Note: This is intended to be an “open source” commentary, meaning that additions and corrections by readers are welcomed and necessary. In fact, such a way of commenting on the Bible is and ought to be “normal” in the life of any church or group of Christian believers. Such a method is the way theology is done. With that said, please feel free to make your own comments and additions to what is written here by either replying via email or by making a comment on one of Horizon’s web sites: Facebook: “Horizon Ministries” or Horizon’s WordPress Blog —Jim Morse
Introduction to Revelation 4:1-6a
After a tour of the seven churches, we now come to one of the great scenes in the Bible, the great throne room of God. Here we see reality as it really is. We see that the obstacles facing the seven churches are parodies, pretenders, of the real thing. The real thing, the real ruler, is seen in his throne room, and chapter 4 introduces us to that great and awesome place.
Like other people of the Bible, John is ushered by the Spirit to the throne room. We can hear echoes of Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel.
But there is something hidden in plain sight here and we need to take a moment to ponder it. The issue is heaven and where it is located. When we think of heaven we usually think it is “up there,” in some other location, probably beyond our sight somewhere in the universe. And while it is true that earth is not heaven, it is also true that heaven and earth are not that far apart.
John merely “looked” and saw “a door standing open in heaven,” which indicates that heaven and earth are not far apart. We would probably be better served by thinking about heaven as being another dimension and that it is accessible not be traveling a great physical distance, but by traveling, somehow, to another dimension (in this case, with the aid of the Spirit). Paul talked about such an experience in 2 Corinthians 12.
The work of physicists indicates the theoretical existence of multiple universes, parallel universes and/or multiverses. They may be dovetailing with what is described here in Revelation, that different realities exist and are closely related to each other.
Of course, such an understanding has always been the biblical view. It is only when we think literally of things that are described symbolically that we become confused on this matter.
Let’s leave it at this: heaven is a real place that is different from here. Different but similar physical laws may apply. But heaven is the place where God is and where his will is perfectly done. As we know, because Revelation was written after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, heaven is also the place where Jesus is and that he rules the earth as King from his throne, which is right next to the Father’s throne.
Heaven and earth are close and they, at times, intersect. According to Revelation, rightly so, there is interaction between heaven and earth right now.
This is entirely consistent with the biblical view of how God has interacted with his creation. Throughout scripture there are times when heaven and earth intersected, touched.
In the beginning, where human beings were made in God’s image and he then “rested” in the midst of that union.
In the Garden of Eden, where God “hung out” with Adam and Eve.
The tent of meeting in the wilderness, called the tabernacle.
The temple in Jerusalem, where God “rested” between the cherubim on the top of the ark.
Ultimately, in Jesus.
All of these, and more, indicate that heaven and earth are not far apart and that God’s continuing desire is for the full and complete union of heaven and earth as one place.
The goal of God’s purpose is not for us to join him in heaven, it is for him to join us on earth. God’s redemption of humanity and creation is his plan of salvation to make that happen.
Therefore, human beings will not be removed from earth when the Lord Jesus returns. Instead, they will meet him as he returns to complete the work of making earth a fit habitation for God. We won’t go to heaven with Jesus. Jesus will come to earth to be with us.
Those who teach the dispensational Rapture mislead Christians. They get it backwards. God loves us and creation so much that he wants to “make us right” so that his original plan of living on earth with us will be realized. His desire is to renew creation, not abandon it. What kind of a loving God would he be if he abandoned his creation and gave up on his original plan, clearly stated in Genesis (until things went radically wrong)? God is going to fix things, not give up on them.
In addition, the picture of heaven that is depicted in Revelation 4 & 5 is one of what heaven looks like now. The heaven that exists now is not the heaven that will exist following the return of Jesus to fully establish his rule on earth. Then, as we see at the end of Revelation, heaven and earth will be joined in one reality. Heaven will “come down” to earth, for God’s great desire is to live on earth with human beings.
In the meantime, the earth must be made fit for the habitation of God. And that, my friends, is what Revelation is really all about. There, I’ve said it.
Revelation 4:1-6a (NIV)
After 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.”  At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.  And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.  Surrounding 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.  From 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.  Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
At the beginning of chapter 4 we find a dynamic that occurs throughout Revelation. Several times, John hears something and then he looks. In this instance, the looks and then hears a voice. But it is the dynamic of looking and seeing, or seeing and looking, that is interesting because what is seen is often different from what was heard, or what is heard is different from what is seen.
At the beginning of chapter 4, John first sees the door standing open in heaven (he’s been given “spiritual eyes” by the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that was conveying Jesus’ message to the seven churches), and then he hears the inviting voice that sounds like a trumpet.
He is invited into the throne room of God. The one sitting on the throne is described as having an appearance of precious stones. Are we to now think that God is made up of precious stones? No. This is a way of saying that God’s appearance is beyond description and that even though John needs to use words to describe what he’s experiencing, his choice of words indicate that he’s using the words in a symbolic, not literal, way. Therefore, God is not made of jasper and carnelian.
John sees a rainbow encircling the throne. Throughout Revelation references from the Bible appear. This important one is a reminder that, in the throne room of God as it now exists, the rainbow of Genesis that symbolizes God’s covenant promise to never again wipe out the people of the earth is present. The rainbow encircles the throne. It is surrounds the throne. It is a covenant promise that God will not break. People are very, very important to God’s purpose and plan in his creation and new creation. To wipe them out would be to go against God’s stated purpose and plan that were revealed in Genesis. Human beings are vital to God’s purpose of building a creation in which both he and his creatures will dwell in harmony.
We see that in the next verse. The 24 other thrones surround the one throne of God. It is easy to see that the 24 elders on these thrones represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles. It is important to realize that God’s plan and purpose have been in play in both sets of people, Israel and the apostles.
These elders wear white robes and have golden crowns. The white robes symbolize purity and victory. But the crowns are the interesting aspect of their appearance. Rulers wear crowns. So these elders are rulers. Rulers?
God’s desire is to have human beings rule earth with him. That’s what’s going on in Genesis 1-3. The big snag in this plan occurred when Adam and Eve wanted to take over and rule without God. They wanted to be God. They wanted to be in charge of everything, their own lives especially, ignoring God’s desire to co-rule with them.
In the throne room of Revelation we see that God has co-rulers with him. God does not give up on his plans for creation and for human beings. We’re just on a long detour now. But we’ll get there.
What’s revealed (hence the name “Revelation”) in the throne room is how we’ll get there. And it will be through the Son, Jesus Christ.
All sorts of natural pyrotechnics occur, as John sees what’s going on in the heavenly throne room. Again, this is a symbolic representation that the Lord of the universe, the God of creation, is in the house. Much like Ezekiel 1. Much like Mt. Sinai when Moses was ascending and descending it during the early stages of the wilderness wanderings of Israel. Much like Isaiah’s experience in the “holy of holies” of the Temple.
We’ll run across other instances in Revelation where earthly cataclysms occur. But they always symbolize the same thing: God is on the scene!
We then see that the throne room is adorned with seven lamps, symbolically representing the “seven spirits of God.”
Seven spirits of God? We would think there is only one Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit. So what’s up with seven spirits of God?
The NIV and other translations try to skirt the problem by either inserting a footnote to the translation or directly translating these words as the “sevenfold Spirit.” But the Greek says it is seven spirits of God.
Let’s not panic.
We met the seven churches of Revelation in chapters two and three. Here we meet the seven spirits of God.
The number seven is very important to the book of Revelation and to the Bible as a whole. It is the number of perfection and of completion. It is the perfect number and the complete number. When the number seven is used, it is used to symbolically represent something that is both perfect and complete.
It comes, first, from Genesis, where God completed his perfect creation in seven days. He used six days to make everything, but it wasn’t complete until he “rested” or dwelled in the midst of all that he had made.
As we proceed through Revelation we will meet the number seven again and again. But we will also meet the number six again and again. Six of the seals of the scroll will be open and then there will be a pause until the seventh one is opened (with the first trumpet). Six trumpets will be blown and then there will be a pause before the seventh trumpet is blown. And of course we remember the number of the beast, 666, in chapter 13.
Perfection and completion are represented by the number 7. The number 6 represents that which is incomplete but is pretending to be as good as that represented by the number 7. The number 6 is the Pretender’s number. It is the number representing a parody of the true reality. It is the number of Satan, the Pretender to the throne of God. And God is the true reality.
We live in a world of competition between the sixes and the sevens; a world where Satan and God are doing battle.
Revelation is book that reveals that reality to us and encourages us to cling to the true reality, represented by the God who is always sevens.
Therefore, the seven Spirits are emissaries of the God who is sevens. Better said, the seven Spirits are a symbolic representation of the Holy Spirit, the true emissary of God, who is also perfect and complete.
There was an angel for each church addressed in Revelation. We can rightly assume that each church had its own individual angel. But it was the one Spirit of God who spoke to the angels and told them what to say. And the Holy Spirit, the anonymous person of God, got his words from the Son, Jesus Christ (see John 14:26 & 16:13-15).
We have to be cautious in attempting to apply the words of Revelation literally. The words carry symbolic weight, attempting to describe something that is beyond the scope of mere words. It’s like saying someone’s face glowed like the sun. It would be a misunderstanding of what’s being said to then go and try to draw the person’s face as a literal sun.
The seven Spirits before the throne of God, represented by the seven blazing lamps (fire is always a sign of the Holy Spirit), is a symbolic way of saying it is the Holy Spirit who is standing before the throne of God in all of his majesty and mystery, perfect and complete.
Interestingly, at the foot of the throne in heaven is a sea of glass that is as clear as crystal.
The sea is an important symbol in Revelation. At the end of the book, when everything is said and done and the new heaven and the new earth are established, together at last, there will be no sea.
The sea is the place from which the dragon comes. Symbolically, that is saying that Satan comes from the sea. So the sea is the symbolic representation of evil. Biblically, if evil dwells somewhere, it is in the sea. If evil has a home, it is in the sea. So it makes sense that Satan comes out of the sea.
But what is this sea doing in heaven? Right now? Even as we speak?
First, it tells us that God is allowing the realm of evil to exist right now, even as close as his throne room. That is the current state of things.
But it also indicates to us that evil is confined. It doesn’t get to do all that it wants to do. It is under the sovereign rule of God.
This is a great mystery and we aren’t going to get any answers that satisfy us. But the sovereign God allows evil to exist and to exist even in his throne room in heaven. But things will not always be that way. There will come a day when the sea will exist no more. Which means that in God’s new creation Satan will not be there and his dastardly, evil ways will not be in play.
That’s good news. The world will be made right.
Second, the sea is made of glass, clear as crystal.
In Revelation 21 we learn that the New Jerusalem will be a city of pure gold, as pure as glass (v. 18). We also learn that the streets of this city are also made of pure gold, like transparent glass (v. 21).
When gold is refined to a purity that is close, very close, to 100 percent, it changes color. It is no longer gold-colored but clear, as clear as glass. It becomes transparent.
The heat required to accomplish such a state of purity is immense and rarely used. In fact, it used to be that most people thought such an accomplishment was in the realm of alchemy, turning ordinary metals into gold through the use of an almost-magical catalyst. Alchemy does not exist. It’s not possible.
What we have with the sea in the throne room of Revelation 4 is a sea that has been refined. God has allowed the sea into the throne room—for now. But he has changed it, purified it and refined it, so that it can be there under his sovereign and righteous control.
The stage is set; we are now ready to meet some of the others who inhabit the throne room of God.
We have been ushered into the throne room of God as it is now. There is more to be seen, but it is a place that is near, but far; filled with wonder and glory.
As we move through the rest of chapter 4 and chapter 5, keep in mind all that is happening in heaven right now.
When you lose heart, know that God and all of the others in heaven are awake and active.
Know that God is mindful of you and of all of his creation.
Know that God is actively making things right, making them as they are meant to be.
Know that there is a King in heaven who will one day make all of the sixes of this wo