The Opening Scene (Revelation 4:1-11)
Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 4:1–4:11
Happy Ever After
The Opening Scene
(One Lord: No One Like You)
January 4th, 2015
I. The Impact of the Opening Scene
Filmmakers know that an opening scene can have a profound effect on the viewer. This is because it can set the tone for the rest of the movie, and because it can capture (and hopefully hold) the attention of the audience.
Let me give you a classic example. Do you remember the opening scene of 1977's Star Wars? After that opening crawl of words, the camera pans down to a barren looking planet. Suddenly a small spacecraft zooms into view over our heads. It is clearly under attack. Laser blasts, directed at the small ship, fill the screen. But it isn't clear who is firing on the escaping vessel. Suddenly, the front tip of a massive triangular spacecraft pierces the scene. As we watch the underside of this ship pass over, we are quickly struck by its immense size. There seems to be no end to the underside of this spacecraft.
Not only does this opening scene capture the viewer's interest and imagination, but it also powerfully communicates one of the key themes of that movie: the frightening reality of a colossal evil empire, in the face of which, a small rebellion seem horse flies fighting a horse.
This morning, as we return to the book of the Revelation, we will discover that God has an even more powerful and even more important 'opening scene' for us to consider. Turn if you will to Revelation chapter 4.
Now, because it's been over a month since our last time in Revelation, I though it would be good to review a couple sets of “five” that we've looked at in terms of interpretive tools. Most people know Revelation is not an easy book to understand. It's kind of like scaling a majestic mountain summit. The views going up and from the top are astounding, but the ascent can be difficult and sometimes dangerous if we forget what we called our “five firm footholds”. Let me remind you of those:
Foothold #1: Revelation is the Revelation of Jesus Christ
Foothold #2: Revelation was Given to Seven Real Churches
Foothold #3: Revelation was Conveyed Through Symbolic Number and Images
Foothold #4: Revelation Should Always be Taken as a Whole
Foothold #5: Revelation is Meant to be Kept
The other set of “five” we looked at was connected to the circumstances of the first readers of the Revelation. As we were reminded in “Foothold #2”, this book or letter was written to seven historic churches, seven churches who were facing some similar and some unique challenges in the closing years of the First Century. The Revelation was the revelation they needed. What did they need to know? We summarized it in the words conquer, compromise, control, coming, and consummation. These churches needed to know...
1. What it means to conquer. [spiritually, that is]
2. That we must guard against compromise.
3. That God is in control.
4. That Jesus Christ is coming.
5. The hope of the consummation.
II. The Passage: “And Behold, a Throne” (4:1-11)
And so as we move from the short, introductory letters of chapters 2 and 3, into chapter 4, let's keep our “firm footholds” in mind, as well as the circumstances and needs of those to whom Revelation was addressed.
A. Welcome from the Throne (4:1)
With that being said, look with me at the very first verse of chapter 4. We read...
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”
The fact we are transitioning to something different is clear from a couple phrases here. John writes “after this”, which must mean after he recorded the brief letters of chapters 2 and 3. We also hear, at the end of the verse, the statement, “I will show you what must take place after this.” You may remember John was instructed in 1:19 to, “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” Additionally, the very first verse of the entire book tells us the Revelation was given by Jesus to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. (1:1)
So having addressed the current circumstances of the seven churches, having both encouraged them and warned them, Jesus is going to reveal to them something about what is to come. How do we know Jesus is still speaking? It's right there in 4:1...And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said... That description points us right back to 1:10. And so by means of a visionary “door”, John is invited to “come up” and learn more of this revelation of Jesus Christ.
B. Witness to the Throne (4:2, 3)
So let's continue by looking at verses 2 and 3 of chapter 4. John tells us...
At once I was in the Spirit [or “in spirit”], and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.  And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.
It's not an overstatement to say that not only does this image of the throne dominate the chapter, but is also dominates the entire book from this point forward. Did you know of the sixty-two times the word “throne” is used in the NT, forty-seven are from the Revelation?
In fact, we will go on to see that the word “throne” is often used as a substitute for the term God, that is, when Revelation directs us to the “throne”, it is directing us to the One “seated on the throne”. What do we learn about God, the King, from John's description here? Well, to be honest, not a whole lot in terms of specifics. John uses precious stones like “jasper and carnelian” and “emerald”, as well as the term “rainbow”, to communicate an awesome sense of splendor using light and color.
Now it's important for us at this point to remember “Foothold #3”. John did not really see God. How do I know that. Scripture tells us so. God told Moses, “...man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20) In his Gospel, John confirmed “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). And Paul reminded us that God dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. (I Timothy 6:16) Just as with his vision of Jesus, John is receiving communication through the language of symbolic images. This throne, these colors, all of these are symbolic representation designed to leave us with a strong sense of authority, sovereignty, and glory.
C. Worshipers Around the Throne (4:4-8a)
But even though the throne dominates, there is more to this scene. Look at 4:4-7...
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.  From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God,  and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:  the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight.  And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within...
So John has been introduced to, and subsequently introduces us to, two sets of royal attendants who are situated around the throne of God. First we are introduced to “twenty-four” elders who are seated on thrones that appear to be encircling God's throne. Who are these elders? Well, there are a whole host of interpretations regarding these elders, but given what we know about the importance of numbers in this book, I think the number “twenty-four” should be broken down as “12+12”. If we do that, then we might take a cue from chapter 21, where the New Jerusalem is described as having twelve gates on which the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed, and also twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (21:12, 14)
So the number twenty-four seems to point to the totality of God's family, a combination of His people from the both OT and the NT. And so the symbolism here reminds us of the same reality described in Hebrews 12:23, 24: But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect...
But there is another group of attendants described here. Who or what are the four, strange creatures mentioned as surrounding the throne in even closer proximity? Well, this is where a knowledge of the OT is extremely useful.
Think about the description John gives us of these creatures in vs. 6, 7: they have multiple wings, they are covered with eyes, and the faces of four creatures are represented: a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. What is fascinating is that we find the same features represented in the opening chapter of Ezekiel. That chapter describes Ezekiel's first vision. And if we were to dig into that chapter, along with Ezekiel chapter 10, we would discover that the living creatures there are probably the same as the living creatures here in Revelation: they are what are called cherubim.
Now there are some differences between how Ezekiel and Revelation describe these cherubim, but when it comes to the use of visionary, symbolic language in both passages, I don't think we can be too rigid.
In light of the entire OT, there is a lot we could say about cherubim. They are often called angels, but the Bible never explicitly makes that connection. And they are distinguished from the angels throughout the Revelation. What we do know is that cherubim are intimately acquainted with the presence of God. Especially in terms of His presence in creation (that may be why they are manifested with the four faces). In Ezekiel they carry God's throne. In Psalm 18 we read that God rode on a cherub when he came in judgment.
But the most prominent mention of the cherubim are their connection with the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of Solomon. Not only were there two cherubim on the top of the Ark, but there were towering statues of cherubim in the Holy of Holies, whose wings overshadowed the Ark.
Now all of that might be real interesting in terms of the OT, but what does it have to do with Revelation 4. Well, as we continue through this book, we will discover something that is often missed when it comes to the OT. The Tabernacle tent that moved through the wilderness, and later the Temple in Jerusalem, were intended to be earthly pictures of God's throne in heaven. I Samuel 4:4, II Samuel 6:2, II Kings 19:15, I Chronicles 13:6, Psalm 80:1, Psalm 99:1, and Isaiah 37:16 all describe God, in reference to the Ark, as being “enthroned on/above the cherubim”.
And when Revelation presents us with a door into heaven, we see throughout the book that God's throne-room is not just a throne-room. It is a Temple in heaven. Two verses in Revelation make this connection clear: “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.” (Revelation 7:15) In 16:17 we read that The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!”
So this means Revelation 4 is a visionary snapshot of God enthroned and dwelling in His heavenly Temple, surrounded by the cherubim, and His redeemed people. And look at what the final verses tell us about what is happening in this temple/throne-room.
D. Worship Before the Throne (4:8b-11)
Look at what we learn from verses 8 through 11 of chapter 4...
[And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within], and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”  And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever,  the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,  “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
What else could these heavenly attendants be doing but worshiping God? When you are in the presence of God himself, and you recognize what the elders and the cherubim recognize, that God is holy, that He is worthy, that He is the Creator of all things, how you can NOT worship? How can you not praise Him unceasingly? How could you not submit to His sovereignty, and fall down, and cast your crown before Him?
Do you see why this has to be the opening scene for the main vision of the book? Remember the seven churches. Remember what Jesus said to the church in Pergamum: “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is.'” (2:13) What was Jesus talking about? He was talking about the temples, the cult that honored the Roman Emperor. But Pergamum was not the only city that felt the pressure of the Emperor cult and the grip of the Empire. All of the seven churches could feel that grip tightening.
Knowing this, what does God give John, what does He give them, in terms of an opening scene for this revelation? He shows them an incomparable throne, an unrivaled throne, a glorious throne that sits above every other throne. Why? Because the One who sits on that throne is “Holy, holy, holy.” Because He is the “Almighty”. Because He “was, and is, and is to come!” Because He is the One who “created all things”.
III. Showtimes for the Opening Scene
This scene is the scene that must set the tone for the rest of the vision. This scene must dominate. And in fact, it does. The Revelation will keep coming back to this throne-room/temple. Why? In order to give us a heavenly perspective on what is to come (that's what they needed; that's what we need), AND, so it will remain crystal clear that what is to come is by God's decree. This scene must be emblazoned in our minds, as it must have been in John's.
Brothers and sisters, there are two things I hope you will do this morning. First, I hope you will let John's description of God's revelation wash over your imagination; that you will allow the colors and the imagery and the worship to capture your heart with a profound sense of awe in light of the person and presence of God.
But second, if we can do that, if God grants us even a tenth of that kind of sense of awe, then we must discipline ourselves to let this 'opening scene' be the 'opening scene' throughout our everyday. Let me explain what I mean.
What if you woke up and allowed this heavenly scene to be the 'opening scene' of your day? What would be different?
What if before you stepped off the bus or out of the car at work, this scene was the 'opening scene' of your time at school or work? What would be different?
What if before you closed your eyes and bowed your head, this scene was the 'opening scene' of your time in prayer? What would be different?
What if before you spoke to your spouse or to your children, this scene was the 'opening scene' of that imminent conversation? What would be different?
What if before you made your choice at that place of temptation, in that moment when your flesh is enticing you toward the wrong, what if this scene was the 'opening scene' of your inner deliberations? What would be different?
What if before the tidal wave of obligations, what if before your device booted up, what if before the check is written, what if before your meal, your vacation, your post, your ambitions, your conversation with that unbelieving friend...this was the 'opening scene'?
What would be different? What should be different?
A true sense of awe in light of the person and presence of God will change things. It will humble us. It will correct us. It will encourage us. It will guide us. It will embolden us. It will set the tone for what is to come.
Let's not allow our 'opening scene' to be written by our own pride, or fear, or doubts, or anxieties, our lust, our some other lie. Let's cry out to God this morning. Let's ask Him, through the sacrifice and victory of Jesus, to give us new eyes; eyes filled with this same vision. Let's ask Him to use His Spirit to 'jump start' these words inside us; to set them on fire; that we might know something of what John felt when walked through that visionary door.
When is the showtime for this 'opening scene'? It's every day, all throughout the day. Let's join the cherubim and the whole family in heaven as they worship God. Let's look and keeping looking to the throne.
More in Happy Ever After (Revelation)
November 22, 2015Keep What is Written (Revelation 1:1-22:21)(overview)
November 15, 2015I am Coming...Come! (Revelation 22:6-21)
November 1, 2015A Tour of Our Future Glory (Revelation 21:9-22:5)