After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
(Revelation 4:1-8, ESV)
John gave a picture of the churches from the time after Christ's first advent in chapters 2 and 3. Now the angel replays the history of the church from the perspective of the heavenly throne room. The angel tells John, "I will show you what must take place after this." -- meaning this is the next vision rather than what takes place next or after in the time sequence of Revelation 2-3.
Each of the images describe God metaphorically. God is not a jasper, but is like a jasper in his purity. The jasper is described as clear and quite possibly we know it as a diamond. The carnelian is red which shows God's avenging wrath. A rainbow frames God's throne, and the principle color is emerald green -- which color associated most frequently in ancient times with the rainbow. The rainbow brings to mind God's grace and mercy. This picture of God is not merely a "Jesus meek and mild" picture. God is not simply reduced to one adjective, but many perfect attributes in his being and personality. God is at once pure, wrathful, gracious and merciful. Not a politically correct God, nor a tame God we can control.
Before God are elders who fall down and worship him. We don't know who these elders are, but their number, twenty-four, is a pair of two twelves, which symbolically point to the whole of humanity, both Old Testament and New Testament, that worship God. There are twelve elders that represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve elders that represent the twelve apostles that are the foundation of the post advent church. Their purity is shown in the white garments, their crowns show victory and joy before the throne of God.
Lightning, thunder proceed from the throne of God, showing his righteous power that will avenge his people. The Holy Spirit is present at God's throne. There is a sea in front of God. The sea was the source of demonic power to ancient Israel -- but the sea is tamed by God, made perfect and glass like. God is in perfect control.
Four creatures fly around the throne of God. Their descriptions draw from the major animal groups of the ancient world. The number four is associated with the earth and the created order (the four compass points, the four corners of the world, etc.). The creatures are covered with eyes indicating they see everything in God's creation and sing praise to God.
This image of heaven, with God reigning, is quite a contrast to how things appear to us on earth. God is reigning and all of God's attributes are involved in his rule. God's power, wrath, grace, purity -- all are perfectly involved in his rule, and heaven declares his holiness and glory.
In my daily life I often forget how God is reigning -- in fact I confess that I do not even at my best moments appreciate how God does rule and reign. I am influenced by my mercurial moods throughout the day, by my personal petty successes and failures, only dimly aware the God is reigning in such splendor. What a lifetime we can spend in refining our delight in God's glory, because on this side of heaven we only see in part.
My prayer is to more contemplate the glory of God in his splendor, to more glorify God, and more fully enjoy him forever. Our God reigns!