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Chapter 4 transports the reader to the things which shall take place after these things (i.e., after “the things present” in chapters 2 and 3, or the church age). In the section that follows, the Apostle John points to the series of events that will occur sometime after the rapture as they are described in chapters 6-22. Following what many believe is God’s own inspired outline of the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:19), chapter four introduces us to the things future, the prophetic part of the book: the seals, the trumpets and vials; Satan and his last day activities; the future of Israel; the 144,000; Babylon; the beast and false prophet; the two witnesses; the marriage of the Lamb and the return of Christ.
Note the following natural chronological order:
As suggested previously, chapters 2 and 3 unfold the moral and spiritual condition of the churches in the time of John, but they also illustrate conditions that would be present historically in any age down through history. They may also portray various stages the church as a whole would go through during the present age of the church.
Chapters 4 and 5 are introductory in that they prepare the reader for the future events unfolded in chapters 6-22. This is evident from the words, “after these things” of 4:1. This is the Greek, meta tauta. “After” is the preposition meta which shows sequence and refers to that which follows. Tauta, “these things,” refers to the things of chapters 2 and 3. Specifically, according to chapter 1:19, they occur after “the things which are,” the present time, the church age. All that follows, then, is chronological in that these events follow the church age, meta tauta , “after these things,” (4:1), after the things of chapters 2 and 3, or the church, but chapters 4 and 5 are represented as occurring before chapter 6 and following.
Spiritually speaking chapters 4 and 5 form a prologue to the Tribulation events and give us heaven’s perspective of the terrible judgments that will be poured out on the earth. One cannot understand the nature of the Tribulation judgments without this scene. In these two chapters, John was given “heaven’s perspective of earthly events as he walked through the door that was opened to him in 4:1.”69
While chapter 4 is a prologue to the future things of chapters 6 through 22, chapter 5 is an introduction to the seven seals, the trumpets, and the vial judgments of chapters 6 through 19. Chronologically, then, the prophetic events of chapter 6 through 22 occur after the rapture. How long we have no way of knowing. It could be days, weeks, months, or even years, though the latter is highly unlikely since the only thing keeping Satan from raising up his last day scenario through the man of sin is the presence of the Restrainer—the Holy Spirit operating through the body of Christ, the church (2 Thess. 2:5-9). Once the church is gone, Satan will undoubtedly move quickly to bring his one world system into being.
We may divide the final portion of the book into four sections:
“I looked and behold a door open in heaven.” “Behold” This is the Greek idou, an aorist imperative of the verb Joraw, “to see.” It came to be used, however, as a demonstrative particle meaning “see, look, behold.” It was used much like the Hebrew, h!nn@h, “behold, look, see” to enliven the narrative or to arrest the attention of the reader, undoubtedly because of the nature of the material introduced. Here is a vision of special importance, one vital to understanding the nature of the prophetic events described.
“A door standing open in heaven.” The word “door” is used four times in Revelation. In 3:8 it is used in connection with the door of opportunity for ministry given to the church at Philadelphia. Then in 3:20 it is used twice of the Savior standing at the door of the heart desiring fellowship. Here, the door is opened to give John and us heaven’s insights to the earthly scene that will follow. This is an essential prerequisite if one is to comprehend the nature of the events and the purpose of God behind them.
“Standing open.” The voice of this verb is passive. God opened the door for John which serves to remind us this is divine revelation. It reveals that which we could never see or know apart from this special revelation from God.
“And the first voice which I heard.” This does not refer to the first of a successive series of voices after he arrived, but is most likely a reference to the voice John heard in 1:10.
“Come up here and I will show.” Again, true prophecy has its source in heaven and men must take their stand there, which for us is the Word, if we are to understand God’s plan for the ages. It is there that it was mapped out and it is from there that it must be received.
Note the words, “what must take place.” “Must” is the word, dei. It refers to what is necessary and binding. It refers to a moral necessity which arises from God’s holy purposes or appointment.
“Immediately I was …” This is the same as 1:10 and refers to a state of spiritual ecstasy into which he was transported to receive this revelation.
“And behold, a throne was standing open in heaven.” The KJV has “a throne set in heaven,” the ASV has “a throne set in heaven,” Phillips has “a throne had been set up in heaven,” the NIV has “there was a throne in heaven,” and the RSV has, “a throne stood in heaven.”
The verb here is the Greek verb ekeito, a passive imperfect of keimai which may be used as the passive of tiqhmi, “to be laid, to lie, be laid or set, stand.”70 So it may mean “to lay, place, or set something.” It could be translated as, “a throne was being placed in heaven,” or “a throne had been placed in heaven.” John is telling us this throne was purposefully set in heaven for the coming events or judgments. Perhaps John saw the throne being set and then he saw the One sitting on the throne. The suggestion is that this was not the eternal throne, but one especially set for the Tribulation judgments (cf. Psalm 9:7, “He has established His throne for judgment” and Dan. 7:9, “I kept looking until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat …” See also Dan. 7:13-14).
It appears this is a special throne prepared for the Tribulation and from this point on the Book becomes predominantly the Book of the throne. The word throne is mentioned 45 times versus only 15 times in all the rest of the New Testament.
Perhaps this throne is somewhere in the second heaven, outer space (see Rev. 6:16). God leaves His eternal throne, the throne of the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2) to establish this one to defeat His enemies and to establish His rule on earth (cf. again Dan. 7:9-14).
God is sovereign and the ruler of the universe, yet God’s rule is today hidden. The world under the power of the usurper rages against God, thinking it has jettisoned God’s authority. But God still rules under what we call God’s providence (cf. Isa. 10:5f). But now, in 4:2f, His rule and throne comes into view and later the whole world will know (Rev. 6:16).
“And One sitting on the throne, and He who was sitting …” John is allowed to see the throne room and the thing that stood out was the One regally seated on the throne, the place where the sovereign Lord reigns. The Greek employs two present participles which stress that God is firmly seated as the supreme ruler and sovereign. The scene strongly portrays the fact that God is in control. Though the nations rage and devise their plans, He who sits in the heavens laughs (Psalm 2).
The sovereign Lord is described in terms of two precious stones, the jasper and the sardius. Rather than anthropomorphic characteristics, God is seen in gem-like colors. We should remember that God’s essential glory cannot be fully communicated to man. Scripture teaches God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen, or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). So these stones are used to portray something of God’s eternal glory, awesome holiness, and majesty.
“Jasper.” This was a clear, crystal-like gem, a translucent rock, perhaps even a diamond. It portrays the purity and brilliance of God’s holiness. Since such a stone picks up and reflect light, it calls our attention to the fact that God is light, a holy God who reveals, and unmasks the darkness.
“Sardius.” This stone was blood red undoubtedly portraying God’s wrath and justice, but it would also look at His redemptive work of love and grace in the person of the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world through His death on the cross.
In the Old Testament these stones had a special relationship to the tribes of Israel. Each tribe had a representative stone which the High Priest wore on his priestly garment. As the High Priest, he was representing each tribe before God at the altar. The Jasper was the stone representing the first tribe, the tribe of Reuben. The last tribe, Benjamin, was represented by the Sardius. So these two stones represent the whole nation, the first and the last and all in between.
Reuben means “Behold a Son” and Benjamin means “Son of my right hand.” Surely, then, these two stones also pointed to God the Son whom the Father would give through the nation Israel to save mankind in the person of His beloved Son. Jasper stands for God’s perfect righteousness (Hab. 1:13). As a holy and righteous God, He cannot fellowship with man in his condition of sin. Sardius stands for God’s perfect justice (Rom. 3:19) which means God must judge man in his sin. Being red like blood, it pictures redemption and God’s love and grace to reach out in Christ to provide a substitute, God’s Son (Rom. 5:8).
“And there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.” As a part of the majesty of the scene of the sovereign Lord, John also saw a beautiful rainbow of emerald green. But, unlike the partial rainbows we generally see on earth, this one completely encircled the throne. This too is significant in calling our attention to the person and work of God on behalf of man, the one who rebelled against God’s grace. In Scripture the rainbow is a sign of God’s faithfulness to His word and covenants. It is also a sign of God’s mercy, grace and long-suffering. The fact the rainbow completely encircles the throne emphatically stresses this. Green portrays fruitfulness; what proceeds from the throne will be infinitely effective.
Who is this on the throne? In Revelation 3:21 we see both the Father and the Son on God’s throne. Here we are told John saw only one sitting on the throne. Perhaps this simply illustrates the mystery of the trinity. However, in chapter 5, the Son is distinguished from the Father. Apparently, in preparation for the judgments to follow, the Son has risen from the throne and is seen standing in preparation for the scene chapter 5 is designed to depict or teach. After no one is found worthy to open and release the judgments of the seven-sealed scroll, the Lamb who is also the Lion and who has overcome so as to open the book and its seals, is then seen coming to the throne to take the seven-sealed scroll of judgment from the hand of the Father.
The subject here is the 24 elders. Note four things are stated about them: they are seated upon thrones around God’s throne, they are 24 in number, they are clothed in white raiment, and they have golden crowns on their heads. There are three main views as to who the 24 elders are:
Some say we cannot be certain they are redeemed men because in Revelation 5:9-10 some manuscripts have a change in the pronouns which has them singing of the redemption of others rather than of their own redemption. This is hardly proof, however, that they are angels. It only removes the passage as absolute proof that they are the redeemed. It in no way proves that they are not singing of the redeemed that they represent, or that they are not of the redeemed themselves.
Further in Colossians 1:16 it is argued, angels are called “thrones” and seem to have a place of rule in the governing of the universe. But Christ also said that the overcomer, believers in Christ, would share in His throne or rule (Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21, 20:6).
This would include all Old Testament and New Testament saints.
This best fits all the details of the passage and of Scripture as I will attempt to explain.
(1) David divided the priesthood into 24 orders. There were hundreds of priests, and obviously all could not serve at once, so each order was represented by one. By Scripture’s own use, the number 24 has a representative character to it (cf. 1 Chron. 24; 25; Luke 1:5, 8, 9). Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us his family was “of the first course of the four and twenty.” So there was one high priest, 24 orders of priests with 24 who served as representatives of the whole.
(2) In the New Testament believers are a spiritual house, a holy and a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). So the elders could easily be functioning as representatives of the church.
(3) Revelation 5:11 clearly distinguishes the elders from both the four living creatures and the many angels.
(4) They are called “elders” which is the Greek word presbuteros. In the New Testament this is virtually a technical term for officers and leaders in the church of Jesus Christ.
(5) They are seen with golden crowns. “Crowns” is stefanos, the victor’s crown and the same term used throughout the New Testament for the rewards given to New Testament believers (1 Cor 9:25; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4).
(6) They are clothed in white raiment. In Scripture this is consistently associated with and promised to the believer, the overcomer. This is terminology of the saints not angels (Rev. 3:4-5; 19:8).
(7) A share in Christ’s throne or rule is promised to believers by our Lord in Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21.
(8) Finally, only the church is raptured before the events beginning in chapter 6 (the Tribulation) and is in heaven, glorified, and eligible for reward. Israel or Old Testament believers could not be represented here until after Daniel’s 70th week. Israel’s resurrection and rewards come then, “after the time of distress such as never occurred …” which is undoubtedly a reference to the Great Tribulation (Dan. 12:1-2).
So the evidence tells us that the persons around the throne are representatives of the church here prophetically foreseen by this vision given to John. This then becomes both a prophecy and a promise of the glorious experiences of all New Testament believers.
“Flashes of lightening and sounds and peals of thunder.” This draws our attention to the judgmental element of the throne and the nature of that which will occur once the Lord begins to open the seven-sealed scroll and pour out its judgments. “These seem to be portents of judgments and are found again in 8:5; 11:19 and 16:18.”71 Psalm 29:1-2 calls us to “ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” (NIV). This exhortation is then followed up with a reference to the thundering of God’s voice as in a lightening storm, an obvious reference to the power and judgments of God (29:3). Man has been in rebellion to God and has ignored God’s holiness throughout history, but here God is about to act and put an end to man’s rebellion.
“Seven lamps of fire … which are the seven Spirits of God.” The seven lamps, defined as the seven Spirits of God, speak of the fullness and perfection of the Spirit and His ministries. In this context, however, there is one particular work of the Spirit which is being stressed. The Holy Spirit is viewed, not in His ministry of saving men, though that will surely occur in the Tribulation, nor is He viewed in any of His other ministries as seen in the church. Rather, here He is set forth in connection with His holy character (righteousness and justice) as light to illuminate the perfections of the throne. Everything inconsistent with the absolute righteousness and purity of God and His throne must and will be judged.
“And before the throne there was, something like, a sea of glass, like crystal” (4:6a). Many see an allusion here to the laver in the tabernacle (Ex. 30:18-21) and to the molten sea in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:23-37), that were for the purification of the priests. They symbolized the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, God’s agents for cleansing the life. Here, however, the sea before the throne is like glass, solidified, like crystal—not water, for no cleansing is needed here. Perhaps again, as crystal sparkles and reflects the light, so this simply adds to the picture of God’s holy character.
“And in the center and around the throne, four living creatures …” The question is who or what are the four living creatures? Are they angelic beings, or are they merely symbolic manifestations of God’s glory? Again we must seek answers to such questions from the Word itself. Let’s note the facts stated about these four creatures from this passage:
(1) They are living creatures. The Greek word is zwon which means “a living being,” that which is vibrant with life. This would suggest angelic creatures, yet it could represent the attributes of God’s divine essence as living, and vital entities.
(2) “Full of eyes in front and behind.” The cherubim of Ezekiel 10 were also full of eyes signifying their intelligence and spiritual perception of the ways and judgments of God. This is most likely the emphasis here.
(3) In verse 8 they have six wings which reminds us of the seraphim of Isaiah 6. This would emphasize their quickness and availability in service to the One sitting on the throne.
(4) They, like the cherubim of Ezekiel 1:10 and 10:14, are seen in four representations: Like a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. This also seems to tie them to angelic creatures.
(5) In verse 8 they are seen speaking about God in unceasing acclamations of praise and they fall down in worship before the Lamb.
All of this supports the fact that they are angelic beings who are a composite of both the seraphim of Isaiah 6 and the cherubim of Ezekiel 1 and 10.
What’s their purpose and what are they doing in this scene?
Their number is four. Three is the number of God and the Godhead and four, due to the way it is often used in Scripture, is the number of the earth, the world, and man. Scripture often points to four divisions of the race (cf. 7:9, nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues). Further, there are four elements: fire, water, earth and air; four wind directions, four seasons, four universal empires (Dan. 7), and four representations of Christ, the Savior of man in the gospels as we will show below. Thus, together they represent God’s judicial government and activities over man. They express the character of God’s throne in relation to the earth and man.
Their four-fold significance: (a) The Lion stresses kingly majesty. The lion is known as the king of beasts and highlights the attributes of majesty, strength or sovereignty. It stresses that God is King. The gospel of Matthew presents Christ as King, as the lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5). (b) A calf or ox stresses service and patience. (c) Man emphasizes intelligence. (d) The eagle because he soars in the heavens, emphasizes deity, keen sight, and quick action.
They are “full of eyes in front and behind” (4:6) and “around and within” (4:8). This signifies their constant observance and knowledge of the affairs of the earth on behalf of God, plus their spiritual perception of God’s governmental purposes and acts. “Before” and “behind” could indicate the perception of God’s dealings in the past and the future.
Their ceaseless service night and day (4:8). There is no weakness or imperfection in their worship or service. No wonder Isaiah saw his sinfulness (Isa. 6:5).
Their proclamation is seen in 4:8b. They proclaim God’s perfect holiness. The triple “Holy, Holy, Holy” also speaks of the trinity.
The divine titles used: LORD is a reference to the Old Testament name of God, Yahweh, the self-existing One. God speaks of God in relation to creation. It stands for Elohim in the Old Testament, the name so often used in Genesis chapter one of creation. The Almighty points to God’s omnipotence and sovereignty.
Finally, they ascribe praise to God’s eternality.
Here we are pointed to the worshipful activity of these four awesome and holy living beings, symbols of power and holiness. And, as in Isaiah 6, they are seen in adoration of God giving glory, honor and thanks to Him. But then immediately, we see the results of their praise in the lives of the elders who respond in their own worship and praise (cf. 4:10-11 with the response of Isaiah to the worship of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:1-8). Giving “glory and honor” calls attention to the perfections of God, while giving “thanks” calls attention to the manifold gifts of God in creation and redemption.
Satan may have seduced the world through millenniums of struggle to accept him as the prince of this world and as the god of this age, but now beings mightier than he show the way of true worship. God alone is to receive the homage of men.72
They “will fall down (prostrate themselves) before Him who sits on the throne.” They had been sitting, now they prostrate themselves in worship. Worship is proskunew which means “to prostrate one’s self before another.” This naturally comes from their recognition of God’s character and being.
“They will cast their crowns before the throne.” What are the crowns? They are symbols of God’s rewards for faithful service. Why do they cast them before the throne? Though the crowns had been given to them by God for faithfulness as overcomers, when they see the worship of the living creatures, they recognize it was all by God’s grace and that no crowns rightly belong to us for we all owe our existence and lives to God. He alone is actually worthy, for all we are flows from what He is as we, by faith, allow Him to reproduce His life in us through the Spirit. They then ascribe to Him:
They acknowledge God not only as the Creator of all things, but as the sole motivation for creation, “because of your will they existed and were created.” I am reminded of Romans 11:33-35 which reads:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
In the town hall in Copenhagen stands the world’s most complicated clock. It took forty years to build at a cost of more than a million dollars. That clock has ten faces, fifteen thousand parts, and is accurate to two-fifths of a second every three hundred years. The clock computes the time of day, the days of the week, the months and years, and the movements of the planets for twenty-five hundred years. Some parts of that clock will not move until twenty-five centuries have passed. What is intriguing about that clock is that it is not accurate. It loses two-fifths of a second every three hundred years. Like all clocks, that timepiece in Copenhagen must be regulated by a more precise clock, the universe itself. That mighty astronomical clock with its billions of moving parts, from atoms to stars, rolls on century after century with movements so reliable that all time on earth can be measured against it.
But man in his own arrogance has rejected this clear revelation of God and so often in the process, he has also rejected God himself. Evolution, a pure figment of man’s imagination, has sought to replace the concept of creation, and in the process, it has sought to jettison God. So, in the minds of many today, humanism has replaced Theism, the belief in God. Man the rebel has believed the lie of Satan when by rights he should fall down in adoration and worship of the Creator. Instead, he stands in open rebellion and worships the creature, himself, in place of the Creator.
Chapter four concludes with this “great anthem of praise by the four living ones and the 24 elders to God as creator. In 5:11-14 the focus of worship is on God as Redeemer.”73