In the ancient world thrones served the same purpose they serve today: they were the elevated, often ornate seats upon which a person of authority-usually a king-would sit to rule and utter judgments. Thrones served as the symbol for the monarchy itself (Gen 41:40 NIV; 2 Sam 3:10; 1 Kings 1:46). The only throne with a detailed description in the Bible is Solomon’s throne (2 Chron 9:17-19; 1 Kings 10:18-20), a carved chair made of ivory overlaid with gold and situated on a platform six steps up from the ground. On
each side of the throne and on each side of the six steps were statues of lions-the Near Eastern symbol for royal power and authority. Thrones in the ancient world each had a footstool accompanying them.
THE MERCY SEAT
The first throne mentioned in Scripture is the throne of mercy, also called the mercy seat, which was the symbolic throne of God on top of the ark of the covenant (Ex 25:17-22; Num 7:89). The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle like it filled the throne room of heaven (Isa 6:1), but the intense focus of God’s presence was the space between the angelic likenesses on the ark. This throne/space represented to the people the holiness and authority of God. At this time God was the king of Israel, so he alone possessed the throne.
Later, when Israel asked for a king like other nations, God gave them an earthly king with the promise that one day the Messiah would rule on his throne (2 sam 7: 13-16; 1 Kings 2:4; 1 Chron 17:12-14; Isa 9:7). The earthly kings who possessed Israel’s throne were poor and flawed representatives of the true King of Israel-God himself-and they served the purpose of showing the nation that no human king was worthy of the throne. Jesus came, therefore, as the God-man to unite the earthly throne of Israel with the heavenly one.
THE THRONE OF GOD
God’s throne first of all symbolizes his authority and majesty. this truth is represented by the metaphor of heaven as his throne. In Isaiah 66 God declares, “Heaven is my throne. The earth is my footstool” (v. 1; see also Ps. 11:4). Other passages discuss God’s throne as symbolic of his omnipotent sovereignty over human events and human governments (Pss. 47:8; 103:19; Acts 7:49). God’s throne is regal, made of gold and gemstones and surrounded by a rainbow (Rev 4:3), lesser thrones (4:4), a sea of glass (4:6), and a myriad of angles (5:11). In short, it is dazzling, inspiring awe in those who see it in a way that earthly thrones can only begin to do (Ezek 1:26; Dan 7:9; Rev 4:5; 20:11). God’s throne is an eternal representation of his authority (Ps 93:2; Lam 5:19; Ezek 43:7; Rev 5:13).
The throne of God is also a symbol for judgment. Psalm 9:4 says, “You have defended my just cause: You sat down on your throne as a fair judge.” God is pictured as sitting on his throne to execute judgments. When people die, they appear before the throne of God to be judged for their actions (Matt 25:31-32; Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10). God’s throne as a symbol of his judgment is closely related to its use as a symbol for his authority, for his supreme authority gives him the right to be the Supreme Judge.
God’s throne also points to his presence among his people even today. Psalm 22:3 indicates that genuine worship by God’s people provides a special place for God to display himself: “Yet, you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” When we gather to enjoy and proclaim the greatness of God, he makes his throne among us in those moments.