Text: Revelation 4
Several visions of the heavenly throne-room occur in Revelation, usually preceding punitive actions on earth implying divine sovereignty over all earthly events, for events in heaven determine events in the world (7.9–17; 8.1–5; 11.15–19; 14.2–3; 15.2–8; 19.1–10; 21.3–8; see also 1 Kings 22.19–23; Job 1.6–12; 2.1–6).
This chapter is all about praise to God, the Creator of all. In the first vision, John sees the one God enthroned over the whole universe, praised as the Creator of all. This scene provides the setting for the remainder of the book. Faith in one God is at the core of both the Jewish and the Christian faiths (Deut 6:4-5; Mark 12:28-34; Rom 3:30; Gal 3:20; Jas 2:19).
In chapters 4 and 5 we get a glimpse into the Divine Throne Room as YHWH prepares to judge a Christ rejecting world.
4:1 Come up here. This is not a veiled reference to the rapture of the church, but a command for John to be temporarily transported to heaven “in the Spirit” to receive revelation about future events. The Rapture has occurred somewhere between chapters 3 and 4. We note that it is not mentioned again until chapter 19 and God is specifically calling John into the Throne Room of Heaven to see:
what must take place after these things. According to the outline given in Chapter one and verse 19, this begins the third and final section of the book, describing the events that will follow the church age. We need to be absolutely clear here, the events which are described in chapter four and following do not concern the Church. This is the time of Jacobs Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7) and is for the purification of national Israel.
4:2 throne. This is not necessarily a piece of furniture; it is, however a symbol of sovereign rule and Divine authority (7:15; 11:19; 16:17, 18; Isa 6:1). The Throne is the focus of chapter 4, occurring 13 times, 11 times referring to God’s throne.
4:3 It is unlikely that this is a description of God Himself. More likely what John is describing are the colors he sees as the Lord’s Crown reflects His radiant majesty. jasper. John later describes this stone as “crystal-clear” (21:11). He is probably referring to a diamond, which refracts all the colors of the spectrum in wondrous brilliance. A jasper/diamond would amplify the brilliance of Divine Majesty
sardius. A fiery bright ruby stone named for the city near which it was found (The sardius stone was commonly found near the city of Sardis).
emerald. A cool, emerald-green hue dominates the multi-colored rainbow surrounding God’s throne (cf. Ezekiel 1:28). From the time of Noah, the rainbow became a sign of God’s faithfulness to His Word, His promises, and His Noahic covenant (Genesis 9:12-17).
4:4 twenty-four elders. Their joint rule with Christ, their white garments, and their golden crowns all seem to indicate that these 24 represent the redeemed (verses 9-11; 5:5-14; 7:11-17; 11:16-18; 14:3; 19:4). The question is which redeemed? These Elders cannot be Israel, since the nation is not yet saved, glorified, and coronated. That is still to come at this point in the events of the end. Their resurrection and glory will come at the end of the 7-year tribulation time (Daniel 12:1-3). Tribulation saints aren’t yet saved (7:9, 10). Only one group will be complete and glorified at that point—the church. Here elders represent the church, which sings the song of redemption (5:8-10). They are the overcomers who have their crowns and live in the place prepared for them, where they have gone with Jesus (John 14:1-4). We need, also, to remember that the term elder is used to describe the Sanhedrin, which these are not, and it is also the title of the leaders of the Church. Since the Elder (presbuteros) stands before God to represent the flock, it is logical that the elders mentioned here are analogous to the Church.
4:5 lightning… thunder. Not the fury of nature, but the firestorm of righteous fury about to come from an awesome, powerful God upon a sinful world (8:5; 11:19; 16:18). Much like a storm that blows up on a lake, this is sudden and severe. It will seem like a surprise to the unredeemed world but to God it will not be a surprise but will come at exactly the time He plans for it.
seven Spirits of God. The Holy Spirit in His full perfection.
4:6 sea of glass. There is no sea in heaven (21:1), but the crystal pavement that serves as the floor of God’s throne stretches out like a great, glistening sea (Exodus 24:10; Ezekiel 1:22).
four living creatures. Lit. “four living ones or beings.” These are the most likely cherubim (sing., cherub), those angels frequently referred to in the OT in connection with God’s presence, power, and holiness (Ezekiel 1). Although John’s description is not identical to Ezekiel’s, they are obviously both referring to the same supernatural and indescribable beings (Psalm 80:1; 99:1; Ezekiel 1:4-25
full of eyes. The description of them as being full of eyes is reminiscent of the seraphim in Isaiah chapter 6. However, while these 4 Living Creatures could be seraphim it is more likely they are cherubim. The eyes are metaphoric in nature; although they are not omniscient—an attribute reserved for God alone—these angels have a comprehensive knowledge and perception. Nothing escapes their scrutiny, hence a description of being full of eyes.
4:7 first… like a lion. In what is obviously intended as symbolic language, John compares these 4 beings with 4 of God’s earthly creations. Ezekiel indicates that every cherub has these 4 attributes. The likeness to a lion symbolizes strength and power.
second… like a calf. The image of a calf demonstrates that these beings render humble service to God.
third… face like that of a man. Their likeness to man shows they are rational beings.
fourth… like a flying eagle. The cherubim fulfill their service to God with the swiftness of eagles’ wings.
4:8 full of eyes. See v. 6
Holy, holy, holy. Often God is extolled for His holiness in this 3-fold form, because it is the summation of all that He is—His most salient attribute (Isa 6:3). Here, again, is why I bring up the possibility that the 4 Living Creatures are seraphim. As in Isaiah, these angels call out holy, holy, holy in what is most likely an antiphonal chorus.
who was and who is and who is to come
This is the eternal nature of who God is. He always has been (Psalm 90:2), He is I AM (Exodus 3:14), and He always will be (eis tus aionos tau aiono) (Revelation 22)
4:10 cast their crowns. Aware that God alone is responsible for the rewards they have received, they divest themselves of all honor and cast it at the feet of their King.
4:11 You created all things. It is the Creator God who set out to redeem His creation.
Heaven’s response to the person of God and to everything He does is praise. The Church joins in that worship. We join in because He is not just our King, He is our Redeemer and for that, we praise Him