The Throne of Fiery Flames

Written by Taylor Mertins, Pastor, Raleigh Court United Methodist Church, Roanoke, VA

Trees with light coming through. A Voice in the Wilderness

Dreams are beginnings. It is through our dreams that we catch images of what could be, what may be, and perhaps most exciting (or terrifying), what will be.

The prophet Daniel has a dream of the fullness of God’s glory. And yet, reading through the various images, his dream sounds more like a nightmare. A throne of flames with burning wheels of fire. Beasts are put to death. Tens of thousands stand in witness.

The Word of God for the people of God! Thanks be to God?

When I was in college I took a course titled, “Apocalypticism, Terror, and Peace.” We read through various religious texts and talked about their real world implications. Most of the students were International Affairs majors, and only a few of us were from the Religion Department. The conceit of the class was to get the two disciplines working together so that we all might better understand that which we didn’t understand.

During the first class, we were each handed an ancient text, a piece of paper, and a pencil. Our professor then offered a simple instruction: “Draw what the text says.” We each spent thirty minutes sketching away and then one by one we stood to describe our artistic renderings.
From Revelation there was One seated on the throne surrounded by seven lamp stands.
From the Ramayana there was the divine monkey king and a fantastical battle.
And from Daniel there was the Ancient One with a throne of fire.

“What do we think of these images?” our professor asked.

We responded: “They’re crazy!”

“Indeed they are,” she said, “But are they any crazier than the craziness this world tends to offer?”

What we came to discover across the semester was the power of apocalyptic visions. For, when we hear the word apocalypse, we imagine the end of time and devastating destruction. Which is all the more reason for us to take seriously what the word apocalypse actually means: revelation. Therefore, an apocalypse is often nothing more than a revealing of something we may or may not already know.

Daniel lived during a time of devastating destruction during which people were thrown in furnaces or lion’s dens for worshiping incorrectly. His nightmarish vision was not all that different from what he saw when he was awake. And yet, this apocalyptic tapestry reveals the truth of God’s everlasting dominion even in the midst of destruction.

During the season of Lent we are called to look at ourselves and the world truthfully. There is a revelatory aspect to this period of the church calendar during which we consider the condition of our condition. No matter how good we might play it off, we are all sinners in need of grace. Our lives and our world is just as broken and devastated as Daniel’s vision.

But we know how the story ends.

Beasts will come and go, but the God of grace and glory has an everlasting dominion that can never be taken away.

Or, as Paul put it, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, no angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, not anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

A Voice in the Wilderness: Lent 2024

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