Title: The Father, worthy of unending praise
Aim: To encourage praising God as our Creator and Sustainer.
Scripture: Revelation 4:1–11
The throne of God, Revelation 4:1–6a
The first three chapters of Revelation brought to light the temptations and persecutions that Christians faced in John’s day. Some broke under pressure and compromised their faith, while others refused to waver in their commitment to the Lord.
Throughout the Savior’s messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor, He declared that He would vindicate the upright and one day bring them to a place of eternal rest. This leads us to chapters 4 and 5 of the Apocalypse, which together form a literary gateway to the rest of the book.
In chapter 4, the Father appears in a scene of worship as the King of heaven and earth. Then, in chapter 5, innumerable angels sing hymns of praise to the Son.
In John’s unfolding vision, he saw a door standing open in heaven (4:1), and this allowed him, by the Spirit (v. 2), to enter the celestial realm (17:3; 21:10). The apostle heard the penetrating voice of the risen and glorified Messiah directing John to come up to God’s throne room and receive special revelation concerning the future (4:1).
Some think Jesus’ invitation is a symbolic reference to the rapture of the church. More likely, John’s experience parallels that of other believers in Scripture—for example, when Moses went up to Mount Sinai or when Paul was caught up to heaven to receive special revelations from God (Exod. 19:3, 20; 24:1–2; 2 Cor. 12:2).
The Greek phrase rendered “what must take place after this” (Rev. 4:1) echoes similar wording found in 1:19, in which the Savior gave John specific instructions. The apostle was fulfilling his prophetic commission to write what he had seen, what was now occurring, and what would happen in the oracle unfolding before him.
One interpretive option is that the promises and vision of the Messiah recorded in chapter 1 would be what John had seen. The Savior’s letters to the seven churches, which are recorded in chapters 2 and 3, could be what is taking place now. And all that is recorded in chapters 4 through 22 would be what will take place in the future.
Another possibility is that the clause “write . . . what you have seen” (1:19) is Jesus’ main directive and reiterates what He had commanded in verse 11. The remaining portion of verse 19, therefore, would give further details. In other words, as John wrote what he had seen, he was to comment on what was now taking place and what would take place later.
Whether verse 19 contains a basic literary outline of Revelation, as some have suggested, remains a matter of debate. What is clear is that each portion of the book deals with issues relating to the past, the present, and the future. From this it is evident that Revelation has continuing relevance for us as believers.
The phrase recorded in 4:1 may be an indication that chapters 6 through 20 of Revelation concern the final great conflict between God and the forces of evil. Satan and his demonic cohorts would neither immediately nor voluntarily surrender to the Messiah. Nevertheless, Jesus of Nazareth would be victorious in His divine mission of defeating the devil and condemning him to the eternal lake of fire.
In the unfolding narrative of the Apocalypse, the Spirit immediately took control of John, perhaps by putting him in a trance (4:2). The apostle found himself standing before the divine throne in heaven, and he saw the Lord sitting on it.
In ancient times, thrones were symbols of power, sovereignty, and majesty. In contrast to the thrones of Satan and the sea beast (2:13; 13:2), God’s throne radiated His glorious presence (1 Kings 22:19; Ezek. 1:26-28).
It is intriguing that in Revelation 4:3, John did not describe the details of the Father’s appearance. This omission is a reminder that the Creator’s greatness and glory are beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend, as well as articulate fully with human language.
First Timothy 6:16 reveals that the Creator dwells in such intense, majestic splendor that no human can approach Him. As the eternal and holy God, He neither had been nor could be seen by the naked eye.
Perhaps the preceding truths are why John described his vision of the Lord by referring to the appearance of precious stones (Rev 4:3). During the Old Testament era, gemstones embroidered on the chestpiece worn by the high priest likewise served as a reminder of God’s purity and magnificence (Exod 28:17–20; 39:10–14).
John first mentioned jasper and carnelian (Rev 4:3). Jasper is usually green or clear, while carnelian is typically deep red or reddish-white. The apostle also described seeing the glow of an emerald (light green) encircling God’s throne like a rainbow (Gen 9:13–17; Ezek 1:28). The picture was one of a transparent jewel radiating the eternal Monarch’s splendor.
In ancient times, a king would permit lesser rulers (such as tribal judges) to sit on thrones next to his. In John’s vision, he saw 24 thrones surrounding God’s royal seat, and 24 elders were on these thrones. They wore white clothes, which represent purity and uprightness. They also wore gold crowns, which symbolize honor, splendor, and victory (Rev 4:4).
These elders may have been exalted angels who served God in His heavenly court, or they could have been glorified saints in heaven. Some think the number 24 is a symbolic reference to the 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament and the 12 apostles in the New Testament. This suggests that all the redeemed of all time (both before and after the Messiah’s sacrificial death and resurrection) are represented before God’s throne and worship Him in His heavenly sanctuary (Matt 19:28; Heb 12:23; Rev 21:12, 14).
John saw flashes of lightning and roars of thunder coming from God’s throne (Rev 4:5). These storm phenomena symbolized the power and majesty of the Lord. The episode recalled the natural disturbances on the summit of Mount Sinai in Moses’ day (Exod. 19:16; 20:18-19).
Seven lampstands with burning flames—which represented the seven spirits of God—stood in front of the throne (Rev. 4:5). The lampstands symbolized the perfection, completeness, and fullness of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit worked through the redeemed in their various churches to shine the light of the gospel to a lost world. In 1:4, there is also a reference to the “seven spirits.” Some think this is an allusion to seven angels who stand before the throne of God (8:2). Most likely, though, John was symbolically referring to the totality and purity of the Holy Spirit and His ministry (Isa. 11:2).
John saw in front of God’s throne something that looked like a sea made of glass, which was clear and sparkling like rock crystal (Rev. 4:6). Elsewhere in the Apocalypse, the sea is a vile and chaotic vortex (13:1; 21:1); yet, in 4:6, the sea is tranquil and resplendent.
In New Testament times, glass was a rare item, and transparent glass was virtually impossible to find. The vast celestial ocean in John’s vision may symbolize the magnificence and sacredness of God.
Noteworthy is the throne room scene described in chapter 15. The apostle remembered seeing something that looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire. Also, standing by this fire-glowing expanse of water were those who had defeated God’s enemies of God (v. 2). They did so by means of the Lamb’s shed blood and their courageous witness concerning the Redeemer (12:11).
The victors held harps, which God had given them (15:2), and they sang the song of Moses (God’s servant) and of the Lamb (vv. 3-4). The idea is that the redemption symbolized by the Israelites departure from Egypt (Exod. 15:1-18; Deut. 32:1-47) had reached its consummation and fulfillment in the salvation offered by the Messiah because of His sacrificial death at Calvary.
The worship of God, Revelation 4:6b–11
In John’s vision, he saw four living creatures in the center around God’s throne (Rev. 4:6). The eyes covering the front and back of each creature could indicate their unceasing watchfulness and acute sagacity.
Elsewhere in Scripture, the number four denotes the entire created realm (Jer 49:36; Rev 7:1). This observation suggests the possibility that the entities in John’s vision symbolized the totality of every being in heaven worshiping the Creator.
A more likely option is that what John saw were angels, perhaps similar to the cherubim of Ezekiel 1 and 10 or the seraphim of Isaiah 6. The four living creatures appearing before the apostle guarded the throne of God, proclaimed His holiness, and led others in worship.
It is also probable the angelic beings described in Revelation 4:7 portrayed various aspects of divine majesty. For instance, the first creature had the form of a lion, possibly symbolizing either mobility or majesty. The second creature had the form of an ox, perhaps representing either strength or faithfulness.
The third creature had a human face, possibly symbolizing wisdom. The fourth creature had the form of an eagle with its wings spread out as though in flight, perhaps representing either speed or control.
Moreover, each of the living creatures had six wings (Rev. 4:8). Also, their bodies (including the underside of their wings) were covered with eyes, which is suggestive of alertness and intelligence.
Centuries earlier, Isaiah had a vision in which he saw the Lord seated on a high and elevated throne (Isa. 6:1). Though He was in heaven, His robe—symbolizing His majesty—reached to earth. Isaiah also saw seraphim above God’s throne (v. 2).
These were a special kind of angel characterized by purity and brightness. They each had six wings, two of which they used to cover their faces. Evidently, the seraphim could not look upon the absolute holiness of God.
Over a century later, Ezekiel had a vision in which God revealed His glory to the prophet. This experience, like the one Isaiah experienced, prepared Ezekiel for his difficult, yet divinely-ordained, prophetic ministry (Ezek. 1:1-3).
Four living creatures appeared who were later identified as cherubim (vv. 4-5; see 10:2). These angelic beings stood guard over the holiness of God’s throne (Exod. 25:10-22; 1 Kings 6:23-28).
Ezekiel described the cherubim as basically human in form, but winged and having some characteristics of lions, oxen, and eagles. Four wheels symbolized the great mobility of these creatures.
Above the cherubim was a platform of ice or crystal, and on the platform the sovereign Lord sat upon a sapphire throne. So, in dazzling splendor, God appeared to Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:5-28).
Returning now to John’s vision, day after day and night after night, the angelic beings he saw repeated the chorus, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev. 4:8). In Scripture, triple repetition is often used to emphasize a truth.
The angels’ threefold repetition of the word “holy” emphasized the fact that God is sinless in the absolute sense of the word. Their refrain also stressed that the Creator is the all-powerful Ruler of the universe. Further, they stressed that He is not bound by the limitations of time, even though He involves Himself within its confines.
In Isaiah’s vision, the prophet noted that the seraphim he saw also proclaimed the Lord’s holiness (Isa. 6:3). The triple reference pointed to the infinite fullness or completeness of God’s purity.
In addition to declaring God’s holiness, the seraphim proclaimed His majestic splendor, which fills the “whole earth.” Though the Creator is perfectly holy and glorious, He is not aloof from our world and lives.
During John’s vision, he saw that the living creatures never stopped praising, honoring, and thanking the Lord. The apostle also noticed that the 24 elders prostrated themselves before God’s throne and placed their crowns at the base of His royal seat. These were fitting acts of humility, devotion, and submission, as well as offering worship to the One who controls all time and all people (Rev. 4:9-10).
Whereas the living creatures praised God for His holiness, the elders lauded Him for His creative acts (v. 11). In contrast to any earthy ruler (including the emperor of Rome), only God was “worthy” to be ascribed “glory and honor and power,” for He not only brought all things into existence, but also sustains them.
The idea is not of some superhuman creature (such as the Greek pagan deity, Atlas) holding up the world. Rather, it is of the Creator maintaining the existence of the universe and bearing it along to its divinely ordained conclusion.
We have life—both physical and spiritual, as well as temporal and eternal—because of the Father’s grace. Also, we exist to bring Him glory. We honor the Lord when our thoughts are virtuous, our words are wholesome, and our deeds are kind.
God is worthy of our praise because He created us and because He lovingly sustains us. This week’s Scripture passage helps us to see that the mercy, or loyal love, of the Lord is everlasting. Consequently, we can count on His enduring compassion and grace to be there when we need it.
The lesson text also draws attention to the infinite glory and uniqueness of the Lord over any other entity in the universe. We should not be surprised by the truth that God, our Creator and Sustainer, performed great wonders when He brought the world into existence.
He is the same God who upheld His chosen people in the Old Testament. For instance, He watched over the Israelites from the moment they departed from Egypt to the time they settled in the promised land.
Furthermore, down through the centuries, people of faith have trusted in the same Lord to bear them along during their darkest moments. For these and countless other reasons, we should give unending praise to the Lord of heaven and earth, our eternal Creator.
For thought and application
Revelation 4:11, with its emphasis on God as the Creator of the universe, is an apt conclusion to this week’s lesson text. We learn from Genesis 1 that during the first three days of God’s creative activity, He brought order out of the original formlessness specified in verse 2.
The Lord created light where there had been only darkness and filled what had been empty with the first signs of life. During the final three days of His creative activity, God filled the earth with all forms of life.
Humankind was God’s crowning achievement in His creation of the world. Verses 26 and 27 reveal that people were made in the image of God. Expressed differently, they bear His spiritual and moral likeness. The Lord put them on earth to serve as His ruling representatives.
We should praise God not only for His wonderful deeds, but also for the way He sustains everything He made. Consider Matthew 6:25-33, where Jesus urged His disciples not to worry about where they would get food to eat, water to drink, and clothes to wear.
The Savior indicated that His disciples’ heavenly Father would graciously provide what they needed, just as He supplied the birds of the air and the lilies that carpeted the fields of Palestine. He would do even more for His children, who were of immeasurably greater value to Him.
Also worthy of mention is James 1:17. This verse reveals that every good thing, every generous action, and every perfect gift comes from the Father who created the lights of heaven. Every aspect of our lives is under God’s loving care. This all-powerful, all-wise, and all-knowing Creator sustains us through every circumstance.
God is so faithful and consistent in providing for our needs that we tend to forget He is present. We arrogantly think we have control over what happens to us. We imagine that we are self-sufficient and can survive solely by our cleverness and strength.
We know, however, from this week’s lesson that our lives are in the Father’s hands. He is to be praised for the marvelous world He created and for the wonderful life He gives to us—especially new life through faith in the Son.