What do you anticipate most about God and heaven?
What kind of things are you sure will be up there? What won’t be?
Today we’re going to find out how our understanding of God reveals our expectations, and compare it to what John writes in Revelation chapter 4 about what heaven is really all about.
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
*** Chapter 4 is when Revelation really gets interesting.
--- Now we're getting into the imagery of Revelation that makes it such a fascinating book.
*** This was a time of trials.
--- When Revelation was written, Christians were suffering a lot of persecution, including death, at the hands of the Roman Empire.
--- Christians understandably might have wondered where God was during all of this? Was He really on the throne and in charge?
--- In Jesus’ revelation to John, we see that God is sovereign, He has a plan, and followers can endure if they stick to their convictions.
GOD’S GLORY (Rev. 4:1-6a)
1 After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door. The first voice that 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 Immediately I was in the Spirit, and a throne was set there in heaven. One was seated on the throne, 3 and the One seated looked like jasper and carnelian stone. A rainbow that looked like an emerald surrounded the throne. 4 Around that throne were 24 thrones, and on the thrones sat 24 elders dressed in white clothes, with gold crowns on their heads. 5 Flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder came from the throne. Seven fiery torches were burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. 6a Something like a sea of glass, similar to crystal, was also before the throne.
*** Hard to describe.
Do you remember walking into a big, busy, bright room before, and it took you a few minutes to adjust?
--- The vivid sights and sounds around God’s throne described in Revelation are hard to grasp. Our senses would have been overloaded with all the sights, the colors, the sounds.
--- Notice that the splendor of heaven is so difficult for even John to comprehend that he uses phrases such as “something like” or “looked like.”
--- Any language we have falls short of describing the realities, and any imagination we let loose still can’t compare.
Let’s take a look at the elements that John describes in vivid detail:
*** The open door. (v. 1)
--- John already had a vision of Christ in chapter 1, and was given seven letters for the churches in chapters 2 and 3.
--- Now John was invited in to receive a vision of God ruling from His throne as a show of power that helps us understand that He is in control, no matter what.
--- John wasn't the first follower to receive a special invitation. Moses was invited to the top of Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 19:20) and Paul was up in heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2) to receive special revelations. In the first chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet describes the heavens opening to allow him a vision of God. Isaiah and Daniel also had visions of God on His throne.
--- Jesus then speaks with a trumpet-like voice. It’s clear, it’s commanding, it’s authoritative.
--- "Must take place" reminds us that there is a certainty of the events that Revelation describes. The future, with both blessings and woes, is fixed.
*** In the Spirit. (v. 2-3)
--- We don't know whether John went to heaven in person, or if was simply allowed to see and hear what is beyond us.
(If this was “Star Trek” John would be out of the time-space continuum, in a spiritual reality unknown to us.)
*** The Throne of God.
--- The central theme of chapter 4 is the throne.
--- We are told that John saw "the One" on the throne, but His appearance isn't described. All we see is that He appeared "like Jasper and carnelian stone." His glory is beyond comprehension.
--- What John sees isn’t one of peace and comfort. It’s a flashing, brilliant, glorious, splendorous, magnificent, wrathful kind of frightening experience. The appearance of the Almighty God was clear and brilliant and blazing and fiery. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel write of falling on their faces before the throne. We can’t even comprehend the magnificence.
--- Ezekiel saw the same thing John saw, in Ezekiel 1:28, "There was a radiance around Him and it had the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day." It looked to Ezekiel like just a...just a multicolored rainbow. It looked to John like a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.
*** 24 elders. (v. 4)
--- Any earthly king’s court is filled with attendants, messengers and servants. It signifies the splendor of the king.
--- Who are the 24? Many Bible teachers suggest they represent 12 representatives from the Old Testament, and 12 from the New Testament. Others say they are representatives from the church.
--- Their crowns weren't the same as a kingly crown, though. It was more of a laurel wreath of the kind given to athletes or warriors who went through the struggle and won victory.
*** Thunder and lightning. (v. 5)
--- Just as God’s presence at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:16) was depicted through lightning and thunder, John describes God’s throne.
--- The Holy Spirit appeared like seven fiery torches. Zechariah 4:2 and 4:6 also speak of the Holy Spirit as a seven-branched lampstand.
*** Like a sea of glass. (v. 6a)
--- John again struggles to describe what he’s seeing, something like a sea of glass that was like crystal, as the floor of the throne room. Exodus 24:10 and Ezekiel 1:22 similarly describe the ground around God.
--- The view John had of God was that of power, might, and strength. He was in charge and ruling. Everyone else worshiped Him, because He was and is worthy of the worship. John described this worship in the next scene.
*** QUESTION – Which element described by John best conveys God’s glory to you?
GOD’S HOLINESS (Rev. 4:6b-8)
6b Four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back were in the middle and around the throne. 7 The first living creature was like a lion; the second living creature was like a calf; the third living creature had a face like a man; and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings; they were covered with eyes around and inside. Day and night they never stop, saying: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, the Almighty, who was, who is, and who is coming."
*** Four living beings. (v. 6b)
--- Isaiah (Is. 6:1-4), Ezekiel and John all had visions of the throne room. Ezekiel (Ez. 1:4-25) and John both had glimpses of the "four living creatures" in the middle and around the throne. The details are almost exactly the same in their accounts.
--- Cherubim and the seraphim are also mentioned as angelic ministers of God in Genesis 3:24; Exodus 25:17–22; Psalm 18:10; 1 Chronicles 28:18.
*** “Holy, holy, holy.” (v. 8)
--- What is more important than what the creatures are is what they do. John understood that the creatures worshiped non-stop.
The Trinity - Father, Son and Spirit. Each is equally holy. Though we may be frightened, to be exposed to a holy God because of our sin, it is His mercy and grace granted us in Christ that allows him to reach out and say, "Get up, you're forgiven."
The heavenly court worships Him as the One without limit as to time. He is eternal, the Creator of time; therefore, all times are in His hand. Once again, we can’t even fathom God as the Creator, eternal, for all time.
*** QUESTION - How do the worship and words of the creatures remind us that God is holy?
GOD’S SUSTAINING POWER (Rev. 4:9-11)
9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the One seated on the throne, the One who lives forever and ever, 10 the 24 elders fall down before the One seated on the throne, worship the One who lives forever and ever, cast their crowns before the throne, and say: 11 Our Lord and God, You are worthy to receive glory and honor and power, because You have created all things, and because of Your will they exist and were created.
*** He is worthy to be worshiped.
--- Their praise is twofold. First, God’s creation has come about because of His will and proceeds from it. Second, God’s power is demonstrated by creation.
--- Just as the creatures and elders give glory, honor and thanks to our Creator, so should we. Their entire existence is about worshiping God.
(This is one of those scenes we see, and you kind of wonder, "Is that all there is in heaven? Sounds boring and tedious. Are there harps?" No, that's not all there is!)
*** QUESTION - Does this worship, which John witnessed in heaven, happen on earth today? Why or why not?
(This is a good question of our motivations. Do we worship to give thanks? Because you are in awe of His power? Because you think if you pray hard enough He’ll give you cool toys?)
Did anyone else pay attention to the fly-by of Pluto a couple of weeks ago?
If you didn’t, consider this: Nine years ago NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft. It flew billions of miles and nine years later passed just 7,000 miles from the planet to reveal information about the dwarf planet that we never knew.
It’s the kind of feat where you look up at the stars and can’t help but be amazed by God’s creation. If the wrong side of heaven is this beautiful, what must the right side of heaven be!
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, the eye hasn’t seen or the hear heard what God has in store for those who love Him. (1 Cor. 2:9)
*** How does your understanding of God impact your worship of Him?
*** Do you worship God as if you know that He has the whole world in His hands?
*** What are you doing to bring others to God's glory to the world?