Behold Our God (Rev. 4:1-6a)
Apocalyptic literature is oftentimes used like a kind of treasure map. If we can unlock the mysterious riddles we will discover when and how the world will end. That approach can certainly make for an exciting reading of the text, but it rarely finds the author’s central meaning. Revelation was not written to satisfy our curiosity about the future.
Revelation is about God! It describes the glory of God, the power of God, and the sovereign rule of God throughout history. We can expect to be confused from time to time as we read this book. When that happens, we ought to come back to passages like this to remember its central focus upon God and his attributes.
It is also important to keep two principles of interpretation in mind. First, the structure of Revelation is cyclical rather than chronological. There is a repetition of Redemptive Historical events spanning this present gospel age to the final age to come.
The first section focused on letters written to seven churches (1:1-3:22). It opened with a vision of Christ standing in the midst of his Church. He encourages perseverance and repentance to anyone who hears “what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The Lord’s instruction to them applies to the church in every age.
This morning we transition to the second section of the book which will focus upon the seven seals (4:1-8:1). The scene opens with a description of the heavenly throne, with all of its splendor and glory (4:1-11), and the Lamb who is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals (5:1-14). As the seals are opened we will see Christ our King repeatedly conquering his and our enemies from the beginning of this present age until its completion on the great day of the wrath of God and the Lamb. The section will conclude with a picture of the praise of the universal church in glory (7:1-8:1).
The second interpretive principle for us to keep in mind is that the book’s genre encourages us to read it symbolically rather than literally. This will be quite obvious in this morning’s passage due to the frequent use of terms such as “appearance”, “like”, and “as”.
Pray & Read Rev. 4:1-6a.
If God is the central character of this book, the throne of God is the central theme of this passage. Our interpretation should focus upon the glorious display of God’s presence which governs true worship in heaven and on earth. The array of colors and numeric clusters facilitate our understanding of the centrality of God’s throne. It is a throne of glory, grace, and judgment.
I. A Throne of Glory (1-3a)
1 After his initial vision, John once again hears the voice of the the “Son of Man” (1:13) calling him up to heaven “like a trumpet” in order to show him the future of the church, which would include events related to these seven churches.
Those who read Revelation chronologically see the end of the church age (3:22) followed by John going up into heaven (4:1). They view this as symbolically representing the rapture of the church before the tribulation. But recall Jesus’ commission for John to write this entire book to the seven churches (1:11). The rapture would make the rest of this book irrelevant to the church if they are to be removed before it all unfolds. That can hardly be a proper reading.
2 Once again, John was “in the Spirit” (1:10) and the first thing he sees is a throne. The word “throne” occurs forty-seven times in the book of Revelation (out of a total of sixty-two in the New Testament). Each time it is a reference to a heavenly throne. This will be important to keep in mind when we get to the latter portions of the book which describe the Millennial Reign (20:1-6). If those thrones are heavenly, as they are everywhere else in the book, then Christ’s Millennial Reign must likewise be heavenly.
This particular throne is God’s royal throne which represents his cosmic authority. It is located at the very center of heavenly worship. Every other heavenly being is found to be on, around, or before God’s throne.
3a God sits on his throne governing all the nations of the world (Psalm 47:8). It is unlikely that we are meant to associate each gemstone with a particular attribute of God (i.e., jasper = holiness, carnelian = judgment, emerald = mercy). As relevant as those attributes are, the precious stones are probably meant to highlight God’s glory more than anything else. Their majestic beauty reflects the God who made them.
Johnson John’s description of the appearance of the One on the throne is restrained, offering nothing that could be turned into a forbidden image.
The language is reminiscent of Ezekiel 1:26-28 with its emphasis upon images that have an “appearance” to things we can imagine, but are not identical to them. The Lord has always protected his prophets from mistakenly portraying a visible representation of the godhead in physical form (Deut. 4:15-16).
Beeke The best John can do is to compare this light to the luster of polished gemstones to show us the glory of the living God.
Our earthly worship must keep God central, as He is in heaven. God created us for his own glorify. It is our greatest joy to bring him glory. One of the ways we do that in the context of corporate worship is by devoting ourselves to the Word of God which reveals to us who God is and what He requires of us.
Is that your purpose for being here right now? Are you seeking to glorify God by singing his word, praying his word, and attentively sitting under the preaching his word? No question could be more important for you to answer right now than that question.
Your purpose and value are entirely dependent upon your obedience to the duty of enjoying and glorifying God. As long as God remains seated on his throne, we trust that everything we experience in this life has a purpose. Only when God remains at the center of your worship, are you able to enjoy what you were created for. As we draw near to God, beholding the glory of the Lord in worship, we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).
The throne of glory is surrounded by a reminder that it is also…
II. A Throne of Grace (3b-4)
The emerald rainbow reminds us of the beauty and wonder of the grace of God. From the first rainbow that followed the universal flood, God has reminded his creation of the promise to show mercy (Gen. 9:12-17). The rainbow points to the fact that following devastating judgment, his true disciples will receive mercy and grace.
Who are the twenty-four elders? The two primary considerations are that they represent the fullness of the people of God or angelic beings. Initially, I was reminded of the white garments the conquerers were counseled to buy from Jesus in Laodicea (Rev. 3:18). That they were dressed in white and rewarded with the victor’s crown seemed to indicate that these twenty-four elders were symbols of the Universal Church.
The number “twenty-four” is not very common in Scripture. There were twenty-four orders of priests working in the temple (1 Chron. 24:7-19). There were also twenty-four choirs responsible for singing in the temple (1 Chron. 25:6-31). In that regard, this may be the heavenly reality of which the temple was a shadow.
However, it seems more likely that they reflect a combination of the twelve tribes of Israel whose names are written on twelve gates (21:12) and the twelve apostles whose names are written on twelve foundations (21:14) in the New Jerusalem.
But, it also seems best to understand these “elders” as angelic beings. Angels are often portrayed wearing white and serving in various roles. Although it is rare for Scripture to refer to angels as “elders”, it is not without precedence (Isa. 24:23). The term may reflect the wisdom of God’s heavenly council. Plus, there are two significant complications with taking these elders as symbols of the church:
- The elders take the prayers of God’s people and present them to God (5:8). These same elders go on to sing a song about God’s redemption of men in the third person (5:9-10)1.
- The elders are always distinguished from the saved multitude described in 7:13-14, 19:4, 6.
Much like the angels to whom the seven letters were addressed (1:12–3:14), these twenty-four angelic beings represent the Church but are not identified as the Church.
They bring our prayerful worship to the One who is seated on the throne. They take our worship that is offered on earth and present it to God in heaven. Therefore, it is critical that the theology and philosophy of our worship is aligned with the songs they sing (8b, 11). Our songs ought to be Theocentric, God-centered. We will spend more time looking at that next week. But, we should at least appreciate the concept that our earthly worship is graciously received and multiplied in heaven.
The throne of grace is incomplete if it is not also…
III. A Throne of Judgment (5-6a)
The flashes of lightening and peals of thunder coming from the throne represent the presence of God (Exod. 19:16), but more specifically it represents his judgment (Rev. 8:5; 11:19; 16:18). How could anyone find access to worship at the throne of God with this threat of judgment?
First, we must be enabled to worship by the Holy Spirit. In our introduction to this series we considered who these seven flaming torches that are before the throne represent (1:4). They are likened to the seven spirits of God, and they enflame the lampstands of the churches (1:20). In other words, it is the fullness of the Holy Spirit that enables and fuels true worship.
Second, we must gather by faith in the Savior who passed through the fiery trial of judgment. The sea of glass that resembles crystal is described later as the location where those who conquer the beast gather to sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb (15:2-3). This parallels with the people of Israel passing through the judgment and trial of the Red Sea to safely arrive on the other side where they immediately engaged in giving praise and honor to the their Savior (Exod. 15).
Usually, in ancient literature, the sea is a reference to chaos and disorder. The book of Daniel portrays four beasts ascending out of the sea (Dan. 7). Revelation 13:1 describes “a beast rising out of the sea.” All the beasts in Daniel and Revelation are shadows of Satanic opposition to God’s kingdom purposes.
The serene image of a glassy sea (undisturbed, calm) reflects the divine victory that has been accomplished over the chaos that was introduced into the world by sinful mankind. As we will see in the next chapter, it is the Lamb who had been slain, but now lives who achieved this victory in his death and resurrection. The evil and chaos of the earthly sea is tranquilized by the death and resurrection of the Lamb.
The glorious throne of God is at the center of the universe. Judgment flashes forth from the throne to punish sin. But the promise of grace is seen in the rainbow that encircles the throne. All who believe in the Lamb have access to the One who is seated on the throne through the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Those who are gathered around the throne worship the one seated on the throne through the Holy Spirit who is before the throne.
- The KJV mistakenly translates this in the the first person which is why many identified the twenty-four elders with the church. ↩︎