by Sam E. Stone
Chapters 1-3 of the book of Revelation introduce Christ, reigning in Heaven, yet caring for his church on earth. The next two chapters focus attention on God ruling in power from his throne. The apostle John describes the perpetual praise from those who have been redeemed by the Lamb. The Lord protects and provides for all who have put their trust in him.
On the Throne/Revelation 4:1-3
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. After receiving a letter for each of the seven churches, the apostle John was next given a glimpse of Almighty God on his heavenly throne. The voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” The powerful voice spoke first when the visions began (Revelation 1:10). Now, once again, John recognizes that mighty voice calling him closer. Like Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20), John quickly responded.
At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. All attention in Heaven focuses on the throne (Psalm 47:8). Here is the center of all rule and all authority for all the universe, both physical and spiritual. While we should not think of this as a literal throne, it is the best symbol John can find to try to describe God in all his power and glory.
John exhausts his vocabulary as he attempts to find words to describe the presence of the Lord to us—the appearance of jasper and carnelian . . . a rainbow, resembling an emerald. He compares God’s glory to the brightest, most beautiful jewels we can imagine. Thinking of their luster and brilliance may help us imagine the splendor of God.
Around the Throne/Revelation 4:4-11
When John saw the throne, he found surrounding it twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. The symbolic number 24 occurs only in this book and only for these elders. Some understand the elders to represent the 12 apostles and the 12 Old Testament patriarchs, but they could simply refer to angelic hosts or the redeemed. All join in worship of God on the throne.
From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. This scene reminds us of God’s appearance to Moses at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-19) and the psalmist’s dramatic description of the Lord (Psalm 18:12; 77:18). In the book of Revelation the number seven represents completeness, suggesting here the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s presence—literally “the sevenfold Spirit.”
A sea of glass, clear as crystal, was before the throne. This served to separate God from man. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The “living creatures” should not be thought of as “beasts” or “monsters.” Rather they are “living beings,” distinct from angels (see Revelation 5:11), close to the throne, and ready to do God’s will. They see all that goes on.
The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. “The four forms represent whatever is noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest in nature” (Swete). Note the similarities to Ezekiel’s vision (1:6, 10). Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around . . . .
Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” As in Isaiah’s vision (6:3), God’s holiness is affirmed by the hosts of Heaven. Day and night they lead the redeemed in praising God, praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
The living beings lead the angelic hosts and the redeemed of the ages in expressing highest praise to God. They give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives forever and ever. One Bible teacher summarized the scene: “Created life adores the Uncreated.” They lay their crowns before the throne. All acknowledge God as the ultimate, supreme ruler of the universe, the creator and sustainer of all life everywhere (see Genesis 1; Hebrews 2:10; 1 Corinthians 8:6).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.