As mentioned previously, the book of Revelation can be organized around successive images of Jesus Christ: as Prophet (Rev. 1-3), Priest (Rev. 4-11), and King (Rev. 12-22). These divisions correspond to the trifold office of Christ, in which whole People of God participates through their baptism (CCC 783). John’s letters to the seven churches all anticipate the final coming of the kingdom or the rule of the messianic King. To each of the churches the Spirit addresses future promises in the midst of their persecution, “to the victor. . .” God will give the heavenly prize (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). John’s earlier vision of the risen Lord in 1:9-20 is now followed by a second vision. John recounts;
After this I had a vision of an open door to heaven, and I heard the trumpetlike voice that had spoken to me before, saying, “Come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards.” At once I was caught up in spirit. (Revelation 4:1-2a)
The earlier image of Jesus possessing the key of David (3:7) and knocking at the door (3:20) is now answered with the door to heaven opening. The Greek actually suggest that the door is standing open permanently perhaps emphasizing the result of Jesus’ death and resurrection. John is told to “Come up here” and is “caught up in the spirit” and is taken in a vision into the heavenly throne room.
Although this second vison takes place in the presence of the one seated on the throne, John avoids any direct description of God. Chapters 4 and 5 deliberately parallel each other. In Chapter 4, we read a description of the glory of God (4:2b-8a) and worship of God (4:8b-11) and this is followed by two hymns to God (4:8-11). This is paralleled in chapter 5 by the Lamb’s glory (5:5-7) and the worship of the Lamb (5:8-12) and two hymns to the Lamb (5:9-12). Some commentators have pointed out that the heavenly throne vision may be deliberately contrasting the kingship of Jesus as the Lamb with the false worship of the emperor as a god. John’s vision echoes the imagery found in the prophets Daniel and Ezekiel. The stones of “jasper and carnelian” are mentioned as precious stones found in the garden of Eden (Ezekiel 28: 13) and “jasper and carnelian” are listed as the stones worn by the high priest on his breastplate (Exodus 28:17-20).
The thunder and lightning are reminiscent of the appearance of God at Sinai where Moses is told that the Israelites will be a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6, 1 Peter 2:9). Anticipating the New Covenant Moses will later say, “If only all the people of the LORD were prophets! If only the LORD would bestow his spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29, Acts 2).
In fact John has entered into a scene of heavenly worship. He witnesses the four living creatures who “day and night” do not stop exclaiming:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty,
who was, and who is, and who is to come.” (4:8)
He also witnesses the twenty-four presbyters who fall down before the one who sits on the throne and worship him exclaiming,
“Worthy are you, Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things;
because of your will they came to be and were created.” (4:11).
Cardinal Ratzinger, calls the book of Revelation “the book of the heavenly Liturgy, which is presented to the Church as the standard for her own Liturgy” (Spirit of the Liturgy).
Following intuitions from Sacred Scripture, the fathers of Second Vatican Council remind us,
In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle ; we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints. . . SC 8
Many commentators have seen the heavenly liturgy of John’s vision as a pattern for the earthly liturgy in the early Church. John is caught up in the spirit on “the Lord’s day,” or Sunday (Revelation 1:10). John sees candles (1:12); bread or manna (2:17), priests dressed in robes (4:4) incense (5:8); and later an altar (8:3); and bowls or chalices of blood (16). John sees saints and angels engaged in heavenly worship. These worshipers sing hymns which are now familiar parts of the Mass. They sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” (4:8), and a hymn glorifying God in His mighty works (15:3) and shouting “alleluia” (19:1, 3, 6) and saying “Amen” (5:14). Some have even seen the entire structure of the book of Revelation as a Mass beginning with a penitential rite and readings of Scripture (Revelation 2-3), and ending with the “wedding feast of the Lamb”(19:9).
As the vision continues, John sees a scroll with writing on both sides with seven seals (5:1). No one is found worthy to open the scroll except the Davidic Lion of the tribe of Judah (5:5). The one “standing in the midst of the throne” is not described as a lion but as “a Lamb that seemed to have been slain” (5:6). The powerful image of a kingly lion unexpectedly becomes that of a lamb. It is the Lamb who triumphs through sacrifice. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (5:12). The Lamb now shares in God’s glory, “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever” (5:13) and the heavenly hosts reply “Amen” (5:14).
Scott McKellar is associate director of the Bishop Helmsing Insitute.