Revelation Part 13
Having finished up Jesus’ messages to the 7 churches, we now move on in the book of Revelation to things that are far less easy to access.
Apocalyptic literature is full of symbols and pictures and it can be a real minefield if we don’t keep our wits about us.
It can be a bit like cloud gazing or staring at the stars – it is easy to impose own imaginations on what’s there, of what we THINK we see. Like those who see the face of Jesus in their toast or Winston Churchill’s profile in a sweet potato.
Some of you will remember when we went through the Book of Daniel, we did something there I plan to keep with in this study.
When it comes to this kind of Biblical literature, there are things we can know for CERTAIN in the text; things which are REASONABLE to extract from the text; and things which are merely SPECULATIVE.
I will do my best to major on the CERTAIN, touch on the REASONABLE and avoid the speculative. If we keep that pattern, we’ll stay pretty safe, and avoid some of the wilder things folks have supposedly drawn out of the book over the centuries.
With that, we must remember throughout this book to recall its opening line: Revelation 1:1a “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” This book is above all a revelation given BY God, ABOUT God.
In every place our primary concern must be what does this tell me about the Triune God? Over and above what it may say about events to come. Who and what is God in it all? This is the focus.
Now to get our footing this morning, chaps 4 & 5 form one vision in 2 parts. The parts divide neatly at the chapter break, and so I’ll keep with that.
Chapter 4 is merely a vision – in the sense there is little drama or action to be perceived, at least as it affects us. We’ll see more of that in Ch. 5.
But in the long view, 4-5 introduce a “scroll” which is sealed with 7 seals. The opening of these seals stretches from Ch. 6 through Ch. 19. So these 2 chapters really do set the stage for us.
We’ll dive into this whole seal thing next time. Today, I want to focus just on Ch.4.
The scene John labors to depict for us is one of magnificent glory, reminding us of 1 Timothy 6:15b–16 “he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
Additionally the scene has a series of key elements from which we can draw a number of practical and useful observations. Not the least of which begins here: Whatever else may be happening on the earth – both with the 7 Churches we’ve looked at, or in the many scenes to follow – This is Heaven. Undisturbed – in glory, and filled with endless, ongoing worship in the presence of the ineffable God of all.
Jesus in His revelation to John wants John and his readers to know that no matter what else is going on, even in the midst of the terrible judgments we’re about to read about in the following chapters, God is still God, and He is still on His throne actually ruling – He is not a mere figurehead; His administration still stands; His angels and agents are still about their work; He is still worthy of all praise and glory and honor; and His plan is still unfolding.
But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s take the elements of the scene in order.
- A DOOR: Revelation 4:1 “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.”
The figure of the “door” is one John and his readers wouldn’t fail to grasp. Heaven is a closed place. No one just goes tripping lightly into the presence of God. Ever since the Fall, there has been separation between God and humankind made in His image – due to sin.
But it is Jesus Himself who declared: John 10:7–9 “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”
And: Matthew 11:27 “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
And: John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This “DOOR” into the presence of God on His throne can be nothing other than Jesus Himself who alone can give John and us entrance. Which notion is reinforced by John noting that it was “the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here” – which Revelation 1:12–13 shows us clearly was Jesus speaking.
If not for Christ – all access to God would be unavailable.
And what does Jesus say to John – I want to show you more things. All of life and history isn’t bound up in the here and now of the 7 Churches as you’ve already seen them. There is an eternal plan unfolding and there is much more to come.
Some have made much of the phrase “I will show you what must take place after this” – as though it means after God is done with the 7 churches, the bulk of the balance of the book doesn’t pertain to the Church. But the language most often simply means, the next thing I want to show you is…
- A THRONE: 4:2–3a “At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian”
Just as in the vision of Ch. 1, John is moved upon by the Spirit in some way so as to give him this vision.
Now the idea of a throne in John’s day meant much more than it might for us today. When we think of Kings and Queens and thrones in our day, we think in terms of figureheads like Queen Elizabeth. Royalty, but no real power – just position. But in John’s day, one who sat on a throne wielded real power and authority. And there is little doubt this is precisely what he is intended to understand: That God is not some mere, detached figurehead, but that He absolutely rules and reigns over everything. Neither the universe nor human events just rattle on by themselves. God actively rules in His universe.
As so much of the book of Revelation contains parallel visions of the Book of Daniel – so here, this representation mirrors Nebuchanezzar’s declaration upon returning to sanity: Daniel 4:34–35 “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
John sees a throne – the throne of God actively ruling over His creation.
But note how he avoids trying to describe what God Himself looks like. He can only note the dazzling sight of Jasper and carnelian beaming out in stunning brilliance. Jasper most likely being like crystal or diamond and carnelian being a blood red stone – these illuminated and shining out.
Albert Barnes says, “John does not describe His form, but His splendor. As if looking at a diamond, he does not try to describe its cut and how many facets it has, but how it shines, sparkles and dazzles. Brilliant like jasper or diamond, and blood red like sardine or carnelian.”
- A RAINBOW: 4:3b “and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.”
The rainbow would immediately be connected with how God had given the rainbow to Noah in Genesis 9 and how it is a symbol of God’s covenant faithfulness and His promise never to flood the earth again, even while He must still bring judgement upon sin in due time.
- 24 Thrones/ELDERS: 4:4 “Around 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.”
Who exactly these 24 are is not explained. Theories abound – 13 major ones. Do they represent the12 tribes of Israel matched with the 12 apostles to signify the totality of God’s people? Do they correspond to the 24 courses of the Levitical priesthood? Are they angels? Are they men? We are not sure.
What seems most evident is that by virtue of crowns on their heads, and in such close proximity to God’s throne, they have something to do with joining in God’s administration of His creation. They have some measure of authority from Him.
It would no doubt remind John of Paul’s words in Colossians 1:16 “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”
Thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities most likely referring to angelic hosts there.
What will be more important is what they do in the subsequent verses.
- Thunder and Lightnings: 4:5a “From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder”
In the ancient world, the single greatest display of raw power one could experience would be the fury of a lightning storm. Nothing could match it. And so here, something of the innate power of God is being driven home as these proceed directly from the throne itself.
God is not a paper lion. He cannot be tamed, contained or defended against. His power is limitless and terrifying.
- 7 Torches: 4:5b “and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God”
You will remember how Moses was told to make a 7-branched lampstand for the Tabernacle which was to burn always – and how then in Zechariah’s vision in his book, he is shown that lampstand again, but this time God tells him: Zechariah 4:10b “These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth.”
It is a picture of God’s omniscience. That He knows all and sees all and misses NOTHING! And He needs no outside illumination – He brings His own light.
- A SEA of glass: 4:6a “and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.”
Seas almost uniformly in Scripture refer to that which is mysterious, unfathomable, dangerous and unstable.
Glass in the ancient world was not transparent but translucent. It probably indicates shininess or sparkling – dazzling.
Here, God is depicted as the One who rules over all of these things too. He is the One at the center of all that is mysterious and unfathomable and that we cannot navigate with certainty.
- 4 LIVING CREATURES: 4:6b–8 “And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 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. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around 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!”
One cannot miss the parallel to Isa. 6 here as well as parts of Ezekiel. In the presence of God are these 4 magnificent creatures, who appear around Him at all times, moved from within by the sight John is seeing and all they can pour out is this term in triplicate: HOLY, HOLY, HOLY.
At its base, this word communicates more than anything else God’s “otherness.” He has no like, no peer, not even a counter. He has made all things and rules all things and yet He is separate from all things and wholly and absolutely singular, unique, self-contained and magnificent beyond description.
God alone! God alone! God alone! Comparable to nothing and no one. Utterly and completely holy. And we’ll come back to more about this in a minute.
- WORSHIP: 4:9–11 “And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “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.”
So here is the perpetual scene of God being opened up to us in all these different ways, and then the proper response to the revealing of His glory – WORSHIP! We, out of all the creatures God has made, as made in His image are given the gift of seeing, and comprehending and appreciating God even more than the living creatures around Him – for we who have been born again have tasted of His grace and mercy and forgiveness in ways no other creature in all of His endless works can. How high and holy are the redeemed, that we might know Him even better than these who dwell in His indescribable and unveiled presence!
And the end of it all is this hymn of praise: “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.”
Oh how far beneath our privilege we live, by failing to search out the knowledge of Him more and more and more. How little we think of His worthiness!
It would keep us from worship as an act, and transform us into worshippers as our actual being. Oh for that day!
SUMMING UP: John’s take away and ours – especially in light of what is to come –
Christ is the one who alone can give us entrance to the Living God;
A God who dwells in unapproachable light;
A God who truly and actively rules and reigns in His universe and is not a mere figurehead;
A God who has an administrative order by which He rules;
A God who is all powerful and terrible in His majesty;
A God who is all knowing – not by mere report but by firsthand observation of all things;
A God who is at the center of all mystery – who alone can reveal the fullness of truth to us to make us know why everything the way it is and what its ultimate purpose is;
A God who by the very highest of creatures created to be in His presence, and who cannot contain themselves but must spontaneously and perpetually burst out into high, holy, glorious praise and honor for who and what this God is.
Why does anything exist that exists? Because God has willed it so.
How did everything come to be? God willed it so.
This includes you.
Now in closing this vision – I want to tease out just one more thing. It is wrapped up in this 3-fold song of holy – holy – holy.
Why might this be so important for John, his first readers and us in preparing us for the balance of what is to be revealed?
Let me suggest 3 things. And it has to do with another aspect of God’s holiness – His absolute sinlessness. Or as John puts it in 1 John 1:5 “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
1. God is holy in His creating the world and His plans for it. Life is not a cosmic joke. And though we cannot scrutinize why God would allow evil and all that has come from it, there is nothing dark, nefarious or sinful in it. He has acted holily.
He has created all things the hymn notes – and in doing so He has acted in perfect righteousness. In all He has done, He has been holy.
2.Our God is holy toward His people no matter what they must endure. He cannot do us wrong.
As the following chapters unfold and God’s wrath is poured out on the earth. And as the Saints endure all kinds of persecutions and hardships – He is HOLY, and does not err or sin against any in any way.
Just and upright and righteous in all He does and all He permits. And suffering saints especially need to call to mind the holiness of the One who rules our lives and the events which touch us.
Yes John, some of what you are about to see – even your present imprisonment is ruled over by your holy God. You can trust Him.
3.Holy in that sin must be judged. Sin will at last be punished, and that as it deserves. God has waited long, but not too long. And when at last He pours out His terrors in judgment, He will be utterly and completely holy. This God cannot under-punish nor over-punish. He will do all that is right in the finishing of His eternal plan – and every living creature in Heaven and on earth will vindicate Him in His holiness.
If you are not a believer today, this scene stands to warn you as nothing else can – God is HOLY. He will not, He CANNOT overlook sin. It must and will be dealt with. And either you find yourself cleansed in the blood of the Lamb by turning to Him for salvation as your substitute on the Cross, or you will be subject to both the temporal and the eternal judgments to come as they will be displayed in the balance of this book.
And so with the voice of Christ we plead with you today – come to Him. Even as the book itself will close: Revelation 22:17 “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”