acting as one'in accordance with prescribed ritual'response in unison: Heavenly worship is (1) corporate (2) ordered (3) responsorial.
Returning to verse 8 Question: How many times do the living creatures call out God's holiness and what does this signify? Answer: 3 times. Three is the number of fullness and completion; it is the number of Trinity. Read Isaiah 6:3 for a similar refrain called out by the seraphim in Isaiah's vision.
Question: What are 3 actions of the elders after the living creatures proclaim God's holiness?
Answer: The 24 elders (1) kneel (or prostrate themselves) before God's throne, (2) throw down their crowns and (3) join in with antiphonal (responsoral) prise to God. We also kneel in the liturgy of the Mass after the Sanctus. Question: Why do they throw down their crowns and for what do they praise Him? Answer: When they cast their crowns before God's throne they acknowledge that their authority and dominion come from God alone and in their song they praise Him for His works in creation and in history.
From Chapter four of Revelation to the end of the book, John's visions will parallel the visions of God's prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was commissioned by God (Ezek ch.1) as His prosecuting attorney/prophet to deliver the Covenant Lawsuit to Judah and to prophesize the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians in 586BC. It is worth noting that no other book in the Old or New Testament provides a clearer time frame of a prophet's ministry. Ezekiel specifically records the dates of his visions 14 times and scholars can calculate those dates to correspond with the way we keep our calendar. Ezekiel's commissioning and first vision came 7 years before the destruction of Jerusalem in July 31, 593BC. This link between Ezekiel prophesy of a Covenant Lawsuit resulting in the destruction of the First Temple and John prophesizing a Covenant Lawsuit resulting in the destruction of the Second Temple may help us make a better guess as to when John had his vision. This is another indication to me that God sends His prophets before hand to call the people to repentance and to prepare the faithful remnant. This would support the theory that John's vision came before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70AD.
Just one more comment about the 'corporate' nature of divine worship. Biblical worship since the Sinai Covenant and the establishment of the Old Covenant Church is not individualistic, nor is it opened to private interpretation or expression. This is not to say that there is no place for individual, private worship but it does mean that this individual expression must be in addition to the gathering together of the Sacred Assembly. The Church must gather together in full participation among the united members of the congregation, demonstrating a unity and harmony of worship. This united worship is also radically different from a gathering of the Church in Bible Study or a praise and prayer group, as important as they may be. We are commanded to "Keep the Lord's Sabbath" which in the New Covenant is Sunday, and we do this by coming into the presence of God for a formal ceremony before the Throne in an official audience with the King of Kings. We come to confess our faith, to take solemn oaths, to receive forgiveness, too offer prayers and sacrifices, to be instructed by God's representatives (ministerial priesthood), to commune with Him as we eat at His table; to give thanksgiving for all His blessings; and we are to respond to all of this with singing and music. After all, the Mass is an invitation to come before the King of Kings in heavenly worship with angels and Saints...how can we possible refuse or take for granted such an invitation?
Additional notes: Psalms 19:11-2 "The heavens declare the glory of God, the vault of heaven proclaims His handiwork, day discourses of it to day, night to night hands on the knowledge". God created the stars and planets and they manifest His glory. They are not randomly placed in the heavens but have been specifically placed with plan and purpose. Job 5:8 "It is He who makes the Pleiades and Orion.." (Pleiades is the string of 7 stars on the shoulder of Taurus. Job 5:7-9 "The sun, at His command, forbears to rise, and on the stars He set a seal. He and no other has stretched out the heavens and trampled on the back of the Sea. He has made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the Mansions of the South." The Jewish historian, Josephus, writes about the traditions of the Jews in his book, Antiquities of the Jews. He tells us that "God gave the antediluvians such long life that they might perfect those things which they had invented in astronomy," and he corroborated his reference to eight ancient Gentile authorities, whose works no longer exist. Josephus also asserts that the study of the stars originated in the family of Seth, son of Adam, and that it was Abraham (20 generations later) who introduced the patterns of the constellations of the zodiac to the Egyptians.
Scripture supports this connection to the stars when Joseph, in Genesis 37:9 has a dream which compares his father Jacob, Jacob's wife and his sons to the sun, moon, and stars. Celestial bodies are frequently refereed to in Scripture as God's heavenly army (Deut 4:19) while the armies of Israel are His earthly army (Josh. 5:14 and throughout the Book of Numbers). Lastly, the birth of the Messiah Himself was written in the heavens by the hand of God. It was the Star of Bethlehem, read by the Chaldean Magi, that brought the first Gentiles to the Christ Child (Mat.2:2). as prophesied in the star prophecy in Numbers 24:17 and in Isaiah's prophecy in 60:1-3.
There is a possibility that God wrote His plan of salvation in the constellations through which the sun passes. The constellation of Virgo, the Virgin, holds in her hands two objects: a sheaf of wheat in one hand and a broken branch in the other. Can this be a connection to Jesus the bread of live and His messianic title of "The Branch?" The ancients knew that there were more constellations than those that made up the path of the sun but they didn't know of all the constellations that we have identified today. It is interesting, in terms of the symbolism of numbers in Scripture, that the total numbers of constellations that we have identified in our solar system is 88 constellations. For the significance of this number see in the Charts and handouts section: "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture."
Here are the possible connections that I have thought of that may form a link between the constellations of the zodiac and the redeeming work of Jesus the Messiah.
-The Ram (a male lamb) Jesus is the Lamb of God which was foreshadowed by the sacrificial male lamb of the Passover.
-The Bull: One of the 4 living creatures and in the sacrificial system of the Sinai Covenant a bull was the sacrifice of a priest or a king – the Messiah was prophesized to come as prophet, priest, and king.
-The Twins: Jesus was fully man and fully divine.
-The Crab: corruption of 'the everlasting rest' = promise of our salvation (this constellation contains the polar star..the star that points the way. The transition to the symbol of the crab seems to have come from the Romans. The word for 'rest' or 'circle' which in Latin is very similar to the Latin word for crab.
-The Lion- One of the 4 living creatures; the Messiah is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Gen 49:8; Rev.5:5).
-The Virgin: Mary and the Virgin birth. The other constellations in conjunction with virgo are a branch and a sheave of wheat each held in the virgin's outstretched hands. Jesus is the living bread come down from heaven; 'house of bread' beth lehem is the name of the village where Jesus was born = Bethlehem. He is also "the Branch." = His messianic title which in Hebrew is the word netzer which many scholars believe is the root of the name of the city where Jesus was raised: Nazareth. I really like this one!
-The Scales : The Hebrew name is Mozanaim, the scales, weighing. The Arabic name, from Aramaic (the language at the time Jesus lived) name is Al Zubena = purchased or redeemed. The meaning could be: man has been judged and has been found to be condemned by his sins but Christ has paid the price and has redeemed man through His sacrifice.
-The Eagle (scorpion) One of the 4 living creatures? In nature the eagle is the enemy of the scorpion...in the minor constellations that make up the major constellation of Scorpio there is the form a gigantic scorpion endeavoring to sting in the heel a mighty man who crushes the scorpion with his foot placed directly on the scorpion. The Hebrew name is akrab which means 'conflict or war.' This may be a direct reference to Genesis 3:15-18 where the seed of the serpent will strike the heel of the "seed of the woman"(Jesus is the seed of the woman, Mary) while the "seed of the woman" will crush the servant. Satan attempted to defeat Christ by manipulating the Jewish priesthood to condemn Him and the Romans to crucifying Him. But Jesus defeated Satan and crushed Satan in His resurrection.
-The Archer: In Rev.6:2 John sees "..a white horse, and He that sat on him had a bow..." The Hebrew name is kesith, the Archer but the ancient Akkadian name is Nun-ki = Prince of the Earth. The arrow of the figure's bow is aimed directly at the serpent of Scorpio: Christ the redeemer and prince of heaven will conquer the serpent?
-The Goat: one of the animals of sacrifice. On the Day of Atonement a goat would be sent into the wilderness to symbolically carry the sins of the people away = Jesus died to take away the sins of the world.
-The Man Water Carrier: Jesus is the bearer of the "living water" of baptism. One of the 4 living creatures with the face of the man?.
-The Fishes: Jesus' miracle of the loaves and the fishes...multiplication of His abundant grace...He will establish Peter and the Apostles as the 'fishers of men.' A fish was an early Christian symbol. In Hebrew this sign meant 'a great multitude.' The meaning could then speak of the multitudes who will enjoy the blessings of the Redeemer's gift of salvation, but more specifically, the means through which that gift is offered: the Church. Scholars agree that this sign always had been interpreted as being of Israel, the Old Covenant Church. It is interesting that there are two fishes symbolized in the constellation and that they are arranged one horizontal and the other perpendicular with a band uniting the two fishes and the perpendicular fish pointing to the polar star. Could it be that the horizontal fish is the Old Covenant Israel while the perpendicular fish is the New Covenant Israel (the Catholic Church) rising above the Old Covenant Church and pointing the way to salvation? I really like this possible symbolism too!
I am not completely convinced that there is a connection between the zodiac constellations and the coming of the Messiah but it is an interesting puzzle. One of the best books I have found on the subject of this connection between the constellations of the zodiac and God's promise of salvation through the Messiah is the book The Witness of the Stars: E.W. Bullinger, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, ISBN 0-8254-2245-0. Bullinger was a Protestant scholar and so there are a few anti-Catholic digs, for example: "Today, Romanists use it (the cross) as the symbol of death! But it is means life!" Of course he couldn't be more wrong...for Catholics the Cross is the symbol of the victory of Christ over death and His gift of eternal life! But don't be put off by these few ignorant prejudices; his scholarship is otherwise very good.
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