Rev. 4:2-3 — Immediately I was in the Spirit, and there in heaven a throne was set. One was seated on the throne, and the One seated looked like jasper and carnelian stone. A rainbow that looked like an emerald surrounded the throne (HCSB).
The words “throne” or “thrones” are used 13 times in Revelation 4 and more than 40 times throughout the book. Eleven times in this chapter we are told of a single throne upon which “One” sits. This One “lives forever and ever” and is the “Lord God, the Almighty, who was, who is, and who is coming” (vv. 8-9).
A throne signifies authority but it does not necessarily tell us the magnitude or quality of that authority. Throughout scripture we see rulers who are good or evil, strong or weak, benevolent or malevolent. It is not the throne that makes the ruler good or evil; it is the ruler who makes the throne such. In the case of John’s vision, we are assured that the One seated on the throne is the Creator and sovereign Ruler of the universe. He is “worthy to receive glory and honor and power” (v. 11). And He is freely and lovingly worshiped by angelic creatures and humans alike, not fearfully deified like pagan gods.
Warren Wiersbe writes, “No matter what may happen on earth, God is on His throne and is in complete control. Various teachers interpret Revelation in different ways, but all agree that John is emphasizing the glory and sovereignty of God. What an encouragement that would be to the suffering saints of John’s day and of every age in history” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Re 4:1).
We are told in verse 3 that the One seated on the throne looks like “jasper and carnelian stone.” Surrounding the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. John’s description is similar to that of Isaiah (Isa. 6:1-6) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:26-28). In Isaiah, we are told of the seraphim, the six-winged angelic beings who appear to be the same as John’s “living creatures.” The Lord is on His throne, high and lifted up. In Ezekiel, we see a throne like sapphire and are given a sketchy description of the Lord who is enthroned in brightness and glory. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel are overwhelmed. Isaiah declares, “Woe is me, for I am ruined” (Isa. 6:5), while Ezekiel falls face down at the appearance of the Lord’s blazing glory.
Interestingly, John does not tell us his reaction to this vision of the throne room, although after His initial encounter with Jesus in Revelation 1 he falls at His feet “like a dead man” (Rev. 1:17). It appears that earthly human encounters with God – whether by vision or personal appearance – often are terrifying experiences, while scenes of angels and the redeemed in heaven show worshipful reverence but an uncanny lack of fear. Maybe this is because God’s holiness exposes our sinfulness – the fallen nature of mankind that ultimately is overcome by the blood of the Lamb and is absent in the throne room of heaven.
We should be clear that the One seated on the throne is God the Father. Jesus, the Lamb, approaches the throne in chapter 5, and the Holy Spirit, depicted as “the seven spirits [or seven-fold spirit] of God” is before the throne in chapter 4. How can John describe God? Like Isaiah and Ezekiel – and later like the apostle Paul – John finds the glory of God difficult to capture in words. So he tells us the One seated on the throne is like jasper, a precious, clear stone. He’s also like carnelian, a translucent red gem. The clearness of the jasper may represent the holiness of God, while the red of the carnelian perhaps depicts His wrath or His provision for sin in the shed blood of His Son. The Lord is robed in light, according to Ps. 104:2 and 1 Tim. 6:16. Imagine the radiance of His glory shining in clarity and color. The jasper and carnelian (or sardius) are stones on the high priest’s breastplate (Ex. 28:17-21).
Around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. This is a full circle, not merely an arc, for in heaven all things are complete and our line of vision is not impeded by the horizon. The rainbow reminds us of God’s covenant with Noah never again to destroy the earth by a flood (Gen. 9:11-17). The Lord will, however, bring fire upon the earth to purge it of sin and usher in new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13). This is God’s new covenant with us. Through the finished work of Christ, the penalty, power and presence of sin are ultimately done away with, and the innocence of creation is restored.
But why the emerald (green) radiance of the rainbow? “Here … the predominating color among the prismatic colors is green, the most refreshing of colors to look upon, and so symbolizing God’s consolatory promises in Christ to His people amidst judgments on His foes…. As the rainbow was first reflected on the waters of the world’s ruin, and continues to be seen only when a cloud is brought over the earth, so another deluge, namely, of fire, shall precede the new heavens and earth…. The heavenly bow speaks of the shipwreck of the world through sin: it speaks also of calm and sunshine after the storm” (R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, D. Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Re 4:3, Logos Research Systems).
Next: An overview of Rev. 4:4-11