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Unseen Reality

An Old Vision for a New Year

Revelation 4   |   Shaun LePage   |   December 31, 2006

I. Open

A.     Richard Wurmbrand was a pastor under the tyranny of the Romanian communist dictator, Ceaushescu. He spent fourteen years in prison. For what? Embezzlement? Tax evasion? Murder? No. For ministering and teaching and preaching the Word of God. When he was released from prison, he was forced into exile where he wrote several books. One of them was titled, “Alone With God.”

B. Let me read a portion of the prologue: “This is a book arising from a completely idle life, a life in solitary confinement in a Communist jail in Bucharest. I spent three of my fourteen years of prison alone in a cell, thirty feet below ground, with fifty pounds of chains on my feet and manacles on my hands, without ever seeing the sun, moon, stars, rain, or flowers, without paper or pencil, book or newspaper, let alone the Bible. During my years of solitary confinement I composed 350 sermons. I created them in my mind, because I could not write them down. I delivered them every night to an unseen audience. I also committed them to memory by using the simple mnemonic device of summarizing them in short rhymes, which I repeated again and again. When I was released from prison I did not sleep until I had committed all of them to paper. I managed to do so for 348 out of the 350.”

C.I’d like to share a portion of one of those sermons, but you must keep that context in mind—you must remember that this sermon was written in the mind of a man in solitary confinement in a communist prison. Pastor Wurmbrand titled this sermon simply, “New Year”: “It is midnight. The year 1948 has passed. I cannot congratulate Jesus. It has been 1915 years since He was crucified. The 1916th nail will now be driven into His cross. I know that every doubt of mine causes Him more pain, as if a new dart were piercing His heart. But now, since I have nothing left in this whole world but my wit to live by, it has begun to value itself very highly. All else seems of little importance. My wit has questions to ask and I cannot stop it. I realize now that the New Testament had never satisfied me really, because I found the miracles recounted there much too small for the Son of God. Three people were resurrected, but millions of corpses remained dead. Only three families had the comfort of seeing their beloved ones restored to life. Many widows whose only sons died remained without consolation. Jesus stilled a storm, but on so small a lake as Galilee. Tempests on the ocean sank countless ships, and men drowned. He did not help them. On one occasion 4,000 and on another 5,000 (plus women and children) had a good dinner through miracles performed by Him. What about the next day when they were hungry again? And what about the millions who have starved throughout the ensuing centuries? He sent an angel to free Peter from prison. The incident stands alone. James was beheaded, and since then thousands have been martyred. Why? How can the world go on? It is New Year’s Eve … I don’t understand You. Don’t You have power enough? Don’t You have the will to wipe away all tears? …What you have done is beautiful, but too little for an almighty God who could make the whole drama cease at once. Why are You silent? (Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, Alone With God, pgs. 7-9, 84-87)

D.     By the grace of God, none of us has ever—and will not any time soon—be sent to prison for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, I feel confident that as we watch another year become history and begin a new one, we can relate in small ways to Pastor Wurmbrand’s questions: As we sit here—in the final hours before a new year, knowing that tragedy after tragedy, evil after evil is taking place around the world—we too have questions. Why is God silent while U.S. soldiers are being killed in Iraq? Why is God silently allowing AIDS to sweep across Africa, leaving millions of children orphaned? Why is God silent while millions of His own children are being persecuted for their faith? We too have questions.

E. Maybe for you, those things are too distant. Your problems, your suffering, the evil with which you are faced are causing you to ask, “Are you listening, God? Are you there? Are my prayers bouncing off the ceiling? Why are You silent?”

F. No doubt, people throughout every century have had the same questions. Good Christians have had the same questions. The first-century Christians had the same questions. Their churches and homes and lives were threatened by the same species of persecution as that which Pastor Wurmbrand faced some 1900 years later.

G.     God’s answer comes in His Word. One specific answer comes in a picture—a vision—given 60+ years after Christ had died on the cross, risen from the grave and ascended into heaven. This picture is found in the Book of Revelation, chapters 4 and 5. This picture was intended to encourage and strengthen those who had questions. This picture was intended to encourage and strengthen us. This picture is of God Himself. It is a picture of the Unseen Reality—God seated on His throne, reigning and ruling over the universe. This reality—though invisible to us at this time—is indeed present tense reality.

H.CPS: We must, by faith, allow the Unseen Reality to transform our perspective of the seen reality. We must put on the spectacles of heaven in order to rightly see the things of earth. We must let the invisible interpret the visible.

II.   Body

A.     Context:

1.   In Revelation chapter 1, John explained that he was in exile on the island of Patmos “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” He—like Pastor Wurmbrand—was being persecuted for proclaiming the gospel. The risen, glorified Christ Jesus appeared to John and told him to write down what he was about to see.

2.   In Revelation chapters 2-3, Jesus dictated letters to seven historical churches that were experiencing persecution—challenging them to remain faithful; challenging them to be overcomers. But how? How could they—how can we—overcome our own weaknesses, our own sinfulness, the cruelty and brutality and evil all around us? How?

3.   God’s answer comes in Revelation 4. It is a spectacular scene!

B. Would you please stand with me as a way of honoring the God who has spoken to us in His Word? [ Read Revelation 4. ]

1.   4:1—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.”     

a)    John’s begins this chapter with the words “after this”.  The vision pictures both a present and a future reality.

(i)   “Present” in that this worship we have described for us here—with one exception—is taking place right now. Worship of the Almighty God is the constant activity of heaven’s inhabitants.

(ii) “Future” in that “after this” indicates that this vision is of heaven’s worship service after the Church Age (chapters 2,3). Chapter 5—the Lamb taking the scroll and starting the seven seal judgments—is definitely a picture of the future and is a continuation of what John saw in chapter 4.

b)    The three-part outline for the book of Revelation is found in 1:19: “What you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” Chapter 4 begins the third major section of the book—“What must take place after this” corresponds to “What will take place later” in 1:19.

2.   2-3—2Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 3And 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.

a)    Even though John does not name Him, it is obvious that this “One sitting on the throne” is the all-powerful Creator of the Universe.

(i)   It is not a unique description. Isaiah was also given the privilege of seeing “the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted (6:1)”

(ii)  The prophets Micaiah (1 Kings 22:19); Daniel (7:9,10) and Ezekiel (1:26-28) were all shown the same thing.

b)    “Throne” (qronoV) appears 40+ times in the book of Revelation—12 times in chapter 4 alone! This throne is the focus of this vision. Was it a literal piece of furniture? Maybe, maybe not. The main point is that God is seated on His throne—reigning over His creation.

c)    “A rainbow” is a comforting reminder of Genesis 9:13-17. There—at the end of the story of Noah—a rainbow was given to remind us of God’s faithfulness, mercy and grace. This rainbow “encircled the throne.” Point: the One seated on the throne is faithful, merciful and gracious.

3.   4—4Around 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.

a)    The 24 Elders are representatives of the church.

b)    More specifically, the 24 Elders are the “overcomers” of Rev. 2 & 3!

(i)   “Overcomers” were promised that they would rule with Christ (2:26,27). These elders are seated on thrones—ruling with Christ.

(ii) “Overcomers” were promised that they would receive white garments (3:5). These elders are “dressed in white”.

(iii)    “Overcomers” were promised that they would receive crowns (2:10; stefanoV—the victor’s crown). These elders had “crowns of gold on their heads.”

c)    The picture is very comforting to believers because it shows the overcoming church in heaven before the “tribulation” described in chapters 6-18! In other words, the “Rapture” took place between chapters 3 and 4—at the end of the Church Age before the Great Tribulation.

d)    So, here is our exception. The worship described for us here is taking place right now in the unseen reality of heaven. But, these worshipers—the 24 elders and all those whom they represent—are not present in the throne room of heaven today. But, we shall be soon—bowing down before the One seated on the throne.

e)    As exciting as all this is, however, our focus today is not on those 24 thrones, but on the throne in the center. We’ll talk more about the 24 Elders another time.

4.   5—5Out from the throne come 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;

a)    Lightning and thunder are associated with God’s presence elsewhere in Scripture (Exodus 19:16 and Ezekiel 1:13).

b)    We see this again later in Revelation 8, 11 and 16 in association with God’s judgment. The “storm” of God’s wrath is about to come on earth.

c)    The “seven lamps is interpreted for us: “These are the seven spirits of God.” Simply put, this is how the Holy Spirit is pictured in the book of Revelation (1:4 and 3:1). It does not mean there are seven Holy Spirits. The “seven spirits of God” is symbolic language—used only in Revelation—which most likely represents the Holy Spirit. In Zechariah 11, the prophet Zechariah was given a vision of “seven lamps” as well. He was told that “the seven lamps represent the eyes of the Lord that search all around the world” (11:10). Also, the number seven often represents perfection, so the picture is of the perfect Holy Spirit—the Third Person of the Trinity—on the throne with the Father—the First Person of the Trinity. In Chapter 5, the Second Person—Jesus—will also be described. All of this together gives us a picture of the Triune God of heaven.

5.   6a—6and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal;

a)    Revelation 21:1 tells us there will be no sea in heaven, so this “sea of glass” is not a true sea. John used a simile saying there was something “like” a sea of glass. In other words, what he saw was huge and vast like the sea, but it was “clear as crystal,” completely unlike anything John had ever seen. Heaven is going to be an awesome sight to behold—infinitely more beautiful and spectacular than earth.

b)    This “crystal sea”—though very real—also represents something. Scholars aren’t in agreement about what this means, but I like what Dr. Leon Morris has written: “…Modern ideas about glass did not apply in the first century. Then glass was usually very dark, even opaque. Glass as clear as crystal would be enormously expensive. The Koran says that when the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon she thought that a pavement of clear glass which he had set before his throne was water, and lifted up her skirt to pass through it (xxvii). The legend shows that clear glass was thought of as splendidly magnificent, as suitable paving for a royal court.” (Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Revelation, p.88)

c)    The symbolism behind this “crystal sea” is almost certainly related to God’s holiness. His “holiness” (a major subject of the worship taking place here) is God’s “separateness.” The Creator is set apart from His creation. He is holy, holy, holy.

6.   6b-8a—and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. 7The 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. 8And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within;

a)    The word translated “creature”—zwa—(as in zoology) is the noun form of the verb “to live” and is used to describe created beings—“not human and yet not really animals” (BAGD, p.341).

b)    The prophet Ezekiel got to see these four living creatures also. He identifies them as “cherubim”—an exalted order of angelic beings.

c)    Though they are real beings, it seems obvious that they—like human beings—have been designed for the purpose of reflecting the attributes of God.

d)    Dr. John Walvoord, the late chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote: “The fact that the creatures are full of eyes is taken as significant of the omniscience and omnipresence of God who sees all and knows all. In a similar way the four beasts…are considered different aspects of divine majesty. All of these are supreme in their respective categories. The lion is the king of the beasts and represents majesty and omnipotence. The calf or ox, representing the most important of domestic animals, signifies patience and continuous labor. Man is the greatest of all God’s creatures, especially in intelligence and rational power; whereas the eagle is greatest among birds and is symbolic of sovereignty and supremacy.” (John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pp. 109,110)

e)    Just as important if not more important than what they are and what they represent is what they do.

7.   8b-11— 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.” 9And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10the 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, 11“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.”

a)    What were these “living creatures” doing? What was everyone—except God—doing in John’s vision? “Worship”! What will heaven be like? What will we do? Worship!

b)    Chapters 4 & 5 combined contain 5 songs of praise which have been repeatedly set to music throughout the history of the Church! Notice some of the descriptions we have here of this worship:

(i)   “Day and night they never stop saying” (4:8; cf. 5:12,13). It’s hard to imagine now, but most—if not all—of our time in the next life will be spent in worship around this throne. We tend to think of worship as relatively boring and cannot imagine a worship service lasting even two hours. But these standing near the throne of God “never stop”! When we are there and get to see God as we’ve never seen Him before, we too will want nothing more than to be with Him, enjoy Him and worship Him.

(ii)  Elders “cast their crowns” (4:10). For these elders to “cast their crowns” demonstrates that they know who the real King is! For these elders to “fall down” from their thrones demonstrates that they know who the real King is! They know who deserves to receive anything and everything we have to give.

(iii)    Church, giving is worship! I believe that when we are in the presence of our Creator—right there with these Elders—we will be astonished—no, mournful—about how much value we placed in earthly things. We will be saddened by how much time and attention and affection we spent on the “golden crowns” of this world.

(iv)    Notice also that the 24 Elders “fall down…in worship” (proskuneo) (4:10, see also 5:8,14); that they are holding “harps” (musical instruments!); they have bowls of “incense” (5:8) and they “sang a new song” (5:9). Two observations about all this:

(a)   First, there is great freedom in worship! If these elders can have musical instruments in the throne room of God, why can we not use them now in this earthly sanctuary? We don’t burn incense in our services, but if someone wants to do that as a part of a worship service, how can we deny them that freedom when there are bowls of incense before the throne of God? If the four living creatures sing the same song over and over “day and night”, can there possibly be anything wrong with singing the old hymns we love so much every Sunday? If these worshipers can sing “a new song” in God’s presence, shouldn’t we do the same thing? How would you respond if someone in this worship service were to prostrate herself as she sang God’s praises? Would it freak you out if someone in this room, today, were to fall down on his face in worship? I know—we must do all things in an orderly manner. These are our instructions. But, at the same time, we must remember: We have great freedom in worship!

(b) Secondly, won’t we worship this way when we stand before God’s throne someday? Won’t we too fall down in total abandonment—completely devoid of the pride that so limits us today? If that’s true, shouldn’t we learn from this today? Shouldn’t we focus less on whether we like this song or that song, focus less on the worship team and what instruments they’re playing or how comfortable we are or how long the pastor is preaching and give our full attention, our full affection, our hearts, minds, souls and bodies to the awesome, holy, almighty God on His throne? Isn’t the answer obvious?

C.Having said all this, let me ask you to write down a few things to take with you.

1.   Offer a throne-focused worship.

a)    [Note: Art by Pat Marvenko—one idea of the appearance of the throne.]

b)    Throne-focused worship is—of course—focusing on the One seated on the throne.

c)    Look at the multiple and various ways this point is made here. Look at the reasons given here for why God—the One seated on the throne—is to be worshiped (make a list from chapter 4 alone):

(i)   He is “holy, holy, holy”

(ii)  He is “Lord”

(iii)    He is “Almighty”

(iv)    He is “Worthy”

(v)  He is “Creator”

(vi)    He is Faithful (symbolism of the rainbow)

(vii)  He is Judge (symbolism of the lightning and thunder)

(viii)          The symbolism of the four living creatures shows us that He is omniscient, omnipresent, majestic, patient, continuously laboring, intelligent, sovereign and supreme!

d)    So much of what we read and hear about worship these days is man-centered not Throne-centered. It is true that our purpose is to invite people to trust Christ and grow up in Him, so I don’t want to create a false dichotomy. The second greatest commandment—according to Jesus Himself—is to “love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves” but we must not forget that the “greatest” commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and with all your strength”! If we fail to keep the greatest commandment we will surely fail to keep the second. And, in order to keep the second we must challenge you to keep the first. In other words, the best way I can love you is to help you love God.

e)    If you are visiting today, we want you to feel comfortable, but whether you are visiting or a member; a believer or an unbeliever, we want first and foremost for you to meet with and know and worship your Creator this morning—to turn your full attention and affection to Him alone. Why? Why is this so important? There are many reasons, but one important reason is because of where we started: This world is so chaotic, so tragic, so evil—the only way we can live the life of an overcomer—the life of a Christ-follower—is to put on the spectacles of heaven and see the Unseen Reality of our awesome God and the heaven that awaits us.

f)     In his classic devotional book titled The Saint’s Everlasting Rest, English Puritan pastor and author Richard Baxter (1615-1691) wrote: “Why are not our hearts continually set on heaven? Why dwell we not there in constant comtemplation?…Bend thy soul to study eternity, busy thyself about the life to come, habituate thyself to such contemplations, and let not those thoughts be seldom and cursory, but bathe thyself in heaven’s delights.” (Our Daily Bread, July 28, 1997)

g)    I’ve heard the objection that goes something like this: “Come on, surely God isn’t so full of Himself—so egocentric—that He created us to worship Him and commands us to worship Him.” But it’s true!

(i)   First, Colossians 1:16 tells us that all things were created “for Him.” Whether there is any benefit in it or not for us, God is our Creator, He is worthy of our worship and He will be worshiped—every knee will bow and every tongue will declare that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10,11). The message of the Bible is clear—God deserves it!

(ii)  Secondarily, the very best thing we can do for ourselves is worship God! When we do as Richard Baxter suggests and “busy ourselves about the life to come” it causes us to keep everything else in the right perspective. We won’t waste our time disputing unimportant matters or doing unimportant work or collecting worthless treasure—we will become rich in the things of God.

h)    Worship a throne-focused worship.

2.   Live a throne-focused life!

a)    This is really the same point. I ask you to write it as a second point simply to make a point: All of life is worship. All of life can and should be filled with acts of worship.

b)    Why was Revelation written: To reveal Jesus! To reveal the awesome, glorified, exalted Jesus to a sometimes persecuted, sometimes weary, sometimes apathetic, sometimes sinful Church. To put chapters 4 and 5 immediately after the challenge to “overcome” in chapters 2 and 3 is essentially to say, “This is how you overcome: focus on your God! Focus on the One who has overcome the world.”

c)    For example:

(i)   Colossians 3:5-25 is a barrage of imperatives—numerous commands:

(a)  Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature

(b) Rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

(c)  Do not lie to each other

(d) Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

(e)  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

(f)  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(g)  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts

(h) Be thankful.

(i)    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly

(j)    Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

(k) Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

(l)    Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

(m)     Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

(n) Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

(o) Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.

(p) Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

(ii) How? How, Paul, can we possibly overcome the sinful tendencies of other people and our own flesh to live such a life?

(iii)    The key is in where he started the chapter! Listen to Colossians 3:1-4: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

(iv)    Do you see? To live a throne-focused life is to set our hearts and minds on things above so that we can overcome here below.

d)    Another example:

(i)   Hebrews 12:1 challenges us to see this life as a race. Listen: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

(ii) How? How can we do this. It’s one thing to say, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,” and it’s quite another to do it. It’s one thing to say, “Let us run with perseverance,” and it’s quite another to actually do it. How can we live this life without letting our sins hinder us? How can we embrace God’s call with the determination of an Olympic distance runner?

(iii)    The answer lies in Hebrews 12:2-4! Listen: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Fix our eyes on Jesus! See the Unseen Reality! Follow the example of our Invisible Hero!

(iv)    C. S. Lewis made the point much clearer than I: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

(v) Live a throne-focused life.


A.     In one of my favorite books, The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer wrote, “At the root of the Christian life lies belief in the invisible. The object of the Christians’ faith is unseen reality. Our uncorrected thinking, influenced by the blindness of our natural hearts and the intrusive ubiquity of visible things, tends to draw a contrast between the spiritual and the real—but actually no such contrast exists. The antithesis lies elsewhere—between the real and the imaginary, between the spiritual and the material, between the temporal and the eternal; but between the spiritual and the real, never. The spiritual is real. If we would rise into that region of light and power plainly beckoning us through the Scriptures of truth, we must break the evil habit of ignoring the spiritual. We must shift our interest from the seen to the unseen. For the great unseen Reality is God.” (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, pp. 53-4)

B. By faith, allow the Unseen Reality to transform your perspective of the seen reality. Put on the spectacles of heaven in order to rightly see the things of earth. Let the invisible interpret the visible.

C.I started with a portion of Pastor Wurmbrand’s “New Year” sermon. Even though he questioned God, asking Him, “Why are You silent?” He did not end there. He concluded with these words: “Probably I am too small—not Your miracles. I am a disciple of Yours… How could an architect explain his designs to a disciple? Only a master builder could understand him. I suppose that all the beautiful things I crave exist, but I cannot see them yet…Thank You for one more year. I will try to use it well for growth. Perhaps I will question You less next New Year’s Eve.” (Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, Alone With God, p. 87)

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