Revelation 4-5 put 4 of the largest Biblical realities on display for us, that when taken together show us not only the universal nature of the Church, they show us the true nature of the gospel:
Reality #1: The Holiness of God (4:1-11)
We learn from 4:1 that John is now having another vision, and in this vision he sees an open door in heaven, and hears a voice speaking to him like a trumpet. The voice says, ‘Come up here and I will show what must take place after this.’ Remember John is still on the island of Patmos at this point, he hasn’t been physically taken to heaven, but while on the island John receives a vision of heaven. v2 sets the stage, John immediately says he was ‘in the Spirit’ (just as he was in 1:10) and John sees a throne standing in heaven with One seated on the throne. This is none other than the Lord, God Almighty seated on His throne in glory. Now, John has seen an earthly temple before, he was probably even familiar with the layout of Solomon’s temple, but now for the first time in his life John witnesses, not the earthly copy, but the heavenly original and what he sees in the throne room of heaven is stunning.
v3 says God’s appearance was like the precious gems jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was an emerald rainbow. Further around the throne v4 says there were 24 thrones, on which sat 24 elders who were all clothed in white, with golden crowns on their heads. Further still John says in v5 that thunder, lightning, and absolute power are streaming out from the throne.
These images make us think back to Mt. Sinai and other places like it where God revealed Himself to His people with powerful displays of His Kingly authority and sovereign rule. You can imagine what John was feeling like at this point – he probably felt something like a terrified wonder entering his heart and exploding through all his senses. v5 continues describing the presence of the Holy Spirit saying it was like seven torches of fire burning and the seven spirits of God. John then sees a sea before the throne. Not a stormy or wild sea, but a calm sea; a sea of glass, like crystal that appears to have no shore. As if John isn’t already overwhelmed he see’s more still. v6b-8a mention living creatures around the throne, full of eyes around and within, the 1st like a lion, the 2nd like an ox, the 3rd like a man, and the 4th like an eagle in flight. Similar to Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 these creatures have six wings and day and night they never cease to proclaim: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”
v9 states that each time these living creatures proclaim the holiness of God, giving glory and honor to Him who is seated on the throne who lives forever and ever, that the 24 elders fall down before God, cast their crowns down, and worship Him 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 see the vision John is beholding here.
God, in His matchless holiness and Kingly authority seated on His throne, while there seems to be the whole host of heaven around the throne worshipping Him with refrain after refrain, responding to one another in their worship and never-ceasing in such delightfully fearful activity. This is all about God. It isn’t about anything else. God, simply based on who He is, demands such worship.
This is the vision of John, and for John this must have been highly encouraging. I say this because in Revelation what happens before chapter 4? In chapters 2-3 we have the letters to the churches, most of which are messed up and enormously sinful. What a contrast this is between the sin in the Church and the pure vibrancy of worship happening around the throne. That the vision of the throne room in 4-5 is placed directly after the letters to the seven churches is meant to show us that chapters 4-5 serve as a correction or an antidote to the problems we see in chapters 2-3.
Is this not also encouraging to us? In the midst of all the sin that happens within the Church, where is God? Sitting on His throne, dwelling in endless praise, ruling with authority. Take heart, you who are suffering – take heart, you who struggle and fight with overwhelming sin – take heart, you who grieve over the condition of the world and those in it – God is on the His throne, He is still in control.
The question that comes into view next leads us to the next reality we see in these two chapters – how could we ever approach such a holy God?
Enter Revelation 5 where we see the dilemma of worthiness, the work of Christ, and the worship of all peoples. I’ll cover these in my next few posts.