The Concordant Version
1After these things I perceived, and lo! a door is open in heaven, and lo! the first sound which I hear is as a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here! and I will be showing you what must be occurring after these things."
2Now immediately I came to be in spirit, and lo! a throne, located in heaven, and on the throne One sitting. 3And He Who is sitting is, to my vision, like a jasper stone and a carnelian. And a rainbow around the throne is, to my vision, like an emerald.
THE THRONE SECTION Of this scroll which we now enter, fills the next eight chapters and comprises the Seals, the Trumpets, and the Thunders, each of which has an introductory vision. As the Trumpets are but an expansion of the seventh Seal, the breaking of the Seals is the dominant thought throughout this section. The first vision not only introduces the Seals but serves as a key to all that follows. One of the secrets of getting a clear understanding of this prophecy lies in viewing each subject in the light of its introductory vision. All the characters and events up to the Temple Section - the Seals, the 144,000, the vast crowd, the Trumpets, the locusts of the abyss, the terrible cavalry, the Thunders and the two witnesses - all these must be viewed, in the light of the opening vision of the Throne.
The preliminary vision itself is divided into two parts, the first of which is concerned with creation (4:1-11), and the second with redemption (5:1-14).
When creation is in view we are occupied with the throne, the elders, and the four animals. When redemption comes before us we are engaged with the Enthroned One, the sealed scroll and the Lambkin. Thus the judgment proceeds upon two distinct lines which are, however, blended in its execution. He acts as the Creator toward His rebellious creatures, and He rights His people's wrongs as their Redeemer.
It will be of immense value to us in our study of this unveiling if we view each detail in the light of its immediate context. The fact that the elders and the four animals are introduced to us in the section on creation should have effectually prevented most of the interpretations which have been put forth concerning them. The introduction of the sealed scroll in the section on redemption should have been sufficient to indicate what it signifies. We shall devote a full article to each of these themes, but confine ourselves at present to the general features which first occupy the attention of the seer.
The throne section of the Unveiling solves the subject of supremest interest in the world today. It is the political redemption of the earth.
How futile are all man's efforts! The cry is, "Peace! Peace!" when peace is apparent nowhere. Even in the nations not at war there is constant internal strife, often leading to bloodshed.
Those who know the page of prophecy are well aware that the time of the end is an era of wars and rumors of wars. Nation will rise against nation, the East will be pitted against the West, and there will be no peace until the false respite under the false messiah.
Mankind is striving for good government. There is a world-wide delusion that, if government could only be given into the hands of the people, all would be well. Democracy is the slogan of the day. But we know that, in the reaction from democracy, the world will yet welcome the most absolute despot and dictator it has ever had. The political redemption of the earth cannot be accomplished by man. His methods are all foredoomed to failure. He has not the power to accomplish such a tremendous task.
But we know that there will be peace. We are sure that the world will yet enjoy a righteous rule. How will it be brought about? By uplifting humanity? By education? By the gradual influence of religion? Nothing of the kind. It will be ushered in by force, unstinted force. From above the artillery of heaven will be trained upon rebellious man, from beneath the infernal cavalry will take a terrible toll of human lives, the thunders of God's wrath will exhaust themselves upon the race.
No peace conference ushers in the long delayed millennium. Its approach is heralded by the breaking of seals, the blowing of trumpets and the clapping of thunder.
Such is the import of the section we are about to enter. It is concerned with the government of mankind. At its close the world kingdom becomes our Lord's and His Christ's (11:15).
The first thing John sees is a door which has been opened in heaven. This is most suggestive. At the present time the door is shut. There is no public connection between heaven and earth. God does not interfere directly in the world's affairs. He overrules rather than rules. The reason for this is apparent. He could not maintain His present attitude of peace if He should deal with mankind as they deserve. Hence God's government is hidden. Its public manifestation waits until man's day is done and the day of Yahweh is due.
It is probable that the quaint, but crude, traditions concerning heaven have their rise from this vision. As there was a door, it was, not unnaturally, taken to be an enclosed space, having a definite location, concerning which there is a great deal of speculation. Some would have it in the center of the visible universe. Others suppose that it is beyond the range of the strongest telescope. All seem agreed that it is very far away and that the visible stellar universe is not included in it.
But is it wise to take a vision as literally as that? There is One in this vision with Whom we are closely acquainted. He appears as a Lambkin. No one takes this literally. The invisible God appears in visible form as the Enthroned One. This cannot be literal. In these cases the apostle's eye meets characterizations of the official roles assumed by God and Christ, rather than actualities. This should assure us that this vision, like all visions, is not a record of fact, but a representation of truth. Communication between heaven and earth has ceased. Heaven is virtually closed to earth. This is suggested by the opened door, for communication is about to be resumed.
The true idea of the heavens should be gathered from the whole range of revelation. Its opening statement divides the universe into two parts, the heavens and the earth. Hence all beyond the confines of the earth is heaven. The very air above our heads is referred to, time and again, as heaven, for the oft repeated phrase "fowls of the air" (Gen.1:30), is, literally, the birds of the heavens. The dew comes from heaven (Gen.27:28). Weather signs are in heaven (Matt.16:3). The clouds are in heaven (Matt.24:30).
But heaven is not confined to the immediate vicinity of earth. It includes all stellar space. Heaven is not somewhere among or beyond the stars. The stars are in heaven. The sun and moon and all celestial luminaries are embraced in the vast sweep of this comprehensive term. It includes all of creation above or beyond the earth.
The Hebrew word for heavens probably signifies "PLACERS." The Greek word is very suggestive. It is composed of two elements which may be rendered "SEE-UP." Whatever we see, when looking up, is heaven.
Heaven, then, is not some small confined, invisible location either at the center or beyond the bounds of the visible universe, but it is the universe, excluding the earth.
This is of special moment to the body of Christ. All our blessings are among the celestials. The sphere of our activities will not be confined to some choice location, but will be unbounded, stretching beyond the limits of our present comprehension. We will reign, not in some well defined capital of the universe, but throughout the starry fields of space.
The opening of heaven's door is not only in contrast to the present, when there is no communication between God's throne and mankind, but is the prelude to the time when heaven itself will be opened and the White Horse Rider comes forth with the armies of heaven. The partial communication between heaven and earth suggested by the opened door leads to providential judgments. When heaven is opened Christ appears and deals out justice openly and publicly. As a result the millennial eon will differ greatly from the present, not only because of earthly conditions, but because of its close connection with heaven. It will be the kingdom of the heavens.
The natural tendency to see something symbolic and mystical has made a great deal of John's ascent into heaven. Those who study the Scriptures as though they were a puzzle picture in which the church is everywhere skillfully concealed, see in his ascent a type of the rapture of the church. But this seems to be one of those common cases in which one error suggests another. If the second and third chapters give a history of the church it is evident that the church does go through the tribulation. Those who know that this cannot be are at a loss to account for the fact that the "rapture" of the church is nowhere mentioned and seize eagerly on John as a type of those who are caught up to meet Him in the air.
But how can John, an apostle of the Circumcision, figure the ecclesia which is Christ's body? John is a type, a spiritual representation, of those who, tarry till the Lord comes (John 21:22) to His people Israel, but it will not do to single out one of his acts as symbolic of that in which he has no share. At the time of this vision the church has left the earth and seems to have no apparent part in the dispensation of earth's judgment which this scroll records. Its activities are among the celestials. It dispenses grace, not wrath.
After John is called, and came to be in spirit, his gaze is greeted by one of the grandest and most august visions recorded in holy writ. The central and dominating object is a THRONE. Nothing is said of the appearance of this seat of Sovereign Majesty, so that we will be wise not to add any imaginary details. It is symbolic of government and dominion. It may, indeed, refer to the same throne and the same time of which Daniel the prophet speaks, "I beheld till the thrones were set, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose throne was like a fiery flame" (Dan.7:9). The throne seen by Ezekiel was like sapphire (Ezek.1:26).
On the throne was One sitting. Here we have one of the few representations of the divine Majesty outside of Christ. As the deity is invisible spirit, no man has seen nor can see the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even the Father can be seen only in Him (John 14:8-10). Only in visions are we granted any symbols of the divine presence. It is manifest from this how inadequate and lame our theological language is when we are continually speaking of "God the Father" as the one expression of the divine character which serves to distinguish Him from His Anointed. As the Lambkin appears in this vision also, it is usual to refer to the Enthroned One as "God the Father." But the symbols used do not give us the least suggestion of fatherhood. Indeed, nothing could be further removed from the affection and solicitude of a father than the awful Enthroned One. Rather are we reminded of the terrible scenes associated with the giving of the law, when Sinai burned with fire. Here we have - the visible token of the truth that "Our God is a consuming fire" (Deut.4:24; Heb.12:29).
The jasper is a purple gem. Carnelian is red like a ruby. The combination gives us the lurid brilliance of a fiery flame. Add to this the hard, unyielding character of the stones, and we have a marvelous representation of One Who is arrayed for judgment. Let us not for a moment imagine that this is a fixed likeness of the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is no more so than the representation of Christ Himself as a little Lamb. It is an assumed appearance, suited to the action of the vision and the work of judging the earth.
The Figure on the throne was doubtless a human form, such as Ezekiel saw in his vision (Ezek.1:27), for such phrases as "the right hand of Him Who is sitting on the throne" (5:1) would not be intelligible otherwise.
In the midst of judgment God remembers mercy. Indeed, judgment is God's strange work, and, in its ultimate analysis it is a work of mercy. It always holds a promise of an aftermath of blessing. This is especially true of the judgments of this unveiling, for they will be followed by blessing upon blessing, such as this earth has never known before.
Surrounding the fiery splendor of the throne is the encircling rainbow. Like a halo it hovers over the terrible tokens of fiery indignation. It surrounds the throne with the promise of peace. Unlike the normal rainbow it has but one color, an emerald green, delightful to the eye and restful to the spirit. It, too, is like a stone, for God's promises stand, even in the midst of judgment.
No doubt the rainbow also stands as a token that God remembers His ancient covenant with every living creature (Gen.9: 9-17). The condition of the world has once more become as it was before the deluge and invites a like doom (Matt.24:37; Luke 17:26). But of one thing we may be certain. The judgment will not be by water. There will be no deluge to drown the disobedient, no flood to destroy the offenders.
To the anointed eye the scene thus far gives a clear intimation that the crisis of earth's history is impending. The truce which has existed is withdrawn. The Divine Majesty appears as a consuming fire. Peace is no longer present, but appears as a promise. We have come to the turning point of God's dealings with mankind. He is bent on blessing, but the first act in the drama of earth's restoration is fraught with fiery judgment.
The gathering tempest about to break upon the world of rebels is further intimated by the lightnings and voices and thunders which issue from the throne. These are the tokens of His anger, the vents of His wrath. In nature lightning is dangerous when it strikes, but most beneficial in its effect. The overcharged and unbalanced state of the atmosphere before a storm is very disturbing to one of a nervous temperament, and, if suffered to increase, would make life unbearable. What a relief, after a storm has cleared the air and brought the powers of nature into balance once more! It is worth the terror of the lightning flash and the trembling of the thunder crash, to find the elements in accord again.
The transformation of God's present throne of grace to a throne of judgment finds a corresponding change in the aspect of His ministers. We read, "Who is making . . . His ministers a flame of fire" (Heb.1:7). Here they are represented by seven torches of fire, burning before the throne. These are the seven spirits who are associated with Yahweh and Christ in the opening greeting (1:4). Later on they are presented as the seven horns and the seven eyes of the Lambkin (5:6). No doubt they are to be identified with the seven messengers who stand before God and who sound the seven trumpets, for that action is in perfect accord with their appearance in this opening vision. They are not torches for light, but torches of flare. They are prepared to consume and to destroy. They are ready for "the day that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble, and it shall burn them up, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch" (Mal.4:1). These are the ministers that do His will, the executives of the throne.
What warrant there may be for taking these seven spirits as the one Spirit of God we know not. Indeed it seems most incongruous to take the Spirit of God in its plenitude down from the throne and place it before the throne. If there could be any such division in God we would see the Spirit on the throne, for God is spirit. The fact that these seven spirits are also described as the horns of the Lambkin - the instruments which He uses in the judgment - makes it sufficiently clear that they are not the one Spirit of God. Christ is God's Executive, and they are the ministers who put His commands into effect. All the symbols of judgment so far were suggestive of fire. The world must be purified by fiery judgments ere it is a fit place for the reign of righteousness. But all of this is based upon a previous judgment, by water. This is symbolized by the floor on which the whole scene is staged. It is like a glassy sea, solid water, like ice. The world was once purified by this fluid in the flood and God's judgment proceeds upon this fact. This is the foundation for the fiery vengeance which ensues. Purification by water is a physical, outward cleansing. Its results were not radical or permanent. Something more is needed. Hence a new agent is employed. In matter it brings about a radical, chemical change which endures. It purifies intrinsically, not merely on the surface. Past judgments, the disruption of Genesis 1:2, and the deluge, were by water. Future judgments, the day of wrath which we are about to study, and the dissolution of the earth and the heavens after the thousand years, are by fire. Hence they introduce us to permanent and abiding results and usher in the eons of the eons. Well may we thank God for the severity of these judgments!
This is the kind of throne that is needed to put an end to the political chaos which characterizes the world today. In vain do we depend upon the people for salvation. It is futile to look to political alliances for deliverance. Instinctively men have turned to strong, stern dictators, or have given their representatives unrestricted powers, in order to avert impending ruin. When the great work of judging and cleansing the earth is in view, God does not call a convention of the leading statesmen to debate upon the proper process, He does not invalidate all by using half way measures. In awful majesty He deals out His fiery indignation, in terrible justice He sends His lurid lightning strokes, and no sinner will escape the fearful ordeal of His fury, so that no wrong will remain to mar the millennial reign.