Reality versus Fantasy, Part 3: Our Sovereign God
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, September 10, 2006
Copyright © 2006, P. G. Mathew
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, 'Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."
We have been speaking about ultimate reality versus human lies and fantasies. In Revelation 4 Jesus Christ summons the apostle John to come into the throne room of God in heaven so that he can show John who rules the world and what must take place in the future. It is like being taken into the control tower of the busiest airport in the world. Every movement of every plane is controlled by the controller in the tower. In the same way, our triune God alone rules the universe. No president, no king, no other authority, including the devil and his demons, has ultimate control.
John is given this opportunity so that he can see ultimate reality and the centrality of the throne of God to all things. Our universe is theocentric; by his will, God created all things, from the smallest particle to the largest star, including every living thing. He created them, he owns them, and he rules them. One writer said that Revelation 4 represents the heart of understanding the universe. History is meaningless, and all searches for origins are futile, without this perspective from heaven. It is this chapter that inspired Handel to produce The Messiah.
Everything in history is based on the will of this One who is seated on the throne in heaven. So Jesus opened heaven for John. He became "in the Spirit," which made him able to go into heaven and receive revelation of what must take place in the future-not what may, but what must, because everything is ordained by the will of the Sovereign God.
God wanted John to write down this revelation and send it to all churches for their comfort. True believers must know that although the world may hate, arrest, and kill them, as Christ himself said would be done to the believers at Smyrna, such things happen only by the will of God. Additionally, physical death cannot separate us from eternal life, but only assist us to enjoy it even more in God's presence.
The Throne of God
The first thing John saw in heaven was the throne of God. The word "throne" appears thirteen times in this chapter alone. God's throne is in the center of heaven, for it is the central reality of the universe. If we are anxious and worried, Jesus is calling us to come and view the throne of God, and we shall have rest for our souls. In the Spirit we must understand that no matter happens to us in this world, our Sovereign God is in control and he will save us. So believe in this reality: our God shall never forsake us, but will bring us safely home to him.
All history is the outworking of God's eternal will. In Ephesians 1:11 Paul writes, "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will." The Lord himself tells us in Isaiah 46:10, "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come."
In Revelation 2:13 we read that Satan also has a throne. Jesus called Satan the prince of this world (John 12:31), while Paul said he was the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan desires worship, tempting even our Lord Jesus Christ to worship him. But Jesus refused and said, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.' Then the devil left him" (Matthew 4:8-11). Satan is also called the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Ephesians 2:2). Yet we must realize that Satan is a mere creature, under the rule of our Sovereign God; any powers he has are granted to him by God. In due time, the Sovereign God will judge Satan and cast him into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).
When we speak about thrones, we can also mention the thrones of the Caesars, the Pharaohs, and all other rulers of this world. All worldly authorities function under the sovereignty of God. He sets up kings and puts them down; he alone can do what he pleases when he pleases. But God gives authority to others to rule in his behalf. In the home, he gives authority to parents; in the church, to elders; and in the state, to political rulers. Thus, all earthly authorities are delegated, not self-originated. God alone rules; he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. That is why Jesus told the Roman governor Pilate, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above" (John 19:11).
So in Revelation 4, Jesus shows John the source of ultimate authority-the throne of God. There is no competing authority; there is no equal ultimacy of good and evil. God's rule is the central reality, and we ignore it at our own peril. How many people have had opportunities to hear the gospel, but they refused to believe! But in due time, all will experience this ultimate reality. Even those who reject God will eventually face him, for everyone who runs away from God is, in fact, running to him. There is nowhere we can hide from the Sovereign God.
The word "throne" is used about thirty-seven times in the book of Revelation; it is the central theme of this book. What happens on earth depends upon what happens in the throne room of God. Let me ask you, then: Do you believe in this Sovereign God who sits on his throne in heaven? Do you bow before him and regulate your life according to his will as revealed in the Scriptures? Do you trust in his Sovereign Son, Jesus Christ, and repent, for the kingdom of God has come in Jesus Christ? If not, you are God's enemy and he is yours. He is at war with every rebel, and he shall win.
Although John sees the throne, he is not able to describe the One seated on it, because God is incomprehensible and indescribable mystery. John can only speak of his radiance, saying he had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. Jasper speaks of God's brilliance, which we read about in Psalm 104: "Praise the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent" (vv. 1-2), and in 1 Timothy 6: "God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen" (vv. 15-16). Carnelian, a red stone, may speak of God's justice and judgment.
Then John says a rainbow resembling an emerald encircled the throne. This speaks of God's covenant faithfulness. Notice, this rainbow has only one color-green. That speaks of mercy. Though God is the all-holy Judge, he is also merciful.
John next speaks about the four living creatures. These angelic beings guard the throne and execute God's will with eagerness. This is why we say in the Lord's prayer, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." When God speaks, angels execute his will.
Twenty-four elders dressed in white, seated on thrones, with gold crowns on their heads, also surrounded the throne of God. There is some debate about their identity. I agree with a number of scholars, including Spurgeon, that they represent the people of God in all ages, for we never read in the Scriptures about angels seated with crowns. And in Revelation 5:9 we read the song of these elders: "You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (italics added). And in another text, on which the King James Version is based, it is "us to God."
This is our destiny. In Revelation 3:21 we read, "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne." We are destined to reign with Christ; even now we are seated with him, as we read in Ephesians 2:6: "And God raised us up with Christ, and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus." And in Matthew 19:28 Jesus said to his disciples: "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Paul also speaks of this: "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?" (1 Corinthians 6:2).
If we are destined to rule with Christ, why should we worry? All our fears and anxieties are an affront to the Sovereign God. It reveals our lack of trust in his ability to save us. The world is ours; as the Lord said, "The meek shall inherit the earth."
Notice, the throne on which God is seated is the same throne on which Christ is seated. Then we are told that it is the same throne on which God's people are seated (Revelation 3:21; 22:1). There is only one authority, only one throne.
In Matthew 25 we read about this throne in relationship to the second coming of Christ. At the end of the ages there will be a great judgment, and all will be judged by Christ. Verse 31 says, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." Elsewhere he said, "All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me" (Matthew 28:19). Look at verse 41: "And he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" And verse 46: "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Revelation 4:5 tells us something else about this throne: "From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumbling and peals of thunder." What is going on here? We see the same phenomenon in Revelation 8:5; 11:19; and 16:18. It is what Moses and the Israelites observed at Mount Sinai: "On the morning of the third day, there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast" (Exodus 19:16). It is speaking about the execution of divine judgment upon all God's enemies.
Do you hear his thunder? Do you see his lightning? Do you tremble when you think about this God? Psalm 2 tells us to rejoice with trembling. (PGM) God is not our buddy. He is the Sovereign Lord. This thunder and lightning indicate that God is about to do something; what must take place hereafter is disclosed to us from Revelation 6 and following. God is about to pour out his judgment. He is a holy God, and he must judge. If you have not believed in him, I urge you to run to Jesus Christ to be saved.
Worshiping the One on the Throne
In Revelation 4:5 John says that before the throne he saw seven lamps, seven spirits-the Spirit of God in his fullness-shining. Then John sees Jesus: "I saw a Lamb, looking as though it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne. . . ." (5:6). In the center of the throne is the triune God, surrounded by the angelic beings and twenty-four elders. What are they doing? Worshipping. Heaven is filled with worship, night and day.
There are over twenty songs in the book of Revelation, and we are introduced to a few in these chapters. In 4:8 we read, "Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and is, and is to come.'"
Notice the emphasis on God's holiness. "Holy" means God is separate from all creation in his being and character. His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are his ways our ways (Isaiah 55:9). God is the Holy Other. In fact, the first and last hymns in the Bible (Exodus 15:11 and Revelation 15:4) both speak about his holiness. And when Isaiah saw the Holy One seated on his throne, he heard the seraphs singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:3).
So in Revelation 4:8 John hears these angels singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty." The Greek text uses the word "Pantokratôr," which means "All-Ruler." God rules every reality in his universe, including us. It is sheer blindness not to understand this reality. The angels are falling down and worshiping this thrice-holy God, who is Lord, God, and Ruler of all. And the phrase "who was and is and is to come" means he is the Eternal One, the One who lives forevermore.
What about us? Are we impressed by this revelation of God's holiness, sovereignty and eternity? If so, then only one thing is required: We must fall down and worship him. If we truly see God, we will not stand or sit, but will fall down and worship him, acknowledging that he is holy God, the Lord, the Eternal One, the Judge. And the time is coming when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, for the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).
Then we read that the twenty-four elders also worshiped (Revelation 4:10-11). They were sitting, but now they get up from their thrones, fall down before the Lord and remove their crowns, laying them before him and worshiping him. They prostrate themselves before him who is seated on the throne and acknowledge his worth. Worship means to acknowledge the worth of someone. Worship is acknowledging the worth of the all-glorious One, the triune God.
These elders confessed, "You are worthy." What does this mean? God alone is worthy of our worship because he alone is God, Savior, and Creator; God alone owns and controls all things. We must not worship creation or angels. Holy angels refuse worship, and we are not to worship the devil, even though every unbeliever does. We are to worship the Creator, not creation (Romans 1:25).
Then the elders identified the object of their worship: "Our Lord and God." Do you confess him? Can you say, "My Lord and my God"? Can you say, "The Lord is my shepherd"? Can you say, "Jesus Christ is my Lord"?
They continued, "You are worthy . . . to receive glory and honor and power." When we worship God, we are acknowledging his glory, honor, and power. We do so through our singing, our prayers, our giving, our preaching, our hearing the word, and in our service to him. In all these things, we are worshiping God. And what is the reason we worship God? Because he is almighty. "For you created all things." Nothing is excluded, both visible and invisible. God's sovereignty is all-comprehensive. Things did not evolve into existence out of nothing. By his will, this almighty, all-wise God freely and not by necessity created all things out of nothing. And because he is the creator of all things, he is also owns and rules all things. Therefore, all things, including us, must worship and serve God only.
This also tells us that creation is not eternal. Only by God's will do we have being. We are contingent beings. God alone is eternal, self-existing, and self-sufficient, as Moses declared in Psalm 90: "Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. You turn men back to dust, saying, 'Return to dust, O sons of men' . . . You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning-though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered" (vv.1-6).
Let Us Worship God!
If, then, the universe is theocentric and God created and rules all of it, let us worship God! This great God, incomprehensible in his being and ways, is alone glorious and worthy of worship. Glory means weight; God alone is weighty. Compared to him, we are all chaff, grass, mist, nothings.
God receives glory when we worship him, confess him, and witness to him. Let us then worship God, who alone is eternal, beyond time and beyond space. Let us worship him because the twenty-four elders said, "He is worthy." Creation is not worthy to be worshiped. Not even the holy angels are worthy to be worshiped. And we must not worship our children. But all of us must worship the triune God because he alone is worthy of our worship.
People of God, let us hear the call of Jesus Christ to come up into heaven, and let us enter into the ultimate reality of God's throne room. Let us view the one seated on the throne in the center of heaven. The word "seated" - kathêmenos - is found in chapter 4, verses 2, 3, 9, 10, and is in the present tense. That means our God is always seated as the Sovereign Ruler. He never loses his power and grip. He never dies. No one can take his throne away from him. There is no rise and fall of the kingdom of the thrice-holy God.
Yet remember the emerald green rainbow around the throne. This tells us God is merciful to all who repent and believe in him through his Son Jesus, the Lamb of God who was dead yet lives forevermore. God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all in sacrifice for our salvation. So the writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to "approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). In Jesus Christ, the throne of judgment has been transformed into a throne of grace.
John was commissioned by God to see and write what God ordained would take place in the future. What did he see? That the God who is seated on the throne would wage war against all his enemies, defeat them all, and judge them all at the great white throne of judgment. He then will cast the trinity of evil and all who worship and serve the devil into the lake of fire. Oh, notice this highly symbolic language! But the reason it is so symbolic is that the reality is so deep and complex. I believe in an eternal hell to which God shall cast every unbeliever in Jesus Christ along with the devil and the demons. But his people shall be saved, and they shall dwell with God in a new heaven and a new earth.
Brothers and sisters, in God's sovereign will, he may permit his people to be killed by the devil, by the emperors of the world, and by the fury of wicked people of the world. That is a reality. But fear not; our Sovereign God is on the throne. He has given us eternal life, and we shall never perish. Let me assure you, the heart of history is the story of God's people. Everything else is background. We are God's painting; everything else is background. We are the handiwork of God, which he accomplishes in history. Why, then, are you anxious and worried and confused? The whole of history is about us.
In Revelation 21:1-5 John writes about the glorious destiny awaiting the people of God:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
John wrote down these things so that we can read them and receive great comfort. Let me ask you, then: Have you confessed him as your God and Lord and Savior? If not, I exhort you and plead with you to do so today. And those who have trusted in him, let us fall down and worship him. Let us cast our crowns before him, for what do we have that we have not received from him who is seated on the throne? To God be all glory!
When Handel's Messiah was first performed in London in 1743, there was a king in the audience-King George II. When he heard the "Hallelujah Chorus," this earthly king rose from his seat and stood with bowed head, acknowledging that not he but Jesus Christ alone is King of kings and Lord of lords. May we likewise confess and worship our God! And may we live the rest of our lives in service to him, that we may live with him in the new heaven and the new earth, where there is no pain nor death nor tears.
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Copyright © 2006, P. G. Mathew
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