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JESUS THE FOCUS OF PRAISE – [1] Revelation 4: A Vision of God

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

Note: Revelation 4 reports a vision given to John by Jesus. It contains several symbols that are not meant to be taken literally; we are taught spiritual truth and reality by these symbols. Some of the symbols are impossible to imagine in real physical form. As we study this chapter we must constantly keep in mind that this is indeed a vision; it communicates true truth about the real thing, but it is not the real thing itself. Yet even this vision is overwhelming. How much more so is the reality!

In Revelation 4:1 the same voice like a trumpet that John heard in 1:10,11 speaks again. John has just seen ‘a door standing open in heaven’, and now Jesus calls him to ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this’.

Jesus has just dictated letters to the churches, where he said that he knew what was going on – their struggles, their strengths, their weaknesses, their vulnerability - and strongly encouraged them to perseverance in the faith. This – is not all there is. This struggle, this suffering, this weakness – there is something ‘after’ this. Now he is going to show John a different perspective – a divine, heavenly perspective.

Meditation – a door standing open in heaven
John saw ‘a door standing open in heaven’. This may be just an incidental part of his vision, the transition from one vision to the next. Or it may be reflective of the Gospel: that Jesus, by is death, has opened heaven’s door for us; that he has opened for us access into the very presence of God [Ephesians 2:18; Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:19-22]; that he is the door [John 10:7,8], that he is the way to God [John 14:6].



Not much at all is actually seen of the one who sits on the throne.  Even in this vision, there is reticence to describe the actual appearance of God.

Read Revelation 4 and answer these questions about the one on the throne:

What symbols are used to describe his appearance? [verse 3]




Suggest what these symbols mean.




What symbols are used to communicate his glory and inapproachability? [verse 5a]


How is he described in verse 8b?


How does this compare with Isaiah 6:1,3?


Is this description real or symbolic?

What do you learn about him in verse 11?


Is this description real of symbolic?



A.1 God is the Sovereign Lord
The concept of sitting on a ‘throne’ is the concept of sovereignty. God is on the throne. God is in charge. God is the King. This is not a new truth, but an affirmation of a truth already known to John:

Suggested reading:
Psalm 9:7; 11:4; 45:6; 47:8; 93:1

This affirmation of sovereignty is also included in the praise of the four living creatures; they refer to God as ‘the Lord God Almighty’ [verse 8]. [See note on 1:8.]

To the suffering, struggling church this is a grand and reassuring message: God is the Sovereign Lord, the Almighty. He is the ruler of those ‘kings of the earth’ which are mentioned nine times in Revelation. All these men great or small who are troubling the church are nothing beside God. From the perspective of earth it might seem like they are winning, but from the perspective of heaven they have already lost. God is, and always will be, the God who is on the throne.

A.2 God is holy
Revelation 4:6b-8 shares many elements with Isaiah 6:1-4 and Ezekiel 1:4ff. The focus of each of these visions is God himself. The concern of the various winged living creatures is God himself. Even in the Ezekiel vision, where the holiness of God is not specifically mentioned, the whole scene is one of total uniqueness, absolute otherness. God is holy. There is no one like him. There is no one beside him or above or beyond him. He is one of a kind. Without equal. Without threat of defeat. The living creatures are repeatedly stating this day and night in their words ‘Holy, holy, holy’.

Suggested reading:
Isaiah 6:1-8
Isaiah 40:12-31
Ezekiel 1

A.3 God is eternal
The living creatures are also constantly drawing our attention to the eternity of God. He is the one ‘who was, and is, and is to come’. The twenty-four elders honour him as the one ‘who lives for ever and ever’. This reflects the self-identifying name given by God when Moses asked him ‘What is your name?’ [Exodus 3:14]. He is ‘I AM’ – the ever-living, ever-present, self-existent, self-sufficient One.  [Compare Revelation 1:4,8]

A.4 God is the creator
Whenever the living creatures praise God for his holiness, sovereignty and eternity, [and they never stopped doing this day and night], the ‘twenty-four elders’ also praise God. They say that he is ‘worthy … to receive glory and honour and power’, and they ground this worthiness in the will and the work of God by which he created all things [verse 11].

Note what they say about God creating:

He created ‘all things’

All things were created by God's 'will'. The word is thelema - which means that all things were created by God's determination, purpose and choice. There is also an element of pleasure involved. this is what God wanted to do and determined to do and did.

All things ‘have their being’ through this deliberate decision of God. The Greek means ‘have come into existence.’

For insight into the deep grace embedded in God’s decision to create go to this study - http://godswordforyou.com/joomla4/bible-studies/genesis/748-the-deep-grace-that-preceded-our-creation.html

A.5 Jesus
Did you notice that each of these four attributes of God is also applied by the Scripture to Jesus Christ?

Jesus Christ is the Sovereign Lord on the eternal throne [Hebrews 1:8; Psalm 45:6].
Jesus is the glorious, unequalled, holy one of Isaiah 6 [John 12:41].
Jesus is the eternal one, the I AM [John 8:58].
Jesus is the creator of all things [John 1:1-4; Colossians 1:16].

He who walks in the midst of the church on earth is also at the same time he who sits on the throne in heaven: the sovereign, holy, eternal God, the Creator without whose will and decision nothing in the whole universe, nor even the universe itself, nor I myself, would exist. We are here, we exist, through his decision. By his gift.

[We are here in touch with the mystery of the Trinity – in which there is both unity and distinction. As Jesus said: to see him, is to see the Father, to know him is to know the Father [John 14:6-9].


The truths spoken by the living creatures and the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4:8b and 11 about the One who sits on the throne are in non-symbolic language. There is, however, much in this chapter that is symbolic. And it really does not matter if we cannot define any precise real counterpart of particular symbols. We can get a very good idea of the general intention of the symbols. That overall intention of everything in this chapter is very obviously to point us to the reality of the total and universal sovereignty, holiness, glory and power of God and of his Christ. It could very well be that much of what we see here are verbal and pictorial symbols of his glory and power that have no real physical existence. When we see him as he really is the symbols of his majesty and holiness will simply not be there. They will be redundant. The reality, when we see him, when we ‘see the king in his beauty’ [Isaiah 33:17], will be even more overwhelming. We will have no words to describe what we then see.

Not very much is actually seen of God himself in the vision. But everything that makes up the vision points us to his sovereignty, his omnipotence, his omnipresence, his omniscience, his holiness, his faithfulness and his glory.

God is spirit. The picture of him seated on a physical throne is a way of teaching us of his complete sovereignty. He is the glorious, all-powerful King. There is no other.

We must not imagine this scene in a typical modern way, with the throne set with its back towards a wall and everything else either beside or in front of it. This throne is in the middle, in the centre of not only ‘heaven’ but of the whole universe.   

We are told a number of things about the throne:

B.1 A rainbow resembling an emerald encircled it
The rainbow is part of the glorious radiance attached to God and his throne. This is also part of Ezekiel’s vision of God on his throne: ‘And brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him’ [Ezekiel 1:27,28]. [We read of another such rainbow in 10:1, where it is above the head of a mighty angel coming down from heaven.]

There are two other things that can be said about the rainbow:

[1] There is a probable connection to the rainbow of Genesis 9:12-17. There the storm of God’s judgment was over, the rainbow of promise was given.  Here is a deliberate indicator of the everlasting covenant faithfulness of God. That faithfulness is part of his glory.

[2] For those who, like John, and the churches to whom he must report these visions, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the storm of God’s judgment is also over. They have Christ’s promise that they are safe in his hand and have already escaped the condemnation. Just as Noah, and the whole earth, could rest in the promise contained in the rainbow, so too, this rainbow encircling the throne of God, assures those who believe in Christ that they are safe from the storm of judgment that must fall.

B.2 Twenty-four elders on twenty-four thrones surrounding the throne
The throne of God is also surrounded [the word means encircled] by twenty-four other thrones on which are seated twenty-four elders [4:4], who are constantly worshipping God and laying their crowns before him [4:9-11]. Various opinions are given about who these twenty-four elders are or represent. It is not an unimportant question, as these elders appear repeatedly in Revelation. Among these opinions, the most likely are that these twenty-four elders are:

Either, the twelve patriarchs and the twelve apostles, and as such are representative of all genuine believers from both Old and New Testaments.

In support of this view we could say that Jesus promised his disciples that they would be on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel [Matthew 19:28]. However, Revelation does not anywhere indicate that the twenty-four elders exercise a judging role. Some suggest a sort of parallel to Revelation 21:12-14 which says the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles are on the gates and foundations of the new Jerusalem. There is no mention of the ‘twenty-four’ elders in this section of Revelation, unless they are here in these 24 names.  Another point in favour of this view is that these elders have crowns of victory – we know that believers are ‘conquerors’, but we do not know of any victory won by celestial beings, unless it is the victory of remaining faithful to God when Satan drew one third of the angels into rebellion.

Or, a group of representative angels. This also seems a reasonable opinion. The twenty-four elders are usually mentioned in association with the four living creatures, which are obviously not redeemed humans but some kind of celestial being. In this opinion, these ‘twenty-four elders’ are representative of the angels which serve people who believe in Jesus [see Matthew 18:6,10 and Hebrews 1:14]. Jesus taught that these angels ‘always see the face of my Father in heaven’, and this ties in with the position of these twenty-four elders encircling the throne.

I believe that they are in some way, representative of the redeemed, but regardless of who they are or might represent, the important thing for us is what they do and what they say: in this vision they are constantly drawing attention to the worthiness of God, the Creator. They exalt the one who is sitting on the throne.

B.3 Lightning and thunder
Historically lightning and thunder accompanied the presence of God, warning of his holiness, his inapproachability and his judgment on sinners.

Check these Scriptures:
Exodus 19:16-22
Exodus 20:18-21
Psalm 77:18
Psalm 97:1-4
Isaiah 29:6
Ezekiel 1:13-14

B.4 Seven lamps were blazing
Verse 5 comes with its own interpretation: the seven blazing lamps are ‘the seven spirits of God’. We have already seen these ‘seven spirits of God’ in 1:4 and 3:1. But this ‘seven spirits of God’ also needs interpreting. As we have seen previously, the use of the number ‘seven’ draws attention to the perfection of the Holy Spirit. The word translated ‘blazing’ means ‘set on fire’, and includes the thought of ‘consuming’. It is highly possible that this is a reference to the utter holiness of God by which all that is opposed to him is consumed.

Suggested reading:
Deuteronomy 4:24; 9:3
Isaiah 4:4
Jeremiah 21:12
Hebrews 12:28,29

The connection of the Holy Spirit with judgment has been discussed already [see John 16:7-11]; the thought of God’s necessary judgment is certainly present in these ‘seven blazing lamps’ representing the Holy Spirit.

B.5 What looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal
There is divided opinion about what is symbolised by this ‘sea of glass’. Note that John does not say it was a ‘sea’, only that it looked like a sea.

It most likely represents the utter purity and holiness of God that prevents sinners from approaching him. This view is supported by the presence of the ‘laver’ in the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple. This was sometimes called the ‘Sea’. Its presence there indicated the need for cleansing, even of the priests. In 15:2 there is also something ‘that looked like a sea of glass’; there we see some of the redeemed actually standing on [Greek is ‘on’ rather than ‘beside’] this sea.

In Revelation 21:1 we read ‘there was no longer any sea’. In the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ there is no more separation from God, and no more need for cleansing. The uncrossable, impassable ‘sea’ of God’s holiness is no longer a barrier to those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.

B.6 Four living creatures – 4:6b-8
These four living creatures are present, like the ‘twenty-four elders’, in each of the seven sections of Revelation except the first and the last. And also like the twenty-four elders, the question stands: do these creatures exist in John’s visions because they are real in themselves? Or, are they representative beings? Or are they simply powerful graphic visual symbols included in the visions to depict the utter holiness and inapproachability of God? They certainly do depict God’s holiness and majesty and power and inapproachability, regardless of which answer we accept.

Men also debate whether or not these creatures in Revelation 4 are the same as the cherubim of Ezekiel 1 and 10; and also whether they are the same or different beings from the ‘seraphs’ of Isaiah 6. If they are simply visual symbols making us aware of God’s holiness etc these questions don’t really matter. The point is the same: God is utterly holy and utterly powerful.

The Old Testament speaks of God as the one who sits, dwells, or is enthroned between the cherubim. This positioning of God between the cherubim most likely has its origin in the description of the Mercy Seat [see below].

Study these scriptures about God in the midst of the cherubim:
1Samuel 4:4;
2Samuel 6:2;
2Kings 19:15;
Psalm 80:1; 99:1;
Isaiah 37:16

In other Old Testament references cherubim appear in two roles – one prohibitive, that relates to the sin of man and the judgment of God, and the other indicative of God’s presence and God’s mercy.

The Old Testament reports the presence of cherubim [1] prohibiting access of sinful humans to the tree of life [Genesis 3:22-24], and [2] on the prohibitive curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place in the Tabernacle and Temple, banning the access of sinful humans into the symbolic presence of God.

The Old Testament also describes the presence of two golden cherubim on the ‘mercy seat’ – the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, sometimes translated as ‘the atonement cover’. This ‘mercy seat’, situated in the Most Holy Place, and accessible only on the Day of Atonement, was the place were God met with his people, and where mercy [atonement] was provided.

Scriptures to study:
Exodus 25:17-22
Exodus 37:6-9
Leviticus 16:2, 13-17
Hebrews 9:5

The two prohibitive functions of the cherubim have ceased for all who by faith have access to God and eternal life through the saving death of Christ. This is possibly the reason that there is no mention of these living creatures in the first section of Revelation [1:9 – 3:22] where Jesus walks in the midst of his church, and in the last section of Revelation [20 – 22] where Christ and his Bride, the Church, are united, and God and the Lamb dwell with the redeemed in a relationship unimpeded by human sin and imperfection.  They were not mentioned in Genesis until after sin entered, and they are not mentioned in Revelation after sin has been terminated.

About the symbolism of these living creatures who appear only in the immediate presence of God in Revelation 4:

There are four of them. They represent the whole world – north, south, east and west, or the whole universe. Their service to God incorporates the whole world. This calls to our minds the omnipresence of God – he is the God of all the earth, there is no other, and he is present and authoritative over all the earth.

They are covered with eyes [4:6,8; compare Ezekiel 1:18; 10:12]. It is impossible to translate this into a physical reality, but the reality depicted is clear: they see everything, they witness everything. As far as revealing God – they point to God’s omniscience: God knows everything.

They have the appearance of a lion, an ox, a man and a flying eagle [compare Ezekiel 1:10]. Someone has said that these four creatures are the best of God’s creation – the noblest of the wild animals, the strongest of domestic animals, the wisest of all – man, and the fastest of the birds. From this it is suggested that these four living creatures, ever in the immediate presence of God, represent the whole of animate Nature. The whole world, the whole of creation, is God’s, and the whole of nature draws attention to God’s glory.

They are constantly praising God day and night. In this they parallel the praise of God that is constantly emanating from the heavens and the earth [Psalm 19:1-4].

We will meet these living creatures as a group and singly several times in Revelation.

Questions for you:
What have you learned about God from this vision?


For you, what aspects of this vision most reveal God’s power and glory?



Suggest how this vision of God would be an encouragement to the struggling churches?