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Revelation: Faithfulness in Testing Times | Seeing and Hearing

On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet… I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me.

Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel… After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.

REVELATION 1: 10, 12; 7: 4, 9; 21: 2-3

Do you prefer to see things or hear them? Do you like reading books or playing audio books? Watching television or listening to the radio? We have become a culture of the visual, with the explosion of images and videos on the internet and delivered by streaming services – yet radio listenership is also on the rise, and there are now more podcasts than you can shake a stick at.

The dynamic of ‘hearing and seeing’ is threaded all through the Book of Revelation – yet, strangely, most ordinary readings miss this. We are so fixed on the idea that John is describing visions (things he sees) that we miss the role of all his auditions (things he hears) – which turns out to be 43% of the English text! (Yes, I counted!)

But what John hears and what he sees are closely related – the one interprets the other, and together they paint the full picture of John’s understanding. In the opening chapter, he hears a voice ‘like a trumpet’, an Old Testament description of the voice of God speaking to his people (see Exodus 19:16) – but he sees ‘one like a son of man’, dressed like a priest, like the Ancient of Days, and like an angel. Jesus is thus the word of God, our High Priest, and the one who brings God’s message to us. In chapter 7, John hears that God’s people are a counted, Jewish army in serried ranks – whom he sees as uncountable and multi-ethnic, praising God having come through deep suffering. And in chapter 21, he sees a city coming from heaven to earth – but hears that this is the presence of God with his people. The future intimacy of God with his people is described in the medium of extravagant architectural metaphor.

All this reflects a consistent Johannine theme of ‘what we have seen and heard’ (1 John 1:3; Acts 4:20), but the terms have wider significance. To ‘see’ is to understand, and one day we will see God even as we are already seen by God (1 Corinthians 13:12). To ‘hear’ is to obey (Deuteronomy 6:4), and one day our small obediences will be perfected (Philippians 1:6).

This week, what new thing will you see about God – what new understanding is he leading you to? And what new thing will you hear – what new call to a fruitful life of joyful obedience?

Rev’d Dr Ian Paul
Ian is a biblical scholar and theologian. He writes the widely-read blog psephizo.com, and will host the LICC Revelation Bible Day on 27 February – tickets are available here.

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