Revelation 4:1-11 - The Reigning God
The main part of the Apocalypse begins here.
John is about to witness the " Drama of Redemption."
The way is prepared by the vision of the living, victorious Christ in chapter one.
Now it is time to draw the curtain and reveal the stage set for the drama.
From here forward, in rapid sequence, will be presented scenes to assure the persecuted Christians
that the cause of Christ is not a lost cause.
When the final curtain falls at the end of the play (22:21), complete assurance of victory is demonstrated.
Chapter 4 prepares the way for all that follows.
It is assisted by chapter 5 in presenting the sovereignty of God vindicated by the work of Christ.
Chapter 4 says, in the language of John 14, " Believe in God";
chapter 5 with Christ as the leading figure, says, " Believe also in me."
Then in chapters 6-18 we find pictured the wrath of God against the enemies of His cause.
In chapters 19-22 the final complete victory of God and the eternal destiny of men are set forth.
In such a presentation it is clear that this vision (chapters 4-5) prepares the way for the entire message.
Two ideas stand out in this vision.
Now we come to chapter 4.
The Reigning God, 4-11
The " after these things" refers to the preliminary matters of chapters 1-3.
With this statement John begins his record of the visions showing God's rescue of his people
from the peril of Domitian's persecution.
A vision of the triumphant Christ was necessary before the following visions would have any meaning.
Likewise it was necessary to show the condition of the churches in order that the real meaning
of what follows could be known.
This indicates that the book was meant to bring needed courage to the people who first received it,
not just to reveal events at the consummation of the age several hundreds or thousands of years
from the time of John.
John's first object of vision is a door standing open in heaven.
By means of this door he is able to see what is going on in heaven.
He is invited by the voice of Christ (1:10) to come to a place of advantage from where
he will be able to see things from God's viewpoint.
And when he is able to see things from God's point of view, the coloring is changed radically.
From that point of view he can see the eternal throne of God, which does not shake
before the threats of Domitian and others like him.
From the heavenly angel there is no doubt about the outcome of the struggle in which the Christians are engaged.
Immediately, the spiritual experience was intensified, and John saw the first guarantee of victory
-- God is on His throne.
The name of God is not called until verse 8, that there is no doubt about the identity of the one described.
He has the appearance of a "jasper stone and a sardius."
Perhaps, the pure white of the jasper stone symbolizes the holiness of God, and the blood red of the sardius stone symbolizes His righteousness.
About the throne of this holy and righteous God is a rainbow " like an emerald to look upon."
This is a symbol of hope or mercy.
Green as the "living" color is the predominant characteristic of this rainbow.
Here it appears to represent living hope in the midst of judgment.
It is hope based on the faithfulness of a covenant-making God.
Twenty-four thrones (4:4) or placed about the main throne, and on these were twenty-four elders.
Various opinions have been given as to the identity of these twenty-four.
Some look upon them as representing the eternal priesthood of God's people.
Others view them as symbolical of the victorious destiny of the martyred saints of Asia Minor.
Summers thinks that the best interpretation is that they represent the twelve patriarchs of Israel
and the twelve apostles of the New Testament as they bind together the redeemed
of the two periods in a common destiny of triumph and glory with God.
The number is the duplicated number " 12" which symbolized organized religion.
This whole picture symbolizes comfort for the persecuted Christians.
They were faced with death.
What about that?
After death they would find themselves perfectly safe in the presence of God,
arrayed in white garments symbolical of their freedom from spiritual fornication of idol worship
and with crowns of gold symbolical of their victory over the enemy.
The manifestation of divine wrath are the next symbols (4: 5a).
From the throne of God came " lightnings and voices and thunder" showing
God's displeasure at the enemies of the cross.
God has not left his people to the mercy of their foes.
The seven lamps of fire interpreted as the seven Spirits of God comprise a another symbol.
Lamps give light; " 7" is the perfect number.
Seven Spirits picture God in His perfect spiritual essence.
So, here we have symbolized as a token of God's sovereignty of perfect operation of the Holy Spirit
in His work of illumination and revelation to man of the things of God.
The crystal sea (4:6a) before the throne made the throne unapproachable.
This symbolizes the transcendence of God.
The sea separated John from his churches.
The sea of crystal separated the transcendent God from the people.
In Revelation 21: 1 we will find that " the sea is no more" and men are in direct fellowship with God.
Thus where the persecuted Christians separated from God, but this was not always to be.
The four living creatures (4:6-8) form the next symbol of God's sovereignty.
They are in the midst of the throne and round about the throne.
They are full of eyes before and behind, round about and within.
They have different appearances: one like a lion, one like a calf, one like a man, and one like an eagle.
Each one has six wings.
Day and night without ceasing they speak terms of adoration to God.
One interpretation of these is that they represent attributes of God to show His eternal vigilance
on behalf of His people.
Following this theory, the lion represents bravery, the young bull represents strength,
the man represents intelligence, and the eagle represents swiftness or speed.
Together they symbolize the eternal watchfulness of God.
He has not forgotten His people and is swift and strong to avenge them.
This is an appealing view but for the fact that in verse 8 the four living creatures are pictured
as adoring God and in 5:8 they are pictured as falling down to worship Him.
This seems a little out of the line of duty of attributes.
The other view is that they represent the four full division of animal life so that all God's creatures
are worshiping Him.
The lion representing wild animal life, the calf representing domestic animal life,
the man representing human life, and the eagle representing bird life.
All are represented as constantly watchful to adore and worship God.
Each has six wings, and if this has any connection with the six-winged seraphim of Isaiah 6:2,
|we understand that with one pair they showed reverence, with another, humility,
and with the third, swift obedience to God's command.
The whole picture is such as to produce encouragement as to the obedient and terror to the disobedient.
This is in reality what the sovereignty of God does.
This vision of God on His throne is concluded by a song of praise. (4:9-11)
The praise is twofold.
First, the four living creatures speak of glory, and honor, and thanks unto the sovereign eternal God,
and not to the temporal Domitian.
Second, the twenty-four Elders representing redeemed humanity fall before the throne of God,
take off their crowns, cast them before His throne, and praise Him for His great creative power.
He alone is morally worthy to receive glory and honor and and dominion because all things are His by creation.
This " Song of Creation" is directed as praise to God.
In chapter 5 a " Song of Re-creation (redemption)" will be directed as praise to Christ. (5:9-10)
By way of summary we find in this chapter, which begins the visions, the truth of a sovereign God.
He is eternal; He Is Creator; He protects His people; He visits punishment upon the disobedient.
He is on His throne.
The enemies of the cross may rage against Him, but He is unmoved.
The invincible sovereign God as the center of activity is the point of emphasis in this chapter.
Such were the initial encouragements given to the beaten Christians of Asia Minor in the first century
and to all Christians in every century.
Suffering was only temporary since God was their defender.
The Christians needed assurance and here it is: God has not abdicated in favor of Domitian or
Summary of This Chapter
1. God is eternal.
2. God is creator.
3. He protects His people.
4. He visits punishment upon the disobedient.
5. He is on His throne. Enemies may rage against Him, but He is unmoved.