1 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.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 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. 4 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. 5 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, 6 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: 7 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. 8 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!” 9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 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, 11 “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.”
Something is missing from our doctrine of God…and it is hurting us. I would like to argue two things: (1) most Baptist Christians have not thought sufficiently enough about or reflected deeply enough upon the beauty of God and (2) most Baptist Christians are ill-equipped to handle the demands and terrors and challenges of life precisely because they have this deficiency in their doctrine of God.
Yes, I am overgeneralizing. I am basing this on anecdotal evidence and observation over the years as a pastor. But I am speaking personally as well: I too often neglect the reality of God’s beauty and, when I do so, I suffer and I struggle.
Does this sound odd to you, the beauty of God? If so, consider what David says in Psalm 27:
4 One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.
Notice four things:
- There is only one thing David has asked of God.
- David is seeking after this one thing.
- This one thing is to dwell in God’s house and “gaze upon the beauty of God.”
- David connects this desire and the beauty of God with God’s protection and blessing of Him.
It is therefore not surprising that just after the Lord speaks to seven churches and their various struggles and problems and just before God will speak to John of the judgment to come upon the earth, God shows John an unbelievable picture of His own beauty.
God is beautiful.
We will begin in verse 2 of Revelation 4, a vision of the throne room and beauty of God!
He is Beautiful in His Sovereignty
We first see the beauty of the sovereignty of God!
2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.
At the center of this vision of God’s beauty is a throne. This throne speaks of God’s unquestioned and absolute sovereignty and power. Scott Duvall notes that “[t]he term “throne” (thronos) is used forty-seven times in Revelation, mostly with reference to God (e.g., 1:4; 4:2; 5:1; 7:9; 12:5; 14:3; 16:10; 20:11; 21:3, 5). God’s throne or sovereign rule is the centerpiece around which everything else revolves.” Leon Morris makes the further observation that John “uses the word throne forty-seven times out of a total of sixty-two times in the New Testament” and that “in Matthew, the book with the next highest number, the word occurs only five times.”
The upshot of this is clear enough: for all of its terrifying depictions of judgement, Revelation is a book absolutely brimming over with visions of God’s power and authority and sovereignty. And here is what we must come to see: this is beautiful. God’s sovereignty is beautiful.
No one has the strength that God has.
No one has the authority that God has.
No one has the throne that God has.
He is seated on His throne. He is in possession of full authority and power. He is truly God All-mighty! There is no one like our God.
He is Beautiful in His Glory
Then John describes the beauty of God’s glory.
3 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.
God’s glory is the outward manifestation of His perfections, His attributes. We cannot approach this straight on. We would die instantly. So John gives us images. First there is a description of God Himself:
- the appearance of jasper
- the appearance of carnelian
How beautiful! How colorful! How majestic! How glorious! And then around the throne, “a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.”
Gordon Fee writes of these stones:
It is probably significant that in the Exodus passage [28:17-20] these are the first and last of the twelve stones mentioned in the description [of the breastplate of the high priest], and that both of them are red. At the same time, jasper in particular anticipates the final visions in chapters 21:1—22:5, where it is mentioned three times, as the primary color of the New Jerusalem.
These stones therefore speak of God’s wonder and glory and holiness. They also speak of the glories of the dwelling place of God and of our dwelling with Him and of God’s healing of His people (Revelation 21:1-4).
Then John writes:
4 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. 5 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, 6a and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
Who are these elders? Many proposals have been put forward. Some say they are actually exalted angelic beings. In Isaiah 24 angels appear to be referred to as “elders.”
23 Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders.
G.K. Beale offers a few more possibilities.
As the picture here is of the throne room in the heavenly temple, the elders may be based on David’s twenty-four orders of priests (1 Chron. 24:3-19), twenty-four Levitical gatekeepers (1 Chron. 26:17-19), and twenty-four Levitical worship leaders (1 Chron. 25:6-31), in which case they represent the church at worship. In light of Rev. 21:12-14 (where the apostles and patriarchs are mentioned together in relation to the new Jerusalem), it likely also refers to the sum of the twelve patriarchs and the twelve apostles who, taken together, represent the church in its character as a universal priesthood of believers.
We might summarize all of these possibilities by saying that the twenty-four elders are a representative picture of God’s people.
What a scene! What a staggering image this is! Were we ushered into this gathering we would fall on our faces in wonder, as indeed the elders do!
He is Beautiful in His Holiness
John moves from describing the throne room to describing what is happening in it. But first, our attention shifts back to the immediate vicinity of the throne.
6b-c And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 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.
It is hard to know what to say here, so glorious and wonderful and beautiful is this scene! Leon Morris has pointed out something interesting about the four living creatures.
There is a rabbinic saying in its present form dating from c. AD 300, but possibly much older: ‘The mightiest among the birds is the eagle, the mightiest among the domestic animals is the bull, the mightiest among the wild beasts is the lion, and the mightiest among all is man’ (S Bk). This may give us the clue. As Swete puts it: ‘The four forms suggest whatever is noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest in animate Nature. Nature, including Man, is represented before the Throne, taking its part in the fulfilment of the Divine Will, and the worship of the Divine Majesty.’
Perhaps this is so. Others have likened these creatures to the four living creatures of Ezekiel 1.
4 As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. 5 And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness,6 but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. 7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: 9 their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. 10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12 And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14 And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning.
This is compelling, to be sure, though others have pointed out differences between these beings. Regardless, the four living creatures coupled with the twenty-four elders give us a picture of the entire created order and the entirety of God’s redeemed people. Having described them, John now moves to what they do in the throne room of God.
8 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!” 9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 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, 11 “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.”
These four living creatures are “full of eyes all around,” meaning they have perfect clarity of sight and knowledge. They see and know the truth! And, seeing it, they say it. And what is the truth they say? “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” God’s holiness is the only of His attributes to be repeated three times in scripture. As R.C. Sproul has pointed out, the scriptures never say of God “Love, love, love!” or “Justice, justice, justice!” or “Good, good, good!” Scripture, of course, says all of these things about God, to be sure! But the point is it is God’s holiness specifically that is highlighted three times like this. God is beautiful in His holiness, in His perfections, in His absolute purity.
And when the four living creatures say this, what do the twenty-four enthroned elders do? They fall before His throne in worship and throw their crowns at His feet…which means they do constantly since the four living creatures say “Holy, holy, holy!” “day and night…they never cease.”
This vision of the throne room of God in Revelation 4 has been shown us before with some difference of detail. Consider Isaiah 6:
1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
So, too, Daniel 7:
9 “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. 11 “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
When I was a kid I used to have secret, dangerous thoughts about heaven. I would think, “If Heaven is just one big church service I am not sure I want to go!” But I ask you: what if it was a “church service” like that recorded in Revelation 4, in Isaiah 6, in Daniel 7? What if there was lightning and thunder and strange creatures and crowned elders on thrones throwing themselves on their faces and hurling their crowns to the dazzling, fiery, resplendent throne of God shining in all His glory?
I ask you this, too: how on earth can we be bored or distracted here when these happenings are playing out right now in glory?! God has not changed! The living creatures are still saying “Holy, holy, holy!” and the elders are saying “He is worthy! He is worthy!”
See the beauty of God.
The incomparable beauty and immeasurable worth of God is that reality out of which the church operates.
But having seen it, what then? Why does it matter? Why should we consider the beauty of God? To answer that, let us go back to verse 1.
1 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.”
“After this…” After what? After the words of Jesus to the seven churches. That is, after all of the warnings and commendations and words of encouragement and acknowledgements of suffering and struggle…after this…John sees a door standing open in heaven! His eyes go from looking around at the churches to looking up to heaven. And then he hears a voice “like a trumpet” saying “Come up here…” The voice goes on to say, “…and I will show you what must take place after this.” But note that John is not immediately shown what must take place after this. He is immediately shown the beautiful and awe-inspiring vision that we have seen in this chapter.
Thus, John is shown the beauty of God in order to prepare him and the church for what must take place after this!
Why? Because it is only the beauty of God that can sustain us and prepare us and see us through what must take place!
In other words, we should live from above, not from below. We must live out of the throne room
This is where the practical impact of the beauty of God comes into play. If you inundate your mind with the bad news of below through over-exposure to talk radio and social media and the news and a constant barrage of darkness and the advance of evil in the world, you will be living mentally and spiritually from below, from the ground up. But if you inundate your mind and heart and soul daily with this amazing picture of the throne of God—reading Revelation 4 daily, praying over these words, praising God for His beauty and glory, committing these words to memory—you will be living from above, living out of the throne room. And this will make a huge difference in your life!
To have a large and ever-present sense of divine beauty is to be equipped to handle and see through and beyond the trials and darkness of our present hour.
The beauty of God compels us to reject the ugliness of sin.
The beauty of God compels us not to despair before the fallenness of the world.
We must restore in our own minds and hearts a sense of divine beauty. The greatness of God is not merely what He has done for us but rather who He is.
Do you have a high view of God, a view that inspires you to draw closer into Him and love Him and obey Him? Or are you living from below?
How much time have you spent in the throne room?
How often have you fled to this sacred space?
Do you see and feel the holy fire emanating from the throne of God?
Do you hear the voices of the four living creatures: “Holy! Holy! Holy!”
Do you see the twenty-four elders falling on their faces and hurling their crowns at the feet of God and proclaiming “Worthy! He is Worthy!”?
Do you? Why not? It is here, in His word, ever-present for you! This can become the life-altering, perspective-altering reality out of which you live! This can become your daily bread!
Live out of the beauty of God, and the course of your life will be forever altered!
 Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation (Teach the Text Commentary Series) (p. 89). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Morris, Leon L.. Revelation (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (p. 88). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Fee, Gordon D.. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series Book 3) (p. 74). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
 Beale, G. K., Campbell, David. Revelation (p. 119). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.
 Morris, Leon L., p.92.