The text for the sermon today is Revelation 4:1-11. Our text can be found on page 1030. These are the words of God:
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 around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 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. 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.
And around 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. 8 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 he Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 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,
11 “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.
For as long as human beings have recorded history, we have records of ancient people looking up into the night sky, seeing stars and planets wheeling around, and wondering, “What is it that holds the universe together?” You are likely familiar with some of the most famous answers to that perennial question.
Claudius Ptolemy, a mathematician and astronomer who lived in Egypt just after the time of Christ, recognized that from any point on Earth, one gets the impression that the Sun, moon, stars and planets all revolve around the Earth once every twenty-four hours, and the earth appears to be an unmoving, stable, and stationary foundation. This theory, widely held during the ancient world and the Middle Ages became known as the Ptolemaic system.
But there were problems. Astronomers noticed that at different times of the year, the planet Mars appeared to reverse its course and move backward. Venus, which ought to orbit the earth inside the orbit of the Sun should only be seen in crescent or new phases, but never full, yet the astronomer Galileo looked through his telescope and saw her shining in a full phase.
Clearly, the Ptolemaic system, with the Earth as the center point, was not sufficient to explain the true nature of the universe. It would be 1,400 years before Nicolaus Copernicus would publish his famous work, “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Sphere,” which theorized that the Sun, not the Earth was the center of the solar system.
As an interesting side-note: Copernicus was convinced to publish his theories by a man named Rheticus, a mathematician from Wittenberg Germany who had been introduced to him by none other than Philipp Melanchthon, the close friend of the German reformer Martin Luther.
What followed was a scientific revolution. Having knowledge about the center of the solar system explains every other orbiting body. Or, put another way, a false understanding of the center will cause you to misunderstand everything else.
In Revelation 4, the Apostle John gives us a picture of the center, not simply of the solar system, or even the entire universe. He directs our attention to the center of all things material and spiritual, past, present, and future. This center is not a planet or a star, it is the very throne of God in heaven. As we begin to understand these eleven verses, a few reminders.
First, Revelation is not linear, but cyclical, and chapter 4 begins the second of seven cycles which repeat the same essential message: God rules history and will bring history to it ultimate consummation in Christ. That message is repeated in every section of visions, but from slightly different vantage points. For this reason, Revelation is a book for today, for us, for our difficulties.
Second, Revelation speaks to us in symbols. We are not to read this book in a literalistic manner. It is not a puzzle book, it’s a picture book. Revelation addresses spiritually anesthetized saints, employing vivid, and often terrifying symbols in order to shake us, wake us, and sober us to cosmic realities.
Friend, as you watch the news unfold, there is no question that the world is heaving in tumult. But Revelation reminds us that the violent storms of human history cannot be explained in merely human terms. Rather, these storms are part of a war in the cosmos.
What is it that will keep us buoyant and bear us up through the storms of history? What will keep us anchored and settled? John shows us that at the center of all things—there is one who is seated upon the throne. And, as we look to this throne, and learn who it is that sits upon the throne, not only are our hearts more settled and composed, but we even begin to rejoice and sing.
Church, we learn the identity of this one upon the throne as we see:
- Where He Is (4:1-2)
- Who He Is (4:3-7)
- What He Deserves (4:8-11)
And friend, if you have not yet placed your faith in Christ as the only savior of sinners, well I pray that even as this sermon is preached, you will begin to turn to him and believe.
- WHERE HE IS (4:1-2)
In Heaven. (v. 1)
This is the second vision of Christ given to John in Revelation. The first vision is found in chapters 1-3, and this second vision begins in chapter 4 and concludes in chapter 7.
Notice several similarities. Both the first vision in Chapter 1 and this second vision begin with a voice like the blast of a trumpet, and John is told that he will see things which must soon take place. In both visions, John tells us that he is in the Spirit.
In this vision, John is invited to step outside of time and space, into heaven. From this heavenly vantage point, John will see the sweep of all future history in the following chapters, but the first thing he sees in heaven is a throne.
On the Throne. (v. 2)
The throne is the symbol of kingly authority and dominion. The king, seated on the throne, shows us that the Lord God rules and reigns. Because this is a heavenly throne, the understanding of this king is exalted. The judgments of this king are uncontested. The sovereign will of this king dominates.
You might even say the word “throne” is one of the main themes of Revelation. The word occurs 62 times in the New Testament; 47 times in Revelation, and 17 of those 47 are found here in chapters 4 and 5.
The Centrality of the Throne. (v. 2 & following)
This throne is not simply in heaven. Notice that this throne is the centerpiece of heaven. Everything else in the passage surrounds the throne. Around the throne is a rainbow. Around the throne are the 24 elders. Out from the throne come lightening. Around the throne on each side are the four living creatures.
Friend you must read this passage imaginatively. John isn’t just telling you about a throne “up there.” He is painting a picture of a throne at the center of everything that is.
The center point of history, the center point of your life, that around which all else orbits is the eternal throne of God. Friend, your life is not an accident. The events of this last week were not random.
We may not understand why God allows all that he allows in the world today—but thanks be to God that the center of the universe isn’t the empty vacuum of space, rather it is the occupied throne of heaven.
I wonder if you live as if God is on the throne, or if you are living as if your life is an accident or mistake. Friend, if God sits on the throne, then the year of your birth wasn’t a mistake. The gender of your body is not a mistake. The role that God has called you to fulfill as a man or woman is not a mistake.
John is showing us that everything, from war in the Middle East, to even the chromosomes in our body find their meaning and significance in relationship to the occupied throne in heaven.
So, we see that the Lord God is in heaven, seated on a throne, and that throne is the center point of all that is. That’s where he is. Now, let’s see:
- WHO HE IS (4:3-7)
Surprisingly, John does not give us a physical description of the one seated on the throne. In this passage, we do not learn who he is by looking at him, but by noticing who and what it is that surrounds his throne.
When we see these images of thunder, and elders, and living creatures we must remember that they are not the focus. They are present in this vision in order to direct our focus towards the throne. Their individual characteristics shed light and understanding on the identity and character of the one seated on the throne. So, what do we see?
First, in verse 3, we see colors.
3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.
Jasper, which can reflect a myriad of colors, symbolizes the multifaceted glory of God. Carnelian, an opaque red stone stands for wrath and judgment. Finally, a rainbow like an emerald, reminds us of God’s mercy; for when God judged the earth in the days of Noah, he set a rainbow in the sky as a sign that he would never again flood the earth in judgment.
We won’t turn there now, but in Exodus 28, God instructed Moses to work these same stones into the breastplate and shoulder pieces of the priestly garments of Israel.
We also see these same stones in Revelation 21:18-21, where they serve as the foundation and walls of the New Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven. The walls and foundation of the new Jerusalem reflect God’s glory, his wrath, and his mercy.
What does all this mean? I believe John is showing us that this one who sits on the throne is the same one who forgave the sins of his people in Exodus, he is the same one who builds a new heavens and a new earth. From the first to the last, he is the glorious, wrathful, and merciful sovereign God. Everything, from the priestly worship of Israel to the very walls of the new creation rests upon the brilliance of God’s glory.
After these colors, we see 24 thrones and 24 elders seated upon them.
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 are these elders? Are they human? Angelic? These elders appear 12 times in Revelation. In Revelation 7 they are distinguished from the great throng of common angels.
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, (Rev. 7:11)
In the same passage, they are also distinguished from Christians who endure through the tribulation.
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. (Rev. 7:13)
They do, however, represent the saints of God before the throne.
the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 5:8)
I believe these 24 elders are a special order of angelic beings who represent the church before the throne. But why are there 24? Well, I believe the answer is that just as there were 12 tribes in Israel and 12 apostles of Christ, these 24 elders represent the true church in all ages, Old Covenant and New, before the throne of God.
Here we see that the one on the throne is aware of the needs of the church in every age. Today we are being represented in heaven. Our prayers are being heard. You may not be able to get through to the President, the Governor, or even your cable company representative. But if you prayed to the Lord this morning, you were heard.
And friend, if you are not a Christian, these 24 elders show us that God, who is the creator, is also the redeemer of sinners; those who have ignored God, disobeyed his commands, and instead lived for themselves.
How has he done that: by sending his own Son to become a human, to live a life of perfect obedience, and to receive the just punishment that we deserved. And that’s exactly what Jesus Christ did.
Friend to become a Christian means to turn from a life of ignoring and disobeying God, towards Jesus Christ—believing that he has taken your place, received your condemnation in his death, and that he was raised again. Turn to him today. Believe today. Look to Christ, and know that the Lord of heaven and earth has received you, hears you, loves you, forgives you, and welcomes you.
After the 24 Elders, we see that lightning and thunder shoot from the throne. This same language of “lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder” occurs again in Revelation 8:5, 11:19, and 16:18 and each time represents the judgments of God poured out on earth. In fact, if you read those three passages you will see this common theme. The thundering of God’s judgment always is presented as the final judgment upon those who persecute God’s people. God’s people are oppressed, they cry out to the Lord, and the result is the swift and final judgment of God.
So we have seen colors, elders, lightnings and now a sea of glass.
In the ancient world, the sea was a fearful place. Storms at sea wrecked ships. The seas were the source of mythical monsters. If you go back to Genesis 1, before God made the land, the earth is said to be one giant chaotic ocean. In Revelation 13, a beast rises out of the sea. But here, the sea isn’t foaming and threatening; it isn’t chaotic and unruly. Rather, it’s so still it looks like solid crystal. In the presence of God’s throne, the seas are tamed and docile.
Friends, this should also remind us of the power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had the ability to speak to the winds and the waves and command them to be still.
Finally, the last sight John sees are these four living creatures.
And around 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. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within
You say, “What are the living creatures?” Well, just as the church is represented by the Elders, I believe we are seeing the heavenly representatives of all created living creatures. The lion is the king of the wild animals. The ox is the strongest of the domesticated animals. The eagle is Lord of the sky, and man is the ruler of the animals. Why are they said to be full of eyes? Because they are representing every animal on the globe, who see and behold all of creation.
So, who is this one upon the throne? Though we do not see him directly, those who surround his throne paint a vivid picture. He is the sovereign Lord. He alone can silence the tumult of the seas. He is the redeemer, who will pardon and receive all who come to him asking for mercy. He is the ruler over every creature, from the greatest to the smallest. Church, there is no one like him.
And for that reason, when we come face to face with the enthroned Lord of heaven and earth, the only proper question is, “What does he deserve?”
- WHAT HE DESERVES (4:8-11)
These four living creatures, the heavenly representatives of all ensouled life on earth, serve one purpose; they have one responsibility. Verse 8 tells us that:
day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
Church, much like the seraphim in Isaiah 6, these four living creatures, from the moment of their creation, have never stopped in their worship of the one true God. They declare his holiness; that is, he alone is totally and utterly set apart from creation. God is not to be identified with anything else in creation.
There exists an infinite chasm between the everlasting God and the world he made. He is not mortal. He is not material. He is not created. He is not finite. He is not time-bound. He is not space-bound.
And, every time these four living creatures give honor and glory to God, verse 10 tells us that:
10 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,
11 “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.”
Once again, they stress God’s unique nature—that he alone is the uncreated God who made all things. That he alone is the self-sustaining, self-causing, eternal being who creates and sustains all else.
Church, day and night, morning and evening, through every season, through every tumultuous century of human history, heavenly praise has been offered before the throne of God.
While evil men and women mock God on earth, the Lord has received all that he deserves in heaven. This is one of the reasons Christ taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
One of the questions you may have, as you consider this passage is, “Is this what heaven is going to be like for us? One long eternal song?” Well, no. This is but one portrait of heaven. We will see others that give more detail in this book. But friend, let me just say that if the idea of an eternal song of praise bores you, then perhaps you don’t truly understand who God is and what he deserves.
Church, consider all that John has seen: 7 churches who are persecuted. Consider what is to come: the unleashing of judgments, a beast who persecutes the church, Babylon which wars against the saints. Yet, as great and terrifying as these visions are, when you are in the presence of the throne—they aren’t even worth mentioning.
In fact, as we will see next week—the only way these judgments come to be is because the Lord God, and the Lamb who was slain decree and enact these judgments.
Friend, if you believe that the kings and rulers of the nations of the earth are the center of the universe, if you even believe your own life is the center of all things, you will be tossed about, up and down, anxious and confused.
But, if like John, you see that at the center of it all is a throne, occupied by the holy and sovereign creator, even when you are anxious, even when you are confused, you will not be overwhelmed. This is the anchor of your life, the center point around which you orbit.