“Behold!” is the most common command in the book of Revelation. The second is “Fear not!” It seems that to see what God wants you to see is the key to overcoming fear, perhaps the greatest danger that persecuted Christians face.
Revelation 4 begins with two admonitions to look. Having heard the words to the seven churches, John looks and sees an open door and he commands us to look as well. “Behold, a door standing open in heaven!” He goes through the open door and he see something else that he wants us to view with him, “behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. “
It is unfortunate that some modern translations mistranslate the command to look (or behold) in these verses by omitting the command altogether. In the midst of the chaos of life, it is essential that God’s people retain this vision of God. A God whose throne is surrounded by a rainbow, a promise that no final destruction will ever come upon His people (cf. Genesis 9:12-17). A God before whom there is perfect tranquility (4:6). In biblical times, the sea represented the forces of chaos and everything opposed to the will of God. The sea represents all that seeks to overwhelm God’s work. But when John sees the throne of heaven, he sees a sea not in chaos but perfectly still. In the presence of God, chaos and confusion is conquered.
John looks and he sees great worship taking place as all of creation, heaven and earth, cry out to the one who reigns. Heaven cries out continually, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" And twenty-four elders who represent the redeemed people of God cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."
These words by the twenty-four elders are politically loaded and no first-century Christian would have missed them. The very first words “Worthy are you” were the same words that the Roman emperor was greeted with in the ritual that began his triumphal processions, where he would be publicly praised for his great victories over his enemies. The phrase, “our Lord and God” were exactly the same words that Roman emperors had begun to be referred by. In effect, the twenty-four elders were saying, “There is one who is worthy to receive glory, honor and power. One who may rightfully be addressed as ‘our Lord and God’” and it is not Caesar! And whereas it was the Roman custom to worship the empty throne of the emperor, worshiping his religious presence, in God’s heaven, the throne is filled and His worshippers dare not even utter His name in reverence! And He will not suffer a rival!
This vision of heaven is, therefore, both a confession of faith and a mighty challenge.[i] God’s people are called to be the best citizens that a country can have but they can never be unconditionally patriotic. When the state or society makes claims on the Christian that only should be given to God, the believer has no choice but to disobey and be prepared to face the consequences of being marked as an “enemy of the state” or of society. Isolation, hostility, discrimination, and various kinds of suffering can be expected. But the call of the believer is to “look” and to acknowledge who is on the throne and to refuse to acknowledge any other, regardless of the cost. Despite the chaos that comes into our life because of our confession, we know that He is in control and that in His presence is peace and that nothing comes into our life that does not first pass through His hands. And we are assured that no final destruction can come upon us for He is a God who keeps His promises.
[i] Hanns Lilje, 1957. The Last Book of the Bible. translated by Olive Wyon. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press.