At the conclusion of our Lord’s letter to the church at Laodicea, we read this remarkable promise: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21).
Perhaps this promise would rest more easily in my heart if it weren’t for the fact that Revelation 4-5 follow immediately on this concluding letter to the church at Laodicea. You see, when I pause to reflect on what Christ meant when he referred to his “throne”, a throne on which his people, together with him, will sit, I can’t help but be drawn into the majestic scene that follows in the subsequent two chapters.
What we see and hear and feel in Revelation 4-5 is the pinnacle of biblical revelation. There simply is no greater, more majestic, or breathtaking scene than that of the risen Lamb sitting on the throne, surrounded by adoring angels and odd creatures, with ear-popping peals of thunder and blinding bolts of lightning.
If my earlier discomfort was due to the seeming impropriety of sinners sitting on that throne, nothing is more proper or fitting or apropos than that Jesus should be there. Nothing makes more sense than that he should be the focus of all creation, whether of Elders falling down, mesmerized by his beauty, or strange animals singing endlessly of his holiness. He belongs on the throne! He alone is God! He has died and redeemed men and women from every tribe and tongue and people and nation! By all means, let us sing:
“Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing, of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.”
“Crown Him the Lord of Heaven, enthroned in worlds above,
Crown Him the King to Whom is given the wondrous name of Love.
Crown Him with many crowns, as thrones before Him fall;
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is King of all” (George J. Elvey)
Yes, he is the Lord of Heaven (and earth) and is rightly “enthroned in worlds above.” But what, for heaven’s sake, are we doing there? More shocking still, what are the Laodiceans doing there? And what, for heaven’s sake, will the twenty-four Elders think? What will be the reaction of the four living creatures, not to mention the myriads of angelic beings who surround the throne, pouring forth wave upon wave of endless praise? Will they not be shocked and scandalized to see sinners there? I would be!
We must be very careful and theologically precise on this point. We are not enthroned with Christ because we are Christ, as if salvation entails the merging of our being with his in such a way that he is less than the Creator or that we are more than creatures. Our union with him is vital and glorious but he is always the one and only living Lord and we are redeemed sinners who depend on him not only now but for all eternity.
We are not enthroned with him because we will have been deified, as if we will have left behind our humanity and been transformed into divinity. We are not enthroned because we are God but because he is! Although we will be “made like him” (1 John 3:2; Phil. 3:21), gloriously devoid of all sinful impulses, our presence on his throne is a gift, not a right. We are there not by nature or deed but by grace alone, having been made co-heirs by him who alone is worthy of worship.
Having said all that, I’m still a bit incredulous when it comes to this promise in Revelation 3:21 (cf. Rev. 2:26-27). But at least I know why I’m enthroned with him, and why not. I’m there because he died for me and poured out the love of God into my heart through the Spirit who was given to me (Rom. 5:5). I’m there because of mercy, not merit. I’m there to share his rule, not usurp it. I’m there to exercise an authority that is rightfully his and derivatively mine.
I don’t expect ever fully to understand what this promise means or entails. Its shape is still uncertain to me. What it will feel like is yet foreign. Its plausibility confronts me like an insurmountable mountain peak. That Christ Jesus should ever make room within his reign for a scurrilous sinner like me is no doubt a theme that will occupy my thoughts and inquiries for all eternity. As for now, I don’t know what else to say but, “Thank you, Lord!”