Previous: Revelation 4:2

And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.- Revelation 4:3

In this heavenly scene there were many important beings. John's eye was drawn first to He who sat there. God the Father is seated on the throne. God the Holy Spirit is portrayed symbolically in the next verse, and God the Son is described in figurative language in the next chapter. (See more about the Trinity in the notes on Chapter 1, verses 4 through 6.)

John first explained how he perceived God on His throne by saying He was like a jasper. As mentioned near the beginning of this commentary, many figures of speech are employed in Revelation to describe things that are rarely or never experienced by our natural senses (see discussions of figurative language in Revelation notes for Chapter 1, verses 4-5 and 12). The Bible, and especially Revelation, contains many parables, allegories, metaphors, similes, and other methods that use symbolism. Once any symbol in prophecy is understood, it should point to a literal fulfillment.

Without symbolic language John could never have shared the extreme sensations he received or the deep emotions he experienced. The reader of Revelation (or the one who hears it read) should always keep in mind that the many symbolic aspects of the book will only partially convey what the Apostle actually saw and heard. When one thing is likened to something else, grammarians call the expression a "simile," meaning there is a similarity in some way between one thing and another. Describing God fully would surely be impossible, but one who has seen a vision of the Heavenly Father might at least try to compare certain aspects of His radiant glory to experiences he might have had in his natural encounters. Today a jasper is a valuable birthstone that is usually opaque and can be white or tinted with other colors, depending on the other chemicals it contains. However, Bible scholars often identify the jasper with a diamond, because when the word is employed in Revelation 21:11, the Heavenly Jerusalem is described as,

...having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. - Revelation 21:11

In addition, the construction of its walls was said to be of jasper, and the first foundation stone of the city was jasper (Revelation 21:18-19).

In the Old Testament, jasper was the last stone in the high priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:17-20).

In any case, the sparkling purity and beauty of the stone was John's first impression of the Father. This effulgence, referred to often in the Bible as the "glory of God," was all that a human could bear to see, since no mortal can see the face of God the Father and live (Exodus 33:20). Jesus, as the Son of God, told Philip that he could not at that time see the Father, but. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:8-9).

It is assumed that, in the future, in our glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-58) and with spiritual vision, we will be able to see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

To reinforce his impression of God's splendor, John added, "and a sardius stone in appearance." The sardius, better known by its later name, carnelian, is a translucent variety of orange-red quartz. It was the first stone prescribed for the high priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:17).

Some commentators relate this reddish-colored stone to the blood shed by Christ for our sins, but since it is meant to be descriptive here of the Father, the emphasis would be on the willingness of the Father to allow such a sacrifice. Of course, that is exactly what the Bible teaches in John 3:16, where it is said that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..."

In a third attempt to describe the brilliance of the God who literally is light (1 John 1:5), John reports another beautiful and colorful impression: "and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald." The Greek word for "rainbow" is iris.

This symphony of glorious lights emanating from the Father and His throne is parallel to Ezekiel's account of his vision of God.

And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. - Ezekiel 1:26-28

This unusual picture of a green rainbow differs from Ezekiel's vision. One may picture it as shades of green, but why would it be this color? Hal Lindsey suggests that the rainbow itself is symbolic of mercy, since it was instituted after the Flood of Noah's time as a promise that God would not destroy the earth again with water (Genesis 9:13-16). Lindsey wrote:

In the Bible the color green symbolizes life, and circles symbolize eternity. The circular, emerald colored rainbow therefore also pictures God's gift of eternal life which He will offer to those on earth even in the midst of the horrors of Tribulation judgment. (There's a New World Coming, Vision House Publishers, 1973, p. 84.)

This scene in Heaven takes place just before the beginning of the Tribulation Period. The evident purpose of showing it at this point is to assure us that God is still in control, and He is still just and loving. In later portions of Revelation the viewpoint shifts again from the troubled earth to the orderly work of Heaven for the same purpose.

Next: Revelation 4:4


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