05 Jun 2022
Passage Revelation 4
Speaker Chris Haley
We’re going to start off this morning with some science: Have you ever noticed that shape of things from the smallest to the largest is the same? The atom: big thing at the centre, orbited by much smaller things- electrons. The solar system: big thing at the centre orbited by much smaller things- planets (In turn planets are orbited by moons!) Even at the level of our galaxy, there is a big bulge in the middle and everything else goes round it. That is the way our world works from the smallest atom to the largest galaxy, and this morning we’re going to see that our world is set up that way, not just physically, but spiritually too: the biggest, most important in the centre and everything else goes around it. The Lord Jesus through John wants to set this straight right at the beginning of the vision. This is the foundation that everything else in the book is built on. The setting of chapter 4 and the events of chapter 5 set everything in motion for the rest of the book. We’re going to get half that story this morning as we look at chapter 4. We’re going to see God as mighty creator ordering the created universe around Himself, around His throne, according to his rule, under his control. As He writes to these struggling churches He wants them to know the reality of what is really going on, so he pulls back the curtain and let’s John take a peek into the reality of the time in which he lives and what is to follow, but in doing so He has a goal: to sustain these believers through hardships, and allow them to see the spiritual reality behind our seemingly chaotic and hostile world.
Three points this morning- first of all…
There is a throne v1-3
1 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.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.
The voice that speaks to John is Jesus- He was the one with the voice like a trumpet in chapter 1. He invites John to come and look through a door that is standing open in heaven. Not heaven is not so much up there or over there. Heaven is the spiritual domain where God dwells- it’s his home, if we can speak of it that way. Heaven is a present reality. This is not a vision of the future, not yet. This is an unveiling of the present- a behind the scenes look at our world, what is really going on in our present reality. And what John sees… is a throne. A throne, the executive seat of a king or monarch, and John sees that someone is sitting on it. At the centre of our reality is a throne, an authority, a power. There is someone behind the scenes ruling our world- not the illuminati, nor some secret society, not even her majesty the Queen- her seventy years on the throne pale into insignificance compared to the one sitting here. What John sees is that at the centre of our reality God Almighty sits on the throne. The ruler of the world- is none other than God Himself!
And His appearance here is dazzling- like Jasper and Carnelian. I’m no stone expert, but these are expensive jewels, precious gems. The city of God will shine with them at the end of the book. They are dazzling and precious. I think the idea is that he’s almost blinded by the glory of this. Around the throne is a rainbow. This is what Ezekiel sees in Ezekiel 1 when he sees the throne room of God, and it’s a sign that this is the God of the covenant, the promises, the one who promised Noah he would never flood the Earth again, but here is where we see this picture is not so easy to draw or even imagine. The rainbow has the appearance of an emerald. How can a rainbow look like an emerald? John is using these things to describe the indescribable. And yet emerald and jasper and carnelian all appear as part of the twelve on the high priest’s ephod, all appear in the city of God at the end of the book. Those particular stones represent Reuben the eldest tribe, Benjamin, the smallest tribe, and Judah- the tribe from which Jesus came, and God shines with this glory on his throne.
At the centre of everything is our glorious, magnificent, splendid, bright, wonderful God, a God seen through his promises, through his reaching down to us, but in Himself He dwells in inapproachable light. He is there in all his beauty and glory and magnificence. He belongs at the centre of reality. He is the source and author of all reality, of all being. There is a throne and God is sitting on it.
And the first readers needed to hear this. When they were in danger of thinking that the Roman Emperor was really the one with the power. They needed to be reminded that even though it might look like it on the surface, that that was not really the case. Nero does not sit on throne of heaven. Napoleon does not sit on the throne of heaven. Neither Putin nor Biden, nor Kim Jong Un sit on the throne of heaven. God sits on the throne of heaven. He is the one in control. He is the one driving the action. The world is not out of control- it is under his control. And this is the God who has promised to be gracious to his people. But equally those other churches John is writing who are straying from the Gospel, who are giving up on their love for one another need to remember that too. There is an authority. There is one we answer to. There is one we are accountable to. We are people under authority. We are not free to go our own way. We are to live under his rule. There is a throne and God sits on it! And it’s something that our world needs to know- the world is not a free-for-all.
Having established that John is given…
A Tour Around the Throne v4-9
First he sees…
God’s People around the Throne v4
4 Round 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.
The twenty-four elders symbolise God’s people. Now some debate whether these are actual angelic creatures who really do stand around the throne, but I don’t think we need to see it that way anymore than we have to believe God actually has a rainbow around him- it’s symbolic. And even if they are angels, they are symbolic of God’s people:
They are clothed in white garments- we’ve already seen God’s people are to be clothed in white garments in chapter 3 to the churches of Sardis and Laodicea. They wear crowns- again, Christians are spoken of as wearing crowns in 2:10 and 3:11. They sit on thrones- we saw last time the promises that those who overcome would reign with Christ. (It always makes me think of the Narnia Chronicles. The four children sit on thrones in the palace. They are kings and queens under Aslan the true King of Narnia.) They are called ‘elders’- Not angels, but elders. Elders were leaders of groups of God’s people in the Old Testament, and they were and are leaders of churches in the New Testament age. If that’s not convincing enough: there are twenty-four of them on twenty-four thrones. We’ve met some numbers in revelation so far:
- 7 for perfection, holiness, completeness
- 10 for ‘some’ or ‘a few’
24 is two lots of 12. 12 in the Bible is nearly always to do with God’s people: In the Old Testament there were 12 tribes of Israel. In the New Testament there are 12 Apostles. If you think I’m reading too much into this Revelation treats this the same way. At the end of the book we’re presented with the New Jerusalem where God will dwell with his people. It’s got twelve gates, and twelve foundations, and it’s 12,000 stadia long wide and high! It’s adorned with 12 kinds of jewels. The walls are 144 cubits thick- which is 12 x12. What’s this all about? Well, the twelve tribes are inscribed on the gates, and the twelve Apostles are inscribed on the foundations: God’s people are there Old and New Testament. Same here. These elders represent God’s people Old and New Testament.
What’s significant here though is where they are. They are around the throne. God is in the centre and they are in orbit around him. He is the focal point, and their lives revolve around Him. Back in the day we used to believe the Earth was the centre of the universe, and that the sun revolved around us. So important were we, that we were the centre of everything! These elders though have understood what it took scientists hundreds of years to discover: The world does not revolve around us, the world does not revolve around me, the world revolves around God, and that includes me and my life, or at least it should do! It’s a real basic simple truth, but so often we get this wrong. We try to get God to revolve around us. We say “This is what I want from life, now God where do you fit in?” We order our lives around what we want, rather than what He wants, and when we do that we’re making a grab for the throne. We fall into the same trap as the devil who wanted to rule in place of God. God’s people here are pictured as people whose lives revolve around God. They are around the throne
But there are some parts here that are not around the throne, but before it…
The Spirit & Sea Before the Throne 5-6
5 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, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. (Revelation 4:5-6)
Lighting and thunder and flashes come from before the throne- it’s like Mt Sinai. It reminds us of the otherness and unapproachability of this awesome God who sits on the throne. What is before the throne though? Seven burning torches, which we’re told helpfully are the seven Spirits of God. Again Revelation reminds us we’re not supposed to really think these things like torches are physically there. It’s a vision to represent the true reality of things- how could you see Spirit? The seven torches idea could be a temple thing again, the seven branched menorah in the temple burning before the Lord, but we’re told the reality of what we’re seeing: the seven Spirits of God, which we identified in chapter 1 as a way of talking about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not around the throne as though he were God’s minion or inferior. He’s not in orbit around God like a creature, or one of his servants. He is before God. He’s in a different category to the angels and the people of God and the servants of God because He is God! He is pictured separately here because He is active in the world pictured around the throne, yet He truly belongs with the throne. He is a sort of go between, between the two, but not as a separate power to the one on the throne, that’s why He’s pictured differently here.
The sea here though is something else, some see a link with the temple again. There was a wash basin known as ‘the sea’ – same word. It seems more like an actual sea is meant- another clue this is not the end- there is no sea at the end of Revelation. Here the sea is made of glass, like crystal. In other words it’s see through and it’s still. The Holy Spirit appears with the sea at the beginning:
2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2 ESV)
There they are the waters of chaos, but here the chaos is stilled. The darkness is cleared- the sea is see-through. The sea was a dangerous place for the Israelites: their enemies came from there, sea monsters came from there. Pretty much in the Bible whenever anyone is at sea there’s a storm- have you ever noticed that? But before God the sea is still- is calm, before God the sea holds no danger. In other words before God there is total tranquillity and security. Storms may rage on Earth, but not in heaven. Before God all is calm- there are no panic stations, there are no emergency centres, no cobra planning meetings. The picture we have is that from God’s perspective there are no real threats, no real dangers. He is sovereignly in control even over the chaos of the sea. The only thunder and lightning comes from the throne, not from the sea! He is in control of it, not subject to it!
Next in our tour we move back to what around the throne:
All Creation Around the Throne 6-7
And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 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.
If it wasn’t strange enough now we see four strange creatures around the throne. Again the imagery comes from Ezekiel 1. What we have represented here is the whole of creation: wild animals like lions, tame animals like oxen, human beings as part of the created order, and birds represented by the eagle. There’s a link with the temple again: In 1 Kings 7 a similar combination is there. But why is it there? To harken back to creation, really to Eden- where the created order was perfectly and willingly under God’s control. The number again is a clue: four is often the number for the whole of creation- the four corners of the Earth, the four points of the compass, the four winds of the Earth. So just keeping it in revelation:
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. (Revelation 7:1 ESV)
Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth (Revelation 20:7b-8a ESV)
Four has to do with the created order- whole wide world including mankind, but then we start to get some strange details added that make this hard to picture: The creatures are covered with eyes inside and out. What that really means is that they see everything. As God’s agents in the world nothing is hidden from their sight. They have six wings- like the angelic seraphim in Isaiah 6
2 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. (Isaiah 6:2 ESV)
The wings enabling them to be in God’s presence and do his bidding because, as with God’s people they serve God’s purposes in the world. Creation is in orbit round God, not the other way around. It serves Him, it does his bidding. He is in control of it. That’s more controversial than you’d think! But we’re told clearly that God works all things for the good of those who love Him, that includes the natural order, that includes things that we wouldn’t think of as miracles, but just mundane; the weather, the traffic, the sunshine, the rivers, the earthquakes. I think it would change my perspective if I could just remember that the traffic and the weather serve God- and he’s using them to work for my good! Creation ultimately serves its creator, but creation’s not just there for that. John finishes with a fundamental truth about our creator God’s relationship to His world…
Creation + God’s People = Worship v8-11
8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round 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!” (Revelation 4:8 ESV)
Creation is pictured as speaking- not a new idea.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2 ESV)
But what is it saying? It speaks of God’s holiness. “Holy Holy Holy, is the Lord God almighty” That was the message of the seraphim in Isaiah 6 mashed up with God’s revelation about himself in Revelation 1
Creation tells of God’s holiness and eternity. This has been John’s way of telling us Romans 1:20.
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
Creation speaks of a creator and his nature (Romans 1:20 ESV)
It speaks of God, but who hears? God’s people, the elders! v9-10
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. (Revelation 4:9-10a ESV)
Creation sings the Father’s song and his people respond in worship. They bow down, they worship and they sing their own song v10.
They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power…” Why? “for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:10 ESV)
Just by virtue of Him being sat on the throne, just by virtue of him being creator of all thing he is worthy of glory and honour and power! There is more to it than that, chapter 5 is coming! This is just the first two verses of that hymn we sang before, ‘How Great Thou Art’: All the works thy hand hath made, through the forest glades, brooks, gentle breeze; but the second two verses are coming next week!
But even just as creator God is worth all the glory and honour in the world that should make our soul sing: ‘how great thou art!’
The problem is, naturally, it doesn’t we don’t honour God as creator, Paul continues in Romans 1:21:
…although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21 ESV)
Left to ourselves we don’t see what creation is pointing to. When we see the wonder of our world, we worship something else instead! But that’s not how we were created to be. We were created to worship our creator, not because He’s on a ego trip, but because that’s right. God is at the centre, and true worship puts God at the centre- it’s about him. And that’s what true worship is: it’s not so much about hymns, but about Him. Hymns and songs play their part, but true worship is that bowing down before God, casting our crowns before Him, saying “I’m not really the king- You are! I’m not really what it’s all about, you are. You wear the crown in my life, You sit in the driver’s seat, You wear the trousers.” Whatever metaphor you like.
Worship is whatever shows God to be worthy. The word in English used to be ‘worth-ship’- you are worthy of everything Lord, everything I am and have and ever hope to be- all of it belongs to You! Imagine her majesty the Queen coming before the one on the throne her and not asking Him to bow, but bowing before him, taking off her crown and coming before Him as a subject, not as a queen or king. It’s saying “This rule, this reign, this life I have belong to You- You are the true King” and that can be expressed in hymns and words, but it’s mostly expressed in a thousand decisions a day, decisions to put God first from the moment we wake up, to the moment we fall asleep. Everything, not an hour or so on a Sunday, not an hour or so with a ‘worship’ CD, every… waking… breath. Even just as creator God is worth everything! Glory, honour, power, to be loved with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And when we look at things that way, we begin to see our problem We’re going to see next week that God will look out on the whole of creation and find- no one else is worthy. No-one in the whole of creation does this as they ought. No earthly creature truly reflects this heavenly reality. No-one does his will on Earth as it is in heaven, but I’m straying into next week!
What’s noticeably absent from our picture is the Lord Jesus! And as we will see, He is the solution to that problem, and we cannot miss that out as we begin to apply: As Christians we are restored by Christ in part to what we were supposed to be, and the elders here in that sense are our model of what we were made to be: Our lives are supposed to be ordered with God at the centre and all other things around him. Our lives are supposed to be in orbit around him. When we put God at the centre we reflect the way things are supposed to be, but so often in our lives we put other things at the centre- good things, but not God things. Work, family, sport, money, holidays, retirement. Whatever it is, it is not God, and when we centre our lives around them, we worship them. We might not sing hymns to them, but we declare in our actions, thoughts and words that they are worthier than God.
Do we worship God with our lips, but something else with our lives? We were made to worship the worthy one, our creator God. Maybe we need to deliberately spend some time in the woods and forest glades, and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze, see the stars, hear the rolling thunder. Not instead of reading the word, or church, or prayer, we need those too! We need those partly to understand what we’re seeing, but this is one we miss- creation + God’s people = worship. Maybe we could set aside some time this week- even half an hour- to go remind ourselves of the greatness of God as creator! Outside, or if you can’t get outside stick on one of those David Attenborough documentaries? I know someone who watches them with the sound off and some relaxing music in the background! (Not me!) See the wonder of creation from the smallest atom, to the largest galaxy- it is there as fuel for our worship of the God who is even greater, and is at the centre, the centre of all things!