For the past few studies I’ve been looking at what John saw in chapter four of the Apocalypse. In Revelation 4:3 John saw someone sitting on the throne, and that One had a likeness of “a jasper and a sardine stone”. These two stones were the first and last stones that were on the Breastplate of Judgment (cf. Exodus 28:15-20), which seems to point to the One on the throne in the context of his being the Judge. It also may be equivalent to the words: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, says the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). In such a case, the One seated on the throne would be Almighty God, and, as we shall see in the next series of studies in Revelation 5, this is exactly who this is. The phrase alpha and omega represents the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet, so this would be similar to jasper and sardine stones being the first and last stones on the Breastplate of Judgment.
In addition to the above, the stones mentioned point to the breastplate worn by the high priest, when he judged Israel (Exodus 28:21, 29). In other words, the Almighty One sitting on the throne was to look upon as the High Priest, ready to judge his people (cf. 1Peter 4:5).
Most, if not all commentaries (I haven’t found one that differs) interpret the stones to mean the first and last son of Jacob, Reuben and Benjamin. That is, they interpret the order of the stones on the Breastplate of Judgment in the order in which the sons of Jacob were born. However, there is another way to interpret this, and I think it may be significant. I believe the first and last stones represent the order of the tribes on their journeys. The first to leave camp was Judah (Numbers 10:14), and the last tribe to leave was Naphtali (Numbers 10:27-28). In other words what characterized the life of the One on the throne was praise (Judah) and struggle or wrestling (Naphtali). One can hardly read a chapter in the Gospel narratives and not understand that Jesus was praised by his brethren (Numbers 10:14; cf. Genesis 49:8-12) and was deeply involved in an intense struggle with his enemies (Numbers 10:27-28). Yet, his life and the message he brought were beautiful (cf. Genesis 49:21).
On the other hand, if the stones do represent the order of Jacob’s sons, the Reuben would represent Jesus’ affliction or his suffering (Genesis 29:32), and his superiority in dignity and power (Genesis 49:3), but what follows in Genesis 49:4 doesn’t seem to have a place in Jesus’ life. On the other hand what Jacob says about Judah seems to point to Jesus throughout:
Genesis 49:8-12 Judah, you are he whom your brethren shall praise: your hand shall be in the neck of your enemies; your father’s children shall bow down before you. (9) Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, you are gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? (10) The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. (11) Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: (12) His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.
All of the descriptions of Judah seem to fit the Lord. He is praised by his brethren; his hand is at the neck of his enemies (as the Judge). All will bow before him (Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10), and he is the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5), and as the Messiah he has the scepter and all will flow unto him. It is he who washed his garments in blood, as he initiated our salvation. So everything fits what is said about Judah, but not necessarily Reuben.
As for Benjamin, while it is an easy task to see that he represents Jesus in his name: Son of my right hand (Genesis 35:18), it is not so easy to understand how he points to Jesus as a ravenous wolf, devouring his prey in the morning and distributing the spoils in the evening (Genesis 49:27). I could point to judgment, but the idea of him killing prey doesn’t necessarily point to an enemy. One’s prey may be the innocent, and such a thing doesn’t fit what might be said of the Lord.
John also saw what appeared to be a rainbow with the likeness of an emerald (Revelation 4:3). It is difficult to say how a colorful rainbow could have the appearance of an emerald. However, it may be possible that what John saw was in the shape of a full rainbow with the luster of an emerald. In such a case, the sight may mean the throne was encircled with a green luster, in the sense of a halo, round in appearance, like a rainbow (cf. Revelation 10:1; Ezekiel 1:28).
Nevertheless, the sight may have reminded John of the significance the Lord gave the rainbow in Genesis 9:11-17. There, he made his first covenant following the Flood with mankind, saying he would never again destroy the earth. The Lord made this covenant with those he had saved out of the Flood that destroyed the old world. It is possible that, although John witnessed the Lord ready to judge the living and the dead, the sight of the rainbow reminded John of the Lord’s promise to preserve the elect during the Lord’s judgment upon Jerusalem (Matthew 24:15-22), and, in so doing, the sight of the rainbow implies the Lord will never again judge his people in the manner in which he intended to judge Jerusalem in a little while.