Revelation 4:2-3, John Sees God's Throne
How John Went Up to Heaven
The Lord Jesus Christ invited John to ascend and enter Heaven, where the Lord would show him what would happen afterwards, after what the Lord had shown him regarding the churches (chapters 2 to 3).
The seven letters to the seven churches in Asia have been interpreted by some as referring to seven eras of the universal church. Nevertheless, the afterwards in Revelation 4:1 does not necessarily imply that the churches represent eras of the church; it may be referring to the persecutions, blessings, and judgements the Lord had announced for each of the local churches to which the letters were addressed.
Revelation then tells us that after the Lord Jesus commanded that John ascend to heaven, John was "in the spirit" (Revelation 4:1, KJV). But wasn't John already in the Spirit in Revelation 1:10?
In Revelation 1:10, the King James Version capitalizes the word spirit because the translators believed it was referring to the Holy Spirit. However, due to the temporal factor in Revelation 1:10 (that John was in the spirit on the Lord's day), I opted to interpret the word spirit there as referring to John's own spirit. In other words, John was saying that he was in some spiritual state.
Here in Revelation 4:2, the King James Version does not capitalize the word spirit because I presume they are giving it the interpretation I gave to Revelation 1:10 (go figure!). But here, I would actually capitalize the word, as the English Standard Version does. Why?
First, John was already in the spirit since Revelation 1:10. Because the book of Revelation presents itself as one continuous experience of visions, it does not make sense to suppose that sometime between Revelation 1:10 and Revelation 4:1 John found himself not in the spirit.
Second, since the word for spirit can be translated wind, and wind is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2), it is likely that in this instance the spirit does refer to the Holy Spirit. After all, the book of Revelation looks back to the book of Ezekiel; and in Ezekiel, the Holy Spirit manifests Himself as wind to lift up the prophet as if he were a kite (Ezekiel 3:12).
I think this is exactly what is happening to John in Revelation 4:1. The Holy Spirit, manifesting himself as wind, is lifting him up to heaven through the door that he saw in heaven.
John's sees the Father
John tells us that, in heaven, he saw a throne; and on the throne, he saw someone who looked like jasper and sardine stone. That person on the throne is actually God the Father, for He is identified as the one who is Holy, holy, holy, and the one who was, is, and will come (verse 8).
If you have ever seen jasper and sardine stone, these stones are brown, almost red. Clearly, the color is a reference to the pigmentation of God's skin as John sees it. John does not see a Caucasian man, but one who resembles people from the Middle East. Even when John saw Jesus, he did not see a Caucasian man, but a man whose fee were like fine brass.
But the jasper and sardine stone also have a gloss to them, especially once they have been polished. This gloss is unnatural to human skin, and clearly John is beholding a supernaturally glorious being, who has the form of a man.
John Describes God's Throne
The throne that John sees is surrounded by a rainbow that is glossy like emerald. It is the bow of God, which God displays in the skies after it rains so He will remember His covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:13-16), a beautiful phenomenon that would have defied explanation in the ancient world. But this rainbow is not translucent like the one we see in the sky, but very solid looking and glossy, like emerald.
Also, from God's throne proceed thunders, lightnings, and voices. This is similar to what Israel experienced at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:18); these phenomena that come from the throne of God remind us of His great power, and thus they cause us to approach with reverence (Psalm 77:18, Job 37:5).
Origins of God's Throne
The first mention of a throne in the Bible is the throne of the pharaoh (Genesis 41:40). Joseph would be equal in authority to the pharaoh, except that the pharaoh was the one who actually sat on the throne, and therefore he was greater than Joseph. The fact that the pharaoh sat on a throne represented his rulership over the land of Egypt (Exodus 11:5, 12:29).
A concept very similar to God's throne first appears in Exodus. God instructed Moses to build a mercy seat with cherubim on its sides. Although the one word translated mercy seat does means neither chair nor throne, God spoke to Moses from over the mercy seat, from between the cherubim. God ruled Israel from the mercy seat. In fact, according to Psalm 99:1, God used to seat between the cherubim and rule from there.
Nevertheless, the book of Psalms also establishes that God's throne is in heaven (Psalm 11:4 and 103:19). From His throne, God judges and examines the works of humanity (Psalm 9:7 and 11:4). Thus, God's throne not only represents that He rules, but also that He judges.
Evolution of God's Throne
Throughout the Bible, God's throne appears to change according to the purpose of the vision and message given to the prophet.
Isaiah saw God's throne as being high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1). Daniel, on the other hand, described a throne like a flame with wheels like fire (Daniel 7:9).
Ezekiel described the throne as being on a firmament like crystal (Ezekiel 1:22,26), and the throne itself was like sapphire (Ezekiel 1:26). Under the firmament, there were great wheels that looked like they were made of beryl, and that had other wheels in them. Moreover, the rings of the wheels were full of eyes (Ezekiel 1:15-18).
Moreover, Ezekiel describes the appearance of God as being like amber and fire, and he mentions that there was a rainbow surrounding Him (Ezekiel 1:26-27).
God's throne, therefore, also reminds us of God's glory
Interpreting John's Vision of God's Throne
Clearly, John's vision of God's throne is very similar to Ezekiel's, more so than Isaiah's or Daniel's. Nevertheless, as we shall see further ahead in our study on Revelation, the circumstances under which John sees God's throne are more similar to Daniel's vision of God's throne than Ezekiel's (for God's throne is not moving at this time).
When John saw God's throne, He was confronted with God's rulership, judgment, power, and glory. It must have been a beautiful and impressive sight beyond anything we can experience here on Earth.
Invitation to The Reader
I would like to invite you to share your thoughts, questions, and insights on the comments section below. I also would like to invite you to click on the links below to read the other devotionals I have written on the book of Revelation.
© 2019 Marcelo Carcach