Day 3: ‘…around the throne there was a rainbow…’
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…
In Charles Schulz’s Peanutscartoon Lucy is surprised to discover Charlie Brown’s dog, Snoopy, has been promoted to the position of “Head Beagle”. “Head Beagle?” she responds “That stupid dog can’t be the Head Beagle! He’ll bring ruination upon the country! He’ll destroy us all! He’s inept! He’s incompetent! He’s…” Cut to Snoopy on top of his kennel: “How can I prepare my acceptance speech with all that shouting going on?” The point is, we are much more confident of someone’s ability to carry out a position of authority when we trust their character.
Yesterday we meditated on the throne in heaven, and today we will see who is on that throne. What is He like? What is His character? All the details in these verses are pictures and images describing God himself. Just as Ezekiel saw the ‘appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD’ (Ezekiel 1:28), John tells us truly of the One who has all rule and authority:
- He is beautiful and glorious (vs. 3a). The One who is in control, our Triune God, is the perfection of beauty, and gloriously so (Psalm 27:4b). He has the appearance of three stones: jasper, carnelian and emerald. We are made to think of glorious multi-coloured light being refracted through precious gems. These gems crop up through the Bible, at the garden-temple of Eden (Genesis 2:12 cf. Ezekiel 28:13), on the high priest robes and ephod (Exodus 28: 2, 17-20) adorned with gems for ‘glory and beauty’. And at the end of Revelation in the holy city of God we see them again shining forth his greatness and beauty (21:11,19-20).
- He is merciful in judgement (vs. 3b). There is a rainbow like an emerald encircling the throne. This takes us back to both God’s judgement and mercy at the time of the flood where he made a gracious covenant of faithfulness to his creation. The One in total control brings judgement, yet wonder of all wonders, his judgement is tempered with mercy for those who trust him.
- He has a people (vs. 4). Round the throne are seated twenty-four elders. These elders are best understood as angelic beings which are representative of the entire covenant people of God: the twelves tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles, the entire community of the redeemed. These people have overcome through faith in Christ and incredibly share in God’s reign with him, clothed in white and wearing crowns. It is an incredible and heartening thought that the One in control wants to have his people with him, sitting beside him as he said, ‘Father I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory’ (John 17:24).
- He is wrathful (vs. 4:5a). Flashings of lightning, rumblings and thunder come from before the throne, taking us back to Mount Sinai when the LORD gave his law to Israel (Exodus 19). After each series of seven judgements this phrase is repeated (8:5, 11:19, 16:18). This One in control is full of wrath against his enemies and he will surely judge by fire (20:9-10). This is good news as we would want the One in total control to care about evil and injustice, and not be indifferent.
- He is the giver of the Holy Spirit (vs. 4:5b). Just as the temple has lampstands and light (Rev. 1:12), so too in the heavenly throne room there are seven torches of fire which we are told are the seven spirits of God. Remember this is symbolic imagery, seven is the number of fullness or perfection, and we therefore see that the Holy Spirit in his fullness and perfection is given to purify and empower his church.
- He is totally set apart, holy. (vs. 4:6). The meaning of the sea of glass, like crystal before the throne of God is not totally clear to me. The elders of Israel witnessed this when they went up to share a meal with the LORD at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:10) and the prophet Ezekiel witnessed it (1:22). There was a bronze metal basin described as a “sea” in front of the temple (1 Kings 7:23-26) which was for the ceremonial cleansing of priests. It could therefore represent the purity and holiness of God. The fact that the sea is often a picture of evil and chaos in Scripture, the fact that the LORD rescued his people through the Red Sea (see also Rev 15:2-4), might also point us to his sovereign rule of evil and chaos, that it is frozen before him. The One who occupies the throne is totally set apart, totally holy and victorious over evil and chaos.
I once led a weekend camp for young people, and at the end of the camp a mother who I had known previously came up to me and said with relief ‘I’m so glad it was you who was taking the camp!’ Apparently in that context, and she knew me, I was a reassuring presence for an anxious parent! And so we too, when we take seriously John’s description of the One in total control of all history, might say ‘I’m so glad it’s you!’
Pray: Lord, I am so glad it is you who is in sovereign control of history, the Triune, covenant God: Father, Son, Spirit. I praise you for your beauty, your mercy, your goodness, your justice, your purity, and holiness. There is no-one like you. Amen.
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation;
O my soul, praise Him, for he is thy health and salvation;
All ye who hear, Brothers and Sisters draw near,
Praise Him in glad adoration.
Pete Campbell, Capel Fron, Penrhyndeudraeth