Teaching series from Revelation

Why Does God Have the Right to Rule?

Revelation 4:1-5:14

Teaching t23015


Briefly review the fact that Revelation is the record of four visions that John received from Jesus. We have spent the first four weeks covering the first vision, which was a revelation of the risen Jesus and His dictation of letters to seven churches in western Turkey (chapters 1-3). The second vision is the longest vision (4-16), most of which (6-16) describes the end of the age, the final period of human history as we know it. As we will see next week, God will invade human history at the end of the age—to punish His enemies and to establish His rulership over all humanity.

But this vision begins (4,5), not with God invading the earth, but with God being worshipped in heaven—by human beings, angelic beings, and all of creation. Why? Is this just an arbitrary glimpse into a heavenly worship service? What is the connection between this section and the rest of this vision? The answer is given in 5:2a (read). The scroll (as we will see) represents the judgments of chapters 6-16. So the question being raised is: “Who has the right to rule humanity?” or more specifically: “Why does God have the right to rule?”

Secular philosophies answer: “God does not have the right. Humans alone have that right.” Monarchies, Marxism, democracy and technocracy differ on how humans should rule—but they all insist on human sovereignty over human history.

Radical Islam insists that Allah alone has the right to rule, and (wrongly) tries to impose Islamic law, but it gives no reason for this (only infidels ask for a reason).

The God of the Bible says that He alone has this right, and that one day He will exercise it. But He also gives reasons for why He has this right. That’s why 6-16 are preceded by 4,5. Before God predicts how He will bring human rule to an end, He gives three reasons why this is fair and just. His reasons are given through the content of the worshipers. Let’s see what they are...

God on His throne

Read 4:1-7. Notice the emphasis on God’s throne (8 times). God needs no literal throne because He has no physical body and therefore no need for help to support His weight. “Throne” signifies authority to rule; this vision is emphasizing God’s authority to rule.

The phenomena surrounding the throne (brilliant colored stones in 4:3; lightning and thunder in 4:5; sea of glass in 4:6) all describe the unique majesty of God. The Roman Emperor Domitian (who exiled John) sat in a resplendent throne-room and was dressed in impressive clothing. His herald announced his presence with the words, “You are worthy, our Lord and our God.” But what John sees makes the Emperor look like a street urchin sitting on a Porta-Pot!

The 24 elders probably represent all believers (white garments—see 3:5,18)—both before (12 nations of Israel) and after (12 apostles) Christ’s first coming. The 4 living creatures probably represent unfallen angels (see the seraphim of Ezek.1 and their association with God’s glory).

What follows are two expressions of worship to God which give us two important reasons why God has the right to rule.

Read 4:8. Yes, God has the right to rule because He is authoritative (“Lord”) and supremely powerful (“Almighty”). But the emphasis in their praise is on God’s holiness (syntax; 3 times as superlative—“the holiest of all”). “Holy” means “different/unique”—and it refers here primarily to God’s unique moral superiority. God has the right to impose His rule on the earth because He is the only morally perfect Being in the universe.

The God of the Bible is not simply a God of raw power, unbridled by moral character—“tyrants” (EXAMPLES). Their moral bankruptcy is what makes their rules so hellish. That’s why the dictum “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” is true of all human rulers. But it does not apply to the God of the Bible, because He exercises His absolute power with perfect righteousness.

His understanding of good and evil are perfect, and His hatred of evil and His love of good are also perfect.

His discernment of human hearts is perfect. His analysis of not only of our deeds, but also of our motives, what we would do, etc. is perfect.

His patience is perfect, and His timing in judgment is also perfect. In fact, in view of how holy God is and how much evil and injustice there is in human history, the “problem” is why God hasn’t intervened already. But God has good reasons for waiting, as we will see next week.

Read 4:9-11. Here is the second reason why God is has the right to rule—because He is the Creator who owns and cares for His creation.

If I go to an art gallery and destroy a sculpture I don’t like, I will be rightfully arrested and punished. Why? Because the only one who has the right to do this is the sculptor who created the sculpture. But if this is valid for a sculptor who didn’t even create the materials he used, how much more valid is it for God who created everything? This is exactly what God argued before He brought judgment on the nation of Israel (read Isa.45:9,11a,12).

More specifically, God has the right to intervene in judgment on humanity to prevent humanity from destroying the world He created. Our culture has slandered the God of the Bible as an enemy of nature—an ecological Nightmare who gave humans the license to rape and exploit nature. Actually, the God of the Bible calls His creation “good,” and He gave humans the responsibility to care for His Creation. He commanded Israel to care for their animals and for their land, and He judged them (at least in part) for violating His ecological rules. As we will see next week, God will intervene at the end of the age to “destroy those who destroy the earth” (11:18). And His kingdom on earth will restore nature to the beauty He designed for it.

The Lion and the scroll

Now the scene shifts to introduce another character and provides another reason why God has the right to rule—the scene of the Lion and the scroll.

Read 5:1,2. As we saw earlier, this scroll signifies the events that happen in the rest of this vision (chapters 6-16): God’s plan to defeat rebellious human rulers and their subjects, God’s plan to defeat the demonic rulers and to destroy the evil spiritual system they have created. It is God’s plan for the rescue and consummation of fallen human history. Read 5:3,4. John weeps because it appears that no one is worthy to implement God’s plan—and therefore human history will have no righteous conclusion, but will be “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Read 5:5. “The Lion from Judah” and the “Root of David” are both Old Testament terms for God’s Messiah who would one day establish God’s righteous rulership over the world (read Gen.49:10; Isa.11:1,4,9b). Notice that this Lion has already won a great victory that qualifies Him to intervene and rule the earth. What is this victory?

When John looks to see the victorious Lion, he sees someone whose appearance is very different from a Lion (read 5:6,7). Lambs in the Old Testament were used as a symbol of the necessity of a blameless sacrifice to pay for human sin. Isaiah predicted that a unique Person would come one day who would be God’s Lamb—One who would live the perfect life we owe to God, and voluntarily lay His life down to pay for our sins (read Isa.53:6-8). This Lamb, of course, is Jesus—which is why John the Baptist introduced Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Jn.1:29). The point is that Jesus has the right to reign as God’s Lion because he has already come as God’s Lamb.

Here is the third (and most amazing) reason why God has the right to impose His rule on humanity: because He has already paid the ultimate price to save humanity. Just as a surgeon who has sacrificed greatly to save lives can be trusted to amputate a limb if necessary, so we can trust God to intervene radically because He has sacrificed His Son to save our lives. There is nothing remotely like this in any other religion! 5:8-14 further exalts Jesus for it (read).

Do you see how this vision emphasizes the deity of Jesus? In 5:8, the angels fall down before Jesus as they did before God in 4:10. In 5:9,12, the heavenly host sings: “You are worthy” of Jesus as they sang of God in 4:11. And in 5:13, all creation worships both God and Jesus (“to Him...and to the Lamb”). This is one of many passages (in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament) that reveal that God is a community of Persons who have always loved one another, and who have always had a plan to rescue fallen humanity (quote 1Pet.1:19,20).

Jesus is worthy to bring human history to God’s conclusion because He died to pay for all of humanity’s sins—and because people from every ethnic group will benefit from His payment. Only after Jesus paid for this gift, only after news of it goes out to the whole world, and only after some from every ethnic group actually receive this gift will the Lamb who was slain return as the Lion who will rule.

As we begin NEXT WEEK to study the end of the age—and many of the disturbing and terrible events that are part of it—keep coming back to chapters 4 and 5 to remember why God has the rightthe right to rule (SUMMARIZE).

Personal application

Before we conclude this morning, we need to switch from the wide-angle lens to the telephoto—from God’s relationship with humanity to God’s relationship with you and me individually. God never views humanity as a faceless mass—He knows each one of us individually. So when we ask if God has the right to rule humanity, we must also ask this same question personally: “Will I embrace God’s rule over my life?”

God alone has the right to rule your life. The same reasons Rev. 4,5 gives for why God has the right to rule humanity apply to why God has the right to rule your life.

Because He created you, He knows the purpose for which you were made. And only embracing His rule can you discover and experience that purpose.

Because Jesus the Lamb has loved you enough to die for you, you can trust Him that He will not exploit you, but that He will rule your life for your good.

How can you embrace God’s rule? The Bible gives two answers to this question—the first is a one-time decision, and the second is an ongoing decision.

The first decision is not to do something for Him—but to ask Him to do something for you. The first step is to choose to receive His gift of forgiveness. Read 7:9,10,13,14. This is a description of people who belong to God, who will be in His kingdom forever, who are praising Him for saving them. Their white robes are a symbol of their right standing before God. What gave them this status? Did they live perfect lives? Did they clean themselves up by their moral will-power? No, they “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb?” They admitted that their lives were stained and guilty with sin, that they could not cleanse themselves, and they asked God to wash/forgive them through Jesus’ death. Will you make this same decision? Will you admit to God that your life is stained by your sins so badly that it beyond your attempts to cleanse it? Will you ask Him to wash/forgive you completely and permanently through Jesus’ death—or will you (by default) refuse His gift and remain guilty before Him? Why not make this decision today?

Once we have been forgiven and given this permanent status, we are simply to present ourselves to God so He can work through us. Read Rom.6:13. What a humbling verse this is! We like to think of ourselves as powerful beings who are used by no one, but this verse says we are “instruments,” persons who are used by another—either used by sin as instruments for evil and disorder, or used by God as instruments for His love and goodness. Our natural default is to allow sin to use us—but now we can choose to allow God to use us. Day by day, situation by situation, we can consciously place ourselves in God’s hands and ask Him to work through us as instruments of healing. We can say: “God, I am Your servant. I have no power to do good—but I choose to place myself in Your hands so that you can do good through me. Have your way in this situation, Lord.” This is how we embrace God’s rule once we have been washed by the blood of the Lamb.

See The Life Application Bible, Revelation, p.58. This was the practice of many Greco-Roman rulers, who were considered to be divine. Their imperial courts were cosmically decorated, their attendants sang songs of worship to them, and they dispensed justice over their empires by using a scroll. See a summary of these parallels in Marvin Pate, ed., Four Views on the Book of Revelation (Zondervan, 1998), p.144.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5.