Numbers in the book of Revelation have been debated for years. Whether they are meant literally or metaphorically can be discussed endlessly, with few incontrovertible conclusions reached. In Revelation 4:1-11, we see twenty-four thrones and twenty-four elders as well as God’s throne; we also see four living creatures covered with eyes alongside seven lamps blazing who are identified with the seven spirits of God. What are we to make of all these numbers?

It’s impossible to be dogmatic about these things. Seven is usually understood as the number signifying completeness or perfection, and the ‘seven spirits of God’ may refer back to Isaiah 11, indicating different aspects of God’s Spirit. The four living creatures have been identified with different aspects of the four gospels, but given their similarity to the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel (Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1) may well refer to angelic beings who worship God for His holiness and majesty. The twenty-four thrones and twenty-four elders refer to angels according to some commentators, but their white robes, gold crowns and prostrate worship may also represent the whole of God’s people, with the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of the New Testament acting as a representative body of all those who have been saved by God.

What is clear, however, is that these creatures are not the focus of the vision. The focus of the vision is God’s throne; these creatures worship God ceaselessly. Worship, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, is the serious business of heaven. Worship of God relates to who He is (‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come’ Rev 4:8) and to what He has done (‘for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being’ Rev 4:11). We can start our worship now by declaring these truths aloud in the presence of God.