‘Behold, a throne stood in heaven’
At once I was in the 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. 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…
It took me several attempts to pass my driving test – let’s just say I didn’t exactly take to it like a duck to water! I remember in my early lessons being daunted at being in sole control of the car. I was immensely relieved to discover that the car I was in was especially designed for learners, as the driving instructor had a break and a clutch on his side. This meant, if everything was going wrong (as often happened), he could step in if he needed to. With God, it is a different story because we have never been in control of our lives or history. God does not just step in when things go wrong, he always has his hand on the wheel! And that is immensely relieving.
When he enters heaven in the Spirit, the first thing John sees is a throne. It is the central piece of furniture in heaven, the thing that dominates everything else, and is mentioned seventeen times in chapters 4 and 5, and a further twenty-one times in the following chapters. The throne is the centre of all heavenly and earthly reality – notice everything else in the vision takes place ‘around’ the throne, the blazing centre of the whole universe, and of the whole of reality. The ark of the covenant was the centre of the earthly temple, where the LORD would descend to meet with his people from between the cherubim (Exodus 25:22). That was the shadow, but here is the heavenly reality: the centre of God’s cosmic temple is his inescapable rule and control. As the LORD says through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Heaven is my throne and the earth my footstool’ (Isaiah 66:1). It is God who reigns and is in control.
All this repetition of the throne and the control of God is preparing us for the opening of the seals of judgement in chapter six. We are told again and again of God’s control so that we can be totally convinced that the devastations and events they describe are under his control. In this world, we can sometimes doubt that many of the common features of human history like conquests, wars, famines, plagues, and pestilences are under his total control. But we are not to be caught off guard – behind human history is the total control of God.
This is something worth stopping, pausing, and reflecting on – ‘a throne stood in heaven’. This is a truth to plant our feet upon and gain stability: we are to remember that the buck stops somewhere – there is One who is in sovereign control. The throne is occupied, not empty, and is a relief to weary saints. All the ups and downs of history happen by order of the throne, in relation to this throne, and can never ever dismantle this throne. What a relief to the suffering churches under Roman rule that John is writing too, and what a relief to us.
Pray: Father, I pray that the total dominance of your throne in these chapters would sink deep into my heart, and I would rest my head on the pillow of your sovereignty.
Before Jehovah’s awe-full throne,
Ye nations bow with sacred joy;
Know that the Lord is God alone,
He can create and he destroy.
Pete Campbell, Capel Fron, Penrhyndeudraeth