In reading through Revelation the past several days, something became clear to me that I have never seen before:
Revelation 4 and 5 are clearly Trinitarian and covenantal.
The Holy Spirit
We must first begin by noting that all that is seen of the heavenly throne is a result of John being “in the Spirit” (Rev 4:2). We sometimes take this phrase for granted because it is so often used in Scripture and in the speech of the Church. However, we must take a closer look at this phrase to see how it is referring to a divine encounter.
In the Trinitarian controversies of the early Church, it was common for heretics to teach that the Holy Spirit was (1) a creature; and (2) “a” spirit and not sharing the same nature as the Father and the Son. In their polemical works against these teachings, Athanasius and Didymus the Blind, fathers in the Alexandrian church, devoted themselves to the witness of Scripture. Athanasius writes:
So then, in those passages where it is the Holy Spirit, it is not ambiguous that the Holy Spirit is signiied even if only “the Spirit” is said without a modifier added to it, especially since it has the definite article. – Works on the Spirit, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Yonkers, NY 2011.
Moreover, when we speak of being “in the Spirit”, Didymus the Blind notes the following:
It is also said that certain people are filled with the Holy Spirit, but it is never said, either in the Scriptures or in our habitual way of speaking, that anyone is filled with a creature. For neither Scripture nor ordinary language sanctions saying that someone is filled with an angel, with a throne, with a dominion. For this way of speaking is only appropriate for the divine nature. (Ibid,)
This is how we speak of a divine nature. Therefore, when John says that he is “In the Spirit”, he is referring to the indwelling of a divine person, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the one inspiring his words, and guiding the vision that John has.
You will notice that I am speaking of each of the persons out of their typical order. I am conscious of this but am doing so to maintain the way each person is presented in the text. In Revelation 4, the heavenly throne is revealed to John and he sees One who is sitting on the throne (Rev. 4:2). The natural question here becomes: who is sitting on the throne? We see in v. 9 that the living creatures give honor and glory to the One who sits on the throne, and the twenty-four elders fall down in worship of Him. We know this cannot be a creature, for no created thing which dwells in Heaven would be worthy of such worship. Moreover, the living creatures in v. 8 sing the thrice-holy hymn to God. It doesn’t say explicitly that they are singing to the one on Throne and identifying him as God; however, since in v.9 they are giving glory and honor to the one on the throne, we reasonably assume that they are doing so through the hymn they are singing. This is further evidenced by the elders casting their crowns before the throne and calling him Lord (v.11).
The elders say that the one on the throne “created all things” and by His “will they exist and were created.” We see that He had an appearance like jasper and sardius, gems that were on the priest’s garments (see Exodus 28 and the description of the priestly garments (more on this later). There is also a rainbow around his throne (more on this later).
Given the above, we see that a person of the Triune Godhead is in view here. We see acts of creation and covenant here ascribed and we see authority given, as He sits on the throne. We know that God the Son, the Incarnate Logos, sits on the right hand of the Throne (Psalm 110:1) and takes the book out of the right hand of the one who sits on the throne (Rev 5:7). The one sitting on the throne is God the Father, Creator and the one who makes covenant, who holds all authority, power, and dominion over heaven and earth.
As we move to Revelation 5, we see another figure here portrayed, the only one who is worthy to open the book. No one else is worthy to do so in Heaven or on Earth; this suggests a unique figure, neither an angel nor a human. He is described as a lamb, as the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, and so on. These are typically messianic images. For this reason, we can say that this is a description of the Logos, God the Son, according to his humanity. He is the one whom all the elders – representing the Church in the Old and New Covenants – say is worthy to receive glory and power and all other attributes in v.13.
Which brings us to our next point…
The Covenant of Grace
In this passage, we see covenant imagery appear over and over. First, the rainbow around the throne suggests the sign of the Covenant with Noah; God said he would place his bow in the sky to remind Noah of the covenant. We see also the description of the one on the throne as like the gemstones placed on the vestments of the Aaronic priesthood of the Mosaic Covenant. We see also kingly language ascribed to the one who opens the book, not only in the praise offered before him, but also in the fact that he grants kingly and priestly authority to the ones before the throne. This suggests the Davidic Covenant. Because the Lamb can do what no other can do and because all the elders (who represent the church throughout the ages) could not open the book, we see that the covenants all served the one Covenant of Grace: all are directed to Christ and all are subservient to him. He is the one Mediator who is able to do what none other can and is the hope of those gathered around the throne. The covenant which God the Father has made, under the mediatorial dominion of the the Son, and revealed in and by the Spirit, is the one which is mighty to save and to do what none other can do.