The Magnificence of Jehovah’s Celestial Throne
Vision 2—Revelation 4:1–5:14
Subject: Awesome happenings before God’s throne of judgment
Time of fulfillment: This vision features events taking place from 1914 until the end of the Millennium and beyond, when every creature that is in heaven and on earth will praise Jehovah.—Revelation 5:13
1. Why should we be keenly interested in the visions John shares with us?
JOHN begins to share with us further soul-stirring visions. By inspiration he is still in the Lord’s day. So, what he describes has deep meaning for us who are actually living in that day. By means of these visions, Jehovah lifts the veil of invisibility on heavenly realities and gives us his own view of his judgments to be executed on earth. Moreover, whether we have a heavenly or an earthly hope, these revelations help us to see our place in Jehovah’s purpose. All of us, therefore, should continue to be keenly interested in John’s expression: “Happy is he who reads aloud and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and who observe the things written in it.”—Revelation 1:3.
2. What experience does John now have?
2 What John next beholds surpasses anything presented by video to modern man! He writes: “After these things I saw, and, look! an opened door in heaven, and the first voice that I heard was as of a trumpet, speaking with me, saying: ‘Come on up here, and I shall show you the things that must take place.’” (Revelation 4:1) John in vision penetrates the invisible heavens of Jehovah’s presence, exalted far above physical outer space as explored by human astronauts, even far above the galaxies of the material universe. As though by entering an opened door, John is invited to feast his eyes on a breathtaking panorama of the ultimate spirit heavens where Jehovah himself is enthroned. (Psalm 11:4; Isaiah 66:1) What a privilege!
3. What does the voice “as of a trumpet” bring to mind, and who is undoubtedly the Source of it?
3 The Bible does not identify this “first voice.” Like Jesus’ strong voice heard earlier, it has a commanding trumpetlike sound. (Revelation 1:10, 11) It brings to mind the penetrating horn blast that signaled Jehovah’s presence at Mount Sinai. (Exodus 19:18-20) Undoubtedly, Jehovah is the majestic Source of the summons. (Revelation 1:1) He has opened the door so that John, in vision, can enter the most holy location in all the vast realm of Jehovah’s sovereignty.
Jehovah’s Resplendent Presence
4. (a) What meaning does John’s vision have for anointed Christians? (b) What meaning does the vision have for those whose hope it is to live forever on earth?
4 What does John see? Listen, as he now shares with us his grand experience: “After these things I immediately came to be in the power of the spirit: and, look! a throne was in its position in heaven, and there is one seated upon the throne.” (Revelation 4:2) In an instant of time, John is spiritually transported by God’s active force to the very throne of Jehovah. How thrilling for John! Here he is given a dazzling preview of those very heavens wherein he and other anointed Christians have reserved for them “an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance.” (1 Peter 1:3-5; Philippians 3:20) For those whose hope it is to live forever on earth, John’s vision also has profound meaning. It helps them to comprehend the glory of Jehovah’s presence and of the heavenly ruling structure used by Jehovah in judging the nations and afterward in governing human lives on earth. Jehovah is indeed the God of superb organization!
5. What reality does John see that was symbolized by the cover of the ark of the covenant?
5 Much of what John observes up there in heaven resembles features of the tabernacle in the wilderness. This was constructed about 1,600 years earlier as a sanctuary of true worship for the Israelites. In the Holy of Holies of that tabernacle was the ark of the covenant, and it was from above the solid gold cover of that Ark that Jehovah himself spoke. (Exodus 25:17-22; Hebrews 9:5) Hence, the cover of the Ark served as a symbol of Jehovah’s throne. John now sees the reality of that symbolic representation: the Sovereign Lord Jehovah himself sitting in exquisite grandeur on his lofty heavenly throne!
6. What impression of Jehovah does John give us, and why is this fitting?
6 Unlike earlier prophets who had visions of Jehovah’s throne, John does not describe in detail the Holy One who occupies it. (Ezekiel 1:26, 27; Daniel 7:9, 10) But John gives us his impression of the enthroned One in these words: “And the one seated is, in appearance, like a jasper stone and a precious red-colored stone, and round about the throne there is a rainbow like an emerald in appearance.” (Revelation 4:3) What incomparable magnificence! John perceives a serene, scintillating beauty like that of lustrous, gleaming gemstones. How appropriately this agrees with the disciple James’ description of Jehovah as “the Father of the celestial lights”! (James 1:17) Shortly after writing Revelation, John himself stated: “God is light and there is no darkness at all in union with him.” (1 John 1:5) What a superbly glorious Personage Jehovah really is!
7. What can we learn from the fact that there is a rainbow around Jehovah’s throne?
7 Notice that John sees around the throne a rainbow, colored emerald green. The Greek word here translated rainbow (irʹis) suggests a completely circular form. The rainbow is first mentioned in the Bible in connection with Noah’s day. After the waters of the Deluge subsided, Jehovah caused a rainbow to appear in the cloud, and he explained what it symbolized in these words: “My rainbow I do give in the cloud, and it must serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. And I shall certainly remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living soul among all flesh; and no more will the waters become a deluge to bring all flesh to ruin.” (Genesis 9:13, 15) What, then, would the heavenly vision bring to John’s mind? The rainbow that he saw must have reminded him of the need for a peaceful relationship with Jehovah, such as the John class enjoys today. It would also impress him with the serenity and peace of Jehovah’s presence, a serenity that will extend to all obedient humans when Jehovah spreads his tent over mankind in the new earth society.—Psalm 119:165; Philippians 4:7; Revelation 21:1-4.
Identifying the 24 Elders
8. Whom does John see round about the throne, and whom do these represent?
8 John knew that priests were appointed to serve in the ancient tabernacle. So he may have been surprised at seeing what he describes next: “And round about the throne there are twenty-four thrones, and upon these thrones I saw seated twenty-four elders dressed in white outer garments, and upon their heads golden crowns.” (Revelation 4:4) Yes, instead of priests, there are 24 elders, enthroned and crowned like kings. Who are these elders? They are none other than anointed ones of the Christian congregation, resurrected and occupying the heavenly position Jehovah promised them. How do we know that?
9, 10. How do we know that the 24 elders represent the anointed Christian congregation in its glorious heavenly position?
9 First of all, they are wearing crowns. The Bible speaks of anointed Christians as gaining ‘an incorruptible crown’ and attaining to an endless life—immortality. (1 Corinthians 9:25; 15:53, 54) But since these 24 elders are sitting on thrones, the golden crowns in this context represent royal authority. (Compare Revelation 6:2; 14:14.) This supports the conclusion that the 24 elders portray Jesus’ anointed footstep followers in their heavenly position, for Jesus made a covenant with them to sit on thrones in his Kingdom. (Luke 22:28-30) Only Jesus and these 24 elders—not even the angels—are described as ruling in heaven in Jehovah’s presence.
10 This harmonizes with the promise that Jesus made to the Laodicean congregation: “To the one that conquers I will grant to sit down with me on my throne.” (Revelation 3:21) But the heavenly assignment of the 24 elders is not limited to governmental rule. In the introduction to the book of Revelation, John said of Jesus: “He made us to be a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” (Revelation 1:5, 6) These ones are both kings and priests. “They will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.”—Revelation 20:6.
11. Why is it fitting that the number of elders is 24, and what does that number signify?
11 What is significant about the number 24, in that John sees 24 elders around the throne? In many respects, these were foreshadowed by the faithful priests of ancient Israel. The apostle Peter wrote to anointed Christians: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.’” (1 Peter 2:9) Interestingly, that ancient Jewish priesthood came to be divided into 24 divisions. Each division was assigned its own weeks in the year to serve before Jehovah, so that sacred service was rendered without a break. (1 Chronicles 24:5-19) It is fitting, then, that there are 24 elders depicted in John’s vision of the heavenly priesthood because this priesthood serves Jehovah continually, without ceasing. When completed, there will be 24 divisions, each with 6,000 conquerors, for Revelation 14:1-4 tells us that 144,000 (24 x 6,000) are “bought from among mankind” to stand on the heavenly Mount Zion with the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Since the number 12 signifies a divinely balanced organization, 24 doubles—or strengthens—such an arrangement.
Lightnings, Voices, and Thunders
12. What does John next see and hear, and what do the “lightnings and voices and thunders” call to mind?
12 What does John next see and hear? “And out of the throne there are proceeding lightnings and voices and thunders.” (Revelation 4:5a) How reminiscent of other awesome manifestations of Jehovah’s celestial power! For example, when Jehovah “came down” on Mount Sinai, Moses reported: “On the third day when it became morning it came about that thunders and lightnings began occurring, and a heavy cloud upon the mountain and a very loud sound of a horn. . . . When the sound of the horn became continually louder and louder, Moses began to speak, and the true God began to answer him with a voice.”—Exodus 19:16-19.
13. What is pictured by the lightnings issuing from Jehovah’s throne?
13 During the Lord’s day, Jehovah makes his power and presence manifest in a sublime way. No, not by literal lightning, for John is seeing signs. What, then, do the lightnings represent? Well, flashes of lightning can illuminate, but they can also strike one dead. Therefore, these lightnings issuing from Jehovah’s throne well picture the flashes of enlightenment that he has continually granted his people and, even more significantly, his fiery judgment messages.—Compare Psalm 18:14; 144:5, 6; Matthew 4:14-17; 24:27.
14. How have voices sounded out today?
14 What of the voices? During Jehovah’s descent onto Mount Sinai, a voice spoke to Moses. (Exodus 19:19) Voices from heaven issued many of the commands and proclamations in the book of Revelation. (Revelation 4:1; 10:4, 8; 11:12; 12:10; 14:13; 16:1, 17; 18:4; 19:5; 21:3) Today, Jehovah has also issued commands and proclamations to his people, illuminating their understanding of Bible prophecies and principles. Enlightening information has often been disclosed at international conventions, and such Bible truths have, in turn, been proclaimed worldwide. The apostle Paul said of faithful preachers of the good news: “Why, in fact, ‘into all the earth their sound went out, and to the extremities of the inhabited earth their utterances.’”—Romans 10:18.
15. What thunders have proceeded from the throne during this part of the Lord’s day?
15 Thunder usually follows lightning. David referred to literal thunder as “the voice of Jehovah.” (Psalm 29:3, 4) When Jehovah fought for David against his enemies, thunder was said to come from Him. (2 Samuel 22:14; Psalm 18:13) Elihu told Job that Jehovah’s voice sounded like thunder, as He does “great things that we cannot know.” (Job 37:4, 5) During this part of the Lord’s day, Jehovah has ‘thundered,’ warning of the great acts he will perform against his enemies. These symbolic peals of thunder have echoed and reechoed throughout the earth. Happy you are if you have paid attention to these thunderous proclamations and are making wise use of your tongue in adding to their volume!—Isaiah 50:4, 5; 61:1, 2.
Lamps of Fire and a Glassy Sea
16. What is signified by the “seven lamps of fire”?
16 What does John further see? This: “And there are seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, and these mean the seven spirits of God. And before the throne there is, as it were, a glassy sea like crystal.” (Revelation 4:5b, 6a) John himself tells us the significance of the seven lamps: “These mean the seven spirits of God.” The number seven symbolizes divine completeness; so the seven lamps must represent the fullness of the enlightening force of the holy spirit. How grateful the John class today is that it has been entrusted with this enlightenment, together with the responsibility to pass it on to the spiritually hungry peoples of earth! How glad we are that each year hundreds of millions of copies of the Watchtower magazine continue to beam forth this light in about 150 languages!—Psalm 43:3.
17. What does the “glassy sea like crystal” symbolize?
17 John sees also a “glassy sea like crystal.” What would this symbolize with regard to those invited into Jehovah’s heavenly court? Paul spoke of the way that Jesus sanctified the congregation, “cleansing it with the bath of water by means of the word.” (Ephesians 5:26) Before his death, Jesus told his disciples: “You are already clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3) Hence, this glassy sea like crystal must represent the cleansing, recorded Word of God. Those of the royal priesthood who come into Jehovah’s presence must have been thoroughly cleansed by his Word.
Behold—“Four Living Creatures”!
18. What does John see in the midst of and around the throne?
18 John now observes another feature. He writes: “And in the midst of the throne and around the throne there are four living creatures that are full of eyes in front and behind.”—Revelation 4:6b.
19. What is pictured by the four living creatures, and how do we know this?
19 What do these creatures picture? A vision reported by another prophet, Ezekiel, helps us to find the answer. Ezekiel saw Jehovah enthroned on a celestial chariot, which was accompanied by living creatures embodying characteristics similar to those described by John. (Ezekiel 1:5-11, 22-28) Later, Ezekiel again saw that chariot throne accompanied by the living creatures. This time, however, he referred to the living creatures as cherubs. (Ezekiel 10:9-15) The four living creatures that John sees must represent the many cherubs of God—creatures of high rank in His spirit organization. John would not think it unusual to see cherubs positioned so close to Jehovah’s person, since in the ancient tabernacle arrangement, two cherubs of gold were displayed upon the lid of the ark of the covenant, which represented Jehovah’s throne. From between these cherubs, Jehovah’s voice issued commandments to the nation.—Exodus 25:22; Psalm 80:1.
20. In what way can it be said that the four living creatures are “in the midst of the throne and around the throne”?
20 These four living creatures are “in the midst of the throne and around the throne.” Exactly what does this mean? It could signify that they are positioned around the throne in such a way that one is standing in the middle of each side. Thus, the translators of Today’s English Version paraphrased the original Greek expression in this way: “surrounding the throne on each of its sides.” Alternatively, the expression could mean that the four living creatures are in the central position in heaven where the throne is. Likely, that is why The Jerusalem Bible renders the phrase: “in the centre, grouped round the throne itself.” The important thing is the closeness of the cherubs to Jehovah’s throne, comparable to that of the cherubs that Ezekiel saw at each corner of Jehovah’s organizational chariot. (Ezekiel 1:15-22) All of this harmonizes with the words of Psalm 99:1: “Jehovah himself has become king. . . . He is sitting upon the cherubs.”
21, 22. (a) How does John describe the four living creatures? (b) What is represented by the appearance of each of the four living creatures?
21 John continues: “And the first living creature is like a lion, and the second living creature is like a young bull, and the third living creature has a face like a man’s, and the fourth living creature is like a flying eagle.” (Revelation 4:7) Why do these four living creatures look so different, one from another? These distinctive living creatures evidently highlight specific godly qualities. First, there is the lion. A lion is used in the Bible as a symbol of courage, especially in the pursuit of justice and righteousness. (2 Samuel 17:10; Proverbs 28:1) Thus, the lion well represents the godly quality of courageous justice. (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 89:14) The second living creature resembles a young bull. What quality does a bull bring to your mind? To the Israelites the bull was a valuable possession because of its power. (Proverbs 14:4; see also Job 39:9-11.) The young bull, then, represents power, dynamic energy as supplied by Jehovah.—Psalm 62:11; Isaiah 40:26.
22 The third living creature has a face like a man’s. This must represent godlike love, since on earth man alone was created in God’s image, with the superlative quality of love. (Genesis 1:26-28; Matthew 22:36-40; 1 John 4:8, 16) Undoubtedly, the cherubs display this quality as they serve around Jehovah’s throne. What now of the fourth living creature? This one is like a flying eagle in appearance. Jehovah himself calls attention to the eagle’s great vision: “Far into the distance its eyes keep looking.” (Job 39:29) Hence, the eagle well symbolizes farsighted wisdom. Jehovah is the Source of wisdom. His cherubs exercise divine wisdom as they obey his commands.—Proverbs 2:6; James 3:17.
Jehovah’s Praises Ring Out
23. What is symbolized by the fact that the four living creatures are “full of eyes,” and what is emphasized by their having three pairs of wings?
23 John continues his description: “And as for the four living creatures, each one of them respectively has six wings; round about and underneath they are full of eyes. And they have no rest day and night as they say: ‘Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is coming.’” (Revelation 4:8) This fullness of eyes suggests complete and farsighted vision. The four living creatures exercise this unceasingly, as they have no need of sleep. They imitate the One of whom it is written: “As regards Jehovah, his eyes are roving about through all the earth to show his strength in behalf of those whose heart is complete toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) Having so great a number of eyes, the cherubs can see everywhere. Nothing escapes their attention. Thus they are well-equipped to serve God in his work of judging. Of him it is said: “The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, keeping watch upon the bad ones and the good ones.” (Proverbs 15:3) And with three pairs of wings—the number three being used in the Bible for emphasis—the cherubs can move with lightning swiftness to herald Jehovah’s judgments and execute them.
24. How do the cherubs praise Jehovah, and with what significance?
24 Listen! Melodious, soul stirring, is the song of praise that the cherubs render to Jehovah: “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is coming.” Again, the threeness indicates intensity. The cherubs strongly affirm the holiness of Jehovah God. He is the Source and the ultimate Standard of holiness. He is also “the King of eternity,” always “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (1 Timothy 1:17; Revelation 22:13) The cherubs take no rest periods as they proclaim the matchless qualities of Jehovah before all creation.
25. How do the living creatures and the 24 elders unite in adoring Jehovah?
25 The heaven of heavens resounds with praises to Jehovah! John’s description continues: “And whenever the living creatures offer glory and honor and thanksgiving to the one seated upon the throne, the one that lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before the One seated upon the throne and worship the One that lives forever and ever, and they cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.’” (Revelation 4:9-11) In all Scripture, this is one of the grandest declarations of homage to Jehovah, our God and Sovereign Lord!
26. Why do the 24 elders cast their crowns before Jehovah?
26 The 24 elders have the same mental attitude that Jesus displays, even casting their crowns down before Jehovah. It is furthest from their minds to exalt themselves in the presence of God. They humbly recognize that the only purpose of their kingship is to bring honor and glory to him, just as Jesus always does. (Philippians 2:5, 6, 9-11) Submissively, they acknowledge their own inferiority and confess that their rulership is dependent on the sovereignty of Jehovah. Thus, they are in heartfelt harmony with the cherubs and the rest of faithful creation in giving praise and glory to the God who created all things.—Psalm 150:1-6.
27, 28. (a) How should John’s description of this vision affect us? (b) What questions arise as to what John next sees and hears?
27 Who can remain unmoved at reading John’s account of this vision? It is splendorous, grand! But what must the reality be like? Jehovah’s very majesty must enliven anyone with an appreciative heart to join the four living creatures and the 24 elders in praising Him, both in prayer and by publicly proclaiming His name. This is the God for whom Christians are privileged to be witnesses today. (Isaiah 43:10) Remember that John’s vision applies to the Lord’s day, where we now are. “The seven spirits” are ever at hand to guide and strengthen us. (Galatians 5:16-18) God’s Word is available today to help us be holy in serving a holy God. (1 Peter 1:14-16) Certainly, we are happy to read aloud the words of this prophecy. (Revelation 1:3) What an inducement they provide to be faithful to Jehovah and not allow the world to distract us from actively singing his praises!—1 John 2:15-17.
28 So far, John has described what he sees when he is invited to approach through that opened door in heaven. Most outstandingly, he reports that Jehovah, in all the magnificence of His majesty and dignity, is seated on His celestial throne. He is surrounded by the mightiest of all organizations—radiant in its splendor and loyalty. The divine Court is in session. (Daniel 7:9, 10, 18) The stage is set for something extraordinary to happen. What is it, and how does it affect us today? Let us watch as the scene unfolds!
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