Throne and Cosmos

SYNOPSIS:  The image of the glorious Throne places God and His rule at the center of the created order and prepares the reader for the introduction of the Lamb – Revelation 4:1-11 

abstract astronomy constellation cosmos

The scene in chapters 4 and 5 forms the theological center of the Book of Revelation and sets the stage for all that follows. First, John sees the glorious vision of the Throne and the One Who Sits on it reigning from the center of the Cosmos. Next, he sees a sacrificial Lamb who is declared “worthy” to open a sealed scroll held by the One on the Throne, “worthy” because by his death he redeemed men and women from every nation (Revelation 4:1-5:14).

This vision is connected to the preceding seven letters by several verbal links. The final verse of the letter to Laodicea transitions the narrative from the Seven Churches to the vision of the Throne. This marks the start of a new literary unit that continues through the end of the seventh bowl of wrath (Revelation 16:1-21).

The vision of the Throne and the Lamb unveils the true nature of the conflict in which the churches of Asia find themselves, as well as the sovereignty of the Lamb over history, the creation, and even the forces of chaos. The Throne is the central feature of the first half of the vision, the Lamb of its second half.

The characters and features in the vision are focused on the Throne. Judgments issue from it and events on the earth occur in response to the will of the “One Who Sits on the Throne.” His sovereignty is absolute.

Structure

The vision begins when John “came to be in spirit.” The same clause occurs at the start of the four main divisions of the book. John now hears the same voice “like a trumpet” he heard on the isle of Patmos. The voice pronounces he is about to reveal to John, “What things must come to pass after these things.”

The first vision began when John “came to be in the spirit” while on the Isle of Patmos, It concerned the seven churches and their struggles in the Roman province of Asia. In Chapter 4, John “came to be in the spirit” and found himself before the Throne in a vision of events, now portrayed on a cosmic level (Revelation 1:9-12, 4:1-2, 17:1-3, 21:10).

The narrative presents God as the Creator whose sovereignty extends over the entire universe. His Throne is not detached from the created order off in some spiritual realm; rather, He reigns from the center of the Cosmos where He is worshipped by every created thing in the Universe.

In Chapter 5, the focus moves from creation to redemption, which is accomplished by the sacrificial Lamb, who is praised by a myriad of voices for redeeming men and women by his death and constituting them a priestly kingdom.

The vision employs language from the books of EzekielIsaiah, and Daniel, but it is structured around passages from Daniel 7:9-27. Note the following list of verses from chapters 4 and 5 with the links to their corresponding passages from Daniel:

    1. (Revelation 4:2) – Throne set in heaven, Divine being – (Daniel 7:9).
    2. (Revelation 4:4) – Angels around the Throne – (Daniel 7:10).
    3. (Revelation 4:5) – Fire around the Throne – (Daniel 7:9).
    4. (Revelation 5:4) – Seer distressed by vision – (Daniel 7:15).
    5. (Revelation 5:5) – Angel interprets vision – (Daniel 7:16).
    6. (Revelation 5:9) – Books opened before the Throne -(Daniel 7:10).
    7. (Revelation 5:7-9) – Messiah authorized to reign – (Daniel 7:13).
    8. (Revelation 5:9) – Books opened – (Daniel 7:10).
    9. (Revelation 5:9) – Kingdom includes all nations and peoples – (Daniel 7:14).
    10. (Revelation 5:10) – Saints reign over the kingdom – (Daniel 7:18-22).
    11. (Revelation 5:13) – God’s everlasting reign declared – (Daniel 7:27).

(Preceding chart based on G.K. Beale, Book of Revelation [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999], pp. 314-315).

The setting emphasizes the sovereignty of God over the created order, including the political systems of the earth. In Chapter 5, a messianic figure is presented who receives absolute sovereignty over all things, along with the participation of the saints in his reign.

Transition

The first vision ended with the promise of Jesus to grant all who overcome to reign with him, just as he overcame to sit on his Father’s Throne (“as I also overcame and took my seat with my Father on his throne”). The passage at the end of Chapter 3 serves to transition to the present vision at the end of which the sacrificial Lamb is elevated to the Throne (Revelation 5:6-14).

(Revelation 3:18-22) – “I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich,—and white raiment, that thou mayest array thyself, and the shame of thy nakedness may not be made manifest,—and eye-salve, to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. I, as many as I tenderly love, I convict and put under discipline: be zealous, therefore, and repent. Lo! I am standing at the door and knocking; if anyone shall hearken unto my voice, and open the door, I will come in unto him and will sup with him, and he with me. He that overcometh, I will give unto him to take his seat with me in my throne, as I also overcame and took my seat with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying unto the assemblies.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The promise by Jesus to fellowship with anyone who “opens the door” to him anticipates the image of an “opened door” in heaven at the start of Chapter 4. The declaration that he “overcame” (nikaō) and received sovereignty is echoed in the present vision – The Lamb who “overcame” (nikaō) assumes sovereignty as a result of his sacrificial death (Revelation 4:1-2, 5:5-6).

The exaltation of the Lamb in Chapter 5 is the result of his self-sacrificial death, and he calls his followers to “overcome” in the same paradoxical manner. The past tense verbs in the passage from Chapter 3 demonstrate his victory and enthronement occurred at a point before John received his visions (“as I also overcame” – Revelation 3:21, 5:5-6).

“What Things Must Come to Pass”

(Revelation 4:1-2) – “After these things I saw, and lo! a door set open in heaven; and the first voice which I heard as of a trumpet speaking with me, saying—Come up hither! and I will point out to thee the things which must needs come to pass. After these things, straightway, I came to be in Spirit, and lo! a throne stood in heaven, and upon the throne [was] one sitting.”– (The Emphasized Bible).

The description of John “coming to be in the spirit” is the second of four such references in the book of Revelation. Each case is a transition to mark a new literary division of the book. John saw the opened door, “after these things.” This refers to the things he saw in the previous vision. The visions are recorded in the order in which John received them. This is a literary, not chronological sequence.

The same trumpet-like voice announces that John is about to be shown, “What things must come to pass” (ha dei genesthai meta tauta). This same clause was heard previously in the first verse of the book. The “revelation” was provided by Jesus to show his servants “What things must soon come to pass.” The clause echoes a declaration by Daniel to the king of Babylon regarding his dream of a great image:

(Daniel 2:28) – “God has shown the king what things must come to pass in later days.

The Throne

(Revelation 4:3-8) – “And he that was sitting [was] like in appearance to a jasper stone and a sardius, and [there was] 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 [were] crowns of gold. And out of the throne are coming forth lightnings, and voices, and thunderings; and [there are] seven torches of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne [is] as a glassy sea, like unto crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, [are] four living creatures full of eyes, before and behind; and the first living creature [is] like unto a lion, and the second living creature, like unto a calf, and the third living creature hath the face as of a man, and the fourth living creature [is] like unto an eagle flying.”– (The Emphasized Bible).

John describes the Throne with language from the books of ExodusIsaiahEzekiel, and Zechariah. Its splendor is likened to jasper, sardius, and emerald-hued rainbow. The same precious stones were embedded in the breastplate of the high-priest. In this passage, the allusion anticipates the twelve stones in New Jerusalem (Exodus 28:17-20, 29:13Revelation 21:11-19).

crop field under rainbow and cloudy skies at dayime
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A “rainbow” encircles the Throne. This echoes imagery from the book of 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 Cosmos. Each “elder” wears a golden “victor’s wreath” or stephanos (Ezekiel 1:28, Revelation 2:10, 3:11).

Elsewhere in Revelation, the “elders” praise God, adore the Lamb, interpret visions, and offer up prayers represented by incense. They are arrayed in “white garments” to signify victory and purity. While angels are arrayed in white robes, more often, victorious saints are seen wearing white garments. The activities and the dress of the elders 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,” seen later in New Jerusalem. The twenty-four “elders” represent the covenant community from both eras, now collectively arrayed in priestly apparel before the throne (Revelation 21:11-14).

The “seven torches of fire burn before the throne.” These are identical to the seven “spirits of God.” The imagery draws on two Old Testament passages:

(Ezekiel 1:13) – “The likeness of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

(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 Emphasized Bible).

The meaning of the seven torches is not explained until Chapter 5. Their presence before the Throne points to a temple setting. In the wilderness Tabernacle, a gold-plated seven-branched lampstand stood lit in the sanctuary (Exodus 25:31-37, 26:35, 27:20).

No lampstands are mentioned on which the seven torches sit. “Torch” translates lampas, the actual light or flame that sat on a lampstand. The torches burn continuously before the Throne. No mention was made in the first vision of burning torches on the seven golden lampstands that represent the churches. Here, the seven torches may symbolize the seven lights that illuminate from each of the lampstands. The seven messengers of Asia were represented by stars, not torches (Revelation 1:12-20).

lightning
Photo by Frank Cone on Pexels.com

The “flashes of lightning and voices and crashes of thunder” echo the story of God descending on Mount Sinai in fire and smoke, accompanied by thunder, smoke, and flashes of lightning. The same God who delivered Israel from Egypt is about to deliver His redeemed people from another “Egypt.”

The loud noises, thunder, and lightning occur three more times in the book of Revelation, each time, at the end of a series of seven judgments that issue from the Throne. Thus, the image is associated with God executing judgment. Note how the described physical manifestations are expanded after each sevenfold series of judgments:

(Exodus 19:16) – “And it came to pass on the third day, when the morning had come, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a heavy cloud upon the mount, and the sound of a horn, loud exceedingly,—and all the people who were in the camp trembled.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

(Revelation 8:5) – “And the messenger at once took the censer, and filled it from the fire of the altar, and cast unto the earth; and there came to be thunderings, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake.” – {Seventh Seal}.

(Revelation 11:19) – “And the sanctuary of God which is in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant in his sanctuary appeared, and there came to be lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.” – {Seventh Trumpet}.

(Revelation 16:18) – “And there came to be lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and a great earthquake took place,—such as had never taken place since men came to be on the earth,—such a mighty earthquake, so great.” – {Seventh Bowl of Wrath}.

The “glassy sea like crystal” is based on the opening vision in Ezekiel in which 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).

Symbolically, the “sea of crystal” is identical with the “Abyss,” the source from which the Beast and demonic forces ascend, and the place where Satan is bound. In Chapter 15, saints stand on the “sea of glass mingled with fire, having achieved victory over the “beast, his image, and the number of his name.” In New Jerusalem, the “sea” is no more (Ezekiel 1:22, Revelation 9:1-2, 11:7, 12:9-11, 13:1, 15:1-2, 20:1-3, 21:1).

The sea appears “glassy” and clear, just like “crystal.” God has calmed the chaotic waters of evil. Its location before the Throne demonstrates His sovereignty over the domain of Satan.

The “four living creatures” are based on passages from Ezekiel and Isaiah. They appear “in the likeness of man”. Each has four faces likened to a man, lion, ox, and eagle, respectively. Each has six wings – one pair to cover its face, another to cover its feet, and a third pair to fly (Ezekiel 1:5-11Isaiah 6:1-4).

The Image Interpreted

(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 whensoever the living creatures shall give glory, and honour, and thanksgiving, unto him that sitteth upon the throne, unto him that liveth unto the ages of ages, the four and twenty elders will fall down before him that sitteth upon the throne, and do homage unto him that liveth unto the ages of ages,—and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying—Worthy art thou, O Lord, and our God, to receive the glory, and the honour, and the power: because thou didst create all things, and, by reason of thy will, they were and were created.”– (The Emphasized Bible).

The worship activity before the Throne interprets the symbolism of the vision. God is the Creator Who reigns supreme over the Cosmos, including the agents of chaos – Nothing is hidden from His sight. He is praised and glorified throughout the created order. All things were made to glorify Him.

Each “living creature” is “full of eyes, before and behind” to signify the omniscience of the One Sitting on the Throne. The number symbolizes the entire earth, the “four corners of the earth”. Their features may 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 from the creation acknowledging the sovereignty of God.

The four living creatures stand “around” 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. The mercy-seat was Yahweh’s “throne” in the inner sanctuary, the place where His glory manifested “between the cherubim” (1 Samuel 4:4).

The four “living creatures” represent all animate life crying ceaselessly, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God, the Almighty.” The first stanza echoes Isaiah 6:1-6, the second expands on Exodus 3:14 (“I Am That I Am”). The central figure is the “Lord God the Almighty,” the pantokratōr (Strong’s – #G3841). God reigns supreme, not Caesar, the Beast, or Satan.

The one “Who Sits on the Throne” is the one “Who lives unto the ages of the ages,” a verbal allusion to the declaration by the pagan Babylonian king, 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.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The statement acknowledges His sovereignty – Unlike human kings, His dominion knows no limits. On cue, the twenty-four “elders” worship God. They represent the redeemed community in worship. The casting of crowns before the Throne demonstrates their submission to the authority of God. They declare why He is worthy – He “created all things and by reason of His will they were created.”

The worshippers around the throne declare God’s holiness (“holy, holy, holy”), omnipotence (“Lord God, the Almighty”), everlasting nature (“who was and is and is coming”), and ownership  – He has created all things (“because You created all things”).

The presence of the “glassy sea” shows that evil is still present in the Creation. Nonetheless, it is contained, unable to exert influence without the consent of the “One Who Sits on the Throne.”

How can the One on the Throne maintain His holiness, complete His redemptive purposes for His creation, and assert His sovereignty when the world still infested with evil and chaos? The second half of the vision answers this question.

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