The scene here is about God, not about those around Him. You will learn far more from this passage if you let their worship of God instruct you rather than their identity.
The throne of God. The Prologue, the picture of God in His sovereign seat, ruling and judging His creation. The creation rightly related to the Creator: worshipping Him.
Last week we explored “The Call Up to God’s Throne”. This week we are looking at the “Company around God’s Throne.”
The Display Around God’s Throne:
The emerald rainbow (v3). The flashes of lightning and peals of thunder (v5). The sea of glass (v6).
The 24 Elders
What surrounds the throne according to verse 4? Twenty four elders seated upon 24 thrones. I believe this is the scene Daniel saw in his prophetic visions. Daniel 7:9-10 informs us of a scene in heaven where God sets up His court, including thrones around Him, with books open, being attended by myriads of angels. In the passage Daniel is being given a glimpse into the future, the time of the great Tribulation. He is shown the same scene John is shown here.
But who are these elders? They can’t be Tribulation saints because the Tribulation hasn’t happened yet. So, there are 3 opinions by many good scholars on who these elders are:
1) Representatives of saints from all-time (both Israel and Church). Some even suggest that 12 reps from the 12 Tribes of Israel plus the 12 Apostles of the Church are the elders here. However, if that is so, why doesn’t John the Apostle see himself on one of those thrones? Another problem is that OT saints (Jews & Gentiles) won’t be raised up until after the Tribulation (Dan. 12:1-2; Rev. 11:16-18), so, they can’t be sitting on these thrones before the Tribulation.
2) Another suggestion for the identity of these elders is angels. For some time I thought this was the best answer: angels do have authority (thrones), they have appeared wearing white (Mk. 16:5), and despite the claim many have made some angels are even said to have victor crowns (“stephanos”) as in Revelation 9:7. Strengthening the idea further that these elders are angels is that everyone else around the throne is an angelic being of some sort, plus, these elders explain things to John throughout Revelation – something that typically angels do. I’ll be honest, I am not entirely sure this isn’t the best answer still. Some argue against these elders being angels because angels are not called elders anywhere in Scripture, and while I think that is important to note, I don’t think it kills the position. Also, many say that since the Church is supposed to judge angels, and the judgment of angels has not yet occurred, it seems unlikely these are angels. However, there is no reason why these crowns can’t be a previous reward from some event in angelic history. Despite the strength of the angelic interpretation, the third interpretation seems better to me still:
3) These elders are 24 Representatives of the Church. Christians are promised white clothing (Rev. 3:5; 19:7-8), authority on thrones with Jesus (2:26-27; 3:21), and victor crowns (3:11; 1 Cor. 9:25). It is true that “elder” is a term for Church leaders and Jewish community leaders, but we don’t see the term “elders” applied to angels. No mention of the Church being on earth is made at all during the Tribulation – a deafening silence in light of how much the Church was in focus the first 3 chapters before the Tribulation. This may not prove, but, it strongly indicates the Church is in heaven. Finally, keep in mind this scene of heaven in chapter 4-5 is prepatory of the coming judgment on the earth, which appears to accord with the promise that Christians will judge the world (1 Cor. 6:2-3).
It’s hard to be dogmatic about their identity since Scripture is not clear. Their identity may be intriguing to us students of Scripture, but, it is not what is most important in this scene. What is most important has less to do with who they are and more what they are doing: worshipping Him who sits on the throne in their midst. The scene here is about God, not about those around Him. You will learn far more from this passage if you let their worship of God instruct you rather than their identity.
The 7 Spirits of God
Next we see the seven spirits of God in verse 5, “Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.” In the first chapter we saw 7 lamps around Jesus, which represented 7 local churches. Now we see 7 lamps and here are representative of the Holy Spirit – which seems to be the best explanation. In chapter 1 verse 4 the 7 spirits of God were mentioned and there we deduced it to be a reference to the Holy Spirit. Two things stand out to me here. First is the location of the 7 spirits: they are before the throne. They are not around the throne like creatures, but before the throne – indicating deity. Being that they are before the throne you get the sense too that they are ready. There is an anticipation of being sent, just as 5:6 says they are “sent out into all the earth.” But there is a sense too in which they are before the throne because it is by the Holy Spirit anyone approaches the throne. John said in verse 2, “At once I was in the Spirit and there before me was a throne in heaven…” Ephesians 2:18 says, “For through Christ we have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
Secondly, that the Holy Spirit is pictured as 7 lamps indicates light, light to see. His work is the work of illumination. Being located in front of the throne perhaps we can infer that it is through Him that we “see” God, that by the Holy Spirit we understand Him Who is seated on the throne.
The 4 Living Creatures
4 of them……….Lion, Man, Ox, Eagle…………..6 wings and eyes all over (reminds us of the vision Ezekiel had. These are celestial beings who are always in the immediate presence of God and lead in worship of God……..day and night they never stop saying: Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, Who was, who is and Who is to come.
The 24 elders respond to these 4 living creatures by falling down in worship before the One who is on the throne.
The Worship of God (v8-11)
In verses 8-11 we see the worship of God described, [read]. We ought to ask ourselves, “What should our worship be?” And we are wise to take cues from what we see in this scene, the Prologue, chapters 4-5. I want us to notice 4 features of true worship that help us know if we are truly worshipping God.
First, we are worshipping when God is center. God is in the center of the 4 living creatures, He is in the center of the emerald rainbow around His throne, He is in the center of the 24 elders, then in chapter 5 He is in the center of the millions of angels encircling His throne. In this scene where heaven worships God, God is at the center.
A person who worships God has made God the center of their life. These creatures around the throne are not looking into mirrors, they are not looking at their navels, they are not looking for a feeling, they are looking at their Creator. Their thrones are facing Him. He is the center of the universe and we don’t change that. But we do decide whether He is going to be the center of our universe, our own lives that is to say. What does it mean for Him to be the center? To say God is at the center of our lives means that God is the focus, God is our life’s aim, God is what is most important, God consumes all our attention. In a way, in facing God with our lives we have a ready deference to Him in all our decisions. What pleases Him? What is His will? When God is the center of your life, your whole life is oriented towards Him. Our life faces God when we worship Him.
What is the center of your life? What consumes your attention? What is most important to you? What have you aimed yourself at? The answer to those questions is the object of your worship. Is it God?
Second, we are worshipping God when we are declaring His glory. Read verses 8 and 11. Our worship is only worship when we make God’s glory known. Do you see what they are doing here? They are broadcasting God’s magnificence. Worship involves your mouth. As creatures made in the image of God use your mouth, that part of you that enables you to communicate and relate your thoughts and emotions, to worship God.
Now notice that on the one hand worship is telling God how glorious He is, it’s addressing Him personally, like the hymn says, “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder…” Or in prayer, like Psalm 145 begins by addressing God: “I will exalt you, my God the king, I will praise your name for ever and ever.” Not that He doesn’t know – He does – but, because He is glorious He is worthy of our worship, to tell Him so. In prayers, in songs, let us give Him glory.
But, worship is not just speaking to God how great He is, it is also telling it to creation. We tell the Creator how wonderful He is, but, we also tell the creation how wonderful He is too. Many songs are sung from this perspective. If you think about it, worship is exalting God for what we know about Him, but, also, worship in a way educates us. The content of our worship is all about God, so it guides us in what about God we are worshipping Him for, yet it is simultaneously informing us of what He is like. It teaches the unbeliever who our marvelous God is – it is evangelism in a way. Yet it instructs us believers, too, Who it is that we worship. But it is done in a way to draw you out to join in worshipping Him for who He is. That is why our singing, our songs, must reflect Him aright. For these songs are sermons sung to one another if not to God. We are testifying of His greatness and telling of His marvelous deeds. Sometimes a song is sung from the perspective of one person to other people, telling other people about God’s glory.
Thirdly, we see that worship has specific content. I think this is a crucial element of worship. By content we mean the truth. The Father is looking for worshippers who will worship Him in spirit and truth. That means people who know the truth about who God is. God wants people to know Him as He truly is. So, if worship is centered on God, and is is declaring how great He is, what specifically about God is involved? What does he want us to know about Him and thus worship Him for?
Here we can learn from these heavenly creatures some specific content for our songs and prayers and conversation that is essential if we are to be worshipping God. , notice how they boast of Him on the Throne in 5 ways. These 5 attributes are given prominence the worship taking place in heaven, and, therefore they must be the content of our worship when we worship God here on earth.
First He is holy. “Holy, Holy, Holy” (v8). Worship God in the beauty of His holiness. He is morally perfect, unstained by sin, beautiful, radiant, and splendid in holiness. Redeemed man ought to worship God first for His holiness because it is in stark contrast to the sinfulness we have been saved from. If we are not worshipping Him as holy we are not worshipping Him.
Second He is sovereign. “The Lord God Almighty” (v8). He is the Sovereign, Omnipotent God who reigns over everything. He is not a “Higher Power”, He is the Highest Power! If we are to worship Him we must worship Him as sovereign.
Third He is eternal. The 4 living creatures say, “Who was, who is and who is to come” (v8) which refers to His timelessness. In verses 9 and 10 twice they say “Him who lives for ever and ever”. He is the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13) without beginning, without ending. He transcends time. Time confines us but not Him. This idea is conveyed elsewhere in Revelation when you read about Him “The Alpha and Omega”, “The Beginning and the End”, “The First and the Last”. Worship, must acknowledge He is eternal, to be worship.
Fourth He is worthy. “You are worthy our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power…” To say something is worthy is to say it is valuable. Philippians 3:8 says, “What is more I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish…”
Worthy means that He is of such value that His value must be acknowledged and adored and respected. Things that are not of much value we don’t worry much about. Things that are extremely valuable we are extremely careful with. God is worthy, invaluable, priceless, and therefore demands our attention, our adoration, and our reverent acknowledgement. SPeaking of Christ’s worth, Christ’s value as the priceless treasure of all, His infinitely exceeds all else in heaven or on the earth. To deny Him what He is worth – our worship – is a denial of His worth. Again, worship is what we creatures owe to our Creator. It’s not optional. If we would worship, we must worship Him as those compelled by His worthiness.
Fifthly and finally, He is the Creator. “For you created all things and by your will they were created and have their being.” You must worship God as the Creator if you are to worship Him.
So worship of God means He is the center, we declare His glory, and the right content is involved. Next, fourthly, we see that worship is constant. It is ongoing and continuous, as verse 8 says “Day and night they never stop saying…” The heart that loves Him worships Him. If you love Him, and know Him, you find you must worship Him, and long to worship Him. And, it is always true that wherever the creature meets the Creator it must worship, thus, to be in the blessed presence of the Eternal One forever means forever worshipping Him. He lives forever, and we will be with Him forever, and we will therefore forever worship Him, just like Amazing Grace says,
“When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Then when we first begun.
Or like that great song, “Crown Him With Many Crowns says:
Awake my soul and sing, of Him who died for thee,
and hail Him as thy matchless king, through all eternity/
All hail Redeemer Hail, for thou hast died for me,
thy praise and glory shall not fail, throughout eternity”
Lastly, not only is it continuous worship, but, it is reverent worship. Notice the reverence and awe of the the company around the throne. They fall down on their faces in submission to His Majesty (, they take their crowns off and toss them towards Him showing any glory they have is because of Him, is owed to Him, and is but a candle to His radiant sunlight. Their awe gleams from their words too, words that when you read them you can’t help but sense the heavenly loftiness and holiness of it all, “Holy, holy, holy” their voices fill the heavens, “is the Lord God Almighty…You are Worthy….”
First, be dwarfed by the awesomeness of God and this heavenly scene. Be dwarfed. The strangeness of the creatures conveys a sense in us of being in the presence of superior beings, far greater than us. Entering into this heavenly scene John at once, like we ought, sees that God is not like himself. Through His other-worldly creatures God shows John that God is not a man, not like man, but, far different than man. And just as John would have felt small, insignificant next to these beings, through them John learns something of the infinite superiority of God over all things.
Second, see what John sees. Notice the focus is on what John was seeing: God. Even in seeing the creatures around God, John saw God because the creatures were all oriented towards and actively pointing themselves towards God. Again we see the point of all creatures’ existence: to face the Creator and live a life pointed at Him.
Here’s the thought to leave you on: As God sees you, do you see Him?