Throne and the Cosmos

OVERVIEW - The image of the Throne presents God reigning at the center of the created order – Revelation 4:1-11

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash
The heavenly scene presented in chapters 4 and 5 is the theological center of the book - It sets the stage for all that follows. John saw a vision of the Throne and the “One Who Sits on it,” who reigns from the very center of the Cosmos. Then he saw a “slain Lamb” approach the Throne to take the “sealed scroll” from the hand of the “One Who Sits” on it. All creation declared him “worthy” to break the seals and to open the scroll. Through his paradoxical victory, the “Lamb” was declared sovereign over the Cosmos - (
Revelation 4:1-5:14). - [Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash].

The vision is connected to the preceding seven letters by verbal links. The final verse of the letter to Laodicea transitions the narrative from the seven churches to the heavenly 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 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. Judgments issue from the Throne, and events on the earth occur in response to the will of the “One Who Sits on it.” His sovereignty is absolute.

The first vision of the book began when John “came to be in spirit” - It concerned the seven churches and their struggles in the Roman province of Asia. Likewise, in chapter 4, John “came to be in spirit,” but this time he found himself before the Throne.

God is presented as the Creator whose sovereignty extends over the entire universe. His Throne was not detached from the created order, off in some spiritual realm; instead, He reigned over all things from the center of the Cosmos. In chapter 5, the focus moves from the creation to the redemption, which was accomplished by the sacrificial “Lamb.”

The vision employs language from the books of EzekielIsaiah, and Daniel, but it is structured around passages from the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel. Note the following list of verses linked to their corresponding passage in Daniel:
  • (Revelation 4:2) - Throne set in heaven, Divine being - (Daniel 7:9).
  • (Revelation 4:4) – Angels around the Throne - (Daniel 7:10).
  • (Revelation 4:5) – Fire around the Throne - (Daniel 7:9).
  • (Revelation 5:4) – Seer distressed by vision - (Daniel 7:15).
  • (Revelation 5:5) – Angel interprets vision - (Daniel 7:16).
  • (Revelation 5:9) – Books opened before the Throne -(Daniel 7:10).
  • (Revelation 5:7-9) – Messiah authorized to reign - (Daniel 7:13).
  • (Revelation 5:9) – Books opened - (Daniel 7:10).
  • (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 first vision ended with the promise to grant all “who overcome” to reign with Jesus, just as he overcame to sit 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 in 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. Similarly, the declaration that he “overcame” (nikaō) and received sovereignty is echoed in the image of the “Lamb” who “overcame” (nikaō) and assumed sovereignty because of his sacrificial death.

The exaltation of the “Lamb” resulted from his self-sacrificial death - 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.
This is the second of four instances where John “came to be in spirit.” Each case is a transition to mark a new literary division. Here, John saw the opened door “after these things,” a reference to the things he saw in the preceding vision.

The same trumpet-like voice that John heard on Patmos announced that he was about to be shown “what things must come to pass” - (ha dei genesthai meta tauta). The same clause was heard 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 a 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 midst of 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 the books of ExodusIsaiahEzekiel, 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 – They anticipate the twelve stones seen in the city of “New Jerusalem - (Exodus 28:17-20, 29:13Revelation 21:11-19).

The “rainbow” encircling the Throne echoes imagery from Ezekiel when 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, the “elders” praise God, adore the Lamb, interpret visions, and offer up prayers. They are arrayed in “white garments” that signify victory and purity. 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.” 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.” These are identical to the seven “spirits of God” from the book’s opening salutations. 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 “seven torches” before the Throne indicate a temple setting. In the ancient Tabernacle, a gold-plated seven-branched lampstand stood lit in the sanctuary before the “holy of holies” - (Exodus 25:31-37, 26:35, 27:20).

No lampstands are mentioned on which the seven torches sat. “Torch” translates lampas, the actual light or flame that sat on a lampstand. In the first vision, no mention was made about burning torches sitting on each of the seven golden lampstands. Here, the seven torches may symbolize the seven lights that shone from each of the lampstands - (Revelation 1:12-20).

Lighning Bolt - Photo by Mike Lewinski on Unsplash
Photo by Mike Lewinski on Unsplash

The “
flashes of lightning and voices and claps of thunder” recall the story of God descending on Mount Sinai with fire and smoke, 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 and far darker “Egypt.”
  • (Exodus 19:16) – “And it came to pass on the third day, when the morning had come, that there were claps of thunder and flashes of lightning, 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 “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).

Symbolically, the “sea like crystal” is identical with the “Abyss,” the source from which the “beast” ascended to make “war against the two witnesses,” and the place where Satan was bound for a “thousand years.” It is also associated with the “sea” from which the “beast” ascended to make “war against the saints.” In chapter 15, the victorious saints stood on the “sea of glass mingled with fire, having achieved victory over the “beast, his image, and the number of his name.” But in “New Jerusalem,” the “sea” was 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 “glassy sea” represents the source of evil. It is before the Throne because the sovereignty of God extends even over the forces of chaos. It was clear like “crystal” because the “One who Sits on the Throne” had 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 before the Throne interprets the vision. God is the Creator Who reigns supreme over the Cosmos, including over the forces of chaos. Nothing is hidden from His sight. He is praised and glorified throughout the created order.

Each living creature was “full of eyes, before and behind” to signify the omniscience of the “One Sitting on the Throne.” The number four symbolizes 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 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 unto 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. They represented the redeemed community in worship. The casting of crowns before the Throne demonstrated their submission to the authority of God. 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 - He created 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 this question.


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