At the close of Chapter 3, Jesus is the traveler knocking on the door of my home. Whether he is an itinerant preacher who honors my home with his presence, or simply a weary traveler, I welcome him as one beloved creature greets another. Here the Kingdom is earthy, familiar: kind welcome to the stranger, the receipt of his blessing and thankfulness, a new friendship, the comforts of our bed and our board. Perhaps angels attend unseen.
As Chapter 4 opens, John says “there before me was a door, standing open in heaven.” Through John’s eyes I see the throne in heaven, the epicenter of the Kingdom of God. The One on the throne – “the Holy Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” – appears almost indescribable: “the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian.” Both carnelian and jasper are (usually) reddish. With light shining through them, they appear as beautiful glowing coals (see photo).
Given all of the lightning and blazing lamps in the vision, this word-picture of a glowing being seems more fitting than dull, flat stones.
YAHWEH, whose very name is hidden from us, remains mysterious to John, or at least hard to describe. He seems less so to the living creatures, who are literally “all eyes” as they look at Him and declare both His utter holiness and power, and his relationship with time and, perhaps?, his marvelous acts in universal, earthly, and human history. It is significant to me that the 24 elders “take their cue” to worship from these heralds. Even in heaven angels serve mankind to the the glory of God. Whenever these people -12 for each of the Tribes of Israel, and 12 for each of the Apostles of the Church? – hear the angelic proclamations of glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, they “fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘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.’”
To my fallen mind, transfixed in a drug-like stupor of selfishness and unbelief on a couple threads of the eternal 4-D tapestry, heaven can seem boring. All that proclaiming and falling down can look like a charismatic service that is going on far too long and frankly I’m ready for lunch. And even as I laugh at my blindness, as the Pevensies laughed at the blindness of the Narnian dwarves who wouldn’t, couldn’t see Aslan, I know that to some degree I will always be like this, before my homecoming. Only afterwards will I be forever eager to gaze into “mysteries so bright” and “crown Him with many crowns” as I discover just why water is so important to life, how the brain works, how Jesus understood himself to be the Christ, what exactly is music and why do I like it so much, and on and on and on and on and on, exponentially into eternity, every revelation not only a pleasing “ah-HA!” morsel of understanding, but also another thread in my own growing understanding of the awesome 4-D tapestry.
And speaking of those 24 people wearing crowns – aren’t crowns for kings? Like James and John, I’ve often wondered who will get to wear those crowns in the Kingdom. I suspect it is people who became First by being Last. They so served and loved through the Spirit that in the midst of hate and apathy, their prayer was a fragrant offering and those around them were immersed in healing love. People like Corrie Ten Boom, Mother Teresa, Brother Damian of Molokai, but not necessarily famous in the world’s eyes. I think that crown will be worn by some long-suffering saint in Appalachia or Africa, afflicted in body but clean in spirit, whose door was always open and who gave sacrificially to the needy and who shared his or her joy of eternal life in such a way that the angels rejoiced and the usurping spirits raged in impotent anger. I know people like that, or at least partly like that. Blessed are the poor, the meek, the persecuted.
But for me that door to heaven is not yet open. And so I ask for grace to open the door daily to the Savior, appearing as Himself and in what Michael Card calls his “distressing disguise” – the wandering, needy travelers to my door. I bless them with prayer and purse, bed and board, the fruit of one mouth and two ears. And they bless me. We are all weary travelers, trudging through the dark and the snow, towards a home that glows with a warm, red light.