We start in verse 3.
e. In Spite Of All The Horrible Things That Happen To The Church In This Age, Christians Are To Remember Their Sovereign God Is Also Merciful And They Can Trust Him. 3
Here we read: “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.”
The fact that a rainbow is seen around the throne makes us go back to the throne room vision of Ezekiel 1:28, where God’s glory is displayed around his throne in this manner: “Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.” Yet it also takes us even much further back in history to the time God destroyed the world (all but one family saved through an ark) and then afterward covenanted with mankind he would be merciful to them and never do this again (Gen. 9:8-17). So, this rainbow seems to reveal that the God who is sovereign over this world is also merciful and has ordered history in a manner to show this.
What is also significant is that the Apostle Paul affirms that the reason God has ordained sin’s presence in the world, along with its curse and brokenness was that God might display his mercy (Rom. 9:15, 22-23). This throne room vision reminds us that God is not just sovereign, he is merciful, and part of the reason we must suffer in this age is that this mercy might be highlighted that much more.
Something else displayed in this part of the vision, in the presence of the precious stones around the throne, is that God’s glory is seen in his care for his people, his bride (see the presence of these stones in the new Jerusalem, i.e. God’s bride [Rev. 21:11, 18-20]), which has as its background the jewels in the breastplate of the high priest in the Old Covenant—jewels that represented the reality he went into the Holy of Holies representing the people of God (see Exodus 28:15-21).
Though the fact that God is sovereign over and in and through our suffering may be a hard truth, we must also remember he is a good, loving, merciful heavenly Father who has our best interest ultimately in mind (Mt. 7:7-11; Rom. 8:28).
f. Even Though We Live In The Midst Of This Fallen And Broken World, With All Its Suffering And Hardships, Our Identity And Citizenship Are Already In Heaven. 4
Our sovereign, merciful God has worked in our behalf to bring us to the future joys and rewards of his full kingdom. Part of the way we are assured of this is found in verse 4, where we learn that identity and citizenship are already in heaven. Here is what we read: “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.”
We know from Rev. 21:12-14 that these 24 probably represent the Old Covenant patriarchs and also the New Covenant apostles—in other words the people of God of all times. We also know from 5:8; 7:19-17, they are distinguished from the redeemed humans and so are most likely angels. Yet, they are angels who represent or symbolize the people of God. They serve before God in the temple and worship him. The point seems to be that this is what the church is called to do and be, i.e. to be the worshiping ministers of God in this world—as they realize their identity and citizenship finds its origin in the new creation of heaven.
The point is that we define our circumstances and success in life by that which is bigger, rather than merely by what we experience.
g. Even Though We Live In The Midst Of This Fallen And Broken World, With All Its Suffering And Hardships, Our Ultimate Purpose Is To Serve And Glorify God By The Power Of God’s Spirit. 5
When John writes, “From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder,” this alludes to Exodus 19:16 and the same phenomena that Israel experienced when they were at Mt. Sinai, when God met with Moses to give him the Law, to covenant with Israel, and to call and prepare them for their mission after they had been delivered out of Egypt. God was reminding Israel of his holiness and the danger of ignoring him, taking him lightly, or rebelling against him. Several times in Revelation we also see these same phenomena, in contexts where God is bringing judgment (8:5; 11:19; 16:18). The point seems to be that we are to serve and honor God, not to take him lightly.
John goes on to write that he also saw the following: “and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God” (see also 1:4), which is a clear reference to the vision Zechariah had in Zechariah 4:1-7, wherein he saw a lampstand with seven lamps on it—all connected to a continual flow of olive oil, and this represented the work of the Spirit to empower Zerubbabel, the governor, for his mission of rebuilding the temple. The main lesson was found in Zech. 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” The point seems to be that God’s Spirit is present and necessary to empower his people for faithful and enduring service. God, then, not only allows difficulties, but he also, in his mercy, provides power to face them and to persevere.
h. Even Though We Live In The Midst Of This Fallen And Broken World, With All Its Suffering And Hardships, We Have The Assurance Our God Will Save Us And Make All Things Right. 6-11
John writes in these verses the following:
…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: 7 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. 8 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!”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 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, 11“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.”
In these verses we have allusions back to the Red Sea, which was a barrier to salvation and which God overcome to save Israel (6), and to visions of Ezekiel 1 and Isaiah 6 and their throne room visions (6-8). In both of these books God is showing he must bring judgment upon those who have ignored him, will ultimately save those who come to him in faith and repentance, and all of this to his glory. Elsewhere in Revelation (15:2) the sea of glass (an elevated reminder of the Red Sea) is associated with the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt as a type of ultimate salvation.
What we apparently see in these verses is that the sovereign God will surely save those who trust in him (including those who are persecuted) and bring judgment on those who don’t trust in him (including those who are persecutors). This is one more indication we can trust God in this age, no matter what is happening.
i. God’s Sovereign Plan Is As Certain As if It Had Already Happened. 11
The final point made in this chapter about the sweetness of God’s sovereignty as applied to his people in this age is found in verse 11: “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.”
In context, this statement of praise is not merely about God’s original creation, but it is also about his ongoing governance of all things (spoken of here as creating things). The last part of the verse seems to affirm that whatever God ordains will happen first exists and then it is created or comes into existence. I take this to mean that whatever God has decreed to take place, even though it hasn’t been realized yet, is just as certain as if it had already happened.
This is not only an indication of the certainty of God’s plans and his promises to his people, it is one more indication that his sovereignty is absolute.
So, to wrap up Revelation 4, God truly is absolutely sovereign and this should be a sweet truth to encourage, comfort, and motivate the church on mission, especially if Christians see God’s sovereignty accompanied by all these other truths about who he is and how he works.
Yet, there are two more truths that emerge from this vision, both of which are located in the second half of the vision in chapter 5. We will begin looking at these next week.
Joyfully Resting On Our Sovereign God With You,