20 June 2014

Revelation 4:1-11

"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power." (v. 11)


Following the messages to the seven churches, John the Divine (author of Revelation) sees the curtain of heaven drawn back to reveal a vision of earthly elders and heavenly creatures praising God. Such disclosure of the heavenly realms was a common feature of apocalyptic literature (looking towards a time of God's ultimate triumph), as is the use within this chapter of picturesque and colourful imagery.

The first five verses describe John seeing an image of "one seated on the throne" (v. 2), and details the vision through language reflecting earlier apocalyptic texts (Ezekiel 1:26-28Daniel 7:9). In verse 3 the imagery of jewels is used to depict the precious character of God on the throne, while the rainbow is a reminder of God's care and compassion. As the next chapter makes clear, Jesus, the slain Lamb of God, dwells alongside the Father (Revelation 5:6-10).

Around the throne, the text describes 'twenty-four elders" (v. 4). The interpretation of this figure is notoriously difficult, but probably signifies the complete number of God's people. Their "white robes" reflect the purity granted to them through the Son, while the "golden crowns" reflect their royal status in the presence of the king. The "seven spirits" (v. 5) probably refers to the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

John also sees around the throne "four living creatures" (v. 6), with multiple eyes and wings and forms. The creatures are found in Ezekiel 1, but the imagery also draws on Isaiah 6:1-3. The creatures represent heavenly beings who lead the praise of God. They proclaim God's holiness, as well as the worthiness of God as creator, and are joined by the 24 elders who cast their thrones before the throne. All are subordinate before God, and find their place in worshipping the one who gives life.

The depiction in this chapter, then, is of earth and heaven uniting in worship. This is the 'holy' God, the one who is worthy of praise. And yet this is the God - as the next chapter makes abundantly clear - revealed to us in Jesus. It is Jesus alone who draws back the curtain separating earth and heaven and Jesus who reveals the depths of God's love.

To Ponder

  • How does the holiness of God shape your spirituality?
  • How can you submit to the rule of God in your daily life? 

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the discipleship development officer for the Methodist Church, a role that involves developing and promoting a range of resources to help Christians grow as followers of Jesus. His previous experience includes working as evangelism, spirituality and discipleship officer at Methodist Church House, lecturing in New Testament Studies at Birmingham Christian College, and working as associate leader of B1, a 'fresh expression' of church in Birmingham.