We have come to Revelation chapter 4. Homer Hailey, in his commentary on Revelation, made this statement, “To the literalistic mind, lacking the power of imagination, Revelation will forever be a sealed book; to the speculative and visionary mind the book will provide fuel to inflame far-fetched assumptions and conjectures which totally miss the truth. But to the mind prepared by the rest of the Bible for reality in picture and action, impressions of truth will be made that give strength for victory in every conflict of life.” I believe that is a fine statement in the way in which Revelation should be approached. It is not a book designed to fuel far-fetched conjectures. It is not a book in which everything is to be taken literally, because it is a book of symbols. It is a book that is to be read against the background of the whole Bible and interpreted in the context of the bible. It is a book that is designed to give us inspiration to face the trials and problems of day-to-day living.
We have seen in revelation, chapters 2 and 3, a portrayal of seven churches of Asia in their triumphs and tragedies. We have seen the churches being exhorted to overcome because God knew they were going to face trials. God knew it would be very easy to become weary in well–doing and to give up, to slacken their efforts to please God. So something was needed to lift their spirits, to boost their morale and to encourage the people under pressure. And I believe that Revelation always has been and always will be a solution and answer to the needs of a weary people who are struggling against the forces of evil and against Satan himself in order to overcome and receive the crown of life. In order to introduce Revelation 4, stop and read the first chapter of Ezekiel, then read again Revelation 4. When you have finished reading both chapters, I believe you will understand why you needed to read them both together.
John is attempting to express for us that which is virtually inexpressible. He is trying to say to us in the most poetic language, the language of symbols and imagery, something of the majesty and glory of God. This something that cannot be accomplished in a simple statement, but something that might be painted with pictures of words to try to convey to us the majesty of God. It is easy for us, bound as we are by the flesh
and living in a sinful world, to have our minds constantly preoccupied with the problems and the troubles and the suffering and the strife and the tensions and pressures that are about us.
But, from time to time, out of the midst of this, and with frequency, we need to lift our eyes and see that, beyond the problems of this world, there is a God who is in charge. There is a God who created us, who loves us, and who has prepared for us things that words cannot describe. And we must ever keep before us the reality of the throne of God and of His power and His majesty, that we will not be overwhelmed by the difficulties that face us day by day.
In chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, John has shown us the churches with all of their weaknesses, with all of their troubles and struggles. Now, we need to brace ourselves for what is to come because, shortly, we will move into the central portion of Revelation.
We are going to be faced in the next few chapters with all those nightmarish spectacles of terrors and horrors that are going to be inflicted upon the whole world. God's people are going to be among those who suffer many of the calamities and difficulties that are to be seen and God's people need strength. There are going to be times when we will be tempted to say, “It is no use, Satan is the victor.”
Then, we need to keep before us that which is central and that which is of supreme importance to us. And, that is to keep in mind that God still reigns. He is still on the throne. His people are going to be protected and preserved. Finally, Satan himself will be destroyed and God's people will gain the victory.
As we come to chapter 4, and before we get into the horrible conflicts and struggles that we are soon to see in Revelation 6 and following, we are lifted up and the door of heaven is opened and we see the throne of God. John said, “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me saying, ‘Come up here and I will show you things which must take place after this.’ Immediately I was in the spirit...” (Revelation 4:1–2).
You recall that back in the first chapter we are told that John was in the Spirit on the Lord's day. John is now about to see a remarkable vision. You know, Stephen, as he was being stoned to death, saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the throne of God. Yet, all the while, he was also conscious of the struggle that was around him and of the stones that were being hurled at his body. So, even while he was gazing into heaven, he would still speak to those around him and say, “... Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” We read about this event in Acts 7:55–60.
But, now, John seems to be lifted to a higher plane than that because it is as thought all of the surroundings have been taken away and shut off from him. Now, he is caught up in the Spirit and his total vision is of the splendor of the throne of God. So he speaks and says, “...and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back (Revelation 4:2–6).
John could have said, “I saw a throne, and on the throne was God,” but he did not say that. That would be simple, prosaic, and that would get the matter out of the way and we could move on. But John wants us to stand in awe, to gaze on that scene for awhile, to drink it in, and see its beauty. He wants to say something more than simply, “God was on the throne,” so he paints word pictures for us. He says there is One sitting on a throne and He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone, beautiful, white and clear and red. Here is One who is altogether beautiful, altogether lovely to behold.
Then, he goes on and says there was a rainbow around the throne. And it reminds us of the rainbow that we saw once before in the Bible when Noah was made a promise, a promise which we now know was a faithful promise of God. For when
we see the rainbow, we are reminded that God's promise that He would never again destroy the world with a flood has continued to be true even to our present time. And so, when John speaks of God, he is not just saying, “There is God,” but he is saying, “Here is one who is beautiful and here is one who is faithful to His promises.” Here we see the rainbow suggesting the faithfulness and fidelity and the care of God and concern for His people.
But then we see another picture. Out of the throne come lightnings and voices and thunder. God is also God of judgment, a God who puts terror in the hearts of those who would oppose Him, a God who overcomes those who oppose Him, a God who will send His Son, Jesus, in flaming fire, taking vengeance upon those who know not God. Out of the throne come lightnings, voices and thunders. It is an awesome scene that John has been privileged to view, and he has tried to convey to us something of its splendor and majesty that we might be caused to exclaim with those before the throne, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”
Notice what we read in verse 4: “around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.” Who were these 24 elders sitting on the thrones around the throne of God? I believe they represent the righteous ones under both the old and new covenants. They represent the holy ones of Israel and holy ones of the new Israel. These are the redeemed. These are God's people from every age who are sitting around the throne on thrones themselves, for they reign with God, as we have suggested before.
In revelation 21, we see the new Jerusalem. In verse 12, we are told of its having “a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.”
Verse 14 says, “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Here, on the foundations of the wall of the new Jerusalem, are the names of the twenty-four representatives of
the old covenant that God made through Moses and the new covenant that God made through Christ. And it is no wonder in Revelation 15:3 we read about the redeemed of all the ages gathered around the throne of God, and singing the song of Moses and the Lamb.
We see another picture in Revelation 4:6–7 of our text: “Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.”
Who are these strange creatures? As you read from Ezekiel 1, I want you to see that John is borrowing the language that was being used by the prophet Ezekiel in the Old Testament. The heavens were opened to him and he saw visions of God and he saw four creatures corresponding to the four creatures in Revelation 4. You see the creatures around the throne in each place. Who were these creatures in Ezekiel? Read Ezekiel 10:20, because Ezekiel does not leave us speculating too long. Ezekiel says, “This is the living creature I saw under the God of Israel by the river Chebar, and I knew they were cherubim.”
These were the cherubim, the angels of God, and that is what John was seeing before the throne. Now John could have said to us, “I saw God on the throne and I saw angels around the throne,” and then he could have moved on. But he wants us to spend some time surveying the majesty of God and being filled with awe as we see this spectacle. And so he paints a word picture for us to try to help us see that there is something spectacular here, something that is simply beyond expression. Here are the holy angels of God described as awesome. The first creature was like a lion, probably suggesting strength. the second was like a calf or an ox, suggesting perhaps, the idea of strength also. The third had the face of a man suggesting swiftness, swiftness to do the will of God.
It almost reminds us of the prayer that Jesus said ought to be prayed: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven ...” (Matthew 6:9–13). And in heaven we see the will of God
being done swiftly. When God, as we shall see later in Revelation, is ready to make His move against the Oppressors of God's people, there is no delay. But, at once, fire is thrown on the earth as God responds to His people's pleas. And the cry, “How long?” is finally answered in God's time. And when He is ready, there is no longer a delay, but the angels of God respond at once in obedience to Him.
Why do they do so? Because they have lived with God from the creation. They have been in the very presence of God and they understand what we can only in our wildest dreams, begin to imagine of the greatness of God. They know that He is one to be loved and adored and worshiped and served forever and ever. And so we are told that these creatures, these angels of God “do not rest day or night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8)! Here we see God surrounded in Heaven by the representatives of the redeemed of all the ages and surrounded by the heavenly beings and all of heaven and all of earth bow before the throne of God and ascribe to Him glory and honor and power and they say, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.”
And then we see in Revelation 4:9-11, “When ever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.’ ”
God knew what would come about from the beginning. He brought these things to man at His time when man would be properly prepared to receive it. Now God has granted to them a position of honor and glory before the very throne of God where they ascribe honor to Him. In this great scene of heaven, the center of the scene is God himself, and all else around Him focus attention on Him. He is the one worthy of honor and glory. He is not only the one who created, but He is the one who bought them from among all the tribes and tongues and nations by the blood of the Lamb. And so they throw their crowns before him and say, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory. ...”
It is a fantastic scene, and we need to realize, in the midst of all our petty problems and struggles, that Almighty God sits on His throne. He is well aware of our needs and our troubles and our trials and He cares. He is the God of power who created us all, a God of majesty and holiness and a God who will not let His people down. He is a God who has reserved for His people a crown of life which shall be given to all that have loved His appearing and to all those who are faithful even unto death.
If you are not one of God's children, then surely you have missed out on what life is really about. The Christian life is not a strange and meaningless struggle against all odds here on earth. It is a triumphant life lived in hope and anticipation because of the certainty of the faithfulness and the truthfulness of Almighty God. He loves you, and He let Jesus die for you.
In the next chapter, we are going to see one join God who sits upon the throne. You are going to find something even more marvelous about the power and the majesty and the greatness of that throne. “Why not give your life to this One, the only One that can bring you satisfaction and victory?"