The Throne

Original Date: 
Sunday, May 24, 2015

Revelation 4 & 5 Jesus Wins: The Throne

A Hunger For God
I want to create within us a yearning for God.

That’s my goal for us this morning. I want us to come away from our time together with a heart-hunger for Jesus Christ. I want us to see Jesus as irresistibly admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. I want us to long to serve and honor and worship Him more. I want us to be revived and renewed in our commitment to Him.

A student once asked Bonaventure, the medieval Franciscan teacher, "Why don't men love God more?" And he answered, "They don't love him because they don't know him."

That's the way I feel about Jesus Christ this morning. If I can display for you just a fraction of the worth of Christ today, I believe you will love Him and trust Him and follow Him, no matter what it costs. That's my prayer for us today. That we’ll come away knowing Christ better, so that we can love Him more.

John Piper writes:

The human heart was made to stand in awe of ultimate excellence -- You were made to admire Jesus Christ the Son of God -- Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, King of kings and Lord of lords -- and if your heart is not much taken up with him then you don't need to look any farther to know the deepest source of your frustration. (March 23, 1986)

Let me repeat that, and paraphrase it a little. He’s saying that our hearts have been made with a need to know and worship ultimate excellence—and that ultimate excellence is Jesus Christ. And so, if you don’t know Jesus—if your heart is not much taken up with Him—then that is the source of your deepest frustration. Any discontent you feel in your life stems—ultimately—from not knowing Jesus.

And so my goal for us this morning is to help us stand in awe of the excellence of Christ. Like I said, I want to create within us a heart-hunger for Jesus Christ.

And the thing is: the way to create a hunger is not by being stingy. You don’t create hunger by withholding food. That’s starvation. It’s painful, and not healthy. Rather, the way to create a true hunger is to lay out an elaborate feast, to feed people with such delicious food that they’ll be longing for more.

And that’s what the Bible does for us in Revelation 4 and 5: it presents us with an elaborate feast of God. It pulls back the curtain of heaven and shows us the majesty and splendor of Jesus. It piles images and descriptions on top of each other to show us the Reality with a capital “R” that exists beyond this flesh and blood world that we can see. The idea is to give us such an overwhelming taste of Christ that we will be left yearning for more. To fill us with such a realization of His worth that we will be refreshed in our commitment to Him.

We’re going to go verse by verse through Revelation 4 and 5—you can turn there in your Bibles--and I want us to think of these two chapters like three parts of a drama: first we’ll set the stage, then we’ll witness the drama itself, and then we’ll consider the ovation that follows.

The Holy, Holy, Holy God
First, let’s set the stage with chapter 4. Verse 1:

1After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."

Our summer series is a trip through the book of Revelation. I’m calling it Jesus Wins. And you’ll remember that this book is a series of visions that were granted by God to the Apostle John while he was on the isle of Patmos. God gave these visions to John at a time when the church was undergoing a great deal of persecution and trial. In fact, John was probably on Patmos as a prisoner for his faith.

So God’s intent in giving these visions to John seems to have been to reassure Him. To let him and the rest of the Christians (both then and still today) know that evil would not have the last say. To let us know that God is still in control of the universe. That, no matter how rough things get, the church of Jesus Christ will be triumphant in the end. As the series title says: Jesus wins.

And that’s especially the point here in chapter 4, where God gives John a glimpse of a door open to heaven.

Now, don’t forget, this is a vision. John was not physically brought to heaven. But this is what God wanted him to see, God wanted to give him a glimpse of a Reality beyond flesh and blood and dirt and water and air. He wants John to see heaven.

And what John sees is a throne. Verse 2:

At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with
someone sitting on it.

John sees a throne. In fact, he sees THE THRONE. This is the very center of heaven. The very center of the universe. This is the seat of power for all of creation.

The symbolism of a throne is pretty obvious. A throne means authority. It means power. There are many earthly thrones. In the days of the Bible, the throne most people would think of was the Emperor’s seat in Rome. Throughout history, powerful people like Charlemagne and Queen Elizabeth have been seated upon thrones. Today, here in the U.S., we don’t use a throne but we have the White House—the seat of power.

But what John sees here is THE THRONE. The throne above all others. The power above all powers.

And on this throne, John sees someone sitting. Verses 3 and 4:

3And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. 4Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.

The one seated on the throne, of course, is God. And the description given of Him defies duplication—there’s no way you can draw an emerald rainbow—but it hints at his power and majesty. The jewels named here would have been considered brilliant and valuable. The attendants surrounding the throne—twenty-four is probably symbolic of the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament and the twelve apostles of the New Testament—are resplendent and powerful in their own right.

And, the one seated on the throne is inapproachably holy. Verses 5 and 6:

5From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. 6Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

The throne is at the center of a massive thunderstorm. We’re reminded of other places in the Bible—like Mt. Sinai—where God’s presence was manifested in thunder and lightning—and people cowered in fear. And, notice, this thunder comes from the throne.

Plus, the throne is surrounded by a sea. A huge expanse of water. Uncrossable. The middle of verse 6 through the middle of verse 8:

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings.

These creatures are pretty hard to imagine: six winged creatures covered with eyes, and with faces like a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. Hard to imagine. But their function here seems to be to make it hard to get to God.

Think of it this way, if you want to talk to me, all you have to do is call me on the phone or knock on my door and I’ll answer. Lori is the church secretary, but I do all my own scheduling. Take another pastor, someone who’s a little bit more well-known, like Rick Warren for example, and you don’t just call him up or walk into his office. He’s got secretaries and aides that you have to get through first. And, of course, if you wanted to talk to the President, you’d have to get through the secret service and all these other secretaries and so on. The higher up you get, the more functionaries you have.

And that seems to be what these elders and creatures represent for God. And when you notice that these functionaries are pretty impressive in their own right—the 24 elders all have thrones of their own—and yet they are engaged in worshipping the Almighty, laying down their crowns, it’s even more impressive. The rest of verse 8 through verse 11:

Day and night they never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." 9Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11"You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being."

Holiness is the only attribute of God that is repeated three times in one line like this in the Bible. It happens here and in Isaiah 6. The Bible never says “Love, Love, Love” about God, or “Wise, Wise, Wise”, just “Holy, holy, holy.”

The repetition means the superlative. God alone is the holiest being in the universe. This is the essence of who God is: He’s not like us. He’s set apart. He doesn’t need us. He is not easily approachable. He is, in fact, AWE-some, in all that that word originally meant.

The idea here is that you don’t simply saunter up to the presence of God. He’s set apart. He’s holy.

So chapter 4 sets the scene. John is invited to look upon this vision of the throne room of heaven and what he sees is an indescribably glorious picture of God, being attended by magnificent beings engaged in ceaseless worship, seated on a throne surrounded by fierce lighting and a turbulent sea, with calls of “Holy, Holy, Holy” thundering down all around Him.

Holy inapproachability. The question is: How can anyone have a relationship with a God like this?

The Lion/Lamb
So, that’s the scene. That’s the setting. In chapter 5, verses 1-7, we get the drama. This is the second section of this passage. If you imagine this like a play, then this is the heart of the drama. And it begins with a scroll. Verse 1:

1Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals.

What is this scroll? You might say it is the scroll of human destiny. It is God’s plan for how the rest of human history is going to play out. In chapter 6, the seals on this scroll are broken and more and more of God’s judgments are revealed; until, finally, in chapter 8 the last seal is broken and things about the end are revealed. Really, you could say that Revelation chapters 6-22 are the contents of this scroll.

So the scroll tells us how the rest of history will play out. This is how the promises of God are going to be kept and how His judgments are going to be executed on the earth. This is the plan for how evil will be vanquished and God’s Kingdom will triumph in the universe.

So, think about the situation in which Revelation was written. John was a pastor to persecuted, beaten down churches. He, himself, is imprisoned for his faith. And the big question is: will evil win? Is following Christ really worth it, or is evil going to triumph in the end?

And here’s a scroll that contains the answers. Here’s a scroll that, once opened, is going to fulfill God’s promises of judgment on evil and blessing for the faithful. Wouldn’t you want it opened?

But remember the setting: this scroll sits in the right hand of an unapproachably Holy God. A God attended to by massive body guards and seated on a throne covered with thunder and lightning across a vast sea. Who’s going to open the scroll?

Verses 2-3:

2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" 3But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.

A universal search to find someone worthy of opening the scroll is conducted, but no one is found. A mighty angel with a loud voice sends out the summons for all to hear, every corner of the universe is searched, but no one is worthy.

This is a problem. If that scroll doesn’t open, then God’s promises do not get fulfilled.

And John gets it. Verse 4:

4I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.

John gets it. He realizes just how serious this is. If no one is found to open this scroll, then all is lost. God’s promises will never be fulfilled, justice will never be done, evil will never be vanquished, heaven will be empty of humans and hell will be full to overflowing.

Bertrand Russell was a famous atheist who once admitted that all he had to hang onto was “grim, unyielding despair.” And if this scroll can’t be opened, that’s all we have too.

But here’s where the drama gets good. Here’s where the hero enters the scene. Verse 5:

5Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."

There is hope! There is one who is worthy. “The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed!”

This is great news. The One who is Worthy is described as a lion. An animal who makes prey of others and who is wild and fierce and strong and dangerous. A majestic animal, whose majesty is accentuated by the fact that He’s of the root of the great King David.

This is someone you would want as your champion. Someone who seems worthy.

So now, John looks—wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you want to see this Lion? This is why I call this a drama. The tension is there, this scroll presents a huge problem, but then a hero is announced, and all eyes turn—“where is the Lion?”—we all want to see Him…and John sees…a lamb. Verse 6:
6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth

The Lion is a Lamb. The hero is an animal that is easily preyed upon and that is weak and harmless and lowly, sheared for our clothes and killed for our food.

The Lion is a Lamb.

Now, you might ask: which is it? Is He a lion, or is He a lamb? And the answer is: both!

This is the beauty—and complexity—of apocalyptic literature. It mixes its metaphors. It’s not afraid to say both these things are true. We’re talking about Jesus here, of course, and we’re being told that He is a lion—with all that entails: tough, fierce, triumphant—and a lamb, a slain lamb no less--meek, gentle, sacrificial.

And the idea is that this lamb has triumphed by being slain. He becomes a victorious lion because He has allowed the slaughtering knife to cross His neck.

And what does that make us think of? The cross! Everything comes back to the cross! Even here, in a book about final things, Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross still take center stage. It’s because Jesus went to death on a cross and then overcame death (and notice, though this lamb looks like he’s been slain, He’s standing, He’s alive!) that He is worthy to take the scroll. That’s what happens in verse 7:

7He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.

The scroll is going to be opened, God’s promises are going to be kept: judgment on evil and blessings on the faithful, God is going to win. That’s all going to happen. But it’s only because of the Lion/Lamb who triumphed by being slain. It’s only because of the cross and the victory Jesus won there that our future is sure.

This Lion/Lamb is worthy to take the scroll. He is the sufficient go-between for an unapproachably Holy God and a sinful humanity.

The Concert of Heaven
But before we move on to the opening of the seals, the drama of these chapters ends with the ovation. That’s the third part of this scripture: the Ovation. Verses 8-10:

8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song:
"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth."

Around the throne a tremendous concert of praise breaks out. This includes the awesome, frightening bodyguards as well as the twenty-four elders. More than that, this is the “song of the redeemed.” These are the people who have been saved from “every tribe and language and people and nation.”

And notice, their song is all about Jesus. Jesus is worthy because He was slain. His blood was spilled to purchase for God people from every corner of the earth. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb protected the Israelites from the plague of death prior to the Exodus, so too does the blood of Jesus protect the faithful from the wrath to come. This is why I say I want our hearts to make much of Jesus. This is why we need to savor who Jesus is. Because He is worthy.

But the ovation is even bigger than just the people here on earth. Verses 11 and 12:

11Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12In a loud voice they sang:
"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!"

Many angels. Thousands upon thousands. Ten thousand times ten thousand. Mathematically that works out to 100 million plus 1 million. But John probably means even more than that. An infinite number, more than anyone (except God) could count. All worshipping the lamb. Bruce Metzger writes:

This idea appears also near the close of the Apostle’s Creed, when Christians confess that they believe “in the communion of saints.” This communion of saints is not just the fellowship we enjoy with other people during a service of worship, but includes also the idea that John expresses here—the unity of worship of the church militant on earth with that of the church triumphant in heaven. The prayers of believers here on earth are mingled with the worship of angels and archangels and all the host of heaven, in adoration of God and the Lamb. (Bruce Metzger, Breaking the Code, 53)

Verses 13 and 14:

13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!" 14The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.

From the prayers of the saints to the songs of the angels to every bit of creation. “Every creature.” Heaven and earth and under the earth. Everywhere you’d care to look, every aspect of creation you might encounter. As it says in the book of Philippians, “every knee shall bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phi. 2:10-11)

“Amen” means “Yes.” It is the final word in worship. It is a way for us to say “Yes!” to the God who says “yes” to us. Here it means that the triumph which this scene celebrates has really been accomplished. The Lamb really is worthy to be praised. John and the persecuted church he leads can endure with confidence. And so can we.

3 Quick Lessons
O.K. There’s a lot here. It’s hard to get through two chapters of Revelation in a single sermon and do it all justice. There’s a lot more that could be said, but hopefully we’ve got the general flow of the passage covered. Now, let’s have three quick lessons that we learn from Revelation 4 and 5. Three points of application.

  1. First, we must take God seriously. Everything about this picture of God is designed to emphasize is Holy inapproachability. Everything about chapter 4 is meant to stress His purity and strength and awe-inducing power. This is not a God to take lightly. This is not a God you can treat like a teddy bear. He is an AWE-some God.

  2. Second, we need to see that the cross is at the center of everything. Jesus is the Lion who triumphed by being the Lamb who was slain. The victory over evil was accomplished at the cross. Revelation is all about how that victory is going to play itself out until the end of time—there are some battles to be fought—but never forget that it is because of the cross that the end is already determined. This is a recurring theme throughout the book—again and again we are reminded that Jesus is our conquering hero because of what He did on Good Friday.

  3. And, third, we need to see that worship is vital business. What we do when we gather here on Sunday mornings is a part of this glorious, cosmic worship that is described in Revelation 5.

In verse 8 we are told that the twenty-four elders carry golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. What I take that to mean is that in this glorious scene of worship that is taking place in heaven right now, my prayers and yours, our worship, is being carried before the throne. Part of that incense is the songs we sing and the words we speak and the things that we do here this morning and every Sunday morning.

That sort of puts this little service into a whole new perspective, doesn’t it? This may not be the largest church in the world, we may not be the greatest singers, I’m certainly not the greatest preacher; and yet, what we do here is still a part of the creation-wide worship of our glorious Savior. It is still a part of the pleasing incense being offered before the throne of God.

And so, if worship here seems a little sleepy some mornings, if the person next to you sings a little off-key, if the style of music isn’t really your cup of tea, if the preacher seems a little less coherent then usual—don’t give up on worship. It is still good. It is still vital. It is still linking you to angels in heaven and the communion of saints worldwide and creatures all over the earth.

God is on the throne. Jesus is the lion/lamb who triumphed by being slain. And our hearts should make much of Him.