More than anything else, the book of Revelation lifts the veil that keeps us from seeing what is really going on in creation. Today’s passage is a great example of this. So often, we are tempted to think that the kings, presidents, and prime ministers of this world are running things. Yet, in John’s vision of heaven, we see who is truly in control—the Lord God Almighty.
John hears a voice “like a trumpet,” calling Him up to heaven in order to see “what must take place after this” (Rev. 4:1). As with other prophets such as Isaiah, John’s commissioning to the prophetic task occurs in heaven itself (see Isa. 6). This is the same voice John heard in Revelation 1:10, the voice of Christ Jesus. Our Savior calls John up to heaven, where he sees “a door standing open” (4:1). The Lord does not keep His truth hidden from His people but gives us an open door to them through John and the other prophets through whom God has revealed Himself.
In heaven, John sees a throne with “one seated” on it (v. 2). A description of this One is given in broad strokes, using symbols that give us only a sense of what John glimpsed, not a detailed picture of the One on the throne. The One seated has “the appearance of jasper and carnelian” (v. 3), clear precious stones through which light could shine. We have a depiction of luminosity, of the brilliance of the glory of God. Around the throne, John sees a rainbow that resembles an emerald. Likely the rainbow is present to assure John. Just as the rainbow we see on earth reminds us that the Lord will not destroy the world by flood (Gen. 9:8–17), the rainbow in heaven assures the saints of God that He will not destroy them.
Surrounding the throne of God are twenty-four smaller thrones, on which twenty-four elders are seated. In keeping with Revelation 21:12–14, these are likely the twelve heads of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles of Jesus. The people of God throughout the ages can be summed up in these twenty-four individuals, so we likely have reference to God surrounded by His people as a whole.
Lightning and thunder come forth from the throne (4:5), a clear echo of Exodus 19, where the Lord came down to Mount Sinai in His sovereign majesty to reveal the law to Moses. John’s vision of heaven, then, depicts God in His absolute sovereignty and glory, reassuring His people that no matter what happens on earth, He reigns in heaven and is in full control of all that is seen and unseen.