I must admit I am neither a great artist or a great lover of art. My “relaxed” attitude towards the loss of statues, sculptures and monuments probably gave that away! However, even I can be captivated on walking into the Louvre or the British Museum by the beauty and wonder of the art and artifacts on display. If you help me to look closer, I may also gain an appreciation not just of the big picture but of the intricacy and thought that has gone into each detail often rich in symbolism.
Revelation functions like art, it paints pictures in our minds to captivate us with wonder and through the intricate detail of sign and symbol to help us understand more about who God is and his purpose for his creation.
In an earlier article, I wrote that Revelation is a book that:
“takes us to God’s throne room in order that we might see the whole sweep of history from the perspective of the last day. It does that so that we may make sense of what it means to live as God’s people now in our present context in the light of future hope.”
Here, we are shown a picture which is designed to take us into that throne room in order to see something of its radiant beauty and glory.
What do we see?
As we look at this picture, the first thing we see is a throne and someone sits on it. The throne is surrounded will a glowing emerald that reminds John of a rainbow and reminds us that this is the throne of the God who made covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David. The rainbow reminds us that God keeps his promises. However, our eyes are really focused in on the one sitting on the throne “as brilliant as gemstones”, we see someone who displays beauty and majesty.
Then we see another 24 thrones around the throne of God. Sitting on them are 24 elders. I want to suggest here that these represent the 12 Tribes and the 12 apostles. In other words, we are looking at Israel and the Church, the completeness of God’s people and seeing that God is present among his people ruling over them.
In front of the throne are seven torches, possibly a menorah lampstand. We have already seen that the description of seven spirits points to completeness and therefore to the Holy Spirit. There is something Trinitarian in sight here but one member of the Trinity is yet to make their appearance in this specific vision, that comes in the next chapter.
Next, we are introduced to 4 living creatures, the imagery echoes Ezekiel and Daniel’s visions here of majestic beast like creatures. We are also taken back to Isaiah 6 where the Seraphim were calling out to the God who is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The triple repetition of the word holy is another Hebraic way of describing completeness. God is the one who is most holy or perfect in holiness. The creatures represent the whole creation order. All of creation joins to praise God.
The 24 elders lay down their crowns before the throne and proclaim that the Lord is worthy. All human rule must submit to God’s rule. God’s people do this willingly whilst the Kings of the earth resist and rage against Him (cf Psalm 2).
What does this mean?
The purpose of this chapter is to show us that God is the creator God who holds the Universe in his hand. Indeed, God’s throne room is not some far off place in another dimension but the creation itself acts as his throne room and all creatures are his courtiers.
God is majestic and beautiful. He is worthy of praise. God’s people must lay their crowns before him. This demonstrates our unworthiness before him. It shows that any authority that we as humans have comes from the Lord and not independent of him.
What has this God to do with us?
So, how do we apply Revelation 4 to our current situation? Here are a few thoughts. First of all, it may seem that creation is out of control because of coronavirus. However, the Bible is clear that creation submits to God’s rule and reign. He is still on the throne. This virus can only spread so long as God allows it to. Whilst living in lockdown during a pandemic may at times be frightening, we can take heart, God is sovereign and uses even these difficult times for our good.
Secondly, this passage calls us to humble worship. We are to dethrone idols in our lives, God must have the throne. Like the 24 elders we are called to bow the knee together in worship. Like the 24 elders we must remove our crowns and cast them before him. In other words, we recognise his true authority over our lives. This must mean being willing to give up our dreams, ambitions and claims to status and power. Only God has true authority and power. We must be ready to serve as he calls.
 Though John hears the voice of Jesus speaking to him (v1)