John, an exile on the prison island of Patmos, was all alone when he received a visit from the Lord Jesus. Speaking from behind His friend, Jesus told John to write down a message for seven churches that were under John’s supervision (see chapters 1-3). Sometime after that, Jesus appeared to him again, this time speaking from above. Hearing the trumpet-loud voice overhead, John looked up and saw a door in the sky, a portal to another dimension (v.1). Jesus, apparently from inside the portal, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once John was transported to the very throne room of heaven.
Before Jesus showed him the frightening and chaotic scenes of global upheaval related to the Second Coming, He showed him the beauty of heaven, a place of holiness and order in which God is in control. John noticed that God was “seated”, not pacing about, wringing His hands and fretting about the future — but seated, unthreatened and in command. I can almost sense John’s struggle to describe the indescribable with the limits of human language. He used the most beautiful and precious objects he had seen on earth as reference points for God’s dazzling appearance in heaven, colorful gemstones: jasper, carnelian, and emerald (v.3). In front of the God-throne there was a “sea of glass” (v.6). Crystal-clear glass was extremely rare in John’s day, but that is how he attempted to put the sparkling brilliance of God’s glory into words. Imagine the flashes of celestial lightning (v.5) reflecting off of the glass! It must have been blindingly beautiful.
Somewhere around the “sea of glass” John saw seven burning torches (or lamps), a visible representation of the Holy Spirit (v.5). Throughout the Bible, the number seven is always associated with the idea of perfection or completeness — I think the point is that the Holy Spirit, in all His light-giving, glorious perfection was powerfully and wholly there. Along with God on the throne and Christ guiding John’s tour, the Spirit made the vision of God complete. (Note: seeing those torches in heaven, I wonder if John recalled the scene in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost when there were not seven, but 120 Spirit-flames, each hovering over a disciple of Jesus. A flame was above John’s own head that day, as the Holy Spirit filled him with evangelistic power and sent him out into the streets to preach the gospel and to change the world. Wow!)
Maybe the most difficult things for John to describe were the other beings present in God’s throne room. The apostle quickly counted twenty-four (probably smaller) thrones encircling the God-throne, and seated on them were “twenty-four elders” dressed in white robes and golden crowns (v.4). John does not identify the elders, and so we can only guess at who they are. The best guess I have heard is that half of the thrones were for Old Testament saints (the twelve sons of Jacob, twelve other patriarchs, or twelve of the prophets), and the other half were occupied by the twelve Apostles (that makes sense, but it means that John would have seen himself sitting there; what a mind-bending moment!). John saw the elders descend their thrones and fall on their faces before the Lord. They worshiped Him by voicing a beautiful, simple hymn (v.11), one that expressed the Lord’s worthiness, acknowledged Him as Creator, and highlighted His power. (I can’t wait to hear that song for myself!)
The song of the elders was not the only praise John heard. In addition to the human voices with which he would have been familiar, he heard the non-human, other-worldly praises of “four living creatures” (v.6-8). These fantastic beings were positioned on each side of the throne. Like Isaiah’s seraphim (see Isaiah 6:2-3) and Ezekiel’s creatures (see Ezekiel 1:5-10), each had six wings. One resembled a lion, perhaps to symbolize God’s majestic bearing and holy ferocity. The second resembled an ox, a representation of God’s power and tenacity. The third looked like a human, maybe to symbolize God’s intellect. The fourth creature resembled an eagle in flight, perhaps to symbolize God’s limitless sight and sovereignty. The song they were singing (or speaking) was similar to the one Isaiah heard: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” I believe that song, and the song of the elders, is being sung right this moment before the throne of God. If you agree, will you sing or say those holy lyrics out loud (v.8, 11)? Do it, right now, and you will be joining the praise of heaven. God deserves it! Amen?