The Throne Of Heaven

August 16, 2015 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

 

Many people are fascinated with so-called true stories about people’s experiences of heaven. Easily, books of this genre become hits in bookstands and theaters.

  One of the books of this type is, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A True Story, written by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin. In 2004, when Alex was 6, he and his father were badly injured in a car accident. Alex ended up in a coma for two months, during which time he said that his body stayed in the hospital while he traveled to heaven. In the book, Alex says that soon after that he felt an angel take him through the gates of heaven to meet Jesus and Satan.  After he woke up in the hospital, he told his family his account of his near-death experience. Tyndale House promoted the book as "a supernatural encounter that will give you new insights on Heaven, angels, and hearing the voice of God.” (Wikipedia)   By 2009 more than a million copies were sold, and the book was adapted into a TV movie in March 2010.     Another Christian book about heaven is Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. It was written by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. The book documents the report of a near-death experience by Burpo's then-three-year-old son, Colton. The book recounts the experiences Colton relates from visits he said he made to heaven during a near-death experience.   By 2014 over 10 million copies had been sold. A movie based on the book was released on April 16, 2014, earning $101 million at the box office.   In the book, Todd writes that during the months after his son, Colton, had emergency surgery in 2003 at the age of three, Colton began describing events and people that seemed impossible for him to have known about. Examples include knowledge of an unborn sister and details of a great-grandfather who had died 30 years before Colton was born. Colton also claimed that he personally met Jesus riding a rainbow-colored horse and sat in Jesus' lap while angels sang songs to him. He also says he saw Mary kneeling before the throne of God and at other times standing beside Jesus. (Wikipedia)   There are many other books and testimonies of this sort but we wonder if they are real. In order to be sure, we might as well check out God’s Word. Isaiah 8:20, in the New Living Translation, says,  Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark.     In contrast to the accounts of those who falsely claim to have visited heaven, the Bible records accounts of several people who actually were taken there in visions. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel were among the OT prophets who were allowed to see heaven and give some descriptions of it (Isa. 6:1; Ezek. 1:26; Dan. 7:9). The apostle Paul also was taken up to the third heaven, although he was unsure if it was in the body or out of the body, but he was forbidden to speak of what he saw there (2Co 12:4). The apostle John also had the special privilege of visiting heaven. He records what he saw in heaven in Revelation 4 and 5. These two chapters contain the most detailed information that we have about heaven that is found in all of Scripture. Don’t add to this!   Revelation 22:18, John writes, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.”   Today we are going to look at the vision of John, which he relates in chapter 4. This is the true picture of heaven as related to us by a reliable witness. In Rev 22:8 we read, “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things.”     John begins chapter 4 with the words, “after this.” These words mark the beginning of a new vision as it does in other portions of Revelation (7:9; 15:5; 18:1; 19:1). Here in 4:1, “after this,” not only introduces a new vision but also a new section of the book.  

Here is a simple four-part division of the book of Revelation:

  1. Prologue (1:1-8)

  2. Part 1: The things that are now happening (1:9-3:22)

  • Part 2: The things that will happen (4:1-22:5)

  1. Epilogue (22:6-21)

  This outline follows the wordings of 1:19 in The New Living Translation:   “Write down what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen   So in chapter 1 John wrote of his vision of the glorified Christ and in chapters 2 and 3 he wrote of the present conditions of the seven churches in Asia Minor. Now beginning in chapter 4 John turns to write about future events. This begins the main prophetic portion of Revelation.   This big section of prophecy from chapter 4 to 22 can still be divided into smaller sections. The first section is from 4:1—8:1 which talks about the seven-sealed scroll. So don’t forget that as we begin to look at chapter 4, this should not be seen as something separate from the chapters 5 to 7. All these chapters must be viewed together, with chapters 4 and 5 as a preparation for the breaking of the seven seals in chapter 6 and 7.   Chapters 4 and 5 reveal the center of divine authority, namely, the God the Father who is sitting on the heavenly throne and the Lamb of God who alone is worthy to open the scroll containing God’s written judgments. These chapters teach that the terrifying things that must take place in the future on earth are all predetermined by God and part of His divine plan. These chapters also teach that in spite of all the evil of Satan and his minions, God’s rule is supreme and He governs his entire creation through the Lamb.   Today, we’ll be focusing only on chapter 4.   For my outline of chapter 4, I have gotten some idea from John MacArthur. You will notice in the outline that the word “throne” is repeated in every point because the throne of God is the central theme of chapter 4, being mentioned eleven times in this chapter.   An Outline of chapter 4:  
  1. Summons to the Throne (4:1)
  2. On The Throne (4:2-3a)
  3. Around the Throne (4:3b-4)
  4. From the Throne (4:5a)
  5. Before the Throne (4:5b-6a)
  6. On each side of the Throne (4:6b-8a)
  7. Toward the Throne (4:8b-11)
 

1. The Summons to the Throne (4:1)

  In Revelation 1:10, John said that he was in the Spirit when he received his first vision which he wrote about in 1:10 to 3:22. Perhaps after receiving that vision, the Holy Spirit brought him back to his normal senses, and that is when he wrote what he saw and heard. After writing the letter to the Laodicean church, the events of verse 1 of chapter 4 happened.   He saw a door standing open in heaven and heard the voice that summoned him to come up to heaven. John did not see the actual opening of the door; it was already open when he saw it. This is a special door opened to admit John to heaven in order to see the divine throne room and the individuals and their activities there. He would also be told about things that must take place in the future on earth.   John also heard [a voice] speaking to [him] like a trumpet. It was a summons from Jesus for him to come up. This was the same voice that John heard in Rev 1:10. The loudness of the sound of the voice shows the authority that accompanied the command of Jesus to John.   When John heard the summons at once he was in the Spirit. He was again in a state of prophetic trance by the power of the Holy Spirit. He was taken up through that open door into heaven only in a spiritual sense; his body remained in Patmos. He could see, he could hear, he could feel, and he had all of his emotions functioning as though his body was literally in heaven.   By the way, this command for John to “come up here” has no connection with the rapture. In the first place when Jesus called John to heaven, his body remained on Patmos, whereas at the rapture, the bodies of the believers will be glorified and transported to heaven. Secondly, John’s summons is a command to receive revelation, but that of the church is one that accomplishes final salvation for the redeemed ones of the Body of Christ (Robert Thomas).  

2. On the Throne (4:2-3a)

  MacArthur: Today most people who claim to have visions of heaven tend to emphasize its most bizarre aspects. Yet John’s vision focused on the glorious throne of God and the majesty of the [One seated on the throne]. John was amazed and astounded by what he saw, causing him to exclaim, “behold.”   William Barclay: The throne of God is a common Old Testament picture. The prophet said: "I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him" (1Ki 22:19). The Psalmist has it: "God sits on his holy throne" (Ps 47:8). Isaiah saw the Lord "sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up" (Isa 6:1).  … When Handel was asked how he had come to write the Messiah, his answer was: "I saw the heavens opened and God upon his great white throne."   In the Revelation the throne of God is mentioned in two out of every three chapters. The throne is a ceremonial chair for a sovereign that signifies authority and sovereign power. Whether it is an actual piece of furniture in heaven or not, the important thing is that it is a symbol of God’s majesty and sovereign rule and authority in exercising judgment.   John said that the throne stood in heaven. MacArthur says,   The throne was said to be standing because God’s sovereign rule was fixed, permanent and unshakable. A vision of God’s immovable throne reveals He is in permanent, unchanging, and complete control of the universe. That is a comforting realization in light of the horror and trauma of the end-time events about to be revealed (chapters 6-19).   John saw One seated on the throne. Though John does not mention the One sitting on the throne we know from many other passages in the Bible that he is referring to God the Father. There is something very interesting in the way John describes God. He makes no attempt to describe God in any human shape. He describes God in terms of vivid colors that flash from precious stones, but he never mentions any kind of form.   John compares God as having the appearance of jasper and carnelian. We do not know exactly what these stones were.   Today, jasper is an opaque reddish brown stone. But in the ancient world, it seems to have been entirely different. Rev 21:11 says that glorious radiance of the city of Jerusalem is “like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” In light of this there are some who think that the jasper mentioned here in Revelation is a diamond. “All the shining, flashing facets of the glory of God are compared to a diamond, brilliantly refracting all the colors of the spectrum” (MacArthur).   Carnelian (or “sardius” in some translations) is a fiery deep-red stone. It also expresses the shining beauty of God’s glory, but it may also symbolize God’s blazing wrath.   These stones of crystal clear diamond and fiery red carnelian present to us the holiness of God and the justice of God shown in the severity of his judgment. The picture is that of His anger because of His holy nature reacting to the prevailing sinfulness of mankind (Robert Thomas).  

3. Around the Throne (4:3b-4)

  Moving away from his description of the One seated on the throne, John describes what was around the throne.  
  • First, he says that around the throne was a rainbow. This rainbow however was of a different color from the rainbows that we often see today which has seven colors. John says that it had the appearance of an emerald, and emerald is green. Perhaps, the reason for green color is to provide a comforting balance to the fiery red flashings of judgment earlier seen from God’s throne. According to Genesis 9:13-17, a rainbow symbolizes God’s covenant faithfulness, mercy, and grace. God’s attributes always operate in perfect harmony.
  In many portions of Scripture we read of the wonderful combination of these two attributes of God. Paul wrote in Romans 11:22, “Note then the kindness and the severity of God.” Also in Ro 2:4-5 we read, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.”  
  • Besides the rainbow, John also saw around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.
  The identity of the 24 elders has been much debated. While some see them as an order of angelic beings, it seems best to view them as human representatives of OT and NT saints. Here is why? Ideas from MacArthur:  
  • First, the reference to the twenty-four thrones they sit upon indicates that they reign with Christ. Nowhere in Scripture do angels sit on thrones, nor are they pictured as reigning. The saints however are invited by Jesus to sit with him on the throne (Rev 3:21) and the saints in heaven are given authority to judge by sitting on thrones (Rev 20:4). In 1Co 6:2-3 we also see that it is not angels but saints that receive this privilege.
 
  • Second, the Greek word translated “elders” is never used in Scripture to refer to angels, but always to men. It is used of older men in general, and the rulers of both Israel and the church. Further, “elder” would be inappropriate term to describe angels, who do not age.
 
  • Third, while angels do appear in white as in Jn 20:12 and Acts 1:10, white garments more commonly are the dress of believers. That is particularly true in the immediate context of Revelation. Christ promised the believers at Sardis that they would be “clothed in white garments.” (3:5). He advised the Laodiceans to “buy from Me … white garments” (3:18). At the marriage supper of the Lamb, His bride will “clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean” (19:8). White garments symbolize Christ’s righteousness imputed to believers at salvation.
 
  • Fourth, that the elders wore golden crowns on their heads provides further evidence that they were humans. Crowns are never promised to angels in the Bible, nor are angels ever seen wearing them. This crown in Greek refers to the victor’s crown, worn by those who successfully competed and won the victory. Christ promised this crown to the loyal believers at Smyrna.
 

4. From the Throne (4:5a)

  Next, John continues to describe what came from the throne. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder.   These things in nature display God’s grandeur, power, and might (Job 36:29, 30; Ps. 18:13–15; 29:3–5). But in the book of Revelation, all of these are also associated with manifestations of God’s displeasure. They are found in connection with the 7th seal in Rev 8:5, the 7th trumpet in 11:19, and the seventh bowl of wrath in 16:18. The visible and audible displays from God’s throne are a preview of the divine wrath that God is about to pour out on the earth as described in chapter 6-19.    

5. Before the throne (4:5b-6a)

  John saw two things before the throne.   First, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire. These lampstands refer to outdoor torches that gave off fierce, blazing light of a fiery torch. John identifies them as the seven spirits of God.   MacArthur: This phrase describes the Holy Spirit in all His fullness (Isaiah 11:2; Zech 4:1-10). Torches are associated with war in Judges 7:16,20 and Nahum 2:3-4. John’s vision depicts God as ready to make war on sinful, rebellious humanity and the Holy Spirit as His war torch. The Comforter of those who love Christ will be the Consumer of those who reject Him.   The second thing that John saw before the throne is in verse 6. He writes, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. That sea may not be literal because there is no sea in heaven. What John saw at the base of the throne was a vast pavement of glass, shining brilliantly like crystal.   Exodus 24:10 records a similar scene when Moses, Aaron and the elders of Israel saw the God of Israel. “And they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.”    

6. On Each Side of the Throne (4:6b-8a)

  This passage introduces us to four living creatureson each side of the throne of God. These four will play a significant role in the events in Revelation.   Ezekiel gives a detailed description of these incredible beings in Ezekiel 1 but John gives a clearer description of their position and appearance. Their position is around the throne, on each side of the throne which means that they are in the inner circle nearest the throne.   The translation “living creatures” is somewhat misleading, since these are not animals. Literally they are “four living ones or beings.”   These four living beings are the cherubim (singular, cherub). These belong to a higher order of angels that are frequently referred to in the OT in connection with God’s presence, power, and holiness.   Although John’s description is not identical to Ezekiel’s, they are obviously both referring to the same supernatural and indescribable beings (Ezek. 1:4–25; 10:15).   They are full of eyes in front and behind (cf. Ezek 1:18). Although not omniscient, these angels have a comprehensive knowledge and perception. Nothing escapes their attention.   Ezekiel portrays the four living beings as each having four faces: of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (1:10). In John’s description each of these has one face.   These four beings symbolize four of God’s earthly creations: a lion represents wild animals, an ox represents domesticated animals, a human represents humanity, and an eagle represents the flying creatures. These four figures are drawn from Ezekiel 1 (cherubim) and Isaiah 6 (seraphim).   Robert Thomas explains what these animals may represent:   Among the wild animals the lion is viewed as “king of the jungle” and, in general, represents what is the most noble; so this first being should be understood in this sense. The ox pictures that part of creation that is strongest. The human face represents intelligence and reason and represents the wisest of creation. The flying eagle represents the swiftest in creation. Together then, the four living being picture all animal life from the perspectives of greatest nobility, strength, wisdom, and speed.   Their six wings denote that their supreme responsibility and privilege of the living beings is to constantly worship. Robert Thomas writes:   The close relationship of this part of their appearance with the seraphim of Isaiah suggests explaining the wing’s purpose in that light. In Isaiah 6:2, two wings covered the face, denoting awe, because the seraphim dared not look at God; two covered the feet, denoting humility, because they stand in His presence; and with two they would fly, denoting obedience, because they are ready to carry out His commands.   After mentioning the wings, John continues to observe that they are full of eyes all around and within. This is a reminder of their alertness and comprehensive knowledge. This also implies a constant vigilance over God’s creation.  

7. Toward the Throne (4:8b-11)

  This scene in heaven ends in worship directed toward God on His throne. Here and in chapter 5 are five great hymns of praise, each gradually increasing in the number of singers—from a quartet (the four living creatures) with the twenty-four elders joining in (4:10), then myriads of angels adding their voices (5:11), and finally, all created beings in the universe filling in the mighty chorus of praise to God (5:13).   The mighty songs of worship can be divided into two parts: the hymns of creation in chapter 4, and the hymns of redemption in chapter 5.   In the hymns of creation in chapter 4 we find several elements:  
  • The four living creatures begin by focusing on God’s holiness: and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy.” The threefold repetition of holy is also found in Is. 6:3. Holiness is the only one of God’s attributes repeated in this way, since it is the summation of all that He is.
 
  • Next, the four living creatures refer to God’s power. He is the Lord God Almighty. “The Almighty” is a title by which God identified himself to Abraham (Gen. 17:1). That term identifies God as the most powerful being, devoid of any weakness, whose conquering power and overpowering strength none can oppose. Because God is almighty, He can effortless do whatever his holy will purposes to do (cf. Is. 40:28).
  God’s power is seen in creation. Psalm 33:9 says, “He spoke and it was done: He commanded and it stood fast.” Having created the universe, God also controls it. But the aspect of God’s power most clearly in view here is His power exhibited in judgment. And it will be God’s power that unleashes the terrible, irresistible judgments on sinful mankind during the tribulation before the Lord’s return.  
  • The four living creatures also praise God for his eternity, extolling him as the One who was and is and is to come! Scripture repeatedly affirms God’s eternity, that He has no beginning or ending (e.g. Psalms 90:2; 93:2; Is. 57:15, 1 Tim. 1:17).
  The praise of the four living creatures, as they give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, triggers a response from the twenty-four elders.   9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty- four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever.     This is the first of six times the elders fall down before the One seated on the throne to worship Him. (5:8; 14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4). This is a posture of reverential worship a natural response to the majestic glory of God.     Amazingly, after the twenty-four elders prostrate themselves before God, “They cast their crowns before the throne. They are not concerned about their own holiness, honor or reward. All those things pale into significance and become meaningless in light of the glory of God.   The elders then add their own note to the chorus of praise, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.”   The word worthy as the opening word receives emphasis here. No one in the entire universe is worthy of glory, honor, and power but God and the Lamb.   God is worthy because of creation. for you created all things. The universe that God created is so boundless that we marvel at God’s power. The Creator has made all things from the smallest particle to the largest star. Thus, the work of creation is the reason for the elders expressing their praise to the Lord God.   The work of creation depends entirely on God’s will. and by your will they existed and were created. Without his will nothing happens. In other words, this world did not come into being by evolving on its own, but God exercised his will (Heb. 11:3). Thus, humanity, the animal and plant worlds, and inanimate matter exist only because of the will of God. This means that everything created by God must worship and serve Him.   Is that what you are doing? Is your life characterized by worship of God. Are you even thinking about it? According to Ps 19:1, The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Do you realize this?   Paul says in Romans 1:18-20:   18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.   Worship of God is the greatest calling of man. The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever! Are we doing this as our chief business? If the greatest of angels and greatest of saints do this then so should we.   I want to go back to the story that I used to open this study. I talked about many people’s fascination with stories about going to heaven. I told you about Alex, the co-author of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A True Story. On January 13, 2015, Alex released an open letter to Christian publishers and bookstores confessing that the entire account of his journey to heaven was fictional, and implored them to remove the book from their stores. His letter is as follows:   "Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short. I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible. It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible... not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.   In Christ, Alex Malarkey.”