Dr. Richard L. Strauss
December 3, 1978
In Revelation 1:19 we discovered an inspired outline of this book. "The things which you have seen" had reference to John's vision of the glorified Christ in chapter 1. "The things which are" referred to the conditions in the seven churches as described in chapters 2 and 3. In Revelation 4:1, John hears a voice saying, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must be hereafter."
So now we begin the third major division of the book. The word "hereafter" could mean any time after the Apostle John. But if we understand the words of the book in a normal sense to refer to literal events, then we know that what we are to study in chapters 4 through 22 are still future in our day, for no historic events have ever fulfilled these prophecies. The word "hereafter" has particular reference, therefore, to the events of the last days: those things that will come to pass at the end of the age. We are turning our attention to the future. God is going to reveal His prophetic plan to us in these pages.
The key word in chapter 4 of Revelation is "throne," occurring no less than 14 times in these 11 verses which refer to the throne of God. (The other two references are to the thrones of the 24 elders in verse 4). Is it not significant that right here as we see the consummation of human history begin to unfold before us, the first thing that comes to our attention is the throne of God which symbolizes His sovereign power and authority?
Millenniums before this David wrote, "The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:19). God is in control of this world. He is ruler over this world and is bringing events to a meaningful conclusion. Men have doubted it from that time to this; even Christians have had moments when they wondered whether God really was in control of all things. But all doubt will be removed at that day; it will become obvious to all that God is directing the affairs of men, that His administration is supreme over all. The throne of God is, and always has been, the center of the universe, the focal point of all dominion and rule. And as we catch a glimpse of that throne pictured for us in this chapter, may we acknowledge Him to be the supreme authority in our lives. May we bow before the sovereignty of God, submit ourselves to His absolute Lordship, permit Him His rightful prerogative to govern our lives and do as He pleases with us.
Look then at the throne of God in Revelation 4. The presentation of the throne is in verses 1-2. The Person on the throne is described in verse 3. We see the people round the throne in verse 4. The power from the throne is in verse 5. The protectors of the throne are given to us in verses 6-8a. And the praise before the throne is in verses 8b-11.
1. The Presentation of the Throne
The throne of God is introduced to us through an open door in heaven. "After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, 'Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.' Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne" (Revelation 4:1-2).
We're introduced to this vision of a throne through an open door. This is the third door we've come upon in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 3:8 we learned that the church at Philadelphia had an open door of witness, a wonderful opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those around them. We have that opportunity as well. The second door was found in Revelation 3:20, the door of the human heart. Every individual who hears our witness and understands Christ's claim upon his life, must make a choice for Him or against Him. He must either open the door of his life and invite the Savior in, or He must turn Him away. You must make that decision if you've never done it. Christ said that He is the way to God, and that there is no other way. He paid for your sins, and offers you full forgiveness and everlasting salvation if you will trust Him. For those who have trusted Him, there will be someday, an open door in heaven, and the gracious invitation of the Savior saying, "Come up here."
Now in the context of verses 1 and 2, I have no doubt that the three words "Come up here" constituted an invitation to the Apostle John to be transported in his spirit into the presence of God, in order that he might see and consequently write about the blessedness of heaven and the things that should be hereafter. This is its meaning contextually. While his body remained on the island of Patmos, his consciousness was transported into scenes of heavenly glory.
But there is an interesting parallel here by way of application. After the letters to the seven churches (which, incidentally, contain an unusual parallel to the progress of the church age), and before the beginning of the tribulation described in chapters 6-19, we hear the words of our Lord to one of God's own children, "Come up here." And while the church is mentioned frequently in the first three chapters, it is not mentioned again until Revelation 22:16. There is an allusion to the church in heaven on two occasions: represented by the 24 elders in Revelation 4:4, and as the bride of the Lamb in Revelation 19:7. But the church is nowhere found on earth from chapter 6 through chapter 22.
We do not build doctrines on applications such as this---but it does serve to remind us again of what other passages teach more clearly: that is that the church of Jesus Christ will be caught up to be with the Lord before the inception of the Great Tribulation, to spend that seven year period in His blessed presence, rather than the earth where God's wrath against sin will be poured out in all its fury (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
There are some interesting parallels here. Now, again, this is just an analogy. I don't think this is what this passage teaches. I hope you understand what I'm saying. This is an invitation to John to come in spirit and behold these events that will come to pass on the earth. It's just an analogy, but there are still some interesting parallels. John heard a voice that was like the sound of a trumpet. And isn't it interesting that the voice of the archangel that calls us home at the rapture of the church is followed by the trumpet of God in 1 Thessalonians 4:16? And the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, "Behold I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
"And immediately," writes John in Revelation 4:2, "I was in the Spirit and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne." Some day it's going to be that quick; you and I will be transported into the presence of God. Those words will be uttered to us: "Come up here." God is going to take us home. The Lord is going to meet us in the air and so shall we ever be, with the Lord.
So much for the presentation of the throne. Let us now look at the Person on that throne.
2. The Person on the Throne
"And He who sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardius stone; and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like an emerald" (Revelation 4:3).
Now it's interesting that the Person on the throne is not described in terms of human characteristics, but rather in terms of brilliance and color, which seems to be the emphasis of the precious stones. The jasper stone is described in Revelation 21:11 as being clear as crystal, a stone as sparkling as our diamonds. The sardius stone was a deep and beautiful red. Around the throne was a rainbow which looked like an emerald; in other words, the green hues were predominant.
Who was this on the throne, whom John describes solely in terms of brilliance and glory and majesty? In Revelation 5:6, we find the Lamb standing in the midst of the throne, so He is not the Lamb. In Revelation 6:16, He is distinguished from the Lamb whom we know to be God the Son. In Revelation 7:10, He is called "Our God who sits upon the throne," and again is distinguished from the Lamb. It seems as though the One sitting on the throne here is none other than God the Father.
Some have posed a contradiction here, since in Revelation 3:21 the Lord Jesus sits on a throne: "To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with Me in My throne"--He has His own throne--"even as I also overcame and have sat down in His throne." The Lord Jesus is not only on His own throne, but He shares the Father's throne with Him. I don't think this is a contradiction; we are seeing exactly what we would expect to see in view of the doctrine of the Trinity we have learned from other parts of Scripture. Consider the words of Christ in John 14:9, "He that has seen Me has seen the Father," and again in John 10:30, "I and My Father are one." While Christ will sit on His own throne, He also says in Revelation 3:21, that He is set down with His Father in His throne.
God is a Spirit (John 4:24); He does not have flesh and blood like we have (Luke 24:39). But the Lamb, the Son of God, is the visible, physical manifestation of the eternal God. While they are separate and distinct Persons, they are one.
So we have the Father and the Son on the throne. And now I'd like you to look down at the last half of verse 5 for a moment. Here you'll see that there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which, John tells us, are the seven spirits of God. We saw this reference back in Revelation 1:4, and learned there that it probably was to be understood in the light of Isaiah 11:2 as the sevenfold Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of perfection and completeness. Fire has been used before in Scripture as an emblem of deity, probably because of its power, its light, its beauty, its penetrating brilliance, and its purifying potential.
You can plainly see, as we approach this throne, that we are in the presence of the eternal and divine God. God the Father occupies the throne, but God the Son stands at the center of it (Revelation 5:6, 7:17,) and God the Spirit casts His light before it. We are in the presence of the triune God. It is an awesome sight.
We stand before the throne of the Sovereign of the universe, the Eternal Judge who shall shortly pour out His fury against sin. But isn't it interesting that in this vision of God, there is a rainbow round about the throne? We are reminded by that rainbow (which God gave to Noah after the flood), that He is likewise a God of mercy (Genesis 9:12-16) and while He intends to destroy all sin, He loves the sinner and calls him to repentance and faith in His Son. Even through the dark and disastrous days of the Great Tribulation depicted in the chapters to follow, we shall see His mercy and grace calling men throughout the earth to trust Him. Most will be martyred for their faith, but some will survive the awful ordeal of that day.
If you will trust Him now, you will never see those terrible days--days that could begin in your lifetime.
"Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads" (Revelation 4:4). We look away from the throne for a moment, and notice that encircling it are 24 other thrones, on which are seated 24 elders, wearing white clothing with crowns of gold on their heads. Who are these elders, and who are these 24?
First, it seems clear that they are a representative of a body. "Twenty-four" is a symbolic number in Scripture. When King David organized the priesthood into courses, he divided them by family heads, of which there were 24, and one from each course normally served at one time. When those 24 priests ministered before the Lord, the whole priesthood as well as the whole nation was represented before God. In like manner, it seems as though these 24 elders represent a larger body. But who do they represent?
While there were elders in the Jewish synagogues, the world "elder" is particularly identified with the church of Jesus Christ in the New Testament (Acts 14:23; 20:17; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5). Furthermore, these elders wear crowns ("steyavos," the crown of the victor--not "diadem," the crown of the ruler) and crowns are exclusively spoken of as rewards for the faithful believers in the church (1 Corinthians 9:24-25; 2 Timothy 4:7-8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4). Finally, these elders sit on thrones, indicating that they are rulers and judges. It is the church of Jesus Christ that shall assist Him in judgment (1 Corinthians 6:2-3), and shall reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). It seems as though these 24 elders are representative of the entire church of Jesus Christ which shall be in heaven with Him following the rapture. I believe we're going to be there around that throne someday, even as we are represented around that throne by this vision of the 24 elders.
4. The Power from the Throne
"And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderclaps, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God" (Revelation 4:5).
Thunder, lightning, and voices. This sounds very similar to what happened the day the Lord gave Moses the law:
"Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled" (Exodus 19:16).
"Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off" (Exodus 20:18).
It impressed upon them the power of God and His judgment against sin. Is it surprising then, that immediately prior to the Great Tribulation, God should impress upon us once again His great power and judgment against sin? This already overwhelming glimpse of Himself is punctuated with a blinding burst of light, piercing claps of thunder, and loud voices.
The people of the earth need to beware, for they shall experience the power of God's judgment against sin like it has never been experienced in all of earth's history.
5. The Protectors of the Throne
Before the throne of God, John saw a sea of glass like crystal (Revelation 4:6). We are not told the meaning of this symbol, and I hesitate to venture a guess. It appears again in Revelation 15:2 and it is never clearly explained to us.
"And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle" (Revelation 6:6-7). Each of these living creatures (not "beasts") had six wings, and they were full of eyes. "And they do not rest day or night, saying: 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!'" (Revelation 6:8b).
What a majestic scene! Who are these living creatures? Ezekiel saw living beings similar to this in his vision of the glory of God in Ezekiel 1:5-10. There were four of them, but each one had four faces, unlike John's living beings. John saw four beings, each with a face, and Ezekiel saw living beings, each with four faces. But the four faces are the same: a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle--the same four representations as found in Revelation 4:5.
There is also another difference. In Ezekiel 1:6, we learn that instead of six wings, they had four wings. Ezekiel's living creatures are identified as cherubim in Ezekiel 10:20. Cherubim are angelic beings. They are a high order of angel, evidently separate from the host of angels, somewhat different but angelic beings. So we might assume that these four living creatures are angelic beings because there is a similarity, but they are different. Their dissimilarity to the living creatures of Revelation can only be explained on the supposition that they are a different order of angelic beings.
Isaiah saw a different order of angelic beings also called seraphim in Isaiah 6:1-3. We are told nothing of their faces, but we do learn that they had six wings. Ah ha! We're getting warmer. Furthermore, their worship sounds very much like the worship of John's living creatures in Revelation 4. Listen: "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of host; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:3). I think we may safely conclude that just as Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, being ministered to by these angelic being called seraphim, so John saw the very same thing.
But what are these living creatures for? While the cherubim of Ezekiel supported the throne of God, the seraphim protected the throne and ministers before the Lord. In Isaiah, one of them purifies Isaiah's lips. In Revelation 6:1-8, they summon the horsemen to appear who bring judgment to the earth. In Revelation 15:7 they give the seven bowls of God's wrath to the seven angels to pour out upon the earth. In other words, they are officials attached to the throne of God, both guardians of the holiness of God and administrators of the will of God--both protectors and attendants. They have strength like a lion, they render service like an ox, they possess intelligence like the highest of God's creation, and they are swift like an eagle.
6. The Praise before the Throne
Who they are is not nearly so important as what these creatures are doing. They are giving honor, adoration, worship and praise to God. They rest not day nor night, but continually praise His name, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."
Periodically they give special glory and honor and thanks to God (Revelation 4:9), and when they do, the 24 elders fall down before Him and worship Him and cast their crowns before the throne. Listen to them worship in verse 11: "You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created."
This whole scene would imply to us that one of our major occupations throughout eternity will be to glorify and adore God. Now I'm not saying that all we're going to do is sit on thrones, and then at some signal, all fall down and worship God and throw crowns at the throne...then pick them up and sit back on the thrones--there's going to be more in eternity than that. But this is one thing we are going to do. We are going to give honor and glory and adoration, and praise and worship, to the triune God throughout the ages of eternity. Worship will be one of our major occupations.
I realize that this prospect of prolonged worship may not sound very exciting to many folks. They not only don't enjoy worship very much--they're not even sure what worship is. Even though they come to church and profess to be worshipping the Lord, they must admit that they do not find it very exciting nor satisfying. They may sing with great gusto, "O Worship the King, all glorious above," but if they were absolutely honest, they would admit that they would much rather spend that hour in bed, or watching television, or playing golf.
Many Christians have not yet begun to taste the fully satisfying joys of simply adoring the Lord, of meditating on His nature, magnifying His name, of glorying in His goodness and His grace. It's not something you drum up. Some people have the idea that now it's 9:30 or 11:00, so we're going to worship by sitting in a seat and singing some hymns. That isn't what worship is!
Worship occurs more or less spontaneously. When you and I get a glimpse of the glory of God, and our hearts just magnify and adore Him, and we're just consumed with His Person and we express glory to God--that's real worship. That's what these elders are doing. And I'm of the opinion that many, many Christians have never had an experience of true, genuine worship, where their hearts and minds were occupied with nothing and no one but God. Now that could happen in church. I hope it does once in a while. But it can also happen anyplace else. It happens when we get our minds on Him, and fill our minds with the Word, and learn to know Him better as we meditate on His Word. Then we'll begin to taste the fully satisfying joys of worship.
You know one of the reasons why so many Christians have never really enjoyed the experience of true worship? It's because they haven't ever learned to accept the truth of the elders' praise in verse 11. They haven't ever realized that they were created for God's pleasure. God made us for Himself, for His own pleasure and praise. Somehow they have the mistaken idea that God created them so they could have pleasure. "Thou art worthy, oh Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for Thou hast created all things and for Thy pleasure they are and were created" (Revelation 4:11, KJV, emphasis added).
God made us for Himself. He made us to come to know Him, to commune with Him in intimate fellowship, to experience the fullness of satisfaction and joy that comes from our knowledge of Him, and to express back to Him our adoration and worship and homage and praise. That's why He made us. And if we can get our eyes off ourselves and our satisfaction, and onto the Lord and His glory, the end result will be a satisfaction we never knew possible. He made us so that we experience that satisfaction when He occupies the rightful place in our lives, when He becomes our ruler and master of our lives.
Try Him and see. Use the moments of this week to memorize and meditate on some Scripture, particularly Scripture about God. Let your mind dwell on the Lord--His attributes, His glory, His goodness, His grace--and see if you don't have a week of satisfaction and joy and contentment in Him. Try Him and see. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this revelation of Yourself and Your Son and Your Spirit. We pray that it may challenge us to do what those 24 elders did and are doing and will do throughout eternity. God, help us to begin to learn right now how to worship and adore Your matchless name. And God, we pray that even today, if there are areas in our lives that keep us from bringing glory to You, You'll help us to honestly deal with them and to allow You to be the Lord of our lives--our King and our Master. We ask it for Jesus' sake. Amen.
Continue to RV-06A: Worthy Is the Lamb