Focal Passage: Revelation 4:1-11
John knew his readers were suffering during difficult times, and he showed them a glimpse of pure worship in Revelation 4. This worship reminded them that God was in control as the rest of the visions unfolded in the book of Revelation.
“After this” introduces us to a new vision that John is about to experience and reveal to his readers. John has mentioned the trumpet previously, so we know the voice is Jesus. Once again John reiterates the certainty that this will take place by the phrase “what must take place.” Verse 2 tells us that John was in the Spirit meaning he was gifted to see spiritually what would not be visible physically. What John witnessed is worship of God in its purest form.
The first thing John focuses on is the object of our worship: God the Father. John sees a throne that speaks of who is in control. As impressive as the throne is, the One on the throne is even more impressive. John grappled with how to describe God the Father. He settled on using earthly jewels to communicate inadequately the grandeur of God. The jasper stone could be a diamond which depicts the purity of God. The carnelian stone was a stone red in color which could symbolize the supremacy of God. John mentions a rainbow like an emerald (green) which could harken back to God’s promise not to flood the earth again. This is a reminder of His faithfulness in spite of the tribulation to come. The rainbow pictures God’s mercy in contrast to the lightning and thunder of His judgement. John shared in verse 5 a scene reminiscent of when Moses was on Mount Sinai, and the glory of the Lord descended on the mountain with lightning and thunder. Then John mentions the presence of the Holy Spirit which is seen in the 7 (complete, perfect) spirits before the throne of God. Finally, in verse 6 he mentions a crystal sea of glass which could reflect and magnify the glory of God.
The second thing that John shares is the worshipers: The Elders and the creatures. Verse 4 tells us that there were 24 elders on 24 thrones. There is some debate whether these are angels or humans. Many scholars believe that they represent the 12 patriarchs of the Old Testament and the 12 apostles of the New Testament. This could be a reference to all worshipers. Verses 6-7 introduces us to the four living creatures. The first thing we are told about them is their eyes. They are able to see all things. Many thoughts surround what these animals represent. Some have seen it to signify different parts of creation (wild beasts, domesticated animals, humanity, flying creatures) while others see them represented as the best of nobleness (lion), strength (calf/oxen), dominion (human), swiftness (eagle). These creatures will be the leaders of worship in this vision and judgment in visions to come.
The final thing that John shows is worship itself in verses 8-11. Verses 8-9 show us that the creatures are about worshiping God constantly (“day and night”). They pronounce the holiness of God and the eternal sovereign nature of God Almighty. Their initiation of worship elicits a response from the 24 elders which we see in verses 10-11. They fall down and worship God. They cast their crowns before the throne as a public display of their submission to the King of Kings. They complete this act of worship by reciting why the Lord is worthy of their display. The fact that God is the creator and sustainer of life gives Him the right to judge creation.