************ Sermon on Revelation 4:1-3 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 20, 2008
"The Heavenly Throne Room"
What does God look like? When God went looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, what did Adam see (Gen 3:8-9)? When God spoke with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend, what did Moses see (Ex 33:11)? When God passed before Elijah on Mt Horeb, what did Elijah see (1 Kings 19)? When the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a throne, what did Isaiah see (Isaiah 6)? If we were to see God face to face, what would we see?
In Revelation 1, John "was in the Spirit" and was given a glimpse of the glorified Christ. He saw
(Rev 1:13-16) ... someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. (14) His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. (15) His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (16) In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
In Revelation 4, John again "was in the Spirit" and was given a vision of God. He saw
(Rev 4:2-3) ... a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (3) And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.
What does God look like? What will we see when we die and appear before God's throne? What will we see when we live with God in the new Jerusalem on the new earth?
I want you to notice the progression in Revelation. In his first vision, John is given a vision of Christ. In his second vision, John is given a vision of God. In his first vision, John remains on the island of Patmos. In his second vision, John is somehow transported into heaven. In his first vision, John hears the voice of Jesus behind him. In his second vision, John hears the voice of Jesus above him.
Revelation 4 & 5 are both part of the same vision. Revelation 4 describes the setting of the vision. Revelation 5 tells us the vision itself.
I Thrones and Doors
A Now, there is one word that predominates the vision of Revelation 4 & 5. Do you know what that word is? It appears 19 times in 12 verses. It is the word "throne." Revelation 4 & 5 is focused on God's throne in heaven. The setting of the vision is the heavenly throne room.
In our 21st century world we don't really understand "thrones." But the first century Christians certainly knew what it meant. In fact, they knew a series of thrones: the throne of the Roman Emperor, the throne of the governor of Asia Minor, the throne of the King of Sardis or Philadelphia or Smyrna or whatever city they lived in. He who sits on the throne is sovereign. He who sits on the throne has kingdom and rule and power and might. He who sits on the throne has power over life and death. He who sits on the throne can issue a decree that a census be taken of the entire empire and all the peoples of the empire are set into motion (cf Lk 2:1).
God is seated on the throne of heaven. He is sovereign. His kingdom and rule and power and might are absolute – far greater than that of Caesar. From this throne the planets and galaxies and stars receive their orders. From this throne the forces of nature are controlled and directed. From this throne all creatures receive their life and being. Before this throne all men and angels must bow. The sight of this throne reduces the greatest to a state of quiet humility.
Don't forget, John is writing to Christians facing persecution, perhaps even martyrdom. As we saw in the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, these Christians are receiving great pressure to forsake the faith, to make compromises with the world, to be tolerant about heresy. These Christians need comfort. These Christians need encouragement. These Christians need help to endure and overcome.
What is John's word of comfort for these Christians? Listen to what John says: "there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it" (Rev 4:2). Do you hear what John is saying? God is seated on the throne. Our God reigns. God is sovereign. All things are in His hands. All peoples are in His hands. All events of history are in His hands. That's the word of comfort and encouragement I have for you.
One of the biggest failings of our day is a failure to appreciate the awesomeness of God. Those who are older remember the time when many of our worship services were started with a verse from the prophecy of Habakkuk:
(Hab 2:20) But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him."God is holy. God is awesome. God is terrifying. We are to come into His presence with fear and trembling and a sense of awe. But today? Today, people treat God like the man next door. Or, they wrongly believe that in today's world man no longer needs God. Whatever the case may be, the result is that many no longer fear God. But they should fear God, because He is sitting on the heavenly throne.
B Our Bible reading does not start off with the throne. It starts off with a door. John sees a "door standing open in heaven" (Rev 4:1). It not a door that is in the process of opening. It is already open.
When I visit Trudy Eckart or Jane Jacobi I call them ahead of time. They tell me they are leaving the door open and I am supposed to walk in. The door is open because I am expected. The door is open for me. In the same way, the door to heaven is open for John because John is expected. He is expected to come. And, he is expected to walk in. The door is open for him!
C Then John hears a voice from above – the same voice that he hears behind him in chapter 1. It is the voice of Jesus. It is described as a voice "like a trumpet." It is loud. It is insistent. It cannot be ignored. "Come up here," says Jesus (Rev 4:1). This is not an invitation. This is not a suggestion. This is a command. "Come up here, John. Go through the open door, and enter the throne room."
"Come up here." Why? "And I will show you what must take place after this" (Rev 4:1). Jesus is not going to tell John something. He is going to show John something. He is going to show John what happens "after this." In the Greek we first saw this phrase in Revelation 1:1. It is a phrase that comes from Daniel 2. It refers to the last days. And, the last days – as all of you should know – refers to the whole time between the first and second comings of Christ. We are in the last days right now. Why? Because Jesus died, Jesus arose, Jesus ascended, and Jesus is seated at God's right hand. So John is commanded to come into heaven to see what is happening right now, today.
"Come up here." Why? John is commanded to come into the throne room to see the commander-in-chief in action.
A couple of years ago I had a tour of an aircraft carrier. The ship is absolutely massive. There were all these separate compartments – the engine rooms, the repair shops, the mess hall or dining area, the laundry, the sleeping quarters, the storage areas, the weapons area, the communications room, the radar, the bridge, etc. I can well imagine that some sailor in the kitchen had no idea what was really happening. All he knew was that he had to peel 800 potatoes before dinner time. But the captain knew. By his command the ship would change direction, fire weapons, reach its destination, and take on supplies. What looked like a disorganized mess from the kitchen was actually a well-ordered plan developed and carried out by the captain.God is the captain, the commander-in-chief. In His presence John sees what is actually happening. He sees the master plan being carried out. He sees what is going on behind the scenes. He sees someone is in charge.
"Come up here, John." Why? "And I will show you what must take place after this." Notice that word "must." This is one of John's favorite words:
(Jn 3:14) Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up ...It does not refer to things that will happen or might happen. It refers to things that must happen, things that have been foreordained, things that are in the plan of God, things that the sovereign and mighty God on heaven's throne has decreed. Things that cannot be changed. Things that cannot be stopped.
(Rev 1:1) The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.
(Rev 22:6) The angel said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place."
What "must" happen? What must happen is that Christ will win the final victory, believers will be rewarded, sin will be destroyed, the new Jerusalem will come, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, we will eat from the tree of life, and we will live with Jesus forever. What else "must" happen? None of the judgments and wraths mentioned in the book of Revelation will be escaped or reduced or compromised. God will not change His mind. God will not change His judgments. His enemies will go down to defeat. The seven bowls of wrath will be emptied. The lake of fire will never be extinguished. All of this must happen. All of this will happen. All of this is in God's plan. All of this has been determined by Him Who sits on heaven's throne.
People don't want to hear about God's sovereignty today. Some within the church think it is too difficult to understand. Who wants to struggle with election and reprobation and predestination? Others within the church don't want to deal with God's sovereignty because that means they have to repent and change their life to conform to the will of Him Who sits on the throne.
D "Come up here." John obeyed. "At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven" (Rev 4:2). "I was in the Spirit," says John. John uses the same phrase in Revelation 1:10. Then he remained on the island of Patmos. This time he enters heaven's open door into God's throne room. Was it in the body or only in the spirit? We are not told. John's experience is something like Paul's:
(2Cor 12:2-4) I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows. (3) And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-- (4) was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.However it happened, John was in the Holy Spirit and taken to heaven's throne room. But unlike Paul he is able to tell and to write of what he saw and heard.
II God on His Throne
A As commanded, John enters the open door of heaven. The important question is not how he got there but what does he see?
(Rev 4:2-3) ... there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (3) And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.
Notice, John does not give us a description of the One on the throne. John does not tell us His height (6' 2"), weight (185), length of hair (short/long), eye color (blue), with a long white beard (as is so often depicted) and so on. John does not describe God.
John only tells us what God is like. The emphasis is on the word "like." John cannot describe God as He is; no one can do that. John can describe Jesus because Jesus is the Immanuel, God with us, God in the flesh. But John cannot accurately describe God. God is the indescribable one. John can only say what God is like, what God is similar to, but John cannot describe God as He really is.
Eric & Penny Schering, missionaries to Papua, New Guinea, stayed with us just before Christmas. They have such interesting stories. The people and villages they minister to basically live in the stone age. Running water, electricity, telephones, TV's, computers, cameras, books, and magazines are totally foreign to these people. How would you go about describing modern American life to these natives? Where would you begin? Does their language even have words for any of the things we take for granted?That is our problem and that is John's problem when it comes to describing God. We have no words or categories that can begin to describe Him. God is beyond our understanding and beyond our ability to describe.
How do you describe a God Who is so pure that He is whiter than the driven snow? How do you describe a God Who is brighter than a thousand suns? How do you describe a God Whose love is greater than that of the most loving mother? How do you describe a God Whose power makes man's greatest weapons look like harmless toys?
God is the indescribable One. Any description we attempt of God can only reduce Him and diminish Him so that we no longer are in awe of Him.
B So, how does John describe God? It starts off with a throne: "there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it" (Rev 4:2). To a church under attack, to a church facing persecution, to a church being asked to compromise faith, the throne is a guarantee that everything will turn out all right. So, at the end of Revelation, when all is said and done, what do we see? A throne!
(Rev 20:11-12) Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. (12) And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne ...The throne, the mighty throne of God, means victory.
"And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian" (Rev 4:3). Many things have been said about these stones. Some commentators find significance in the color of these stones. The red carnelian represents the judgment of God, the white jasper represents the purity of God, and so on. But the colors of the stones are not even mentioned by John so this appears rather arbitrary. Other commentators point out that the carnelian and jasper are the first and last stone embedded on the breast plate of the high priest. But we know Jesus as the high priest; we do not know the Father on the throne as high priest.
"And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian" (Rev 4:3). We need to realize the Ancient world did not use our system for classifying precious stones. So, this means that the stones mentioned are not necessarily the same as our jasper and carnelian.
Jasper is mentioned in Revelation 21 and is described as being "clear as crystal" (Rev 21:11). "Clear as crystal." Do you know what that sounds like? That sounds like a diamond. That sounds like something brilliant that sparkles, shimmers, gleams, and glitters. As for carnelian, it is a fiery red stone that also sparkles, shimmers, gleams, and glitters. Why is God described as jasper and carnelian? God is brilliant, glorious, resplendent, awesome, and magnificent. As the psalmist puts it, God wraps Himself in light as with a garment (Ps 104:2). God clothes Himself in unspeakable glory and splendor and beauty.
Do you remember what happened when Moses saw God face-to-face? His face was radiant because he had
been in the presence of the LORD (Ex 34:29). Do you remember Paul's description of God to Timothy?
(1 Tim 6:15-16) God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, (16) who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light ...Similarly, John describes the appearance of Him Who sits on the throne as "jasper and carnelian."
C John concludes the description with a rainbow: "A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne" (Rev 4:3). What kind of rainbow is this? I ask this because emeralds are green. Doesn't a rainbow, by definition, include many colors? However, when I looked at pictures of emeralds on the Internet, I discovered the Middle East area has emeralds of many colors. Like the jasper and carnelian, the emerald speaks of brilliance and glory and splendor and beauty.
But why is it described as a "rainbow"? When God's people think of the rainbow they cannot help but think of the Flood and God's judgment. At that time everyone died except for those saved in the ark. After the Flood, God hung His bow in the sky as a sign of His covenant mercies and faithfulness.
Why did God use a rainbow? Ask yourself, what is a bow used for? Yes, it is used in the collection of food. Especially, though, it is used as a weapon of war. And after the war, when the enemy has been defeated, what is done with the bow? The bow is hung up on the wall. In the same way, after the Flood, God hung His bow in the sky as a sign that the judgment of the Flood is ended.
"A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne" (Rev 4:3). God's bow, God's judgment bow, someday is going to be pulled down and God will exercise judgment again. Those who have entered the ark of Jesus Christ will be saved and protected like believing Noah and his family. These people have nothing to fear when He Who sits on the throne takes up His bow again. However, those who don't know Christ, those who persecute Christ and His people, they have every reason to fear Him Who sits on the throne. Because the bow is there, by the throne. John can't overlook it. God can't lose it. It gleams and shimmers and waits for the day when it will again be used.
What does God look like? He is glorious. He is majestic. He is awesome. He sits on a throne with a bow at hand.
Someday, like John, we will enter the door. Someday, like John, we will meet God, face-to-face. Someday, like John, we will stand before the throne. If you are a Christian, you will experience grace and comfort. If you are not a Christian, this will fill you with dread.
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