Revelation 4:8

Sermon preached on May 8, 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.

It's a very sad fact that some of the greatest chess players in history have developed mental problems later in life. As someone said,

"A good chess player is paranoid, but if you take that paranoia to real life–it doesn't play so well."

I don't have any statistics but it seems that a disproportionate number of chess players have been committed to insane asylums. Some of their behavior has been very bizarre.

In March, 1905, Henry Pillsbury, one of the best players of his day tried to jump out a 4th story window at the Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia. He was stopped by several nurses and doctors. I'm not sure if it was him or another grandmaster who did that (trying to jump out a window) because he believed a fly was chasing him.

Bobby Fischer, perhaps the best chess player who ever lived, became very paranoid in his later years. He thought that the CIA was after him. He even covered his windows with tin foil.

But one of the most bizarre cases was that of former world chess champion, Wilheim Steinitz. Later in life he was committed to an insane institution. It was reported that at one point he, (From, Bobby Fischer Against the World)

"thought he was playing chess by wireless, with God Almighty, and, had the better of God Almighty."

I know I can't beat even a mediocre computer chess program. If anyone thinks that they can beat God at chess they really have no conception of the greatness of God. If he wasn't insane his audacity would have been incredible.

But unfortunately it's not just insane people who have some sort of audacity like that. Most, if not all people fall short in this area.

One of the great problems that human beings have is that we tend to think of God in terms that are much too low. We tend to think of ourselves in terms that are much too high. We don't know our place in relation to God. We can be very arrogant and full of pride. It started with Eve in the Garden. She thought she was going to be like God. She disbelieved God and believed Satan. We can be like that. We can be like
Peter, who once took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. (Matthew 16) We can talk back to God and be upset with Him. Remember how disobedient Jonah was when God told him to go to Nineveh? Remember how disappointed he was when Nineveh repented? Remember how discouraged Elijah was in the way things turned out when he was fleeing from Queen Jezebel? Remember what Job said during all his trials? He wanted to question God. (Job 23:3-5) Even Moses, the meekest man on the face of the earth, failed at one point to honor God in front of the Israelites. Because of that he was barred from entering the Promised Land.

I could go on and one naming example after example. But this morning we're going to look at the cure for all such presumption. If we understand this doctrine correctly, we'll never be arrogant toward God. We're going to look at the first part of the praise of the four living creatures. We read, (Revelation 4:8)

"Each of the four living creatures
had six wings and was covered
with eyes all around,
even under his wings.
Day and night they never stop saying:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come."

They praised God for was His holiness. Our God is holy. What does this mean? How should it affect how we live? These are the questions that we are going to look at this morning.

The first thing I want you to see is

it is very important that we understand that God is holy.

We see this from the fact that the four living creatures never cease proclaiming it.

"Day and night they never stop saying:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come."

It reminds us of Isaiah 6 where Isaiah had His vision of God on His throne. They called out to one another,

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."

God is holy.

I once heard a minister preach on God's holiness and his point was that 'holiness' was the most central attribute of God. To support that he said that you could put 'holy' with any other attribute of God to modify it. You could speak of God's
holy love, of His holy wrath, of His holy wisdom etc. etc. But he said that you couldn't do that with any other attribute of God, even His love. For example, you could refer to God's 'loving wrath' because it wouldn't make any sense. He concluded from that that holiness was the most central attribute of God.

But I don't think that means anything at all. It's interesting. But it doesn't prove that holiness is the primary attribute of God.

I'm not really sure that we should speak of one attribute of God being more central than another. Is God more holy than He is just? Is He more holy that He is truthful? Is He more holy than He is loving? Is He more holy than He is wise? No.

Notice in our text that the 4 living creatures are not only praising God for His holiness, but
also His power and His eternity. They say,

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

The best theologians believe it's wrong to try to create a hierarchy among God's attributes. It is true that in certain places the Bible does emphasize and put in the forefront certain of God's attributes. Sometimes it's God's love that is emphasized. Sometimes it's His purity—that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.

But we must remember that God is one. We must not think of Him as a mere collection of attributes. Wayne
Grudem writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 178)

"God's whole being includes all of his attributes: he is entirely loving, entirely merciful, entirely just, and so forth…. God himself is a unity, a unified and completely integrated whole person who is infinitely perfect in all of these attributes."

Grudem continues, (Systematic Theology, p. 178)

"Why then does Scripture speaks of these different attributes of God? It is probably because we are unable to grasp all of God's character at one time, and we need to learn of it from different perspectives over a period of time. Yet these perspectives should never be set in opposition to one another, for they are just different ways of looking at the totality of God's character."

So we should not think that holiness is the essential, central attribute of God.

Yet, having said that, it's essential that we grasp and understand how vitally important God's holiness is. As James Montgomery
Boice points out that the Bible itself, (Foundations of the Christian Faith, p. 125)

"calls God holy more than anything else."

Notice as well that the word 'holy' is repeated three times by the living creatures. They said,

"Holy, Holy, Holy…"

It was the same with the seraphs in Isaiah 6. They emphasized God's holiness.

So the question is, if all of God's attributes are equal, why is His holiness emphasized in certain places? Why is it mentioned more than any other attribute of God? The answer probably lies in our needs.

God's holiness is emphasized because we need to keep it in mind.

We are so prone to go astray in this area that God time and again God presses it upon us. We naturally think too highly of ourselves. We naturally think too little of God. By nature, we don't have a reverence and fear of God like we should. Consider Psalm 50:1–4. Is this how we think of God?

"The Mighty One, God, the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun
to the place where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.
Our God comes and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.
He summons the heavens above,
and the earth,
that he may judge his people:"

No. Most people don't think of God that way. They think of him like an all forgiving grandfather. Even a lot of Christians today don't seem to have a great fear of God. They live their lives as if it God's commands are mere suggestions, advice from on high that we don't have to be very careful to follow.

How different is what God says. In Hebrews 12:25–29 the apostle wrote,

"See to it that you do not
refuse him who speaks.
If they did not escape
when they refused him
who warned them on earth,
how much less will we,
if we turn away from him
who warns us from heaven?
At that time his voice shook the earth,
but now he has promised,
Once more I will shake not only the earth
but also the heavens.
The words once more indicate
the removing of what can be shaken
—that is, created things—
so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving
a kingdom that cannot be shaken,
let us be thankful,
and so worship God acceptably
with reverence and awe,
for our 'God is a consuming fire.'"

Indeed, one of the reasons that God's holiness is highlighted here, is because, as Robert H. Mounce says, (Revelation, p. 125)

"their praise is here directed to those attributes of God that are central to the Apocalypse his holiness, power, and eternity."

How is holiness central to the Apocalypse?

There are at least two important ways in which we should keep God's holiness in mind as we consider the subsequent events in Revelation, as well as the events in our lives. First, God's holiness denotes that He is the high and exalted One. Second, His holiness shows that He is right in what He does in His judgments upon the earth. Wayne Grudem writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 201)

"God's holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor. This definition contains both a relational quality (separation from) and a moral quality (the separation is from sin or evil…)"

Terrible times are coming for the Christian church. When Jesus opens the seven seals great judgments are going to come upon the earth. The beasts are going to appear, one out of the earth and one out of the sea. The beast out of the earth is going to make war upon the saints and conquer them. The earth is going to experience the seven plagues and the seven bowls of God's wrath.

For the Christians that are alive then—how are they going to cope? How are they going to be able to explain these things to unbelievers as they ask them 'Why?'.

Today's society is in great need of hearing about the holiness of God. People today have no idea. They have no fear of God. Most people think that, if there is a God, that they don't have to worry, because, when they die, He would never consign them to hell because they're good people.

They have no idea what God's holiness means. We need to tell them. The seraph in Isaiah 6 covered their faces with two of their wings. They could not look on God's glory with uncovered faces. Isaiah, God's prophet, was incredibly distressed when he had his vision of God. He said, (Isaiah 6:5)

"Woe to me! I am ruined!"

Isaiah was filled with dread and horror. The word 'ruined means to come apart at the seams, to be unraveled, to be pulled apart. Isaiah felt like he was going to be destroyed, that he was going to cease to exist. It also has connotations of being silenced, of being absolutely overwhelmed.

For a sinner to be confronted with the Holy God is an absolutely terrifying experience.

This brings us to the meaning of God's holiness. There are two parts to it.

First, it means that He is high and exalted, absolutely majestic—so great we cannot imagine how great He is.

He is absolutely transcendent. He is so exalted that we cannot even imagine how glorious He is. Even the exalted seraphim do not look on Him with uncovered faces. He dwells in light unapproachable. He is absolutely pure. He is wholly other. He is far, far, far above us. He is so far separated from sin and corruption that He cannot look on it without hating it. He is the Holy One of Israel.

The Hebrew word for 'holy' comes from the verb 'to cut or separate'. Louis
Berkhof writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 73)

"Its fundamental idea is that of a position or relationship existing between God and some person or thing."

It highlights the Creator and creature distinction.

He is God. We are merely creatures. Louis Berkhof says that God's holiness, (Systematic Theology, p. 73)

"denotes that He is absolutely distinct from all His creatures, and is exalted above them in infinite majesty. So understood, the holiness of God is one of His transcendental attributes…"

We see something similar in our text. John doesn't really describe God, except in terms of glorious light from precious stones. John mostly describes what is going on around God's throne.

Berkhof quotes from Otto's study of holiness and says that God's holiness, (Systematic Theology, p.73)

"includes such ideas as, 'absolute unapproachability' and 'absolute overpoweringness' or 'aweful majesty'."

This is illustrated for us Isaiah 55:8-9. God said,

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,'
declares the LORD.
'As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.'"

We see the same thing in Romans 9:19–21,

"One of you will say to me:
'Then why does God still blame us?
For who resists his will?'
But who are you,
O man, to talk back to God?
Shall what is formed say to him who formed it,
'Why did you make me like this?'
Does not the potter have the right
to make out of the same lump of clay
some pottery for noble purposes
and some for common use?"

Job, after his trials were over, had learned his lesson well. After God answered him out of the whirlwind he said to God, (Job 42:3)

"[You asked,]'Who is this that obscures
my counsel without knowledge?'
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know."

God is far above us. Donald Macleod says that God, possesses, (Behold Your God, p. 88)

"a final and unchallengeable authority… He is answerable to no one."

But there's more to it than just the fact that God is higher than us. The second aspect of holiness with regard to God is the fact that

He is absolutely pure, righteous.

God is ethically pure. Michael Horton says that God's holiness marks, (p. 268)

"the ethical opposition between God and sinners."

James 1:13 tells us that God cannot be tempted with evil. Habakkuk 1:13 says of God,

"Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrong."

God is so pure that His presence is awesome, in the sense of being terrifying to us, to sinners.

In Isaiah 6 we see that Isaiah was filled with terror when he saw God on His throne. According to R.C. Sproul, Isaiah was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation, respected as a paragon of virtue. But when he was confronted with the Holy One of Israel, what happened? (The Holiness of God, p. 44)

"In a brief second he was exposed, make naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness… The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed—morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. His sense of integrity collapsed."

James Montgomery Boice writes on coming face to face with the Holy. (Systematic Theology, p. 131)

"It is not a pleasant experience. It is profoundly threatening, for the Holy cannot coexist in the same space with the unholy. God must destroy the unholy or else purge out the sin."

Hebrews 12:29 tells us that

"our God is a consuming fire."

Donald Macleod writes, (p. 92)

"The One who is with us is dreadful."

The account of the Spirit's coming at Pentecost stressed the holiness of God's presence. The tongues of fire that rested on each of them are, (Macleod, p. 92)

"reminiscent of the burning bush, the pillar of fire and the fire that consumed the 250 followers of Korah. All these are symbols of the divine purity and majesty, reacting destructively to sin in the church."

Now, what does this mean for us?

First, this means that

you need to be holy.

You are called to be holy. God demands that you be holy. In 1 Peter 1:15–16 the apostle wrote,

"But just as he who called you is holy,
so be holy in all you do;
for it is written:
'Be holy, because I am holy.'"

We're not saved by our good works. We're saved by Jesus and His work. We receive Jesus by faith. Yet those who believe on Jesus receive the Holy Spirit and He changes them. If we don't have the fruits of holiness in our life then we don't belong to Christ. As we read in Hebrews 12:14

"be holy; without holiness
no one will see the Lord."

Secondly, we should be assured that

whatever God does, in our lives and in His judgments around us—that He is holy.

Gregory Beal writes, (Revelation, p. 332)

"The use of Isa. 6:3 here lays the basis for the revelation of divine wrath in 15:8ff.,"

God is righteous is what He does. God is righteous in His judgments. In Revelation 15:8 we read,

"And the temple was filled with smoke
from the glory of God and from his power,
and no one could enter the temple
until the seven plagues
of the seven angels were completed."

What follows in Revelation 16 is the seven bowls of God's wrath that are poured out on the earth. Yet, God's glory, God's holiness is involved in these judgments. As we read in Revelation 20:11,

"Then I saw a great white throne
and him who was seated on it.
Earth and sky fled from his presence,
and there was no place for them."

The earth and sky have to flee from Him. He is the high and exalted One, the Holy One. He's holy.

No matter what dark times come upon you or upon the church—your God is holy. He is high and exalted. He is glorious. He is righteous and pure. He is saving His people and destroying His enemies. Praise Him for that. Praise Him. Praise Him.

Thirdly, in our lives, in our deeds and in our worship—we must tell the world that God is holy.

The world today doesn't want to hear about a holy God. I mentioned Isaiah's words recently and how the people of his generation told him to stop confronting them with the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 30:11) They wanted to hear pleasant things.

And that's what a lot of so called churches are doing today. They minimize sin and focus on positive things.

Many church growth experts today will tell you that we have to minimize God's holiness in our preaching and worship services. They won't use those exact words, but their whole attitude about worship has to do with what is acceptable in our society, to what people find enjoyable or entertaining.

But that is the wrong approach to worship. We need to follow the pattern of worship in Revelation 4 and 5. One of the things that needs to be stressed in worship is God's holiness.

Our approach to worship is far too casual. There is a time in meeting with God's people for being informal, for feeling relaxed. But there is also a time when we should remember that we are meeting with God to worship Him. This doesn't happen very often, but sometimes when I start my sermon I wonder if rather than having, 'Sermon' up on the overhead behind me, by mistake the overhead says, "Break Time" and suggests that it's a time to get up and walk around, go to the bathroom, and chat quietly with a family member or friend. People can go to a movie today and sit quietly for 90 minutes. But when we gather to hear God's Word, we behave much more casually. Such should not be.
Donald Macleod writes, (p. 93)

"Not even the greatest confidence in saying, 'Abba, Father!' can eliminate the sense of holy dread inalienable from man's approach to God. Even Christ pauses on the threshold and says, 'Holy Father' (John 17:11)."

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians,

this shows you that you are doomed unless you go to Jesus.

God is holy. Jesus is coming and when you get that first glimpse of Him you will know you are doomed. You will be filled with dread like you never had before. You will come before the throne of a holy God and know you are lost.

Don't let that happen to you. Go to Jesus. He can cleanse you. He can purify you. He can make you fit to dwell with God and to bask in His holiness and glory. What a gift He offers you. Go to Him today.