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3 The Throne (Revelation 4)
Amidst the ruin of the church in responsibility and the failure of those who have sought to answer to the Lord's mind in a day of ruin, it is an immense comfort that there is a scene to which in faith we can turn where our affections may freely flow out and all our associations be pure and happy. Such a scene we have unrolled before us in Revelation 4 and 5.
Nothing could be darker or more dreary than the last phase of the professing church as depicted in the close of Revelation 3. There we find that which professes the Name of Christ on earth boasting in its riches, satisfied with its condition, and yet, not only indifferent to Christ, but actually rejecting Christ, so that Christ is found outside the door. As of old, the nation of Israel sealed its doom by rejecting their Messiah, and their house was left to them desolate; so to-day, Christendom is sealing its doom by rejecting Christ, and very soon will be spued out of His mouth. Such is the solemn picture of Revelation 3, the fulfilment of which we see developing all around us to-day.
In such a condition of things what a relief to the heart to pass in spirit into the scenes depicted in Revelation 4 and 5. In the opening of these chapters we have left earth with its door shut upon Christ to find a door opened into heaven to those who belong to Christ. It is no great hardship to have doors shut in our faces on earth if there is a door opened to us in heaven and an invitation to come hither and pass within the door. Passing within we leave behind the scene in which men make nothing of Christ to find ourselves in a scene where Christ is all in all.
To understand the Book of Revelation we must remember the threefold division given by the Lord to John as recorded in Rev 1:19, where the Apostle is told to "Write therefore what thou hast seen, and the things that are, and the things that are about to be after these" (N. Tr.). In the vision of Christ we have the first division - the things which John had seen. In the seven churches, presenting the whole church period, we have the second division - "The things that are." From Revelation 4, and onward, we have the third division - "The things that are about to be after these things" - after the history of the church on earth is closed.
(V. 1) The first verse of this fresh section opens with the expression "after these things," and again at the close of the verse we read of "the things which must take place after these things" (N. Tr.). Clearly, then, these words refer to the third division and bring us to the strictly prophetic part of the book. Revelation 4 and 5, which are introductory, giving us a vision of things in heaven in order that we may learn the attitude of God towards events about to take place on earth, and telling us also the place of the saints of this age, and former ages, during these events.
Secondly, from Rev 6to11:18, we have a series of events, occurring in succession, covering the whole period between the rapture of the church and the appearing of Christ to establish His kingdom.
Thirdly, from Rev 11:19to19:10, we are instructed as to important details in relation to leaders and events during this period.
Fifthly, in Rev 21:9to22:5, we are again taken back to learn further details concerning the heavenly saints in relation to earth during the millennial age.
Returning to the consideration of the first subdivision, we notice that the great theme of Revelation 4 is the Throne of God, while Revelation 5 is occupied with the Book in which all these events are chronicled. We are thus to learn that behind all that takes place on earth there is the over-ruling throne of God, and that every event is according to the settled counsels of God.
When the corrupt professing church has shut the door to Christ on earth it will be found that there is an open door in heaven through which the true church, like John, can pass to be with Christ in heaven. The One who calls John from earth to heaven is identified with the One who first spoke to him of the seven churches. This we know is the Lord Himself. So will it be the Lord's own voice that will call us to meet Him in the air.Rev 1:19, Rev 22:10). The difference would seem to be that Paul sees the things that belong to the inner circle of the Father's house, whereas John, while he truly conducts us into heavenly scenes, and tells us of heavenly things, yet it is of events in relation to earth. It is our happy privilege to profit by what John has written of the things he saw and heard. Thus in spirit we can pass into this heavenly scene, breathe its pure air, and feast our souls upon the things that speak of Christ. In all this great scene there is nothing to minister to the flesh or divert from Christ.
The first thing we see is a throne; moreover the throne is "set in heaven." The throne is the emblem of rule and authority; the guarantee for order and blessing and security throughout the universe. The fall was in reality a challenge to the throne; sin is rebellion against the throne; infidelity is a denial of the existence of the throne; pride aspires to the throne, and the devil defies the throne. How blessed, then, after six thousand years of rebellion against the throne, to pass into heaven and find the throne "set in heaven," unshaken, unmoved, and immovable; so that we may truly say that in this passage the great theme is the glory of the throne of God.Heb 7:25; Heb 8:1). For the believer the throne is a throne of grace. From the throne that John sees, judgment is about to proceed. To-day evil abounds, lawlessness prevails, and increasingly the world is marked by violence and corruption, and God suffers long with the evil to give men space for repentance, and to make known His grace. Nevertheless, faith knows that, behind all, the throne of God remains unmoved in heaven. The consciousness that God is behind all, and that His throne remains with all its grace available for the saints, with all its mighty power untouched by the evil of men, will keep the soul in the calm of heaven while walking amidst the unrest of earth.
Moreover, "One sat on the throne." This glorious Person is not described, but precious stones are used as symbols to set forth His glory. We must remember that God is seen in connection with the throne. It is not the heart of the Father revealed by the Son who dwelt in the Father's bosom that is before us, but the glory of God set forth in Christ on a throne in connection with the government of the universe. The precious stones are symbols setting forth the radiance of divine glory in government. It is seen in heaven though not yet manifest on earth. On earth we see the misgovernment of man and the longsuffering of God. Had the radiancy of the throne manifested itself upon a sinful world it would have involved judgment for all. The vision carries us beyond the day of grace to a time when the church will have been caught up to heaven, to be followed by the radiancy of the throne shining forth in judgment upon the earth.Genesis 9 we know that the rainbow speaks of the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature upon the earth. It speaks of blessing for earth secured by divine promise, but of blessing after judgment. The rainbow comes after the storm, even as God's promise of blessing follows when the judgment of the flood is past. The rainbow encircling the throne is the sure sign that beyond the judgment of the nations will be blessing for the earth.
(V. 4) Round about the throne John sees four and twenty thrones; and upon the thrones "four and twenty elders." That the elders do not represent angelic beings is clear from the eleventh verse of the following chapter, where we find the angels described as a distinct company standing round the elders. The number twenty-four would seem to be an allusion to the twenty-four courses of the priesthood instituted by David for the "princes" or "governors of the sanctuary." In David's day they were invested with a royal and priestly character and represented the whole priesthood (1Ch 24:5). The saints of this day have the character of "a royal priesthood" to shew forth the praises of God (1Pe 2:9). Thus the elders would appear to symbolise the Old Testament saints as well as the assembly, in their completeness, associated with Christ in glory. Christ is seen upon His throne about to reign, and the saints are seen with Him in His reign - for He is enthroned and they too are enthroned. They are spoken of as "elders," signifying spiritual maturity. No longer do they "know in part;" they are intelligent in the mind of heaven. They are not seen as departed spirits, but with bodies of glory clothed in white raiment, speaking of their priestly character (Exo 28:39-43). On their heads are "crowns of gold" speaking of their royal character. They have finished their earthly pilgrimage in which they suffered for Christ; now they are crowned to reign with Christ.
We have only to trace the allusions to the elders through the course of the Revelation to see how truly representative they are of the saints in glory:Revelation 7, taken out of the great tribulation, but they are found in heaven before the judgments commence.
Secondly, they are a redeemed company as we learn from the following chapter (Rev 8:8-10).
(V. 5) The character of the throne is clearly indicated by the solemn statement that "out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices." Lightnings and thunderings are the accompaniments of judgment, not the symbols of mercy and grace. To-day mercy flows from a throne of grace; in the millennial day a river of water, carrying blessing to the earth, will flow from the throne of God and the Lamb. In the solemn interval between the termination of the day of grace and the commencement of the Kingdom glory, the throne will be executing judgment upon the nations fitly symbolised by lightnings and thunderings.Isa 4:4). Those who to-day refuse the One who speaks in grace from heaven, will find in the day to come that "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29).
(V. 6) Before the throne is "a sea of glass like unto crystal." Before the sanctuary, in Solomon's day, there was a sea of water for the use of the priests (1Ki 7:23-26). Here the sea has become glass like unto crystal, a symbol of the fixed and absolute purity of the throne. In heaven nothing that defiles can enter.
(Vv. 6-8) Lastly, the apostle sees in the midst of the throne and round about the throne "four living creatures." They would appear to be symbols of the executors of the government of God. They are four in number, probably indicating the completeness of God's government flowing out to every quarter of the globe. "Full of eyes" would symbolise the fulness of discernment in God's government from which nothing is hid. The lion, the calf, the face as a man, and the flying eagle, may signify that the government of God will be characterised by strength, firmness, intelligence, and rapidity of administration. Unceasingly they say, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was and is, and is to come." They testify that the government of God is holy, resistless in power, and unchangeable in character. The executors of the government of God will become the occasion of glory and thanksgiving to Him that sits upon the throne for ever and ever. Gen 1:31).
Thus, as the prelude to the coming judgments, we are carried into heaven to see the throne of judgment in heaven unshaken by the wickedness of men; to see the glory of the One who sits upon the throne; to learn in the rainbow that all the promises of God for the blessing of the earth will follow the judgments of the throne, to learn that the saints of the previous ages, and the present period, will be safe in heaven before the judgments fall; to learn that the judgments of the throne will be carried out in the fulness of the Spirit according to the perfection of God's government, and that as a result the Lord will be worshipped and praised as the Creator; and the whole creation, cleared of all evil, will once again be for His pleasure. Let us remember that these things are written that even now we may enter into them in faith, and thus be kept in perfect calm while yet in a world of turmoil.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Revelation 4". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany