“Not Literally, But Seriously”

May 1, 2022

Revelation 5:11–14

1Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

The second lesson in most Mainline Protestant Churches comes from Revelation. It is part of a series from Revelation during the Easter season.

Today’s reading has a reality worth noting. Unlike anywhere else in the scriptures, in Revelation 5:13 we find the largest verse in the whole Bible. Not the largest as in the longest, a distinction which belongs to Esther 8:9, but the largest as in the biggest; a single verse of scripture, gathering every creature on the earth, under the earth, in the sky and in the sea, around the throne of God, singing praise to God; together, forever.

This sounds like glory in its fullness.

But like all of the words in Revelation, they are not to be taken literally, because this is a book of symbols and images, parables and pictures. If taken literally, verse 13 would mean that every creature in all creation would have a place in the eternal heavenly choir; not just people, but lizards and lemurs, muskrats and manatees, loons and raccoons, cougars and camels, bald eagles and baboons. Imagine the cacophony of praise!

Not even the world’s most renowned choir conductor could coax a coherent chorus from that kind of choir. But the writer of Revelation imagines just such a magnificence in the heavenly realm.

Let me propose that we not take Revelation 5:13 literally. But what might it mean if we take it seriously?

Here’s my view. If you come up with a different one, please let me know!

In John’s image vision, I see the hope that someday God will get what God has always wanted; the whole creation, the whole human family, redeemed and reconciled, healed and home. After all the necessary redeeming is done, no matter how long it takes, at long last, God, finally getting the one thing God has always wanted most; every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, redeemed and reconciled, healed and home.

Image from the St. John’s Bible illumination on the Book of Revelation.

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.