The Throne of God (Revelation 4)
The entire 4th chapter of Revelation is a vision of the throne room of God. The seven churches have been addressed and it is now time to move into the task of revealing those things that must shortly come to pass.
God is sovereign over all His creation, therefore it is only fitting for the first vision to establish His glory and supreme power. Before any of the trials of the Christians, before any of the atrocities of their enemies, we first get to see the supreme God, creator and ruler of the universe on His throne. As mentioned in previous studies, the figurative language is not meant to be taken literally, rather it is designed to illustrate things by association in the imaginations of the first readers.
Before we try and break every aspect of this vision down, we are first going to take a broad view of the vision as a whole. The throne scene of chapter 4 is a very easy vision to understand so this will be a relatively easy and straightforward exercise. The means by which we first look at this vision will form the pattern for later more difficult visions.
The primary goal of these lessons are not so much to break each aspect of the visions down and explain them, but to teach others how to do so for themselves. I can just about guarantee that I will not be completely accurate on my interpretation of all of these visions, especially in view of the broad range of opinion among scholars out there. The approach we are going to use for these visions is going to be to allow the Bible to explain the details to the greatest degree possible and to try to choose what would make the most sense to someone reading this letter in the first century. We are going to keep in mind that those living in the first century are going to read this letter and naturally associate it with the circumstances under which they are living. And for good reason because the Revelation was addressed to them, it was delivered to them first, the visions described therein fit their historical circumstances so closely that it cannot be coincidence. Therefore we are going to look at this marvelous work, to the greatest degree possible, through their eyes.
The Broad View of Chapter 4. Who are the characters in the vision? What are they doing? What activities are taking place overall? The answers to these and similar questions will better help us to realize what these visions mean in the grand scheme of things.
God is the chief and primary subject in view. He is pictured as being seated on a throne. The language describing Him paints a picture of glory, power, and majesty in the imaginations of the readers. God is being worshipped and exalted by all the rest of the characters of the vision continually. Who worships God? All of His creation who willingly choose to do so. Now that we have formed a general picture of what the vision is all about, keeping that in mind, we will now move on to the specifics.
Looking back in the old testament we see Ezekiel’s vision of the throne scene. It is of great interest that we observe the similarities between the two and consider that the first readers of this Revelation, especially the Jewish Christians would be familiar with the imagery and would be able to visualize an association between the two. As we look at John’s vision of God’s throne, let’s keep in mind Ezekiel’s as well.
25 And there was a voice above the firmament that was over their heads: when they stood, they let down their wings.
26 And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone; and upon the likeness of the throne was a likeness as the appearance of a man upon it above.
27 And I saw as it were glowing metal, as the appearance of fire within it round about, from the appearance of his loins and upward; and from the appearance of his loins and downward I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him.
28 As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.
After these things I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice that I heard, (a voice) as of a trumpet speaking with me, one saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must come to pass hereafter.
After the messages to the churches were delivered, John looked and saw into heaven. And he heard the same voice he heard earlier speaking to him. This voice was like a trumpet, coming through loud and clear and it was telling him to approach and see the things which must happen later.
Straightway I was in the Spirit: and behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne;
And immediately John was under the influence of the Holy Spirit and he was shown a vision of a throne placed in heaven and there was someone setting on that throne. A throne represents a place from which someone of authority rules his subjects.
and he that sat (was) to look upon like a jasper stone and a sardius: and (there was) a rainbow round about the throne, like an emerald to look upon.
And He that sat upon the throne shone like diamonds and sardius stones. Sardius stones were a bright red stone found mainly near Sardis and named for it. They are said to be the modern day equivalent of the carnelian. The first readers of Revelation knew exactly what they were and it is possible they would associate the blood red color of a sardius stone with Jesus’ blood of the new covenant. God’s everlasting covenant never to destroy the earth with a flood again was sealed with a rainbow in the clouds. The rainbow would likely symbolize an everlasting covenant with God to the minds of the first readers.
And round about the throne (were) four and twenty thrones: and upon the thrones (I saw) four and twenty elders sitting, arrayed in white garments; and on their heads crowns of gold.
The twenty-four elders were setting on thrones in this image. Thrones and crowns are representative of a position of authority so these elders are going to be prominent figures in the minds of the first readers. There were twelve Patriarchs of the tribes of Israel, the sons of Jacob, and there were twelve original apostles of Jesus Christ. It is almost certain the 24 elders mentioned in this vision are representative of these individuals. These elders, dressed in white which represents purity, were seated round about the throne of God which places Him as the centerpiece of their attention. All eyes are on God.
And out of the throne proceed lightnings and voices and thunders. And (there was) seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God;
The lightnings, voices and thunderings are reminiscent of the conditions surrounding Mount Sinai while the people waited for the giving of the law. “And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a trumpet exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And mount Sinai, the whole of it, smoked, because Jehovah descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:16-18).
The seven lamps of fire are described as being the seven Spirits of God. We know God only has one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4), so the seven is therefore representative of the totality of God’s Spirit which rounds out the image of His complete power and sovereignty. It is only fitting that a vision of the throne room of God include His Holy Spirit, present with Him in a position of authority, glory and power.
“and before the throne, as it were a sea of glass like a crystal; and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, four living creatures full of eyes before and behind.”
In the imaginations of the 1st century Christians, the sea, being a source of many a storm and the death of many a mariner, represents something violent, unpredictable and dangerous. But the sea in this vision is still, calm and tranquil. Jesus calmed the storms as recorded in Mark 4:39. As powerful as God is and as ominous as the thunders and lightnings are, those in His immediate presence are on calm, peaceful waters, having nothing to fear. Those standing about the throne of God have come through the storms and are on a sea that has been calmed, at peace and is still.
The sea of glass like a crystal is a barrier between the Christians and God on His throne. Christians walk by faith and not by site, not being allowed in the literal presence of God in His throne room. At the end time when the redeemed inherit their home in heaven, they will have to access God through the limitations of any barriers. They will be in his literal presence. In Revelation 21 we are given a vision of Heaven and in verse one, the sea which is present in this vision is absent.
The living creatures in John’s vision are similar to Ezekiel’s vision of the four creatures in chapter 1; “And out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man” (Ezekiel 1:5). “As for their rims, they were high and dreadful; and they four had their rims full of eyes round about” (Ezekiel 1:18).
The number four was symbolic of the world in which we live and when the first readers saw this number they would then associate it with all life on this earth. In interpreting what these living creatures are, it is important to examine their characteristics and what they were doing. They were alive and were assembled about God’s throne, in verse 9 they are worshipping God on His throne, giving thanks to Him. All mankind is commanded to give “thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Examine the activities and qualities of these figurative animals and compare them with who or what we know in existence that would best match their characteristics and behavior. The four living creatures assembled all around the throne are representative of all of mankind in God’s creation who are saved.
“And the first creature (was) like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face as of a man, and the fourth creature (was) like a flying eagle.”
These characteristics are exactly like those of the creatures in Ezekiel’s vision; “As for the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man; and they four had the face of a lion on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four had also the face of an eagle” (Ezekiel 1:10).
Looking closely at the creatures in Ezekiel’s vision we see one of their characteristics that sheds tremendous light on what they represented. “And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; they turned not when they went” (Ezekiel 1:12). The creatures in Ezekiel’s vision followed wherever the Spirit led never turning from their course.
All four creatures represented mankind as a whole, each individual creature exhibited one of man’s unique qualities when taken as a whole separate mankind utterly from the rest of the animal kingdom and from the lost. The saved who were assembled about the throne were noble like a lion, domesticated and in servitude like a calf or an ox, wise like men who had ears and listened to what the Spirit said they came from the far corners of the earth, soaring high above the lost of the world, like eagles on wings. Noble, in faithful service, wise, and soaring high above the lost on earth. Who is this a picture of? They are the saved of the earth that follow wherever the Spirit leads.
“and the four living creatures, having each one of them six wings, are full of eyes round about and within: and they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, (is) the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”
Here we have the four living creatures praising God in the same fashion as the Seraphim in Isaiah 6:2-3, “Above him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Some have suggested that the living creatures of Revelation 4 are representative of the Seraphim in Isaiah because of the similarity of the six wings. The living creatures in Ezekiel have four wings each while the Seraphim each have six which match the wing count of the four living creatures in Revelation. It should be noted that the number of Seraphim in attendance around the throne of God is not mentioned while the living creatures of Ezekiel are and are described with the same facial features and animal likenesses. It is often the case in Revelation that John draws on the imagery of numerous accounts in order to complete the total picture of what he is seeing in his own vision. The purpose for this is to refer the reader’s mind back to other Biblical imagery to help form in his mind a picture of the vision in John’s mind. It is helpful to focus more on the activities than the specifics. What’s going on? What are they doing? Who is being worshipped and who is doing the worshipping and how are they doing it? It is this Bible student’s opinion that the imagery of the four living creatures is not an either/or case, rather they represent a combination of the two in appearance and activity.
The four figurative creatures in John’s vision had more wings than an ordinary eagle. The characteristics one would associate an eagle with are amplified in this vision threefold. These creatures never cease from worshipping and thanking and giving honor to God. This is representative of an everlasting eternity in presence with God where the saved will honor and glorify Him who existed before anything did, is living now and will come again which is representative of Jesus Christ.
“And when the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanks to him that sitteth on the throne, to him that liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders shall fall down before him that sitteth on the throne, and shall worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and shall cast their crowns before the throne, saying,”
And when all of saved mankind from the earth worship God on His throne who lives forever and ever, the 24 elders fall down before the throne and worship God with them, throwing their crowns on the ground at the foot of God’s throne. The elders are not in any way the recipients of worship. The worship of the living creatures and the elders is directed wholly and solely upon God. All the figurative crowns, which came from God, are removed and thrown at His feet. When God is worshipped, all eyes, all glory, all reverence, all praise and all attention is directed solely at Him.
“Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created.”
God claims to be worthy to receive glory, honor and power. This is in contrast to those of the first century who demanded to be worshipped as Gods on earth but were not worthy. The word “for” introduces an explanation of what was first stated. The Roman emperors didn’t create anything. It was not because of their will that anything existed. They built a lot of temples to their own glory but they didn’t create anything. It was God’s will that all things were created and existed. No man had anything to do with that and inspiration claims this makes God worthy of glory and honor. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork” (Psalms 19:1).
There were so many false pagan gods one could worship. These Gods were dreamed up in the minds of men and were a reflection of man’s capricious ways. These Gods were often portrayed as possessing the lustful and worldly characteristics of the people that dreamed them up. The God we serve is not like those gods. The pagan gods invented and served by men were no better than they were. The one true and living God we serve is true, just, trustworthy and pure. God is incapable of any unrighteous act and is the image of absolute holiness and perfection and is powerful beyond human comprehension. Inspiration used the creation in this example to illustrate God’s power. Consider for a moment just how vast the known universe is and what it must have entailed to bring about its creation from nothing. The Roman emperors who proclaimed themselves to be gods and required the worship of men couldn’t create the dust on their sandals. They were untrustworthy, cruel and followed after the lusts of their own hearts.
We serve a powerful, caring, just, honest, trustworthy, righteous and deserving God. Our God is perfect and is worthy of the honor and glory of His creation. Our God is worth living for and certainly worth dieing for if necessary. And as we will see later on, many did die for Him.
After Jesus finished addressing the seven churches, I looked and saw a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice which I had heard again addressed me like the calling of a trumpet and said to me, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place in the future. “ And immediately I came under the Holy Spirit’s power and I saw a throne standing in heaven, with someone seated on it! And He Who sat upon the throne radiated light like diamonds and rubies and all around His throne was a halo that looked like an emerald rainbow.
Twenty-four other thrones surrounded the main throne, and seated on these thrones were twenty-four elders all dressed in white spotless clothing, with crowns of gold upon their heads. Out from the central throne came flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder, and in front of this throne seven blazing torches burned, which represented the sevenfold perfect Spirit of God. And in front of the throne there was also what looked like a transparent glassy sea like a crystal, still and calm and safe. And around the throne, in the center at each side of the throne, were all the saved, seeing what is before and behind them, noble, penitent, wise and soaring on the wings of eagles, high above the earth.
And when they all offer glory, honor and thanksgiving to God who sits on His throne and will never die, all the elders throw their crowns at God’s feet and fall on their faces with them and join them in worship, crying out “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive the glory and the honor and dominion, for You created all things and by Your will they were brought into being and were created.”