************ Sermon on Revelation 4:4-6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 27, 2008
"The Heavenly Throne Room"
Jesus opened the door to heaven. "Come up here, John, and I will show you what must soon take place" (Rev 4:1). John enters the door and what is the first thing he sees? He sees "a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it" (Rev 4:2). When John sees the throne he realizes that our God reigns, that He rules, that He is in control, that He has a plan He is carrying out.
Why does God on His throne catch John's attention? Why is this the very first thing he sees? First of all, it is so majestic, awesome, magnificent, glorious – the appearance of jasper and carnelian with an emerald-like rainbow encircling the throne.
Why does God on His throne catch John's attention? Why is this the very first thing he sees? The second reason is that John realizes that God and His throne is at the center of everything. John looks and sees that there are a series of circles with God on His throne at the center.
At the center is God on His throne (Rev 4:2). Encircling this is the emerald-like rainbow (Rev 4:3). In a circle around this is the four living creatures (Rev 4:6). Surrounding this is the 24 elders seated on 24 thrones (Rev 4:4). Then comes a circle of thousands upon thousands of angels (Rev 5:11). Before and around the throne is a sea of glass (Rev 4:6). After this comes every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea; though John does not specifically say this, we are to imagine that they are in a circle around the throne too (Rev 5:13).
Imagine all these circles: a rainbow, four living creatures, 24 elders, thousands of angels, a sea of glass, every other creature of the universe. And in the middle, at the center, is God on His throne.
You get the message, I am sure. At the center of the universe is God on His throne. At the center of all of life is God on His throne. At the center of all existence is God on His throne. God is the center of everything. And, notice what is NOT at the center of everything: not me or you, not a nation or government, not a king or president or Caesar, not a political party or candidate, not an issue or controversy, not money or stocks or a bank account, not cows or barns, not sex or pleasure, not sports or grades, not a boyfriend or girlfriend.
John enters heaven's door and the first thing he sees is a throne with someone sitting on it. No matter how we sinful creatures try (and we do try), nothing and no one can take away from the glory and power of God. God is on the throne. He is governing the universe. He is carrying out His plan. He is at the center.
Do you live like this is the case? Or, do you have to be the center of everything? So many people are like this, you know. They think all of life revolves around them. They need to be the center of attention. They are completely self-centered instead of God-centered.
Is God the center of your marriage? Is God the center of your family life? Is God the center of how you conduct business? Is God the center of how you treat employees or coworkers? Is God the center of how you spend your money? Is God the center of your hopes and plans and dreams? Is God the center of this church?
At the center of the universe is God on His throne. Our text tells us more about God's throne room.
I The Twenty Four Elders
A In a circle around the throne John sees 24 elders. Who are these elders? Some commentators say the 24 elders are the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament and the twelve apostles of the New Testament; thus, they represent the whole people of God. Like the people of God, they are dressed in white and have crowns of gold on their heads – gifts that Jesus promises to overcomers in His letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor (cf Rev 21 where the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles are written on the gates and foundations of the New Jerusalem).
Yet, the book of Revelation presents the 24 elders as being distinct and different from the saints. For instance, they present the prayers of the saints to God in Revelation 5:8 – not their prayers together with the prayers of the people. And their song in Revelation 5:9-10 sings of what Christ has done for the saints – not what Christ has done for them together with the rest of the saints; they offer worship to God as bystanders or observers of the church's redemption by the blood of the Lamb. And, it is one of the elders who explains to John the great multitude standing before the throne as those who have been washed in the blood of Christ (Rev 7:13-14) – again, excluding themselves. So, they cannot be men representing the old and new covenant communities.
Well, then, who are the 24 elders? They are dressed in white, just like the angels we see in the Gospels. They sit on thrones and wear crowns. We can only conclude they are a ruling class of angelic beings. They are distinct from and over the ordinary class of thousands upon thousands of angels who surround the throne – they are closer to the throne. They are also subordinate to the four living creatures who surround the throne – the four creatures are closer to the throne.
B What do the 24 elders do? They interpret heavenly visions for men (Rev 7:13-14). They present to God the prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8). Again and again they are seen worshiping God (Rev 5:9-10; 7:15-17; 11:17-18; 19:4 ...). They sit on thrones around God's throne and wear crowns of gold (Rev 4:4). This makes me think of what the Psalmist says:
(Ps 89:7) In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.The 24 elders are part of God's "council." Of course, the God of all wisdom and knowledge needs no advisors and counselors. The 24 elders are to be seen as part of His royal entourage; they are royal retainers, they are royal attendants.
A couple of years ago I was having problems with my insurance – it was not Chuck or his company. Over the years the insurance company had added phone numbers and telephone equipment. I tend to save old paperwork so I hunted up the original phone number I was given. I dialed it. It was now a direct line to the President's office. His first question was, "Who are you and how did you get this phone number?" Ordinary people are not supposed to get to the President of a large company; you are supposed to go through secretaries and assistants and you end up talking to someone in a back office.Likewise, before you get to the throne of God there are lesser thrones.
Have you ever seen pictures of the President by himself? He always has advisors, cabinet secretaries, and secret service guards floating around him. You cannot just walk in through the front door of the White House and say "hi" like he is the neighbor next door. Before you get to his office, there are a bunch of lesser offices.
Surrounding the throne of God are 24 elders on 24 thrones, dressed in white with crowns of gold on their heads. They are majestic, spectacular, royal creatures who reflect the authority and power of God on the throne. In their majesty we see God's majesty. In their power we see God's power. In their throne we see God's throne. The sight of them alone provokes awe. As part of God's royal court it makes Him Who is seated on the throne even more spectacular. They add to the color and pageantry and splendor of the heavenly throne room.
II Lightning, Rumblings, Thunder
A As John looks over the heavenly throne room he begins to see more details. Remember, the first thing he sees is God. Then he notices the emerald-like rainbow. Then he notices the 24 elders. Now he notices that "From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder" (Rev 4:5).
Unless you grew up elsewhere you have no idea what John is talking about because we don't get lightning and thunder storms in California. We get earthquakes and wild fires. The southeast of the country gets hurricanes. The midwest gets thunder and lightning and tornadoes. There can be sheets of lightning that light up the entire sky or one bolt that will shatter a tree into a thousand pieces. There can be thunder so loud that your ears are left ringing and your heart is left pounding. At the time of John there was no display of raw energy and power greater than that in nature.
"From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder" (Rev 4:5). We find similar phrases expressed at the conclusion of each of the 7 judgments in Revelation:
-the 7 seals are broken – thunder, rumblings, lightning (Rev 8:5)
-the 7 trumpets are sounded – thunder, rumblings, lightning (Rev 11:19)
-the 7 bowls are poured out – thunder, rumblings, lightning (Rev 16:18)
The thunder, rumblings, and lightning are a kind of exclamation point! This is God's way of making sure that we wake up from our slumber and pay close attention.
"From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder" (Rev 4:5). Did you catch the very first phrase? "From the throne." From God's throne. He Who sits on the throne is responsible. He Who sits on the throne causes the most terrific display of energy to be found in nature. God's majesty and power are expressed in thunder and lightning. They inspire fear, dread, and awe for Him Who is on the throne.
B "From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder" (Rev 4:5). If you are a reader of the Old Testament this makes you think of Mount Sinai and the giving of the Law in Exodus 19 & 20. Listen to what Moses wrote:
(Ex 19:16-19) On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. (17) Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. (18) Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, (19) and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.The people were scared by this awesome display and trembled. They knew to even touch the mountain meant death (Ex 19:12-13). The Lord Almighty, the God on the throne, was showing His majesty and power.
III The Seven Lamps
A As John looks over the heavenly throne room he begins to see more details. Remember, the first thing he sees is God. Then he notices the emerald-like rainbow. Then he notices the 24 elders. Then he notices lightning, rumblings, and thunder. Now he notices that "Before the throne, seven lamps are blazing. These are the seven spirits of God" (Rev 4:5).
As mentioned in a previous message, the "seven lamps" is an image that comes from Zechariah. At the time of Zechariah the people wondered how the Temple and nation of God could possibly be rebuilt by the returning exiles. After all, they were a relatively small group of people. They were also a poor people. God announces that this will happen through the provisions of the Spirit: "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit," says the LORD Almighty (Zech 4:6).
Similarly, how is the church built? How does she persevere and overcome and endure? Only by and through the provision of the Spirit. Not by the might of man does the church endure hostility and attacks and temptations. Nor by military might. Nor by political intrigue. But by the Spirit.
Isn't this the message of Pentecost? How will the message of the Gospel go throughout the world? How will the message of the Gospel fare against the might and power of Rome? Or, in our day, how will the Gospel of Jesus Christ conquer a post-Christian culture? The answer: the Spirit came down as a tongue of fire – think of Zechariah's lampstand or the seven lamps – the apostles preached, 3000 were cut to the heart and repented and believed and were baptized. It was through the ministry and power of the Spirit.
B "Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God." We don't need to change our theology of the Trinity. There are not suddenly 9 persons in the Godhead. Seven, don't forget, is the number of fulness and completeness. Borrowing from Zechariah, Jesus is showing John that God fully provides for His church through the Holy Spirit. God gives His church whatever she needs to do her work and ministry through the Spirit.
"Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God." Here is an announcement that God does NOT need us. The Spirit before the throne is all-sufficient. The Spirit before the throne knows no weakness, frailty, incompetence, weariness, illness. The Spirit before the throne will surely accomplish what our mighty God has foreordained.
IV The Sea of Glass
A As John looks over the heavenly throne room he begins to see more details. Remember, the first thing he sees is God. Then he notices the emerald-like rainbow. Then he notices the 24 elders. Then he notices lightning, rumblings, and thunder. Then he notices the seven lamps representing the Spirit of God. Now he notices a sea of glass: "Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal" (Rev 4:6).
John is using an image here. We are not told that what John sees IS a sea of glass but "looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal." What does this mean? Like the sea, it is blue or bluish in color. Like glass, it is reflective and radiant. Like crystal, it is clear and sparkly.
B This image comes from Exodus. Moses and the elders were commanded to come into the presence of God. What did they see?
(Ex 24:10) ... Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself.Standing between God in heaven and man on earth was a sky-blue, transparent pavement.
We see a similar image in Ezekiel. Ezekiel sees 4 living creatures.
(Ezek 1:22, 26-28) Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome ... (26) Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. (27) I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. (28) Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.Ezekiel sees the glorious Lord on His throne. Separating God in heaven above from man on earth below is an "expanse," a canopy, a barrier that sparkles like ice.
John sees the same thing as Moses and Ezekiel though he describes it "like a sea of glass, clear as crystal." In John's vision the barrier is now seen on a horizontal level rather than a vertical level. It still separates God from all others. That is the key. It is a barrier.
C "Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal" (Rev 4:6). Why? Why this barrier, this separation, between God and us? His majesty and holiness and awesomeness and glory is so great we cannot get close to Him. The difference between Him and us is enormous – like an impassable sea, like a transparent pavement, like an expanse of ice. He is an imposing King. He is a majestic King. He is on the throne of the universe. His appearance is like jasper and carnelian. He is surrounded by an emerald-like rainbow, 4 living creatures, 24 elders. From his throne comes lightning, rumblings, thunder. No other is like Him. No other compares to Him. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Like Israel, we come before Him with trembling and awe. No wonder there is that barrier between us and Him.
D But now comes a problem. How can the chasm, the sea, the barrier, the expanse be bridged? Not a single human being is worthy of bridging the gap. Not a single human being is able to bridge the gap. If a bridge is built, it can only be built by God. He, and only He, can bridge the gap. But that's the point of chapter 5. In Jesus Christ, God has done what man cannot do. In Jesus Christ, God has bridged the gap between the infinite and mighty and majestic God and us frail, sinful, fallen creatures.
What I need you to hear is this: the transcendent, almighty, majestic, holy, awesome God is our Savior Who has bridged the gap.
Jesus opened the door to heaven. "Come up here, John, and I will show you what must soon take place" (Rev 4:1). John enters the door. What does he see? As John looks over the heavenly throne room he notices the emerald-like rainbow. He notices the 24 elders. He notices lightning, rumblings, and thunder. He notices the seven lamps representing the Spirit of God. He notices a sea of glass. All of this is secondary. All of these have but one purpose, one intention: to direct John's attention to Him Who sits on the throne of the universe.
Before this God we are in trembling and awe. Before this God we shout our praises. Before this God we bow down in worship. That's the point of what John sees in the throne room of heaven.
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