The Throne in Heaven
Revelation 4After the letters were dictated, John was invited by Jesus, the one whose voice was like a
trumpet (Revelation 1:10-11), to enter heaven and see some of the future. The description is very
similar to beginning of Ezekiel’s visions (Ezekiel 1:1). John’s spirit goes into heaven while his
body remained on earth.
The very first thing John notices is God on His throne. God is not directly named or directly described. We are told that He is like jasper and sardius. Today jasper refers to an opaque variety of quartz, the green variety being very rare. Some believe that jasper refers to opal or diamond. Pliny the Elder, who wrote a natural history about this same time, referred to fourteen different types of jasper [“Iaspis”, Natural History, chapter 37]. Theophrastus used “jasper” as a general term for transparent precious stones. “Descriptions and information by Roman sources affirm that iaspis specifies a green, translucent or transparent stone” [“Jasper”, biblicalgeology.com]. Sardius refers to a deep orange-red carnelian. The use of precious stones would be used to indicate God’s glory (Revelation 21:10-11). The translucence of these stones help emphasize that God is light (I John 1:5).
John vision starts to take in other details. Around the throne is a green halo or rainbow. It calls to mind that Paul said God dwells in unapproachable light (I Timothy 6:15-16). The green rainbow separates God from all that is around Him.
The throne is encircled by 24 elders in white garments and wearing golden crowns. The number 24 is associated with those who severed God (I Chronicles 24-26). Since there were twelve patriarchs in Israel and twelve apostles in the church, it has also been suggested that they represent the leaders of God’s people in all the ages. Those under the Old Law were saved through Christ (Hebrews 9:15). Their salvation was not separate from our own (Hebrews 11:39-40). Thus, in Christ both Jews and Greeks are brought together (Ephesians 2:14-18). Later we are told that the white garments represent righteousness (Revelation 7:13-14). And the crowns are victory crowns.
Our attention is drawn back to the throne where lightening flashes and thunder rolls forth. God presence has been marked in the past by thunder and lighting (Exodus 19:16). This time John notices seven burning lamps. We are told that they are the seven Spirits of God. Seven being the number for perfect, this is a representation of the Holy Spirit. Notice that while everything else is separated from God, the Holy Spirit is next to God, the Father, hinting that the Spirit is also God.
Before the throne was a crystal sea that is a barrier before God. This sea will appear a few more times in Revelation, so take note of it.
Surrounding the throne are four living creatures. One resembled a lion, one a calf, one a man, and one an eagle. Each represents the living creatures of God’s creation: the wild animals (lion), the domesticated animals (calf), mankind, and the birds (eagle). They can also be seen as representing what is noblest (lion), what is strongest (calf), what is most intelligent (man), and what is swiftest (eagle). Each creature has six wings. They have eyes all round, even within themselves. These would indicate that they can see everything and can even examine themselves (something Christians are to do – II Corinthians 13:4; I Thessalonians 5:21).
The description is very similar to a vision in Ezekiel 1:4-14, but there are a number of differences as well. In Ezekiel 10:20-22 we are told they are cherubim. These are not physical descriptions of these beings because each time they are described a bit differently, rather the description is to give us insight into their character. It was a cherubim that guarded the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). Two representations of cherubim cover with their wings the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:18). They are not angels because they are listed separately in Revelation 5:11 and Revelation 7:11.
Their description also shares aspects of the seraphim (“fiery ones”). In Isaiah 6:1-4 seraphim are said to have six wings, just as the living creatures in Revelation. But then Ezekiel’s description of the cherubim is that they looked like fiery coals (Ezekiel 1:13). The seraphim in Isaiah 6 and the living creatures in Revelation spend their time constantly praising God.
The elders join in the worship. God created all things, so He is the center of all worship (Isaiah 44:6; Psalms 148). The elders cast their crowns before God; that is, they give their honor to God.