Revelation 4:1-11

Sermon preached on April 22, 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.

There's a story I like about a mother trying to get her son out of bed to go to church on Sunday morning. When she went to wake him up he resisted and said,

"I don't want to go. No one there is nice to me. No one likes me. Everyone is mean to me. No one is interested in what I have to say.”

His mother replied,

"You have to go, you're the minister."

I like that story because there's some truth to it. I've never experienced that feeling in this church, but from some past experiences and from some stories from other churches—I know that ministers have sometimes felt that way.

But it's not just ministers. A lot of people don't like going to church. Some have had bad experiences there and they don't think it's worthwhile to attend—that's why they don't go.

For those of you who do go—is your time here worthwhile? Is this the best hour of your week? What should we be doing in this hour to make it so special? I've been reading Mark Dever's book,
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. He said he began one sermon with questions about what people want in a church. I quote,

"Did you trouble finding a good parking place this morning? Were the doors clearly marked? Did the people welcome you as you came in?…And when you did come in, were the people friendly…? Any trouble dropping the kids off? And what do you think about stained glass? …Are the pews comfortable? Do you have a good view of all the activities and where you are sitting?… And how about the bulletin?"

He goes on to talk about other things like the music and how much Scripture is read. He even asked questions about the sermon. We all have opinions about that. Should it be shorter, or longer, or is it just right?

The church is being given a lot of advice today on how to be relevant in our society. They are being told to canvas their neighborhoods to see what the people of their communities want in a church. Preachers are being told not to preach more than 10 or 15 minutes. They are being told not to speak too much about sin or repentance. Or to put it another way, they are being told to neglect God's holiness.

It's probably impossible to get away from our personal preferences—but one of the points that Mark Dever makes is that these questions are not really the right ones.

How is a church to worship? How is our worship to be conducted? Who are we to listen to? What's a church today to do? There is no better place to go than to chapters 4 and 5 of the book of Revelation. One of the main thing it shows is that

worship should not be about us, our preferences, our desires. Instead, worship is about God and His glory.

The first thing that John sees in heaven is a throne, with One seated on it. God's throne is one of the primary symbols of Revelation 4 and 5. Indeed, it's a primary theme of the book of Revelation. It's mentioned 13 times in this chapter alone. It's a symbol of the sovereign majesty of the king. The emphasis on God's throne here shows that God rules. He is the head of all things. Vern Poythress writes, (The Returning King, p. 99)

"theologically and biblically speaking, the throne room of God in Revelation 4 represents the heart of the universe, the heart of meaning, the heart of history."

Notice how God and His throne is central. Everything else surrounds it. This is significant. Gregory Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 320)

"The throne's universal sovereignty is highlighted by the fact that John places it in the center of his heavenly cosmology. The circular constructions around the throne symbolically enhance God's cosmic, universal kingship, a symbolic configuration attested elsewhere in the ancient world. All heavenly beings find significance only in their various placements around the central throne. And all earth's inhabitants are appraised on the basis of their attitude to God's claim to rule over them from this heavenly throne (cf. 6:16–17; 20:11–12)."

What matters in worship? Our desires? Our preferences? No. No. No. Note that sentence from Beale I just quoted, "

"All heavenly beings find significance only in their various placements around the central throne."

It's not about them. It's about God and His glory. We need to take that to heart. We need a glimpse of the throne of God to put us in our proper place.

Note as well that when the four living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the One seated on the throne, the 24 elders fall down before Him and,

"cast their crowns before the throne…"

This reminds us of Psalm 115:1, which says,

"Not to us, O Lord,
not to us but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness."

Not only that, but Vern Poythress notes that many of the details of God's appearance aren't revealed to us, and that this should teach us, (p. 100)

"that his greatness always exceeds our grasp.…"

Craig Keener writes, (Revelation)

"Nothing banishes pride of mortal flesh or human competition and agendas better than a taste of God's infinite greatness."

It's not about us.

Some commentators have suggested that John's vision here reflects the worship of the synagogue or the early church. For example, the morning liturgy of the synagogue contained these parts:

G. K. Beale says, (Revelation, p. 312)

"But, to whatever degree this is correct, John intended the readers to see what is told of in the vision as a heavenly pattern that the church is to reflect in its worship rather than the other way around (just as the heavenly pattern of the tabernacle shown to Moses on the mountain was to be copied by Israel in the construction of their own tabernacle)."

The Bible tells us when the tabernacle was made that it was patterned after heavenly realities. In Hebrews 8:5–6 we read about the old tabernacle and the priests that worked there. It says,

"They serve at a sanctuary
that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.
This is why Moses was warned when
he was about to build the tabernacle:
'See to it that you make everything
according to the pattern
shown you on the mountain."

The Old Testament worship was patterned according to the heavenly reality. You'll recall that in the Holy of Holies was the ark of the covenant. Over it was the mercy seat, a slab of pure gold measuring 45 inches by 27 inches. On the Day of Atonement the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the mercy seat for the forgiveness of the sins of the people. Over the mercy seat were the two cherubim, which were made out of hammered gold. Their wings covered the whole thing. These things reflected the realities that were in heaven. Hebrews 9:23–24 says,

"It was necessary, then,
for the copies of the heavenly things
to be purified with these sacrifices,
but the heavenly things themselves
with better sacrifices than these.
For Christ did not enter a man-made
sanctuary that was only a copy
of the true one;
he entered heaven itself,
now to appear for us in God's presence."

So what we see from chapters Revelation 4 and 5 is that

they show us what our worship should be like.

They shows us how to worship. Grant Osborne tells us that that one of the primary purposes of Revelation chapter 4 is, (Revelation, p. 243)

"to ground our own liturgical worship in the heavenly worship of the celestial beings…"

If we want to learn how to worship God we need to study the throne scene, the 4 living creatures, the 24 elders and the myriads of angels and their worship of God.

What then does this teach us about worship? One of the main things we learn from our text is that

in worship we have to do with an awesome, majestic, powerful and holy God.

In worship we come before God Himself. In true worship we are confronted with God and His glory, with His awesome perfections.

What is our God like? God is described here in terms that are high and exalted. In John's vision God is portrayed, (Mounce, Revelation, p. 120)

"as the brilliance of light reflected from precious stones."

It reminds us of Psalm 104:2 which spoke of God as One who

"wraps himself in light
as with a garment;"

Jasper is mentioned first. This was an opaque jewel, often reddish, but sometimes green, brown, blue, yellow or white. In Revelation 21:11 we read that the Holy City,

"shone with the glory of God,
and its brilliance was like that
of a very precious jewel,
like a jasper, clear as crystal."

And in 21:18 we read that the wall of the holy city was made of jasper. These two references show us that jasper is especially associated with the glory of God. Secondly, God is described as a carnelian. This was a fiery red stone. Third, a rainbow encircled the throne, having the appearance of an emerald. This could be a reference to a transparent rock crystal that could serve as a prism and yield a rainbow of colors.

Some see jasper as showing the majesty or holiness of God, the carnelian as wrath or judgment, and the emerald as the grace and mercy of God. That could be, but perhaps it's better to take them together as showing the 'resplendence of God'. (Osborne, p. 228) God is majestic. As we are told in 1 Timothy 6:16, God,

"lives in unapproachable light,
whom no one has seen or can see."

In 1 John 1:5 John said,

"This is the message we have heard
from him and declare to you:
God is light;
in him there is no darkness at all."

He is all-glorious.

He is also awesome.

Verse 5 tells us,

"From the throne came flashes of lightning,
rumblings and peals of thunder."

This reminds us of the giving of the Law in Exodus 19. The people were at Mount Sinai to receive the law from God. In verse 16 we read,

"On the morning of the third day
there was thunder and lightning,
with a thick cloud over the mountain,
and a very loud trumpet blast.
Everyone in the camp trembled."

Grant Osborne says that the lightning and the torches of fire in verse 5 of our text, (Revelation, p. 231)

"are symbols not only of divine majesty but also of judgment in the Apocalypse. As such they prepare the reader for the outpouring of the wrath of the awesome God soon to come in the book."

It's interesting that the phrase 'lightnings and sounds and thunders' is repeated virtually verbatim in Revelation 8:5, 11:19 and 16:18. All of these instances are at the end of a series of seven judgments. (Beale) These things show us that God is the source of these later judgments. As Beale says,

"note that here the heavenly convulsions 'proceed from the throne')."

What is God like? He is most awesome. He is a holy God who exercises judgment on those who oppose Him. He is the sovereign ruler of the universe. We need to listen to what God says. His rules are not mere suggestions—He accomplishes His will by triumphing over His enemies. We need to bow before Him and obey.

The great lesson for us here is that

our God is so great, so glorious, so holy that we should come before Him in absolute awe and reverence.

Psalm 96:9 says,

"Worship the LORD
in the splendor of his holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth."

Psalm 114:7–115:1 tells us the same thing.

"Tremble, O earth,
at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turned the rock into a pool,
the hard rock into springs of water.
Not to us, O LORD,
not to us but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness."

And in Jeremiah 5:22 God said,

"'Should you not fear me?'
declares the LORD.
'Should you not tremble in my presence?
I made the sand a boundary for the sea,
an everlasting barrier it cannot cross.
The waves may roll,
but they cannot prevail;
they may roar, but they cannot cross it.'"

When we come to worship before God we should come with awe, with reverence, with great humility.

The second important thing to note from our text is that

the praise in heaven celebrates and praises God's character, His work as Creator, His work of redemption.

In his book, Nine Characteristics of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever tells about a seminar he once taught. He wrote,

"I had made a statement in a doctoral seminar about God. Bill responded politely but firmly that he liked to think of God rather differently. For several minutes Bill painted the picture for us of a friendly deity. He liked to think of God as being wise, but not meddling; compassionate, but never overpowering; ever so resourceful, but never interrupting. 'This,' said Bill in conclusion, 'is how I like to think of God.'"

Mark thanked Bill for telling so much about himself but continued,

"but we are concerned to know what God is really like, not simply about our own desires."

In this scene that we have before us, the four living creatures, the 24 elders, and the myriads of angels weren't using their imaginations to construct some image of God that had nothing to do with reality. No. They were worshiping God as He was and is.

We are to worship God, not a figment of our imagination. Craig Keener writes, (Revelation)

"Worship is not the invention of nice things to say about God; it is the recognition of who God already is (4:8), as well as what he has already done or promised to do (4:11; 5:9-12), and how worthy he is of our praise (4:11; 5:12-14)."

One of the great characteristics of our age is that people have no fear of God. They don't want to be confronted with the Holy One of Israel. They are just like the rebellious people of Isaiah's day. Here's how Isaiah described them, (Isaiah 30:10–11)

"They say to the seers,
'See no more visions!'
and to the prophets,
'Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
prophesy illusions.
Leave this way, get off this path,
and stop confronting us
with the Holy One of Israel!"

But consider the scene of worship we have in heaven. The four living creatures praise God for three aspects of His character—His holiness, His power, and His eternity. They never cease to say, (verse 8)

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

The 24 elders praise Him for His work of creation. In chapter 5 Jesus is praised for His work of redemption and of His defeating His enemies. The creatures around the throne are delighting in God. They are delighting in His perfections, His power, His work—even in His judgments on the earth.

The picture we are given here is not one to merely satisfy some of our curiosity. No this is very practical. Gregory Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 311)

"The pastoral purpose [of Revelation 4 & 5] is to assure suffering Christians that God and Jesus are sovereign and that the events that the Christians are facing are part of a sovereign plan that will culminate in their redemption and the vindication of their faith through the punishment of their persecutors."

In chapter 5 Lamb is praised because He is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals. The scroll represents what takes place in the rest of the book of Revelation. There are two great themes—the salvation of God's people and the defeat and punishment of God's enemies.

Our God is an awesome God. We should be praising Him for all His perfections. He is praised in Revelation 4 and 5 for His holiness, His work of creation, His work of redemption, for His triumph over evil.

The third great lesson we should draw from our text is

the importance, the centrality, of proper worship.

God is praised for Who He is, what He has done and what He will do.

What is the church all about? What is central?

Some would point us to the Great Commission and how we are to go into all the world with the gospel. We are to evangelize our neighbors. Some people take from Jesus' words about the fields being white for harvest that for the church growth is the main thing.

It's certainly true that we have a duty to evangelize. If we fail in that duty we are displeasing God.

Yet we must always remember that

church growth isn't something that we can manufacture.

We can only plant and water. God gives the increase. But the fact is that at times He doesn't give growth. His church does everything right, but they remain small, and in the eyes of the world, insignificant. That was true of the church in Smyrna and the church in Philadelphia. God is sovereign as far as salvation goes. Sometimes He has added great numbers to His church in a short time, at other times He has not. As we read in Acts 2:47, (KJV)

"And the Lord added to the church daily
such as should be saved."

If my memory is correct William Carey labored in India for seven years before one person was brought to Christ. It was the same way with Adoniram Judson in Burma. Mark Dever writes, (Nine Marks)

"Biblically, we find that God's Word is replete with images of delayed blessing. God, for His own inscrutable purposes, tests and tries His Jobs and Josephs, His Jeremiahs, and even Jesus Himself. The trials of Job, the beating and selling of Joseph, the imprisonment and mocking of Jeremiah, the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus all remind us that God moves in mysterious ways. He calls us more fundamentally to a relationship of trust with Him than to a full understanding of Him and His ways."

But, someone may object and point out that those are all pre-Pentecost examples. It's different now that the Spirit has been given. Now is the time for the church to expand rapidly, to grow.

But we should note that
the book of Revelation and what it describes is post-Pentecost. The picture in Revelation is of the church persecuted, pursued, beaten down, with its enemies trying to snuff it out. There are times in the book of Revelation when the outlook of the gospel and the church looks bleak indeed.

Evangelism, as important as it is, is not the central thing. If it were the epistles of the New Testament would be almost exclusively about evangelism. But they aren't. No. Here in Revelation 4 and 5 we come to what is central. Mark Dever writes, (Nine Marks of a Healthy Church)

"The purpose of too many evangelical churches has fallen from one of glorifying God simply to growing larger, assuming that that goal, however achieved, must glorify God."

Now I'm not for a minute excusing poor evangelism or giving anyone an excuse for failing in our duty there. But my point is that we need to achieve the proper balance. Evangelism isn't everything nor is it even the main thing. Evangelism flows from a desire to see God glorified, to see Him worshiped as He should be. Jonathan K. Dodson writes, (Why the Missional Church Isn't Enough)

"When the motivation of the church is mission, we are destined to retreat, tire out, and fail… We need a greater, more captivating motivation than "missional church." When the motivation for mission is mission, people will revert to consumerism. However, if our missional endeavors are motivated by something greater, more certain, than our oscillating passion for the advance of the gospel, then there is hope." "In order to keep the global in missional, we must linger on God more than mission. We need the very same gospel we seek to advance in order to advance it. We need Jesus to carry us into the depths of God's character, beauty, and excellence where our imagination will be captivated and our affections thrilled. From this place of awe the mission of the church will advance and God's glory will be completed among the nations."

God and His glory are central. Proper worship is so important. Vern Poythress says, (p. 98)

"The history of the universe, from creation to consummation, finds its significance in worship."

We are called to worship and glorify God in everything we do. We are called to tell the nations about this awesome, holy God who rules all things and who will subdue every one and everything—to the praise of His glory.

The third thing we should understand about true worship is that

it only comes through Jesus Christ.

Who invites John up? John hears a voice. He wrote,

"And the first voice,
which I had heard speaking to me
like a trumpet, said,
'Come up here, and I will show you
what must take place after this.'"

It was the voice that first spoke to Him in Revelation 1:10. It is none other than Jesus. This shows us that (Poythress, p. 99)

"it is always through Christ alone that we have access to God…"

We have access to God's presence, to the worship of God, to the heavenly throne room through Jesus. As Jesus told us in John 14:6,

"I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father
except through me."

You are going to stand before the great judgment throne one day. Are you going to be welcomed as one of the redeemed of Jesus Christ? Or are you going to be totally undone on that day? Will you will be terrified before such a holy God and your very being threatened with disintegration? How horrible to face His wrath and be cast into the lake of fire. Don't let it happen to you. Go to Jesus. Find life in the Lamb.