A. THE GALLERY
I’d like you to imagine that you’re approaching an art gallery. It’s a huge place, and as you go in you look at the directory to see where to go first. You see that there are some old masters, there are more modern paintings, there are sculptures, photographs, lithographs, etc. And there are, of course, the mandatory coffee and souvenir shops. But as you progress around, looking at the various exhibits, you take in the creativeness of the artists.
Of course some of the works you see are quite impressive. You marvel at the skill of the artist – the attention to detail – the things that the artist considered important enough to include, and the things left out (not considered important at all). Meanwhile other works… you wonder why they bothered at all. After all, even a child could do better than that.
And maybe as you go around the gallery you feel inspired. You think to yourself: “Perhaps I’ll get that old box of paints out when I get home, and paint something myself.” Well maybe not. But you certainly think of the inspiration that those geniuses must have had to make such great works of art.
2. A Picture of Heaven
However, as you go around there is one painting that stands out amongst all the rest. It’s a painting of a biblical scene – and indeed it’s the one described in Revelation 5:6-14 – a bright and colourful picture. And this is what you see:
It’s a picture of Jesus, with his body showing the scars of death, but being very much alive. And he is there standing in the middle of a huge throne. In his hand there is a scroll, given by God, who is also sitting on the throne. It is an unusual scroll because it’s written on both sides – a scroll that contains the world’s destiny – and it’s sealed with seven seals, which only Jesus is able to open.
Now, surrounding the throne are 4 strange looking creatures (Rev 4:6b-8a), reminiscent of those seen by Ezekiel in his vision of God. And encircling the main throne, there are 24 smaller thrones, with an elder sitting in each one. And each elder is holding a harp, and a golden bowl of incense.
And as you look at what the creatures and the elders are doing, you notice that they are getting off their thrones to prostrate themselves before Jesus, and breaking out into a mighty chorus of praise.
But that’s not all, because this picture is full of singing. Surrounding the elders are a mass of angels too numerous to count. And joining with them are more voices – more people and creatures joining in, as all creation joins in the singing.
Now what a wonderful picture! And what a full picture too! It’s a picture of God’s people worshipping Jesus – the lamb who was slain, who is yet to open the seals. It’s a picture of people and creatures giving him due honour and glory for who he is, and for what he has done. Indeed his honour and glory is being acknowledged by the whole creation, whether they believed in him or not during their own lifetimes – believer and unbeliever alike.
It’s a wonderful picture. And as you look at it, as you look at the complexity and detail, you can’t help be impressed by the workmanship of the painting – the attention to detail. And as you leave the gallery, with all the other wonderful works that you have seen, you can’t help but remember this one picture. Indeed, you just can’t get it out of your mind.
Now of course the quality of any painting and its content are one thing. But the emotions they can stir up, that’s another thing all together. And the subject of this picture is one that is screaming out for a response.
So, how do you respond to such a picture?
Well, if you’re anything like me, what I feel is totally inadequate. There just seems to be a huge gulf between my efforts of praise and worship, and the praise and worship I see in the picture. Now I know that I cannot match what goes on in heaven until I get there. But there is still one huge gap. And as I think more and more about that picture, I can’t help think of what those elders were doing. They sang, they presumably played their harps, and they prostrated themselves before the throne. They did so because they recognised Jesus’ authority, and they did so in acknowledgment of their own relationship with Jesus, the Son of God.
But in regard to the singing, I can’t help but wonder just how many times I have mumbled the words to a hymn – times when my heart wasn’t in it. Times when I haven’t sung with gusto, in a manner fitting for God.
After all the issue isn’t whether I can sing or not, only with the effort I put in. I’m not singing to entertain others, I’m singing to worship God.
b). Playing an Instrument
In regarding to the playing of the harps, I can’t help but wonder just how many times I’ve failed to give my all in worship of God. Of course, in human terms, we can wonder about how all 24 elders could have such musical skills, but then this is a picture of heaven. Despite that, they were giving their all – they were holding nothing back when it came to worship. And I wonder how often I could say the same. I wonder how often I have held back the gifts and abilities I have, that God has given me, rather than dedicate all I have to God.
c). Prostrating Oneself
And in regard to prostrating oneself… well, I can’t help wonder in this age whether we’ve lost something about God. After all, when was the last time that you or I witnessed Christians prostrating themselves before God in church? For one thing the furniture doesn’t allow for it. And I certainly can’t recall one instance of anyone bringing a prayer mat with them to worship, me included.
It seems to me that in accepting God in terms of being a loving Father, we seem to have lost the idea of his strength, his power, and his awesomeness. The fact that he is our maker and our judge – a God to be feared. A God by his very being demands being worshiped in every way we can, including putting ourselves in a position of submission and humility.
2. Other Interpretations
Of course, that’s me, and that is what looking at that picture of heaven has inspired me to consider as I looked at it and considered what the painting was all about. However, you may have different interpretations, which may be equally as valid.
For example, in that picture there is the fulfilment of all Christian’s hopes. The fulfilment of what all Christians should be working towards. The reward, if you like, for being faithful (if imperfect) servants.
When this world is done, being present with Jesus, in heaven, surrounding the throne, and knowing that when the scrolls are unsealed, all the past hurts will be dealt with, and those who have been faithful will remain in eternity.
In other words, it’s a picture which gives believers hope to continue. A glimpse of what is waiting in the end, and the encouragement to stick with it, and not to fall away.
Alternatively, for those who have suffered pain and a lifetime of hardships, where the weaknesses of our bodies and the difficulties we’ve had with relationships, or whatever, have been a real burden, then this picture is one of an end to all those sorts of things. An illustration of a future time where for believers all those hardships will be gone. It will be like the sufferings that they faced never happened.
And these images are valid too. After all, the picture was painted for a particular purpose. And that was with the specific purpose: to inspire a relatively small, scattered and persecuted church; to give hope to a people who were down, few in number, and fighting for their very existence. It was painted for a people who were desperately in need of guidance, and to encourage the sharing of God’s vision. And it was painted because of the need to admonish those who were falling away from Christian principles. To correct those who had let their enthusiasm for the gospel wane, and to deal with those who were leading believers astray.
This painting, then, is a very powerful picture. A picture of what awaits the faithful in heaven. A reward for the faithful – the light at the end of the tunnel. However, it is also a goal and something to strive towards.
Of course, it is only one picture, and to get a proper idea about heaven other pictures need to be considered too. But it does rather contrast the gulf between this world and the next. And it does set the standard for all believers to follow.
Now, how often have you heard people say these things, particularly in the context of the church? “I can’t sing,” “I can’t play an instrument,” “And my body – well, I couldn’t bend it if I tried.” “I’ve got no special talents and abilities.” “I’ve got nothing to offer the church.”
Yet, whilst some of that might be true, the painting in heaven includs myriads of people and creatures singing with “full voice”, not just a whisper. All of the elders played harps. And all prostrated themselves before their God and Saviour.
Now obviously with resurrected bodies anything is possible. But that doesn’t discount the fact that they all gave their all.
And that was exactly the intention of the picture in the first place. Trying to encourage a small, struggling, scattered and persecuted church to give their all, regardless of their situation. Giving them a picture of the future, the future reward for faithfulness, whilst at the same time giving them a goal that they could work towards.
Today, we’ve been through an art gallery, and we’ve focussed on a picture of heaven – a picture of Jesus on his throne, surrounded by people and beings worshipping him.
It’s a picture not only of a time to come, but it should be a picture that should reflect what we do now, and the direction in which we are going as well.
As we look at that picture, one more time, then, what is our response? Are we inspired by the painting? Inspired to live in today’s world knowing what is to come? Are we inspired enough to do a reality check on the level of our commitment and devotion now? And are we inspired to check just how far along the road we’ve come to meet God’s goals?
Well, I hope so. But that means we need to ask ourselves some serious questions. Questions like: “Just what sort of God am I worshipping?” “What does he really mean to me?” “Am I holding back from giving God everything that is his due?” “Am I worshipping him as I should?” “Am I giving him everything that I can, and everything that he deserves?” And, “Is the picture of heaven what I’m working towards, or do I have another agenda?”
Posted: 20th January 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis