“The One sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled His throne like a rainbow.”
Revelation 4:3 NLT
John’s glimpse through the door of Heaven must have been amazing. Apparently just inside the door was a throne, and his eyes fixed, as far as they were able, on the Person sitting there, a Person who must have been God. And this is where his ability to communicate what he saw started to struggle. The only way he could make sense of the vision was to compare it with precious stones. And shining through those stones was light. Lots of it. Making them glow and sparkle with a brilliance almost too bright to bear. John, a one time fisherman, would not have had ready access to precious stones but he must have been knowledgeable enough to know what they were.
What about these precious stones? Jasper is a naturally occurring, silicate based, piece of quartz, that can be found in several different colours, caused by whatever minerals were in its presence when it was formed. So we have red, yellow, green, occasionally blue, stones with manifestations of streaks or spots. It is translucent but not clear. Apparently, it may have been two of the gemstones included on the Old Testament Jewish High Priest’s breastplate. Carnelian is another naturally occurring, silica based mineral, coloured with varying amounts of iron oxide that give it colours extending from pale yellow to the deepest reds. Again, it was a translucent, rather than clear, semi-precious stone much used for jewellery. It was also the first stone on the High Priest’s breastplate.
So we get the picture of God’s appearance to John as being like these gemstones, multicoloured and with an extremely bright light source behind them, so bright that it made God glow with a presence and appearance formed by the gemstones. God’s appearance must have been substantial enough for John to recognise who He was – it wasn’t just an amorphous blob he saw – but like nothing on earth that he had ever seen before. I think of the quartz pebbles commonly found on Scottish beaches – they are white and semi-translucent and, when held up to the light, pass enough of it through to make them glow. But with Heavenly light behind them they would have been transformed into something else altogether. But John did his best to describe what he saw. Imagine the difficulty someone would have describing a mobile smartphone a century ago to their next door neighbour. Much of the description would be incomprehensible because the knowledge would not have been there to describe 5G communication, digital data, Apps for messaging and so on. Even batteries, so powerful and small, would have been a marvel. John saw something no man had seen before, through that Heavenly door – one day we too will get a chance to see it.
Finally, John described the glow of an emerald. This is another silicate based gemstone. There are often inclusions of minerals introducing flaws in the stone, but sometimes emeralds can be clear and flawless, with a greenish colour. But an emerald does not glow on its own, so again the light source behind it would have made it appear to glow. This would have been a special light, perhaps combined with the physical form of the emerald, making all the colours of the rainbow encircle the throne.
So what does a modern pilgrim make of all this? Well, this initial glimpse precedes a rolling exposure of Heaven, which we will see in the coming weeks, as Jesus and His servant angels reveal this wonderful place to John. In reality, I think Heaven will be amazing. I’m sure John only got a glimpse of a fraction of it – it will be incomprehensible to a human being. Through the grace of God, John received a revelation, a hint, of what Heaven will be like. But here’s the thing – there will be many pilgrims there. Let’s make sure we will be in their company.
Dear Lord. We know Heaven will be a wonderful place because You live there. Please help us on our journeys, as we draw nearer and nearer to be with You. Amen.