This is the beginning of a new section of the book. So far, John has seen a vision of Jesus and the churches; and John has heard the Lord tell the churches seven times to “conquer.” Now, the Lord will begin to show his servants a full scope of this situation from the perspective of God’s throne. This is absolutely an invaluable perspective for those whose eyelines are retrained to the earth. For in difficult times it can be easier to become disheartened as the days drag on from an earthly point of view. But Christ has commanded them to conquer, not draw back. This vision will provide the first century brethren with a new set of eyes on the terrifying circumstances of those days. It will remind them that God sits in full control; he is actively judging the wicked and the end of these things is near. They need only to endure a little longer before they enjoy times of refreshing.
(1) After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”
The open door up in the heavens gives the distinction that the following scene will be heavenly and from a holy and spiritual perspective. Upon seeing the open door, John hears the same voice he had heard in 1:10-11. This powerful and alarming voice, which was spoke to John to alert and warn the seven churches in Asia, is now calling him to come through the doorway. This voice is none other than the voice of Jesus, as was established in chapter one. The symbolism of the trumpet like sound is reminding us that we are still involved in the judgment theme of the book. John is about to see a vision similar to what both Isaiah (Isaiah 6) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1, 10) saw during the days of judgment in their generations.
What John is about to see are the “things which must take place after this” (see 1:19 for similar language). So, the coming scene depicts things that have not happened yet but would soon take place (1:1, 22:6).
(2) Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.
John testifies that he was immediately “in the Spirit.” This is seen throughout the scriptures with the prophets of God. It refers to the Spirit of God either revealing something to the prophets or relocating the prophets, and sometimes both. Here, John is both relocated by the Spirit through this heavenly doorway and he is also receiving revelation from God. See comments on 1:10.
“A throne set in heaven” It is important to recognize where John is, or better yet, where God is. John has entered the throne room of God. In the Old Testament, God gave his people a model of his throne room. The most holy place of the tabernacle (and later the temple), which contained the ark of the covenant with a mercy seat on top that was surrounded by cherubim, was a picture of his throne. Isaiah saw a vision of God on the throne too, and he recorded that the throne was in the temple (Isaiah 6:1). Certainly, the earthly model of his throne was a rudimentary picture of a greater and spiritual truth (Isaiah 66:1); Nevertheless, the old model painted a picture of the spiritual realities (Hebrews 8:5). In Christ, the tabernacle of God is with men (21:3), and the true Christian is in the service of the temple as royal priests (1 Peter 2:9). Paul spoke of our proximity in relationship to God and his throne when he said, “we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2 Co 6:16).
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20).
I will reference some of this again when we look at the identity of the twenty-four elders in verse four; but I want to point out early on that we are looking at the true temple in this vision, the spiritual house of God. The characteristics of the room displays the heavenly pattern for the earthly design of the old temple. There is the sea of glass, which had as its shadow the bronze sea (more on this later, for now I just want us to give the sense of the big picture); there’s the twenty-four elders, which had as their shadow a physical twenty-four elders of priests; there is the seven lamps of the Spirit, which was foreshadowed in the sevenfold lamp in the temple; there are also the living winged creatures surrounding the throne, which tells the story of the cherubim which surrounded the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant; and lastly, there is the throne, which was foreshadowed by the mercy seat. In all of the details given in chapter four, it is evident that we are looking at the true temple of the living God.
“One sat on the throne.” This is the Father in heaven; this is not a picture of Jesus, for Jesus will be seen by the side of the Father as the vision continues into the next chapter.
(3) And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.
John records the appearance of the Father. The description does not seem detailed like the vision that John saw of the Lord in chapter one; nevertheless, John was ordered to write what he sees (1:19), and this is what he saw. There is no mention of hair color, the appearance of his eyes, or any specific part of the Father; only that he was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance. It seems that John did not get a good, distinctive look at the Father of lights; but describes the precious and colorful brilliance of him who sat on the throne. God is gleaming with color; the beauty and glory of his character. Paul spoke of God’s “manifold” (polupoikilos: a great variety of colors) wisdom in the plan of salvation (Ephesians 3:10).
Consider the close parallel which Ezekiel saw in his vision of the throne of God. I believe it will give us a better overall feel of what John is describing.
“And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. (27) And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. (28) Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (Ezekiel 1:26-28).
Ezekiel describes the one on the throne as having “a human appearance.” This is natural, for we have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27); and it is doubtful that we have understood what all that involves. Ezekiel further describes his appearance as “gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire.” This may like the appearance that John saw, who he described as jasper and sardius. Most commentators suggest that the term jasper refers to a diamond, and the sardius as a fiery red. I don’t know any way to determine the accuracy of that statement though.
“There was a rainbow around the throne.” Like Ezekiel’s vision, John also sees the appearance of a rainbow. Ezekiel described the bow as a brightness; while John kept with the theme of precious jewels and described it like the glowing emerald. The rainbow which surrounds the throne of God is a figure of God’s faithfulness to his covenants. Even to this day, the rainbow is observed in the sky as a testimony to the faithfulness of God, who made a covenant with every man and beast (Genesis 9:12-16). This rainbow, as seen in Revelation, is not meant to be restricted to the covenant which God made after the flood; but is a figure of God’s everlasting faithfulness in all that he does. In the scope of Revelation, there is a judgment taking place; therefore, God remembering his covenant promises is a very wonderful theme to the faithful; but it is a terrifying theme for the faithless (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).