Our life has changed drastically, hasn’t it? Only a few weeks ago, we could go wherever we wanted whenever we wanted; and we did not need to worry about standing too close to anyone. Our families and friends could come to our house and we could spend time with one another. Shopping was straightforward and we were able to gather on Sundays and throughout the week for worship and fellowship. But now, everything has changed.
Well, one thing which has not changed is the fact that the Lord God Almighty is still on his throne in heaven; and from his throne in heaven, he rules over all that he has made. And that’s the point of Revelation 4 and 5: John was writing to Christians who were suffering for their faith; he himself was suffering for the faith; the future may have seemed uncertain to them as it does to believers in every generation as we wonder what’s going on; but in order to re-assure his people, the Lord gave to John this vision of the heavenly throne room from where the Lord rules over all. And so, if we’re ever afraid, if we’re ever troubled about what’s happening in the world, if we’re ever anxious about what the future may hold, we should lift our thoughts to heaven where the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb of God reign over all. So, let’s look at Revelation 4 together.
And John begins verse 1 of chapter 4 by saying ‘after this’. After what? Well, after the vision he received in chapter 1 of the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus Christ who was walking among the lamp stands and who dictated to John those seven messages for the seven churches which are recorded for us in chapters 2 and 3. So, after that vision, John received another vision.
And he tells us that, in this second vision, he saw that there was an open door in front of him; and this open door was the door to heaven. So, John is being allowed to see into heaven. And he heard a voice; and the voice was the voice he had heard before in his first vision, a voice which sounded like a trumpet. Well, he’s referring to what was in verse 10 of chapter 1 where we read that this voice — which was like a trumpet — was the voice of the Lord Jesus.
So, there’s a door into heaven; and there’s the sound of the Lord’s voice. And the Lord called to him and invited him to come up here to heaven and ‘I will show you what must take place after this’. So, he’s about to tell him things which are going to happen in the future. But when in the future? We might assume that he’s talking about things that are a long way off, in the distant future. However, you might recall that in verse 1 of chapter 1 John said that God was showing him ‘what must soon take place’. And when we were studying that verse I explained that John was picking up on language used in chapter 2 of Daniel. In chapter 2 of Daniel, we have the story of how Daniel was able to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Do you remember? In his dream, the king saw a tall statue made up of different metals and clay which was knocked down and destroyed by a rock which had been cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands. And the rock became a great mountain which filled the whole earth. And Daniel explained that the statue represented the kingdoms of the world which would all come to nothing. But another kingdom would come — a heavenly kingdom — signified by the rock which was cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands — and this kingdom will fill the earth and will endure for ever.
Now Daniel said that the king’s dream was about things which would happen ‘in days to come’, or ‘in the last days’. And John picked up on that language in Revelation 1, but with one crucial difference: what Daniel said would happen ‘in the last days’, John says will happen ‘soon’. Daniel was talking about something that was a long way off; John was talking about something that was soon to happen.
You see, we’re living in the last days. The last days began with the Lord’s resurrection and ascension; and they will continue until he comes again. And in the meantime, while we live in the last days, the Lord Jesus is enthroned in heaven and he’s building his kingdom throughout the earth; and his kingdom, his heavenly kingdom, will endure for ever. And so, when the Lord refers to ‘what must take place after this’ in verse 1 of Revelation 4, he’s not referring to things in the distant future only, but to things that are happening soon because we’re living in the last days.
And so, let me remind you again of the outline of the book of Revelation, because the whole of the book of Revelation is about living in the last days, the time between the Lord’s resurrection and his second coming. After the opening chapter, we had those messages to the church in every generation, reminding us of how we need to overcome every temptation to give up the faith so that we remain faithful to the Lord; because those who remain faithful to the Lord will sit with him on his throne in heaven. And then in chapters 4 and 5 we see into heaven and we see that the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are enthroned over all. And then in chapters 6 to 20 the curtain is pulled back and we’re allowed to see how the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are in control of everything that happens on the earth, because whatever happens in those chapters happens because of the Lord. And finally, in chapters 21 and 22, there’s the new creation where the Lord, who has now destroyed his enemies for good, will dwell with his people in his glorious kingdom that will endure for ever.
In verse 1 of chapter 4, the Lord refers to what must take place after this. But he’s not talking about something that will happen in the distant future; he’s talking about things that have been happening ever since the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven.
Verses 2 and 3
In verse 2, John tells us that he was in the Spirit, which is a way of saying that the Holy Spirit was enabling him to receive this prophetic vision. And while he was in the Spirit, having this vision, he saw a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And, of course, it’s the Lord God Almighty. And look how John describes the Lord: he had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, two precious stones; and a rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. John isn’t able to describe the Lord’s appearance directly and concretely; and so he’s saying to us that he was a bit like this. That’s what we do whenever we’re trying to describe something, but we don’t have the right words. So, we say:
It was a bit like this; and it was a bit like that; this is how it seemed to me.
And that’s what John is doing, because who is able to describe and capture in words the glorious appearance of the Lord God Almighty? So, John is saying:
This is how he seemed to me: you know the way light shines through jasper; well, he was a bit like that. And do you know the way carnelian is red; well, he was a bit like that. And there was a light shining from him like an emerald-green rainbow. He looked a bit like that.
John’s description of the Lord matches Ezekiel’s description of the Lord which we find in Ezekiel 1, because Ezekiel mentions a sapphire throne and he tells us that the Lord’s radiance was like a rainbow.
And look at verse 4 now: around the throne there were 24 more thrones; and seated on these 24 thrones were 24 elders who were dressed in white and who wore crowns on their heads. The commentators debate who or what these elders are: are they human or are they angels? It’s not entirely clear: we naturally think they’re human, because they’re called elders and they’re wearing robes and they’re sitting on thrones; and the Lord has promised to give his faithful people white robes to wear and thrones to sit on. However, when these elders appear in chapter 5 and in chapter 7 they’re explaining things to John and revealing things to John the way an angel might do. And so, one commentator at least suggests that these elders might be angels who are like a council of wise men, sitting around the King, discussing with him his plans. However, another commentator suggests that, though they might be angels, they represent the church: there are 24 of them because in the Old Testament there were 12 tribes in Israel and in the New Testament there were 12 Apostles. So, whatever they are, it’s likely that they represent all the redeemed; all of God’s people.
Verses 5 and 6a
But having mentioned the elders who are seated around the Lord’s throne, John goes back to describing the throne in verse 5. He tells us that flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder came from the throne. It’s reminiscent of what happened at Mount Sinai, when the Lord came down to meet with Moses, and there was darkness, and lightening and thunder. And then, John tells us that in front of the throne seven lamps were blazing. And John explains that these were ‘the seven spirits of God’; or, as we’ve seen before, this was the sevenfold Spirit of God. Now, remember that the number seven signifies fullness and completion. So, the Holy Spirit is called the sevenfold Spirit to convey to us the way he is fully equipped to do whatever needs to be done.
And then, before the throne, there was a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In Exodus 24, Moses and those with him saw the Lord and under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. Then, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, in his vision of heaven, describes how there was an expanse in heaven, sparking like ice. It’s interesting how all these descriptions of heaven are so similar; and yet they’re also different, because the way I describe something might be different from the way you describe it. But the general impression is the same. And this sea of glass conveys the idea of a peaceful tranquility, because this sea, instead of being tossed about by the wind, is perfectly still like glass. And it conveys the idea of purity, because this sea is as clear as crystal.
Verse 6b to 8
And not only are the 24 elders there, but there are four living creatures. And you’ll see that one had the face of a lion; another the face of an ox; another the face of a man; and another the face of an eagle. In verse 8 we’re told that they had wings and they were covered with eyes so they could see everything. Well, Ezekiel, in chapter 1 of his Old Testament prophecy, describes similar creatures in heaven; and he later identifies them as the cherubim, angels of the Lord. And what are these angels doing in Revelation 4? Well, look at verse 8:
Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.
They continually praise him because he’s holy: there’s none like him who is perfect in every way. And they continually praise him because he is almighty: there’s nothing he can’t do and there’s no-one who is able to overpower him. And they continually praise him because he is eternal and unchangeable: unlike the earthly kings who come and go, his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, because he himself is from everlasting to everlasting and does not change.
Verses 9 to 11
And whenever the cherubim praise the Lord like this, the elders also fall down before him, and they worship him; and they lay their crowns before him and say:
You are worthy, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.
And so, in heaven, the Lord is praised, continually, because he made all things: he’s the great Creator of the heavens and the earth.
But note this carefully:
by your will they were created and have their being.
Whatever exists, exists because of the will of God. Now, that’s supremely important. John, who was in exile because of his faith, needed to understand that the Roman Emperor who had sent him into exile had been created by the will of God. The early Christians who first read this book needed to understand that the people who were persecuting them had been created by the will of God. Christians who read this book today need to understand that the people who are against us and who are doing things which puzzle us have been created by the will of God. The Lord God Almighty is on this throne in heaven; and he’s in control of all things; and all things which exist exist to serve his plans and purposes. So, even those things which puzzle us and worry us and upset us serve his plans and purposes for us and for the world. And so, no matter what happens — though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea — we need not fear, because our God rules and reigns from his throne in heaven.
Change is happening all around us. Our life today is not the same as our life a few weeks ago. But one thing has not changed: the Lord God Almighty is still enthroned in heaven. And so, we must continue to trust in him, because his plans and purposes are perfect. And, of course, we must continue to worship him, as the angels do in heaven.