I’m not really into music as a form of entertainment. Though I like music, I tend to listen only when I encounter an especially good composition or a song that really touches me and makes my heart soar.
The book of Revelation presents many heavenly beings that sing in praise of God, but their musical notes become quite electric midway through, when John hears a festive shout about God’s uncontested and rightful place in the cosmos. Earthly kingdoms begin to yield their authority to the One seated on the throne (Revelation 11:15). The choir’s heavenly voices raise in enormous jubilation because God has prevailed and Jesus reigns. No musical composition on earth could ever match the exuberance of these celestial voices that sing such joyous notes, resonating with the triumph of God’s beautiful and unfathomable love.
The angelic beings know that God magnificently reigns, but they also know that the nations are enraged and that conflicts will continue to occur on the earth, leading to the end (Revelation 11:18). God, however, insists on having the last word by showing the world something it has never seen before. John writes in Revelation: “Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail” (Revelation 11:19, NKVJ, emphasis added).
These depictions of light accompanied by noise, thunder, and an earthquake are reminiscent of the theophany of God at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16–19). The story illustrates people’s limited access to the direct manifestation of God’s majesty, which is unbearable to faulty and frail humanity. Yet at the same time, the story expresses God’s longing to be more accessible. The tabernacle and first temple is the tangible arrangement given by God to assure us of this. God’s Presence rests inside the inner room—called the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place—providing hope that God will bring us to such a glorious place. John witnesses the traditional signs that accompany God’s Presence when the innermost part of the temple is opened. As the Holy of Holies is laid bare for all to see, we gaze inside the bright cloud where God’s radiant Presence resides and stand in awe. The Ark is seen with angelic cherubim showing us the way back to the glory of God’s Presence.
The Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies highlights what is most important to God. In the Old Testament, the Ark has several uses. It stores the two stone tablets inscribed with God’s commandments along with other important items. It is also the place where God’s glory-encased Presence is localized, but the primary purpose of the Ark is to encourage the universe to observe His atonement and mercy. God places two cherub statues on top of the Ark, facing each other as they stare down at the place where God’s life will be poured out on behalf of others. It seems that the message God most desires to reveal to the world is held inside the Ark, to be seen only by the revelation of His grace—the revelation of the One who is drenched in self-renouncing love. To know His costly love, all of heaven and earth must gaze at the mercy seat—the atonement cover—just as the eyes of the cherubim endlessly gaze upon it.
The Ark is the place where God pledges Himself to dwell among His people (Exodus 25:22). In this scene of divine mystery and commitment, God works to become more present in our world. It is here that we see Him as our High Priest, working powerfully on our behalf to bring His longings into being. The Day of Atonement is the one day the high priest can access this sacred place. What matters most to God is that His temple—the place where He dwells—is opened to us. God pledges Himself to restore all things in heaven and on earth so that His glory can be fully revealed, yet we see the intense majesty of His Presence being intimately joined with the splendor of His mercy. For this to be seen on earth, the temple must be opened and brought into the midst of the rough-and-tumble of the world. The veil between us and God must be lifted by the strength of this revelation and witness.
God invites ordinary people spellbound by His love and filled with His Spirit to become His witnesses. God is active in this world, but as in the tabernacle, in a limited way. God’s purpose is not concealment. He wants a community on earth willing to participate in His atonement, a people who become priest-like bearers of His glory, revealing His commitment to commune and draw nearer. The only way to survive the rage of the nations and to represent God’s heart accurately to others is to turn our attention to the way God reveals His Presence in the world. The way back to God’s Presence remains at the Ark, where our High Priest stands in our place, so that God’s will can be done on earth and the world can come to know what God looks like. The mystery of God that unfolds on earth and across the cosmos is a revelation of who He is.
God wants the world to see what He looks like right here today. He intercedes, calling us to give Him this moment for His glory. We are not only to believe lofty things about God in our hearts—we are called to reveal the character of Jesus. The Presence of God and His costly love for the world will not be seen or believed by others unless we participate in His desires. As John puts it, “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence in the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus” (1 John 4:17, NIV). Thus, perhaps the answer to the problem of God’s apparent absence in today’s raging world is not to blame Him but to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are willing to do what it takes to have God’s glory more powerfully manifest. We do not have to call on God to be more present, we simply let Him have this moment.
We long to experience God in the music of a harmonious world, but for now, this music is muted—like God’s direct majesty was hidden in the temple. There is a veil between us and the heavenly world. Yet, just as the innermost part of the temple can be seen today through a spiritual vision, the unending echoing melody of God’s perfect world can be heard by anyone with an ear to listen. Can you hear it?
Craig Ashton Jr.