Before the Throne of God
As you know, last week we finished up looking at the last of the seven churches of Revelation. We looked at the church in Laodicea, and how they had become lukewarm in the faith, and how Christ encouraged them to return to Him. He told them that He was standing at the door, knocking, and all they had to do was let Him back into their lives. And since we have completed our look at the seven churches, tonight marks a milestone night in our study of the book of Revelation. In the first three chapters of the book, John was telling what Christ had to say to seven distinct churches, and in the rest of the book, John is describing his vision of what happens in future earth. And so I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Revelation chapter four, and we will be reading all eleven verses of the chapter. And also, because of the difficulty of the themes in this chapter, I will open up the floor for questions, so please go into this devotion prepared to ask any questions that might surface in your mind.
“After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, ‘Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.’ And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And He that sat was to look upon like jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beast full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast was like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beast had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.’ And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sat on the throne, who liveth forever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that liveth forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.’”
Wow, a lot to talk about. We’d better pray before we get started.
The title of this devotion is, “Before the Throne of God.” As we study this chapter, we are going to wade through some of the difficult concepts, like the twenty four elders and the four beasts, but in the midst of all of these difficult concepts, we are going to focus on what the chapter focuses on, and that is the absolute majesty of our Father God.
Let’s begin our study by reading verses one and two of chapter four again. “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, ‘Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.’ And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.”
In these two verses, John transitions from his vision of the seven churches to his vision of what happens in our future. John says that he saw a door opened in heaven, and a voice invited him to come up into heaven. The voice said that He would show John what was going to happen in the future. While the voice does not identify itself, it must have been Jesus, because the voice said, “I will show you things which must be hereafter.” And we know that it was Jesus that showed John the vision. Then the Bible says that John saw a throne that was in heaven, and there was One who sat on the throne.
As you most likely guessed, the identity of the One on this throne is none other than God the Father. Look at how verse three describes our heavenly Father. “And He that sat was to look upon like jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” There have been different interpretations over the years about the significance of the different jewels situated around the throne, but I think that the big picture is that it was a truly spectacular sight. While it is impossible to say for sure, it would seem that the rainbow signifies God’s promise of mercy. Anybody want to guess why I think that? That’s right, because God caused a rainbow to appear after the rain stopped after the great flood in Noah’s day, and God said that the rainbow signified His promise to never flood the earth again.
Now verse four is where things get a little confusing. Verse four says that there were twenty-four thrones, in which were seated twenty-four elders, and the twenty-four elders were wearing crowns of gold and white garments. So who on earth are these twenty four elders? There is no reference in the Old or New Testament to twenty four of anything, so it is simply impossible for us to know for sure until we find out first-hand in heaven. But the prevailing opinion among commentators is that the twenty-four elders are made up of the twelve heads of the tribes of Israel, and the twelve apostles. The beauty of this idea is that it brings together the Old and the New Testament, because the twelve tribes are from the Old Testament, and the twelve apostles are from the New Testament. But what we do know for sure is that these twenty four are not angels. Instead, they are people who loved God in while on earth, and now they were with Him for in heaven. We know this because the Bible says that they were wearing a crown of gold and white garments, which is what Jesus said He would give to all of those who overcome.
Are there any questions about these twenty-four elders?
Verse five goes back to describing God’s glorious throne. Verse five reads, “And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God.” This verse says that lightning and thunder was coming out from the throne. This thunder and lightning points out that God is the judge, and His judgment is terrifying. But this reminds me of Psalm 29, which talks about how God is the God of the thunderstorm. And in that psalm, David wrote that even though the storm was terrifying, he was at peace, because he knew the God that made thunderstorms. And so for the Christian, knowing that thunder and lightning will come out of the throne of God should not scare us. Instead, it should remind us that God is all-powerful, and that we are on His side. This verse also says that there are seven lamps of fire burning before the throne of God. Then, John identifies these seven lamps as the seven spirits of God. You may remember that some commentators believe that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, with the number seven signifying completeness. But I tend to believe that the seven spirits refer to the seven angels that delivered the messages to the churches. Either way, the dominant theme is that God is great, and He is a completely majestic King.
Verse six serves as a transition between the vision of the throne and the vision of the four beasts. It says that before the throne there is a sea of glass. I wish I could tell you with certainty what this verse means, but I cannot. But the primary difference between a sea of glass and the seas in our world is that the seas in our world are full of constant movement, with everything ranging from ripples to tsunamis. But the sea of glass before the throne of God would be perfectly still and serene, which reminds me that while God may be the God of the thunderstorm, He is also the God of all peace. Verse six then mentions that there are four beasts surrounding the throne, and they are simply covered in eyes. Before we can even begin to understand this verse, we need to read verses seven and eight again.
“And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast was like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beast had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.’” Wow. I have a feeling that this is the kind of stuff that you guys were looking forward to hearing about when you asked me to study the book of Revelation. Ok, we’ve got four beasts that are covered in eyes, and they all four have six wings. One of the beasts is a lion. One of them is a calf. One of them has the face of a man, and one of them is an eagle. While there are many theories out there about the identity of these beasts, I think that two of them are worth mentioning. The first theory is that these four beasts are representative heads of the animal kingdom. The lion is the king of the jungle. The cow is the chief of all of the farm beasts. The man is the chief of all of the animals, and the eagle is the chief of the skies. If this theory is true, then the idea being portrayed is that all of creation is before the throne worshipping God. Sounds good, right? Well, the early church fathers had a different idea about the four beasts. They felt like the four beasts represented the four gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew is the lion, because Matthew constantly emphasizes that like the lion, Jesus is a royal king. Mark is the cow, because Mark’s emphasis of Christ is that He is constantly working towards fulfilling His mission, just as a cow is constantly laboring for the farmer. Luke is the man, because Christ in the Gospel of Luke is portrayed as the Son of Man who identifies Himself with the common people. Finally, John is the eagle, because the Gospel of John emphasizes the power and authority of Christ, just as the eagle exhibits power and authority in the skies. If this theory is correct, then the four beasts represent the word of God, constantly glorifying God. Now the wings and the eyes are another issue. The idea of six wings is one that is normally associated with angels, but I think in this passage it just adds to the image of them being heavenly. The fact that they are covered in eyes signifies that they see everything that goes on.
And so which of these two theories do I agree with? Well, it seems as if both theories are plausible. I mean, surely God will be worshipped by all of creation, right? And the four gospels do seem to line up with the four beasts, so is it possible that the four beasts represent the word of God? Yes, I think it is possible, too. And so, if there are two very good theories that both make sense, I think that it is because God allowed for there to be two different theories that made sense. Therefore, it is better for us to learn from both possibilities, instead of trying to nail down something it would be impossible for us to know. So in cases like this, I think it is better for me as your pastor to tell us what we can learn from the four beasts, as opposed to trying to tell you for sure what they mean.
Are there any questions about the vision of the four beasts?
And I think at this point it would be helpful to talk about symbolism in the book of Revelation. When studying this great book, we constantly have to decide if what we are reading about is a literal thing, or if it is symbolic. And so when we read about these four beasts, we must decide if there are actually four beasts that look like this around God’s throne, or if it is symbolic of something else. While clearly we cannot know, it seems to me that Christ gave John a symbolic vision of what was going to happen, but did not give him images of what it would literally look like. But that does not mean that this is unimportant. On the contrary, I think that believing that these four beasts are symbolic gives them more importance than if they were literal. You might be wondering, “How can he say that?” Well, if there are literally four beasts with six wings and covered in eyes, then John is simply stating a fact. There is no need to interpret it, because Christ is simply telling us that there are four beasts. End of story. But if the four beasts are symbolic of some great truth, then we must strive to understand them, because they mean something. Christ is not just telling us that there is a beast that looks like a lion. He is telling us that all of creation worships our God, and that all of the word of God attests to His goodness. So it is not some theological cop-out to say that the beasts are symbolic, and not literal. Instead, it opens up lessons for us to learn, and allows for God to speak about Himself in very creative ways. But who knows, maybe I’m way off, and maybe there are four beasts around the throne of God right now that look like a lion, a cow, a man, and an eagle. Because we are speaking about future events, I simply cannot be 100% sure. But what I can do is show you how great our God is by what He says about Himself.
Because we are running out of time, and because we have a business meeting tonight, we really need to bring this down to a close. But I do not want to neglect the message in the rest of this chapter. These three verses talk about how the four beasts worship God by saying that He is “Holy, holy, holy.” Verses nine and ten say that the beasts will fall down before the throne. Verse ten says that in response to the worship of the four beasts, the twenty-four elders will fall down before the throne, and will throw their crowns at the foot of the throne. And then verse eleven concludes with a beautiful doxology of the glory of God. Verse eleven reads “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.”
The question that now arises is how this should impact our lives as believers. I think the biggest lesson that we need to learn is that heaven for us will be all about worshipping in the presence of God. Will we live in a mansion? Yes, we will. Will we get to see our loved ones? If they were Christians, then yes, we will. Will we receive a crown of glory? Yes, indeed we will. But notice that the twenty-four elders did not keep their crown of glory. They threw it at the foot of the throne, because God alone is worthy of all honor and glory. The lesson for us tonight is that while we will receive unimaginable blessings in heaven,the greatest treasure of going to heaven will be about sitting before the throne of God, and dwelling with the One who created the sun, moon, and stars. Christ is going to give us a crown of glory, but out of awe of our God, we will throw our crown at His feet, because He is the only One that is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise. And so as we think about what it will be like being in heaven, let us not dwell on mansions over some hilltop. Instead, let us dwell on the God of the universe, and how we will worship before His throne. Let us eagerly anticipate seeing our family again, but let us be ecstatic about seeing the One who died for our sins. Go ahead, be excited about receiving a crown of glory; but as for me, the greatest joy will be giving my crown of glory to God, because it is He is the focus of heaven, and everything else drowns out in comparison to Him. My prayer for all of us is that we would never lose sight of the fact that heaven is about many good things; but above all, going to heaven is about finally seeing the Author of our Salvation.
Let us pray.
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