Revelation 4:1-8

Sermon preached on April 29, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

I once saw an interview with an Allied pilot from WW II. He flew a certain type of bomber over Europe. I can remember what plane it was but he said that if you made certain maneuvers to try to evade enemy fighters, the plane would go into a spin. He told how it happened to him and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't pull the plane out of the spin. So he ordered his crew to bail out and as soon as everyone got out he jumped out too. His parachute deployed and as he was floating down he watched his plane as it spun down toward the earth. Then a remarkable thing happened. The plane came out of its spin and leveled out and flew away. There was no one on it. It came out of the spin on its own, with no one at the controls. The pilot was rescued and told his superiors what happened. Soon there were other reports from other crews about the same thing. So the order went out to all the pilots of that particular type of plane that if they found themselves in a spin that what they had to do was just sit back and do nothing—to not touch any of the controls. That must have been hard to do. But it would work. After a little while the plane would come out of its spin, level out and start flying normally. Then the pilots would resume flying the plane.

The pilots who took their hands and feet off the controls had great faith in the truth of their instructions. Think about it—being in a spin hurtling toward earth at great speed and you just sit there doing nothing! That would be frightening. Yet that's what they needed to do to save their planes.

Is your faith in God that strong? Do you trust Him when events in your life seem to be out of control and you feel like those pilots in those planes hurtling to earth in a spin that felt like it was going to end in something catastrophic? Do you trust Him no matter what happens in your life? Are you confident that you are safe in His hands come what may?

One of the great practical purposes of Revelation 4 and 5 is to increase the faith of the suffering Christians of John's day. As we have seen in the letters to the seven churches, many of them were suffering for their faith. Jesus gave them this vision of heaven so that they would know that God is in absolute control of events that happen on earth. It was designed to give them hope and to help them keep their eyes fixed on Jesus and to keep trusting in Him.

This vision is also written for us, to increase our faith in our Savior Jesus. In the future very difficult times are coming for the church. In Revelation 13 we are told about the beast from the sea. He will be an utterly horrible creature. He will have seven heads and each head will have a blasphemous name on it. He will blaspheme God and slander His name and His dwelling place. We read, (Revelation 13:7-8)

"He was given power to make war
against the saints and to conquer them.
And he was given authority over every tribe,
people, language and nation.
All inhabitants of the earth
will worship the beast—all whose names
have not been written in the book of life
belonging to the Lamb that was slain
from the creation of the world."

If you meet such trials will you be able to stand? Will you be able to praise and glorify God when the church seems to be faltering, when God's help seems no where to be found, when it seems that evil will triumph and that you will surely be put to death?

To help His church be strong in the future Jesus gives us this glimpse into heaven. One of the great truths we see here is that

God rules all things.

Robert H. Mounce writes, (Revelation, p. 116)

"For consolation and courage in the coming tribulation (cf. 2:10; 3:10; 7:13) John is now swept up in the Spirit to the very door of heaven. There he beholds a vision of a sovereign God in full command of the course of human affairs as they move swiftly to their denouement. On the plane of history the church appears unable to resist the might of hostile worldly powers, but the course of history is not determined by political power but by God enthroned and active. At his appointed time the scroll of destiny is to be handed to the Lamb, who himself will open the seals, bring history to a close, and usher in the eternal state. The great throne-room vision of chapters 4 and 5 serves to remind believers living in the shadow of impending persecution that an omnipotent and omniscient God is still in control."

He rules. He is in the process of saving His people and defeating His enemies. The events of Revelation 6 to the end of the book are the result of Jesus opening the seals of the scroll of destiny. Jesus does these things. The things regarding the beast in Revelation 13 are part of the plan of Jesus Christ. They are part of His opening the seventh seal. Craig Keener says that the vision here servers to,

"introduce and explain the seals, trumpets, and vials of chapters 6-16;"

Revelation 4 and 5 show that God rules, that He is high and exalted, that no one can resist His power. They show that what happens on earth comes from God's throne. Indeed, they contain proof after proof that God reigns.

It reminds me of the end of Romans 8. Paul is writing about the security of believers and he adds argument to argument showing that believers are absolutely safe in Jesus Christ. You'll remember that great passage—what shall separate us from the love of God? Paul says that neither life nor death, the present nor the future, no powers, nor height nor depth – nor anything else in all creation— shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus? The end of Romans 8 is a tour de force—a knockout punch. The matter is settled, completely, finally, totally. Nothing is left out. Paul shows that nothing can separate us from God's love.

We have a similar thing here. In the throne scene we have proof after proof that God reigns over all things. If we grasp the picture here as we should our faith should never fail.

So let's look at some of the things that the throne scene tells us about God's rule.

The first thing we see here is that

God's throne is the seat of all power.

All other powers are subservient to Him. All other powers derive their power from Him. We see this from the fact that

God's throne is at the center of everything.

Last week I noted that this was significant for us in our worship—showing us that God is everything and our significance comes only from our position in relation to the throne. But it is significant in another way, for it shows us that

God is the ultimate sovereign.

The picture of God's throne here shows that He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. There are other thrones—but they are subservient to His throne.

Notice how the 24 elders are described. They are described as sitting on 24 thrones. Their thrones surround God's throne. They derive their power from God.

Where is Satan's throne?

Revelation 2:13 tells us that Satan's throne was in Pergamum. God said to the Christians there,

"I know where you live
—where Satan has his throne."

In that part of the world Satan's power was most evident there. But even in Pergamum Satan's power wasn't absolute. Jesus established a church there. In some ways it was strong and had not denied the faith in spite of great persecution.

Satan had his throne in Pergamum and some other places but the point is that he is
like a provincial ruler. His rule is not absolute and it is localized. In Ephesians 2:2 Satan is referred to as,

"the ruler of the kingdom of the air,
the spirit who is now at work
in those who are disobedient."

Satan's rule is localized. In a sense we should think of him like Herod the Great. Herod the Great ruled in Judea at the time of Jesus' birth. We refer to him as 'Herod the Great' but he was anything but great. He was a madman. He murdered members of his own family and many others for no reason—like the boy babies around Bethlehem when he was trying to kill Jesus. His power was severely limited except for the little region he ruled. He was merely a puppet of Rome. Real power was located in Rome, with Caesar. Herod was a provincial ruler.

Satan is like that. He's provincial. Revelation 12 tells us that he was cast out of heaven and hurled to earth. He has no authority in heaven now. And that's where authority counts. But Satan has no say there now. He is bound to this earth. He is filled with fury because he knows his time is short. (12:12)

But God's throne is in heaven. It's the one throne that matters—where the fate of all creatures and of the universe is determined. All other thrones will serve Him or be destroyed. His throne is the throne of the King of Kings.

This is confirmed by what John heard in verse 1. Jesus tells John that these things (the rest of the things in Revelation)

must take place.

In verse 1 John hears Jesus' voice, like that of a trumpet. Jesus said to him,

"Come up here, and I will show you
what '
must' take place after this."

The Greek word that is used here means,

"to be under the necessity of happening"

As Grant Osborne tells us,

"Note the emphatic 'must' of divine necessity."

These things must happen because they have been decreed by God.

No matter how much power we human beings have, apart from the promises of God, we can never be sure that any of our plans will come to pass. As Proverbs 16:9 says,

"In his heart a man plans his course,
but the LORD determines his steps."

On the morning of November 22, 1963 President Kennedy was given a Texas cowboy hat and joked with reporters that he'd try it on at the White House that coming Monday. But he was assassinated later that day. His plans didn't come to pass.

You may have plans for this afternoon. They may or may not come to pass. We cannot be sure of our plans. They are contingent.

It's the same with Satan and his plans.
Satan had plans to destroy Job. He assured God that if He took everything away from Job that Job would curse God. But that didn't happen.

Satan had plans to destroy Peter. He wanted to sift him as wheat so that his faith would fail. He wanted Peter to be cast into hell. At first it seemed like he would be successful—Peter denied Jesus three times. But because of the great love of God for Peter he wasn't lost. God had chosen Peter before the foundation of the world and Jesus brought him to glory.

But God's plans are not like ours. He decrees and those things take place. As God said in Isaiah 46:10–11,

"I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.
From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land,
a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said,
that will I bring about;
what I have planned, that will I do."

In the book of Daniel, after King Nebuchadnezzar regained his sanity, he realized something of God's great power. He said, (Daniel 4:34–35)

"Then I praised the Most High;
I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: 'What have you done?"

The things that follow Revelation 4 and 5 must take place. Nothing can stop them. Times are going to be terrible for the church but Jesus is going to save His people. He is going to defeat His enemies. He is going to establish a new heaven and a new earth. His people are going to dwell with Him in the New Jerusalem. These things 'must' take place.

The third thing that shows us the greatness of God's rule

are the attendants who are around the throne and the praises that they sing.

Around the throne are the 24 elders and the 4 living creatures. The 24 elders are sitting on 24 thrones and the four living creatures have eyes all over them. What is the significance of these things?

In order to see this we first need to understand who these creatures are.

The 24 elders.

The number 24 is interesting. There were 12 tribes in ancient Israel (12 patriarchs) and in the New Testament there were 12 apostles. Thus a great many writers interpret the 24 elders are symbolic of the church in its entirety. Others tell us that the elders are an order of angels which represent the church. But the important thing is to note is that the elders are connected to the church. G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 322)

"The elders certainly include reference to OT and NT saints. They are either angels representing all saints or the heads of the twelve tribes together with the twelve apostles, representing thus all the people of God."

One of the important things to note about them is that they sit on thrones surrounding God's throne. This shows us that the church will not be defeated. Indeed the saints will rule with Jesus. They will judge the world. They will judge the angels that have fallen. They will sit on Christ's throne with Him and rule with Him.

Christ's purposes for the church will not be thwarted. As Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 16:18, 'the gates of Hades will not overcome it.'

Mankind was created to rule. This is an aspect of being made in God's image. Satan tried to thwart God's purpose by leading Adam into sin. But God's plan would not be thwarted. In his book, "A New Testament Biblical Theology", Gregory Beale summarizes the Old Testament this way, (p. 87)

"The Old Testament is the story of God, who progressively reestablishes his new-creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word and Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgment (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful, to his glory."

The reference to the sea of glass may relate to this. Grant Osborne tells us that the most likely allusion here is to the 'expanse' or firmament that separated the waters in Genesis 1:7. The reference to the Spirit, the seven spirits, made just before the mention of the sea of glass, may be a reference to the Genesis 1:2 where the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters, over the chaos. G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 327-328)

"The 'sea' is also associated with the idea of evil. Caird has argued that here it connotes cosmic evil… In view of the Daniel and Exodus imagery, there is then a hint that John sees the chaotic powers of the sea as calmed by divine sovereignty… When John later says that 'there is no longer any sea' (21:1), he means that all evil on the earth will be not only defeated but also eradicated when Christ's kingdom is established consummately on earth… The sea as the source of satanic evil opposing God's throne has been eliminated…"

Because of the work of Jesus, His people will rule. They are represented as sitting on 24 thrones.

The second group of attendants around the throne are

the 4 living creatures.

They remind us of the seraphs in Isaiah 6 and the creatures in Ezekiel 1. Their placement is significant. It says that they are in the middle of the throne, surrounding it. It's a strange imagery. Some suggest that one was in front of the throne, one behind it, and one on each side. But perhaps it's best to understand them as being right next to the throne—(Osborne, p. 233)

'surrounding it with their presence'.

Grant Osborne writes, (p. 233)

"They signify unceasing vigilance. As in a sense the 'eyes' of God, they might even be extensions of his omniscience as they watch over his creation. Nothing can be withheld from these beings as they oversee God's affairs."

Nothing can surprise God. As Hebrews 4:13 says,

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight.
Everything is uncovered and laid bare
before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."

G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 330)

"The multitude of eyes in the living beings signifies divine omniscience and that they are God's agents… Ezek. 1:14 asserts that 'the living creatures are sent forth to do the will of their Master.' In the light of Rev. 5:6, 8ff. the living beings must also be seen as servants of the Lamb. They are mentioned in ch. 4 not only because they form part of the eternal royal entourage around the heavenly throne, but also because they inaugurate the judgments on humankind and continue to mediate those judgments until the final consummation (cf. 6:1–8; 15:7). Their knowing eyes search the earth, and they execute punishments only on those who truly deserve them."

The four living creatures are God's agents.

The fourth thing in our text that shows us the great power of God are

the names and words that are used to worship God.

The four living creatures said,

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come."

Who is God? He is the Almighty. G. K. Beale says, (Revelation, p. 333)

"The significance of the two titles 'Lord God Almighty' and "the one who is and was and is coming" is to emphasize that the God who transcends time is sovereign over history."

God is eternal. His kingdom is eternal. There is no threat to that. He is sovereign over time and history.

When the 4 living creatures praise God for his power and eternity, the 24 elders respond and say to God, (verse 11)

"for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being."

God created all things. He is God. All other living beings are creatures. They did not have life in themselves. Rather it's by God's will that they continue to exist. God upholds all things. God gives them life. For their being they are dependent upon God.

God rules. His throne is over all. Yet I've only covered chapter 4. I'll only mention one thing about chapter 5 here. It's that the concluding hymn of chapter 5, verses 9-13 is parallel to the concluding hymn of chapter 4. They are parallel. G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 369)

"God's sovereignty in creation is the basis for his sovereignty in judgment and in redemption, which elicits the praise of all creatures… The concluding hymns of Rev. 4:11 and Rev. 5:9–13 bear out that this idea — that sovereignty in creation is the basis for sovereignty in judgment and redemption — is the main theme of the two chapters, since these hymns function as interpretative summaries of each chapter. The parallelism of the two hymns shows that the first serves as the basis for the second."

The parallels show that John intended to draw an integral interpretative relationship between God as Creator and as Redeemer through His work in Christ. This suggests that redemption by the Lamb is a continuation of His work of creation. In chapter 5 Jesus is praised and said to be worthy because of His work on behalf of mankind. He is worthy to receive 'power' and 'strength' (verse 12 and 13) On the basis of His work, it is right that Jesus, the God-man—receive power and wealth, and wisdom and strength, and honor and glory and praise! That belongs to Him forever and ever. The point is that it is right that Jesus receive this. For Him not to would be a great injustice. He has won those things, for Himself, for His people.

For Christians, all this means is that you are to not only to realize how great God's power is,

but you are to realize that this power is for the church.

The 24 elders were on 24 thrones. They are ruling. Like so many of the other images of this chapter this shows that God's power is tied to His people. As the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:18–23

"I pray also that the eyes of your heart
may be enlightened in order
that you may know the hope
to which he has called you, the riches
of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
That power is like the working of his mighty strength,
which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,
far above all rule and authority, power and dominion,
and every title that can be given,
not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
And God placed all things under his feet
and appointed him to be head
over everything for the church, which is his body,
the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."

Because of Jesus the church will triumph. Because of Jesus you believers will triumph.

Lastly, for those who are not Christians, this means that

you need to listen to God.

Psalm 2 tells people to embrace the Son, otherwise they will be destroyed. That's a summary of what Revelation teaches here. What about you? Are you serving the great King? Or will you be destroyed? Go to Jesus. Only He can save you from the wrath to come.