And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.…
It is a curious fact that the last book of the Bible is, upon the whole, the most mysterious. It has been said that John Calvin evinced his wisdom by declining to write an exposition of this book. To a great extent the book is prophetical; but other parts are doctrinal, and these it is our privilege to endeavour to understand.
I. THE THRONE ITSELF. "Behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat upon it." St. John's vision in Patmos reminds us of the vision of Micaiah in the reign of Jehoshaphat. "I saw the Lord," says he, "sitting on His throne and all the host of heaven standing by Him, on His right hand and on His left." This part of the chapter may be considered as bringing before us the sovereignty of the Lord God Almighty. God is no epicurean, taking no interest in the welfare of His creatures: God is King of all the earth. His sceptre is a sceptre of righteousness. To acknowledge the existence of a God is, in point of fact, to acknowledge the supremacy of His reign. Having created all things He governs all things.
1. The sovereignty of God is universal in its extent. "His kingdom ruleth over all" — over angels, men, and devils, over the good and the bad, over birds and beasts anal creeping things, over mountains and mole-hills, storms and sunshine, peace and war, plague and pestilence, abundance and famine, great events and little ones. All are subservient to His governance and submissive to His power.
2. The sovereignty of God is not only universal in its extent, but is also independent and absolute. "As He receives His essence from none so He derives His dominion from none," says old Stephen Charnock. His right to reign has not been won by war, or obtained by bribery: it is not the bequest of some predecessor or the gift of some superior. He is not a King by the votes of the vassals whom He governs, but by His own eternal excellence and by His own omnific acts. As a sovereign whose dominion is absolute you see Him continuously sustaining creation when He might, in an instant, suffer it to relapse into its primeval nothingness. You see Him redeeming men, promulgating laws, instituting rites, and appointing conditions, without the observance of which sinners cannot be saved. "He doeth according to His will."
3. Let me add that whilst the government of God is universal and absolute, it is not tyrannical, but wise and pure and just and good. "Clouds and darkness are round about Him" often, but at all times "righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne." His throne is a throne of holiness. We may often be puzzled by His proceedings: we ought never to murmur and malign. I would remind you of the fearful position of the man who dares to rebel against such a King. Of all the creatures in God Almighty's wide creation, except the lost in hell, man is the only one in whose heart lurks rebellion. Woe to the man that strives against his Maker! Pharaoh ventured to do that until Pharaoh and his legions sank in helplessness just at the moment when they were anticipating victory. Nebuchadnezzar set himself against God, the result being that Nebuchadnezzar became a wild and wandering maniac. Man cannot sin against such a sovereign as this with impunity, without his sin entailing punishment sooner or later. Do not forget that you are not your own and, therefore, you have no right to live for your own aggrandisement and gratification. God governs the universe. Yes, and let us not forget that God our Governor is infinite in greatness and also in goodness, and if so, then in our direst emergencies we may venture safely to repose trust in Him. We may be mean and miserable, but do not forget that God's sovereignty takes cognisance of everything God's power has made. If there is nothing too little for God to make, there is nothing too little for God to govern.
II. Leaving the throne itself, LOOK AT THE RAINBOW WHICH SPANS IT. "There was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald." The rainbow round about the throne naturally leads us to contemplate God as entering into a covenant engagement with man. Glorious is the fact that God not only rules as a sovereign, but in infinite condescension He has made covenants with His creatures which He cannot break. "I will make a covenant of peace with thee," says God by the prophet Ezekiel, "and it shall be an everlasting covenant." Oh, how infinite is condescension like this l God the uncreated, the infinite, the all-perfect Being exercising universal sovereignty, binds Himself by promises to bless. Man makes leagues and covenants, and then snaps them asunder at his pleasure. God's covenants and compacts, like Himself, are unchangeable. "The mountains shall depart, and the hills shall be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, nor the covenant of My peace be broken." Oh, for faith in these compacts which God has made with man! After daily trusting in consonants made by mortals like yourselves, will you dare to call in question the truthfulness of compacts God has made? God promises me a pardon through Jesus Christ if I seek it in penitence and faith. Shall I question God's readiness to fulfil that promise? God promises finally a mansion, a throne; and shall I doubt His readiness and His ability to fulfil His covenant? Did He fail me when I came to Him a burdened penitent for the pardon of my sins? Patriarchs, prophets, and others believed the covenant not because they had seen it verified, but simply because God's own living lips had uttered it; and, if so, shall I, with the experience of six thousand years before me, dare to doubt it? God forbid!
III. Leaving the rainbow which spans the throne, let us go, in the third place, to THE LIGHTNINGS AND THUNDERINGS AND VOICES COMING OUT OF IT (ver. 3). The lightnings and thunderings and voices coming out of the throne bring us a step farther in the history of the Divine Being, and leads us to contemplate Him as a great Lawgiver — a Lawgiver issuing precepts for the guidance and discipline of man's probationary being. This part of the chapter reminds us of the scene which was witnessed on Mount Sinai, as you will find if you turn to the 19th chapter of Exodus, beginning at the 16th verse. Oh, that we could make you unconverted sinners to feel in the presence of this legislative God as these Hebrews did! Let me say that in order to be saved you must first of all, to some extent at least, have an experience like that to which I am now adverting. Do not imagine that you are in a fit frame of mind to come and ask God for pardon until you feel the terrors of that God whose laws were published on Mount Sinai in sounds and voices so terrific. Issuing from the legislative mount, thunders and voices and flashing lightning scare them, and they are made willing to be saved on any terms, at any sacrifice.
IV. I pass to the fourth point, namely, THE SEA OF GLASS AND THE SEVEN LAMPS OF FIRE BEFORE THE THRONE (vers. 5, 6). I will simply say that by the sea of glass we are reminded of a text in the Book of Exodus — the 38th chapter, beginning at the 17th verse: "The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Thou shalt also make a laver of brass," etc. Accordingly, we are told in the 8th verse of the 38th chapter of Exodus, that Moses made a laver of brass of the brazen looking-glasses presented by the women. Then, again, you will remember that when Solomon built his temple, he also made a similar laver capable of containing twenty-two thousand gallons, and he designated that laver a molten sea. It is intended to typify the provision that has been made for the sanctification of sinners in the sacrifice and death of Jesus Christ. Then as respects the seven lamps of fire which are the seven spirits of God, I have as little doubt that that is symbolical language intended to signify the sanctifying agency of the Holy Ghost. I will just remind you that the word "seven" in the Scriptures is a sacred number, and is often used in the same sense as the word "perfection." The word "horn" is often used to signify authority, power; the word "eye" to signify intelligence, wisdom, light. Now blend all these things together, and then you learn from these symbolical texts that the Spirit of Christ is possessed of perfect wisdom and perfect power, and is sent forth into all the earth. Apply all that to the Holy Ghost, and you will find it strictly true. The Holy Ghost is an all-perfect Spirit. He is the Spirit of the Son as well as of the Father, and He is sent forth into all the earth, for the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. We have just now been reminded, by the lightnings and thunderings and voices coming out of the throne, of the law which God published in the days of Moses, and of our transgression of that law, and of our need of a Mediator to obtain for us pardon and purity. And here, in the sea of glass and in the seven lamps of fire, our necessities are fully met. In the blood of the Mediator atonement is made for our transgressions, and in the agency of the Holy Ghost provision is made for the removal of our darkness and depravity and sin. As a sinner exposed to the wrath of God — "Wherewithal shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God?" How shall I gain access to His mercy-seat? How shall I enter the tabernacle in which He dwells? Before Moses and Aaron were allowed to avail themselves of bliss like this they had to wash in the brazen sea; and I also must wash in the sea of glass, or, in other words, in that fountain which has been opened in the House of David for sin and for uncleanness. Without the blood there is no admission into heaven, just as without the molten sea there was no admission into the temple's tartest holy place; and without the Spirit we are without the wish to wash in the cleansing blood, and, in point of fact, despise it.
V. And now, as a result of the whole, let us look at THE HOLY ONES BY WHICH THE THRONE, SET AND ESTABLISHED IN THE HEAVENS, IS SURROUNDED. "And round about the throne were four-and-twenty seats; and upon the seats I saw four-and-twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold." Good old James Kershaw, one of John Wesley's itinerant preachers, lays it down with authority that these elders — these grand seniors of heaven, as he calls them, mean the four-and-twenty elders or presbyters from the patriarchal age, from Adam to Jacob, and including Job and Melchizedek. I am not going to controvert it, but there are one or two other kindred interpretations, perhaps, equally to be commended; for instance, some of you are well aware that king David divided the Jewish priests into twenty-four divisions, and at the head of each division placed a prince or chief priest; and some think that when the text speaks of four-and-twenty elders, there is a reference to these twenty-four priests or princes of the priests belonging to the Jewish Church. Another interpretation says that the four-and-twenty elders are intended to signify the heads of the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and that these twenty-four constitute the elders of the Jewish and Christian Churches united. Any one of them will serve my present purpose, namely, to show that as a consequence of God's care of His creatures, and of His sovereignty, and of His covenant engagements, and of His legislative acts, and of His redeeming mercy — as a consequence of this, I find men in heaven — men who were once sinners. All this has a tendency to strengthen our confidence and our faith in God — in His ability and willingness to bring us safe to the realms of blessedness and peace.
Parallel VersesKJV: And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.