Revelation: The Culmination of Scripture – 11 (“The Characters in the Throne Room”)
Last Sunday we had a look at the throne and the throne room of God. We started to look at the relationship between the first three chapters of Revelation (the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor) and the following nineteen chapters. In other words, what happened in the seven churches in Asia Minor, are also happening in churches all over the world, through all the ages until today and will happen in churches in the future until Jesus’ second coming.
We also said that we will get a glimpse of the real principles and powers operating behind the various situations noted in the seven churches. We will learn more about all the social, political, economic, ecological, cosmic and spiritual factors that happens in and around churches (and individual believers) and how these factors will unfold towards the end when Jesus will come back.
And in additional to this, we shall see the unveiling of the final destinies of both the church and her opponents.
We also focused on Rev.4:1-5 and spoke about a couple of very interesting, but also very important symbols as portrayed in the throne Room of God in heaven.
We saw that John was in the spirit, meaning that he was physically on Patmos, but his spirit was elsewhere. We also saw that a similar thing happened several times to Ezekiel when God took him to Jerusalem to see the sinful things happening there (Ez.8:13).
While in the spirit, John was taken into the throne room of God and there he saw a throne. When the Bible speaks of God’s “throne,” the emphasis is on God’s transcendence (i.e. that God exists above and independent from His creation).
Another very important fact that we looked at, was that the throne of God need not be thought of as a literal throne. God the Father is incorporeal (“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” – John 4:24 – Afrikaans: “ontasbaar/”onliggaamlik”). Not having a physical body, God does not literally “sit,” or God does not really have “hands,” “eyes,” etc. We call this anthropomorphisms – i.e. descriptions of God expressed in human terms out of deference to our limited knowledge, in other words, God has to describe Himself in ways we can understand.
In similar fashion, God’s throne and throne room are also not literal things and places and we saw that we must understand these expressions (the throne and throne room) as follow:
• The throne room is a place of power and authority
• A place of majesty and honour
• A place of perfect justice
• A place of sovereignty and holiness
• A place of praise
• A place of purity
• A place of eternal life
• A place of grace.
2. SCRIPTURE READING:
Rev.4:1-11 ~ “After this (i.e. after John has received the praise, warnings and commendations to the seven churches) 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 the 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.”
3. THE CHARACTERS IN THE THRONE ROOM OF GOD (vss.6-8a):
We now are going to look at the rest of what John saw in the throne room as well as getting a glimpse of God and who He is, whereby He wants to assure us of the fact that He is in control and that He governs from His throne and as a result of that, nothing, absolutely nothing will overcome His church – will overcome us as His children. Should widespread persecution again brake out against the Church of Christ, we ought to look afresh through the open door of Rev.4 and see that our God is in control and even more important, no man or principality, or power, or demon will lead us astray… ~ “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).
• Revelation of God (vss.2-3): John is in the Spirit and the Lord gives him an astonishing vision which he is to share with the church throughout the ages. He is in the throne room of God and he sees a throne, with a Being on this heavenly throne – a Being not having bodily parts or form (this Being is incorporeal – without material form or substance). This Being is none other than God the Father. God reveals Himself through His attributes (character). Figuratively God is presented as Jasper, which is a transparent stone that stands for God’s holiness; Carnelian, a blood and red colour, represents God’s wrath; and a rainbow, signifying God’s mercy and grace (think back at Gen.9:13-17 – Noah and the rainbow). God reveals Himself as One who is holy, merciful and gracious. Because God is holy He punishes evil, hence He is also a God of wrath. And yet in His wrath He shows abundant mercy and grace. As the revelation to John unfolds, it will become clearer that in the government of God’s universe, a combination of these attributes, characterise His operations among men – e.g. when man sins, God’s reaction and action will be characterised by His attribute of holiness, or if someone confesses his sins, God’s attribute of grace and mercy will be displayed.
Some of God’s attributes are beautifully described by Paul in Rom.11:33-36 ~ “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
• Twenty-four Thrones and Elders (vs.4): John also sees “twenty-four thrones” which seated, “twenty-four elders” who were “clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads” (vs.4). Who exactly are these elders? Some people say that these twenty-four is made up of the 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament and 12 Apostles in the New Testament. So, these 24 elders stand symbolically as representatives of the whole church of God throughout the old and the new dispensations.
Others again, say that the 24 elders denote the 12 Patriarchs and the 12 Apostles, the totality of God’s people in the New Testament Church. This is made possible by God taking the kingdom from Israel and giving it to the Gentile world (Matt.21:43).
A third group even say that these 24 elders were angels, this however, cannot be true because we read in Rev.5:9b ~ “…you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,” therefore these elders could not be angels because angels were not redeemed by the cross of Christ.
These elders, must have been redeemed humans, but that is all that we can say about them. Who exactly they were, we don’t know, although the majority of theologians reckon that they were representative of the Old- and New Testament Church (twelve from the Old- and twelve from the New Testament). Rev.21:10-14 may support such a viewpoint ~ “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
• Lightening, Thunder and Fire (vs.5): What else did John see in the Throne Room in heaven? Vs.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.” He saw “flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder” which are indications or signals of a coming storm which reminds us of God’s awesome power.
These “storm signals” will be repeated during the time of judgment at the end of times and it always proceeds from the throne and temple of God (Rev.8:5; 11:19; 16:18). God has indeed prepared His throne for judgment, as also portrayed in Ps.9:7-8 ~ “But the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.”
• Seven Spirits (vs.5): We also read about seven spirits in vs.5. These seven spirits of God should be understood to represent the Holy Spirit rather than seven individual spirits or angels ~ “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear,” (Isa.11:2-3) and Rev.5:6 ~ “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” With God the Father seated on the throne and the Holy Spirit represented by the seven spirits, the stage was then set for the revelation in chapter 5, of Christ Himself as the slain Lamb, but D.V. next time more about that.
• Sea of Glass (vs.6): Apart from God Himself, the throne, the 24 elders and the Holy Spirit, there were also other characters or figures and images in the Throne Room.
Vs.6 starts off with a reference to a sea of glass, clear as crystal. It is not quite clear what the meaning of this is. The mirrorlike reflecting quality of the sea could symbolise the fact that before the sight of God, all is revealed – nothing is hidden from Him ~ “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebr.4:13).
• Four Living Creatures (vss.6-9): We also see that there are four living creatures. Many interpretations have been given of the four living creatures. As the Holy Spirit was seen symbolically in the seven lamps, for some, the four living creatures symbolically represent the attributes of God: The lion indicating majesty and omnipotence (Afrikaans: “almag/alomteenwoordigheid”); the ox, typical of faithful labour and patience; the creature with the face of a man, indicating intelligence; and the eagle, the greatest bird, representing supreme sovereignty.
Another possible view is that they represent Christ as revealed in the four Gospels: in Matthew, the lion of the tribe of Judah; in Mark, the ox as the servant of Yahweh; in Luke, the incarnate human Jesus; and in John, the eagle as the divine Son of God. Another alternative is that the four living creatures are angels (Isa.6:2–3), who extol (Afrikaans: “besing”) the attributes of God.
The most probable explanation is that these four creatures are angels which can be linked with Isaiah’s Seraphim and Ezekiel’s Cherubim. We read in Ezek.10:20 the following ~ “These were the living creatures that I saw underneath the God of Israel by the Chebar canal; and I knew that they were cherubim” (also see: Is.6:3 and Ezek.1:5-25). They are heavenly creatures of the highest order, involved with the worship of God and His government, as well as guarding the holy things of God ~ “He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen.3:24) and Ex.25:20 ~ “The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be.” The fact that they were “full of eyes” may give the impression of their exceeding knowledge of God. Their six wings give the impression of unlimited mobility in fulfilling God’s commands and which they use in part to express their reverence and humility, and in part to show readiness and expedition in performing the orders and commands of God. Their position “in the centre, around the throne” suggests that one is before, one behind, and one on either side of the throne. The four living creatures appear throughout Revelation (5:6, 8, 14; 6:1; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4).
4. THE SONG (vss.8b-11):
The Cherubim do not stand idle before God, like bodyguards, they ceaselessly proclaimed the holiness of God in the words of Is.6:3 ~ “And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Vs.8 of our text for today says ~ “…they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy…,” which means that they never stop praising and worshipping God.
This song or this hymn is the first, not only of the five sung by the heavenly choirs in chapters 4 and 5, but also of a number of others in Revelation (4:8,11; 5:9-10, 12, 13;7:12, 15-17; 11:15, 17-18; 12:10-12; 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 18:2-8; 19:2-6). These hymns are very important: they relate to the interpretation of the visions and provide a clue to the literary structure of Revelation. The theme of this first hymn is God the Creator, while in Rev.5 the elders praise God the Redeemer. The praise in Rev.4 is given to the Father on the throne, while in Rev.5 it is directed to the Son (the Lamb) at the righthand side of the throne. The closing hymn (Rev. 5:13) is expressed to both, another proof of the deity of Jesus Christ. What is the deity of Christ? It is the right to forgive sins – something only God can do – as it is God who is offended by sin (Acts 5:31; Col.3:13; Ps.130:4; Jer.31:34). In close connection with this last claim, Jesus is also said to be the One who will “judge the living and the dead.”
There is also a gradual increase in the size of the choirs: the last hymn is sung by “…every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth” to “him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” (5:13).
The second hymn praises God for his creation and is sung by the twenty-four elders (vss.9-11). When the living creatures confess the truth of God’s holy deeds, the response of this highest order of God’s heavenly creatures is to relinquish (Afrikaans: “neerlê”) the crowns of honour before the feet of Him who alone is “worthy” of “glory and honour and power,” because He alone is the source and stay (Afrikaans: “begin en einde”) of every creative thing (Ps.33:6-9; 10:25; 136:5).
The expression ~ “…by your will they existed and were created” (vs.11) present a translation difficulty, but without going into technicalities, these words can be translated as follow: “because of God’s will, they (the twenty-four elders) continually exist and have come into being.”
Why is God worthy to receive glory? First, “because (He has) created all things.” Only God is eternal – the universe is not. Only God is eternal – matter is not. This God spoke into existence all that exist (Gen.1). Second, He is worthy “because of His will they exist and were created.” God willed and creation happened. God wills it and creation continues. Had He not willed it there would be nothing. If He does not continue to will it, they will be nothing. You and I are still here because He willed it.
5. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
One of the most important ways in which we can acknowledge God as Creator and Sustainer is to be aware of the character of the Holy Spirit (Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord). How often do you pray that your behaviour will be characterized by the character of the Holy Spirit? My advice to you is to pray it and that you will ask God to work it in and through you all the time.