The first thing that we get a glimpse of as we enter heaven is the glory of the everlasting God. “And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” The scene in heaven begins our tour of the future. As I said in the introduction, what we have in the fourth and fifth chapters is what I have a profound hope of taking part. We are adding spiritual things to spiritual things here. John received the revelation because he was prepared to receive the revelation. He was, in the first chapter, in the spirit on the Lord’s Day. He was setting aside the distractions of the flesh and was seeking the spiritual things. He was seeking fellowship with God. Here he is fully immersed in this. Those that seek will find. Here, it is God that does the translation. Again, to be in the spirit is not to be in a trance. John was not communing with nothingness. What he experienced was not empty but full of content that could both be described and communicated. The modern idea of being in the spirit is contrary to the biblical concept. When he heard a call from God he was immediately in a state of fellowship. Here, though, we also have a rapture of John (which may or may not be a place for ours). He was suddenly caught up by God and changed in His very nature. John was suddenly caught up into a place of communion with God. Just as it was with Paul, no doubt, it cannot be discerned if this was in the body or out of the body. One day, in the flesh, we shall see God. Surely this is not meant to teach us some Gnostic idea that the physical flesh is evil and the spiritual nature alone is good. Our bodies will be made like the glorious body of Christ and we will forever be with Him in that state. The physical creation is good. The fact that John was in the spirit when he saw all this (if in the spirit is meant to be taken differently than it was in the first chapter) may simply mean the time for John to see it in his flesh was not yet come. When we therefore see these scenes we will see them with greater eyes than that of John’s. Nevertheless our repute (when and where it does actually occur) will be just as that described here with John in that it will be quick and immediate; in a twinkling of an eye. Regardless, let us see that the first sight that we will see in heaven is God. John saw a throne, He saw the one who sat upon the throne, and he saw the glory that surrounded that throne.
First, John saw His throne. We note the following; it is a throne, it is set, it is in heaven, and it is occupied only by one. It is a throne which he saw. The throne is consistent with what Isaiah and Ezekiel saw in their visions. A throne is a majestic seat. The earthly rulers a filled with pomp but the glory of their thrones fails in comparison with the majesty of the throne of God. The kingdoms of this world are but vanity; a drop in the ocean compared with the Kingdom of God. Listen to the pomp with which the throne is described by Isaiah. “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1). A greater than Solomon sits on this throne; all the glory of Solomon cannot even compare to the smallest aspects of glory that proceeds from this throne. Not only is a throne majestic and glorious but it is also a symbol of sovereignty. Gill said this: “[a throne is a] symbol of the power, authority, and dominion now exercised by God, not over the world in general, who has prepared his throne in the heavens, and governs among the nations, according to his sovereign will and pleasure….” Henry agreed saying that “He saw a throne set in heaven, the seat of honour, and authority, and judgment….and all earthly thrones are under the jurisdiction of this throne that is set in heaven.” John saw the true source of power when he peered at this throne. No wonder Ezekiel fell on his face as dead when he saw this seen. A throne is also a place of power and judgment. A throne is a fitting thing to see first and foremost for the judgment of this world is getting ready to be described. This scene begins with a throne and before this throne sevens seals will be opened, seven trumpets will sound, and seven bowls of wrath will be poured out. It is the Judge that occupies this throne and He is bringing His righteous judgment to this wicked world.
The next thing that we see is that this throne is set. The kingdoms of this world are moveable. God removes one king and sets up another. Here is the fixed glory; the fixed and settled sovereignty. Hitler boasted that he would set up his Reich and it would last 1,000 years and it died before he put a bullet in his head. The Roman government boasted of standing for 1,000 years but it still crumbled from within. There is one throne though that is settled and that is the throne of God. He is the Lord and He changes not.
The throne is in heaven. Heaven is God’s throne and the earth is the His footstool. Heaven is the place where God rules and the earth is the place that is most near to Him. He rules in the heavens over the earth. The God which John now sees, and I am convinced that the saints will gather around, is the same God that is above all creation. This is the same God that spoke all things into existence by the word of His power.
This throne is only occupied by one. The Lord our Lord is only one Lord. This though is not meant to describe the unity of the trinity but the throne of the Father; the throne which Christ set next to waiting for the time which He would set His throne on earth. Gill explained it like this: “… not the trinity of persons in the Godhead, which some think are signified by the three precious stones in Revelation 4:3, the jasper, sardine, and emerald; for, as distinct from him that sat upon the throne, the Lamb is said to be in the midst of it, and the seven spirits of God are said to be before it: nor is Jesus Christ intended, and his two natures; his divine nature by the jasper, and his human nature by the red and blood colored sardine; since he, the Lamb, is represented as in the midst of the throne, and is often distinguished from him that sat upon it; see Revelation 5:6; but God the Father is designed, who sits on the throne, though not to the exclusion of the Son and Spirit, yet in distinction from them.” The picture of the Trinity is found here in the fourth and fifth chapter but the throne is occupied by the Father. It is the place of the first person to occupy the throne in heaven. Setting aside the persons of God and their various roles in the grand drama, we see that there cannot be two sovereigns. There is only one God. The right to rule over all things cannot be occupied by any other.
Secondly, John saw the one that occupied the throne. He is described as thus: “And he that sat was to look upon like jasper and a sardine stone….” This seems to be a vague description but the beauty of God no doubt is a hard thing to describe. His holiness is so pure and His power is so amazing that the words of John had to search for the most beautiful points of reference in creation; the precious jewels of jasper and sardine. Henry commented on this description like this: “He saw a glorious one upon the throne. This throne was not empty; there was one in it who filled it, and that was God, who is here described by those things that are most pleasant and precious in our world: His countenance was like a jasper and a sardine-stone; he is not described by any human features, so as to be represented by an image, but only by his transcendent brightness. This jasper is a transparent stone, which yet offers to the eye a variety of the most vivid colors, signifying the glorious perfections of God; the sardine-stone is red, signifying the justice of God, that essential attribute of which he never divests himself in favor of any, but gloriously exerts it in the government of the world, and especially of the church, through our Lord Jesus Christ. This attribute is displayed in pardoning as well as in punishing, in saving as well as in destroying sinners.” No one has seen His shape. There is no image that we can liken to Him. But we can say of Him that He is altogether lovely. One Christian philosopher said that the grand goal of life is to know God who is the source of all beauty. This description captures the heart of that.
Lastly, John saw that which surrounded the throne. “There was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” This no doubt was meant to describe the glory which proceeded from the person of God. The rainbow proceeded from the glory that John just described. Wesley, though, pointed out a deeper meaning for those who understand the grace of God; “[it is] the everlasting covenant. See Gen. ix, 9. And this being round about the whole breadth of the throne, fixed the distance of those who stood or sat round it.” We remember the promise of the flood. God set the bow in the clouds as an sign that He would not destroy the world again with water. A great thought here is that we have never seen a full rainbow. We have only seen small parts of the bow for as long as we are earthbound we cannot see the fullness of God’s grace. When we stand before our God we will see the fullness of God’s grace and the fullness of God’s promises. Jamieson saw it like this: “… forming a complete circle (type of God’s perfection and eternity: not a half circle as the earthly rainbow) surrounding the throne vertically. Its various colors, which combined form one pure solar ray, symbolize the varied aspects of God’s providential dealings uniting in one harmonious whole. Here, however, 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. Moreover, the rainbow was the appointed token of God’s covenant with all flesh, and His people in particular. Hereby God in type renewed to man the grant originally made to the first Adam. The antitype will be the “new heavens and the new earth” restored to redeemed man, just as the earth, after the destruction by the flood, was restored to Noah.” To this Henry agreed; “He saw a rainbow about the throne, like unto an emerald. The rainbow was the seal and token of the covenant of the providence that God made with Noah and his posterity with him, and is a fit emblem of that covenant of promise that God has made with Christ as the head of the church, and all his people in him, which covenant is as the waters of Noah unto God, an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure. This rainbow looked like the emerald; the most prevailing color was a pleasant green, to show the reviving and refreshing nature of the new covenant.” That rainbow which proceeded from the throne of God carried with it a promise that all things would be made new; a new haven and new earth was to come. There is great wonder that awaits our eyes when we meet our God.