The throne room of God!
John has met with Jesus and has heard the messages for the seven churches. We now have the privilege of following John through a door leading into heaven. Jesus tells John that he is about to see ‘what must take place after this.’
In order to make sense of this part of Revelation we need to do some background work. We go back all the way to the Old Testament and we meet Abraham. God made specific promises to Abraham and his descendents – promises of an eternal land inheritance as well as promises of blessing. Several hundred years later, Israel is established in the land that God promised and God has appointed a king; king David. At this point God makes a promise to David: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7: 16). The prophets spoke a lot about the conditions that the promised one from the line of David was to bring. We read of ‘The Day of the Lord’ in connection with this. The Day of the Lord follows the pattern of the Jewish day: it begins at sundown, at night and then concludes with the day time. If you read the Old Testament you will discover that the Day of the Lord is associated with terrible judgements, indeed it is referred to as the great and dreadful Day of the Lord. But it brings in the day part of prosperity, peace and security for Israel. Zechariah makes it clear that the day is associated with a physical, bodily presence of the Messiah on earth: chapter 14 verse 4 “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem.” This will mark the beginning of the day part of the day of the Lord, Zechariah 14: 9, “The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name”.
If there was any doubt about this in the mind of faithful Jews, the early part of the New Testament brought confirmation of future events: When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary he had these words to say of the baby to be born (Luke 1:32): “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” So far, so clear.
If you’ve ever been on a hike or perhaps a car or bike ride you may have experienced a ‘hidden valley.’ Perhaps you know what I mean: you see your destination and it seems pretty close and the way is clear when suddenly as you get closer, a new vista opens up, one you had neither seen nor anticipated, perhaps a valley, or a river or another hill. At first this causes confusion, but a look at a map confirms the landscape. But it’s only when you arrive at this new feature that you realise that it is there. The original destination is unchanged, but a new part of the landscape has been revealed.
The disciples experience just that sort of thing. They knew all about the promises to Abraham and David, they knew of the words of the prophets, and now they came face to face with the one they believed had come to fulfill these prophecies. All seemed to go just as they had expected. The message was one of preparation for the great kingdom – ‘repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ But things began to change. Jesus spoke of his death. This aroused great confusion and concern in the minds of the disciples.
In John 14, Jesus reveals ‘the hidden valley’ that lay before the disciples. As Jesus spoke of his death he explained to the disciples the new vista. Here’s what he said (John 14:2): “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” This was not at all what the disciples had expected. Now you need to read the verse again to get the new information. Jesus is going to return to heaven, whilst there he will make it ready for the disciples (and believers) – but look carefully at the next bit: he will go to heaven, but will “come back and take you to be with me there.” Note the sequence: Jesus comes back, collects the disciples and takes them to the rooms he has prepared. This caused not a little confusion in the minds of the disciples! (Take a look at John 14 to see the discussion that ensued). So we have a new and previously unforeseen event. Paul expands on this new information in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” It’s the same sequence: Jesus comes down from heaven, those who remain alive (as well as those who are dead and buried) are taken up to be with the Lord.
This somewhat begs the question; what about the Day of the Lord? The next verses in 1 Thessalonians 5 give us the answer: “for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Please note here that believers are not in view: Paul specifically says ‘people are saying’, and destruction comes on ‘them’ and ‘they will not escape’. People who are unbelievers will go through the night time part of the Day of the Lord – of that there is no doubt. What about believers? When will Jesus come and take them ‘home’. Paul goes on in 1 Thessalonians 5:4, “But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.”
A picture is emerging in which we can now assemble a sequence of events. At some point in history Jesus will come down and take up believers to the rooms he has prepared. Following that the Day of the Lord will come. It will come in the sequence of night time with great judgements and be followed by the establishment of the eternal kingdom spoken of by the Old Testament prophets.
Now that we have that sequence in mind we can turn to Revelation 4. John has heard the messages to the 7 churches. Now he is told that he will see what happens ‘after this.’ We should consider this second part of Revelation as being concerned with events on earth after Jesus has come for his church and taken in to heaven. For chapter 4 we’ll consider it in two parts, first what John saw of God’s throne and second what those around the throne were doing.
- The Throne of God
There was a door before John, a door which lead him from the earthly world to the heavenly world. From here on John’s perspective would be from heaven. This is consistent with the idea that Jesus will return to earth for the church and will take believers to the place he has prepared for them. From his vantage point in heaven, John will observe the events that are to take place on earth.
As John enters the place of God’s dwelling we are reminded that in Hebrews (Hebrews 8 :5) the writer tells us that the original tabernacle and temple were copies or shadows of what is in heaven. If we look back to Exodus when God gave instructions to Moses on how the tabernacle was to be arranged we see an inner place covered by curtains woven with images of cherubim, the door to this inner place was also a curtain but not woven with images of cherubim. Inside the inner place was the ark of the covenant in which was the presence of God. Outside the inner place was a 7 branched lampstand, a table, an alter and a washing basin – which in the temple constructed by Solomon was constructed as a huge ‘sea’ used for the priests to wash before they entered the inner part. The priest wore special garments and we note that the breastplate of the garments had 12 precious stones, the first being a ruby and the last of jasper. John would have been quite familiar with these features of the earthly temple. Now he enters the real thing in heaven.
Interestingly John is invited to come up to see what would take place next. The voice is the trumpet voice he had heard before. The first time we hear of a trumpet in the bible is in Exodus when God’s people are invited to God’s mountain by the trumpet sound – it is an invitation neither they nor John merited –it is a summons of grace. The word used of the trumpet in Exodus is yodel which speaks of jubilee and celebration rather than warning (the other use of trumpets in Exodus related to warning). As John enters heaven, he sees a throne occupied by one who had the appearance of jasper and ruby. These stones were the first and last stones of the twelve on the priest’s breastplate: interestingly the order is reversed (jasper first with God, but last with the priest’s breastplate). The red of ruby perhaps speaks of God’s fiery judgement and jasper of his purity – Jasper being diamond. The throne was encircled by a rainbow. Since the rainbow was God’s promise to Noah that he would not destroy the world by flood again, there is something of God’s grace here – his patience to stay his judgement. Around the throne were 24 seated elders – dressed in white with gold crowns. We have noted that the church will be caught up to be with the Lord and it seems most likely that these elders are representative of the church. You may recall that the promise of rule, of white robes and of crowns were given to the churches of Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia. Interestingly the church is alluded to frequently in the first 3 chapters in Revelation and is barely mentioned elsewhere, whereas Israel is barely mentioned in the first 3 chapters, but is frequently alluded to elsewhere. As John looked at the throne there came flashes of lightening, rumblings and peals of thunder: the throne of grace becomes a throne of judgement.
In front of the throne there were seven lamps which represented the Holy Spirit: you will recall that there was a seven branched lampstand in the earthly temple. How must have John’s mind raced when he observed the symbols he knew so well! Also in front of the throne there was a sea of glass. In the early temple there was also a sea; a huge bowl of water for cleansing the priests. This sea speaks of cleansing, but since it is glass, perhaps it speaks of a completed or fixed cleansing.
- Two groups giving praise to God in different ways
John next sees four living creatures. They are covered in eyes! I assume that this indicates that they had knowledge of what is going on – they could see all around, nothing escaped their notice. These creatures seem to be cherubim. We first meet cherubim in Genesis (3:24) where they were given the task of guarding (and preventing access) to the tree of life. Cherubim, thus seem to have a role of observing, preserving and reserving. You will remember that two cherubim were placed on top of the ark of the covenant – the place where God’s presence was made known to the Israelites. In that place the cherubim guarded the access to God. Similarly the inner place of the tabernacle was covered with curtains with cherubim depicted on the curtain. The door to the inner place had no cherubim – access was permitted to worship, but the curtain through which access to the holiest place was made did have cherubim depicted on it; it was restricted. It was on the death of the Lord Jesus that this particular dividing curtain was torn from the top to the bottom – through Jesus’ death we have access to God!
These four cherubim seem to have a role in upholding the holiness of God. They are positioned around the throne and in some ways seem to be guarding the throne with their all seeing eyes. They each had different appearance with faces that looked like a lion, an ox, a man and like a flying eagle. Each of these seems to represent four classes of living being on the earth: wild animals, domesticated animals, human beings and birds. It’s not clear to me why they had different appearances – perhaps their appearances speak of the connection between God and the creation.
These creatures have something to say for themselves. They repeat over and over “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God almighty, who was and is and is to come”. This seems to indicate that God will never vacate his throne and lives forever. This statement of worship is said in the third person, rather than saying you God are holy, they effectively say he is holy. This contrasts with the elders. They fall down before God, lay their crowns before him and say the following: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” It’s notable that the elders speak in a different voice – they speak personally to God in the second person. One commentator wrote ‘the living creatures celebrate and declare; the elders worship and understand’. The elders represent those who have believed and thus they know by experience the power of the gospel, thus they speak of God as the one to receive glory, honour and power.
These elders represent all who believe and since they come to God in Christ they have access, the cherubim who guard access to God permit believers to enter and have intimate fellowship with God!