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A THRONE IN HEAVEN

Revelation 4:1-4:11
Key Verse: 4:2

ItIt will be good to begin with a brief review of chapters 1-3. First of all, the book of Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take it to heart what is written in it.” In chapter 1, Jesus’ second coming is written in the present progressive tense, “Look, he is coming with the clouds…”, which is the focal point of Revelation, and in this chapter the image of Christ risen and glorified is described: particularly his head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire, and his face was like the sun shining in all his brilliance. Then in chapters 2 and 3 the risen Christ gave his specific message to each of the seven churches: To the church in Ephesus, the message of love, saying, “You have forsaken your first love” (2:4), to the church in Smyrna, the message concerning suffering, saying, “Be faithful to the point of death” (2:10), to the church in Pergamum, the message regarding truth, saying, “I will fight with the sword of my mouth” (2:16), to the church in Thyatira, the message concerning holiness, saying, “I am he who searches hearts and minds” (2:23), to the church in Sardis, the message about spiritual aliveness (vitality), saying, “You are dead. Wake up!” (3:2), to the church in Philadelphia, the message concerning opportunity, saying, “See, I have placed…an open door” (3:8), and to the church in Laodicea, the message regarding zeal or wholeheartedness, saying, “You are neither cold nor hot…You are lukewarm…Be earnest and repent” (3:19). Love, suffering, truth, holiness, spiritual aliveness (vitality), opportunity/open door, and wholeheartedness are spiritual essentials for the church of Christ Jesus. Chapters 4 and 5 set a good stage for the rest of the chapters in Revelation related to “what will take place later” (1:19). In these chapters God is on the throne in heaven and the Lamb is in the centre of the throne. All the creatures and the redeemed people praise God and the Lamb. In chapter 4 let’s think about the throne in heaven and heavenly worship.

First, a throne in heaven. (1-3). Look at verse 1a. “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.” “After this” refers to the risen Jesus speaking to the seven churches. There are numerous parallels between this passage and the vision recorded by Ezekiel. Ezekiel did not mention a door, but said, “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God” (Eze. 1:1). We remember that at the time of Jesus’ baptism heaven was open (Lk 3:21). Here John looked and saw an open door to heaven. So now the scene John described was changed from the churches on the earth to heaven.

Then verse 1b says, “And 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.’” According to 1:9-11, John was on the island of Patmos; on the Lord’s Day he was in the Spirit, and heard behind him a loud voice like a trumpet, which said, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches” (1:11). And then in 1:19, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” The same voice, the voice of the risen Christ, like the trumpet now said, “Come up here.” “Here” definitely refers to heaven. So John went up to heaven through the open door, and the Lord Jesus would show him what must take place after letting him see the heavenly throne.

Look at verse 2. “At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.” According to witnesses, the earth viewed from outerspace is very beautiful. When the Apostle Paul was caught up to paradise, he heard “inexpressible things”, “things that man is not permitted to tell” (2 Cor. 12:4). John could have first written something spectacular of heaven. Here, however, the first thing John mentioned concerning heaven is a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. In this chapter the word “throne” is written 10 times (2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6, 6, 9, 10, 11). Certainly, throne is related to ruling. At that time the world was a Roman world. The emperor Domitian (AD 81-96) ruled the world on his throne in Rome. Under his rule, many Christians were intensely persecuted because of their faith and John himself had been exiled to the island of Patmos because of the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus (1:9). The Roman emperor on his throne seemed to exercise his power and authority without limit, and his throne seemed infallible. People on the earth could not see beyond this earthly throne. But John saw and testified that there was a throne in heaven. Surely, the throne in heaven is the highest throne above all thrones on the earth, of course above the throne of the Roman Empire.

Isaiah 6:1 says, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted.” At the time, King Uzziah had just died after a 52-year-long reign, the young Isaiah was in despair.. For he only saw the corruption of the nation. In his despair he went into the temple of God and there saw a vision of the Lord seated on a throne. Then Isaiah repented of his despair and complaints, believed that God was ruling the nation Israel and the world, and accepted God’s call. Throughout the book of Isaiah, he proclaimed the message, “God reigns.” With faith in God’s sovereign rule, he could prophesy the destinies of all the neighbouring countries, planting hope in the hearts of the people, especially the hope of the coming Messiah.

Nebuchadnezzar, once a king of Babylon, was so proud of his kingdom, saying, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built…by my power and for the glory of my majesty.” Then God punished him to be an animal-man for seven years. When he finally recognized that Heaven rules and the Most High is sovereign over the kingdom of men (Da 4:25, 26), his sanity was restored and his kingdom as well. “God rules” is the key message of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Genesis proclaims that God is Creator and Sovereign LORD. Genesis ends with the story of Joseph who became the prime minister of Egypt, despite the evilness of men, making a way for the descendants of Jacob to come down to Egypt for the formation of the nation Israel. It was God who led Joseph’s life. The book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, tells us what will happen and must take place: God’s judgment of the seven seals (6-8), the seven trumpets (8-11) and the seven bowls of plagues on the earth (15-16); the war between Michael and the dragon, and the dragon being cast to the earth (12); the battle Armageddon (16); the victory of the King of kings and Lord of lords in a war against the beast and the kings of the earth (19); the beast and the false prophet being thrown alive in the fiery lake of burning sulfur (19); the devil being thrown into the lake of burning sulfur (20), the New Jerusalem and the dwelling of God being with men (21). In the midst of many dreadful events of God’s judgment, one thing is certain: victory belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ and so his followers. His sovereign rule also applies to each person. As we studied in 1 Samuel, Hannah knew this and said in her song of prayer, “The LORD brings death and makes alive…he humbles and he exalts…those who oppose the LORD will be shattered…”

As we sang in the hymn, “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet. This is my Father’s world. The battle is not done; Jesus who died, shall be satisfied, And earth and heaven be one.” May we be able to see a throne in heaven with the eyes of faith and have absolute faith in God’s sovereign rule upon the world and upon our personal lives as well.

Look at verse 3. “And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian.” This is the only description of the one who sat on the throne, while there is a detailed description of the image of the risen Christ. Why is it so? We don’t know the reason fully. However, we can have a glimpse of understanding when we refer to what Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:15,16 says, “…God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see…” Only his appearance is described here in just one short sentence: He had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. Yet, it is a very powerful and meaningful description. First of all, jasper and carnelian are shining precious stones. So his appearance was glorious. The high priest of the Israelites wore a breastplate, on which were twelve stones including carnelian (or ruby the first stone on the list) and jasper (last stone). On each stone was engraved like a seal the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, representing God’s chosen people (Ex 28:17-21). And in Revelation, the foundations of New Jerusalem were decorated with twelve precious stones that included jasper (the first foundation stone) and carnelian (the sixth foundation stone) (Rev 21:19-20), and the New Jerusalem refers to the bride of Christ Jesus or our eternal dwelling place. So the appearance of the one on the throne in heaven is not separated to remain alone but related to his people. So we can say that is people are his glorious appearance as the reflection of his love for his people in his heart.

Also it may well be that jasper, as a shining and clear stone, (Rev 21:11) stands for the unbearable brightness of the purity of God, and carnelian or ruby, as a blood-coloured stone, stands for his righteous anger. The throne of God must be righteous and pure to the point of showing God’s righteous anger so that there will not be even a hint of corruption. It is different from easily corrupted earthly thrones.

And verse 3b says, “A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.” According to Genesis 8, rainbow was the sign of God’s covenant of mercy not to destroy the earth with the flood that people might not fear the rain in the memory of flood judgment. Then it is good to know this: it may well be that the gentle green of the emerald stands for God’s mercy, while jasper stands for the purity of God, and carnelian, for his righteous anger. So the righteous throne of God is encircled by the rainbow of mercy. What a beautiful scene! What an amazing grace! We are reminded of what Mary said in her song of praise, “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” (Lk 1:50). Also Psalm 103:13 says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” And as we studied in Psalm 119, the Psalmist prayed, “May your unfailing love (mercy/merciful kindness) come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise” (41), and “May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion (mercy/tender mercies) come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight” (76-77), and “Your compassion is great, O LORD” (157), and “Turn to me and have mercy on me” (132).

In this part we thank and praise God who is sitting on his throne in heaven, that his rule is sovereign over all and loving, and his throne is righteous and pure, covered with mercy.

Second, around the throne (4-6a). Look at verse 4. “Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.” Who are the twenty-four elders dressed in white and with crowns of gold on their heads? The risen Jesus said to the church in Smyrna in 2:11, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life”, to the church in Thyatira in 2:26-27, “To him who overcome, and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—He will rule them with an iron scepter…”, to the church in Sardis in 3:5, “He who overcomes will, like them, dressed in white”, and to the church in Laodicea in 3:21, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne. Just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” So the twenty-four elders are the redeemed people of the church who have kept their faith in Christ and overcome the world. While on earth Jesus said to his disciples, “You are those who have stood by me in my trials…” and promised them to sit on thrones. (Lk 22:28-30; Mt 19:28). Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:25, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” He also said in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” And James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” And Apostle Peter said to the elders in 1 Peter 5:4, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care…And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” When we think of the twenty-four elders dressed in white and having the crowns of gold on their heads, we are encouraged to stand firm in our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ against the trend of the world and all the more live a life of mission to do his will and serve his flock of sheep in our generation.

Look at verse 5a. “From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder.” “Flashes of lightning, rumblings (roaring) and peals (crashes) of thunder” appear again and again in Revelation as God’s punishment on the earth (4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18). This shows that the throne is one of judgment, and that wrath is about to proceed from it.

And in verse 5b, “before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.” The seven spirits of God are the sevenfold Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit. No evil spirit can approach the throne. These seven lamps are not the “seven lampstands” which are the churches (Rev 1:12,20), but represent the Holy Spirit who is the source of light (illuminates) and who empowers the seven lampstands. Their continual burning is an indication of judgment (Mt 3:11) and zeal (Ac 2:3), for nothing escapes the penetrating witness of the Holy Spirit (Rev 3:1; 5:6). The lamps are associated with lightning and thunder.

Look at verse 6a. “Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.” Nothing blocked the throne. A sea of glass spread before the throne. And it is clear as crystal. In 15:2 those who achieve victory over the beast are seen standing on this sea of glass before the throne. And this sea of glass may also symbolize the “river of life” as written in 22:1, which says, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.”

Third, praise to God (6b-11). Look at 6b-8a. “In the centre, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 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. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings.” Four living creatures also appear in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:5; 4:6,7,8; 5:6,8,14; 6:1,6; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4 – 13 times). And according to Ezekiel 10:20, the four living creatures in Ezekiel are cherubim. The four living creatures in Revelation and those in Ezekiel seem to be similar having wings and covered with eyes (Eze 10:12). But there are differences. These creatures in Revelation are around the throne, whereas in Ezekiel’s vision the similar creatures are in the midst of the cloud of fire (Eze. 1:5) and attend God’s chariot throne which transports the manifestation of His glory (Ps. 18:10; Eze 10:19-20; 11:22). And Ezekiel’s creatures had four wings whereas these have six. And Ezekiel’s creatures each had all four faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle whereas these each have one of the characteristics. Similarity does not make identity and we must conclude that these living creatures, while probably cherubim, are different in identity to Ezekiel’s cherubim (Eze. 10:20). Since Isaiah’s seraph had six wings attending the throne, perhaps these creatures are of that order (Isa 6:2,6). Eyes indicate great intelligence (Eze 1:18; 10:12; Da 7:8, 20; Rev 1:14; 2:18; 5:6; 19:12).

Regarding the four living creatures, the important thing is what they do here around the throne. Look at verse 8b. “Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.’” Isaiah’s seraphim made a similar pronouncement concerning God’s uniqueness (Isa 6:3). Here in their full awakening and awareness the four living creatures praise God for his perfect holiness. And they do so day and night, because their praise is from their whole being. God’s holiness is perfect holiness that cannot be affected by the unholiness and corruption of the world. Rather his holiness makes unholy and sinful human beings holy. When Mary accepted God’s favour of being the mother of Jesus, she said in her praising song, “…for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.”

Look at verses 9 -11. “Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne. Since the living creatures praise God day and night, the twenty-four elders automatically praise and worship God day and night. They lay their crowns before the throne. They knew that their crowns were nothing before the throne. The twenty-four elders praise God especially for his creation: They say, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” How great his creation is! He created all things out of nothing. All things came into being because of his willful creation. Especially, God created men in his image. Man is to know God and worship him. The elders worship God laying their golden crowns before the throne. They know that God is their true object of worship. He is the one worthy to sit on the heart of a human being. May we grow in worshipping God in our congregation and in our personal lives, giving him glory, honour and thanks.

In this passage we thank and praise God for his throne in heaven. He is sovereign, loving, righteous and merciful and holy, and worthy of our worship. May we be aware of this and live by faith in him, letting him sit on the throne of our heart and aiming the crown of righteousness, life and glory.

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