Shock and Awe (Revelation 4:2–6)

Who is the God Jesus Christ invites us to worship?

Several years ago, J. B. Phillips wrote a helpful little theology primer with the title, Your God Is Too Small. In the first half of that book, he exposed numerous “inadequate conceptions of God which still linger unconsciously in many minds,” including God as a “resident policeman,” “parental hangover,” “grand old man,” “managing director,” “and pale Galilean.”[i]

More recently, in Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah and his colleagues told the story of a woman named Sheila, who said: “I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.”[ii]

The God Jesus Christ invites us to worship is not small. He does not speak in our own little voices. As John portrays it (Rev. 4:2-6), God’s appearance is more likely to produce shock and awe than any other emotions in those who see him. “At once I was in the Spirit,” John writes, “and behold, a throne stood in heaven with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” But God is not only seen, he is heard: “From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder.”

John’s description of God has Old Testament antecedents, especially Ezekiel 1:26–28, which similarly portrays God’s throne as surrounded by a brilliant rainbow. Psalm 104:2 tells us that God covers himself “with light as with a garment.” In 1 Timothy 6:16, Paul says that God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.” The celestial sound and light show of thunder and lightning that made its first public appearance at Mt. Sinai, where God gave Moses the Law (Ex. 19:16–20, 20:18–21), now reappears in John’s vision. Its inevitable—and intended—effect is that reverence of God that the Bible calls “the fear of the Lord.”

The God Jesus Christ invites us to worship, in other words, is big, powerful, and very much unlike us.

And yet, God’s power is not arbitrary or immoral. God is powerful, but he is also just. He occupies the throne of heaven; so, he exercises his power with rightful authority. G. Campbell Morgan notes: “The throne of God—the fact of the throne, and the fact of God enthroned—is the revelation of the Bible…. All the pictures of the early times are pictures of men setting their lives into relationship with the throne of God and thus finding peace, or rebelling against the government of God and thus perishing.”[iii]

What God do you worship? A comfortable one or one who shocks and awes? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7, 9:10). Only a large God can bring an expansive peace to your life and to the world.


[i] J.B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small (New York: Macmillan, 1961), 8.

[ii] Robert Bellah, et al, Habits of the Heart (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985), 221; quoted in Robert C. Fuller, Spiritual, Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America (New York: Oxford, 2001), 159.

[iii] G. Campbell Morgan, Studies in the Prophecy of Jeremiah (London: Oliphants, 1969), 101; quoted in Eugene H. Peterson, Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 61.


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