Meditation Mondays and Revelation 4:2-5: The Sovereign Authority of God
2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. 3 And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. (Revelation 4:2-5 NKJV)
If we've learned anything by now, it's that the book of Revelation is highly symbolic. John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, used images to communicate spiritual realities so that God's church could be encouraged to persevere in the faith. In our passage today we see that John has a vision. And in this vision, He communicates what He sees to us with imagery; imagery used to communicate spiritual truths. We shouldn't read passages like this and conclude that there is a literal throne with 24 literal thrones surrounding it and that the one who sat on the center throne looked like jasper and sardius stone. We shouldn't think there is an actual rainbow around the throne and that the throne shot out lightning and thunder nor should we think there are several literal lamps of fire burning before the throne.
Take that literally, draw a picture and I can assure you that you're not capturing John's intent behind this passage. And rest assured (or be alarmed) there are many Bible teachers that teach the book of Revelation just like that. Why do you think so many people are afraid to study the book or pastors afraid to preach from the book? It is because we have been conditioned to think there is some weird, sci-fi, cryptic message behind what John is writing. When in reality, the early church would have plainly understood this letter. So let me briefly break the language John uses down for us.
First, the goal of this vision isn't for John to get a glimpse into heaven so that he can report back and tell us what it's like. Rather, the Lord through the Apostle John is telling us "I am the sovereign One who governs all things". William Hendriksen, a theologian from Calvin Theological Seminary said of this section: "These chapters [4 &5], do not give us a picture of heaven. They describe the entire universe from the aspect of heaven. The purpose of this vision is to show us, in beautiful symbolism, that all things are governed by the Lord on the throne. "All things" must include our trials and tribulation that the Church must experience here on earth" (Hendrikson, More than Conquerors, 95). So, with that bottom-line lesson in mind, here is some of the significance behind the symbolism John uses.
Verse 2: John, having a vision in the Spirit, sees the throne room of God, which is Heaven, and He sees that the throne is occupied by the "One" the only "One" worthy to fill the seat- our Triune God. Our Lord is reigning. He isn't frantic about what is happening in the Cosmos. He has ordained what's happening in the Cosmos; He rules over it all.
Verse 3: God is described by those items that are most precious; jasper, sardius stone, a rainbow in the appearance of an emerald. Perhaps the jasper symbolizes the clarity and perfection of God since it is transparent. The sardius stone is red, perhaps symbolizing the justice of God- that justice that demanded a blood payment for sin. And the rainbow was a reminder of God's covenant to preserve His people- to save His people.
Verse 4: 24 elders in white robes with golden crowns on their heads symbolizes God's people who are near to Him. The white robes symbolize Christ's imputed righteousness to His people and the crowns of gold perhaps highlight the truth that we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). This could have reminded the suffering church that they will soon be the church triumphant.
Verse 5: Lightnings/thunderings/voices is the Sovereign Lord communicating His good pleasure and will. The seven lamps are explained to be the seven Spirits of God. This does not mean that God has seven spirits. Rather, John is talking about how the Holy Spirit disperses the graces and mercies that each church needs as they devote themselves to the Lord especially in the midst of persecution (Lamentations 3:22-23; 2 Corinthians 12:9).
Today, meditate on the sovereign power of our Lord (over the good and bad) who is seated and reigning and will not stand and return again until all His enemies are made His footstool (Psalm 110:1).