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
Rev. 4:2: Immediately I was in the Spirit, and there in heaven a throne was set …
Immediately after Jesus’ call to “[c]ome up here,” John records that he is “in the Spirit” (v. 2). These words are identical to Rev. 1:10, where he is “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s Day. Literally, the phrase may be translated “became in the Spirit” and likely means John is brought by the Holy Spirit into the realm of spiritual vision. J.F. Walvoord and R.B. Zuck explain, “[E]xperientially he was taken up to heaven though his body was actually still on the island of Patmos” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Re 4:2–3).
Matthew Henry provides additional insight: For John, “all bodily actions and sensations were for a time suspended, and his spirit was possessed with the spirit of prophecy, and wholly under a divine influence. The more we abstract ourselves from all corporeal things the more fit we are for communion with God; the body is a veil, a cloud, and clog to the mind in its transactions with God. We should as it were forget it when we go in before the Lord in duty, and be willing to drop it, that we may go up to him in heaven” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Re 4:1–8).
While John’s experience is unique – few mortals in scripture are given a glimpse of heaven – the reality of being “in the Spirit” is common to all believers. Roughly 70 times the Bible uses the phrase “in,” “with,” or “by” the Spirit. Sometimes it is positional. Paul writes to Christians in Rom. 8:9, “You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” At other times it speaks of divine inspiration. Jesus, referring to Himself as fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, says, “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls Him ‘Lord’” (Matt. 22:43). Still other times the phrase speaks of Christian service guided by the Spirit. Paul, for example, is “resolved in the Spirit to … go to Jerusalem” (Acts 19:21). Those exercising the spiritual gift of tongues/languages are speaking “mysteries in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:2). All believers are instructed to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18). And Christians are “the ones who serve by the Spirit of God” (Phil. 3:3).
No doubt the same Holy Spirit who dwells in believers’ human spirits – sealing them, guiding them, and equipping them to serve – is the same Spirit who, at times, carries the Lord’s chosen servants into the heavenly realm.
Next: A throne is set … and One is seated (Rev. 4:2-3)
Rev. 4:1 – After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door. The first voice that I heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2Immediately I was in the Spirit, and there in heaven a throne was set. One was seated on the throne, 3and the One seated looked like jasper and carnelian stone. A rainbow that looked like an emerald surrounded the throne (HCSB).
With Christ’s letters to the seven churches now complete, John is given a glimpse into the throne room of heaven. Twice in the first verse John uses the words “after this.” Those who hold a futurist view of Revelation point to these words as a clear transition from “what is” to “what will take place after this” (Rev. 1:9). In other words, with the start of Revelation 4 we are taken beyond the church age and into the interlude before Christ’s return. Many futurists see this as a seven-year tribulation period that begins shortly after the Rapture of the church, or the bodily removal of all New Testament saints, alive and dead, from the earth (see 1 Cor. 15:51-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The voice of Jesus, telling John to “Come up here,” previews the day when Jesus will step into the clouds of heaven and call His church to meet Him in the air. Additionally, futurists argue that since the church is not mentioned from Rev. 4-19, the church is in heaven with Jesus while an unprecedented time of tribulation falls upon the earth.
But there are other points of view. Preterists, for example, teach that since John is told in the first century that these things must “quickly take place” (v. 1) and that “the time is near” (v. 3), we should be prepared for a first-century fulfillment of the things described in Revelation, specifically the Jewish crisis of 66-70 A.D.; the war between Rome and the Jews; and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. Preterists, you’ll recall, tend to hold to an early authorship of Revelation, which allows for these things to take place in John’s lifetime. Historicists see John’s vision as a call to pay heed to God’s sovereignty over history and the authority of Christ to unveil the future. Spiritualists reject the notion that the words “after these things” mean this is what will happen next. Rather, the entire church age, depicted from an earthly standpoint in chapters 1-3, may now be viewed again – this time from a heavenly perspective. In any case, the first three verses of Rev. 4 are rich with imagery and meaning.
Next: An open door … a unique voice … and in the Spirit