Text: Revelation 4:11
Purpose: As Christians await the return of our Lord with uncertainty about what the future will bring, we are given a vision of God seated on the Throne of Power to comfort us and to reassure us that God is in control. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Rudy W. Ouwehand, Niagara Falls, ON
Order of Worship
In the British and Canadian system of Parliament there is a tradition that is followed every time a new session of government begins. That may be after an election when the newly elected party calls the Parliament to meet for the first time, or it may be after a summer recess when Parliament again takes up its work.
At such a time, the government prepares, and the Queen, in England, or the Governor General, in Canada, reads what is called The Throne Speech. It is a speech outlining the plans that this government is determined to carry forward during the coming session. It doesn’t give the final details of all the bills that will be dealt with, but in broad sweeps and in outline it exposes the direction that this government wants to set for this country in the months and years to come. In the United States the annual State of the Union address carries out a similar purpose.
The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is God’s “throne speech.” After the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, God lays out in broad outline, according to Revelation 4:1 “What must take place after this...” until the Return of Christ. It does not give us all the details of God’s plans, nor should we look for future newspaper headlines in this book of the Bible, but it does give us, in broad outlines, the direction in which God is moving in his plans for his world and his people. It is good for us to pay serious attention to what this book has to teach us about our world today and about what is to come until the Return of Christ.
Understanding the Book of Revelation
We can all agree on two things about the Book of Revelation: first that in it God reveals the future and second, that it is very difficult to understand!
There are four traditional approaches to trying to understand this book as it relates to our lives today. According to the first view, the Book of Revelation applies only to past events. This is called the preterist view. From our point of view today, then, it would only be a fascinating account of historical events which have already taken place, such as the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Fall of the Roman Empire and other historical events. Certainly we might benefit from reading it as a reflection of God’s faithfulness to his people, but it has no information for us for today, and it is of no help to us in facing the future.
The second view sees this book as an account of the history of the Church through the ages since the time of Christ. This is called the historicist view. It ties in the various eras of Church History such as the persecution of the early Church, the Dark Ages and the Reformation of the Middle Ages to various predictions in the Book of Revelation.
A third view sees the whole book as relating to future events, whether referring to the near future or the far distant future. This is called the futurist view. This view would suggest that we should be waiting for the signs and wonders of what this Book talks about to begin happening some time in the future yet.
Finally there are those who see the Book of Revelation as symbolic of the struggle between good and evil. This is the idealist view. This view leaves the book open to your own particular approach as to how you want to see this struggle revealed in the world and in the Church today.
Which view shall we adopt as we read this last book of the Bible? Certainly each of these views has something to commend it and we can find true aspects of the purpose of this book in each of them. Many Christians go even farther and have strongly outspoken views of exactly what every chapter and verse in this book means. They spend much time on interpretation and on explaining exactly how we are to understand and accept each verse and symbol and image in the book. They even go so far as to give the details of future “newspaper headlines” based on the prophecies of this book.
In the early 1950's the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church was asked to adopt one specific view regarding the interpretation of the book of Revelation and the End Times. Synod wisely chose not to adopt one view recognizing that there is freedom to have different views on these matters and that only as the actual events unfold will it be seen clearly how God is bringing his throne speech here in the Book of Revelation into detailed fulfilment. Of course, such a variety of interpretations may result in our neglect of study and preaching on this book of the Bible because it is just too hard to understand. And indeed, many Christians comment that they never hear a sermon on the Book of Revelation, or if the minister does do a series, it is only on the seven letters to the Churches in the first three chapters. The rest of it is found to be too difficult to tackle in a series of sermons!
Why should we preach on this book then? Because it is still the Word of God for Christians today too! It does teach us about the struggle between the Kingdom of God and the power of evil which is very much a part of our own daily struggle to live the Christian life faithfully.
How can we make sense of it then? The key to understanding is given in Chapter 4 where we see God seated on his throne!
The Key to the Vision
Chapter 4 begins with the words of God, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” God is going to reveal his future plans through his servant, the Apostle John. But, instead of a detailed ‘newsreel’ of events, John sees a vision of the Throne of God! Before the events are revealed, the stage must be set. This is the key to understanding the whole book of Revelation.
John sees first of all a Throne in heaven, thus not an ordinary, earthly throne, but a special Throne which is the seat of power from which God himself rules the earth. And, secondly, he sees “Someone sitting on it,” clearly referring to God himself as the One on the Throne of Power, Who holds all things in his hands!
Why is this unique vision given to the Apostle John? We must remember that John’s primary audience, the recipients of this Letter to the Churches, are the believers and followers of Jesus Christ living in the first century AD. The seven letters in chapters 1-3, reveal that persecution was a fact of life for many believers in the early Church. Because Christians rejected Emperor Worship, they were subjected to discrimination, physical suffering, and in some cases, even to death.
God is giving a message to his Church: He is on the Throne! The key to understanding the message of the Book of Revelation is to hear the assurance that God is on the Throne of heaven and earth. As one common slogan has expressed it: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future!” We may speculate and disagree about the meaning of specific details of this Book, but we’ve missed the point of it unless we come back to this vision of the Throne of power, and confess that God rules, he is in control, and he is worthy of our praise and worship!
The Vision of the Throne of Power
What can we learn from the vision John shares with us in Chapter 4? First, we learn about God. We see, with John, the One who is seated on the Throne, and he is too glorious for words! John can only describe his “reflected” glory, as light is reflected through precious gems.
Next we see a circular rainbow. The Throne of God is surrounded by a rainbow recalling God’s promise of grace and mercy to Noah! Thus, even though we know that this Throne will also be a place of judgment upon the sinful world, we see that it is always surrounded by this reminder of God’ great grace and mercy to the people of the earth!
Then we see 24 elders. They are seated on thrones surrounding the Throne of God, and they are dressed in white, with crowns of gold! They represent the 12 patriarchs of the Old Testament, and the 12 apostles of the New Testament. They have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and now they are reigning with Christ. These 24 elders represent the Church of Jesus Christ throughout the ages. They joyfully lay down their crowns and join with the angels in worshipping God!
Also present in this vision are 7 lamps. These lamps represent the 7 churches to which Jesus has sent the letters that began this Book of Revelation. It means that the Church of Jesus Christ ‘triumphant’ is already present in heaven before God’s Throne. There the saints and martyrs of the Church are interceding for the Church ‘militant’ on earth.
Finally, we see in this vision 4 Living Creatures. The images given here in verses 6-8 reflect the prophecies of Ezekiel, chapter 1, and of Isaiah chapter 6. These living creatures, with the faces of a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle represent the fullness and totality of God’s created world. Additional images, such as the lightning and thunder, and the sea of glass clear as crystal, add to the wonder and majesty of the vision that is given to us here.
The Meaning of the Vision
How do these symbols speak to us today in light of our key to understanding the words of this prophecy? They help us see the Power of God and the Works of God in our world!
The Power of God is represented by the Throne. We talk about people in our world as ‘making history.’ We follow the rise and fall of kingdoms and nations. We focus on the activities of mankind. The Book of Revelation teaches us that it is not mankind who makes history, but God!
It is not the ‘throne speech’ of Parliament, or the State of the Union address by the President that will determine the future course of a nation but the Word of God from His Throne! In our lives we’re concerned with the daily affairs of work, school, church, society, and government— all that will pass. As the saying goes, ‘only what’s done for Christ will last!’
Therefore, we need to focus on matters of eternal significance! We do not fear that the End will come through the careless push of the wrong button. The End will come at a time and in a way already set and determined by God! He is in control. He rules. Our world belongs to God!
In the midst of a confusing world and a confused generation, Christians see God seated in power on the Throne, and face the future with the confidence not only that he is in control of our world today, but that he has the future securely under his power and control. Everything that is yet to happen is known to him. Everything that may befall us in this life is under his control. What a wonderful hope and comfort that is for us as Christians today living in troubled times. Because of what God has done, we already have the victory over sin and evil and death through Jesus Christ, our Lord!
The Works of God are revealed here in chapter 4 in two ways: in His work of creation, and in His work of redemption.
The work of creation is revealed by the 4 living creatures, for they lead all of creation in worship. As the Apostle Paul had already reminded the Church in his letter to the Romans: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, (his eternal power and divine nature) have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom.1:20) Every person in the world today can look at the marvellous beauty of the world around and see that there must be a Creator who is worthy of our praise and worship. It is the work of God through the four living creatures to bring people to this realization and thus to bring them to praise and worship the Creator.
The work of redemption is seen in this vision since the Church of Jesus Christ is present as represented by the 7 lamps and the 24 elders. All those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb join in a hymn as recorded in vs.11:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by Your will they were created
and have their being.”
This hymn was especially significant for first century Christians. The phrases ‘You are worthy’ and ‘our Lord and our God’ were ascriptions reserved for Emperor Worship. Each time the believers sang this hymn, they took their stand against this false god and his worship, and they exposed their lives to persecution and to death by their confession in song! What a comfort then, to have in mind this vision of the Throne of power! This prophecy given through the Apostle John was a comfort to Christians in the early Church to assure them of God’s control in all situations and circumstances of life!
Today Christians are concerned with many things that are happening in our world. In our nations we are not directly persecuted, yet we hear and read of many nations in the world where God’s people are persecuted. Indeed more believers have been martyred for their faith since 1950 than in the almost 2,000 years of the existence of the New Testament Church before this present time.
And even if we are not persecuted physically as so many of our brothers and sisters in the world are, yet we are well aware of the power of Satan at work in our lives, our families and our churches. We are concerned when we hear of Christian churches that have lost their rootedness in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, churches where morality just follows the patterns and preferences of the society around us, where complacency has replaced the “first love” of the people for Christ. We are concerned by evidence of apathy and of a wandering away within our own churches and families.
All these concerns are valid, and they need our attention and best efforts to deal with them and to overcome them. Yet, what God has given us today is a vision of a greater reality. We may see in this vision of God seated on his heavenly Throne that all power and authority is still in his hands!
And, as we look at the 24 elders, representing the Church of all the ages, we may see ourselves represented there too. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, and to us, that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. (Eph. 2:6). Thus we may begin now already to celebrate the great victory over sin which Jesus Christ has won on our behalf. We may join in casting down our crowns in worship at his feet!
God rules from the Throne of power. He holds the future in his hands! No matter how the future will unfold in the details of our lives, this is our assurance and hope: I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future!”
Father in heaven, we thank you that we may see your power at work still in our world today. And especially that we may experience your great work of redemption in our lives. Help us to see in our daily lives that you are in control. As we share together the vision of your holy Throne of Power may we confess, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future!” Amen.