In recent years many books claim to describe a visit to heaven, usually the result of a near-death experience. Some skeptics view these accounts as fiction, and others attribute them to chemical changes in the dying brain. In a few cases the authors have admitted they made it all up.
Today’s passage is different. John doesn’t describe a near-death experience but rather a vision of the heavenly throne room that he had while “in the Spirit” (v. 2). What John sees is similar to other visions recorded in Scripture by Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The phrase “after this” in verse 1 signals a shift in focus from John’s present to things that will take place in the future (cf. Rev. 1:19).
In his vision John saw a throne with someone sitting on it. This unnamed figure who is clearly divine “had the appearance of jasper and ruby” (v. 3). The throne was encircled by a rainbow and surrounded by twenty-four other thrones. This number suggests the twelve Patriarchs of Israel and the twelve Apostles, though the text does not specifically identify them.
Thunder and lightning emanated from the throne and seven blazing lamps stood before it to represent the fullness of God’s Spirit. John also saw four “living creatures” (v. 6) whose description resembled the cherubim of Ezekiel
1:4–24 and whose cry echoed that of the seraphs of Isaiah 6:3. Whenever these beings gave glory to God, the twenty-four elders lay their crowns before the throne and declared God’s worth.
This is the first of several scenes of heavenly worship. The images may seem strange, for they are intended to describe a heavenly reality in earthly terms. But what is clear is that God is at the center of all heavenly worship.
Worship is not a mode of entertainment. It’s not merely our preferred musical style for church. It is a combination of experiencing God’s presence and praising His worth. The hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns” by Matthew Bridges attempts to capture the essence of this scene from our passage today. Why not find it in a hymnal and read or sing it?