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Revelation 4:1-11: Before the Throne Print E-mail
Sunday, 18 March 2012

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A throne represents power and authority.  Kings of the earth have set on thrones for thousands and thousands of years as a way to demonstrate their reign over their kingdom.  David and Solomon sat on the throne of Israel (see 1 Kings 1:30ff), along with the subsequent kings of Israel.  The Persian king sat on his throne in Susa during the days of Esther (see Esther 1:2).  Nebuchadnezzar was removed from his throne for his arrogance in the days of Daniel (see Daniel 5:20).  When Jonah eventually called the people of Nineveh to repent, we are told that the king of Nineveh arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes to demonstrate his repentance (Jonah 3:6).  Throughout history kings have continued to reign from their thrones.  In Johnís day, the Emperor of Rome, along with other leaders, sat upon their respective thrones (a point that is important to remember as we study the book of Revelation).  The crowning of a new king often involves them sitting on a throne to symbolize their power.  Even today, kings of the earth continue to reign from their thrones.

But what about the King of heaven, the King of Kings, the Creator and ruler over all, does He have a throne?  Yes, He indeed rules from a throne.  Yet, it is no earthly throne.  It is no temporary throne.  No, Godís throne is a heavenly throne.  It is eternal, for He has never Ďrisen to powerí and His reign will never end.  The thrones that belong to the kings of earth cannot even be compared to His throne.  In Revelation 4-5 we are given a glimpse into the throne-room of God.  After addressing the seven Churches and encouraging them to repent and persevere through persecution, John is given a heavenly vision and told what must take place.  Look at verse 1.  The letter to Laodicea closed by promising the one who conquers that he will sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne (3:21).  In order to encourage this and the other churches, John is now given a vision of Godís throne.  So then, what does he tell us about the heavenly throne?

The Occupant (v. 2-3a)

John begins by briefly describing who sits on the throne.  Look at verses 2-3a.  First, we should note that there was one seated on the throne.  John will use this language over and over to refer to the Occupant of the heavenly throne.  The description highlights Godís authority over all.  He is the One who is seated on the throne.  Although the forces of evil will rebel against His rule, none can challenge or question it.  He is the One on the throne.  Again, we must remember how encouraging this one to be to Christians in the midst of persecution, particularly those being persecuted by an earthly king.  No matter how difficult things can get in this life, God is still on His throne.  Nothing can change that.  John goes on to describe the Lord as having the appearance of jasper and carnelian.  These were precious stones in Johnís day and he uses them here and elsewhere to demonstrate Godís majesty and greatness.  Some try to be more specific about what these stones represent, but we must be careful and not go further than what John intended.  The rest of Johnís description of the throne-room will demonstrate again and again the majesty of the One who sits enthroned over all.

The Setting (v. 3b, 5-6a)

Going on, John describes the setting around the throne.  Look at what he says in verse 3b.  The mentioning of the rainbow reminds us of the covenant that God made with Noah in Genesis 9:16.  God told Noah that He would never again destroy mankind by a flood and the rainbow symbolized this covenant.  The emerald rainbow shows that God has not and will not break His covenant.  Likewise, it shows Godís reign over all of nature, which points to Johnís further description of the setting in verses 5-6a.  Look at those with me.  Lightning and thunder were coming from the throne, again showing Godís rule over nature.  This past Thursday, as I was meditating on the text, there was a pretty serious thunderstorm.  For a couple of minutes I got up and walked around the Church looking at the storm from various angles.  As the lightning struck all around the Church and the thunder shook the building, I could not help but tremble at such forces.  I think the lightning and thunder around Godís throne is meant to convey the same.  Our God is not weak or wimpy.  He sits in the presence of lightning and thunder.  He is not to be trifled with.  To further this idea, John describes the burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God.  Again, the seven spirits refers to the Holy Spirit (see 1:4) and the description of the burning torches reminds us of the coming judgment.  One final description that John gives us is that of a sea of glass, like crystal.  Although it is hard to know exactly what this represented, most see it as symbolizing the separation between creation and the Creator.  The sea was often a symbol for evil and not until the New Creation will it be done away with (see 21:1).  As it is, the sea separates creation from God and demonstrates His supreme holiness.

The Company (v. 4, 6b-8a)

John describes two groups of beings that are around the throne.  First, he describes the twenty four elders in verse 4.  Look at that verse with me.  The elders are all seated upon a throne.  They are clothed in white garments, symbolizing their purity.  They each have golden crowns, which along with them being seated upon thrones, symbolizes their authority.  Who are these twenty-four elders?  Although various explanations have been offered, the most common is that they are angelic beings which possibly symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles or simply the combination of OT and NT saints.  It is hard to be certain, but from their description we can conclude that they had some authority and were permitted to be in Godís presence.

Second, John describes the four living creatures which are around the throne.  Look at verses 6b-8a.  These creatures are full of eyes in front and behind.  John actually notes this twice to emphasize the fact that they are all-seeing.  Like the Lord, they are fully aware of what is happening on the earth, again, a comforting thought to suffering believers.  Following Ezekielís vision (see Ezekiel 1:4-28), these creatures have the face of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle.  These represent the greatest of creation and once again demonstrate Godís sovereign reign over all.  They are servants of God, symbolizing His rule and declaring His praise, which leads us to our last consideration concerning the throne of heaven, namely the worship.

The Worship (v. 8b-11)

The worship of the four living creatures is described in verses 8b-9.  Look at those verses with me.  First, we should note that their worship was continuous.  It never ceased.  They cried out the praises of God both day and night.  And what did they cry?  Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!  Like the angels described in Isaiahís vision (see Isaiah 6), they proclaim the great holiness of God.  He is a holy, holy, holy, God.  He is separate and above all of creation.  No being is equal to Him.  He alone is the Lord God Almighty.  And unlike the kings of earth which are here one day and gone the next, our God has always been, is always being, and will always be.  He is eternal and everlasting.  His reign will know no end.  Thus, repeatedly and continuously, the living creatures give Him glory and honor and thanks. 

The worship of the twenty four elders is described in verses 10-11.  Look at those with me.  Three verbs describe their worship.  First, they fall down before him who is seated on the throne.  They had thrones but their authority was subject to the true King.  They humbled themselves before Him and fell at His feet.  Second, they worship him who lives forever and ever.  They recognize the greatness and eternality of God and give Him worship and praise.  Third, they cast their crowns before the throne.  Again, they know that He alone reigns over all.  Whatever authority they have is due to Him and they rightfully cast it all at His feet.  And in verse 11 we are told of the content of their worship: Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive gory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.  Only One is truly worthy of praise.  Not the Emperor of Rome.  Not any earthly king.  Only God is worthy to receive worship.  Why?  Because He alone is the Creator.  Everything else owes its existence to Him and His will.  It makes me think of the adage: ďI think, therefore, I am.Ē  Rather, all who worship can say: ďI am, therefore, I worship.Ē  We exist because of Godís will and Godís power.  Therefore, He alone is worthy of our worship.  This is what the twenty four elders are continually saying to the Lord as they worship Him before His throne in heaven.

Why are we given this vision of the heavenly throne?  As we stated before, it was given so that the persecuted Christians in Asia would be encouraged to repent and persevere.  Yet, the worship that John describes around the heavenly throne is also meant to inform our worship here on the earth.  We are to model our worship of God after the worship that is described in this heavenly scene.  So then, how should their worship inform our own?

First, the object of our worship must always be God and God alone.  He alone is worthy our praise.  Thus, when we gather together corporately, we must not focus on anything other than the greatness and majesty of our God.  We owe our existence to God and He is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise.  He needs to be seen as great in our times together.  We dare not waste our time on anything other than the One who is seated on the throne.

Second, like the living creatures, our worship should never cease.  Just because we leave this building does not mean that God stops being worthy of our praise.  He is worthy of our obedience and praise every second of our lives.  At home, at work, at rest, at play, whenever, wherever, our God never ceases to be worthy.

Third, His greatness and majesty as described by John, demands our fear and our awe.  Raise your hands, lift your voices, fall on your faces.  Godís greatness demands it all.  Of course, this leads to an important question: how can we, as broken, unworthy sinners, ever worship in the presence of God?  John will go on in chapter 5 to tell us that we can worship because of what Jesus has done for us as the Lamb of God.  His life, death, and resurrection for our sins has cleared the way for us to worship before Godís throne.  So then, what are you waiting for?  Join with the living creatures and the elders and the saints, join with us this morning in declaring the gory and majesty of the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 10 April 2012 )

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