Revelation 4

Revelation 4

The Throne in Heaven

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: the 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 Commentary

by Brad Boyles

The Throne

We just recently studied the book of Ezekiel and Leviticus which have some strong ties to the language here in Revelation. Before God’s throne, John sees brilliant and vivid imagery that is similar to Ezekiel 1.

Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man.

Ezekiel 1:26 NASB

In Revelation 4, John is taken up to Heaven and he gives us a metaphorical description of what he sees, but we must keep in mind that his description cannot even begin to portray the full experience of Heaven. Remember, this is Jesus who is escorting John up to Heaven. It is by His authority that this door is opened and that John is permitted to look behind the curtain.

Jesus says, “I will show you what takes place after this.” After what? Some people believe that what Jesus shows John had already taken place. It is true that some parts of Revelation describe past events, however, it is a stretch to try and connect all the events that unfold as already occurring. Most of these events have not yet occurred, so we can safely conclude that Jesus is revealing to John future events that will take place at the end of time.

What is the focal point of what John sees upon entering?

Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.  3  And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.

Revelation 4:2-3 NASB

John is trying his absolute best to describe accurately the unfathomable imagery that he is experiencing in Heaven. His eyes are drawn, first and foremost, to the One seated on the throne.

A throne is an object of authority, sovereignty, and power and it’s interesting to me how our world mirrors the heavenly realm. We read stories of kings who sat upon their throne and ruled over their kingdoms from a mighty fortress. This picture is not accidental, and it should not be glossed over.

John describes the throne as encircled by jasper and sardius. Jasper could mean diamond which would be a translucent light and sardius would contain shades of red. Over the top of this dazzling display is an emerald (or greenish-hued) rainbow, a reminder of the covenant God made with His people.

The three stones described here, jasper, sardius, and emerald were considered precious and honorable. Plato wrote that they were representative of precious stones and all three of these were included among the 12 stones that fashioned the breastplate of the high priest.

But really the scene was meant to be taken in as a whole. The God who is described as being “clothed in unapproachable light” sits upon His throne surrounded by brilliant jewels and majestic colors while the symbol of His eternal promise to mankind stretches high above His seat of judgment.

The Elders

There were 24 elders sitting on 24 thrones who were dressed in white and featured gold crowns. Throughout Revelation, they praise and worship God, offer interpretations for John, present prayers to God with the four living creatures, and continually adore the Lord with their lips and actions.

Who are they? Some say they symbolize the 24 Aaronic priests. Some say they represent the overall church of believers. Others say they are a combination of the 12 apostles and the 12 tribes of Israel. I’ve read they could represent a heavenly counterpart to the earthly church or they could be supernatural beings created to serve God in Heaven. It’s all interesting to discuss, but in my opinion, there is no clear answer.

A big picture application is their adoration of God and willingness to serve Him. Before the throne of God, where there is no sin, we get an amazing picture of purified obedience and worship.

Revelation 4

The Lamps

John saw seven lamps burning which represent the “seven spirits of God.” Seven was a number the symbolized completeness so the seven lamps could represent the totality of the Holy Spirit. It’s also possible they are a reference back to the seven stars and seven lampstands which focused on seven different churches.

The Temple

I wrote at the beginning that there were references back to both Ezekiel and Leviticus. When we consider the description of the Jewish temple, we see many overlapping characteristics with the heavenly throne.

Earthly Temple Heavenly Throne
Holy of Holies Throne of God
7 Branched Candlestick 7 Lamps of Fire
Bronze Laver Sea of Glass
Cherubim Over Mercy Seat 4 Living Creatures Around Throne
Priests Elders
Brazen Altar Altar
Incense Altar Incense Altar
Ark of the Covenant Ark of the Covenant
(List compiled from Wiersbe Commentary)

It’s fascinating to consider that the vision John received from God’s throne was so similar to how God had the Israelites construct their earthly temple! The striking visuals that are presented in this chapter just further illustrate the power and magnificence of our God. After this entire scene is described, the chapter comes to a very fitting close.

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

Revelation 4:11 NASB

This is a major application that I’ve been led to today. How many times do we try and figure God out rather than just stopping and worshiping Him? How much useless chatter has been spoken from dogmatic positions on the symbolism of Revelation? How can we have deep talks about what we believe theologically about the End Times and ignore the final verse of this chapter?

The fact that we can’t figure our God out should not lead us to bicker and argue but to stand in awe of such a Being who desires a love relationship with us! He is a timeless, inexhaustible God who, because of the slain Lamb, we can call Father. We must come before our Father’s throne and give Him praise and adoration!

The Four Living Creatures

Years ago I was at a Christian music festival and I was watching a performance by Korn guitarist Brian Head Welch who had just gotten miraculously saved years before. He told a story of how a lot of fundamental Christians would question whether or not his faith was real. They would look at him with his dark make-up, long hair, tattoos, and piercings and they would say, “How is it that you still look like this?” His response was, “Have you ever read Revelation 4? The closer you get to God the crazier everything looks!”

It is indeed true that the description we get of the 4 living creatures seems bizarre to us. But, just in case we are tempted to assume this is some kind of obscure description of God’s throne room unrelated to the rest of Scripture, let’s examine two other OT passages. Ezekiel describes four living creatures during his vision of God.

As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle.

Ezekiel 1:10 ESV

Isaiah had a similar vision of God.

Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  3  And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Isaiah 6:2-3 ESV

So who are they and why are they in Scripture? We are going to see much more from these beings as the book of Revelation unfolds. They will confirm that Jesus indeed is God and they will play a role in ushering in the judgment of God.

But let’s consider what was going on at the time of John’s writing. 7 churches, all facing a period of tribulation in each of their respected cities. Christianity was declared a cult, and Rome was declared god. In fact, take a look at the political language of their day:

Revelation 4

“You are worthy” greeted the entrance of the emperor in triumphal procession, and “our Lord and God” was introduced into the cult of emperor worship by Domitian.”

New International Commentary New Testament (NICNT)

For all those churches who refused to proclaim that Roman Emperor Domitian was “worthy” and for all of those who refused to proclaim upon the emperor’s entrance that he was “our Lord and our God” it is probably they would not receive the mark (a certificate) which would have allowed them to buy and sell in the marketplace. By refusing to bow their knee to Domitian, they were literally giving up their livelihood. Now, let’s look at the very next verse following the description of the 4 living creatures.

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever,  10  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,  11  “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 4:9-11 ESV

There it is. This is why John is writing all this down. It’s for the churches!

Imagine being in the first-century church at this time. Your world is absolute chaos. You don’t know if you and your family are going to be discovered to be Christians by a Roman guard and be burned alive. You can’t buy or sell in the marketplace because you won’t bow the knee to Caesar. You and your family are starving, terrified, and on the verge of compromise. You move all over in search of anyone who will give you a place to sleep or a bite to eat.

Satan is whispering in your ear, “It’s just a little incense burned to Caesar. You’re just providing for your family. How are you going to survive like this? God will understand. You can’t go on living like this.” As you look at your malnourished family, you see the emptiness in their eyes. You hear the screams of your fellow Christians being used as human torches by the Romans while the smell of burning flesh permeates the air.

It’s hell on earth! And just when you’ve hit your lowest point and you’re about to cave in, you cry out to God, “How could you have forgotten us? Where are you, Lord?”

Suddenly, a messenger bursts through the door. “I have a letter from the Apostle John! Not only that, it’s a message from God Himself!”

You read the words on the page describing the throne room of God. In a world where the Roman emperor-gods have maids and servants tending to their every need, the God of the Universe has a heavenly host of angelic beings surrounding His presence. His throne room is not made of wood, stone, or marble but of refracted light, a sea of glass, an arching emerald rainbow, flashes of thunder, and darting torches.

He does not keep the company of ordinary created animals. The 4 living creatures are something like never before seen. They are multifarious, matchless in their intricate detail. They whet the appetite of our wildest imaginations, and yet, they are real beings serving and adorning the Living God with everlasting praise.

Tears begin to fall upon the parchment. This is our God! This is the God we serve, the God we love, The One who was and is and is to come. This is the God who holds in His hand our very souls. He has prepared a place in His throne room where every tear will vanish and every wrong will be made right. It is a place void of evil and suffering for all eternity.

The early readers would have asked themselves, “How could we ever compromise and worship another? How could we ever deny our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and bend our knee to anything else? The Romans are nothing more than the dust that feathers off the bottom of Christ’s sandal. Who is Domitian? Who is Caesar? Were they there at creation? Did they measure the stars and put the galaxies in their place? Do they sit on their throne with all of creation worshiping their every move?”

This letter was meant to remind the early church (and the current church) that we cannot and must not compromise for anyone or anything in this life. There is no one like our God! And more than ever, right now, when we have a world that is worshiping entertainment, politicians, and a “do whatever I want” mentality, we need this perspective.

There is no one like our God. He sees your struggle today. He knows the personal hell that is destroying your joy. And the message we can take away is that our Father rules this universe. He is on the throne and He knows your name! You are not forgotten. You are not abandoned. Do not compromise. Do not bend the knee to another.

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