I want to read chapters 4 and 5, because I think that the division we have in our English Bibles is a bit unhelpful, because it divides the unity of what is effectively one scene that we have before us in these two chapters. Effectively chapter 4 is the background to what we see in chapter 5. So let's read the two of them together, they're only about 20 - what is it? - 25 verses in total.
Verse 1 of chapter 4, John says: "After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
"And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever", Amen.
You will see from the obvious nature of what is written at the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4, we have reached a definite break within the outline of John's Apocalypse. It seems to be between chapter 3 and chapter 4. Now, let me remind you that in chapter 1 verse 19 we have a God-given outline of the book, if you look back at it John was told to: 'Write the things which thou hast seen', and that is the first division of the book of Revelation, the things that John had already seen - and that is chapter 1, the vision of the risen, glorified Son of Man as the Judge-Priest in the midst of the churches. Then in the second division, John was told to write 'the things which are', those were the things that existed in his day as he was writing, and those are the things we looked at in chapter 2 and chapter 3, the seven churches of Asia Minor. Now we come to chapter 4, another section, and it is the largest section of the whole book because it runs from chapter 4 right through to the end of the book, chapter 22. It relates, as verse 19 of chapter 1 tells us, the things that are to be - and so we see that in the first verse of chapter 4: 'After this I looked'. Now some say that that only designates the fact that John is going to see a new vision after the last vision - well, if you think that, look to the end of verse 1 where it says clearly that the Lord instructed John to 'Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter'. This is the part of the outline of this book, things that are yet to come, things that are in the future.
Now it is very important that we notice that from here on in, right to the last chapter of the book of Revelation, the church is never mentioned. Now it is dealt with, of course, in great detail in chapters 2 and 3; but after the seventh church has received the critique of our Lord Jesus Christ, Laodicea that we looked at last week, the church is not mentioned again until chapter 22 and verse 16 - the conclusion of this book, which is effectively a letter to seven churches. Now, of course, in chapter 19 the bride of Christ is mentioned, and that of course is a name for the church - so the bride is there in chapter 19, but even that term referring to the church isn't mentioned anywhere else in the whole of the book of Revelation. Now that's not the only reason why we believe, but it certainly is one of them, that the church has been taken to heaven. If you were wanting to look for this chronologically in the book of Revelation, you probably could fit it just between chapter 3, the end of it, and chapter 4. We call it the rapture of the church, it's spoken of in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 and 1 Corinthians chapter 15 - it is the translation of the saints.
Now in verse 1, where it says, John said: 'Behold, a door was opened in heaven, and the voice told him to 'Come up hither' - some feel that's an allusion to the rapture, and it may well be, I don't think we can be dogmatic on that one - but nevertheless, this is to happen. The purpose of chapters 4 and 5 that we read this evening is to set, if you like, a divine backdrop for the judgements that God is going to unleash upon this planet Earth after the church of Jesus Christ is taken from the scene. Now a closer look at your diagram I gave you, your outline of Revelation, will show you many of the judgements that we're going to see in later weeks - the seven seals, the seven trumpets, the seven key figures of that tribulation period, the seven bowls being poured out, and the seven dooms pronounced upon Babylon, and then the return of our Lord Jesus. This is setting the scene for us in chapter 4 and chapter 5 for a great judgement.
Now if we were to turn this evening to Isaiah chapter 6, or Ezekiel chapter 1, we would see that there are similar visions of God that those prophets saw - and, incidentally, both of those saw those similar visions just before they pronounced judgement on God's behalf. Now if you've been with us for the last seven weeks, you will remember that we looked at the seven churches where Christ in their midst, as their Judge-Priest, pronounces that judgement must begin in the house of God. So in the book of Revelation the church is to be judged first - and you remember what happened before that happened? John was given a vision of the glorified Son of Man, the Judge-Priest who was in the midst of the churches. So a vision of Jesus Christ was given before the judgement to the churches, and we are seeing this pattern repeated once again. We're going to see in these subsequent weeks the greatest judgement that this world has ever known. We have the words of our Lord Jesus for that, for He said in Matthew 24: 'Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be'. But before pronouncing these great judgements, John is given a divine vision.
A little time after the saints have been raptured and translated to heaven there will begin a seven-year period of tribulation in which God will deal with unbelieving Jewish people and unbelieving Gentile nations. Jeremiah called it 'the time of Jacob's trouble'. It's spoken of in the prophet Daniel as 'Daniel's 70th week', you can read about that in Daniel 9 and verse 27. But this vision of God that we are going to look at tonight in chapter 4 is the prelude to all that is going to be poured out upon this world of God's wrath. So let's look at it.
What was the last word that the Lord spoke to the churches? If you look at verse 21 of chapter 3 you will see this: 'To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne'. Now what the Lord refers to there is His joint occupancy of the Father's throne, and that is the way things are now. He is waiting for the moment when He will rise from that throne and He will call His people home, and then He will begin to administer God's purposes in humanity and pour out the judgements upon this earth. But as we enter into chapter 4, it appears that Christ's role is different in that vision - chapter 5 is the same, if you look at verse 6 of chapter 5: 'I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth'. Now where the Authorised Version says: 'I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne'; the New American Standard Version translates it like this, I believe more accurately, 'Between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders there was a Lamb standing'. The Lamb is not on the throne, the Lamb is before the throne, and that suggests that the Lord is in a different role now in chapter 5 than He was in chapter 3 and verse 21. He is no longer sitting on His Father's throne, but He has arisen and He stands before the throne.
You might say: 'Well, you're just splitting hairs really, aren't you?'. Well, no, because this suggests that the church age is now closed, and Christ now has a different relationship. We've seen already in this book that to be before the throne, whether it is angelic creatures, whether it is the seven Spirits of God, to be before the throne signifies the administration for God. So what we are seeing here in chapter 5 is that Christ is about to do something for God, He's about to administer God's rule, He's about to open the first seal of the seven-sealed book of the Lamb and usher in the Tribulation period. It's very important that we see that. Something is changing here.
Now though chapters 4 and 5 are linked, we shall see more of the significance of chapter 5, in the will of the Lord, next week. We need to ask: what is the reason for this vision, chapters 4 and 5, before unleashing all these judgements in the Great Tribulation period? Well, the answer is simple, and it is the most common word that we find in chapter 4: it is the word 'throne'. That is the key word of this chapter, and I would go as far as to say that it's probably the key word in this whole book. It is found 14 times in this chapter alone - if you try counting it you'll not get 14, but the seats that are referred to that these twenty-four elders are sitting on are also really thrones. But John, as the writer of Revelation, he uses the word 'throne' 43 times out of the 62 times it's used in total in the New Testament as a whole. Indeed, the second most common usage of the word 'throne' is found in Matthew's gospel, and of course most of you will know that Matthew is the gospel of the King and the kingdom - but it's only used 5 times in Matthew. In this chapter alone it is used 14 times, in this Revelation 40 times, and what we are seeing here is God emphasising His own throne.
Now we saw in the church at Pergamos in chapter 2 and verse 13 that Satan's seat - the word is 'Satan's throne' - was there in Pergamos, that was his earthly, geographical, logistic location. What we're seeing now is that though Satan's throne might be on earth, God's throne is in heaven - and God's throne rules over all! God's throne will never be defeated! So what is God doing through John? Well, He's showing us, before He shows us these awful wrath judgements that will be poured upon this planet, He shows us that the place of supreme authority is in the throne of God in heaven - heaven rules!
Now we need to remember who John is writing to. John's readers are troubled because of Caesar's throne. They are being persecuted by their own emperor and empire, and by other religionists, particularly in Judaism. John does not want them to forget that God is still on His throne and will ever be there. There is a higher throne than all this world has known, where faithful ones from every tongue will one day come. You see, John wanted them to see their fortune and their future was not in the hands of a human despot, but the scroll of all creation's destiny is in the hand of Almighty God who sits on the heaven's throne, and one day soon will deliver that scroll into the hand of the Lamb that was slain, to judge all the persecutors of righteousness. So chapters 4 and 5 are simply setting the scene for all that's going to come in chapters 6-22. It's simply saying to John, and to those he writes to, and to us today: no matter what may happen on earth, no matter what experiences we go through in life, God is on His throne and He is in complete control!
Now let's look at this vision, and we're going to look at it slowly and in detail, so do take your time with me and follow it. One of the first things that we encounter is a door: 'I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven'. Now that may refer, as some think, to the rapture - but one thing is certain: the voice which John heard was the voice that he had already heard. He says that he heard it in chapter 1 verse 10, if you want to remind yourself of that, and that voice is calling him up in the spirit to heaven: 'Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter', things which must take place after this. Now, if you underline your Bible, underline that word 'must' - because here again we have this theme: these things that you're going to read in chapters 6-22, they must happen! The strong emphasis is that John is not writing about matters of chance that may come about or not if conditions are right, but these events will certainly occur because they are part of a divine plan, they are God's will. He's the one on the throne, He's the one in supreme control.
So there is a door, and there's a voice, and then in verse 2 we see that there is a throne: 'And immediately I was in the spirit' - and if you want to know what that is you can get one of our previous studies where we looked at that in chapter 1 - 'and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne'. Now what we're going to read now is a wonderfully graphic account of the throne of God in the courtroom of heaven. All the language that John uses here is metaphorical in the sense that they are giving us suggestions of what this throne is like, and what the aura coming from the divine Persons are like, because he cannot in accurate language convey the full-orbed attributes and nature of the scene that is before him, the majesty and the unfathomableness of Almighty God. So he uses language to help us.
In verse 3, in the first part, he says that He that sat upon that throne 'was to look upon like a jasper and a sardias stone'. John was so overwhelmed that he had to refer to precious stones and jewels to refer to what he saw at that throne. Now jasper is a clear jewel, and we think that what he's getting at here is the purity that was coming, emanating from this throne. Sardias we know is a ruby red stone, and that could speak of a number of things, but often in ancient times it spoke of anger and divine judgement. Here, emanating from this throne is this pure, transparent jewellike ray from a jasper stone; a ruby red ray from a sardias stone - and what he's trying to grasp for us and convey is the majesty that robes and envelops the Person who is sitting upon this throne.
The Psalmist said that the Almighty 'coverest himself with light as with a garment: the one who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain'. Paul to Timothy tried to convey this when he spoke of God as only having immortality, 'dwelling in light which no man can approach; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen'.
Who shall sound Thee?
Thine own eternity is round Thee,
Now some people feel this isn't actually a depiction of God, rather it's a description of the throne, not God Himself. Well, I don't know about that, but Leon Morris has a very good comment, and I want you to listen carefully to this. He says: 'Flashes of light from precious stones form an apt symbol of the divine presence. This is why: at once they are restrained as regards detail, but clear as regards excellence'. I'll repeat that: 'At once they are restrained as regards detail, but clear as regards excellence'. In other words, there's a blinding excellence whereby you know there is something great, there is something other coming here, there is something transcendent that you're viewing; but you can't focus, you can't describe it, you can't see it in specific detail. I think he's right, and I think it is John's attempt to depict the glory of God that emits from this great throne.
Add to this as well that if you're familiar with Exodus 39, the High Priest's garments, you will know that the breastplate of the High Priest had a jasper stone on it and a sardias stone. The jasper stone, like every other of the stones on the breastplate, represented one of the tribes of Israel - the jasper stone represented the tribe of Rueben. Rueben was Jacob's firstborn. The sardias stone was the last stone on the breastplate - jasper was first, sardias was last - and sardias represented the tribe of Benjamin, who was Jacob's last born. Some scholars believe that these two stones depict that God here is operating for all His people, all the children of Israel from the first tribe to the last - but I think there's more than that in it. Rueben, who is represented by the jasper, his name means 'Behold a son'. Benjamin, represented by the sardias stone, the last son of Jacob, means 'Son of My Right Hand'. Could it be that what is being depicted here is not just a representation of God's people Israel and God moving on their behalf, but the fact that the divine Son, born to the people of Israel, will be shown later in chapter 5 as the dispenser of all God's justice and wrath - the Son of God's Right Hand.
In verse 3, the second part, John then sees a rainbow. Now please note, it's not very clear just in our English version, but it says 'a rainbow round about the throne' - now that literally means that this was a rainbow in a complete circle, not just an arc. It's described as being like emerald, now what does that mean? Well, when we go back to the book of Genesis, we see in Genesis chapter 9 verse 16 that the rainbow was given by God as a symbol of His covenant with the whole of creation. Now it was the Noahic Covenant we call it, but it was not just a covenant made with Noah, it was a covenant made with every thing in the whole of creation. God was saying that He would not judge the earth again with a flood, and what we have here is this emerald rainbow depicting that, yes, this is a vision just before God is going to pour out His judgemental righteous wrath upon the earth, but even in the midst of all that anger and righteous judgement God is merciful! He does not forget His promises, nor His covenants, and He has no intention of obliterating the whole of creation.
Now you know, don't you, that usually a rainbow comes after the storm - but here we have a rainbow before the storm, isn't that beautiful? Remember now that this vision is being given to God's people, and God is telling them that in wrath He will remember mercy - and could it be another allusion of how the Lord is going to take His own people, those suffering saints, out of the scene before any of this comes to pass? It's certainly a sign of hope.
Then come with me again, verse 4, John further sees round about the throne - the circular rainbow was round about in a vertical sense, upward; but this description of four and twenty seats and elders is round about the throne on a horizontal level. Twenty-four elders, and there are twenty-four thrones, one each. Look at the verse: these elders are robed in white garments, and they're wearing golden crowns. Now the word for 'crown' there is 'stephanos', which is the athletic crown, the reward for running the race and winning it, not 'diadem' which is a crown that speaks of governmental authority.
Now can I say, without going into much detail, that no one, I believe, can say for certain, dogmatically, who these twenty-four elders are. They have been variously understood by scholars down through the years. Some say they are angelic beings, and they have reasons for saying that - they think that these angelic creatures represent the saints of God in some capacity. Others believe that these twenty-four elders represent the redeemed of both the Old and the New Testament - the twelve tribes of Israel represented in the patriarchs, and the twelve apostles representing the New Testament church. Of course we know that in the New Jerusalem the twelve tribes' names will be written on the gates of the New Jerusalem, and also the foundation of that great new city will be the twelve apostles' names. Then there's another group of scholars who believe that all of these twenty-four elders represent all the believers in the New Testament Church and them alone. They say this because of the fact that they are crowned and enthroned on twenty-four thrones, which suggests to them that these people have been judged and are rewarded, and therefore must be Christians. Also in the Old Testament there were twenty-four courses of the levitical priests in the Temple, and of course in the New Testament we as the saints of God have been made kings and priests to serve unto God, and so that's how they understand it - these twenty-four are all believers, and they're operating as king-priests, and of course that would lend support to the idea that the church has been raptured, and the church indeed is dwelling in heaven. I'll leave you to come to your own conclusion on that one.
In verse 4, as we read on to verse 5, we see that out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices - lightnings and thunderings and voices. This is all depicting for us a scene of judgement. Now mark that the rainbow is still intact, God is judging but His mercy and His grace is still extant. Then John sees these seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, and he interprets for us that these seven lamps are the seven Spirits of God. We have seen on a previous occasion that the seven Spirits of God speak of the One, the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost - but it's speaking of His completeness and His full ministry as the perfect Spirit. Isaiah chapter 11 verses 2 and 3 talks about that, the full-orbed nature of His ministry and His Majesty.
Come to verse 6, and before the throne John sees more: 'there was a sea of glass like unto crystal' - a sea of glass, what does that speak of? Well, this throne of the Almighty God is located in a place that is undisturbed. The sea speaks of restlessness, but this is a sea of glass, it is undisturbed, it is separate, distinct, transcendent from the wild tossing seas of this world. The opposition of the wicked is described in the Bible as those who are tossed about like the troubled sea, not so with this sea, it is unshakable. Now 'sea' in the Bible often speaks of separation, and perhaps the reason why it is here before the throne of God is that we might know, as sinful creatures in humanity, that we are different, we are separate, we are distinct from God - and He is unique. Do you know that's what holiness means? Unique, utterly unique! We cannot approach to God, who is of awful holiness.
Then follow with me again in verse 6, the second half, 'in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind'. Now that would better be translated 'four living creatures', 'beasts' confuses it with other things in prophetic literature, these are four living creatures. Now again it is very difficult just to identify with accuracy what these four living creatures are, but they seem to be - as we study them and dissect them - a kind of combination between cherubim and seraphim. Now cherubim, we read of them in Ezekiel chapter 10, and I think verse 7 here speaks of the cherubim. The cherubim were to have a face like a lion, a face like a calf, a face like a man, and a face like an eagle. Then when we go to Isaiah 6, we read about seraphim, and they had six wings. You can read all about it yourself, and I think that is found in verse 8: six wings about them, and those wings were full of eyes. So they are a type of mix of cherubim and seraphim, and they are covered from head to toe with eyes before and behind. In other words, behind is God, and they are all-seeing as far as God is concerned; and before them is the creation and the universe, you and me, and they are all-seeing as far as we are concerned. Now of course no one is all-seeing apart from God, and these four creatures are just reflecting this attribute in the Almighty as they stand before the throne of God. They are the guardians, it would seem, of God's throne.
Now I think these four living creatures reflect three things at least. First of all they reflect the whole of creation. You remember that I told you God made a covenant, not just with Noah but with all of creation. Now in Genesis 9 and verse 10 we read about it, listen carefully, God said: 'I'm going to make a covenant with every living creature that is with you', who is the 'you'? Noah, so it's a covenant made with creation that was made with man. He goes on: 'And I will make a covenant with the fowl', that's the birds of the air, that's the eagle, 'and with the cattle', that's the ox, 'and with every beast of the earth with you', the beast of the earth, the chiefest of them, is the lion. So this reflects the whole of creation. I think too it might reflect Israel in some nature. It was Walter Scott who observed that the ancient rabbinical writers declared that the tribes of Israel pitched their tents and their standards, their insignia, on the four sides of the Tabernacle in the selfsame order that we have here. Now Judah, his insignia was the lion; Ephraim's insignia was the ox, Reuben's insignia was the man, and Dan's insignia was the eagle. You can read about that in Numbers chapter 2 and verse 2. I cannot prove that, but it's very interesting, isn't it, that these four creatures might well reflect God's purposes to Israel.
But of course, I'm sure it's obvious to some, the certainty of what they reflect is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Down through the years Christians and Bible scholars have always seen in these four faces - the face of a lion, the face of a calf, the face of a man, the face of an eagle - how the four evangelists - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - have depicted the various characteristics of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, Matthew is the gospel of the King, the king of beasts is the lion. Mark is the gospel of the Servant, and the chief beast of labour and burden is the calf or the ox. Luke's gospel is the one that focuses on the Son of Man, on the humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the face of a man. John's gospel is the one that takes us into the heights of glory and shows us the divinity of Christ, as we soar like an eagle in the heavenlies.
God puts the picture of Jesus Christ everywhere. Here it is in these four living creatures, and they are before the throne of God - that means, remember, before the throne they are administering God's rule. Now there's four of them, and four is the number of universality - and as we will see going through the rest of the book of Revelation, these four living creatures are involved intrinsically in the judgements that will be poured out upon this earth. Do you see what God's saying? Four, this will be universal judgement. Eyes, this will be all-seeing judgement. This will be judgement that will be executed by that Man which God hath raised from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I want you to see something else in John's description of the throne room of heaven, because I believe John seems to suggest that the earthly Tabernacle, and the Temple that we read about in Exodus and other books in the Old Testament, was based upon the heavenly sanctuary of the throne room of God in glory. If you look at the Tabernacle diagram on the screen, you'll see many parallels between the earthly Tabernacle, or the Temple, and the sanctuary of God in the throne room of heaven. There is the Holy of Holies, you can see it right over here, or the holiest place of all - and that speaks of the throne of God. There's the seven branched candlestick, and that is seen clearly here in this chapter in the seven lamps that are before the throne of God. There is the bronze laver that was filled with water, you see it there, and that's seen in heaven as the sea of glass. If you were to go into the holiest place of all, you would see the Ark of the Covenant, and of course overarching that Ark there would be the cherubim, the wings of the cherubim. You've got these four living beasts, living creatures in heaven as well. You've got priests in the Tabernacle and the Temple, and you've got twenty-four elders that may well be king-priests in heaven. You've got a brazen altar in the Tabernacle, and in chapter 6 of Revelation we'll see that it is also in heaven. We have an incense altar in the Tabernacle and the Temple, and we've also an incense altar in chapter 8 of Revelation. We've the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle and the Temple, and in chapter 11 and verse 19 God gives us a glimpse into the sanctuary in glory and the Ark of the Covenant is there as well.
Now of course there is no material temple in heaven as such, all heaven is God's sanctuary - however, when we come to Revelation 15 it's indicated to us that there is a special sanctuary of God, even a heaven of heavens. It's amazing. I don't know about you, but this is a glorious sight that we're seeing tonight. I don't know what your reaction to it is, but John's was that he was overwhelmed. You can imagine why, can't you? He's trying to pour the ocean into a teacup, and convey it to us who have never seen even what he saw. Isaac Watts put it like this:
'Earth from afar hath heard Thy fame,
And worms have learn'd to lisp Thy name;
But, O, the glories of Thy mind
Leave all our soaring thoughts behind'.
All this creation that is in heaven, what is their occupation? Well, they're lost in wonder, love and praise - and if you look at verses 8 to 11 of chapter 4, we see this great doxology before us, and it's mighty: the four beasts, the living creatures, with the six wings about them, they are full of eyes, 'they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created'. What a scene! Moving through the heavenly realm, and there is this picture of unceasing worship from all of creation - what a contrast to the way things are today.
You know what Paul said in Romans chapter 1, don't you? Mankind has changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever, Amen. Everything has been switched around, that's why there's a day has to come when the Lord Jesus Christ comes and switches it back round the right way. Augustine said: 'Thus does the world forget You, its Creator, and falls in love with what You have created instead of with You'. But here is the heavenly scene, and I believe it's similar to the scene now, where all of created life around the throne is constantly, day upon day, crying: 'Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD God Almighty'. Man is for God, not God for men, and these struggling saints that John is writing to, they needed to get a glimpse of the Almighty. Nine times in the book of Revelation we read this depiction of God the Almighty, they needed to see it! He is in control, not Rome, not the Caesar, not the Jews, He is the one who is worshipped by all of His creatures in creation.
We need to remember as we study this book that God didn't give this book to satisfy Christians' curiosity about the future. He didn't give us this book to tell us who the four and twenty elders were with 100% accuracy - if that's what you get hung up on, you're missing the point entirely. This book and this vision is for comfort, it is for hope, it was written by a persecuted Christian - John on the Isle of Patmos - it was written to persecuted Christians in all of Asia Minor. 'To suffer for Thee was their work, but to think of Thee was their rest'. They needed to see Him, that's the vision they needed most - and this vision was written with the purpose of encouraging and exhorting them by reassuring them that God in Jesus Christ controls the course and the climax of human history. That's why I've given this series the title 'Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow', because if all of us could only get a vision, a revelation of God and His Son, His eternal purposes that must come to pass - what a difference it would make for the present!
A W. Tozer, upon this phrase 'they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come', said: 'They rest not day or night, my fear is that too many of God's professing people down here are resting far too often between their efforts of praise' - how true. Here is a vision of God in control of everything, and that is the vision - my Christian friend - that will get you through your life. Any tribulation, any trial, any suffering, any hardship - a vision of God and His Christ, even in the harshest persecution, will carry you through! But there is a problem: if we're going to have such a vision, we need to take time to get it; we need to take space to gaze upon God.
Now I'm led to believe that A. W. Tozer had a practice, that he would go into his study in the morning, and he would put on a set of overalls, and take an old mat that he had bought from Sear Roebuck and throw it on the ground of his study, lock the door and lie prostrate on his face and belly for the whole morning thinking on God. Sure, what do we know about that? Do we spend time gazing on God? That's what this vision is giving us, it was fuelling them for the worst that was to come in their life, and ultimately the worst that will ever come in this earth's history - a vision of God who is in control, and that would get them through.
I love the poetry of F.W. Faber. He spent many hours himself, like Tozer, gazing on God. Listen to a couple of verses from a few of his poems. He says this:
'Only to sit and think of God,
Oh what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name
Earth has no higher bliss.
Father of Jesus, love's reward!
What rapture will it be,
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze and gaze on Thee!'
As if addressing the Lord personally, he says directly:
'I love Thee so, I know not how
My transports to control;
Thy love is like a burning fire
Within my very soul.
O Spirit, beautiful and dread!
My heart is fit to break
With love of all Thy tenderness
For us poor sinners' sake'.
Oh, to get a vision of God like that - that our transport and rapture we cannot control, that our hearts almost burst for a love of Him! I'll tell you: that will carry you through like nothing else. Our problem is, even as Christians, we don't have time for that stuff. I'm going to share a story with you as I close, I've already shared it with the people here in Iron Hall. I read it in a book by Ron Boyd Macmillan, the son of the previous pastor in Templemore Hall years ago. He was in China and he met a Chinese Christian named Wang Mingdao Wang Mingdao had been persecuted many times and kept in solitary confinement for his faith. He spent a bit of time with him, and he said to him one day: 'Wang Mingdao, I will never be put in jail like you, so how can your faith have any impact on mine?'. Wang Mingdao seemed a bit nonplussed by that, and then he started asking Ron Macmillan a series of questions. He said: 'Listen to me carefully, and answer: When you go back home, how many books do you have to read this coming month? How many letters do you have to write? How many people do you have to see? How many articles do you have to produce? How many sermons do you have to prepare and preach?'. He kept on asking these questions, and Ron Macmillan as he writes says: 'I answered them each time, and after about 15 of these questions I was beginning to feel panicked at the amount of work that was ahead of me'. Wang Mingdao seemed to sense this, and Ron says: 'We sat in silence, and suddenly an insight burst into my consciousness with scalding ferocity: I need to build myself a cell!'. A cell, like Wang Mingdao's cell.
Ron shared that thought with Wang Mingdao, and he grew very excited and explained, and this is just a quotation as he wrote it, Wang Mingdao said: 'When I was put in jail I was devastated. I was 60 years old, at the peak of my powers. I was a well known evangelist and wished to hold crusades all over China. I was an author, I wanted to write more books. I was a preacher, I wanted to study my Bible and write more sermons. But instead of serving God in all those ways, I found myself sitting alone in a dark cell. I could not use the time to write more books - they deprived me of pen and paper. I could not study my Bible and produce more sermons, they had taken my Bible away. I had no one even to witness to as the jailer, for years, just pushed my meals through a hatch'. Now listen to this, he said: 'Everything that had given me meaning as a Christian worker had been taken away from me, and I had nothing to do' - and then he stopped, and his eyes moistened again: 'Nothing to do', he said, 'except get to know God. For 20 years that was the greatest relationship I have ever known - but the cell was my means'. He ended with this parting shot: 'You need to build yourself a cell, so that you can do for yourself what persecution did for me: simplify your life, and get to know God'.
Now hopefully we'll never face a cell for Christ - but you see if you're going to get through this life with your testimony intact, you're going to have to make yourself a cell and gaze and gaze on God.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eleventh recording in his 'The Book Of The Revelation' series, entitled "The Throne Of God" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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