I want to offer some thoughts on Revelation ch4, where John finds himself taken up to God's throne-room in heaven.
I'm going to be asking the question; what kind
of God is John meeting here?
The teaching about God in this chapter comes mainly from the imagery.
The central premise of the vision is that John stands in the presence of God.
The details that say so are echoes of similar meetings in the Old Testament.
They include the meeting with the "seventy elders of Israel" at Sinai- asociated with the Covenant between God and his people (it comes immediately
after the Covenant-sacrifice)- Exodus ch24 vv9-11
They include Isaiah's Temple-vision- associated with the sins of God's people- Isaiah ch6 vv1-5
They include the first vision of Ezekiel- associated with the oppression of God's people by the oppression of Babylon- Ezekiel ch1.
Thus at the beginning of Ezekiel the prophet sees the heavens "opened" before the glory of the Lord comes down to him.
Similarly John sees "an open door" in heaven- then hears the invitation to "come up" where God is.
The first thing he sees is a throne, "with one seated on the throne" (out of reverence, he doesn't name "the one seated on the throne" more
Which indicates, of course, that he's facing a ruler.
Around the throne is a rainbow. At the time of the Genesis flood, God promised not to flood the world again, and offered the rainbow as a symbol of
So this indicates the protective
aspect of God- a God who sustains the world as well as ruling it.
Next he sees another version of the "elders of Israel", the representatives of God's people.
They're wearing white garments, as a symbol of redemption from sin.
They're wearing golden crowns, and sitting on thrones of their own, which identifies them as kings.
As the people in John's time would have known, permission to sit in the king's presence is a great honour and privilege in itself;
"What is man that thou art mindful of him?..
Thou hast made him little less than God,
And dost crown him with glory and honour"- Psalm 8 vv4-5
The "seventy elders" of Sinai were a symbolic number- "seven", the number of God, multiplied by "ten", the number of completeness.
What about the elders in this vision?
The number "twenty-four" is sometimes taken as "twelve for Israel, twelve for the Church". My problem with that interpretation is that I see the
Church- and I think the New Testament sees the Church- as a continuation of Israel rather than as a new body. In which case a single "twelve" should
be enough to identify the whole body of God's people.
An alternative suggestion, which I like better, is to match the number with the twenty-four priestly familes of the tribe of Levi. In other words, it
identifies the elders as a priesthood.
If they're wearing the white garments of redemption and acting as both kings and priests, then this makes them the visual expression of their own song
in the next chapter;
"Thou dost ransom men for God..,
And hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God".
So this part of the vision is telling us that this God has a Covenant relationship with a people within the world, and the closeness to the throne
shows just how important that is.
Thunder and lightning and voices are coming from the throne, another echo of the Covenant-making of Sinai.
They express God's intention to impose his will.
This may become "wrath", but the wrath is already limited by the protective aspect of God (implied by the rainbow), and by his Covenant relationship
(implied by the presence of the elders), which hold him back from total destruction.
Seven torches of fire "which are the seven spirits of God" are burning in front of the throne.
But the number "seven" in Revelation is really a label meaning "belonging to God".
So the "seven spirits" are the seven-fold Spirit, or the Spirit "belonging to God"- that is, the Holy Spirit.
All the way through the Bible, the Spirit of God acts with power (one way or another) in his relationship with humanity.
So this relationship is still dominating the first half of the chapter.
The space in front of the throne is covered by "a sea of glass, like crystal".
This represents the firmament.
It was part of the symbolism of the meetings with Ezekiel and with the elders at Sinai that God showed himself standing on a kind of "portable"
John has now been caught up (in vision) to the real thing, to that place where God looks down upon the earth.
In Ezekiel's vision, there were four "creatures", coming from the midst of the fire under God's throne. They had the faces of four living things, and
they were accompanied by wheels which were "full of eyes round about".
Now John sees four similar creatures, "full of eyes in front and behind", which have the same four faces (one each, this time). He sees them,
according to the Greek text, "in the middle of the throne". This sounds like an odd place for them to be, and some translations evade the phrase.
Perhaps the best answer is to see them, as in Ezekiel, in the middle of the space underneath
What do these four creature represent, what is their function?
One way to find an answer is by looking at those faces.
It's been observed that each of those four living things has a kind of supremacy in its own sphere.
Thus the eagle can claim supremacy amongst the birds of the air (and it was "on eagles' wings" that God brought Israel out of Egypt- Exodus ch19
The lion can claim supremacy amongst the wild beasts of the land (and "the lion of the tribe of Judah" appears in the next chapter).
The ox can claim supremacy amongst domesticated animals (and "horns" are a symbol of power all the way through the Old Testament).
While humanity, by God's decree in Genesis, was given supremacy amongst all of them.
Perhaps they represent the living world at large, in the same way that the elders represent God's people.
Alternatively (or at the same time), they have been taken to represent "the four winds".
It certainly seems plausible that the four winds should come from God's throne in heaven and remain close to it.
The four winds have been associated with the judgements of God in more than one prophecy.
God threatens to send "the four winds of heaven" to scatter Elam - Jeremiah ch49 v36
The four chariots of Zechariah ch6, with their attendant horses, are "sent forth to the four winds of heaven".
When "the four winds of the earth" are placed under restraint in ch7 of this book, this indicates the interruption of the judgements of God, which had
been running all the way through ch6 in the shape of the "four horsemen".
And the four living creatures of this chapter are tied in to that "winds-of-judgement" theme, by the fact that each of them will be summoning forth
one of the "four horsemen"
Perhaps we can combine the two meanings together, and associate them with God's relationship with the natural world at large.
Finally, we learn about God from the statements in the praise of both groups.
The praise is unceasing.
Just as the elders are unceasingly offering their royal authority back to God (this is later parodied by the submission of the "ten kings" to the
The living creatures focus on what God is in himself.
They say "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lod God Almighty".
This echoes the calls of the seraphim in Isaiah's vision.
My private definition of the "holiness" of God is that it is the quality which keeps him detached and separate from what is not-God.
And they say "Who was, and is, and is to come", echoing the words used in ch1.
The probable meaning of God's Hebrew name is "He who is"; I'm inclined to see the expanded version as the natural result of thinking in Greek, which
seems to be more interested in expressing that past-present-future structure of time.
So the creatures are telling us that God is self-existent and eternal, and that he is distinct and separate from the universe.
Then the elders focus on God's action beyond himself.
That he deserves glory and honour and power because he created all things, and because he did so by an act of conscious will.
So this chapter is teaching us three things about the relationship between God and the universe;
It teaches that God is distinct from
the universe- that's the message of the living creatures.
It teaches us that God brings into existence
the universe- that's the message of the elders.
And it teaches us that God actively engages with
the universe- that's the message of the imagery in the rest of the chapter;
[So the Creator-God differs absolutely from the kind of pantheistic God who would be "the same thing as" the universe.
For a pantheistic God;
is not distinct from
something which is not itself
does not bring into existence
something which is not itself, and
does not actively engage with
something which is not itself.
For further thoughts on the difference, I can offer the attached link;
One-and-a-halfism; a Christian definition of God
The place of this chapter in Revelation can be expressed in the words of Psalm 33;
We have been told that;
"He spoke, and it came to be;
He commanded, and it stood forth"-v9
Then the Beast learns that;
"The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to naught;
He frustrates the plans of the peoples"- v10
Conversely, God's people learn that;
"Blessed is the nation whose God is the lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage"- v12
All this is possible because, as we have been seeing;
"The Lord looks down from heaven,
He sees all the sons of men;
From where he sits enthroned,he looks forth
On all the inhabitants of the earth"-vv13-14
And the moral of the story is the need for faith and trust;
"Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
Yea, our heart is glad in him,
Because we trust in his holy name" vv20-21
The God of Revelation needs to be a Creator-God, somebody engaged in his creation, because only such a God could carry through those events to their
The God who finally says "Behold, I make all things new" could only be the God who brought them into existence in the first place.
edit on 19-9-2010 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)