Alex Malarkey, who was left paralyzed and spent two weeks in a coma after a 2004 car accident, filed a lawsuit this month against Christian publisher Tyndale House for associating his name with the controversial book coauthored with his father, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, and not paying him for the story. Tyndale took the book out of print in 2015, after Malarkey admitted he made up the story of dying and going to heaven after the accident. Sadly, Books on supposed after-or near-death experiences and angels top the bestseller lists. TV programs claim to explore the mysterious realm of the supernatural, often focusing on angels and their alleged interaction with humans. Many people, both those who profess to be Christians and those who do not, claim to have visited heaven and returned to tell of their experiences.
In contrast to the fanciful, bizarre, often silly fabrications of those who falsely claim to have visited heaven the Bible records the accounts of two people who actually were taken there in visions. In 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul wrote of being transported to the third heaven (the abode of God). But he was forbidden to speak of what he saw there (2 Cor. 12:4). The apostle John also had the inestimable privilege of visiting heaven. Unlike Paul, John was permitted to give a detailed description of his vision, which he did in Revelation 4-5. In those two chapters, John recorded the second vision he saw, the first being his vision of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ in Rev. 1:12–17. The Bible refers to heaven more than five hundred times, and others, such as Paul (2 Cor. 12) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 1), wrote descriptions of it. Yet John’s description in Revelation 4-5 is the most complete and informative in all of Scripture. Escorted by the beloved apostle, readers or hearers are carried far beyond the mundane features of this temporal realm to behold the realities of eternal heaven. Through John’s vision, believers have the privilege of previewing the place where they will live forever. In short, the throne room of chapter 4 is at the center of the imagery in the book.( Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation (p. 222). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.)
This central theme of John’s vision, the throne of God, is mentioned eleven times in this chapter. All the features of the chapter can be outlined based on how they relate to that throne of divine glory. John describes worship “To Him who Sits on the Throne” describing 1) The One on the Throne (Revelation 4:1-3a), 2) Those Around the Throne (Revelation 4:3b–4) 3) What comes From, Before & Around the Throne (Revelation 4:5-8a), and 4) What is Directed Toward the Throne (Revelation 4:8b–11).
1) The One on the Throne (Revelation 4:1-3a)
Revelation 4:1-3a After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, (and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald). (ESV)
The phrase after this/these things (?et? ta?ta) relates to John’s personal chronology. It notes that this second vision followed immediately after John’s vision of the risen, glorified Christ (Rev. 1:9–20) and the letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2:1–3:22). The phrase after this/these things is used throughout Revelation to mark the beginning of a new vision (cf. 7:9; 15:5; 18:1; 19:1). It’s use here marks an important transition in the book of Revelation from the church age (the “things which are”; Rev. 1:19), described in chapters 2–3, to the third great division of the book (the “things which will take place”; Rev. 1:19), found in chapters 4–22. The scene shifts from matters concerning the church (which is nowhere mentioned in chaps. 4–19) on earth to a dramatic scene in heaven. That scene centers on the throne of God and forms the prologue to the future historical events that unfold in chapters 6–22.. All this to say that this is the order in which John saw the visions but not necessarily the historical order of their occurrence as events (Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (pp. 316–317). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.)
As John looked, to his astonishment (indicated by the exclamation behold) he saw a door standing open in heaven (cf. Ezek. 1:1; Acts 7:56). This is a PERFECT PASSIVE PARTICIPLE, meaning that the door was opened by Deity (PASSIVE VOICE) and remained open (PERFECT TENSE). This is another way of expressing God’s revelation of Himself to humanity(Utley, R. J. (2001). Hope in Hard Times - The Final Curtain: Revelation (Vol. Volume 12, p. 50). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.)
That already open door admitted John into the third heaven (cf. 2 Cor. 12:2; the first being the earth’s atmosphere and the second interplanetary and interstellar space)—to the very throne room of God. It was heaven to which Christ ascended after His resurrection and where He has since been seated at the right hand of God (John 14:2–3; Acts 1:9–11; 3:20–21; 7:55–56; Rom. 10:6; Col. 3:1; 1 Thess. 4:16). Heaven became John’s vantage point for most of the remainder of the book of Revelation. Since events on earth have their origin in heaven, the heavenly ascent is not unexpected. A true insight into history is gained only when we view all things from the vantage point of the heavenly throne. (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 119). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
After noticing the open door, the first voice John heard was the familiar voice like a trumpet that had spoken to him in his first vision (Rev. 1:10). As we have seen, this was the voice of the risen, exalted Lord Jesus Christ. His voice is likened to the sound of a trumpet because of its commanding, authoritative quality. The Lord specifically ordered John to come up here, that is, to heaven. John was not swept away into some mystical fantasyland, but transported spiritually into the reality of heaven.
• We need the words of this passage to reach out of the page and grip our hearts with the very glory of God. It throbs with God’s majesty and power to transform your life, to give you a reason to live, to purify you from every defilement, to take you all the way home. (Hamilton, J. M., Jr. (2012). Preaching the Word: Revelation—The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (p. 141). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.)
Most modern-day people who claim to have had visions of heaven tend to emphasize the trivial and the bizarre. But John’s vision in verse 2 focused on the glorious throne of God and the overwhelming majesty of the One who sits on it. As he was taken out of the familiar dimension of space and time and into the heaven of God’s presence in the Spirit’s power (cf. 1:10), John was amazed and astounded by what he saw, causing him to exclaim behold.
The cause of John’s amazement was the throne of God that he saw which stood in heaven. This was not a piece of furniture, but a symbol of God’s sovereign rule and authority (cf. Pss. 11:4; 103:19; Isa. 66:1) located in the temple in heaven (cf. 7:15; 11:19; 14:15, 17; 15:6–8; 16:17). According to Revelation 21:22 the heavenly temple is not an actual building: “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” are the temple. The use of the term temple symbolizes God’s presence. The throne was said to be that which stood because God’s sovereign rule is fixed, permanent, and unshakable. A vision of God’s immovable throne reveals He is in permanent, unchanging, and complete control of the universe. That is a comforting realization in light of the horror and trauma of the end-time events about to be revealed (chaps. 6–19). In much the same way, Isaiah was comforted during a traumatic time in Israel’s history by his vision of God’s glory (Isa. 6. Cf. Dan. 7:9–10)). This scene of heaven opened and God upon the throne is said to have been the inspiration for Handel’s Messiah (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 120). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
Please turn to Ezekiel 1 (p.692)
The whimsical, mindless, purposeless forces of random chance do not, as many foolishly believe, govern the universe. Instead, the sovereign, omnipotent Creator of the universe is seated on His throne as its ruler. Unlike its use in Hebrews (cf. Heb. 1:3; 10:12; 12:2), where it depicts Christ’s posture of rest, the term seated here indicates the posture of reigning. The thought is not resting because the work of redemption has been accomplished, but reigning because judgment is about to take place. God’s will is the ultimate power in the universe and that will shall be done. That is the supreme lesson of the visions of Revelation (Beasley-Murray, G. R. (1994). Revelation. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1434). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.).
Perhaps the most detailed look at God on His heavenly throne outside of Revelation is that given by Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 1:22–28 22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. 23 And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. 24 And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 25 And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. (ESV)
• Keep your place in Ezekiel 1, we will return to it.
• Here we see the sound of many waters will again accompany the approaching glory of God in 43:2. God appears in human form, anticipating the incarnation of Christ and his glory (John 1:14; Rev. 1:12–16). (Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1503). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.)
• In sharp contrast to the casual, flippant, proud, almost blasphemous accounts of those today who claim visions of God, Isaiah (Isa. 6:5), Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:28), and Daniel (Dan. 7:15) were terrified and humbled by their visions.
In Revelation 4:3, John described He who sat there on the throne as having the appearance of jasper and carnelian/sardius. That description is reminiscent of the flashing light, blazing fire, and vivid colors in Ezekiel’s vision. Revelation 21:11 describes jasper as “crystal-clear”. All the shining, flashing facets of the glory of God can be compared to a diamond, brilliantly refracting all the colors of the spectrum. A carnelian/sardius, from which the city of Sardis got its name, is a fiery, bloodred ruby. It too expresses the shining beauty of God’s glory, and may also symbolize God’s blazing wrath, about to be poured out on the sinful, rebellious world (chaps. 6–19). There is a possible further symbolism in the choice of these two stones. The carnelian/sardius and the jasper were the first and last stones on the high priest’s breastplate (Ex. 28:17–20; “ruby,” “jasper”), representing the firstborn (Reuben) and lastborn (Benjamin) of the twelve sons of Jacob. It may be that those stones depict God’s covenant relationship with Israel; His wrath and judgment will not abrogate that relationship. In fact, it is during the Tribulation that, largely through the zealous evangelistic efforts of the 144,000 (Rev. 7:3ff.), “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). It is also possible that the names of Reuben (“behold, a son”) and Benjamin (“son of my right hand”) picture God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, sitting at His Father’s right hand in glory. John’s vision of God’s throne is not one of peace and comfort. Its flashing, glorious, splendorous magnificence reveals the terrors of God’s judgment. Truly, “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29; cf. Deut. 4:24). These three precious stones (jasper, carnelian, emerald) taken together add up to what is in effect a summary of the gospel: God’s holiness, His hatred of sin and the condemnation that the sinner is under as a result, but then His grace, mercy and love seen in Jesus—that love which passes praises, passes knowledge and passes telling, that love ‘so full, so rich, so free, that brings a rebel sinner such as me nigh unto God’ (Brooks, R. (1986). The Lamb Is All the Glory (p. 56). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.)
Illustration: The human eye can identify millions of colors in visible light, but John is here seeing all sixty-four octaves of electromagnetic radiation, from cosmic rays to radio waves. Beyond this, he is seeing colors of the celestial realm that are beyond human description. For the first time in his life he understands what “God is light” means. This is the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). John’s vision helps all believers to understand how great God is. “Nowhere in the literature of heavenly visions will one find a more inspiring presentation of the God who reigns supreme over all” (Mounce, Rev., p. 118 as cited in Custer, S. (2004). From Patmos to paradise: a commentary on Revelation (pp. 51–52). Greenville, SC: BJU Press.).
2) Those Around the Throne (Revelation 4:3b–4)
Revelation 4:3b–4 (3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian), and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. (ESV)
Moving away from his description of the throne to describe what was around it, John notes first that around the throne was a rainbow. That John described it had the appearance of an emerald reveals that green was the dominant color. This again is introduced to show the many-splendored glory of God (cf. Ezek. 1:28). The rainbow provides a comforting balance to the fiery flashings of judgment earlier seen emanating from God’s throne. According to Genesis 9:13–17, a rainbow symbolizes God’s covenant faithfulness, mercy, and grace. God’s attributes always operate in perfect harmony. His wrath never operates at the expense of His faithfulness; His judgments never abrogate His promises. God’s power and holiness would cause us to live in abject terror were it not for His faithfulness and mercy. Judgment is about to fall, but the rainbow reminds us that God is merciful, even when He judges (Hab. 3:2). Usually, a rainbow appears after the storm; but here, we see it before the storm (Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 582). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.).
According to verse 4, John also saw around the throne twenty-four thrones; and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. It is best to see the twenty-four elders as human representatives of the church. The reference to the twenty-four thrones on which the twenty-four elders sat indicates that they reign with Christ. As we have seen, the church is repeatedly promised a co-regency with Christ (Rev. 2:26–27; 3:21; 5:10; 20:4; Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30; 1 Cor. 6:2–3; 2 Tim. 2:12). Presbuteroi (elders) in scripture is always referred to men and white garments are commonly identified as the particular dress of believers. That is particularly true in the immediate context of Revelation. Christ promised the believers at Sardis that they would “be clothed in white garments” (Rev. 3:5). He advised the apostate Laodiceans to “buy from Me … white garments so that you may clothe yourself” (Rev. 3:18). At the marriage supper of the Lamb, His bride will “clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean” (Rev. 19:8). White garments symbolize Christ’s righteousness imputed to believers at salvation.
That the elders wore golden crowns on their heads point to the Stephanos (crown) which is the victor’s crown, worn by those who successfully endured the trial, those who competed and won the victory. Christ promised such a crown to the loyal believers at Smyrna: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things,” wrote Paul. “They then do it to receive a perishable wreath [stephanos], but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:25). He wrote of that imperishable crown again in 2 Timothy 4:8: “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” James wrote of “the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12), and Peter of “the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4). All of this reflects the overcomer’s crown, the crown of those who successfully ran the race and finished victorious.
Please turn to Revelation 7 (p.1032)
Who exactly are these twenty-four elders? First, it should be noted that the number twenty-four is used in Scripture to speak of completion and representation. There were twenty-four officers of the sanctuary representing the twenty-four courses of the Levitical priests (1 Chron. 24:4–5, 7–18), as well as twenty-four divisions of singers in the temple (1 Chron. 25). In the Old Testament there were twelve tribes; in the New Testament there were twelve apostles. These twenty-four elders represent the people of God under both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.( Benfold, G. (2005). Revelation Revealed (p. 45). Leominster: Day One.)
Revelation 7 describes these individuals:
Revelation 7:11–14 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (ESV)
• Given the evidence, they most likely represent the raptured, glorified, coronated church, which sings the song of redemption (Rev. 5:8–10). They have their crowns and live in the place prepared for them, where they have gone to be with Jesus (cf. John 14:1–4).
Illustration: God deserves and is worthy not only of the praise of our lips, but the praise of our whole lives. The twenty-four elders got down off their thrones and fell down before God, laying their crowns before Him. What a picture of whole-hearted consecration, dedication and obedience! As the Hymn writer said: O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, Bow down before Him, His glory proclaim; With gold of obedience, and incense of lowliness, Kneel and adore Him, the Lord is His name (J. S. B. Monsell as quoted in Brooks, R. (1986). The Lamb Is All the Glory (p. 60). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.)
3) What comes From, Before & Around the Throne (Revelation 4:5-8a)
Revelation 4:5-8a 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. and around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, (and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”) (ESV)
Flowing out from God’s presence, symbolized by the throne, John saw a precursor to the firestorm of divine fury about to burst on the sinful world. Flashes of lightning and rumblings/sounds and peals of thunder are associated with God’s presence in Exodus 19:16 and Ezekiel 1:13. They are also associated with God’s judgment. In Revelation 8:5 “the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning.” In Revelation 11:19 “the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.” When the seventh angel pours out his bowl there will be “flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder” (16:18). John saw a preview of the divine wrath that will be poured out on the earth, described in chapters 6–19.
As he looked at the scene in heaven John saw two things before the throne. First were seven torches/lamps of fire. Unlike the lampstands mentioned in Rev. 1:12–13, these were outdoor torches, giving off not the soft, gentle light of an indoor lamp, but the fierce, blazing light of a fiery torch. John identifies them as the seven Spirits of God. As we have previously seen in Rev. 1:4, that phrase describes the Holy Spirit in all His fullness (cf. Isa. 11:2; Zech. 4:1–10). The sevenfold representation of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah speaks of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, reverence, and deity; in Zechariah of power; in Revelation 1:4 of grace and peace; and here of fiery judgment. Torches are associated with war in Judges 7:16, 20 and Nahum 2:3–4. John’s vision depicts God as ready to make war on sinful, rebellious mankind and the Holy Spirit as His war torch. The Comforter of those who love Christ will be the Consumer of those who reject Him.
Before God’s throne, according to verse 6, was, as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. That sea is metaphorical, since there is no sea in heaven (Rev. 21:1). What John saw at the base of the throne was a vast pavement of glass, shining brilliantly like sparkling crystal. Exodus 24:10 records a similar scene when Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself” (cf. Ezek. 1:22, 26). Heaven is not a shadowy world of mists and indistinct apparitions. It is a world of dazzlingly brilliant light, refracting and shining as through jewels and crystal in a manner beyond our ability to describe or imagine (cf. Rev. 21:10–11, 18). Here the crystal-clear sea of glass symbolizes God’s transcendent holiness and his awesome sovereignty that is a source of worship (4:6) and then becomes the basis of judgment (15:2) when God will eradicate evil from his creation (21:1) (Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation (p. 232). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.).
Please Return to Ezekiel 1 (p.692)
This passage introduces the four living creatures who will play a significant role in the events that unfold in Revelation. That they are said to be both around the throne, on each side of the throne means that their station is in the inner circle nearest the throne. The similar passage in Ezekiel 1:12, 17 suggests they are in constant motion about it. The translation living creatures is somewhat misleading, since these are not animals. The phrase derives from a single word in the Greek text, the noun form of the verb zao, which means “to live.”
Ezekiel gives a detailed description of these incredible beings and of the glorious magnificence of heaven and God’s throne:
Ezekiel 1:4-21 4 As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. 5 And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, 6 but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. 7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: 9 their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. 10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12 And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14 And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning. 15 Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. 16 As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. 17 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. 18 And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. 19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 20 Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. (ESV)
• Ezekiel’s description appears incomprehensible, almost incoherent, as he struggled to make sense out of the spectacular, supernatural scene that he witnessed. Both Ezekiel’s description and that in Revelation 4 describe what could be called the divine war machine ready to unleash judgment. The point of Ezekiel’s vision was to display the sovereignty of God in a time of woe. The Babylonian emperor ruled from his throne, but the trials facing Jerusalem ultimately came from God’s more glorious throne. This was Ezekiel’s great hope in his exile far from home: even in judgment, God would be faithful to his covenant promises to save (Phillips, R. D. (2017). Revelation. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (p. 166). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.).
Ezekiel 10:15 specifically identifies these four living creatures: “Then the cherubim rose up. They are the living beings that I saw by the river Chebar.” The four living creatures are thus cherubim, an exalted order of angels frequently associated in Scripture with God’s holy power (e.g., 1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; 22:11; Pss. 80:1; 99:1; Isa. 37:16). In essence, all we can know for certain is that they represent the highest order of celestial beings, perhaps angels, and lead in worship and judgment. (Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation (p. 235). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.)
John, like Ezekiel, struggled to capture the reality in comprehensible terms to describe the indescribable scene before him. First, he said the living creatures were full of eyes in front and behind (cf. v. 8; Ezek. 1:18; 10:12), symbolizing their awareness, alertness, and comprehensive knowledge. Though they are not omniscient, nothing pertaining to their duties escapes their scrutiny.
Ezekiel’s description of these angels notes that each one possessed all four facial features (Ezek. 1:6). But from John’s vantage point in verse 7, the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox/calf, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. Those descriptions view the four cherubim in relation to the created world; the lion represents wild creatures, the ox/calf domestic animals, the eagle flying creatures, and man the pinnacle of creation. Symbolically, the lion represents strength, the calf service, the man reason, and the eagle speed. The cherubim in some way represent all of God’s created species (Patterson, P. (2012). Revelation. (E. R. Clendenen, Ed.) (Vol. 39, p. 156). Nashville, TN: B&H.)
(Picture Slide) Beginning the description in verse 8, the four living creatures, like angels in general (Matt. 13:40–43, 49; 25:31ff.; Rev. 15:1, 7), are deeply involved with the coming judgments, in which they will play an integral role. They will be there at the outset of divine judgments as one of their number calls forth the rider on the white horse (Rev. 6:1–2). Another will decree economic disaster upon the earth (Rev. 6:6), while another will give the seven angels involved in the bowl judgments their bowls (Rev. 15:7).
Their six wings denote that their supreme responsibility and privilege is to constantly worship God. From Isaiah’s vision, we learn that the seraphim (possibly the same beings as the cherubim) used their six wings in the following manner: “with two [they] covered [their faces], and with two [they] covered [their] feet, and with two [they] flew” (Isa. 6:2). Four of their six wings related to worship; with two they covered their faces, since even the most exalted created beings cannot look on the unveiled glory of God without being consumed. They also used two wings to cover their feet, since they stood on holy ground. Worship is thus their privilege, calling, and permanent occupation.
Illustration: God sits upon the throne. What—on the throne of this world, with its political uncertainty, economic collapse, wars, terrorism, murder and disregard for the sanctity of life? On the throne of my life, with all my difficulties and perplexities, my struggles with indwelling sin, and my failures in service? Yes! Yes! As the Hymn writer wrote: “God is still on the throne And He will remember His own! Though trials upset you and burdens distress you, He never will leave you alone. God is still on the throne, And He will remember His own; His promise is true—He will not forget you! God is still on the throne “. (Brooks, R. (1986). The Lamb Is All the Glory (pp. 61–62). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.)
4) What is Directed Toward the Throne (Revelation 4:8b–11).
Revelation 4:8b–11 (8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within) and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” 9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (ESV)
(Verse Slide) The Book of Revelation instructs us in worship. It shows us where, why, and how to praise God. What does worship do? Worship takes our minds off our problems and focuses them on God. Worship leads us from individual meditation to corporate worship. Worship causes us to consider and appreciate God’s character. Worship lifts our perspective from the earthly to the heavenly.( Barton, B. B. (2000). Revelation. (G. R. Osborne, Ed.) (p. 56). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.)
Please turn to Isaiah 6 (p.571)
Fittingly, the scene in heaven culminates in worship directed toward God on His throne. In this passage and in chapter 5 are five great hymns of praise, during the singing of which the size of the choir gradually increases. The hymns of praise begin in verse 8 with a quartet—the four living creatures. In verse 10, the twenty-four elders join in, and in 5:8, harps are added to the vocal praise. The four living creatures begin the oratorio of worship by focusing on God’s holiness; day and night they never/do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God.” The church’s favourite name for God is Father, but from chapter 4 until the end of chapter 19, he is not addressed as Father at all, not once; in actual fact, he is called God, the Lord, the Almighty (Gordon, S. (2000). Worthy is the Lamb! A Walk through Revelation (p. 109). Belfast, Northern Ireland; Greenville, SC: Ambassador.) God is the all-important, all-determining spiritual center and power center for the universe. Therefore, “creatures find their consummate fulfillment, the meaning and full satisfaction of their existence, in worshiping, serving, and adoring him. (Vern Poythress as quoted in Phillips, R. D. (2017). Revelation. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (p. 169). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.)
In a context of turmoil, like in Revelation, the picture in Isaiah 6 dramatically portrays the throne room of God:
Isaiah 6:1-7 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (ESV)
• Holiness is the only one of God’s attributes so repeated, since it is the summation of all that He is. God’s holiness is His utter and complete separation from evil in any and every form. He is absolutely untainted by any evil, error, or wrongdoing—unlike angels (some of whom sinned) or humans (all of whom sinned). (Cf. 1 Sm. 2:2; Ex. 15:11; Hab. 1:13; Ps. 47:8, 111:9; 1 Pt. 1:16) This is the inherent depravity that Isaiah recognized in himself. Yet, God declares the remedy for Isaiah’s sin to be sufficient and instantly effective. Now Isaiah is qualified to proclaim the only hope of the world—the overruling grace of God. (Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1251). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.)
Not only is God’s holiness cause for worship, but also His power. In their song of praise, continuing in Revelation 4:8, the four living creatures refer to God as the Almighty—a title by which God identified Himself to Abraham (Gen. 17:1). That term identifies God as the strongest, most powerful being, utterly devoid of any weakness, whose conquering power and overpowering strength none can oppose. (cf. Isa. 40:28; Job 9:19; (Ps. 115:3; Isaiah 46:10; Dan. 4:35; Matt. 19:26). But as was the case with His holiness, the aspect of God’s power most clearly in view here is His power exhibited in judgment. For example, He judged Satan and the sinning angels, expelling them from heaven; drowned the world in the Flood; destroyed Sodom, Gomorrah, and the cities of the plain; drowned Pharaoh’s army; and shattered the most powerful king in the world, Nebuchadnezzar, reducing him to eating grass like an animal for seven years. Many times God’s power has destroyed the wicked. And it will be God’s power that unleashes the terrible, irresistible judgments on sinful humanity before the Lord’s return. (cf. Nah. 1:6; cf. Mal. 3:2; Ps. 2:2–6; Ps. 90:11; Isa. 13:6; Joel 1:15).
The four living creatures also praise God for His eternity, extolling Him as He who was and who is and who is to come, who lives forever and ever (cf. 10:6; 15:7; Dan. 4:34). Scripture repeatedly affirms God’s eternity, that He transcends time, having neither beginning nor ending (e.g., Pss. 90:2; 93:2; 102:24–27; Isa. 57:15; Mic. 5:2; Hab. 1:12; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15–16). That sets Him apart from animals, who have both a beginning and an ending, and angels and humans, who had a beginning, but will have no ending.
• To know that God is eternal provides comfort for His children, since, unlike a human father, He will always be there to take care of them. God’s eternity guarantees that our eternal life in heaven will never cease, that we will receive “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). But it also means that the punishment of the wicked in hell will last forever, that their weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth will never cease, that “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11). Such punishment of sinners is a vindication of the righteousness of God.
In verse 9, the praise of the four living creatures, as they give glory and honor and thanks to Him who is seated on the throne, triggers a response in verse 10 from the twenty-four elders. They will fall down before Him who is seated on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever. This is the first of six times that the elders fall down before God (5:8, 14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4). Such a posture is one of reverential worship, a natural response to the majestic, holy, awe-inspiring glory of God (cf. Gen. 17:3; Josh. 5:14; Ezek. 1:28; 3:23; 43:3; 44:4; Matt. 17:6; Acts 9:4). Amazingly, after falling down before God, the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne. They are not preoccupied with their own excellence. They are not concerned about their own holiness, honor, or reward. All those things pale into insignificance and become meaningless in light of the glory of God. In casting down their crowns before the throne the elders acknowledge that their authority is a delegated authority. The honor given them is freely returned to the One who alone is worthy of universal honor (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 126). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
• Don’t you want to win crowns that you can use for the praise of God?...Here is the best possible motivation we could have for pursuing greater holiness, greater Christlikeness. Every triumph on the way will become one more laurel for us to cast at the feet of the one who sits on the throne. Pray right now that the next time you are tempted by sin, called to make a sacrifice, or confronted with a compromise, the Lord will remind you that what is before you is an opportunity to win a trophy you can place before him in his honor. On that day, when we see him as he is, when we are awed by the living creatures, but most of all by the one who sits on the throne, we will wish we had more to cast at his feet. We will wish we could have suffered more for him, sacrificed more for him, resisted greater temptations than the ones we gave in to. We will wish we had fought more for him, wish we had overcome more for him, and wish we had more with which to praise him.( Hamilton, J. M., Jr. (2012). Preaching the Word: Revelation—The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (pp. 149–150). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.)
(Verse Slide) Finally, the elders add their own note to the chorus of praise initiated by the four living beings, crying out in verse 11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by/because of Your will they existed, and were created.” Axios (worthy) was used of the Roman emperor when he marched in a triumphal procession. The focus of the elders’ song is on God’s glory manifested in creation; He is presented as Creator throughout Scripture (cf. 10:6; Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:11; Isa. 40:26, 28; Jer. 10:10–12; 32:17; Col. 1:16). The elders are acknowledging that God has the right both to redeem and to judge His creation. God has not abandoned the world, and it is indeed his world. He made all things and made them for his own purpose. John’s readers must not think that evil is in control. Evil is real. But the divine purpose still stands (Morris, L. (1987). Revelation: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 20, p. 93). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.).
Illustration: When Handel’s Messiah was first performed in London in 1743 in the presence of King George II, the king rose from his seat when he heard the Hallelujah chorus. By rising with bowed head, he indicated that not he but Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. The Messiah reigns forever and ever. The twenty-four elders cast their crowns before God’s throne and render him the highest accolades in heaven and on earth. They had received these crowns from God for being overcomers, but they respectfully return them to God to assign to him all the glory and honor. They pay him homage, because he alone lives and rules forever. (Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, p. 193). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.)
(Format Note: Outline & some base commentary from MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1999). Revelation 1–11 (pp. 144–159). Chicago: Moody Press.)