“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:17
The throne-room scene of Revelation 4 and 5 becomes very significant when it is understood in the larger context of a cosmic conflict:
“According to the war-in-heaven theme, the throne of God is contested territory…John’s vision of the throne and of the One who sits on the throne recalls the initiation of the conflict and the ambition expressed [by the adversary].” (1)
You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the uttermost height of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” (Is 14:13,14 NIV)
The throne room imagery is meant to draw our attention to a conflict over who has a right to sit on the throne. “In the context of the Apocalypse as a whole, it is clear that the problem facing the heavenly council is the rebellion of Satan which is paralleled by rebellion on earth. Chapter five presupposes the old story of Satan’s rebellion against God which leads to the fall of creation.” (2)
In this context of a contested throne, it is significant to consider the emphasis that Revelation puts on Jesus being at the center of the throne. After the Lamb is declared worthy to open the seals, John proclaims, “Then I saw a Lamb standing in the center of the throne” (Rev 5:6). Some have suggested that the term “middle” might be a more accurate translation. This “center” or “middle” echoes from Ezekiel’s vision that parallels Revelation 5 in so many ways. Both passages involve a throne room scene, four living creatures, and a “middle” where “a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber” (Eze 1:4 NRSV).
Later in Ezekiel, Satan is described as one who used to dwell in this coveted “middle” place. “I ordained and appointed you as the mighty angelic guardian. You had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among (or, “in the middle of”) the stones of fire” (Ezekiel 28:14 NLT). According to Sigve Tonstad, “Ezekiel’s inaugural vision (chapter 1) and the poem about the ‘covering cherub’ (chapter 28) occupy common ground: in both instances attention is riveted on the fiery middle…Revelation’s story of cosmic conflict is conditioned not only by the spatial parameters of Ezekiel’s inaugural vision but also by the plot described in Ezekiel, that is, the story of the ‘covering cherub’ who was a part of the intimate and privileged circle in the ‘middle’ but is no longer there.” (3)
In this context then, when we arrive at the description of the 144,000 in Revelation 7, how significant it is that for these individuals, “the Lamb, who is in the center of the throne, will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to the springs of life-giving water” (Rev 7:17). Lucifer once dwelled in the coveted middle place of God’s very presence, but now members of the fallen human race, represented by the symbolic number 144,000, stand in this middle place before God’s throne and “He who sits on the throne will protect then with his presence” (Rev 7:15).
What does it mean to dwell in “his presence”, the “middle,” or “center” of the throne room? When we consider the mudslinging that the adversary has used to destroy God’s reputation, it becomes clear that we worship whoever we believe to dwell in the “middle” of the throne of God. It is our conception of God’s character that has been at the heart of this “middle” of the throne, even though only One with the characteristics of a Slain Lamb should rightfully occupy this place. Tonstad has noted that “mudslinger is a faithful translation of the Greek [word] diabolos” used for Satan. (4)
Satan has certainly contested the throne of God and succeeded to a large degree. Daniel described the satanic power as growing “strong enough to attack the army of heaven, the stars themselves, and it threw some of them to the ground and trampled on them. It even defied the Prince of the heavenly army” (Dan 8:10,11 GNB); John said that “the whole world is under the rule of the Evil One” (1 John 4:9 GNB); and Paul has perhaps the clearest reference to the battle over the right to sit on the throne when he said, “the Wicked One…will oppose every so-called god or object of worship and will put himself above them all. He will even go in and sit down in God’s Temple and claim to be God” (2 Thess 2:3,4 GNB). The book of Revelation describes the counterfeit as so subtle that “Everyone worshiped the dragon” (Rev 13:4 GNB). Yet Revelation also promises us that the Slain Lamb will once again occupy the center of the throne worshiped by the universe.
What do we discover about God’s character when we cut through all of the misrepresentations and catch a glimpse of this great middle place? In the book of Revelation, the One who has a right to sit “in the middle” has a very unique appearance – He is not just a Lamb, He is a slaughtered Lamb. “The slaughtered Lamb reveals the character of God in the context of the cosmic conflict.” (5) The center of the throne is occupied by selfless love personified, a love that would go to the farthest extreme – even to the point of death – in order to save others. That is the heart of God, clearly seen in the life and death of Jesus. For all the things that could be said about the 144,000, one stands out more than any other: enthroned in their minds is Jesus Christ as the perfect reflection of God’s character.
- Saving God’s Reputation, Sigve Tonstad, pg 118
- Apocalypse, Yarbo Collins, pg 39
- Saving God’s Reputation, Sigve Tonstad, pg 121
- Saving God’s Reputation, Sigve Tonstad, pg 72
- Saving God’s Reputation, Sigve Tonstad, pg 141