The image of the Throne presents God reigning at the center of the created order – Revelation 4:1-11.
The vision of the “throne” is the theological center of the book and sets the stage for all that follows. In chapter 4, John saw the divine “throne” and the “One Who Sits on it” reigning from the center of the Creation. In chapter 5, he saw the “slain Lamb” take the “sealed scroll” from the “throne,” then all creation declared him “worthy” to open the scroll.
The vision of the “throne” includes verbal links to the seven letters sent to the “seven churches.” The final verse of the seventh letter transitions the narrative from the “seven churches” to the vision of the “throne.”
The vision unveils the true nature of the conflict in which the “churches of Asia” found themselves, as well as the sovereignty of the “Lamb” over all things. The “throne” is the central feature in the first half of the vision, and the “Lamb” in its second half.
In the first vision, John “came to be in spirit,” where he saw things that concerned the “seven churches” and their struggles. Likewise, in chapter 4, John “came to be in spirit,” only this time, he found himself before the “throne.”
The first vision ended with the promise that all “who overcome” would reign with Jesus, just as he overcame and sat on his Father’s throne. In the vision of the “throne,” the reader discovers when and how Jesus was enthroned:
- (Revelation 3:20-21) – “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come to him and will sup with him, and he with me. I will give to him who overcomes to take his seat with me in my throne, just as I also overcame and took my seat with my Father in his throne.”
The promise to fellowship with anyone who “opens the door” anticipates the image of an “opened door” in heaven at the start of the next vision. Likewise, the declaration that Jesus “overcame” (nikaō) and received sovereignty is echoed in the image of the “Lamb” who “overcame” (nikaō) and assumed sovereignty over the Creation.
The exaltation of the “Lamb” is the result of his self-sacrificial death, and he summons his followers to “overcome” in the same paradoxical manner. The past tense verbs demonstrate that his victory and enthronement occurred at a point before John received his visions – (“as I also overcame” – Revelation 3:21, 5:5-6).
- (Revelation 4:1-2) – “After these things I saw, and behold, a door set open in heaven; and the first voice that I heard as of a trumpet speaking with me, saying—Come up hither, and I will point out to you the things which must needs come to pass. After these things, straightway, I came to be in Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, and upon the throne one sitting.”
John saw the opened door “after these things,” a reference to the things that he saw in the preceding vision.
The same trumpet-like voice that he heard on Patmos here announces that he is about to be shown “what things must come to pass” (ha dei genesthai meta tauta). The same clause is found in the first verse of the book (The “revelation” by Jesus to show his servants “what things must soon come to pass”). The clause echoes the declaration by Daniel to the king of Babylon regarding his dream of a great image – (Daniel 2:28).
- (Revelation 4:3-8) – “And he that was sitting was like in appearance to a jasper stone and a sardius, and a rainbow round about the throne, like in appearance unto an emerald, and round about the throne were four and twenty thrones; and upon the thrones, four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and upon their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne are coming forth flashes of lightning and voices and claps of thunder. And seven torches of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne as a glassy sea, like unto crystal. And in the throne, and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes, before and behind; and the first living creature like unto a lion, and the second living creature, like unto a calf, and the third living creature has the face as of a man, and the fourth living creature like unto an eagle flying.”
The “throne” is described with language from Exodus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. Its splendor is likened to jasper, sardius, and emerald-hued rainbow, the same precious stones that were embedded in the breastplate of the high-priest, and they anticipate the twelve stones seen later in the city of “New Jerusalem” – (Exodus 28:17-20, 29:13, Revelation 21:11-19).
The “rainbow” encircling the “throne” echoes imagery from Ezekiel, where God’s glory had “the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain.” The multiple “thrones” point to the participation of the twenty-four “elders” in the government of the Creation. Each “elder” wears a golden “victor’s wreath” or stephanos, which suggests they are human beings, saints who have “overcome” – (Ezekiel 1:28, Revelation 2:10, 3:11).
Elsewhere, the “elders” praise God, adore the “Lamb,” interpret visions and offer up prayers. They are arrayed in “white garments” that signify victory and purity. Their activities and dress reflect their priestly functions.
The number twenty-four corresponds to the “names of the twelve tribes of Israel…and the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” in “New Jerusalem.” Thus, the twenty-four “elders” represent the covenant community from both eras, now arrayed collectively in priestly apparel before the Throne – (Revelation 21:11-14).
The “seven torches of fire burn before the throne are identical to the seven “spirits of God” from the salutation. The image echoes two Old Testament passages:
- (Ezekiel 1:13) – “The likeness of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches.”
- (Zechariah 4:2-3, 10) – “Behold, a golden lampstand…and its seven lamps…these seven are the eyes of Yahweh running to and fro throughout all the earth.”
The “torches” indicate a temple setting. In the Tabernacle, the gold-plated seven-branched lampstand stood lit before the “holy of holies.” No corresponding lampstands are mentioned. “Torch” translates lampas, the actual light or flame that sat on a stand. The “seven torches” may symbolize the seven lights that sat on each of the “seven lampstands” – (Exodus 25:31-37, 26:35, 27:20, Revelation 1:12-20).
The “flashes of lightning and voices and claps of thunder” recall the story of God descending on Mount Sinai, accompanied by thunder, smoke, and flashes of lightning. The same God who delivered Israel from Egypt was about to deliver His redeemed people from bondage in another “Egypt” – (Exodus 19:16).The “glassy sea like crystal” is based on the opening vision in Ezekiel when the prophet saw “over the head of the living creature the likeness of a firmament, like the terrible crystal to look upon, stretched forth over their heads.” Its significance does not become apparent until later in the book – (Ezekiel 1:22, Revelation 15:1-2, 21:1).
The “glassy sea” represents the source of evil and is virtually identical to the “abyss.” It is before the “throne” because the sovereignty of God extends even over the forces of chaos. It is clear like “crystal” because the “One Who Sits on the Throne” has calmed its chaotic waters, at least for a time.
- (Revelation 4:8-11) – “And the four living creatures, each one of them have severally six wings, round-about and within, full of eyes; and they cease not day and night, saying, Holy! holy! holy! Lord God, the Almighty, Who was and Who is and Who is coming. And whenever the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanksgiving to Him that sits on the throne, to him that lives unto the ages of ages, the four and twenty elders will fall down before him that sits on the throne, and do homage unto him that lives unto the ages of ages, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy are you, O Lord, and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: because you created all things, and by your will, they were and were created.”
The worship activity interprets the vision. God reigns supreme over the Cosmos, and nothing is hidden from His sight.
Each living creature was “full of eyes, before and behind,” signifying the omniscience of the “One on the throne.” The number four represents the entire earth (the “four corners of the earth”). Their features represent humanity (“a man’s face”), wild animals (“lion”), domesticated animals (“ox”), and beasts of the air (“flying eagle”). Collectively, they portray all animate life acknowledging the sovereignty of God.
The living creatures stand at the four corners of the “throne.” Though they are not called cherubim, in the ancient Tabernacle images of cherubim appeared to hover above the mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant, which was Yahweh’s “throne,” the place where His glory manifested “between the cherubim” – (1 Samuel 4:4).
God is the one who “lives to the ages of the ages,” an allusion to the declaration by Nebuchadnezzar when he acknowledged God’s dominion over all creation:
- (Daniel 4:34) – “I lifted up my eyes to heaven and my understanding returned to me, and I blessed the Most-High, and I praised and honored him who lives unto the ages, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation.”
On cue, the twenty-four “elders” worshipped God, representing the redeemed community in worship. The “casting of crowns” before the “throne” demonstrated their submission to God, and they declared why He is worthy: “He created all things and by reason of His will they were created.” They declared His holiness (“holy, holy, holy”), omnipotence (“Lord God, the Almighty”), everlasting nature (“who was and is and is coming”), and ownership of all things (“because You created all things”).
The presence of the “glassy sea” demonstrated that evil was still present in the Creation. Nonetheless, it was contained, unable to exert influence without the consent of the “One Who Sits on the Throne.”
How could God maintain His holiness, complete His redemptive purposes, and assert His sovereignty when the world was still infested with evil and chaos? The second half of the vision answers that question.