Summary: Revelation 4 is pure description. It is a portrait of the throne room of God, calling for awe, fear and reverence.
When we go to an art museum and look at a great painting, we are sometimes confused as to what the artist was trying to accomplish with his work. This is especially true of abstract art. In our image overloaded society, we seldom take the time to really take in a picture. However, there is a way to increase our appreciation of much fine art and many great photographs. It works for music too, though it is harder, at least for me.
When you see a painting of something you can describe in terms of your own experience: a landscape, a party, a home, even a portrait or a still life - put yourself in the painting. Imagine that you are standing on the hillside with the hunter feeling the breeze in the trees and smelling the damp earth, hearing the call of the birds. Imagine you are meeting the person in the portrait and ask yourself what your visual first impressions of the person might be. Imagine you are smelling the flowers and the fruit and seeing the reflections of the light in an actual vase ... what is casting the shadow? A masterpiece is a picture that inspires this reaction unconsciously, even from the casual observer. The painter's subject, style or talent catches us off guard and draws us in without our immediately knowing why or even realizing it.
Revelation 4 inspires that kind of involvement. It is pure description. It is meant to draw the reader in, and inspire her to imagine being there like John. It engages the senses and draws focus to the most important thing in the portrait ... God.
In the First Testament, God is described as having two thrones, one on Earth and the other in Heaven. His earthly throne is the Ark of the Covenant and God is described as being enthroned above the Cherubim who adorned the top of the Ark. So, any time a person went to the Tabernacle or, later, the Temple, they were approaching the Throne Room of God. They were acknowledging Him as their ultimate King.
However, God is also described as being enthroned in the heavens. John's view of the throne room of God in the heavens fits with other views that are mentioned in the Bible. Four prophets
• Ezekiel (twice)
Details found in John's description are found in other places too, sometimes with more detail, sometimes with less. Sometimes it looks like the person seeing the vision saw details in slightly different ways. However, the visions are remarkably consistent but not identical, telling us that rather than copying each other, they were describing the same sight. The variations actually serve to authenticate the vision, since different people will notice and emphasize different details. However, the generally common elements to the visions include:
• Water / Clarity
• Court "attendants"
A person might wonder what they should get out of these descriptions. The answer is "yes"
You should get "wonder" out of them.
These prophets were assaulted with these visions. "Blessed" seems like the wrong word, because in every case, the visionary seems highly moved and even disturbed at what he has seen. This is clear because of the extremities to which they are pushed to describe it:
• The value of rare gems
• The brilliance of lightning
• The beauty of rainbows
• The pure clarity of crystal clear water
• Impressiveness that compels worship
• A retinue of the powerful and the arresting
When a human being is confronted by the physical presence of God, his words fail. He is pushed to find the superlatives in everything he knows in order to paint the picture. John prepares us for the effect the vision had on him by setting us up to walk with him through a door. When we get inside we see
The central image, that of God Himself
Though one prophet describes him as having a generally human shape, nobody tries to pin down details of His appearance. We walk away from John's description of God with an indistinct sense of awe and beauty. For the most part, He is not described in human terms for appearance, but in terms that suggest a kind of elemental energy.
Jasper is a gemstone often associated with the supernatural. Sometimes it is green, sometimes red, sometimes multicolored with yellow and brown. Carnelians are red, but translucent. Other prophets see God as being like a fire, or molten metal. He is always associated with vivid radiance. The idea is not heat and destruction, but a hard clear light. If you can picture a being of dazzling, rare beauty you are beginning to get the idea.
In the Bible, Jesus is said to represent the physical form of God. In human terms, He is as close as we can come. But when the prophets try to describe the pure spiritual essence of God's appearance, it is only vaguely human. For the most part, it defies representation. Just try painting a picture or carving an idol to represent a God that comes across as almost pure light.