After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Big Idea: God’s throne is a supreme power center that is invulnerable to attack. In fact, its power and authority are so secure that its doors are opened to all visitors; even the devil himself has been admitted. This is the throne room of God, which John was invited to tour.
I. The Sovereign Judge (vv. 1-5)
The initial impression we get from looking at this throne is as a judgment seat.
A. High (vv. 1-2): God’s throne is high above all things like a judge’s seat behind a dais, towering over everyone else in the courtroom. The voice, like a trumpet, authoritatively commands John to enter; it is not merely an invitation. In the Bible, trumpets announce the Lord’s presence. This Judge is absolutely sovereign to the end that he can reveal what will “take place” in the future because he has ordained that it “must.”
B. On (v. 3): Seated on the throne is the Sovereign Judge who is not identified until v. 8 as “the Lord God Almighty.” His power is also combined with truth. The stones only reinforce what we know from other Scriptures too, that the transparent truthfulness of Christ makes him beautiful in the sight of believers.
C. Surrounding (v. 4): Reinforcing this courtroom imagery are 24 other thrones with 24 elders wearing crowns. Twenty-four represents the unity of God’s Old Testament people, headed by 12 patriarchs, and New Testament people, led by 12 Apostles. They picture the fulfillment of God’s promise that his followers will someday be enthroned and share the duties of judging the world with Christ
D. From (v. 5): “Lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder” are reminiscent of Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:16) where God revealed himself to Israel as the great Lawgiver. And the “seven torches” identified as the Holy Spirit are reminiscent of Pentecost, when the Spirit empowered the Apostles to preach the gospel in everyone’s language as with tongues of fire. Going forth from the throne then is the gospel which is the good news of salvation from judgment if it is believed, but the bad news of condemnation if it is ignored or rejected.
II. The Sovereign Redeemer (vv. 6-11)
The other impression we get from looking at this throne is a Judge turned Redeemer.
A. In Front (vv. 6, 9-11): There is a lot happening in front of the throne! For one, there is a “sea of glass, clear as crystal.” A tumultuous sea is often the biblical image for the sinful chaos of the world. That is the kind of “sea” that will be “no more” in heaven (Rev. 21:1). But there will be this perfectly calm sea. Its proximity to the Holy Spirit who is also “in front” of the throne reminds us that he is that agent of the Godhead who brings order out of chaos as he did at creation (Ge. 1:2). Only now he does so by applying the redemption purchased by Christ to us as the “firstfruits” and then ultimately to the whole creation (Ro. 8:23).
B. Encircling (v. 3): Encircling the throne is an emerald colored rainbow. Ezekiel received this tour of God’s throne room many years before John and saw the same encircling rainbow. Why a rainbow? The Noahic covenant was sacramentalized by a rainbow (Ge. 9:13-17). By that sign God promised he would never destroy the earth again by water; he would preserve the earth as an arena in which he would carry out his work of saving a people for himself (cf. Rev. 11:18). Sometimes just called a “bow,” the phenomenon in nature looks like a weapon at rest rather than drawn on an enemy. In other words, it is a symbol of God’s mercy. God is enthroned amidst his mercy. Specifically, his Son bearing the wounds of his loving sacrifice is enthroned in the glow of mercy.
C. Underneath (vv. 6-8): Though awkwardly expressed, the text basically says that the throne rests atop these four seraphim, whom Ezekiel eyed as well (1:1-21). Basically, these creatures face four directions so as to execute Christ’s directives throughout the earth. They probably represent the work of all God’s angels. “Full of eyes” means they carry out the will of a Savior who knows and sees all things.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- If God is revealed as a sovereign judge, what need does this expose in us?
- What supply is made for our need in this passage?
- What image is given to prove that, in Christ, our enmity with Christ is no more?
- What implications might that have for the way you think about how God views you?
- What image provides security that God is working out his plan?
- What implications might this have for the way you view challenges and setbacks in life?