Grace to You Resources
Grace to You - Resource

We’re looking at the book of Revelation, which is about the future. It has amazing implications for the moment, but it’s prophecy of what is to come. And that is exactly how chapter 4 begins. So open your Bible to Revelation chapter 4, and I’ll just remind you of this text from last week. I won’t go into any detail; but if you weren’t here last time, you might want to download that message so you fully understand this incredible section. Let me read the fourth chapter again so that you have it in your mind.

“After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.’ Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. Out from the throne [came] flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, the second creature like a calf, the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.’ And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.’”

That’s an incredible scene in heaven. We would never know anything about it were it not for the fact that the Lord gave John this vision and revealed it to him.

Now remember, this is the second vision. John will have a series of visions going through Revelation. The first one was a vision of Christ in chapter 1. Then with letters to the churches in chapters 2 and 3, we saw Christ moving in His church. When we come to chapter 4, the scene changes. We go from earth and Christ serving in His church, to heaven and the throne of God. And the theme in chapter 4 and in chapter 5 is heavenly worship, heavenly worship. And this is something I don’t want to rush through. I am sort of double-clutching as I go, because I decide I’ll leave something out, and then I can’t find myself doing it because it’s all so very, very magnificent and important. But for us to understand the essence of worship, we have to see this scene and understand its reality. This is about worship, chapter 4 and 5. In fact, it’s about heavenly worship which is, therefore, perfect—perfected worship around the throne of God.

Now when we talk about worship, obviously we’re talking about something that, as a term, is very familiar to Christian people. We use that term a lot. We don’t always understand the essence of worship, so I want to help you with that a little bit before we actually dive into all the details of worship that start in verse 8 and run all the way through chapter 5. I want to give you some introductory insights I hope that’ll help you understand worship.

Let me begin by saying, in Revelation 22 and verse 9, there’s a simple command. It’s the end of the book of Revelation, it’s the end of the New Testament, it’s the end of the whole Bible, and the command is this: “Worship God.” “Worship God.” It’s as if all of heaven sums up the final word from God from heaven to humanity: “Worship God.” That is the final call: “Worship God”—a call to worship.

And earlier I read John chapter 4, and I want to go back to just a couple of verses from that fourth chapter that I think are important for our understanding with regard to this text in Revelation. So go back for a moment to John 4 and verse 20, where the Samaritan woman says, “Our fathers”—meaning the Samaritans, who were basically half-breeds, who were heritage-wise half Jewish and half Gentile, and therefore were outcasts as far as the Jews were concerned. “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain”—she meant Mount Gerizim. That’s where Samaritan worship took place.

So, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” This introduces you to a reality that was true in ancient times, and is still very true today, that many people in many religions think worship is something that takes place at a certain location. You go to that location. It’s some kind of an event, or it’s some kind of ritual, or it’s some kind of ceremony, or it’s some kind of service. And that is historically the way worship was identified. Even in the Old Testament, worship occurred in the Temple, and it was structured around the role of the priests and the sacrificial system. So they viewed worship as something that they participated in at a certain location. And that’s exactly how these Samaritans viewed their worship on Mount Gerizim.

But Jesus basically dismisses that whole notion. Verse 21, He says, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” God is going to change everything. Worship is not going to be tied to a place. And then He goes on to say this, verse 22, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship [Him] in spirit and truth.”

God doesn’t dwell in a temple made with hands; He’s not in a building. He’s not connected only to a certain service or ceremony or ritual or sacrament. God is spirit. He is everywhere at all times, omnipresent; and worship is to be done from the heart and in the mind by bringing together the human spirit to the truth of divine revelation.

So John 4 gives us this very strong statement: The Father seeks true worshipers who worship Him in spirit and truth. It’s not about a location, it’s about the heart. It’s about what you know to be true about God and the heart passion you have to celebrate that truth; that’s worship. The old notion, and a somewhat still-existent notion, that worship happens in a location is dispelled by our Lord.

So when we talk about worship, we often think of a location, even now. We do come together, and we say we’re going to worship the Lord today; and that, of course, is what we do. Ostensibly, it’s what we do. Certainly outwardly we sing songs, we give praises as the Psalms command us to do and as the book of Ephesians and Colossians command us to do, speaking to ourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We do all of that.

But that may or may not be worship. If it’s simply an exercise on the outside, something, basically, that is instigated from some external stimulus, then it’s not worship, it’s just whatever it is. It’s only worship if it comes from the heart and if it comes from a heart that is completely enamored with the truth about God. This is essential.

This is a time for us to worship, but this is certainly not the only time. This is a place for us to worship, but this is not the only place, by any means. We are to worship in spirit and in truth knowing that God is a spirit and He is everywhere at all times. We therefore are called to be true worshipers all the time. Worship is a way of life—it’s how we live; it’s how we think; it’s how we function. Praising God, honoring God, glorifying God is not reserved for a Sunday morning. It’s not isolated to a certain event. It is basically the heart cry of every true believer.

And that’s exactly what is bound up in the great commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” In other words, all your human capacities come together to love the God who has been revealed to you through His Word. There’s no room for any other god because there is no other God. And everything you are and have and hope to be, all your faculties, are devoted in the direction of one God, the one true and living God. And that’s not something you do on Sunday or occasionally, that is your life. You are a true worshiper.

Paul says, “You worship Christ. You worship Christ.” You have no confidence in the flesh. You’re not bound up in some external religion, you worship from the heart. Another way to say that, of course, is you love Christ and you love the Lord your God as well.

So let me take you to Romans 12 and verse 1 to remind you of this very same reality in a different way. Paul says this—Romans 12:1, familiar verse—“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God”—based on everything God has done for you, His mercies being new every morning, as Lamentations says; because God has poured out His mercies endlessly on you—“I urge you, brethren . . . to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice.”

So in John 4, worship is the spirit and the truth. It’s the inner person adhering to and loving the truth concerning God. That’s the interior; that’s the heart. But it doesn’t stop there. Romans 12:1 says, “Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” So you give your inner person, you give your heart, you give your mind, you give your body to the worship of the Lord.

We don’t have a priesthood any longer—no Levitical priesthood, Aaronic priesthood. There are no officials priests in the true church of Jesus Christ because every believer is a priest. We are a priesthood of believers, and we all present sacrifices to God. Everything you do is a sacrifice to God. Everything you do in your mind and your heart that honors Him is a sacrifice to God offered by you, one of His priests. Everything you do with your body that gives Him glory, that gives Him honor, that is acceptable to Him, is a spiritual act of worship.

Verse 2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove”—that you may demonstrate—“what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” So worship is not only how you feel about God, not only the passion of your heart toward the One whom you know by revelation, but worship is what you do with your life, what you do with your faculties. It’s everything about you.

Now in Romans 1:9—this would add another little dimension to this—Paul makes an interesting statement. He says, “For God, whom I serve in my spirit,” Romans 1:9. The word “serve” is latreuō in the Greek, and it really is a word for worship. So he’s telling you this: “Here’s how I worship: For God, whom I worship in my spirit”—that’s what God wants, to be worshiped in spirit and in truth—“[I worship God] in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son.” So for Paul, preaching the gospel is an act of worship. “It is my witness that I love God. I worship God in preaching the gospel of His Son.” Marvelous statement. And that’s just an illustration. Everything you do in the will of God, in obedience to God with divine purpose in mind, is a worshipful action. It’s not just the heart and the mind, but it starts there. It is born there, it is generated there, it is motivated there, but it shows up in our behavior.

So we are true worshipers. This should define us more than anything else. If you want to know what a Christian is, he’s a worshiper of God, the true God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is absolutely essential. This defines who we are. And yet, you may find it interesting that nowhere in the New Testament do we have a worship service defined for us. We don’t even have something called a worship service in the New Testament. The church gathered, but it never says the church gathered to worship. It says they gathered to break bread, they gathered for prayer, they gathered for fellowship—ministry of spiritual gifts—they gathered for the apostles’ doctrine. The church gathered to hear the Word of God. The church gathered to sing psalms and hymns. The church gathered to confront sin, to proclaim truth. But nowhere in the New Testament do we have something called a worship service, which may be a surprise to many of you.

You might have thought that in Acts 2:42 it would have said, “And they gave themselves continually to the apostles’ doctrine, worship, fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread.” But no, we don’t have that. There’s no time that we see a church meeting in the New Testament—the book of Acts—in a worship service by definition.

And why is that? Why is that seemingly such a serious omission, when we are so committed to a worship service? And the answer is because the New Testament never isolates worship to an event any more than it isolates worship to a location. It’s not in Mount Gerizim. It’s not in Jerusalem. It’s not at a temple. It’s not in any specific place, and it’s not generated by any external behaviors. It’s a way of life.

We worship when we come together because we are worshipers. This is not when we worship, this is just when we worship together. Worship is not in a place, and it’s not induced by any external design. It’s the expression of the heart that reaches out and gives honor and glory and praise and thanks to God. And this is life for us. This is life.

The reason the New Testament doesn’t identify something as a worship service is because all services worship. All spiritual duty is worship. All proclamation of the gospel is worship. All obedience is worship. All praise is worship. It’s all worship.

In Romans, at the end of Romans—we looked at chapter 1, verse 9. But if you go to the fifteenth chapter of Romans, and again take a look at Paul, he says this in verse 16, that he is “a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles,” Romans 15:16. He’s a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. Then he says this: “ministering as a priest the gospel of God.” “I’m like a priest offering acceptable sacrifice to God when I preach the gospel to the Gentiles. I preach to the Gentiles the gospel of God so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” He says, “When I preach the gospel, I am worshiping; and when they believe in response to the gospel, I can offer those believers now to God as an acceptable sacrifice.” Everything is worship, everything. Even evangelism is worship in the offering of those who believed, to God as a sacrifice, that pleases Him.

In the end of the book of Hebrews in chapter 13, these are just some further scriptures that show you the range of true worship. Paul says, “Through Him”—that is Christ, Hebrews 13:15—“let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.” “Continually,” all the time, not just on Sunday, not in some location, not because of some event. But we “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.” And what is it? “The fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”

Now we’re supposed to be thanking the Lord all the time, right? “In everything”—do what?—“give thanks.” We constantly have plenty to be thankful for, so “let us continually offer up . . . thanks to His name,” which is “a sacrifice of praise.” That is an offering of worship. Again, the language is priestly, as if we came before God in an act of true worship.

But it’s not just what we say, verse 16 adds, “Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” You worship God when you offer Him your heart, your mind, your spirit, when you embrace His truth. You literally worship God when you offer your body as a living sacrifice. You worship God when you offer your praise in His name. You worship God when you proclaim the gospel. You worship God when you do anything that is consistent with His will.

So it’s wrong for people to think of worship as some experience. It is our entire Christian life. It’s our whole life. And since it is our whole life, I find Revelation 4 and 5 extremely helpful in encouraging us as to how to, throughout our lives, express our worship. Let’s go to heaven and see what perfect worship is like; and here we will find a pattern for our own worship.

Let’s go back to verse 1. Just set the setting here. “After these things”—after the first vision and the letters to the churches in 2 and 3, John says, “I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.’” So here, John moves from earth to heaven.

In chapters 1 to 3, he sees a vision of Christ, and it’s Christ ministering in His church on earth. It talks about the seven churches of Asia Minor, and the Lord has letters to those churches. He’s moving and operating in His church.

As I said last week, “after these things” triggers a new section completely, and this is the second apocalyptic vision John has; and this time it’s not a vision of Christ moving in His church on earth, it’s a vision of heaven, and the particular focus of this vision is on the throne of God. “John, come up here.” We leave the things regarding the church behind—chapters 2 and 3, which speaks to the whole church age, of course—“and now we’re going to heaven, and I’m going to show you”—he says at the end of verse 1—“what must take place after these things.”

What are “these things”? It mentions “these things” twice in verse 1. “These things” having to do with the church in chapters 1, 2, and 3—the things concerning the church. “I showed you those things, now I want to show you what takes place after those things.” So we’re going beyond the church age now, beyond the church age. And now, as I said last week, you will never see a mention of the church or the word church in the rest of the book of Revelation, because the church is gone. And we talked about that in 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4. The church has been raptured and has been taken to glory, and we’ll see them there in just a moment.

So John is transported to a vision that unfolds what will happen at the end of the church age. We’re still in the church age. I mean, historically we’re still living in the church era of chapters 1, 2, and 3. But John is going to give us a picture of what happens after the church is taken out of the world and judgment comes; and it comes with a fury, and it occupies all of chapters 6 through 19.

Now the focus of this chapter 4 and verse 5 is the throne. And we can just attach some prepositions to it. Last week I gave you a few things to think about at the throne; that’s verse 2: “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven.” John was ushered by the supernatural effect of a vision that God gave him—the ability to see into things that are not available to us. The vision is God’s giving a supernatural insight into divine revelation, and He did that for those to whom He revealed Himself; and Scripture—some, of course, well-known to us, like Isaiah and Paul and John.

So John has this vision, and he sees a throne. He’s now in heaven. The door was wide open; he goes in; he’s at the throne. This is the key to chapter 4. It’s mentioned eleven times. It’s the throne that we’re looking at.

And then we see the features. First, he was at the throne “in the Spirit,” meaning in that spiritual condition of a vision. And then, secondly, we see the “One sitting on the throne.” I talked about this last time. Verse 2 says in the middle of the verse, “and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.”

So on the throne is “One sitting”—“One,” the Eternal One, the God of heaven, the Sovereign God. The throne is occupied. John may have wondered about that, like Isaiah did. Things were going so badly in John’s day. Five of the seven churches were in defective condition. The martyring of the apostles had all taken place. It didn’t look like the kingdom was going to come at any time. The world was rejecting the gospel, persecuting believers. And John needed to check in, like Isaiah did, to see if God was still on the throne; and sure enough, He is. He’s on the throne. All that is happening is within the framework of God’s plan.

We noted last time, and I’ll just remind you briefly, jasper stone and sardius are interesting because the high priest in the Old Testament had a breastplate, and on that breastplate he had stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The first stone was the jasper, which was like a diamond. It represented Reuben. The last stone was sardius, like a ruby, represented Benjamin. So you see those stones right there at the throne, and you realize that God is still—in His heart, on His mind—on the throne, occupied with completing His promises to the people of Israel. They’re still on His heart. So we should expect at this point that the covenants that God made with Israel will come to pass because He, like the high priest, has symbols of them on His own presence.

Further, the jasper stone also signified Reuben, and Reuben was identified as “behold, a son.” Benjamin, it signifies—the sardius signified was “son of my right hand.” So they even have messianic overtones because both of those things were true concerning Christ. So we see the throne. God is sovereign; He is reigning there. He still has a covenant relationship with Israel. He still has them on His heart.

Also around the throne, thirdly, around the throne we see two things. We see “a rainbow around the throne,” in verse 3, “like an emerald in appearance.” We talked a little bit about that last time. We can’t be specific as to what it means, but it’s something of the glory and the beauty of that throne. And then “around the throne,” in verse 4, “twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their head.”

And we went through the explanation of the fact that these twenty-four elders represent the church. Church has elders. The church is clothed in white garments; we see that—references to that back in chapter 3. We see the church in white coming with Christ in chapter 19. And the golden crowns on their head. Angels receive no crowns; they are not given crowns. You have believers promised to be given crowns in a number of ways through the New Testament. So this represents the church.

So what is dramatic here is the church was on earth in chapters 1, 2, and 3. All of a sudden the church appears in heaven, which assumes the Rapture has taken place, that secret event that takes the church out of the world. So we are out of the world as the church. Christ comes, shout of the archangel, and we all are taken up into glory in the Rapture.

And then what happens? Then you see verse 5. We go from at the throne, on the throne, around the throne, to “from the throne.” And “from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.” This is the rumbling of divine judgment.

Once the church is taken to glory, then judgment will come. This is prophetic of the storm of righteous fury that is about to come from the holy throne on the sinful world—a display of wrath, the likes of which no one has ever imagined. And when you get to chapter 6, it begins and runs all the way to chapter 19. All those chapters describe the coming judgment. This is a powerful section, and it sets up what we will see in human history in the future. The church, I believe, is not going to be here. I think the Lord keeps us from the hour of temptation that comes upon the earth, as He said in chapter 3. But judgment is rumbling, like Ezekiel 1, where you have a very similar vision to Ezekiel, and the machinery seems to be the same kind of machinery of judgment ramping up as a result of the wrath of God on his generation.

So we went to the throne, we saw the One on the throne, we saw around the throne, we saw from the throne, and now we come to “before the throne.” Back to verse 5, “There were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne.” These are torches. They’re blazing torches, seven of them. They’re not lampstands, like in chapter 1, that signify the church, not something giving off a soft, welcoming, gentle light. But this is blazing, fierce fire. Fire in Revelation is judgment, and these torches fit that idea. And torches were used in war, and you can find that in Judges 7 and Nahum chapter 2. So we’re seeing a judgment scene before the throne.

And interestingly enough, the Holy Spirit is identified at this point. We usually think of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter, the Encourager. But in this vision, it says that the fire burning before the throne represents “the seven Spirits of God.” Rather than seven spirits, the seven-fold Spirit of God—this refers to the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Seven-fold Spirit is wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, fear, and deity—seven-fold Spirit. So here is the Holy Spirit, a very critical agent in the judgment that is about to come, the fiery judgment.

In Zechariah, the Spirit is associated with power, “Not by might or by power”—on a human level—“but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” So the Spirit here is depicted getting ready to unleash judgment on the world. If you know Christ, the Spirit is your Comforter; if you don’t know Christ, the Spirit will be your Judge. He’s not going to argue like some defense lawyer because He’s soft, He’s going to be your Judge.

Now verse 6, just moving fast, “Before the throne” not only the Spirit in judgment setting, but “before the throne . . . something like a sea of glass, like crystal.” What is this? This is a huge crystal base stretched out in front of the throne. Not unlike ancient kings, who had thrones up on pedestals with a base that separated them from the populous. The crystal base—the throne, and then the crystal base, and then the people separated from the ruler, indicating his unique dignity, was pretty typical. So there is a sense in which this demonstrates the separation of the nature of God. “Sea” is the separation idea in Scripture.

Now this isn’t the first time that we see this with God. If you go back to Exodus 24:10, Moses and the others saw God on His throne, and what they saw was “a pavement of [clear] sapphire [crystal].” Ezekiel 1:22, Ezekiel saw the floor on which the throne of God rested as the color of awesome, dazzling crystal, stretched across the sky. Again, this speaks of the nature of heaven. There are no shadows, no mists, no fog, no clouds. Heaven is not a world of shadows and mists, it is of splendorous light. The blazing glory of God goes through everything. There are no shadows. All refracted through crystal-clear jewels and a crystal-clear platform that may act like a mirror to refract the glory of God out through the entire heavens. The point is this: God is all-glorious, and His glory is on display, and He is separate from those who are unlike Him. Sea of glass pictures, then, His separation from sinners.

So what do we see there? God’s glory, splendor, beauty, majesty, sovereignty, power, wrath, holiness, all depicted in the imagery. And that, then, brings us to verse 6, middle of the verse; and this is another look at the throne, and in this case, it’s “in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.”

This is stunning. It’s in the center and, yet, around. It’s at the core of the throne, and yet it’s around the throne. We could say it’s throughout the throne. It’s like the wheels in Ezekiel chapter 1, the same picture of the throne of God, with spinning wheels moving in and out of the throne of God.

Who are these? What are these spinning wheels? Well, they’re four living creatures, from zaō, to be alive, living ones, living beings. We know who they are from Ezekiel. I won’t take the time to go through all of it, but we are clearly told they are cherubim, they are cherubim.

Ezekiel chapter 1, almost the whole chapter deals with these amazing, whirling cherubim around the throne of God, and the setting very much like this. And in the tenth chapter, particularly, of Ezekiel and verse 20, it basically says, the living creatures are the cherubim, the cherubim.

What are cherubim? They’re angels. They’re a group of angels frequently referred to in the Old Testament in connection with divine holiness, divine glory, and divine power. They seem to have had the task of guarding the holiness of God, guarding the sacredness of God. They are the most beautiful, the most glorious creatures described, for example in Ezekiel 28, and they are literally woven into Jewish history.

For example, in the third chapter of Genesis, when the man and the woman were kicked out of the garden for their sin, cherubim were placed on the east side of the garden to guard the garden and to keep them from the tree of life. So they have a guarding responsibility.

In the building of the Tabernacle—you remember the tent that they used when they were traveling in the wilderness. When God gave them design for the Tabernacle, they were to weave into the curtains and the veil itself, the sacred veil in front of the Holy of Holies, cherubim. There were cherubim woven into the ten curtains that covered the Tabernacle. Even the Ark of the Covenant had cherubim with their wings over the top of the ark.

Throughout the Old Testament, God is called “Jehovah who dwells between the cherubim.” In the temple of Solomon, the cherubim were woven into the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. And Solomon made two eighteen-foot-high wooden cherubim overlaid with gold, symbols of the guardianship of all that was sacred. They’re special angels, and they are involved in judgment. They are involved in judgment. Matthew 24, Jesus says, “Look, this all won’t be sorted out in terms of life in this world and who belongs in God’s kingdom and who doesn’t, until the angels begin to separate.”

So here is this amazing picture of God on the throne, and He’s in the presence of four living beings. There are several characteristics; I’ll mention them quickly. First, they are characterized by their knowledge, their knowledge. That’s what it means when it says at the end of verse 6 they had “eyes in front and behind”; and it repeats that in verse 8, “Full of eyes around and within.” They are an exalted order of angels, they are participants in the guarding of the sacredness of God’s throne, and they are judgment angels.

Part of that guardianship is to make sure that no one ever enters that place that doesn’t belong there. And what sets them apart is their alertness and their awareness. They see everything; nothing escapes them. If you wanted a perfect guard to protect a sacred place, it would be very helpful if he was full of eyes in front and behind. And that’s what you have here. They watch for everything; they see everything. They’re not omniscient like God, but they are aware, and nothing escapes their scrutiny.

So they are marked by their knowledge, and secondly, by their responsibility in verse 7: “The first creature was like a lion, the second like a calf, the third had a face like that of a man, and the fourth . . . was like a flying eagle.” Even back in Ezekiel 1, Ezekiel’s cherubim resembled human beings. Ezekiel’s angels had four facial experiences. Here you have the faces of the cherubim described as a lion, a calf, a man, and an eagle.

What is this? Well traditionally, the lion represented strength and power; the calf, or the ox, represented service; the man represented reason; and the eagle represented speed. They are literally the right angels equipped for judgment. They are powerful. They fulfill their responsibility. They are, we could say, rationally brilliant. And they can move at angelic speed. They guard God’s presence; they serve Him on behalf of His purposes, powerfully serving, understanding everything, swiftly fulfilling their responsibility. Ezekiel 28, we find that Lucifer was one of them before he fell.

The Talmud, the Jewish Talmud, written by the rabbis, says there are four primary forms of life in God’s creation—this is the rabbis—man, calf, lion, and eagle. In the camp of Israel, there were twelve tribes, three tribes in four groups. One group was Reuben, identified on his banner by a man; another group was Dan, identified by an eagle; another group was Ephraim, identified by a calf; and Judah, identified by a lion. So again, these represent God’s relationship to Israel. These angels are now about to carry out God’s judgment.

Go over to chapter 6, verse 1, just quickly. This is how it all begins: “The Lamb broke one of the seven seals . . . . I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, ‘Come.’” And then all the judgment breaks out. You have immediately after that the familiar four horsemen, and then the devastating judgment.

But they’re not just creatures of judgment, they are worshiping creatures. Go back to verse 8: “The four living creatures . . . [had] six wings,” as they did in Isaiah 6—two to cover their face, two to cover their feet, holy ground—cover their face because of the full glory of God—and with two they hovered, ready to be dispatched. They are “full of eyes around and within.” And here is their activity: “Day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.’” That’s what worship is: nonstop praise of God.

So you want to know how to worship? Worship like the angels worship. They worship unceasingly, unendingly. They give praise to God. They set the tone of heaven. This is their permanent occupation.

Now that gets us coming into verse 8 to a seventh point: toward the throne, toward the throne. But I’m not going to talk about that. It’s too important to rush through, except to say, starting in verse 8 there are going to be five, five hymns of praise circling the throne of God, running through the rest of chapter 4 and all of chapter 5. And the crescendo is stunning; it’s really stunning.

The first praise, in verse 8—I’ll just give you the overview—comes from the four living creatures, saying, “Holy, holy, holy.” So it starts with a quartet of four. In verse 10, the twenty-four elders join, and now you have twenty-eight voices. In chapter 5, verse 8, you have the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders—that’s the twenty-eight—only now you have a harp. So you have four, then twenty-eight voices, then twenty-eight voices with harps. Then you come to chapter 5, verse 11, and you have “the voice of many angels.” How many angels? “The number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands.” It’s like ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands.

So it starts out as a quartet, then twenty-eight, then twenty-eight with harps, then twenty-eight with all the angelic voices. And then in verse 13, “Every created thing which is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’ And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.” That’s heavenly worship.

There are two aspects to this section on worship. One is an oratorio of creation’s redemption, chapter 4; and the other is an oratorio of man’s redemption, chapter 5. But here’s what you need to know: All worship is directed at God, all of it. God is being honored. God is being worshiped. God is receiving all the glory.

First Chronicles 17:20 says, “O Lord, there is none like You, neither is there any God besides You.” Everything is directed at God. That’s why Scripture says you love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, because there is no other.

Just two psalms, and I’ll close. Psalm 86, which identifies the singularity with which God is to be worshiped. Verses 8 to 10, Psalm 86, “There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours. All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify Your name. For You are great and do wondrous deeds; You alone are God.”

Then Psalm 89, verse 6, “For who in the skies is comparable to the Lord? Who among the sons of the [Almighty] is like the Lord, a God greatly feared in the council of the holy ones”—the angels—“and awesome above all those who are around Him? O Lord God of hosts, who is like You, O Mighty [One]?”

All heaven’s worship is directed at God. He alone is worthy of worship. And the four living creatures set that worship in motion. We’ll see the specifics of that worship, Lord willing, next time.

Father, again, it’s such a marvelous and incredible experience to be taken into heaven, as it were, and to see what we have seen through the eye of revelation. Thank You, Lord, for the fact that You have given us the future. We know exactly where history is headed. We know exactly what is to come. We know You’re going to take us to be with You. There will be a day when Jesus calls those who are alive; and the ones who are dead in Christ will rise, as we heard sung earlier. But after that, the unfolding of judgment, horrific judgment, is described in so much detail that it is inescapable. And we can see the realities of that prophetic judgment already being set in motion even today. So we know it must be soon before You will be calling Your church home; and then the judgment will begin. We desire that judgment because we desire that You should be glorified and honored, and You have a right to judge for Your own glory.

But in the meantime, make us faithful to proclaim the gospel, to be worshipers in the sense that we worship the way Paul did, worship by proclaiming the gospel as an act of worship, and offering those who come to faith in Christ as a pleasing sacrifice to You. Receive our worship as we offer it in Your Son’s name. Amen.

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Unleashing God’s Truth, One Verse at a Time
Since 1969


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