How can any person possibly understand what God has said? God’s language is creative. When He speaks, things like trees, planets, solar systems, galaxies, and superclusters appear. Here we are, people who hear in English and Spanish and Deutsch and Swahili and Farsi, unable to understand God’s language. If I asked you what language God spoke, the question would be nonsensical to you because you know God is not human and spoke the world into existence before human language developed or was taught. Yet, people somehow heard God’s word, which transcends the Hebrew and Greek letters and grammar and syntax, to write it down. Even when we read His written word, there are so many disparate interpretations. Various religious groups have defined irreconcilable doctrines based on their disparate interpretations of God’s word. I am confident that the verses of Scripture mean what they say and that only one interpretation is correct (though there can be many applications). But, how can mere people unable to perceive God or seek after Him possibly understand what He has said from eternity? Even our language is confined by space-time while nothing about God is—He is timeless and His language is timeless and eternal. How can our mortal ears possibly perceive the immortal tones and melodies of God’s creative tongue?
Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
God’s decree (v. 5a)
Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.
John borrows the language from Exodus 19:16-17 to describe the Father’s symbolic throne. Flashes of lightning and peels of thunder emit from the throne as they did from Mount Sinai when God was about to give His people the sign of His covenant—the Mosaic Law. John is cluing us in; the following symbols have something to do with His faithfulness to His own word (v. 3) and the Mosaic Law.
The Law is God’s decree. We cannot explain away the fact that the Mosaic Law is the thing John has in view as he shares this symbol; He intentionally pulls language from the Exodus story. Why do you think the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy) is in view? God’s Law will accomplish two results through the book of Revelation. First, it will accomplish the sanctification of Christ’s church (those who are born again and known relationally by Christ). We saw God’s discipline for this purpose transpire in chapters 2 and 3. Second, it will accomplish the degradation of the damned. We have seen God working against the Synagogue of Satan and will see God judging the nations of the world according to His Law throughout the book of Revelation. The Law is accomplishing one of these two things in us contingent on how we have responded to the Gospel—either we are being sanctified for Christ and for the world He is renewing or are degrading into our damned estates.
Thus, there are two ways people approach God’s Law. The first is the approach of the damned, even those reprobate people who are religious. They approach the Law like a checklist. They teach that people must become obedient to God’s Law in order to be righteous and attain God’s salvation. There are two responses. Either the hearer believes the false Gospel, strives to be good enough, fails, and is self-condemned because he could not keep all the rules or rejects God’s Law, or he delves into free-grace or antinomianism, and is still condemned under the Law because he never tried to be good enough—he knew it was too difficult from the start. This tendency is what we saw from the Synagogue of Satan, the Nicolaitans, the New Jezebel, and those who followed in the heresy of Balaam through chapters 2 and 3. We witnessed it in the lives of the Pharisees and scribes throughout Jesus’s bodily ministry on this earth. These are the ones who have access to God’s word but are unable to understand it. When they try to conform themselves to the Law like it’s a checklist or loose themselves from the Law so as never to be sanctified, they are self-condemning. They are blind guides leading the blind (Cf. Matthew 15:14).
On the contrary, there is the approach of the redeemed. The Law showed them their fault and need for a savior. Having received God’s salvation by grace alone through faith alone, by regeneration or new birth, their new nature craves God’s Law and, like a mirror, it enables them to see their blemishes, be clothed in Christ’s righteousness alone, and conform to Christ’s image rather than their own. They are able to understand the purpose and extent of God’s Law like we read about in Deuteronomy 32. It is Christ’s righteousness on display, not their pretend righteousness or self-glorification. We saw this in Christ’s discipline of the seven local church through chapters 2 and 3. Jesus did not condemn His churches by His Law, but disciplined them and taught them for their good on the basis of the Law. It is why Jesus invites people to Himself saying, “Come you who are weary and heavy laden [because of a legalistic reading of the Law], and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
God’s decree comes forth because He is sovereign (represented by His symbolic throne, here). His decree is authoritative. By His decree, His Law, He is judging the damned and sanctifying His people. There is a great challenge, here. If we strive and strive to conform ourselves to God’s Law and fall short, we are damned because God is just. If we forsake God’s Law in order to believe in some form of free-grace, we are damned because God is just. How can we possibly come to be sanctified by God’s Law if every effort of ours damns us to the pits of Hell? How can we possibly look into God’s perfect Law and be revealed by it instead of seeing it merely as a list of rules to keep and become righteous? How can we understand what God says to us through His Law instead of interpreting it according to our own self-righteous language?
God’s enlightenment (v. 5b)
And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
John also employs the language of Exodus 25:31-40 to describe the Holy Spirit (Cf. Isaiah 11:23; Zechariah 4:1-10). The Temple menorah’s fire was to represent the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. Seven is the apocalyptic number of completeness—the lamps represent the complete Holy Spirit of God. The local churches, and the whole church, are lampstands (Cf. Revelation 1:20); the Holy Spirit is the burning lamp upon the lampstands before the Father by His decree.
The simple picture we see from verse 5 reveals that the Father issues decrees, and the Holy Spirit causes God’s people to realize His decrees and enables them to obey the Father’s word. In essense, we are not the explicit interpreters of God’s decree. The Holy Spirit is. Only God’s people are able to hear God’s decree because the Holy Spirit gives them ears to hear. That is why John ended each admonishment to the church through chapters 2 and 3 with the imperative, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The Holy Spirit is the enlightening one. If a person has not the Holy Spirit, he or she will only ever be able to see the Law as a checklist and a means of self-righteousness—trying to keep it and failing (even those who pretend to be perfect) or trashing it altogether. Worldly people, those who are damned, really love churches where they are told how to be good enough, what to abstain from, and which lifestyles or political viewpoints are evil—or the opposite, hear about how the Law is no longer important or binding in any way.
I remember one Sunday, preaching a message about the degradation of Saul. He was trying and trying to be righteous but never could be good enough. He was condemning himself under the Law. The more he tried to keep God’s Law, the more he failed and dishonored God. During the course of this message, I presented the Gospel of grace. I explained how the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:4-8). I begged the congregation to trust in Christ for salvation, not the letter of the Law. The next day, a lady who visited called me crying. She was an alcoholic who was trying to become sober. She was trying and trying to overcome her alcoholism with no luck. She said, “I feel like you were describing me as you talked about Saul.” She was trying to be good enough but couldn’t be. That’s what the Law does to those who are not in Christ; It shows them they can’t become righteous. We all fall short of God’s glory. I asked her, “Did you hear the Gospel, or did you only hear about how Saul was lost in his religiosity?” She said, “I just feel like God hates me and has made me His enemy.” So, I shared the Gospel with her again. I said, “You know you can’t be good enough. That’s why Jesus died for you. That’s why He offers to clothe you in His righteousness alone. It’s a gift.” She just keep saying, “But, I can’t be good enough. I can’t clean up my life. I feel like God hates me…” She did not come to know Christ, but she believed she was a Christian. If she would have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, she would have come to Christ. She would not have been condemned in her sin and self-righteous outlook on life. She would have probably still struggled with alcoholism, but she would have had the joy of the Holy Spirit within her instead of self-righteous condemnation. I pray she comes to know Christ by the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit.
With the Holy Spirit, we delight in God’s Law as He sanctifies us. We come to enjoy His word because it finally clicks with us, and we see it for what it is—His means of renewal, not destruction or condemnation, for His world and His people. Without the doctrine of the Trinity, we are hopeless to hear God and are, at best, agnostics hoping in and philosophizing about a divine reality. Why? The Father is so transcendent. No person can be both transcendent and imminent simultaneously; Those are opposite types of existence. To satisfy the paradox, we must do one of four things. 1) We give in to the heresy of modalism (e.g. Hinduism). 2) We create a god who is entirely transcendent and unknowable (e.g. Islam), which renders any revelation a mere hypothesis about who God might be. 3) We create a god who is entirely imminent and bound by His creation (e.g. popular evangelicalism). 4) We wrestle with the logical necessity of the trinity—which is necessary if God is both transcendent (unsearchable) and, at the same time, knowable to anyone. There needs to be another person of the Godhead illuminating us, and still another revealing the transcendent Father’s decree. Without the continual illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, we are unable to hear or understand God. We must experience new birth by the Holy Spirit before we can believe, be saved, and be sanctified (Cf. John 3). Without the revealing work of the Son, Jesus Christ, God’s decree is never presented in our language. In the weeks to come, we will see the Son revealing the Father’s decree concerning the world.