The Throne of the Unborn One

The call of John to “come up here” in 4:1 indicates a radical shift for the remainder of the Book of Revelation. What we have now are layers of extraordinary visionary experiences, some which in modern parlance would be considered as acid trips of the mind. Yet, we need to bear in mind that these mind-boggling exposés are in reality literary devices of Apocalyptic Literature, tools of symbology. In this blog we must turn and invoke the aid of the Master-Mystical Theologian, Dionysius the Areopagite in his renowned work, The Celestial Hierarchy, for added spiritual clarification.

The Throne of the Unborn One, 4: 1-11

Rev 4:1 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.’

Rev 4:2 With that, I fell into ecstasy and I saw a throne standing in heaven, and the One who was sitting on the throne,

Rev 4:3 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.

Rev 4:4 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.

Rev 4:5 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.

Rev 4:6 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.

Rev 4:7 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.

Rev 4:8 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.’

Rev 4:9 Every time the living creatures glorified and honoured and gave thanks to the One sitting on the throne, who lives for ever and ever,

Rev 4:10 the twenty-four 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:

Rev 4:11 You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you made the whole universe; by your will, when it did not exist, it was created.

the One sitting there looked like a diamond and a ruby. There was a rainbow encircling the throne, and this looked like an emerald:

There is no adequate anthropomorphic description for what the Unborn One is like in ITSELF. The only analogy provided by John is a diamond and a ruby—apt symbols for the resplendent Majesty of the Absolute, Light unto Light. The rainbow is the ideation of the promises The Unborn One bestows on the sentient beings—like the rainbow appearing after the great flood.

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:

There has been no consensus of what the number 24 signifies. I feel that a very simple and good explanation is the cycle of 24 hours. Of course, this setting is a timeless one, yet alliteration is used here—the 24 worship continuously round the clock is an image that is best imparted to human sensibilities for the eternal and cosmically-continuous worshipping of the Unborn One. The 24 elders are best envisioned as the Dominions:

The name given to the holy Dominions signifies, I think, a certain unbounded elevation to that which is above, freedom from all that is of the earth, and from all inward inclination to the bondage of discord, a liberal superiority to harsh tyranny, an exemptness from degrading servility and from all that is low: for they are untouched by any inconsistency. They are true Lords, perpetually aspiring to true lordship, and to the Source of lordship, and they providentially fashion themselves and those below them, as far as possible, into the likeness of true lordship. They do not turn towards vain shadows, but wholly give themselves to that true Authority, forever one with the Godlike Source of lordship. (Dionysius, The Celestial Hierarchy.)

Flashes of lightning: The flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder that John associates with the presence of God are typical characteristics of theophanies in the Hebrew Bible (cf. Exod 19:16; Ps 18:7-19). [Thunder and Lightning] Thunder and lightning were conventional imagery used for the Semitic storm god. In John’s vision, the thunder and lightning add to the sense of mystery, awe, and transcendence of God. (Smyth Helwys Bible Commentary)

seven flaming lamps burning, the seven Spirits of God: the seven mystical communities of Light; and the seven spirits before the throne (1) The Spirit of the LORD; 2) The Spirit of wisdom; 3) The Spirit of understanding; 4) The Spirit of counsel; 5) The Spirit of power; 6) The Spirit of knowledge; 7) The Spirit of the fear of the Lord.

a sea as transparent as crystal: ancient idea of a Heavenly Sea

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:

Four of the most memorable figures in the book. Traditionally, they represent the Four Evangelists: Lion, Mark; bull, Luke; divine man, Matthew; and the Eagle is John, whose gospel is the most transcendent and gnostic of them all. Dionysius teaches us not to take them too literally:

lest we, like the many, should impiously suppose that those Celestial and Divine Intelligences are many-footed or many-faced beings, or formed with the brutishness of oxen, or the savageness of lions, or the curved beaks of eagles, or the feathers of birds, or should imagine that they are some kind of fiery wheels above the heavens, or material thrones upon which the Supreme Deity may recline, or many-coloured horses, or commanders of armies, or whatever else of symbolic description has been given to us in the various sacred images of the Scriptures.

Theology, in its sacred utterances concerning the formless Intelligences, does indeed use poetic symbolism, having regard to our intelligence, as has been said, and providing a means of ascent fitting and natural to it by framing the sacred Scriptures in a manner designed for our upliftment. (ibid)

Indeed, these religious figures are meant for that upliftment of spirit, but are not to be taken as literally figurative.

it is also because it is most fitting that the secret doctrines, through ineffable and holy enigmas, should veil and render difficult of access for the multitude the sublime and profound truth of the supernatural Intelligences. For, as the Scripture declares, not everyone is holy, nor have all men knowledge. (ibid)

Most excellent spiritual observation, the mundane mind is not ready for the “holy engimas” to be revealed, hence they are cloaked in symbols—veiled by Higher Spiritual Agencies that are only revealed to the faithful, much like the secret language of the Dakinis in Tibetan Buddhism.

Thus all those who are wise in divine matters, and are interpreters of the mystical revelations, set apart in purity the Holy of Holies from the uninitiated and unpurified, and prefer incongruous symbols for holy things, so that divine things may not be easily accessible to the unworthy, nor may those who earnestly contemplate the divine symbols dwell upon the forms themselves as the final truth. (ibid)

In summation for this blog, Dionysius once again places it all into proper contemplative focus—which is the best means of initiation into the Holy Truths:

Those who are illuminated should be filled full with Divine Light, ascending, to the contemplative state and power with the most pure eyes of the mind; those who are being initiated, holding themselves apart from all imperfection, should become participators in the Divine Wisdom which they have contemplated…

Finally, those who make perfect, being skilled in the mystical participations, should lead to that consummation those who are perfected by the most holy initiation of the knowledge of holy things which they have contemplated. (ibid)

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