I’m going to wade briefly into the deep water of the apocalyptic literature of Revelation this week, but just to capture one vision before I turn to the safer water of the gospels.
The Gospel Coalition says this of apocalyptic literature:
Of the many genres of biblical literature, apocalyptic is perhaps the most challenging to understand, due in part to its frequent use of figurative language and its adoption of strange and even bizarre imagery.
Here is the picture from Revelation I’m contemplating with you:
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight.
Realizing the mystery, and the accountability I have as a teacher, the only thing I am quite sure of is this represents the many faces of God’s glory, aspects we can see in the Christmas story. But even teachers that I greatly respect have different takes when it comes to the specifics. Here are three reformed scholars I respect who each interpret a bit differently but agree that they reflect the holiness of God.
When we studied Revelation with David Campbell, he thought “the four faces represented the diverse aspects of creation and God’s Lordship over all.” Certainly true whether that is what the vision means or not.
Don Carson believes these creatures represent different qualities of God:
In the ancient world, the lion then, as now, was the king of the beasts, so God’s throne is royal.
In the ancient world, some gods were pictured as young bullocks. The Egyptian god Apis was pictured as a young bullock simply for its strength. God’s throne is strong.
The face like a man.… Believe it or not, that’s supposed to represent intelligence.
The flying eagle? Probably compassion, care, swiftness, because the kind of birds they have are sort of like a vulture, actually.
The one that made the most sense to me, and is similar to Carson but goes further, is Matthew Henry:
“These seem to signify the ministers of the gospel, not only because of their situation nearer to God, and between Him and the elders or representative of the Christian people, but because they are fewer in number.” He thinks they could represent the four evangelists of the gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
While this makes sense, because this is so mysterious, I am not positive it is right. However, in moving to the safer and clearer ground of the gospels, it is certainly true that we can see:
Matthew stresses to the Jews that Christ is their Messiah, their King (LION);
Mark stresses the servanthood of Christ (OX)
Luke stresses the humanity of Christ (MAN)
John stresses the Divinity of Christ (EAGLE).
Do the gospel writers overlap with these pictures? Yes. But I do see the above emphasis in each. So, this week, we will consider these portraits in the four gospels to help us behold, in a fresh way, the many glories of the Christ of Christmas.
Looking ahead to January. I am praying about doing a simpler version of Paige. I think she is very strong when it comes to Old Testament narrative, and that is where she is going with Daniel 1-7 beginning Jan 10th. My plan, if I can do it, is to summarize her highlights and make optional listening to her. The last time I did Paige here we had a small but rich following. Please pray the Lord will confirm this if it is a good plan or show me how I should go to serve Him and you best.
- What stands out to you from the above and why?
- How have you experienced the presence of God in your life this week?
Monday: Christ the King (Matthew)
We sing Joy to the World during Advent, but it is a song for not the first coming of Christ, when He came as a helpless killable infant, as a lamb, but for His second coming when He returns as King, like a lion, when heaven and earth will sing, when all sorrow, death, and grief will end. How we will sing, sing, sing! Watch this to prepare your heart.
3. It is Matthew who speaks most frequently of the kingdom of heaven through parables and warnings of Jesus. Jesus was not the kind of King the Jews were anticipating, one who would overthrow the Romans, but one, who would rescue them from something much worse.
A. What was it, according to Matthew 1:21?
B. How has Christ rescued you from the penalty of sin?
C. Give one example of how He is also rescuing you from the power of sin.
D. What is one thing you are looking forward to when, in heaven, He delivers you from the presence of sin?
4. It is Matthew who gives the account of the Wisemen. What did they give the baby Jesus according to Matthew 2:11 and what might each of these represent?
5. Matthew is filled with fulfilled prophecies that would be meaningful to the Jews. What prophecy does Matthew quote in Matthew 21:5? How is this a foreshadowing, yet so different than their expectations”? (See Revelation 19:11-16)
6. What might it mean for you to have Jesus be your King all day today?
Tuesday: Christ the Servant (Mark)
Photo by Ana Cernivec
‘ Prepare your heart with this:
7. How does even His birth show His servanthood?
8. Read Mark 10:35-45
A. What was the request of James and John?
B. Have you ever tried to use God for your own purposes?
C. Find the things that Jesus tells them and list them.
9. Read Mark 14:32-36 and describe His servitude.
10. Why might the Lord be stressing this to you today?
Wednesday: Christ as Fully Man
As much as I love Away in a Manger, I don’t agree with the line: “No crying he makes.” I’m sure He cried, wet, and did all the things one fully human would do. I love this one, instead, by Michael Card:
It is Luke alone who writes to the Gentiles, who traces Christ’s genealogy back to Adam, showing his connection with the first man. Luke is my 2nd favorite gospel because he includes so many women’s stories. Women, scholars believe were his primary sources. Without Luke, we would not have the most beautiful Christmas story of all, one that is filled with the story of Elizabeth and Mary and the tender story of God becoming one of us.
11. Read Luke 1:34-35.
A. How did Gabriel answer Mary’s question?
B. Why do you think God did it this way instead of just having Jesus appear on earth?
12. Why does the author of Hebrews tell us that Jesus had to be fully man? (Hebrews 4:14-16)
13. Come to Him now with your needs.
Thursday: Christ as Fully God (John)
Photo on Unsplash by Dicson
Sing this verse to prepare your heart:
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing
O Come let us adore Him (3x)
Christ, the Lord
John’s Gospel stands apart from the Synoptic Gospels in that his purpose is to clearly show us that Christ is God in human flesh. He begins not with the birth or the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but like this:
14. As you meditate on the following verses from John’s famous prologue, share any thoughts or praise you have:
A. John 1:1-3
B. John 1:4-5 (Keller says both translations of “not overcome” and “not understood” are right. He substitutes the phrase “not mastered” for each. Share insights from this.
C. John 1:6-9. What did John the Baptist want to make clear?
D. What is amazing about John 1:10?
E. What meditations do you have on John 1:14?
Friday: Carols and Contemplations
15. Challenge: Take just one of the four pictures and see if you can find a carol or hymn that goes with it to share with us. Share your contemplations.
16. What is your take-a-way and why?