The Throne of God, the Center of the Universe (Revelation Sermon 9 of 49)
May 07, 2017 | Andy Davis
Glory of God, Worship, Heaven
Faith: The Eyesight of the Soul
I cannot wait to preach this sermon. I have had a rising feeling of electric excitement all morning in anticipation of unfolding this incredible chapter of Scripture with you.
I have said that many times before that faith is the eyesight of the soul. By faith, we are able to see into invisible spiritual realms with the same level of clarity, though different in nature, that physical vision gives us of the physical world.
On some level we have a constant awareness that we are surrounded by the glory of God in the visible, physical realms — in the radiant glory of a sunrise or a sunset; in the pounding of the surf along the coastline, especially after a big storm; in a hurricane or other large-scale natural event; in the grandeur of trees that soar 100 feet up above the forest floor; in the intricacies of a little wild flower that seems insignificant but contains perfect symmetry and beauty. God has woven beauty and power and wisdom and love into all of these things; the sights and sounds of creation testify to the existence and wisdom and goodness and power of a Creator. God, who made all things, chose to display His invisible attributes in creation. That glory streams into us, mostly by our eyesight, but through all our senses. John Calvin called physical creation the “theater of God’s glory.” God is putting on a show of His glorious nature all the time.
Normal vision which healthy eyes present to our minds of the glories of God in creation is similar to a higher vision, that of faith, which Almighty God grants to believers. The vision of faith is the ability to see not only the physical worlds as created by an invisible Creator so we see it differently, but also to see a spiritual realm beyond the barrier between us and that world. By faith we are able to penetrate the realm in which He lives, in which He rules, in which He is continually worshipped. This spiritual vision is granted as a gift by the sovereign grace of God. It is based on Scripture. Faith comes by hearing the word, which testifies to us of the invisible realms of the Spirit world that is soaring infinitely above us all.
This spiritual vision of faith is what will allow us to follow the Apostle John on an incredible journey that he took almost two millennia ago. John describes a stunning miraculous journey by the Spirit, from the surface of the earth, upward through the realms of the atmosphere, through a mysterious doorway, into the very throne room of God. We, by faith, will follow him to see what he saw. From that lofty heavenly perspective, we will see the earth and all of its events, including our own lives, in a wholly different light, with a new perspective. We ourselves will be humbled, if we read and listen rightly. We will be empowered to serve Him with great courage and energy rather than fearing man or any of our enemies, including Satan and his demons. We will be empowered to do great things that will last and have significance for all eternity.
The rest of the Book of Revelation will unfold from this heavenly perspective. Revelation 4-5 — amazing chapters — should be read as one unit. They give us an unprecedented glimpse into the throne room of God and the purpose of all creation, which is the worship of God the Creator in all His glory —His infinitely majestic person and His astonishingly great achievements. That is why we exist, that we might worship such a God. Revelation 4 focuses on God the Creator, and Revelation 5 exalts Christ the Redeemer. Creation and redemption together form redemptive history. Both these visions will culminate in heavenly worship and will invite us up out of our immediate mundane lives to be lifted up by faith, through the Spirit, into the heavenly realms, so that we might render to God a sacrifice of praise of worship continually, even while living our earthly lives.
Revelation 4:11 ends with these words: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Revelation 5:9-10 ends these words: “And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Both chapters end in worship, and they both flow from the worth of the one being praised — of God, the Creator and of Christ the Redeemer. The essence of worship is the worthiness of the one being worshiped. The old English word “worship” is really “worth-ship”. These two chapters impart a deep sense of the worthiness of God and Christ.
“Come Up Here”: An Invitation into the Heavenly Realms
These two chapters begin with a timeless invitation through the Holy Spirit to join the Apostle John on a spiritual flight, a journey no one had ever made or described before. The invitation is given: “Come up here” — an invitation into the heavenly realms. Verse 1 says, “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in Heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’” It starts with these words, “after this” referring to the vision of Revelation 1-3; Revelation 4 introduces the next vision.
Let us first review those three chapters: The Apostle John was in exile on the Island of Patmos because of his faithful, bold proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a tender shepherd of the churches of Christ. He was punished by exile, not by death, on the rocky island of Patmos, off the coast of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. He was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, worshiping, when he heard a voice behind him like a trumpet. When he turned around, he saw the resurrected, glorified Christ, radiant, moving among seven golden lampstands, which represented seven real local churches in Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Jesus’ movement among them represents His ongoing care for local churches, with the number seven representing perfection throughout the Bible. In this part of John’s vision, He is communicating that He cares for every local church, though the letters specifically focus on these seven.
In Revelation 2-3, we have His direct addresses to the seven churches, through which He speaks to all churches through time. We know this because each of the seven letters ends with the same command, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says [collectively] to the churches.” The first vision is established, from which will flow myriad mysteries as the continuing vision unfolds. The ultimate point of John’s vision and the book of Revelation is the glory of God and the salvation of His people — the preparation of the church of Jesus Christ for final perfection in glory, free from all sin. It is right for us to begin with Christ and His church, because that is the point of everything that the Lord is doing in redemptive history.
What John Saw: An OPEN DOOR in Heaven
After the first vision, what did John see? He says, “Behold.” First, he instructs us to “Behold the door” and soon after, “Behold, the throne.” As a reminder, the word “Behold” imparts a sense of unveiling or revelation. In other words, John was describing something that he had never seen before, and suddenly now he was seeing it. Verse 1: “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in Heaven.” The word “door” indicates a passageway into the heavenly realms, and the door was standing open for him. Isaiah 64 says, “O that you would rend the heavens and come down.” When Jesus was baptized, there was a tearing of the heavens. It seems, then, that there is a type of membrane or barrier between the physical, five-sense world that we live in and perceive as reality, and the spiritual realm beyond it that cannot be perceived by science or the five senses but which believers know by faith is there. There are many more verses that speak to this barrier. In this wall, this barrier, suddenly, behold, John sees an open door, lofty, above him up in the heavens. This is a picture of the infinite loftiness of God. Though God is certainly omnipresent — below us, around us, in us — He is above us positionally, greater than us, ruling all over us, authoritative. When Jesus prayed, He looked up. John sees a lofty door into Heaven above him.
What John Heard: A Voice Like a Trumpet
What did John hear? Verse 1 also tells us, “… and the voice I had first heard speaking to me like trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’” In addition to the vision of the open door, John hears a powerful invitation from the voice that had first spoken to him. We read this to be the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, because when John turned around, he saw Jesus, and there is a strong implication in those verses that the one he saw was the one who had spoken. John says “the voice … speaking to me like a trumpet,” giving the sense of it being loud and clear and piercing.
The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:8, “… if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” The voice John hears possesses clarity and volume, and perhaps beauty and musicality. Jesus alone, as the Son of Man, can give this invitation to “come up here” to mortals. The command is clear. It is an invitation from Jesus Christ to a sinful human being to rise up and leave the surface of planet earth and come to Heaven to partake in the heavenly life. Notice also the promise that Jesus gives: “I will show you what must take place after this.” We have noted many times before, especially as we studied the book of Isaiah, that only God knows the future, because only God can decree, announce, proclaim, or in human terms, predict the future. When Jesus makes this promise, he is not speculating about what might take place but is declaring what most certainly will take place.
God is a king. His kingly sovereignty is the key to His predictive power. In Isaiah, God frequently declares His sovereign power over the nations; He challenged the idols to predict the future but they could not, because God alone is sovereign. God rules over all the nations, not just some of them. He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and all of its people are like grasshoppers. God’s throne is mighty. The nations are like a drop from the bucket and like dust on the scales. He says in Isaiah 14:26-27, “This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who is able to turn it back?” God has a plan, and He has sovereign power.
The Book of Revelation speaks in great detail about the things which must take place “after this”. We are presented with a great deal of prophecy about the future in Revelation. We will see the terrible future of the final phase of human sin and rebellion against God the king, culminating in the wickedness and the blasphemous reign of Antichrist, who will somehow try to take the place of God enthroned and demand worship as God. We will see the terrible future of the Great Tribulation, a time of distress unlike any seen before in history which will be poured out on planet earth, consisting of devastating plagues and judgments displaying clearly the wrath of God. We will see the clear prediction of the Second Coming of Christ in great power and glory to destroy His enemies in justified wrath, and to judge all the earth. We will see the thousand years, the new Heaven, the new earth, the eternal state, Heaven and hell, all of these future events.
The Power of the Spirit
Jesus has given John an invitation, or more accurately, a command, to do something which John has no native power to do. He tells John to rise from the surface of the earth and go through a doorway, standing far above him, and to enter the heavenly realms. John cannot obey this command unaided. Therefore, God sends the Holy Spirit to lift him up. He says in verse 2, “At once I was in the Spirit…” This is very much like the Spirit journeys taken by the prophet Ezekiel during his ministry. Ezekiel 8:3 says, “He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me my by the hair of my head. [I have always found that interesting.] The Spirit lifted me up between earth and Heaven, and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem.” This demonstrates the same kind of experience, a Spirit journey with spiritual vision.
The Center of the Universe: God Enthroned
The First Thing John Sees: A Throne in Heaven… and Someone Seated On It
Verse 2 continues: “At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me […Behold!] was a throne in Heaven with someone sitting on it.” We have come at last to the glowing center of the universe, Almighty God on His throne — the center of everything. It is the first thing John saw. Again the concept of something new— “Behold!” — a throne in Heaven and one seated on it. There are abundant stories told by people claiming to have had near-death experiences, in which they encounter a tunnel of light or other surreal or supernatural visions. Scripture does not lend its authority to these experiences, so I remain skeptical when I hear these accounts; I certainly would not build a theology around the concept. Other religions have their own vision of Heaven. Islam depicts a paradise for men, with virgins feeding them grapes piled on silver platters. For Christians, John has given us our vision of Heaven, which is God enthroned.
The Bible gives only a few visions of Heaven. Ezekiel presents one in Ezekiel 1 that stretches language to the absolute breaking point. I will not read it now but I encourage you to read it this afternoon — you will read about wheels within wheels, coals and fire, an expanse above him and a throne above that. You get the sense that Ezekiel was wrestling with finding accurate words to describe what he was seeing. In Daniel 7, Daniel describes a clear and powerful vision very similar to the one we will study today. (There is a strong connection between the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation.) The Apostle Paul was caught up to the Third Heaven one day, where he heard “…inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.” He saw a vision of Heaven, but he was not allowed to talk about it. (I find that fascinating. Can you imagine how hard that would be? “What did you see, Paul?” “I can't tell you.”) It is amazing that John, on the other hand, was allowed to describe what he saw through the Spirit. He described for us what is the most important reality in the universe — the awesome truth that there is one God and He sits on a throne of power, ruling over Heaven and earth.
The Central Reality of Heaven… of Earth… of the Future… and of Your Life
This is the central reality of Heaven, of earth, of the past, of the present and of the future, and should be the central reality of your life as well. Nothing is more important than God enthroned. As we shall see the word “throne” is mentioned 38 times in the book of Revelation. Seventeen of those references are in these two chapters, Revelation 4-5. It is as though God’s first order of business is to establish His clear sovereignty over all the dreadful and glorious events that will be unfolded in the coming chapters. God enthroned is the central reality of Heaven, and the inhabitants of Heaven all know and worship God for this fact. God enthroned is the central reality of the unfolding history of earth, but the rebellious human inhabitants of earth deny almost universally this fact. They are either indifferent to God enthroned or hostile to Him. God enthroned should be the central reality of every day, every moment: of your marriage, your family, your career, your time, your studies as a student, your life as a teenager. The throne of God should be the center of everything. Is God enthroned in the center of your life? I encourage you to think honestly about the answer to this question.
Surrounding the Throne, Coming from the Throne, Before the Throne
God is Described in His Blinding Glory
Imagine the challenge John faced trying to put into words what he saw surrounding the throne, coming from the throne, and before the throne. Thanks be to God for plenary verbal inspiration through the Holy Spirit. We can imagine the Holy Spirit saying, “Here John, try these words.” Verse 3 says, “And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.” Unlike Paul, John is allowed to try to describe God in His blinding glory, to put his vision into words, but the description is brief and somewhat elusive and puzzling. In a nutshell, overpowering light and overpowering sound seem to sum up his sensory experience. Jasper is as a polished stone of pure internal color, often with a transparent layer and usually green or red, emanating intense, fierce light. Carnelian is a fiery red stone which perhaps depicts the wrath of God, or even the blood of Christ. John also sees an unusual rainbow surrounding the throne, resembling an emerald, predominately green. I am not sure how to make sense of this, but one scholar said that green might remind us of the vegetation on which all life depends, and God as Creator is a dominant theme of this chapter. Another scholar pointed out that green and red are the predominant colors of the rainbow, and if God Himself gave the appearance of green and red stones, His brilliant reflection might have shown up as a glittering, transparent green from John’s perspective. There are many theories, but we can say that John saw radiant, unfathomable glory and majesty when he looked at the throne.
Surrounding the Throne
John next presents the image of a continuous encirclement of the throne. He clearly depicts the centrality of God in Heaven — everything is focused on and revolves around Him. Consider the sun as the center of the solar system: it has 330,000 times more mass than Earth and 1,100 times more than the second most massive thing in the solar system, the planet Jupiter. Altogether, the sun has 99.8% of all the mass in the solar system, holding everything in its orbit with its irresistible gravitational pull. In Heaven, we will have that same sense of orbit and pull, with concentric circles around the throne of God as the center of all the succeeding events.
Around the throne are twenty-four other thrones. Verse 4 says, “Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them, were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.” A person seated on a throne with a crown evokes kingship. These are created beings, invested by God with the right to rule within spheres of influence and authority delegated to them by God. Here is a true picture of the beautiful phrase “King of kings and Lord of lords.” God is the King with a capital “K”, and there are kings with a lower case “k” around the throne. Delegation of power is central to the way God chooses to rule His universe. He does not need the twenty-four elders to do these jobs he has assigned to them; He is not dependent on anyone for anything. He needs no one to serve Him, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and all that they have. He does not need them but chooses to delegate His authority and power to them.
Who are these twenty-four elders? There are many theories. (I will claim a sanctified “I don't know” many times over the next number of weeks and months as we work our way through this book, but I will do my best to interpret the symbols we encounter.) The theories include identifying these elders as archangels, exalted Old Testament saints, angels representing both Old and New Testament saints, Old and New Testament saints themselves, which the number twenty-four lends support to — the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel from the old and the twelve apostles of the new. We do not know for sure. It is not likely that they are angels — angels do not age but these twenty-four seem to have an appearance of age and experience and are called “elders”. Their white robes imply the clothing of righteousness and purity, given to the redeemed later in the book of Revelation. Their crowns imply authority but also achievement and an innate glory. They are not independent, but they have their own glory, power, achievements and purity. For the purpose of understanding Revelation, it does not much matter who they are — that will be revealed to us in due time — but to some degree they represent all of us. They are created beings around the throne, and we have a connection with them, even though we are ourselves are not seated on one of those twenty-four thrones. Those crowns and their position on the thrones give them an opportunity to give a unique gift of worship to God, which we will discuss in a moment.
The Sights and Sounds Emanating from the Throne
John also describes the sights and sounds emanating from the throne. He says in verse 5, “From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder.” These signs are repeated several times in the book of Revelation. It imparts a sense of the awesome power of God which is meant to evoke dread and terror — He is ready to respond with judgement for any who would oppose Him in an eternal way. It reminds me of a hot, windy, late afternoon in August a few years ago. I was at home in Bahama when an awesome electrical storm gathered in the area. I love a good storm. I was standing out on the stoop of the door of our house when suddenly, right in front of me and around me, there was a strange smell in the air, followed closely by an almost simultaneous combination of a blue-white lightning flash and a deep-throated, “Boom!” that resonated inside my chest cavity and seemed to engulf me where I stood. As I said, I like a good storm, but that was a little too good for me. I was inside in a split second, thinking, “If I watch the show, I might soon become part of the show.”
God used these same sights and sounds at Mount Sinai to terrify the Jewish nation. It says in Exodus 19:16, “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.” Hebrews 12:21 comments further on this: “The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear!’” He and the Israelites were in absolute terror, and that is what emanates from the throne in John’s vision.
The Spirit of God
Verse 5 says next, “Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.” Perhaps a better translation is “the sevenfold Spirit of God.” This is the same blazing representation of the Holy Spirit of God that we have seen before. It is not a flickering candle, like a sevenfold menorah, but seven raging torches, burning together as one to make the sevenfold fire of the Holy Spirit. The number seven is the number of perfection. By that light, the Holy Spirit is saying, “Apart from me, you, readers would know nothing about this.” By the revelation of the Holy Spirit alone can we see the light of the glory of God in Heaven now. Though for now we see through a glass darkly, the light that we do see comes by the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the written word of God.
The Sea of Glass
Verse 6 says, “Also before the throne there was what looked a sea of glass, clear as crystal.” The sea was a source of terror to the Israelites — they were pure land-lovers. Look at the Book of Jonah: one scholar pointed out that in the Hebrew, Jonah does not use proper technical nautical terms; reading it in Hebrew is reported to be humorous. This scholars explanation was that the Israelites were simply land-lovers. They had a deep abiding fear of the ocean because of the great unknown. To them, the ocean was a deep, dark, unfathomable, terrifying abyss, from which beasts like Leviathan emerge. Daniel 7 depicts a dark, churning sea out of which successively come four great beasts which represent four world-dominating empires, one after the other. We see the same image in Revelation 13 as the dragon Satan stands by the shore of a turbulent, wind-ripped, churning sea and calls forth the final beast from the Daniel 7 empires, who is the Antichrist. It is reasonable to understand that sea as humanity, billions and billions of people — peoples, nations, tribes, languages — in a churning rebellion and disorder, fighting against Almighty God. Isaiah 57:20-21 says, “But the wicked are like a tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’”
In contrast, the sea before the throne of God is as placid as a mill pond, absolutely flat and still, like a mirror, reflecting His radiant glory. It shows the power of Almighty God to pacify the nations as He will, to subdue their rebellion, to cause them in to be placid. Such power reflects His own glory, as when Jesus was awakened by His disciples in the midst of the raging storm, stood up, stretched out His hand and commanded the wind and waves, “Peace, be still.” There was immediate obedience to His command.
The Living Creatures
Verses 6-8 describe the living creatures: “In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings.” These amazing spiritual creatures are mysterious and awesome. The symbolism is not completely clear. John describes them, but it is not clear whether we are meant to interpret them or simply accept their appearance as he has presented it. In a way, it is like trying to figure out why a person’s ears or nose look a certain way; generally, we tend to accept appearances rather than attempting to analyze meaning behind someone’s appearance. However, it is reasonable for us to attempt to interpret the appearance of these creatures since interpretation is a part of reading the book of Revelation. Keep in mind that while we may attempt to interpret the meaning of their appearance, we cannot know with certainty what the Lord has not clearly revealed; we can make our best attempt based on what He did make clear to John.
Because this chapter celebrates God’s awesome work as Creator, it is likely that these noteworthy beings represent different orders of creation. The first is like a lion — a powerful animal like a king of the wild beasts. The second, like an ox, is, as one commentator noted, a powerful domesticated beast. Whenever the ox is mentioned in the Bible, it is noted for its massive strength. The third is like a man, created in the image of God and given power over all natural realms. The fourth is like an eagle in flight, as a king of the birds, with outstretched, soaring wings. To some degree, they represent the natural created world, including humans as creatures, though lofty above other animals. These creatures are covered with eyes — a fact that John mentions twice for emphasis — implying that they are endowed with a special knowledge, enlightened though not omniscient. They each have six wings like the seraphim in Isaiah 6, which enable them to fly to do God’s will. Thus, they are able to move around, to see and understand what God has done, to deliver messages — to serve God as He wills.
Cascading Worship for God the Creator
Incessant Worship: Day and night, they never stop!!
The heavenly scene is now set for the “chief employment of Heaven”, to quote Jonathan Edwards, meaning praise and worship. Verses 8-11 say, “Day and night they never stop saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. Whenever the living creatures give glory, and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne and who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and worship Him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and they say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’” We are witnessing cascading, incessant, pulsating worship. Day and night the worship never stops; it flows over and over, like a mighty waterfall. It is not a static, steady state but pulsates in response to the unfolding events; when something happens, worship breaks out in response; then some other thing happens, and they rise up and worship. It is alive, flowing and re-flowing.
In Isaiah 6, the seraphim are calling to one another, as though they are saying, “Do you see what I am seeing? Do you see the holiness of God?” Their voices in Isaiah 6 are so powerful they make the door posts and threshold shake, and the temple is filled with smoke. They cry out to one another with invitations to “magnify the Lord… [and] exalt his name together.” (Psalm 34:3) They call, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty… the whole earth is full of his glory.” God is ever worthy of their praise. Their esteem never takes a single backward step. However worthy of worship He was an instant before, He is still worthy of worship now. It never stops.
The Focus of the Worship: The Greatness of God’s Person and Achievements
The focus of the worship is the greatness of God in His person — His holiness — and the greatness of God in His achievements — first in creation and then in redemption, as we will see in chapter 5. The creatures cry, “Holy, holy, holy!”; the threefold repetition brings specific focus and emphasis to God’s holiness. They also celebrate the power of God, calling Him “Lord God Almighty”; and they celebrate His timelessness and eternality — “who was, and is, and is to come.” God is the same always, He never changes — the theological term for this is immutability. He is also the God of history: He did great acts in the past, He is doing great acts right now, and He will finish those great acts in the future.
The Interconnected Cascading Worship
The cascading, pulsating worship is interconnected; it builds and grows from its foundation. It starts with the quartet of the four living creatures. Then it expands to include the twenty-four elders. In Revelation 5, it expands to include golden harps, then thousands upon thousands of angels, 10,000 times 10,000 — that is one hundred million angels. Finally, the climax at the end of chapter 5 comes when every creature in Heaven, on earth and under the earth join in, praising, worshiping God the Father on the throne and the Lamb of God who redeemed the people with His blood. It continues to grow bigger and bigger. They spur one another on by what they say about God.
After this, the elders cast their crowns before the throne. Verses 9-10 say, “Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on throne, and who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne.” Remember, we have the picture of mighty kings seated on thrones, possessing glorious crowns. At some point, something moves them to do two very significant symbolic acts: first, they arise from their thrones and prostrate themselves before the throne of God; and second, perhaps simultaneously, they take off their crowns and cast them before the throne of God. In these two acts, they are completely opposite of Satan, who, as we see in Isaiah 14, tried to ascend to the throne of God to make himself like the Most High — he sought to topple the Almighty God from His throne. That was the essence of his rebellion against God — he was jealous and desired to replace God. But these powerful rulers, created beings, are exactly the opposite. They cast themselves down and throw their crowns before the throne, both acts of great humility in recognition that all their glory and power and position comes from God Himself and is nothing compared to or without God’s glory and power and position.
Celebrating God the Creator and Sustainer of All Life
In verses 10-11, they celebrate: “They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their beings.’” The focus of their praise is God’s direct activity in creation; God the Creator. God is worthy of worship because He is the Creator of the universe. He deserves to receive glory and honor and power. He is worthy of it. Understand that this does not mean that we can add to God’s glory in any way, as though God Himself needed something from us that He does not already possess. When we give glory, honor, praise and power to God, we are not giving Him anything; rather, we recognize what He already has. In other words, we grow in ever-expanding recognition of how glorious, how filled with honor, how powerful He is in and of Himself. His appearance to us becomes magnified; we begin to esteem Him rightly for who He already is, always has been, always will be.
God’s will is essential to the creation of all orders of life. By His will alone, everything exists. God willed, at the beginning of the universe, what orders of species, both spiritual and physical would inhabit Heaven and earth and where their places would be. He spoke them into existence by His word of creative power. There is nothing in all the universe that He did not create out of nothing, by the word of His power. Furthermore, as the Greek implies here and other verses openly teach, it is by His constant active will that they continue to have their being. Take that personally: God constantly, actively wills that you exist. He has created a universe which is absolutely dependent on His ongoing will to sustain it.
Jonathan Edwards made much of this fact in his preaching. He may have gone a little too far in that he implied that God continually gives forth the word for creation. The problem with that is that the Bible elevates that instantaneous moment of creation; after that moment, Scripture supports God’s work in sustaining what He has finished creating. That small point aside, Edwards sought to emphasize what we tend to forget: that apart from God, at any instant, nothing can exist. That includes Satan, demons, wicked men, godly men and women, every leaf, every blade of grass, every tree, every rock — continually upheld by the word of God’s power, as Acts 17:28 tells us: “For in him we live and move and have our being.”
Now it is time for applications. Do you sense that you might want to apply some of these things to your life?
Stand in Awe of Christ’s Salvation… and Follow Him to Heaven
First, stand in awe of Christ’s salvation. Verses 1-2 are a parable of human salvation. See all the amazing ingredients listed there. Revelation 4:1-2: “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in Heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in Heaven with someone sitting on it.” John’s journey from rocky Patmos to Heavenly glory is a picture of the salvation of sinners. There is only one doorway to Heaven, and it stands open only by one means: the atoning work of Jesus Christ alone, the shedding of His blood on the cross to take the penalty of death in our place, as our substitute, because of our sin. It is only by faith in this work, in the person of Jesus, that we have access to God. Hebrews 10:19-22 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body [His body is our doorway], and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”
We also see in Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, [that is, made righteous in God's sight, forgiven of our sins] we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” Again, we see the concept of access as through an open doorway, which is Jesus. He is the only one with the authority and the right to say “Come up here,” to invite sinners to rise up from planet earth to go through the heavenly realms and into Heaven, into the presence of God. He does say that to any of you who are outside of Christ, right now; through the Gospel, Christ invites you to rise up out of spiritual death, out of rebellion to God, out of the muck and filth of sin. He invites you to follow Him, to be purified and cleansed by His blood by faith. He alone can do this.
We are rebels against the laws of God, the king. We cannot take it on ourselves to enter His presence. We do not have the right. Queen Esther was the beloved wife of the King of Persia, but even she was not to enter the king’s throne room unbidden. But she took her life in her hands when she went before him to intercede on behalf of her people, the Jews. The king could have chosen to have her executed for her boldness, but he was pleased to see her and extended his scepter to her, which pardoned her offense and welcomed her before his throne. We do not see what she did as a sin, but she violated a law of the kingdom nonetheless and could have been held accountable for doing so. To a much greater degree, we have violated the laws of the King of Heaven. We have not broken every commandment or even any of what we may think of as the most obvious, such as murder. But Jesus said that anger toward another, even in our hearts, is the same as murder, and lusting in our hearts is the same as adultery, as far as defining sin. We deserve death as payment for our sin, but Jesus paid the penalty in our place. Instead of being condemned to death, we are forgiven and cleansed, and through Jesus we are able to go through the open doorway into Heaven. Jesus stands there and calls, to anyone who will listen, to “Come up here.”
John 7:37 says, “On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood [with tens of thousands of Jews surrounding him] and said, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.’” That is an invitation to “Come up here.” And in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…”
Remember that this command is impossible to obey unaided. We have no power to fly, to ascend through the air and pass through a spiritual doorway. We have no more strength to respond than a paralyzed man has to get up and run or a blind person has to see the glories of the Grand Canyon or a dead person has to arise and walk out of his tomb. Arminian theologians strongly emphasize human free will and ability; they say that if God gives a command, we are able to do it, implying that on our own, we have the native ability to obey commands like repent and believe in Jesus. We do not have that kind of power. But if God extends the Holy Spirit to us, and if He takes out that heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh, we will most certainly believe in Jesus. And we will follow Him to Heaven. Such has He done for a multitude greater than anyone could count, from all over the world.
John says in verse 2, “At once, I was in the Spirit” and he moved directly into Heaven. The Holy Spirit of God takes the finished work of Christ and applies it to the souls of the elect when they hear the gospel. He convicts us of our sins. He makes Christ appear gloriously beautiful. He gives you the life and power to rise and follow Jesus.
The destination of this journey is the foot of the throne of God. There, we take on Jesus’ kingly yoke, stop rebelling and start obeying. Our lives are completely transformed from that moment — that is salvation. Come to Christ, follow Him, fly with Him in your heart up through the open door to the throne of God. Follow Him, believe in Him, worship Him and love Him. I do not know what happens for believers at the moment of death, but it is easy to imagine that we might hear Jesus saying to us, “Come up here.” Would that not be sweet? How could you say no to such an invitation?
Delight in God’s Sovereign Throne
Second, delight in God’s sovereign throne. Do not fight or resist it anymore. Humble yourself; cast yourself before it. Isaiah 66:1-2 says, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the LORD. ‘This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.’”
Submit to His rule in your life. The natural man hates God’s kingly rule and wants to fight against it and be his own master. But the essence of our salvation is delighting in God, the King. Rest in God’s providential control over earth’s events. Rest in His sovereignty over the unfolding of human history. He is the God who was, and is, and is to come. He was King in the Old Testament, governing the rise and fall and course of kings and empires. He is alive today, ruling over Heaven and earth. He is to come, ruling as King over the future.
He sustains everything. That means nothing happens to you except by the will of God in some mysterious way. Jesus said in Matthew 10:29-31: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” In light of this awesome sovereignty of God, why do you ever worry about anything? Why are you ever anxious about anything? Rest in God's sovereign power.
Understand also that everything flows from the throne of God. The Book of Revelation depicts awesome judgments that flow from His throne. Christ will break the seven seals, and judgment will flow. Seven trumpets will sound, and judgment will flow. Seven bowls will be poured out on the earth, and people will die. It is a display of the justice and wrath of God. The Bible reveals that both death and life flow from that throne. Daniel 7:9-10 says, “His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before Him.” That is wrath and judgment. But at the end of Revelation, we will see the throne of God with a river of life cascading from it, down the streets of the city. Death and life flow from the same sovereign will of God.
Live to Worship God Every Day: “On earth as it is in Heaven”
Third, live to worship God every day “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Our text says, “Day and night, they never stop [praising].” I come and go, wax and wane. I have times of fervent praise and times when it is lacking. Honestly, it depends greatly on how things are going for me. But God never changes. “Day and night, they never stop saying, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty.’” God is holy. He is infinitely above us. He is the Creator and we are the creature. He is holy and He hates sin and evil. He is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. We must learn to worship like the heavenly beings do. As Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name… May your kingdom come, and may your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Stand in Awe of God’s Creation
Fourth, stand in awe of God’s creation. I have been reading John Calvin’s Institutes to my son Calvin; now we are in the natural theology section, which discusses the majesty and glory of God woven into every vast and minute detail of nature. On the way into church this morning, I stopped and picked a blade of grass and studied it for a moment. It is there for us to see, if we will take the time to look for it: God has woven wisdom and power and goodness even in this single blade of grass.
Think about various national parks and other natural wonders and beauty: Yellowstone, with Old Faithful, the geyser that spews 8,000 gallons of hot water as high as 106 feet in the air every 45-125 minutes; Smoky Mountain National Park, with its lush old-growth forest and its musty smell that evokes a sense of power and age; Acadia National Park (one of my favorites) with its rocky coastline and incredible fall foliage — something about the minerals in the ground in New England gives the leaves vivid colors there; the Carolina coastline with rolling ocean and sand dunes. God made all that.
Think about all the wildlife you have seen, both in person and in pictures. I have been to a Kenyan game preserve where I saw lions and rhinos and the most deadly wild African animal, the hippopotamus, which kills more people there than any other animal, in their native habitat. Visit a zoo and you will see a staggering variety of animals and birds of all sizes and behaviors and mating habits and capabilities. Who would ever make an ostrich to look like that? God openly boasted to Job about all the varieties of animals that He made.
Think about weather patterns — hurricanes and breezes, and zephyrs and sirrocos, the hot desert wind and the wild nor’easter. As I was flying to Cameroon, I went over the North Africa coast and saw the Sahara desert for the first time with my own eyes. Even from the airplane, it was seemingly infinite, miles of nothing, and completely awe-inspiring.
Think about the starry host. In low humidity, go out where there are few city lights and you look up to see the Milky Way. So many stars.
And think ahead to the New Heaven and New Earth and how beautiful it will be when there is no more decay or death.
Heavenly worshipers delight in creation. They stand in awe of what God has done.
Draw Near to the Throne of Grace in Prayer
Fifth, draw near to the throne of God — the throne of grace — in prayer. In Christ, we have an open door to the throne of God. Lay your needs, your problems, your issues down before Him. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Cast Your Crowns Before the Throne
Finally, cast your crowns down before God — what a powerful image. The crown is yours. You did the works — it was your achievement, your throne, your crown before you cast it. That is what Peter must have meant when he told Ananias that the money was his before he gave it. But realize that every good thing you have ever done was possible by the power and the strength of God alone. In recognition of that, fall down before the throne; cast your achievements and everything that you think is great about you before the throne of God — give Him the glory and the praise. Humble yourself and worship Him for all of the good things that you have ever been or done.
Close with me in prayer.
Father, we thank you for the beauty, the majesty, the staggering truths that flow from these eleven verses, and the time we have had to touch on them. It is hard to believe. There is so much more we could say. Father, I pray that you would strengthen each one of us to worship you as you truly deserve. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.