His Glory, Splendor, and Majesty (vv. 1-3)
An Open Door: Invitation and Inspiration
After receiving Christ’s letters to the seven churches, John looked and saw a door standing open in heaven. The open door is a sign that John is being shown God’s truth. He heard a voice like a trumpet (1:10) inviting him to “come up here.” He is to be shown the things that will happen hereafter (1:19). These are not things that were to happen hundreds or thousands of years later but were to happen quickly. The churches of Asia Minor and throughout the Roman Empire were about to face multiple attacks from Satan in the form of intensifying imperial persecution, social upheaval upon the death of Nero, and the formal termination of the old covenant order centered in Jerusalem. Satan was behind these attacks on God’s people. The Lord Jesus had cast him out of heaven by his death, resurrection, and ascension. Satan’s plan was to destroy the church in her infancy. The majority of Revelation, down through chapter 18, is concerned with this first-century battle royal between Christ and Satan, the Lamb’s Bride and the devil’s beast. The first readers would have understood what the Lord was saying to them. Layers of historical ignorance and bad theology have closed the book to many today. The Lord Jesus opened a door into heaven and showed John what he is about to do. John could not see or understand these things unless he was “in the Spirit,” meaning the recipient of God’s holy word (2 Tim. 3:15). Whether he was “in the body or out of the body” (2 Cor. 12:3), we need not inquire too closely. The point is that the Lord showed these things to John. They are his word. The church then and now needs to hear Christ’s word and especially see the throne of God ruling all.
God Sits upon the Throne: Resplendent Glory and Light
John sees the throne of God. He sees a vision similar to Isaiah and Ezekiel – the glorious, sovereign God. His throne is the center of heaven, and therefore the center of the universe. The turmoil on earth that was about to occur in the 60’s A.D. had to be seen from this perspective first – God is on his throne. He is not a passive spectator to history but stands above and sovereign over all the affairs of men. And we can go one step further – he is orchestrating these events to glorify his Son, his keeping grace for his people, and his own power. Just stand and believe and obey the Word of God, and you will win against the world, the flesh, and the devil – just like my Son. And why can we really trust that he rules over all and his word will be sufficient in our day? It is the same challenge of faith for us as for the first recipients of Christ’s word. Before we will trust the Lord and commit ourselves into his hand, we must see his glory. This is the reason for this and the next chapter.
The living God is light (1 John 1:5) and dwells in unapproachable, brilliant light (1 Tim. 6:16). This is what the jasper, cornelian, and rainbow emphasized – resplendent glory, especially jasper, a clear or translucent stone, which is closely associated with God’s glory (21:11). The cumulative impact of the shining colors is to teach us the splendor of God’s glory. Perhaps the rainbow adds the idea of covenant, but it may also simply suggest multi-faceted brilliance – much as Ezekiel saw (1:4; 10:4) – absolute, unbearable majesty and splendor. No man can “see” God (Ex. 33:20; John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16). The shining light of various colors gives us some approximation of his brilliance. We might want to parse the details, but can we? Would knowing a special meaning behind a particular stone or color enhance our sense of wonder, or diminish it? I think the latter, for then we would think that God is understandable and reducible to levels we can manage. He is not. As John was about to be given a picture of the dragon, the beast, and the harlot, he first must see that they were dust before the majesty of the Lord. Therefore, do not fear. At the center of this throne is the Lamb (5:6). John is not shown him yet, but we can see the whole. In Christ, the place of unbearable weight of glory is a place of glorious calm, safety, historical perspective, and invincible courage.
His Heavenly Throne Room (vv. 4-8)
The Twenty-Four Angels: Angels of His Presence
Since we are creatures and cannot adequately conceive the glory of God or our complete security and happiness in him, he shows us some of his attendants. What we are given here is a picture of the King’s court. First, around the throne, perhaps in a semi-circle, were twenty-four seats or thrones upon which were seated elders. As attractive as it is to see these twenty-four as representing the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the new covenant church, I think it is best to understand them as “presence angels,” part of the heavenly hosts (1 Kings 22:19). There is a hierarchy of “thrones and dominions” among the angelic creatures, and here we are given a little glimpse into their existence and function (Col. 1:16). They praise and worship the Lord (4:10; 5:8,14; 7:11-12; 11:16; 19:4). He is so exalted that pure, sinless creatures never cease attending him or grow tired worshipping him. His glory feeds their satisfaction in fulfilling the purpose of their existence. “Elders” refers perhaps to their representative watchcare over God’s people and “thrones” to their government over the nations.
Lightning, Fire, and Fullness of Spirit
It is true that faithful believers in the old covenant church will “sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). It is also true that believers in the Lord Jesus are “seated and reigning with Christ” (Eph. 2:5-6). This vision is concerned primarily with God’s exaltation, not our exaltation in Christ. All the details reveal God’s majesty. This is the truth conveyed by “lightnings and thunderings and voices” (Ezek. 1:13-14) – God is living, active, powerful, ceaseless in his activity and vigilance, the speaking God. Shining before the throne John saw burning seven fiery lamps, the “seven Spirits of God.” This does not mean there are seven Holy Spirit’s. His fullness and perfection are emphasized, perhaps, but we must be careful, joined closely to the ideas of lightning and thundering – speed and force of movement – as well as voices. The Holy Spirit searches the deep things of God, illumines, broods over creation, is omniscient, and quickens to new life. No wonder Ananias and Sapphira were killed instantly for lying to him, for pretending to a piety they did not possess. Let us remember who indwells us and thoroughly turn and yield to him for cleansing and reformation. Let us not quench his fire by our unbelief and worldliness. The glorious God in our midst is not to be taken lightly but to be held in reverence by all who draw near (Ps. 89:7).
The Sea of Crystal: King above the Floods
Ezekiel also saw this “sea of glass” or crystal, a hard, clear floor beneath the throne of God and above the firmament or sky above us (Ezek. 1:22). “Sea” is associated with evil; in the new heavens and earth, there will be no more sea (Rev. 21:1). Soon, John will see the beast arising from this sea (13:1). The Lord, however, sits as King above the floods of man’s rebellion and chaos (Ps. 29:10). His throne is seated above the sea. It is glass or crystal to him because he knows the hearts, deeds, and plans of men. There are no secrets from him; “all things are naked and open before him.” No one can escape his gaze. He sees all the conspiracies and lies of men. He “beholds their mischief and spite, to repay it with his hand” (Ps. 10:14). And, therefore, we are absolutely secure in his hand and must commit ourselves to him. The cure for fear, worry, hypocrisy, and self-deception is clear views of God’s majesty and sovereignty. The sea of human sin and rebellion that is so dark and murky to us is absolutely clear to him and ruled by him. No wonder he laughs at his enemies. When they are driven to extremes of brazen rebellion, it is likely because they hear uncomfortable echoes of his laughter. Their madness is the last blowing of their hurricane before the Lord of glory exposes and crushes them, or simply lets them expend their little bit of energy before they die, and their place remembers them no more. His throne, however, endures forever (Ps. 45:6; 89:29).
The Four Living Creatures: Cherubim
Upholding God’s throne are the “living creatures,” not “beasts,” which is a commentary, not a translation. These creatures have been seen before, by Ezekiel (1:4-21; 10:5-22). Each had a face, although Ezekiel sees each with four faces – a lion (strong), an ox (valuable and useful), a man (noble image), an eagle (majestic, powerful). They are creatures; Ezekiel calls them cherubim, angelic beings that flank God’s throne. They are so close to him that we must be reminded they are creatures – hence, the recognizable faces. These angels are the agents of his providence, seen in Ezekiel’s continually revolving wheels within wheels, upon which they are positioned, with lightning and fire coming from the wheels, constant movement and activity symbolizing his active providence. Remember, dear believer, these are but shadows of God’s majesty and the dimmest reflections of the glory of his throne room. We are not to look for these actual creatures but to see them as symbols of glory that is above and beyond us. Their presence around God’s throne greatly heightens our sense of his majesty, provided we remember that our Father loves us and wants us to know how secure we are in his hand, under his throne, ruled and loved by him. And whatever we see happening in the world, it is not outside his control but exists at his will and can only accomplish what he has ordained. “Even the wrath of man shall praise him” (Ps. 76:10).
His Worthiness and Worship (vv. 9-11)
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty
John hears the cherubim confessing and praising: “holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” “Lord” is equivalent to Yahweh, the covenant keeping Savior. “God” stresses his power and dominion. “Almighty,” pantokrator, teaches us that he holds absolute sway over all. The cherubim confess the Lord’s holiness with the rumbling of wheels, the burning fire, and lightning flashing and crashing. These are the first words John hears after the heavenly door is open to him, and we should dwell on these words all our lives (Isa. 6:3). How clear these words make everything else. I am suffering – God is holy. The church is besieged – God is holy. Satan seems to be having it all his own way – be quiet, God is holy. We cannot understand his ways. He was – he exists absolutely and eternally, and so does his will and purposes. He is – he is working out his purposes with all the justice, patience, calmness, and security of unruffled sovereignty. He is to come – all that man does will accomplish his plans, and he will be exalted. Every knee will bow and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord. The four living creatures, with their six wings flying to do the Lord’s will and are “full of eyes” so that they see all and give constant “glory, honor, and thanks” to him who sits on the throne and lives forever. Along with “holy, holy, holy,” we must hear and imitate their “glory, honor, and thanks.” And the living creatures are sinless! But seeing more of God’s glory than we do, they give him glory, which is to give him praise, to ascribe greatness to him. They honor him as the true and living God. What reverence these sinless, glorious creatures have and give to the Lord. They thank him for their existence and the privilege of praising and serving him.
On Their Faces Casting Their Crowns
John is not given leave to ask questions and have his curiosity gratified or his wonder diminished so that he is more “comfortable” before glory. He is instead given the privilege of seeing and hearing the heavenly worship. When the living creatures give their glory, honor, and thanks, the twenty-four elders fall on their faces before the living God. This is not the terror of criminals before their judge but the joyful awe of sinless, glorious creatures before their Creator. Then, the elders cast their crowns before him. All their dominion – they ascribe to him. With all their exalted greatness – and remember, the holiest men have fallen down before the majesty of angels, and they are only creatures! – they think it not beneath them to yield their entire allegiance to him who sits upon the throne. And how hard we struggle with humility – here is the reason. We see little of the glory of God. And the elders, likely with the living creatures, confess, “You are worthy, O Lord.” “Worthy” means having weight or value. You are worthy to receive glory, honor, and power. You are the Creator. You have created everything for your pleasure. And how different John was, and we shall be by taking in this vision of God’s glorious throne into our soul. Our entire life should be nothing of living for his pleasure, walking worthy of him, praising him, free or slave, at peace or persecuted. He made us, and we exist for his pleasure, not our own.
Why the Visions Begin with God’s Throne Room
God’s throne is the center of the universe. His glory and dominion are untouchable. He is so high that the noblest angelic creatures worship him without ceasing and swiftly fly to do his will. We can have no true perspective of earth and its meager happenings unless we see by faith the glory of God’s throne in heaven. It is his glory that gives us peace, settles our anxieties, and inspires our faithfulness. For, this same throne of glory is the throne of grace to which we may boldly come (Heb. 4:16). We have an advocate there, at the Father’s right hand, our Lord Jesus Christ. He brings us near, and we must draw near with the wonder and reverence of adoring, trusting children. Please, this new year, give the Lord a little respect and stop fearing men so much. Let us make our petitions and praises and trust a little more in line with his majesty! Let us also stop being afraid of men.
For God’s throne in heaven also assures us that our victory is absolutely certain and secure. Not a single man, angel, or demon moves a finger apart from God’s sovereign decree. This should not make us presumptuous but careful, vigilant, obedient, and reverent. We live before the face of the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY God, and we speak to men in His name. Fear nothing but the Lord. This is the exact impact this vision had upon the first century believers – when it was hard to make a living due to idolatrous trade guilds. There was no freedom of worship, no such thing as liberty of conscience in the Roman world, and no history of resistance to tyrants upon the basis of God’s higher law. And yet, the throne of God’s glory, with the Lamb standing at his right, sufficiently encouraged and emboldened those early believers to refuse to bow to the image of the beast. It was God’s glory that strengthened them. They receive this vision and lived by it.
And as we seek to live for the Lord in our times, let us remember finally that from this throne flow the living waters (Rev. 7:17; 22:1) meditated to us through Jesus Christ. We understand our times well only from the perspective of heaven. We can be free from anxiety because we are admitted to the throne of glory as friends of God. From our Father we receive the living waters of wisdom and strength to be faithful, so that we, too, may receive the crown of life. But the throne of God’s glory is only a throne of grace to us by the meditation of Jesus Christ. I urge you, believe upon his name. Can we dwell before the everlasting burnings? Unless Jesus Christ knows us, unless we have received and rested upon him alone for salvation, we are undone, condemned, shut out of glory and consigned to torment. Can we bargain with glory? Defend ourselves before the Holy God as the holier angels fall before him in worship? We cannot. We will not, for this would be to admit dishonor and presumption before God’s throne. The death angel would torment us first. But we have a perfect Savior, the Lamb of God, who takes away our sins. Come to the Father in his name and be admitted to this throne room as a friend of the King, as a son or daughter of the Lord God Almighty. Come and prostrate yourself before him, for “glory, honor, and thanks” are your destiny also, as his creatures. To worship him is your purpose, your joy, and your strength.