Do you wonder what heaven looks like? Wouldn’t it be great to have the opportunity to peer into the throne room of God and see what is going on in heaven? John gets the opportunity and he tells us what he saw. There are three key texts that give us a picture of heaven. Two of those texts are in the Old Testament. The third text is found here in Revelation 4. What do you suppose we will see? The typical picture of heaven today is people laying on clouds, wearing wings, and playing harps. We won’t read anything like that in the scriptures. So erase your mind of what you think heaven is like and open your mind to receive the view of heaven that John sees.
After speaking to the seven churches that are in the Roman province of Asia, the book of Revelation moves forward in the prophecy. There are two phrases in Revelation 4:1 to tell us that we moving forward: “After this” and “what must take place after this.” The point is to show us that the information concerning the seven churches has stopped. A new series of images is beginning. John sees a door standing open in heaven. The voice that spoke to John at the beginning that sounded like a trumpet tells John to come up. Christ is speaking to John and calling him into heaven. John does not actually go into heaven, as we see in verse 2. John is having a new vision and John is going to see into the throne room of heaven. As we are taken into this vision, we must visualize the picture before us. Paint the image in your mind and see what is going on in heaven.
The Throne Room
One picture that is repeated throughout this chapter is the throne of God. Twelve times we are told about the throne, and this does not count the 24 thrones which are also mentioned. Twelve times we read about the throne and one sitting on that throne. The throne of God is the focus. In verse 2 we see that the throne is established in the midst of heaven and one is seated on the throne. This is a statement of respect, not naming who is on the throne, because it is the Almighty God who sits on the throne.
Vivid colors are used to describe the throne room and the one who sits on the throne. God is pictured having the appearance of jasper and carnelian. At that time jasper had characteristics and color similar to a diamond or crystal. In Revelation 21:11 the jasper stone is described as being clear as crystal. So we should visualize something like the gleam of a diamond. Further, carnelian was a fiery red stone. Around the throne is a rainbow that has the shine or glimmer of deep green, that like an emerald. The rainbow image will be seen again in chapter 10. It seems that the rainbow is a reminder of God’s faithfulness to his covenant, just as it meant to Noah after the flood.
Not only is the rainbow around the throne, but there are 24 thrones around the throne. Seated on those 24 thrones are 24 elders who are clothed in white garments and have gold crowns on their heads. We are left to wonder who the 24 elders are and what they represent. Are the 24 elders simply another group of spiritual beings, like angels, or are they the saved people of God? Many see the 24 elders representing the saved people of God of the Old and New Testaments. They say that the 24 consist of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles, which represent all the saved under both covenants. However, there are some problems with this interpretation. First, we are not told to separate the number 24 into two groups of 12. God could tell us that this was two groups of twelve if he wanted. Second, it is apparent in the book of Revelation that the 24 elders are repeatedly distinguished from the saints. We can see this distinguishing in Revelation 7:13-17 where one of the elders tells John that the great multitude represent those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. One of the elders is telling John that this other group represents the saved. Third, we will read about the 24 elders holding the prayers of the saints in Revelation 5:8. This also shows that the 24 elders are not the same group as the saints of God. Fourth, we will read about the 24 elders acting as intermediaries and interpreters (5:5; 7:13-17). These functions are things that we read about angels doing in the scriptures also. There is no reason to not understand these 24 elders as another group of spiritual beings. They seem to form part of the heavenly council as they are before God’s throne and there is nothing in the scriptures to tell us that these 24 elders represent something else. I will conclude the discussion of the 24 elders by asking us to consider that the people of God are not in view at this point in Revelation. The point is not about the saved people of God and what they are doing. The point is what is God doing. The point is to look around the throne room of God and be in awe of the activity and splendor.
From the throne comes flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder. The throne and the one who sits on the throne is pictured as being very active. The Lord is not asleep on the throne. There is action. The reader is being prepared for the outpouring of God’s wrath. In Revelation 8:5 we will see the lightnings, rumblings, and peals of thunder representing judgment as God sends forth his judgments from his throne. This language also reminds us of the thunder and lightning when God came to Mount Sinai. This thought matches what we see in the rest of verse 5. We see the seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God. In Revelation 1 we noted that the seven spirits of God are a symbol of the Holy Spirit. In particular, the image reveals that it is God who is at work. We will save our study of the seven spirits of God until Revelation 5:6. But it is enough to see that the throne room pictures the Spirit of God at work.
Before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal. Again, the splendor, beauty, and majesty of the throne room of God is emphasized. Not only are the 24 elders around the throne, but the four living creatures are around the throne as well. The description of the four living creatures is amazing with a face of a lion, ox, human, and eagle. Further, the four living creatures have six wings and are full of eyes all around and within. These are amazing spiritual beings that are difficult to visualize and grasp. Before we can move forward in the description of this throne scene, we need to see that this is not the first time these images have been recorded for us.
The Throne Room in the Old Testament
Ezekiel 1 also records a similar throne scene. As we read through Ezekiel 1, notice the similarities to what John saw. The first thing we can see in our comparison is that Ezekiel gives a much more lengthy description of the four living creatures. We see a similar sea of glass like crystal in Ezekiel 1:22. Ezekiel also records a colorful throne room in verse 26 and the rainbow in verse 28. Fire is all around, similar to the picture of the lightnings coming from the throne in John’s vision (Ezekiel 1:27).
Daniel 7 also mirrors the imagery found in Revelation 4. Here are some of the parallels (NIGTC, 314).
- A throne set in heaven (Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:2)
- God is seated on the throne (Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:2)
- Fire before the throne (Daniel 7:9-10; Revelation 4:5)
- Heavenly servants before the throne (Daniel 7:10; Revelation 4:4,6)
- Book/scroll before the throne (Daniel 7:10; Revelation 5:1-5)
- The book/scroll is opened (Daniel 7:10; Revelation 5:2-5,9)
- The divine messianic figure approaches the throne to receive authority (Daniel 7:13-14; Revelation 5:5-7, 12-13)
- Authority over every tribe, language, and people (Daniel 7:14; Revelation 5:9)
- Emotional distress at seeing the vision (Daniel 7:15; Revelation 5:4)
- An explanation from the heavenly council (Daniel 7:16; Revelation 5:5)
- Concludes with the mention of God’s eternal reign (Daniel 7:27; Revelation 5:13-14)
Revelation is in contact with the prophecy of Daniel. Even the order of events seem match in Daniel and Revelation. Revelation is showing us that we need to keep Daniel’s prophecy in mind as we read.
So what are we to take away for ourselves today in reading these vivid images of the throne room of God?
- God remains active. Too often God is depicted as a God who created the world and then operates with a “hands off” approach. God is on the throne and he is not asleep on the throne. God has not taken a vacation. God is aware of what is going on and he is active. The thunder and lightning coming from his throne depicts God in action, issuing judgments throughout the earth.
- See the Lord in his splendor. This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that? Could you build me such a resting place? My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, the LORD, have spoken! “I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word. (Isaiah 66:1–2 NLT)
Be struck by the glory of the Lord. Understand what he asks of his people since he is the Almighty God. He demands submissiveness from us, a yielding heart that trembles at the very words of God and desires to obey.