Throne Room Series: Revelation 4:1-11
Let’s turn to Revelation chapter 4, Revelation 4. It’s right at the end of your Bible chapter 4, the last book of the Bible. We are focusing in on chapter 4 this week, 5 next week. Then we break for the summer, and then we’ll be back in the fall for some pretty amazing chapters as we continue through Revelation. We’ll be doing a Father’s Day message and then launching into Wisdomfest.
So one of the biggest challenges in interpreting anything, especially the Bible, is identifying the big idea. The big idea or the central message of a paragraph or chapter is key to understanding because it unites all the other themes. All the other ideas find their connection in the big idea. So it’s really important as we interpret the Bible that we not just – because you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say if you’re not faithful to the big idea. You can just pull out fragments and twist and turn, and that’s where heresies of all kinds come from. So we have to learn to see the big idea.
But the challenge in identifying the big idea, the central message, is the fact that there are lots of pieces and other ideas within the paragraph that can be either distracting or confusing. Ever experience that? And if you have the kind of mind that immediately goes toward what you don’t understand – that’s how I’m wired. I can understand twenty things in the passage, but my brain goes right for the one thing I don’t understand, and I’m going to lock in on that and try to figure it out, which is great. Nothing I’m saying now is minimizing the need for curiosity or exploration. We need to explore the things we don’t understand. However, we must be careful that in exploring the things we don’t understand, we make sure we don’t fail to miss, we don’t want to miss the main point. That’s the danger.
So let’s practice. Okay, are you ready to practice? I’m going to give you a paragraph, just a paragraph I made up, and you tell me the big idea. Are you ready? You came to work, right? Worship through work.
Here’s the paragraph. John reluctantly decided to take an Uber to Fresh Market in order to pick up some lettuce, quinoa, pomelo, and jicama because his car needed a new catalytic converter, and his friend was in Fuerteventura.
You want me to read it again? So some of you are going crazy right now, right? Because your brain is going where? Right to maybe. I mean there may be two of you who understand every word in there. Maybe I’m just not aware of my foods or places. But see if you can identify the big idea with 3, 4, 5, 6 words, really short. And the greatest challenge you’re going to experience or you’re experiencing right now is distinguishing between what you need to know and perhaps what you can wait to know in order to understand what the main point is.
So I’ll read it again. John reluctantly decided to take an Uber to Fresh Market in order to pick up some lettuce, quinoa, pomelo, and jicama because his car needed a new catalytic converter, and his friend was on Fuerteventura.
Okay, what’s the big idea? John went – you can do it in three words – John went shopping. John went shopping. That’s the point you get it all right there. I mean not all, but you get the main point. Or John went to Fresh Market, or John went to the grocery store, John went to a store. That’s the main point. How many of you have no idea what a catalytic converter does? How many of you don’t know what jicama is? You people are really educated! I had to look that up. How many of you thought that Fuerteventura is a drug that his friend is taking? Yeah, I had no idea. His friend is on what? What’s he shootin’?
But see, do you understand, the point is not that those details are inconsequential. They may be, and we want to explore, what kind of food is eating? Where is his friend? Oh that’s an island in the Canary Islands, North Africa, politically owned by Spain. That’s helpful. What’s an Uber?
But the point is John went to the store is the big idea. The means by which he went to the store was Uber. The reason, two reasons. Number one, car wasn’t working. Number two, friend was out of town. His attitude was, reluctantly. The store he went to, Fresh Market.
Purpose was to pick up some weird groceries. You say, why are we doing this exercise in church? This is very relevant to the Book of Revelation, because if you’re like me I often get stuck in the Book of Revelation, confused as to what the main point is because I’m lost in the details I don’t understand. Ever happen to anybody? And for some of us, we have steered away from the Book of Revelation because it’s so foreign and so confusing and so Fuerteventura-like. Like, what in the world are you talking about?
Now some of the reason this is the way it is, is because of the nature of the literature of Revelation. It’s called apocalyptic, apocalyptic. Just means revealing. It’s revealing things you would not know if it wasn’t revealed to you.
Apocalyptic literature was super common from 200 A.D. to 200 B.C., 200 years before Christ, 200 years after. You can read tons of Jewish apocalyptic literature. And there are a lot of characteristics, just like there are characteristics of mysteries or satires or short stories. You know it’s helpful to know the genre in order to know why are they writing the way they’re writing? And there are lots of characteristics of apocalyptic literature. One of the characteristics is that the images conveyed don’t always connect to one another. In other words, you can actually do injustice to the message that’s communicated by trying to fit every piece in its perfect place.
And so when you read what we’re about to do in a few minutes, when we read Revelation 4, and your mind is flooded with questions like, what color is it? Jasper, carnelian, rainbow, emerald. Who are the 24 elders? What are these living creatures? And how can they have a face like a man or a lion or an ox and have wings and eyes everywhere? What is that about?
Try drawing that, and you end up with something that looks quite, can look cartoonish. And so then many people just put it aside and say that’s weird. I don’t understand that. I’m going back to Romans.
But if we don’t understand the literature, we miss the message, we miss the big idea. And there is a powerful message that we must hear because the Book of Revelation was not written to satisfy our Bible trivia curiosity. It was written for real Christians who were under real pressure, persecution. As we’ve just been reading the last two chapters for many weeks, these are real churches facing real hardship, attacks, temptations toward immorality, idolatry, heresy, struggling for their lives.
And this is not a game. This book was not written so people can play games with the symbols. It’s written for Christians who desperately need hope and a fresh vision of what God is up to.
And so as I in a moment read Revelation 4, I want you to do a couple of things. First of all, remember that Revelation 4 follows Revelation 1, 2, and 3. This is a letter, a vision that flows together.
Revelation 1, vision of Jesus. Revelation 2 and 3, letters to the seven churches. Real, struggling churches like North Hills, full of victory, potential temptation. So why is this message in Revelation 4 being communicated to them, and what is the main point? What is being communicated? And I’m suggesting to you that you don’t have to go to 20 eschatology conferences to understand the main point of Revelation 4. You can get it after one reading, without knowing Greek or Aramaic. So let’s read Revelation 4. I’m going to give you one clue that will help you get to the main idea. Look for a word. It appears fourteen times, fourteen times. I think it’s a clue as to what the main idea of this passage is.
“After this 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.’ At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 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. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones where twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 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, 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: 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. 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!’
“And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 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, 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.”
This is the word of the Lord.
What’s the word? Throne. Throne. Did you notice everything revolves around the throne? So “God is on his throne” permeates the whole chapter and is worthy of worship God. This is the big idea. God is on the throne and is worthy of worship.
We’re going to move pretty quickly through these eleven verses because we want to see the message as a whole. So starting in verse 1, “After this I looked and behold, a door standing open to heaven.” Now I don’t think that’s a portal in a faraway galaxy. What I think that is an opening into a different sphere of reality that’s always here. And the first voice which I heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here,” that’s Jesus, chapter 1:10, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this. At once I was in the Spirit.” So John is not so much experiencing a change of geography as a change of perspective. He can suddenly see what he couldn’t see before. And he sees one who is number 1, on the throne.
Behold a throne stood in heaven with one seated on the throne. The throne in this chapter is central. But notice the one on the throne is, I don’t know how else to say it, but vaguely described.
Did you notice that? The only thing described is color. Color. The appearance of jasper, which could be either red, yellow, or brown, but yet carnelian which is a reddish brownish color. Two of the twelve stones on the high priest’s breastplate were jasper and carnelian, Exodus 28:17-18. The one on the throne is communicated with, described by a color. The reason I think that is, is because John even in a vision, if he had a full display, saw full display of the glory of God would have been consumed. So there is clearly a veiled expression of the one on the throne.
But notice everything else surrounds and points to the one on the throne. The vision immediately moves from who is on the throne to number 2, around the throne. Second part of verse 3, “around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald,” a radiant greenish color communicating God’s promised mercy. Also verse 4, “around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on these twenty-four thrones were twenty-four elders.” Now who are they? There are at least four more good options. One is they could be the twenty-four courses of priests described in 1 Chronicles 24:4. They could be a high order of angels. We’ll see that later in the book. Third, they could be the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles alluded to in Revelation 21:13 and 14. Or number 4, they could be representative of all believers. And the reason for that is they have the characteristics promised in Revelation 2 and 3 of victorious believers.
Remember, victorious believers were promised in 3:21 to reign with Christ seated on thrones, they’re seated on thrones; to wear white garments, chapter 3:5, they’re wearing white garments; to wear crowns, 2:10, they’re wearing crowns. So we’re going to leave that question out there and come back to that later in the book. That is, they are worshiping around the throne.
Third, from the throne, verse 5. There is cosmic turbulence, flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, communicating God’s majesty. We saw his mercy in the rainbow, we see his justice in the storm. There is a storm around the throne. Second part of verse 5, before the throne. “Before the throne,” number 4, “were burning torches of fire which are the seven spirits of God.” And we’ve seen that expression several times in our study, pointing us back to, I believe, Isaiah 11:2, the seven-fold description of the Spirit, and a sea of glass like crystal. The sea in the Bible is typically depicting the fallen order, but here it’s most likely referring to the glory of the temple described in Ezekiel 1 and 1 Kings 7.
Either way can you imagine the spectacle? Have you ever been to the ocean or a lake when a storm comes in, and there is the wind blowing and the thunder and the lightning, and it’s flashing off the sea, off the water? The display is spectacular. And that’s the image. This throne is not docile or boring. It is awe-inspiring.
Notice beside the throne, number 5. “Beside the throne” (and these images are taken out of Ezekiel 1 and Isaiah 6), “there are four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.” And later in verse 8, full of eyes all around and within and with six wings. So whatever else the eyes communicate, the message is clear that they don’t miss anything. You’re not going to sneak up on one of these. You’re not going to get something by them.
This is the ultimate surveillance system. These living creatures don’t miss anything. And they’re described first like a lion in its royalty, like an ox in its strength, with the face of a man probably communicating intelligence, like an eagle in flight, swiftness and vision. Verse 8, “And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night…”
So pause for a second, think about what do creatures who can see perfectly, have amazing vision and a full 380 degree, 380? 360. In heaven you can see 380. Fresh revelation coming to you this morning. 360 degrees. What do creatures say? What do they see when they can see completely? They never cease to say, and here the focus shifts back, number 6, toward the throne. Toward the throne. “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.” The word holy as we’ve talked about recently, just simply at the root means distinct, separate, different, unlike anyone or anything else.
And it’s so fascinating to me that God uses these living creatures that we all look at and think or imagine and think, what in the world, to communicate his different-ness. That God is unlike anyone we would characterize him to be. He is above. Notice he was and is and is to come. He transcends all of history. All human rulers are stuck in history, and they take up their little piece of history, and we do our thing and disappear. He was, is, and always is to come. He transcends it all.
He is sovereign, verse 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.” This triggers an avalanche of praise, because when the four living creatures cry out, then verse 10, “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 his throne.”
So God is not threatened by crowns or other thrones. But all of them point to the throne, the crown, the King of kings, and they all get cast before him. All our achievements, all our successes head in one ultimate direction. Why does every throne revolve around the throne? Verse 11, this is the climax, “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.” Now for some people that song may seem a little overly familiar. So to help with that, you might want to flip it. What would it be like to sing that song inappropriately like, “You, oh Hitler, are unworthy. You are unworthy of glory and honor and power, for you tried to steal glory and honor and power that weren’t yours to have. And because of you, nothing exists. As a matter of fact, many were destroyed.”
But you can actually do the same thing with your own name. Try putting your name in that song as if you in and of yourself deserve glory because of something you did or something you created. Everything you create, everything I create, everything I do flows from the one who created me. And everything we see. All our creation, all our accomplishments and designs, and all our intellectual and physical capabilities, which are remarkable, but they are all tiny little particles flowing from the one who deserves all glory, all honor, all power. And this chapter you just feel the pull towards the throne drawing all of our hearts toward the one who is worthy. Everything revolves around the throne. All of the thrones point to the throne, and all glory points in one direction.
Several times over the last couple of years I’ve shared the gospel with someone who responded something like, and I’m merging a couple of these, but something like, “Well I’m happy for you. That’s good for you. That’s nice. I’m glad that works for you. But I’m just not a religious kind of person. I’m just not into that. And in some ways I understand. If they’re thinking I’m trying to sell them on being religious or just doing a church thing, loving liturgy, I get that. Before I became a Christian, I hated church.
That’s not what we’re talking about at the core. What we’re talking about is something more like, imagine buying a car. You take it home you drive it for months, but you didn’t pay anything. You haven’t paid the payments at all. And soon someone comes knocking at your door and they say, I’m here to repossess our car because you haven’t paid for it. And you say to them, “Yeah, I’m not really interested in that.” And they say, “Well, I’m not selling something. I’m telling you that’s our car and you’re driving our car.”
That’s the message here. You notice the praise that’s being offered is grounded in creation. You’re his car, and there’s no amount of payment you can make in and of yourself. You’ll be in debt for eternity. You’re his, and everything you see is his. Try to find something that didn’t originate with him. “He created all things, and by him all things exist.”
And so when he calls you to give glory, when he calls you to give honor, he’s not talking about whether you, are you the worshiping kind? Do you think worship is cool? Do you like to sing? It’s much deeper than that. It’s not about personality. It’s not about emotional state or the way you’re wired. It’s about our eyes being opened to the fact that we did not make ourselves, and we’re more than an accident in the universe. That we come from him, and we live through him, and we go to him, and all glory and honor and power comes from one place and goes back to one place. And we are called as worshipers to join God in the glory repo business, where we are repossessing glory that is stolen by our own hearts and all those around us and we just want to say, “Hey, it goes back to its rightful owner.”
And that’s what we do when we gather to sing. It’s not about whether the song is traditional or contemporary or my style or your style. It’s about who gets the glory and the honor and the power.
And this isn’t just a Sunday thing. When we watch a ball game, there’s tons of glory and honor and power going on. And we as worshippers know where it all came from and where it all goes back to. Every meal we eat, we can eat to the glory of God. Every bit of work we do and every accomplishment we experience and every bit of suffering we go through, it comes from him, through him, to him.
This chapter is an open door into reality, the way things really are. But our eyes get blinded, and we get distracted, and we turn in on ourselves. And Revelation 4 is an open door to a vision that is above and beyond us.
Have you ever done something, you designed something, you built something, you came up with an idea, someone else takes it and takes credit for it? That can be really frustrating, right?
And there are two responses: one is a petty resentment. That’s not what we’re talking about. But the other is a deep sense of injustice, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or not a Christian. Every human being feels that. When you worked hard on something, you created something, you designed something, you did something, and someone else snatches the credit. That deep sense of injustice that is within us all is the crying out for – this is wrong, because the glory is not going back to its rightful owner. And that is but a micro image of what Revelation 4 is getting at. Don’t be a glory thief. Give the glory and the honor and power back to its rightful owner.
And this morning we get the opportunity to do that. We’re going to spend a significant amount of time, and don’t view this just as, oh the sermon’s over, so we’re packing up. No. This is the point. Be a doer of the word. We have an opportunity to turn our eyes to the one who is worthy and all our affections. And as the Spirit is working in your hearts and convicting you of sin or taking suffering and struggling and questions, just take them to him. There are some of us who will be up near the front who would love to pray with you as we worship. But let’s call out to him and do what Revelation 4 pictures for us.
Father, thank you that we get a dress rehearsal for heaven. And it isn’t just practicing for something in the future. Lord, you are living this out in our midst today. You are just revealing who you really are. Give us eyes to see like those living creatures. Give us hearts that bow like those twenty-four elders. Give us mouths to praise. And Father, if there’s anyone here who doesn’t know you, may they come to know you even as we cry out to you, even as the gospel is saturated in these songs we sing. May they turn to Jesus who is the only one who enables us to be able to praise a holy God.
Thank you, Jesus. All glory to your name. Amen.