Revelation 4.1-4 – Symbols and reality

1 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said,

“Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.

3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.

4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.

Chapter one detailed things in the past, chapters two and three in the present, and from chapter four onwards we read of things yet to come, literally, meta tauta, after this…

Chapters four to nineteen of Revelation details God’s judgement (hold on to your seats), from His throne in heaven and via a seven-sealed scroll which we will get to. After chapter nineteen, He’s back; Jesus’ earthly reign begin. Four to nineteen, then, details what most people would call the Great Tribulation, God’s judgement being poured out.

There are lots of symbols in this short section, lots of things which paint us a picture of what John saw. Remember, he simply didn’t have the vocabulary to describe the glory of the things he saw, so he used the words he had to paint us as accurate a picture as he could. The really important thing though is to remember that a symbol is never greater than the reality.

Take for instance, our church logo;
Logo w. Mission

It’s clear, striking, shows what we value, says who we are, says what we (are aiming to) do, this particular version is black and white which is often a symbol of a clear cut right/wrong situation.

However, the church family is more than the logo, the church experience, the worship experience, is more than the logo…

Consider even this symbol;


It means a great deal to us. By it we have life. Through it we are alive. On it our sacrificial Saviour gave His life to save us from death. But, even the symbol of the cross is nowhere near as powerful as the real thing, are you with me?

Basically, symbol < reality.

Here, then, John sees God on His throne, wow!

Here’s our first symbol,

And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald

The appearance ofappearance of

We know from the Old Testament that rainbows represent God’s promise never to wipe out humanity through a flood again, Genesis 9 says,

11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Using word pictures to describe the supernatural isn’t something only John did, in Matthew 28 we read,

1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

But, symbols are never greater than the reality.

This means that throughout the coming chapters when we are awed by what we read, what we are reading of is actually even more awesome than we can imagine.

But, on the other side of that coin, when we shudder at what we read, this is even more terrible than we can imagine.

Both should point us in the right direction, this one…



Published by James Travis

Pastor of Saar Fellowship in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Married to Robyn and Dad to our two boys.

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