Saturday, November 19th, 2022
Revelation 4, although relatively short, is packed with symbological meaning and an introduction to new contexts in the Bible. Furthermore, this passage marks a transition from the opening in the first chapter of Revelation through the third chapter, where John was tasked with writing to the seven churches. Due to the shortness and density of this chapter, I think it is best to discuss on a verse-by-verse basis.
The first verse explains that John is no longer looking at things in an earthly perspective, rather, he is now in the spirit and is envisioning what is in heaven. This happens after a trumpet sounds, and John is told: “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” The first thing that John is immediately fixated upon is what we can think of as the centerpiece of the vision: a throne, and what is on it. The throne itself is not described, but what is described is a brief description of the “One” who sits upon it. From this short detailing already, we can see the immense amount of humanism that is emanating from this image already, as there is a throne of supreme importance that is out of the reach of our realm of existence, and only “One” sits upon it. He who was sitting upon the throne was God, and His appearance could only be described with colors by John. His appearance was “like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance…” Jasper is usually thought of to be an orange or green color, but this passage is usually interpreted with the emphasis on stone, which is more sensible when we know that to be a bright white color. This color signifies the purity that God embodies. Adding on sardius to the appearance also dictates that there is a red aura emanating from His presence, which is a sign of glory, and dominion over all things. The verse goes on to say: “… and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.” Before this portion, we have an image that shows that God is a pure and supreme being over all, which is true, but the context is especially enriched with the presence of the rainbow being around the throne. You see, a throne with One ruler may represent dominion, but the rainbow is a sign of covenants, promises, a connection with his creation, and most importantly for the purposes of the image so far: setting his own limitations for our sake. The rainbow being around the throne shows that God is dedicated to his creation, and is a kind and loving God who will make good on the promises that He makes.
After the throne, John’s fixation shifts to what is around the throne: more thrones. Twenty-four of them to be exact. Seated on these twenty-four thrones were “elders” who were clothed in white garments and had gold crowns atop their heads. Now, the Bible does not make clear who these elders actually are, but we can use hints from before and after this chapter in Revelation to have a good guess. These twenty-four elders with white garments and gold crowns are a direct call-back to the two chapters beforehand, where we see that those who overcome and remain faithful will receive a gold crown and will be clothed in white garments. Automatically this makes me lean towards these elders on the thrones being human rather than any other sort of heavenly being. Furthermore, throughout the rest of the book they are seen worshiping and praising God, and even casting their crowns down. The motion of casting crowns signifies that these crowns were not from personal ownership, but rather they were inherited through God. These elders from my best guess then could represent the leaders of the Church. Other theories suggest that these twenty-four elders could represent a bridging between the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. However, I believe that from the first verse emphasizing “what must take place after these things” that this is strictly a scene depicting the future, and at this point in history there are still apostles alive, and I also believe John would have in some sense recognized if he saw himself or eleven of his other friends upon the thrones. Furthermore, this theory would imply that Judas made it into the Kingdom, which is open for interpretation whether that could happen or not, and what the implications of that even are. Therefore, I believe a safe interpretation is that the elders represent leaders of the church.
Now, there has been dense symbolization so far, but for what comes next I don’t believe I’m actually studied enough or if anyone in the world is studied enough for that matter to even fully explain this next scene. Out from the throne comes flashes of lightning and sounds of thunder, which is paralleled with the presence that God had on Mount Sinai in Exodus chapters 19-20. Revelation 4:5 continues to read: “And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God…” These lamps are not to be confused with the seven lampstands from the previous chapters which represented the churches. The lamps, on the other hand, could be representative of a physical presence of the Holy Spirit. Before then, in Acts we see that the Holy Spirit manifested as burning tongues on the Day of Pentecost.
Below I will write the next few verses and briefly attempt to convey the value of it:
“6 and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. 7 The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”
These four creatures are cherubim, which are angels which are, for our purposes in this short devotion, high on the hierarchy of angels. The eyes that cover them are representative of their deep insight and intelligence, which enforces the holy phrase they repeat over being that of given nature of gratitude rather than that of a mindless nature. The four creatures: the lion, the calf, a man, and the flying eagle can have a multitude of explanations, but for the purpose of this devotion I think it is important to detail what the importance of the characteristics of these creatures actually are. The lion is a creature that exudes might, and is also a wild beast on earth. Furthermore, the Lion is the symbol of Judah, and Jesus in the next chapter (Revelation 5:5) is called the “Lion of Judah.” The calf on the other hand is a strong but domesticated creature, which shows strength and prudence. The eagle is representative of the domains of the birds and the freedom that they have. Furthermore, eagles can be seen as a sort of “otherworldly” creature. No, it’s not because they are literally not from this world, but their domain and experience as a creature is extremely far from that which is human. Furthemore, Isaiah 40:31 relates the elevated heavenly connection that man will have as they will have “wings like eagles.” The last creature, man, represents intelligence and the highest order of creatures on the Earth. If you would like to dwell more on the importance of the appearance of these creatures, I would like to differ the readers to also look back over Genesis 1.
Here below is the last portion of the chapter:
“9 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 ‘Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.’”
No matter the hierarchy or attached symbolism or inherited power, all things owe at least one thing: praise to the loving God who made them. This portion right here should be especially shocking for the time, as there are those in today’s world who will live their lives with knowledge of God, but will believe that their priorities and status in life put themselves above worship. The truth of the matter is that the entire Bible, and the undeniable creationist quality of the universe shows that we must always truly humble ourselves and worship God.
- WOW that was a dense devotion for such a short chapter. What specific part was the most interesting to you?
- A lot of this can truly be left to interpretation and further studying. Do you have a different interpretation of the four cherubim or the twenty-four elders? What other parts of the scripture influence you?
- The rainbow around God’s throne shows a critical connection to mankind. If there was anything else at all to be had to the scene, what would you imagine would be important symbology?