A young city girl was in the country for the first time and looking up into the night sky commented, “Oh, mother, if heaven is so beautiful on the wrong side, what must it be like on the right side!”1 Indeed, how can we possibly know what God’s dwelling place is like unless He tells us about it? Thankfully, God has used various means to open our understanding of heavenly things. For example, both Isaiah and Ezekiel saw a vision of God and His heavenly throne and each wrote down what they had witnessed (Isa. 6; Ezek. 1).
Like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Paul (2 Cor. 12:2-4) before him, John was also taken up into heaven to see God’s throne room and was instructed to write down what he saw (Rev. 1:19; 4:1-2). In Revelation 4, John mentions the throne of God twelve times and is careful not to describe anything else he saw except in its relationship to the throne: on the throne, around the throne, from the throne, before the throne, and in the midst of the throne. Why does John not describe anything that he sees apart from its connection with God’s throne? Because God is sovereign over all things—everything which exists is dependent upon Him. Without God on His throne, nothing else would matter. John, thus, begins his revelation with the most spectacular sight in heaven—God Himself on His throne.
On the Throne (Rev. 4:2)
John describes the outshining of God’s holy essence—His spectacular glory. The prophet relates this visible manifestation of God’s essence to the colors reflected from a jasper and a sardius stone. Jasper is used twice in Revelation 21 as a symbol of God’s glory in connection with the New Jerusalem, God’s eternal heavenly city (Rev. 21:10-11). In fact, the walls of this city are made entirely of jasper (Rev. 21:18). Jasper is a crystalline form of silica containing fine minerals of quartz and moganite. It is neither transparent nor translucent, meaning that all visible light reaching its surface is either absorbed or reflected back to us in the colors red, yellow, brown, green, and sometimes blue. Sardius is a red stone. John describes no form on the throne, only a dazzling spectacle of various hues of light emanating from God’s presence. It is noted that sardius and jasper were the first and the last precious stones, respectively, in the High Priest’s breastplate (Ex. 28:17-20). These two stones mentioned in tandem, then, may be a picture of God’s immutable and eternal glory.
Around the Throne (Rev. 4:3-4)
John also saw a rainbow encircling the throne. God promised Noah that He would never destroy the earth again by water; the rainbow was given to mankind as a symbol of that covenant. The circle never stops and thus represents eternity. The compound symbol indicates that God’s promises are eternal—He is a covenant-keeping God.
Around God’s throne were twenty-four other thrones upon which twenty-four elders were seated. The elders represent the redeemed just resurrected from the earth, which certainly would include, but may not be limited to, the Church (Rev. 5:9). These were clothed in white raiment and were wearing gold crowns upon their heads (Rev. 4:4). These crowns, or rewards, were given by the Lord Jesus Christ to His saints for their honorable service to Him. Though there are likely many other types of crowns given to reward faithfulness, five are mentioned in Scripture:
The Crown of Glory will be given to church elders who shepherd well (1 Pet. 5:4).
The Crown of Life will be given to those who endure trials because they love the Lord (Jas. 1:12).
The Crown of Rejoicing will be given to those who were soul-winners for Christ (1 Thess. 2:19; Phil 4:1); this crown may be more encompassing, such as a reward for spiritual growth in general.
The Crown of Righteousness will be given to those who long for His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8).
The Incorruptible Crown will be given to those who control fleshly desires through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 9:25).
The rewards that are earned during this lifetime provide the believer with a greater appreciation for the Lord, a greater capacity to worship Him throughout eternity, and indeed, a greater capability to enjoy heaven (1 Cor. 15:41-42; Rev. 4:11).
As both the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel are clearly tied to the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, it seems likely that the numerical representation of twenty-four, the number associated with God’s priesthood in Scripture, is used here to represent all those who have been redeemed and have experienced glorification (Rev. 5:8-10). This probably includes the Old Testament saints and the New Testament Church (Heb. 11:40). The Lord told His disciples that they would be seated about Him on twelve thrones in a future day and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28).
The elders in this scene have already been rewarded for faithful service and seated in a place of honor about the throne of God and the Lamb. This event refers to the Judgment Seat of Christ, which occurs immediately after the rapture of the Church from the earth (1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:12-14). This is a remarkable scene as humans were created to govern the world, not heaven, and humans have a lower position in creation than the angels (Gen. 1:26; Heb. 2:6-8). Yet, we never read of angels seated on thrones in Scripture, nor do they rule and reign with Christ as redeemed humanity will; they were created as eternal beings to serve God and will remain unchanged forever.
From the Throne (Rev. 4:5)
John observed that there was continual lightning, thunder, and voices proceeding out from God’s throne. This ominous scene represents the looming worldwide judgment of Christ’s return to the earth to vindicate His name. Neither Stephen nor Paul mentioned anything about thunder, lightning, and voices during their glimpses of God’s throne during the Church Age. Yet, with the redeemed in heaven and on the eve of pouring out judgment on the wicked, His throne rumbles.
Before the Throne (Rev. 4:6)
The next detail John describes in relationship to God’s throne is the sea of glass before it. The laver in the tabernacle and then later in the temple were patterned after this crystal sea, yet these earthly lavers held water, not glass, so a clear distinction is being made between the type and the antitype, as seen by John. Why the difference? As long as there was a Christian on earth the practical aspects of cleaning defilement from the believer’s life would be a necessary ministry of Christ’s intercession and Word, as pictured in the laver. But now that the Church had passed from the scene of her earthly defilement into heaven, she had no more need of the laver. Every Christian now possessed a body fit for heaven. The clear, ripple-free sea of glass in heaven declares that those in heaven are perfectly cleansed and at complete peace in God’s presence.
In the Midst of the Throne (Rev. 5:6)
The scene of Revelation 4 and 5 shows that the Lord Jesus, the Lamb, is on His Father’s throne (Rev. 3:21); He is still waiting to establish His kingdom on earth. At that time, He will sit on His own throne in Jerusalem. The twenty-four elders on their thrones in heaven are anticipating their opportunity to rule and reign with Christ in His kingdom. But until that time, every redeemed saint and angelic being in heaven is occupied with worshipping the One who deserves: all power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing—the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 5:12). For this reason alone, each of us should yearn to be about God’s throne, that we too may worship the One in the midst of the throne!
1. Jim Flanigan, Notes on Revelation (Gospel Tract Publications; 1987), pp. 40-41
by Warren Henderson