A few days ago I reviewed Matthew Emerson’s Between the Cross and the Throne. In chapter four, The Portrait of God and His People, Emerson gives us the Skeleton Key to understand some of the cryptic images John uses about God. He reveals three of the images which John uses “to describe Yahweh’s rule over his enemies, his people, and his creation” (35).
God is Sovereign
“And before the throne [of God] there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal,” Revelation 4.6.
What do we make of this “sea of glass”? Why is there a sea before God’s throne, and why is it of glass? Emerson says, “In the Old Testament, the sea represents chaos and evil” (35).
Psalm 74.12-15 says,
12 Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.
13 You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
15 You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.
God is the sovereign one who rules over the seas. He is able to dry “up ever-flowing streams” (v15b). The disciples were shocked when Jesus stilled the wind and the waves in Mark 4, saying, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” If only Yahweh can control the waters, who then is this who does the same?
In the rest of Revelation, the sea “is the place from which evil arises” (35).
“And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads,” Revelation 13.1.
The sea being “the place from which evil arises” explains why Revelation 21.2 says there will be no sea. In the new creation there will be no chaos nor evil. Thus, “the image of God sitting on or over the sea shows his authority over chaos and evil” (35-36).
God is the Sovereign King of His People
Revelation 4.4 and 11.16 together speak of 24 white-robed elders who sit on 24 thrones before God. While the issue of who the 24 elders represent is ever the debate, Emerson sees 12 elders as representative of Israel and the other 12 of the Church. In his lectures on Revelation, Peter Liethart sees the 24 elders as representing the 24 divisions of the priesthood in Chronicles with Jesus Christ as the 25 priest, the High Priest. The 24 elders would represent the Church, as we are a “kingdom of priests” (Ex 19.6; 1 Pet 2.5) in Christ (though, to be honest, I don’t remember exactly what Leithart said, but I think it was roughly that idea).
These 24 elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. God is the sovereign King of his people.
God is Lord Over All Creation
The twenty-four elders receive a lot of attention, but we mustn’t forget the equally head-scratching four creatures around Yahweh’s throne. Emerson says, “[T]he creatures likely represent the fullness of creation (represented both by the number four, which is the number of creation . . . and by the diversity of the creatures)” (36).
“After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree,” Revelation 7.1.
“And [Satan] will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth,” Revelation 20.8.
So, in Revelation 4.11 when the living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before Yahweh and sing, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created,” it is “[b]oth creation and the people of God [who] fall down before [Yahweh]” and sing praises to him (36).
Here in the throne room scene of Revelation 4, John emphasizes Yahweh’s dominion over everything “because John is exhorting the Church to remain faithful to the end, even in spite of persecution” (36).