The experience of John in Revelation 4 and 5 answers some questions that readers of the letters to the seven churches must have had. Those readers would be aware that churches have real problems. And they would have seen that Jesus is the answer to the problems. Yet where is Jesus and what power does he possess to deal with those circumstances? The answer is to think of the ascension of Jesus. In Revelation 4, John describes the place where Jesus now is (even although Jesus is not mentioned in the chapter). What did he see?
The first object that John sees is a throne. On the throne sits one marked by purity and beauty, and the vision highlights those features by comparing him to various jewels. Jewels were items of beauty and were items through which light shone. Defects could be seen easily. There were no defects in the One on the throne. Instead only purity and beauty were revealed.
Next John sees a rainbow, which is a reminder that God rules on his throne according to his own promises. The rainbow was given to Noah as an indication that God would never again destroy the earth by a flood.
Then John notes some lesser thrones, occupied by twenty-four elders, indicating that heaven is a place of delegated power. We are not told who the elders are, only that they are holy creatures (dressed in white) who rule (crowns of gold) under God. They are probably angels who have been given a special authority by God (Ps. 89:6-7).
From the throne came lightnings, thunders and voices. This is very similar to the way God appeared on Mount Sinai when he gave the law. These phenomena remind us of his opposition to sin; they are often used in the Bible as pictures of God’s anger and judgement.
John also noticed the presence of the Spirit, illustrated by the seven lamps of burning fire.
Then John mentions the sea of glass, which reminds us that heaven is a place of peace because nothing that causes disturbances is found there. The sea also functions as a barrier to keep out unwanted intruders.
John also notices the cherubim, strange looking creatures who are similar to the seraphim mentioned in Isaiah 6. They are depicted as seeing all that goes on. This may suggest alertness as well as knowledge.
Heaven is a place of praise, as seen in the song of the cherubim and of the elders. The cherubim celebrate the holiness, power and eternal existence of God and the elders praise him as the great Creator. The elders, angelic beings who have been given authority by God, cast their crowns before the throne of God, confessing that he alone is King.
The effect of this description is to stress both the majesty and the mystery of God. Compared to him, all the pomp of earthly rulers is but tinsel. But there is someone missing from the scene of chapter 4, for both the Father and the Spirit are mentioned, but not the Son, which brings us to a problem articulated by the angel at the beginning of chapter 5. We will think about that problem tomorrow.