We ended last week with a rainbow. Who doesn't love to see a rainbow, right?
As John describes God's heavenly throne, he is careful not to describe in any sense of human form who it is that sits on the throne. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:15-16:
He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of
lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable
light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
Instead, God is described as the brilliance of light reflected from precious stones. It is majestic. God is clothed in unapproachable light. All John is left with is the impression of light and color…the color of the rainbow…perhaps reminding him of the promise to Noah, that as a sign of God's mercy, he will no long flood the earth with the fullness of His wrath. We should
always think of God's promise to Noah when we see a rainbow.
The throne…the brilliant colors…the dazzling rainbow dominated by green…John is gazing upon the seat of God's universal sovereignty. This is the seat of God's rule. He is in charge and in control of every event unfolding in history. This is not a piece of furniture. It is a symbol of sovereign rule and sovereign authority. God controls your destiny. God controls your destiny.
Now, one of the things we need to keep in mind is that this vision of heaven is given to John and John alone. It is a one and done. Since John, no other vision of heaven was necessary. His visionary trip to heaven was the first and last time God revealed the glory of His Holiness, in a way our boxy little brains could grasp the meaning of. After this, there was no reason for any other vision or visions. In light of that, here's something you might want to write down:
John's Visionary Trip to Heaven was Above and Beyond the Normal Realm of Human Experience.
Based on that understanding, then, when Jesus says, "Come up here" in verse one, it's not because he wants to glorify John, or give him some sort of reward, or equip him for a revival or healing service. Jesus simply wants to show John some things that are going to happen that will impact the church. He's showing John how we will be equipped for living faithful Christian lives in difficult times. Jesus is taking John on a unique trip, and now, John is inviting us to come along. How beautiful is that?
Let's read chapter four again:
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: he first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
- Revelation 4
We began exploring chapter four last week. As you'll see, as we continue to go through it, it really is beautiful timing to finish it up next week, on Easter morning.
Let's continue on with the first half of chapter four.
The purpose of chapter four is partly foreshadowed in Revelation 3:10:
Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.
In other words, they will be given spiritual protection against the forces of evil. It doesn't mean that they'll be put in some physical or spiritual safe-house to prevent exposure to any sort of trial or tribulation. Never forget what Psalm 23 says - "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" - not around it but through it. We will experience trial and tribulation in this life. When Jesus says he will keep us from the hour of trial, he means we will not be afraid, overcome, or overwhelmed. Whatever
happens, we will remain firmly rooted in his grace and mercy. Amen?
Here, in chapter four, a central theme is the throne. First, an open door. The door is left open for all who are devoted followers of Jesus Christ. An open door is an invitation to enter into God's glorious presence. Talk about grace and mercy. And then what is the first thing John sees? A throne. The word throne is used more than forty times in The Revelation to John. In fact, it is used throughout the Bible:
Psalm 103:19 - "The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all." Can there be a simpler and clearer expression of the sovereignty of God?
Isaiah 66:1 - Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?"
There are many more. The bottom line is that throne is more than a piece of furniture. It is a symbol of God's sovereign rule and sovereign authority.
The other important thing we notice is the image of where the throne is. When we hear the word, throne, most of us can't help but think of where the throne is located. We think of a palace or a great hall of some sort. Simply put, the throne is in a temple. And what happens in a temple? Worship. The throne of God is not only the place of the Holy God who is to be obeyed, but it is also the place where the sovereign God is to be worshiped and adored.
For you lovers of classical music, it is said that this scene inspired Handel's Messiah.
So what happens around the throne? Twenty-four elders with golden crowns were seated on twenty-four thrones around the one, big, royal, majestic throne.
Who are they? There has been much speculation about them. Here's the clearest picture, which hinges on specific clues in the text:
The Greek words for "elders" is never used to refer to angels. Only flesh-and-blood people.
Secondarily, you would never call an angel an elder, as angels don't age.
Next, clothed in white garments was a phrase commonly used for believers who remained true to Christ.
Finally, angels never wore crowns. The crowns refer to the victor's crown, which was worn by those who successfully completed the race and won the victory. This was promised by Christ himself.
So, to the best of our surmise, these twenty-four elders represent a vision of those who have remained faithful in tribulation and been brought into their heavenly reward to give glory and honor and praise to the Father and the Son. It's exactly as Jesus promised in John 14:1-4:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
What a beautiful moment that is. And what a beautiful moment that will be when we will cast down our golden crowns upon the glassy sea.
Which takes us to the last thing we're going to look at today. This sets up
the power and majesty we celebrate next week, Easter morning.
So far John has shown us bright colors, rainbows, open doors, thrones, and elders.
Verse five brings us to flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder, burning torches of fire, and a sea of glass, like crystal. These are very vivid depictions of two different things that are intricately intertwined. We can hardly imagine what it was like for John to try to give us a sense of an understanding of what all this means.
First, John sees the awesome power and majesty of God. How could he not, right? How many times do we, observing the full force of a July thunderstorm, find our thoughts drifting to thoughts of God's creative power? This is that to the nth degree.
God is on His throne. His majesty is thunderous. He is sovereign ruler and mighty judge. Who could stand in the presence of the sound and fury of Almighty God? It is ferocious.
And that's the second, intertwined, interrelated point. The ferocity of this scene also points to the fierceness of God's judgment over sin. Coming out of this vision is God's fury. You can almost feel it. John has given us a glimpse of what it will be like when the full force of God's judgment for sin is unleashed upon the unfaithful.
Here's the last thing you might want to write down:
THIS IS THE THRONE OF GOD'S JUDGMENT.
How will a sinful world survive the coming judgment?
All we need to know for now, as we head into Holy Week and Easter, is that God made a way for us to survive the ravages of sin and death. It is nothing less than Good Friday, and Jesus' death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin.
Thank you, Father, for our hope. Thank you for the hope we have to be in the heaven that John shows us. Thank you for this glimpse of your power and might. And while there is warning in this vision, thank you that we only know the grace and mercy which comes from knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. You give us the hope of a redeemed church. We look forward to the day when we will cast down our golden crowns at your feet in worship, and praise, and adoration. Because of what Jesus did, this is so. Amen.