Sunday, January 03, 2016


Chapters 4-5
Vision of the Throne in Heaven

Jesus commanded John to write what he saw. That included things that are and things that are to take place after this. In other words, Jesus would show John things in his present time and things in his future. (Rev. 1:19)

Jesus showed John the condition of the churches of Asia in John’s present time. He did this through the letters to the seven churches in chapters two and three. The theme was for the churches to get right with Jesus and get ready for hard times to come. These are the things “which will soon take place”. (1:1)

The next chapters record John’s vision of the things to come from a spiritual perspective. It shows the battle between Christ and Satan as Satan attacks the church and Christ defends it. This battle occurs over the whole history of the church. It culminates in Christ’s victory over Satan, fellowed by his recreation of earth into a Garden of Eden in which his church will dwell with him forever.

Chapters 4 and 5 are a vision of heaven centered on the throne of God and Jesus. It is one vision even though your Bible divides it into two chapters. Remember the chapter divisions are not part of the original text.

Why would Jesus give John, and us, a vision of Christ in heaven before showing John what comes next? It is because of the theme of perseverance, or endurance. Jesus encouraged each church to endure in faith to the end in order to reign with him. What better way to encourage believers to face the battle ahead than to see the glory and power of the leader?

Summons to Heaven

For John’s first vision of Christ, he was summoned to the vision by a “the first voice which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet”. (1:10) The voice is that of Jesus, as it was in chapter 1.

John was also “in the Spirit” when he received the first vision and encounter with Jesus. (1:10) It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to experience spiritual things beyond the physical things around us. In chapter 4, John is shown this vision of heaven “in the Spirit”. (4:2)

Jesus summoned John to come into heaven via the vision of the door. This is similar to Ezekiel’s first vision, where he “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God”. (Ez. 1:1) It is also similar to Isaiah’s vision of God’s temple. (Is. 6) The summons is to come into heaven, God’s real temple, where John will be shown “what must take place after this”. (4:1) John will be shown heaven, then all of the remaining events he records in the book of Revelation.

Vision of the Throne of God

The very first thing John sees in heaven is the throne and the one who sits on it.  It is the center of Heaven. It is also central to the whole book of Revelation, being mentioned more than 50 times. For those thinking the throne in Rome was so powerful that Christianity might not endure, this book points out that God is on his throne and rules over all, including Rome.

So, John saw a throne and one seated on the throne. (2) John described this one as having the appearance of jasper and carnelian. We do not know the exact colors or appearance of carnelian or jasper, since many stones were named differently at that time than they are now now. There is also an emerald bow around the throne. Ezekiel also saw a bow above the throne. (Ez. 1:28) John tried to express the glory and brilliance of God and his throne. Notice, though, he refrains from describing God’s actual appearance.

Around the throne, John saw 24 thrones. In Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days, he saw thrones being placed. On those thrones sat elders. They wore white clothes with gold crowns on their heads. John does not say who these elders were. One common interpretation is that they were representatives of the church throughout history. That would mean 12 thrones for the 12 tribes of Israel and 12 thrones for the 12 apostles of Christ. This idea came from the King James Version translation of Revelation 5:9, where the elders sing: “Thou art worthy to take the book and to one the seals thereof; for thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation”.  However, none of the modern translations contain the word “us”. For example the English Standard Version (ESV) says “you ransomed people for God”. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) says “”didst purchase for God with Thy blood men…”. The word “men” is written in italics. In the NASB that means the word is not found in the text but implied by it. The New International Version (NIV) says “with your blood you purchased men for God”. Thus, the modern texts do not support the conclusion that the elders are men of the church.

The alternate theory is that the elders are either a high order of angels. The setting is that of a king and his court. The text of Chapter 5 supports this view also. For, in 5:8 they held bowls of incense, symbols of the prayers of the saints. In Revelation it is angels that do this, not human beings.

Verse 5 returns to the description of the throne itself. Lightning and thunder came from it. This is a symbol of the presence of God in power. We see this in God’s appearance on the mountain to make a covenant with Israel. (Exodus 19:16) When Ezekiel saw the vision of the glory of God, there was “fire flashing forth continually”. (Ez. 1:4) Daniel said “a stream of fire issued and came out before him”. (Dan. 7:9)

Before the throne also were 7 torches of fire. John tells us they represent the 7 spirits of God. This refers to Zechariah 4:2. There the Lord gave Zechariah a vision that included seven lamps. They represented the Holy Spirit whom, God said, would accomplish God’s work of rebuilding the temple (as opposed to might or power of men). Revelation 1:4 also shows us this refers to the Holy Spirit as John referred to the Trinity. He described the Holy Spirit as “the seven spirits that are before the throne”. The number seven may refer to the fullness of the Spirit’s presence with the Father.

There was also a sea of glass in front of the throne. (6) It’s significance is not explained to us. But a glass sea would be smooth and calm, in contrast to the seas on earth, which were tumultuous and chaotic. God is omnipotent, or all powerful, even to subduing the sea. This sea appeared to some in the Old Testament. When Moses and the elders of Israel went up on Sinai to eat with God, they saw it saw “under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.” (Ex. 24:10)
Ezekiel saw “the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal”. (Ez. 1:22)

Moving inward toward the throne, we see it surrounded on all sides by four living creatures. They have eyes all over, seeing everything. Each has a different face: a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle. Isaiah and Ezekiel saw similar creatures in their visions of God. (Is. 6:2-3; Ez. 1:10, 18) The differences in the descriptions should not trouble you. The point of apocalyptic writing, and of prophetic vision, is not to present us a photograph of creatures. Rather, it is to portray aspects of the truth about God and his heavenly court that is relevant to the situation in which the prophet and his people struggle.

These living creatures are a type of cherubim. They guard the holiness of God. They did it in Eden, in the Tabernacle at the ark of the covenant, and at the most holy place in the temple. The places all were replicas of the heavenly throne room in which John found himself. God sits enthroned between the cherubim. No one enters into God’s presence unbidden. But Christ commanded John to come, so he was allowed entry into this sacred place.

In addition to their guard duty, the creatures engage in worship. The creatures praise God continually, saying “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,who was and is and is to come”. (8)  They praised God for his holiness. His holiness is perfect, shown by the threefold repetition. We have a hymn that mimics this. It is called “Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty”, using the very words of this scripture.

The living creatures also praise God for his omnipotence by addressing God as the “almighty”. And, finally, they praise God his eternity, saying “who was and is and is to come”. God has always been and will always be. But he was also there for the Asian churches in their present. He is here with us in our present also. John adds to the description in verse 9 by calling God the one who lives forever and ever.

The elders also worshipped God, joining the praise of the 4 creatures. They got off of their thrones and fell on their faces. They even cast their crowns before him. These are acts of adoration and reverence. They said “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. (11)

The basis for the praise of the elders is God’s creation of the world. Yet again we see that creation is essential to the Bible’s portrayal of God. It is not just Genesis 1 that is an issue. God is the Creator and we worship him for that.

He, and he alone, is worthy of our worship.

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