Holy, Holy, Holy (Revelation 4:8-11)

Revelation 4 has drawn our attention to the throne of God as we look into heaven. God is seated on the throne and he is active. From the throne come flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder. These images symbolize God’s action, in particular his judgments, against the earth. The brilliance of the throne room is overwhelming. We have seen the glimmer of crystals and fiery red colors on the throne. John sees a rainbow around the throne that shines like an emerald. There is a sea of glass like crystal before the throne and there are 24 elders seated on 24 thrones that are around the throne. Also around the throne are four living creatures. They have the faces of a lion, an ox, and human, and an eagle in flight. This brings us to verses 8-11 for the rest of our study.

The Lord Is Holy (4:8)

As John looks he sees the four living creatures around the throne. Each of them have six wings and are full of eyes all around and within. But turn your attention away from what they look like and listen to what they say. “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” How often do these four living creatures say these words? John tells us that these creatures say these words day and night. They never stop saying these words. Can you visualize the scene? Can you hear the repetition? A double repetition signifies an emphasis on the word. A triple repetition designates a superlative and calls to our attention the infinite holiness of God. It must not be lost upon us this is the only characteristic of God that is repeated three times. We never read, “Love, love, love, is the Lord God Almighty.” We never read, “Anger, anger, anger, is the Lord God Almighty.” We never read, “Mercy, mercy, mercy, is the Lord God Almighty.” Consider how many characteristics of the Lord that could have been used to describe him. The quality that the four living creatures ascribe to the Lord is his holiness. We must not pass this thought by too quickly. Three times the holiness of God is repeated.

This is not an isolated incident. In Isaiah 6 these four living creatures are called seraphim.

Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:2–3 ESV)

We learn that when we think about the Lord, we must have his holiness firmly placed in our minds.  The attribute of his holiness that is emphasized is not his sinlessness. Rather, the emphasis is on his authority and power. Notice that when his holiness is described, God’s power and authority is described with it. In Revelation 4:8 we read, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty.” The one with all power, all authority, and all might is holy. In Isaiah 6 notice the same refrain, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” or “Lord of armies.” Psalm 99 ties these two concepts of holiness and power together also.

The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! 2 The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. 3 Let them praise your great and awesome name! Holy is he! 4 The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. 5 Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! 6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called upon his name. They called to the LORD, and he answered them. 7 In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them; they kept his testimonies and the statute that he gave them. 8 O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. 9 Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy! (Psalm 99:1–9 ESV)

Notice that the Lord reigns, is enthroned, and is exalted over all the people. Holy is he. The Lord establishes equity and executes justice. Exalt him and worship him for holy is he! The Lord gives laws, is forgiving, but avenges wrongdoing. Holy is he! Power and holiness are tied together. Because God is all powerful and has all authority, he is holy because he is separate from all other rulers. Therefore the world must worship him. This is what we see in Revelation 4. The four living creatures are worshiping the Lord as they exclaim the infinite holiness of God.

In verse 9 we are told that this is exactly what the living creatures are doing. They are giving glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne. We glorify God by appreciating and exclaiming the infinite holiness of God. We honor him when we keep in the forefront of our minds that God is infinitely holy. He is not like us. He does not think like us. His ways are not our ways. His power is not our power. His authority is not our authority. He is the infinitely holy God.

The Lord Is Worthy (4:10-11)

The second attribute we learn about God is that he is worthy. The Lord our God is worthy to receive glory, honor, and power. When the living creatures cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,” the 24 elders fall down before the one seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. Further, they cast their crowns before the throne. We see in this symbolism the infinite authority of God. These 24 elders are pictured as having authority. They are wearing crowns and they are sitting on thrones. But when the four living creatures cry out the infinite holiness of God, the 24 elders get off of their thrones, fall down before the Lord who is on his throne, and cast their crowns before the throne. The Lord has all authority and rule. “In the secular realm it was common for petitioners to prostrate themselves before the king and kiss the garment. Lesser kings would lay their crowns before the emperor to show their submission to him” (Osborne, 239). How often does this happen? These acts are happening constantly. The four living creatures never cease to declare the infinite holiness of God. The 24 elders fall down and cast their crowns before the throne whenever the four living creatures declare the infinite holiness of God. Therefore, the 24 elders never stop falling down before God and casting their crowns before him.

God alone is truly worthy of worship. The Lord is superior to all other rulers. He is superior to any Caesar. He is greater than anyone who thinks he has might and authority. The Romans would describe the emperors after their death as a god. Then the emperors took that title to themselves while they were alive. But none of them are worthy of any such title or description.

Friends, do not worship other gods. They are not worthy of worship. Our gods are not worthy of our attention. We must not yield to other things in this world. We must not give priority to anything that is not the true and living God and his will for us. God alone is worthy of our attention, worthy of our affection, worthy of our priority, and worthy of our submission.

The Lord Is Creator and Sustainer (4:11)

The rest of verse 11 tells us why God alone is worthy of these things. God is worthy because he created all things and because it is through God’s will that all things exist and are created. There are two reasons that the 24 elders state as to why God is worthy. First, God created all things. God is the creator. He created it and therefore he owns it. All things are in subjection to God because he created all things. This is a very simple and logical thought. All people must worship him because he created all people. All creation must worship him because he created all creation. You are not the ruler of your life. You are not the authority of your life. God created you and you owe your life to him. God is worthy of your worship because he created you.

Also, God is worthy of your worship because God’s will brought all things into existence. God made the decision to create all things and to have all things exist. I believe the point is that God is worthy of worship because he created you and he decided for you to exist. God is actively ruling. God is actively exerting his authority. God sustains the world and sustains the creation. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary points out that the tensing of the Greek may lead to this reading as an appropriate translation: “Because of your will they continually exist and have come into being.”

Conclusion

If you are not interested in giving glory, honor, and thanks to the Lord who sits on the throne while on the earth, what makes you believe that you will be in heaven where this is all that happens day and night? If we are unwilling to choose worshiping God now, why do we think we will be in heaven where every created being worships him?