Revelation 4: The Throne

Revelation 4  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Amidst the ruin of the church in responsibility and the failure of those who have sought to answer to the Lord's mind in a day of ruin, it is an immense comfort that there is a scene to which in faith we can turn where our affections may freely flow out and all our associations be pure and happy. Such a scene we have unrolled before us in chapters 4 and 5 of the Revelation.
Nothing could be darker or more dreary than the last phase of the professing church as depicted in the close of chapter 3. There we find that which professes the Name of Christ on earth boasting in its riches, satisfied with its condition, and yet, not only indifferent to Christ, but actually rejecting Christ, so that Christ is found outside the door. As of old, the nation of Israel sealed its doom by rejecting their Messiah, and their house was left to them desolate; so today, Christendom is sealing its doom by rejecting Christ, and very soon will be spued out of His mouth. Such is the solemn picture of Revelation 3, the fulfillment of which we see developing all around us today.
In such a condition of things what a relief to the heart to pass in spirit into the scenes depicted in chapters 4 and 5. In the opening of these chapters we have left earth with its door shut upon Christ to find a door opened into heaven to those who belong to Christ. It is no great hardship to have doors shut in our faces on earth if there is a door opened to us in heaven and an invitation to come hither and pass within the door. Passing within we leave behind the scene in which men make nothing of Christ to find ourselves in a scene where Christ is all in all.
To understand the Book of Revelation we must remember the threefold division given by the Lord to John as recorded in chapter 1:19, where the Apostle is told to “Write therefore what thou hast seen, and the things that are, and the things that are about to be after these” (JND). In the vision of Christ we have the first division—the things which John had seen. In the seven churches, presenting the whole church period, we have the second division—“The things that are.” From Revelation 4, and onward, we have the third division—“The things that are about to be after these things”—after the history of the church on earth is closed.
The first verse of this fresh section opens with the expression “after these things,” and again at the close of the verse we read of “the things which must take place after these things” (JND). Clearly, then, these words refer to the third division and bring us to the strictly prophetic part of the book.
It will help us to understand these prophecies if we keep before us the main subdivisions of this third portion of the Revelation. They appear to be as follows:
Firstly, chapters 4 and 5, which are introductory, giving us a vision of things in heaven in order that we may learn the attitude of God towards events about to take place on earth, and telling us also the place of the saints of this age, and former ages, during these events.
Secondly, from chapters 6 to 11:18, we have a series of events, occurring in succession, covering the whole period between the rapture of the church and the appearing of Christ to establish His kingdom.
Thirdly, from chapters 11:19 to 19:10, we are instructed as to important details in relation to leaders and events during this period.
Fourthly, from chapters 19:11 to 21:8, the order of events is resumed from chapter 11:18, unfolding to us the future from the appearing of Christ, through millennial days on into the eternal state.
Fifthly, in chapters 21:9 to 22:5, we are again taken back to learn further details concerning the heavenly saints in relation to earth during the millennial age.
Returning to the consideration of the first subdivision, we notice that the great theme of chapter 4 is the Throne of God, while chapter 5 is occupied with the Book in which all these events are chronicled. We are thus to learn that behind all that takes place on earth there is the over-ruling throne of God, and that every event is according to the settled counsels of God.
When the corrupt professing church has shut the door to Christ on earth it will be found that there is an open door in heaven through which the true church, like John, can pass to be with Christ in heaven. The One who calls John from earth to heaven is identified with the One who first spoke to him of the seven churches. This we know is the Lord Himself. So will it be the Lord's own voice that will call us to meet Him in the air.
The standpoint from which we view things will make a great difference as to the way in which we view them. We are invited, even as John, to pass in spirit into heavenly scenes and view all that is yet to take place on earth, from heaven's point of view. We are partakers of the heavenly calling, and as heavenly men we are to view these coming events. If the heavenly calling of the church is not known, and the heavenly position not accepted, we shall fail in a right interpretation of these coming events by being occupied with, and distracted by, current events in the world around.
The immediate result of the call was that John “was in the spirit.” Like Paul, when caught up to the third heaven, he was not conscious of the body. He was wholly absorbed by the great sights and themes of heaven. He was there as a witness to bear testimony to the church of all that is disclosed to him. Paul, when caught up to Paradise, “heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” John, on the contrary, is told to “write the things” which he saw, and “seal not the sayings of the prophecy” (Rev. 1:19; 22:1019Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; (Revelation 1:19)
10And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. (Revelation 22:10)
). The difference would seem to be that Paul sees the things that belong to the inner circle of the Father's house, whereas John, while he truly conducts us into heavenly scenes, and tells us of heavenly things, yet it is of events in relation to earth. It is our happy privilege to profit by what John has written of the things he saw and heard. Thus in spirit we can pass into this heavenly scene, breathe its pure air, and feast our souls upon the things that speak of Christ. In all this great scene there is nothing to minister to the flesh or divert from Christ.
The first thing we see is a throne; moreover the throne is “set in heaven.” The throne is the emblem of rule and authority; the guarantee for order and blessing and security throughout the universe. The fall was in reality a challenge to the throne; sin is rebellion against the throne; infidelity is a denial of the existence of the throne; pride aspires to the throne, and the devil defies the throne. How blessed, then, after six thousand years of rebellion against the throne, to pass into heaven and find the throne “set in heaven,” unshaken, unmoved, and immovable; so that we may truly say that in this passage the great theme is the glory of the throne of God.
Even now the heavens do rule, though in a hidden way. Our great High Priest “has sat down on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens,” and from that throne He ever lives to make intercession for the saints as they pass through this world (Heb. 7:25; 8:125Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)
1Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; (Hebrews 8:1)
). For the believer the throne is a throne of grace. From the throne that John sees, judgment is about to proceed. Today evil abounds, lawlessness prevails, and increasingly the world is marked by violence and corruption, and God suffers long with the evil to give men space for repentance, and to make known His grace. Nevertheless, faith knows that, behind all, the throne of God remains unmoved in heaven. The consciousness that God is behind all, and that His throne remains with all its grace available for the saints, with all its mighty power untouched by the evil of men, will keep the soul in the calm of heaven while walking amidst the unrest of earth.
Moreover, “One sat on the throne.” This glorious Person is not described, but precious stones are used as symbols to set forth His glory. We must remember that God is seen in connection with the throne. It is not the heart of the Father revealed by the Son who dwelt in the Father's bosom that is before us, but the glory of God set forth in Christ on a throne in connection with the government of the universe. The precious stones are symbols setting forth the radiance of divine glory in government. It is seen in heaven though not yet manifest on earth. On earth we see the misgovernment of man and the longsuffering of God. Had the radiancy of the throne manifested itself upon a sinful world it would have involved judgment for all. The vision carries us beyond the day of grace to a time when the church will have been caught up to heaven, to be followed by the radiancy of the throne shining forth in judgment upon the earth.
Further, John sees “a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” From Genesis 9 we know that the rainbow speaks of the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature upon the earth. It speaks of blessing for earth secured by divine promise, but of blessing after judgment. The rainbow comes after the storm, even as God's promise of blessing follows when the judgment of the flood is past. The rainbow encircling the throne is the sure sign that beyond the judgment of the nations will be blessing for the earth.
Round about the throne John sees four and twenty thrones; and upon the thrones “four and twenty elders.” That the elders do not represent angelic beings is clear from the eleventh verse of the following chapter, where we find the angels described as a distinct company standing round the elders. The number twenty-four would seem to be an allusion to the twenty-four courses of the priesthood instituted by David for the “princes” or “governors of the sanctuary.” In David's day they were invested with a royal and priestly character and represented the whole priesthood (1 Chron. 24:55Thus were they divided by lot, one sort with another; for the governors of the sanctuary, and governors of the house of God, were of the sons of Eleazar, and of the sons of Ithamar. (1 Chronicles 24:5)). The saints of this day have the character of “a royal priesthood” to show forth the praises of God (1 Peter 2:99But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: (1 Peter 2:9)). Thus the elders would appear to symbolize the Old Testament saints as well as the assembly, in their completeness, associated with Christ in glory. Christ is seen upon His throne about to reign, and the saints are seen with Him in His reign—for He is enthroned and they too are enthroned. They are spoken of as “elders,” signifying spiritual maturity. No longer do they “know in part”; they are intelligent in the mind of heaven. They are not seen as departed spirits, but with bodies of glory clothed in white raiment, speaking of their priestly character (Ex. 28:39-4339And thou shalt embroider the coat of fine linen, and thou shalt make the mitre of fine linen, and thou shalt make the girdle of needlework. 40And for Aaron's sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty. 41And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office. 42And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach: 43And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute for ever unto him and his seed after him. (Exodus 28:39‑43)). On their heads are “crowns of gold” speaking of their royal character. They have finished their earthly pilgrimage in which they suffered for Christ; now they are crowned to reign with Christ.
We have only to trace the allusions to the elders through the course of the Revelation to see how truly representative they are of the saints in glory:
Firstly, the elders are found in heaven associated with the throne before the judgments commence. They are not on earth; they do not pass through the judgments, nor are they, like the white-robed throng of saints described in chapter 7, taken out of the great tribulation, but they are found in heaven before the judgments commence.
Secondly, they are a redeemed company as we learn from the following chapter, verses 8-10.
Thirdly, they are a worshipping company as we learn from chapters 4:10; 5:14, 11:16 and 19:4.
The character of the throne is clearly indicated by the solemn statement that “out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices.” Lightnings and thunderings are the accompaniments of judgment, not the symbols of mercy and grace. Today mercy flows from a throne of grace; in the millennial day a river of water, carrying blessing to the earth, will flow from the throne of God and the Lamb. In the solemn interval between the termination of the day of grace and the commencement of the Kingdom glory, the throne will be executing judgment upon the nations fitly symbolized by lightnings and thunderings.
Further, the apostle sees “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. Here, surely, we have a symbolic presentation of the Spirit of God in His fullness, but presented in connection with the fire of judgment, reminding us that, as with Israel so with the world, God is going to purge away all filth “By the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning” (Isa. 4:44When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. (Isaiah 4:4)). Those who today refuse the One who speaks in grace from heaven, will find in the day to come that “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:2929For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29)).
Lastly, the apostle sees in the midst of the throne and round about the throne “four living creatures.” They would appear to be symbols of the executors of the government of God. They are four in number, probably indicating the completeness of God's government flowing out to every quarter of the globe. “Full of eyes” would symbolize the fullness of discernment in God's government from which nothing is hid. The lion, the calf, the face as a man, and the flying eagle, may signify that the government of God will be characterized by strength, firmness, intelligence, and rapidity of administration. Unceasingly they say, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was and is, and is to come.” They testify that the government of God is holy, resistless in power, and unchangeable in character. The executors of the government of God will become the occasion of glory and thanksgiving to Him that sits upon the throne forever and ever.
Moreover the government of God will call forth the worship of the saints, who use the crowns that Christ has given them to own their perfect submission to Him. They cast their crowns before the throne and own the Lord is worthy to receive glory and honor and power, for He is the Creator of all, and for His pleasure all things are and were created. Sin has marred the fair creation, so that now the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain; but the saints in heaven, having the mind of the Lord, can discern that all the evil will be dealt with in judgment, so that once again God can take pleasure in His creation, even as of old, when the creation work was finished, “God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:3131And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31)).
Thus, as the prelude to the coming judgments, we are carried into heaven to see the throne of judgment in heaven unshaken by the wickedness of men; to see the glory of the One who sits upon the throne; to learn in the rainbow that all the promises of God for the blessing of the earth will follow the judgments of the throne; to learn that the saints of the previous ages, and the present period, will be safe in heaven before the judgments fall; to learn that the judgments of the throne will be carried out in the fullness of the Spirit according to the perfection of God's government, and that as a result the Lord will be worshipped and praised as the Creator; and the whole creation, cleared of all evil, will once again be for His pleasure. Let us remember that these things are written that even now we may enter into them in faith, and thus be kept in perfect calm while yet in a world of turmoil.