Ted Grimsrud—March 31, 2012
The basic message of the seven messages to the faith communities in chapters two and three, when taken as a whole, focused on the call to those communities to maintain their loyalty to Jesus and his way in face of demands from the Roman Empire for this loyalty. These messages conclude with a promise of a place with the Lamb and his God for those who “conquer.”
The call to “conquer” is a call to Jesus’ way of persevering love. Chapters four and five now provide the bases for taking this call with the utmost seriousness and the utmost hope.
After the messages conclude, John looks and sees an “open door” in heaven (4:1). He’s taken inside and sees a throne. The appearance of the one seated on the throne is never described—confirming that this is the creator God.
So John gets a theophany in this moment of transition from the challenges to the actual recipients of the book to the terrible visions that will follow. This direct vision of God seems to be intended both to ground the challenges in the realities of the sovereign one who calls them forward and to remind the readers that the visions to come do not negate the healing intentions of the one on the throne.
Chapters four and five actually make up one vision with one main message: God is present in the Lamb who brings healing to the world. The two chapters present a kind of worship service. It begins with worship and praise from the twenty-four elders (4:4, 11), proceeds to the four living creatures (4:8), then focuses on the core content—the triumph of the Lamb. It then proceeds to more worship, including from the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, concluding as the service began, with the elders (5:14).
Several of the elements of the initial throne vision are important for understanding what is to come in Revelation. The throne is surrounded by a rainbow (4:3), a reference back to the covenant made with Noah in Genesis 9 and God’s promise not to destroy the earth again. This is an important reminder going into the coming plague visions.
The general tone of this scene is one of joy and celebration, not anger and impending judgment. The one on the throne, it would appear, is a healer not a punisher. All of creation joins in praise of the one on the throne—not a likely response should God be about to embark on the spree of destruction many see in the plague visions.
Probably the key point that this part of the vision makes is that God is indeed present, enlivening creation, and worthy to be praised by all with voices to raise. The true significance of this throne room theophany in the overall message of Revelation will only become clear, though, as we move on to the second part of the “worship service” in chapter five, the most important chapter in the book.