After dictating the letters to the seven churches, we get to the Antichrist, the Mark of the Beast, the destruction of the earth, and the return of Christ. Um, no. That’s not what’s next in the book. Before we get to anything else, the Lord Jesus wanted to give his servant John (and us) a behind-the-scenes look at Heaven itself. Later on we’re going to see some things—both in the book of Revelation and in world events—which would make us think that evil’s on the rise, things are spinning out of control, and that the good guys are on the losing side. When those things happen, we must must must keep in mind that God’s still on his throne and is still Boss of everything. He has everything under control, and everything is working towards his ultimate plan for his glory and our good, even if it’s not looking like that at any particular moment.
John was transported by the Spirit into the Throne Room and is given a glimpse behind the curtain of eternity.
But before we get into what he describes for the rest of the chapter, we need to think about this. John is describing everything as best as he can, using his very limited vocabulary and intellect (not that any of us would do any better). I’ve used this illustration before, but I can’t think of anything that fits better here. Suppose that you’re trying to explain an airplane to an African who’s never seen it. He’s never heard of an airplane before, nor has he seen a picture of it. You tell him, “It’s like a bird. It soars on the air with wings.” He then asks “Does it have feathers?” “Um, no.” “Well, then is it a bird or not? Every bird I’ve ever seen has feathers.” You then have to somehow convey that an airplane is like a bird in some ways but that’s not the entire picture. Any illustration we use concerning spiritual matters is going to be incomplete at best and inaccurate to some degree or another.
Any description is going to be inaccurate to some degree, because John is talking about things which are out of our frame of reference, like that African who’s never seen a plane. For example, when the Bible says that the streets are paved with gold, does that mean that the pavement is literally going to be constructed with the element we know as Au? Well, the gold there is clear as glass, and there’s no gold I’ve ever heard of in this world that you can see through like glass. John there is trying to convey incredible beauty and wealth that we can’t comprehend. What’s the most valuable substance in most cultures throughout history? Gold. Just keep that in mind as we see these images, especially as he’s describing Heaven.
The first thing he sees—appropriately enough—was the Throne, and the One sitting on it. This is God the Father. Notice that John doesn’t much describe what the Person on the throne looked like at all. He describes what and who are around the throne, but the only thing he says about the appearance of the Father was that he looked like “jasper and ruby,” flashing brilliant and beautiful colors. That’s because in our unglorified state God lives in “unapproachable light.” One day when we receive our new bodies, we’ll see him face to face, but not now. Now even angels cover their faces when they approach him. By the way, as an example of what we discussed in the last paragraph, the throne is not literal furniture: It represents ultimate power and authority and sovereignty.
But I want to reiterate that this is the first thing he sees when he enters Heaven. God is the center of attention here. He’s the center of Heaven. Everything revolves around and relates to him. I’m looking forward to a lot of periphery activities once I get there, but I suspect that my priorities will shift considerably once I step into that room.
The next thing John noticed was a rainbow surrounding the throne. The rainbow, a token of his covenant with humanity set in Noah’s day, represents his faithfulness to his word and his promises. Rainbows are reflected light on water, so it’s appropriate that God’s light would be reflected in multiple colors around his throne.
Next are the “24 elders” who are dressed in white and wear crowns on their heads. Who are they, or what do they represent? Our best guess is that this represents the redeemed around the throne. Why 24? Again, best guess is that you have “12” that count as the 12 tribes of Israel, plus “12” that represent the 12 apostles (who stand in for the church), thus 12+12=those redeemed under the Old Covenant plus those redeemed under the New Covenant. Again, I have to emphasize best guess. White robes would represent the righteousness of Christ and crowns represent power and authority which have been delegated to them and/or rewards they’ve received. More on the crowns in a moment. Those are important.
After the elders are four very strange creatures. I suppose they’re angelic beings, since they have wings. They’re covered with eyes, which represent knowledge and insight. Although not omniscient like God, they have comprehensive knowledge into what they’re responsible for. Not sure how to interpret this, but a lion typically represents the greatest of the predators, an ox is the greatest among domesticated beasts, a man is the greatest among rational beings on earth, and an eagle is considered the greatest among the birds. To say anything more is really to indulge into pure speculation at this point, except to say maybe they represent all of physical creation before the throne. Emphasis on maybe.
What's everybody doing around the throne? Whatever these creatures are or what they represent is secondary to what they’re doing: worshiping the God on the Throne of Heaven. What they’re saying/singing is similar to what Isaiah heard when he got his peak behind the curtain:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, who is, and who is to come.
This is to emphasize the immutability of our God. He never ever ever changes. He was in eternity past before he created a single thing, he's here now in this very moment, and he’ll be here when the last star has finally turned into a cold cinder. He is holy, meaning he is utterly unique and separate. He’s like nothing else in the entire universe.
Now let’s get to the significance of those crowns the elders are wearing. What purpose do they serve? Do I get my crown so I can walk around with it in Heaven? Absolutely not! The purpose of any crowns I get is so that I can throw them at the foot of my Savior God and give him more glory. They’re for his glory, not mine. As I throw my crown at his feet, I can sing a song of worship to the only One who deserves all the praise, honor, and glory. It’s never about me. It’s always about him.
Did you notice what they’re praising him for? Just on the basis of his creation alone he’s worthy of all praise, honor and glory. We haven’t even gotten into praising and thanking him for the Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection, the sending of the Spirit, the righteousness with which he clothes us, his mercy, his grace, his power, his mercy, his wisdom. . . whew! And these are just words which we use to describe what our very limited human understanding can comprehend about who he is and what he’s done. Just start worshiping him on the basis of creation alone, and you’ll have plenty to do.
Well, what are you waiting for? Use today’s reading as a springboard. And to help you, here's "The Thone" by Michael W. Smith.
Father God, words are sooooo inadequate for the task sometimes. But if I’m not using the words in my mouth to honor and praise and thank you, my mouth’s not living up to its purpose. Help me to prepare for Heaven, right now, please.