Friday, September 27, 2013

God sits on The Throne - Revelation 4:1-6

Revelation 4:1-2 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne."

How much does it comfort you to know that your life is not pointless and random? Commentator Sam Hamstra Jr. writes the following helpful comments about Revelation 4 - "John provides a vision that affirms the Sovereignty of God, who holds the affairs of the world in His hands. This vision serves as a postscript to the previous vision and a prelude to all the follows." He later writes: "Yet, no matter what the church endures on earth, it should never forget that God is Sovereign. In the midst of trial, the church should gaze on the One who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords".1 The Sovereignty of God is the headliner doctrine of this text.  As Christians, we believe that the universe, life and humanity is not governed by pointless chance, but by the Sovereign God Who governs with a pointed purpose. John quite simply under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit sees in prophetic vision "One sitting on the Throne". (Revelation 4:2)2  This gives us the chief central focus and title of today's post: "God sits on His throne". As we focus our attention on what exactly is happening around God's throne, and why this scene is both meaningful and practical to our application of the book of Revelation, we will use the acrostic "s.i.t" to draw out three comforting truths that derive from knowing that God sits on His throne:

1. Sovereign Savior occupies the throne. 4:1-2
The first two verses of Revelation 4 give us the identity of the One Who is on the Throne.  Two phrases are key to our understanding of this opening sequence in Revelation 4:1-2. The first is where John states in Revelation 4:1 -  "and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet."  Who was addressing John? Thankfully the Book of Revelation has its own built in interpretive system.  When we turn back to Revelation 1:9-10 we read - "I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet." John saw the Savior, Jesus Christ, in His ascended glory in Revelation 1.  Jesus Christ, the Savior and His church, became John's focus in Revelation 1-3. How appropriate to begin this second sequence of Revelation 4-5 with the voice of the Savior summoning John to come and behold "what must take place after these things". 

Jesus the Savior will become more of the focus in Revelation 5, being that He is seated in equal glory at the right hand of the One Who is the focus of the second important phrase in these verses: "The One sitting on the Throne" in Revelation 4:2. Who is this "One"? The Sovereign Father, the First Person of the Triune God. When the text says that He is the One "sitting on the throne", that is in reference to God as Sovereign. Sovereignty is God's comprehensive authority over all peoples, places and times. God reigns Sovereignly not only over every place and space but time itself. He is Sovereign over the now and the future. Revelation 4-5 overlaps the present age depicted in Revelation 1-3 and previews the ending of history and the age to come in Revelation 6-22.  Daniel 2:21 reminds us - “It is He who changes the times and the epochs;He removes kings and establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men. And knowledge to men of understanding." God rules over all places and times from His throne. 
The term "throne" speaks of the seat of His authority.  For example, when we speak of the City of Idabel, it is referred to as the "county seat" of McCurtain county. In other words, the center of the governmental affairs of our county is located in Idabel. John here is seeing in vision the Divine seat, throne of the universe. How Sovereign is God on His throne? Jeremiah 17:12 for instance - "A glorious throne on high from the beginning." Isaiah 57:15 gives us the comfort of God's Sovereignty - "For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite."  And so the Father is the focus of Revelation 4:2, and the Son is the One referred to in 4:1.  

So now in what way is John is seeing the Father and Son Who are the One God, the One Sovereign Savior? We must be reminded that though John is seeing the Son and the Father, He is seeing One God. To say the Father is Sovereign is to also say the Son is Sovereign, since both share the same fully Divine nature. Hebrews 8:1 states - "Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens." Jesus Himself had to remind His disciples in John 14:9 "Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?" The Father is called "The Savior" in the sense that He is the source and planner of salvation. (Isaiah 43:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:15-21; Ephesians 1:3-6)  1 John 5:20 tells us why we can say that in seeing the Father and the Son, John is seeing the Sovereign Savior who is One: "And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."  

Though you and I may not be able to comprehend the Triune God in all His Sovereign glory, nevertheless it is our job as Christians and readers of Revelation to find comfort in knowing God is on the throne.  This Sovereign God is the Father of every child of God. It is He Who authored salvation and planned by His grace definite opportunities for sinners to believe and be saved. This Sovereign God is also the Son who accomplished salvation and purchased forgiveness to be applied to everyone who by the Spirit's convicting work believes on Him.  
So John's vision of God sitting on the throne beholds the Sovereign Savior.  But notice secondly how this Sovereign Savior, on His throne...

2. Interracts with His saints. 4:3-4
When you read Revelation 4:3-4, two particular ways of interaction between God and His saints are depicted.  

God interacts by clear promises
First, we note that there is a rainbow around the throne. Now when you search the scriptures concerning the meaning of rainbows, you discover that they are connected to God's promises.  Genesis 9:16 is the first mention of a rainbow, connected to God's promise that He would never again destroy the world with a flood.  Isaiah 54:9, pointing back to that promise made to Noah, reiterates God's promise and pledges to His people. 2 Peter 1:3-4 says this of God's promises - "For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust." At least 8,000 promises exist in the Bible, awaiting our interaction with the Sovereign Savior who made them.  The colors which John sees associated with the rainbow around the throne reveals an additional truth: that these promises are ever associated with Jesus.  How so? The colors and the stones mentioned correspond to the stones and colors worn by Israel's High Priest. The emerald stone in particular was the stone used to represent the Tribe of Judah from whence Christ is humanly descended.  All of God's promises are confirmed in Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:8) We also see a second way in which God is interacting with His saints around the throne, namely....

God interacts through Christ's righteousness
Revelation 4:4 states - "Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads."
These 24 elders are most likely representative of the Old and New Testament saints. Other scriptures speak of 24 orders of priests and singers representing Israel in 1 Chronicles 24-25, as well as 12 patriarchs or sons of Jacob and the 12 apostles of Jesus. These 24 elders are representative, are human beings, and depict for the reader the activities Christians are and will be doing around God's throne.  The robes in the passage speaks of the righteousness of Jesus Christ that is credited to every sinner who by grace through faith believes on Jesus Christ. (Romans 4:3; Revelation 7:13-14) God's interaction with the saints, both here on earth and in heaven, is by way of Christ's credited righteousness.  The crowns that we see on the heads of the saints represent the rewards they acquired in exercising their practical righteousness in this life.  The practical righteousness exercised by the Christian is experientially based upon the credited righteousness of Jesus Christ. Five such crowns are mentioned in scripture, standing for various acts of faithfulness done by Christian's in sanctification following their conversion.3  God is the Sovereign Savior who interacts with His saints and Who desires their interaction. Whether we are speaking of the church triumphant in Heaven or the church militant here on earth, we ought to be about making our relationship with the Sovereign God the chiefest of priorities. Heaven will be highly interactive.  As powerful as the Sovereign Savior is over His people, He is also very Personable. So when we say God is sitting on His throne, we are speaking of the Sovereign God, who interacts with His saints and Who does so by the testimony of the Spirit.

3. Testimony of the Spirit. 4:5-6
We have seen the Sovereign Savior on the throne and we have witnessed His interaction with saints around the throne, and now John is going to focus upon the One Who is bearing testimony of these things proceeding out from the throne. The thunderings and lightenings bring back to mind the wonderous visions of God witnessed by Moses and the Israelites on Mount Sinai or the visions witnessed by Isaiah and Ezekiel. The phrase of interest in this text is where John sees "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirit's of God." Again we turn to Revelation itself to understand what exactly John is meaning, as well as scripture.  First, the terms "seven lamps" and "seven spirits" are closely linked, being that John saw the churches to which he wrote as represented by the lamps, with the Holy Spirit speaking seven times in each of the seven letters to the seven churches. (compare Revelation 1:20). We furthermore know that the "seven spirits" is most likely referring to the "seven-fold" character of the Holy Spirit due to Isaiah's seven-fold description of the Spirit in Isaiah 11:2 as being connected closely to the ministry of Christ. Christ of course is the One showing John this vision. The Spirit's role in scripture is to make known to Christians the Person and work of the Son. John 16:13 states - "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come."  Just as a physical thunder and lightening storm causes us to rush to the windows to look up into the sky to see what is happening, the Spirit's role is to get the saints of God to look up to the throne of the Sovereign Savior with Whose glory He equally shares. The Spirit's testimony is truly the testimony about Jesus Christ, the focal point of all prophecy. (Revelation 19:10)  Were it not for the Holy Spirit constantly speaking through the scriptures, you and I would not know who God is, nor His Son. As Professor Mark McClellan 
writes concerning relating to the Father, Son and Spirit: "to know Christ is to know the Father and to know the Spirit is to know the Son, and thus the Father."4 Truly the Holy Spirit is the One who bears witness to the Christian about all the great things of God and His Word. (1 Corinthians 2:10-13) As John is writing under the Spirit's Divine Inspiration, the same Spirit superintending the writing of Revelation is the Same Spirit who eternally proceeds from the throne, pointing the way to the Sovereign Savior, who interacts with His saints by the Spirit's testimony. 

1. Stanley Gundry., Series Editor; C. marvin pate, General Editor., Sam Hamstra. Four Views on the Book of Revelation. Zondervan. 1998. Page 103

2. The word "throne" dominates this section of Revelation 4:1-6, appearing seven times in five verses, with one commentator noting that the word "throne" appears some 47 times in Revelation.  

3. Those crowns are: Imperishable crown, given to all Christians in 1 Corinthians 9:25; the crown of life or martyr's crown in Rev. 2:10; the pastor's crown or crown of glory in 1 Peter 5:4-5; the crown for those looking forward to His appearing in 2 Timothy 4:8 and finally, the soul-winner's crown in 1 Thessalonians 2:19. 

4. Mark McClellan is the Dean of Hershel H. Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry, and Professor of Theology and Missions at OBU.

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