The 144,000 Witnesses – Revelation 7 Commentary

The greatest revival in the history of the world is yet to come. It will take place in the Tribulation period as 144,000 witnesses are unleashed upon the world to preach the Gospel to those who have never heard.

This chapter answers the question in 6:17, “Who is able to stand?” The faithful believers would be kept safe. This chapter contains two pictures: first, the sealing of the 144,000; second, the great multitude worshiping before God’s throne.

7:1 Then I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds from blowing upon the earth. Not a leaf rustled in the trees, and the sea became as smooth as glass.NLT John saw four angels who were standing at the four corners of the earth (referring to the whole earth, the four points of the compass). The sudden silence and the angels holding back the four winds from blowing upon the earth picture God’s protection from harm; they contrast the peace and security of the believers with the terror of those hiding in the rocks (6:16). The winds described here picture harmful winds as agents of God bringing destruction. The four angels hold back the winds so that not a leaf rustled in the trees, and the sea became as smooth as glass. This scene contrasts with the earthquakes and meteor showers that had just occurred (6:12-13).

7:2-3 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”NIV Another angel came from the east who had the seal of the living God. The east probably indicates the direction of Jerusalem. This seal differs from the seven seals on the scroll that the Lamb had been opening. In ancient days, a king would push his signet ring into wax on a scroll or document as a seal to mark his ownership and to protect its contents. God places his own seal on his followers, identifying them as his own and guaranteeing his protection over their souls. Here, God’s seal was placed on the foreheads of his servants. This seal would be counterfeited by Satan in 13:16 (a seal known as “the mark of the beast”). These two marks would separate the people into

two distinct categories—those owned by God and those owned by Satan. Ezekiel 9:4-7 records God sending a divine messenger through Jerusalem to mark the foreheads of those who still worshiped the one true God. Here, the seal that the angel put on the believers’ foreheads was the name of the Lamb and his Father’s name (see 14:1). We shall see his face, and his name shall be on our foreheads. We are sons with him, heirs of God and fellow heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ. The acquired glory of our Lord is the glory which every saved sinner will share with him.

Arno C. Gaebelein

 

Why did the believers need this seal of protection? Most likely, they needed protection from what would be a time of intense difficulty on the earth, for the angels at the four winds were told, “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until . . .” At the end of history, people will face a time that will be marked by unprecedented evil and persecution (see Daniel 12:1). In 9:3-4, for example, during the fifth trumpet, stinging locusts descend on the earth and are told “to attack all the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (nlt). In 16:2, “the first angel left the Temple and poured out his bowl over the earth, and horrible, malignant sores broke out on everyone who had the mark of the beast” (nlt). However, the seal would not protect the believers in all instances from the pain and suffering of these judgments, nor would it protect them from death. Ultimately, the seal was a sign of spiritual and eternal protection. Those sealed would be protected from God’s punishment of an impenitent world. They would not face God’s wrath, even though they would face the wrath of those who hate God. Jesus had said, “I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return, a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—with persecutions. And in the world to come they will have eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30 nlt).

Pretribulationists believe that Christians will have been raptured—removed from this world to meet the Lord in the air—just before the Tribulation begins. They believe that this seal means that many others will become believers during the time of tribulation—these new believers will receive this seal. According to this verse, the only believers who will suffer through this terrible evil and persecution will be those who become Christians during the Tribulation, perhaps because they had witnessed the rapture of true believers.

Although there may be differing opinions about who is in the Great Tribulation, the Bible clearly states that God looks after his people (Psalms 1:6; 145:20; Ezekiel 34:12). He promises to protect believers and give them the strength to endure any and all tribulation (Psalm 32:7; John 17:15).

Both those who think that the Christians will be raptured before the Tribulation, as well as those who think they will remain on earth throughout, agree that the seal put on believers’ foreheads will protect them. Both groups also consider 3:10 to describe this: “Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world” (nlt).

 LIFE APPLICATION – MARKED PEOPLE
The angel foretold that a seal, a mark of ownership, would be placed on faithful believers. This shows how valuable God’s people are to him. Our physical bodies may be beaten, maimed, or even destroyed, but nothing can harm our souls when we have been sealed by God. Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “And now you also have heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us everything he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people” (nlt). Having believed, we were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. In our daily lives, we bear this mark now, although others can’t see it directly. Does your life reveal that you are God’s possession? Do your words and actions convey that you are a marked person?

7:4-8 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.NIV The number of those who were sealed is 144,000; this refers specifically to Jews—that there will be a great revival among the Jews and that many will be saved.

Who are the 144,000? The Seventh Day Adventists claim these are the faithful Sabbath Day worshipers. The Jehovah Witnesses say they are the 144,000. The next time you see one, ask him or her what tribe of Israel they belong to and watch the blank look on their face.

Revelation says the 144,000 come from the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. Just recently, through DNA technology, the Levite Jews have been able to distinguish the identity of the tribe they came from. Some say there are “lost tribes of Israel.”  They are not “lost” to God.  The one who know every hair on our head and every DNA sequence knows the tribes.  The purpose of these twelve tribes of Israel is found in the meaning of their names.

  1. Judah=Praisers of God
  2. Reuben= Looking to the Son
  3. Gad= A company of
  4. Asher= Blessed Ones
  5. Naphtali= Wrestling with
  6. Manasseh= Forgetfulness
  7. Simeon= Hearing and Obeying
  8. Levi= Cleaving to
  9. Issachar= A Reward
  10. 10. Zebulun= A Home & Dwelling Place
  11. Joseph= Adding
  12. Benjamin= Sons at God’s Right Hand

These twelve tribes then are praisers of God that are looking to the Son. They are a company of blessed ones that are wrestling with forgetfulness and are hearing and obeying the Lord. They are cleaving to a reward, a home and dwelling place. They are adding sons at God’s right hand. Notice that the tribes of Dan and Ephraim are omitted. The reason for this may be the fact that these tribes went into idolatry. There is no room for idolatry in the Tribulation.

God seals these believers by giving them special strength and courage to make it through this time of great persecution. No matter what happens, they will be brought to their reward of eternal life. Their destiny is secure. These believers will not fall away from God, even though they may undergo intense persecution. This is not saying that 144,000 individuals must be sealed before the persecution comes, but that when persecution begins, the faithful will have already been sealed (marked by God), and they will remain true to him until the end.

THE GREAT CROWD / 7:9-17

This “vast crowd” is the huge redeemed multitude, the great international family of God, offering praise to him. These are the ones who have been protected, redeemed, and purified.

7:9-10 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God on the throne and from the Lamb!”NLT In 7:4, John had heard the number of those sealed; here, he saw a vast crowd, too great to count. This fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham that he would have descendants too numerous to count (Genesis 15:5; 32:12; Romans 9:6-8; Galatians 3:29).

Who is this great multitude? In 7:14, they are described as those who have “come out of the great tribulation.” Some interpreters identify them as the martyrs described in 6:9. This scene provides great comfort to all believers facing persecution. Those believers who will face the Tribulation have a guaranteed future with God. In this vision, the 144,000 were sealed by God before the great time of persecution and brought to heaven. Before, they were being prepared; here, they were victorious. This multitude in heaven is all of God’s faithful followers throughout the generations. No true believer needs to worry about his or her final destination. God includes and protects each one, and all are guaranteed eternal life in his presence.

The angels, elders, and living creatures of chapters 4 and 5 were joined by this vast crowd of people from every nation and tribe and people and language. No distinctions of race, ethnic background, or gender exist in this worshiping community. These were the redeemed people—those who had accepted Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf and had experienced God’s forgiveness. Thus they say, “Salvation comes from our God on the throne and from the Lamb!” Only human beings can know the reality of salvation from sin—the angels, elders, and living creatures had not fallen. So only the redeemed could sing of the salvation they had received.

These were clothed in white, symbolizing their purity because of the salvation they had received (3:4-5; 4:4; 19:14). The martyrs in 6:11 had been given white robes—thus, some think this crowd that has come through the Tribulation is those who have been martyred for their faith. They were holding palm branches in their hands, symbolizing the joy of this occasion, as they stood before God and the Lamb (see also John 12:13).

 LIFE APPLICATION – THROUGH THE LAMB
The vast crowd was shouting that salvation comes from God and from the Lamb. People try many methods to remove the guilt of sin—good deeds, intellectual pursuits, and even casting blame on others. By contrast, the multitude in heaven praises God, saying that salvation comes from him and from the Lamb. Salvation from sin’s penalty can come only through Jesus Christ and his sacrifice. Suffering, or even martyrdom, cannot save anyone. Have you had the guilt of sin removed in the only way possible? Turn to Christ for cleansing and forgiveness.

7:11-12 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”NRSV The angels, the elders, and the four living creatures had stood before the throne in John’s earlier vision. For more information about the elders, see the commentary on 4:4. For more information on the four living creatures, see the commentary on 4:6-7.

After the redeemed sang their song (7:9-10), the angels, elders, and four living creatures fell on their faces before the throne. They worshiped God and sang to him seven words of praise: blessing, glory, wisdom, Every saint in heaven is as a flower in the garden of God, and every soul there is as a note in some concert of delightful music.

Jonathan Edwards

 

thanksgiving, honor, power, and might. Compare this to 5:11-13 where the words are explained. Six of the same words are used, but in different order; here “thanksgiving” replaces “riches” in 5:12. Perhaps this shows that to have used all the same words in the same order would have reduced this doxology into a formula. Instead, singing all these praises in different orders causes the singers to think about the importance of each item for which they are praising God.

They were offering praise to God and the Lamb because of the salvation he had given to all the redeemed. Jesus said, “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents” (Luke 15:10 nlt). Imagine the great joy of the angels in heaven when they stand with this countless crowd of believers who had repented of sin and accepted the salvation of the Lamb.

Amen occurs both at the beginning and at the end of this hymn. This word unites us with God’s will and sovereignty. To say “amen” means to say, “may this be according to you, God.”

 LIFE APPLICATION – PRAISE THE LORD
The angels and the four living creatures praised God by using this seven-part doxology or song of praise. It praises God’s attributes. The song presents a complete and balanced picture of the wonder and power of God. Today, take time to praise God using these seven attributes:
1. Blessing—praise God for the profound happiness he gives.
2. Glory—praise God for his moral perfection and splendor.
3. Wisdom—praise God for the wisdom of his plan of redemption.
4. Thanksgiving—thank God for pardoning sin.
5. Honor—attribute worth to God publicly for saving people.
6. Power—praise God for his power to act.
7. Might—thank God for his presence in past history and in current events.

7:13-14 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know. ” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”NIV One of the twenty-four elders turned to John and anticipated his question regarding the identity of this great crowd in white robes, “Where did they come from?”

These people have come out of the great tribulation. They have persevered, standing true for Christ. Some may have been martyred, but probably not all of them. They have been redeemed, for they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

 LIFE APPLICATION – DO THE WASH
How did those in the vast crowd of believers wash their robes? The only part humans can play is to come to God for forgiveness, renounce all loyalty to sin and false gods, trust Christ for total cleansing, and rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to live a new life. Have you presented your life to God for cleansing, or are you still making your robes dirty by living in sinful rebellion?

These people had been dirty with sin, but Christ had cleansed them with his blood (see commentary on 5:9-10 regarding how the blood makes them clean). It is difficult to imagine how blood could make any cloth white, but the blood of Jesus Christ is the world’s greatest purifier because it removes the stain of sin. “Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our hearts from deeds that lead to death so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins” (Hebrews 9:14 nlt). White symbolizes sinless perfection or holiness, which can be given to people only by the death of the sinless Lamb of God on their behalf. This is a picture of how believers are saved through faith (see Isaiah 1:18; Romans 3:21-26).

7:15-17 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”NKJV According to 7:1-8, the believers receive a seal to protect them through a time of great tribulation and suffering; in 7:9-17, John receives a glimpse into the future—the believers finally with God in heaven. All who have been faithful through the ages were singing before God’s throne. Their tribulations and sorrows were over: no more tears for sin, for all sins were forgiven; no more tears for suffering, for all suffering was over; no more tears for death, for all believers had been resurrected to die no more.

The phrase “day and night” means continuous, unceasing service to God—that “service” refers to worship and praise (22:3-5). The temple is not limited to some particular building in heaven, nor is it a reference to the temple in Jerusalem; instead, all of heaven is God’s sanctuary.

In this vision, the Lamb is in the midst of the throne. The Lamb himself is God. He will be their shepherd and will lead them to living fountains of waters. As a shepherd, Jesus gives daily care, guidance, and provision. The living fountains picture eternal refreshment in God’s presence (Psalm 36:8-9; John 4:14). He will dwell among his people. This fulfills the Old Testament promises (Psalm 23:1; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 37:27; Zechariah 2:10).

God will satisfy every need. There will be no hunger or thirst, there will not be overwhelming heat from the sun. This echoes Isaiah’s prophecy, “They will neither hunger nor thirst. The searing sun and scorching desert winds will not reach them anymore. For the Lord in his mercy will lead them beside cool waters” (Isaiah 49:10 nlt). The reference to hunger and thirst refers not just to food but also to spiritual fulfillment (Matthew 5:6). The heat and sun refer to God’s shelter and protection. God’s care extends to every part of life—he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. These are the blessings that God will provide to his people.

LIFE APPLICATION – RENEW YOUR HOPE
This beautiful scene describes how God will provide for his children’s needs in their eternal home where there will be no hunger, thirst, or pain and where he will wipe away all tears. When you are suffering or torn apart by sorrow, take comfort in this promise of complete protection and relief. Go to Jesus for strength and patience. He can help you renew your hope.

 

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Sources: Rod Mattoon, Mattoon’s Treasures – Treasures from Revelation, (Springfield, IL: Lincoln Land Baptist Church, n.d.), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 191.

Bruce B. Barton et al., Life Application Bible Commentary – Revelation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2000), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 115-134.

 

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The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Revelation 6 Commentary

Our culture thinks that with the right leadership, politics and education we heading toward progress, peace and prosperity, but Bible teaches that the world is headed toward conflict, deceit, war and destruction.  In the end there will be climactic showdown at the battle of Armageddon (16:14-16). Until then things will continue to deteriorate as the world falls deeper and deeper into chaos, confusion, and sin. As the end approaches, wars will increase, crime will escalate, there will be economic upheavals, and unprecedented natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, famines, and diseases ( Matt. 24:6-8). All those calamities will mark the outpouring of God’s wrath on the fallen, rebellious world.

The Old Testament prophets spoke of this terrifying time of future judgment. Describing Israel’s sufferings during that time, Jeremiah wrote, “Alas! for that day is great, there is none like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s distress” Jer. 30:7. Describing the coming judgment of the Gentile nations, Isaiah wrote,

Draw near, O nations, to hear; and listen, O peoples! Let the earth and all it contains hear, and the world and all that springs from it. For the Lord’s indignation is against all the nations, and His wrath against all their armies; He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to slaughter. So their slain will be thrown out, and their corpses will give off their stench, and the mountains will be drenched with their blood. And all the host of heaven will wear away, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; all their hosts will also wither away as a leaf withers from the vine, or as one withers from the fig tree. Isa. 34:1-4

In Revelation 5:1-7, Christ received from God the Father a scroll sealed with seven seals until opened by the One with authority to do so. The scroll contained the title deed to the earth. Unlike normal title deeds, it did not contain a description of Christ’s inheritance, but rather details how He will execute His reclaiming of what is rightfully His. Beginning in chapter 6, that scroll is unrolled and its seals broken. The unrolling of the scroll marks the beginning of God’s wrath and judgment on sinful mankind as the Lord takes back creation from the usurper, Satan.

Each of the scroll’s seven seals ( 5:1) represents a specific divine judgment that will be poured out sequentially on the earth. The seals encompass the entire period of the Tribulation (3:10), culminating with the return of Christ. It seems best to understand the first four seals as taking place during the first half of the Tribulation, the fifth stretching from the first into the second half, (called the “great tribulation” in 7:14 and lasting three and one-half years; 11:2; 12:6; 13:5) and the sixth and seventh taking place during that “great tribulation.” Apparently the seventh seal contains the seven trumpet judgments (8:1-11:19) and the seventh trumpet (11:15) contains the seven bowl judgments (16:1-21). The seven seals thus contain all the judgments to the end when Jesus Christ returns.

The unfolding of the seven seals parallels our Lord’s chronology of Tribulation events found in Jesus’ own message describing the end times and His return, recorded in Matthew 24. The first seal describes a brief, false peace that will precede the final holocaust. In Matthew 24:4-5, Jesus also spoke of that peace, warning of the deceiving, false christs who will promote it. The second seal depicts worldwide war, which Jesus also predicted (Matt. 24:6-7). The third seal, famine, finds a parallel in Matthew 24:7. In that same verse Jesus predicted earthquakes, representative of natural disasters; the fourth seal represents death by such natural disasters, including earthquakes and plagues. The fifth seal, revealing the martyrs under the altar, finds a parallel in Jesus’ warning that believers will be martyred during the Tribulation (Matt. 24:9). During the unfolding of the sixth seal, the sky goes black—just as Jesus predicted it would (Matt. 24:29). The seventh seal reveals the final cataclysmic judgments, including all the devastation from the trumpet and bowl judgments, leading up to His second coming (Matt. 24:37.).

Just as a mother’s birth pains increase in frequency and intensity as the time to give birth approaches, so the judgments depicted by the seals will intensify throughout the Tribulation until they culminate in the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ in blazing judgment glory. The first four seals cover the period Jesus described as “the beginning of birth pangs” (Matt. 24:8). As terrible as those four judgments are, they are but the preliminary outpouring of God’s final wrath in the last three seals.

The First Rider: False Peace

Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. (6:1-2)

Chapters 4 and 5 described the praise offered in heaven to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Chapter 4 extols God as creator ( 4:11) while chapter 5 extols Jesus Christ as redeemer (cf. 5:9-10). Suddenly, as the seals begin to be opened in chapter 6, the praise ceases in anticipation of the coming judgment. The scene now shifts from heaven to earth, which will be the focus of events through the return of Christ in chapter 19 and the establishment of His earthly kingdom in chapter 20.

Having received from His Father the title deed to the earth (5:7), the Lamb (the Lord Jesus Christ) broke the first of the seven seals. As each seal is broken in the vision, what is written on the scroll is not read, but acted out. Immediately, John heard one of the four living creatures (cherubim; an exalted order of angels—cf. Ezek. 10:15 ) saying with a powerful, shattering voice of thunder, “Come.” In response to the angelic summons, a white horse came forth bearing its rider. The first four seals involve horses and riders (the so-called four horsemen of the Apocalypse). Horses in Scripture are associated with triumph, majesty, power, and conquest (e.g., 19:11, 14; Job 39:19-25; Prov. 21:31; Isa. 43:17; Jer. 6:23; Zech. 9:10; 10:3).

Some, seeing a parallel with 19:11, identify the one who sat on the white horse as Christ. But since Christ opens the sealed scroll, He cannot be the rider. Further, this rider wears a stephanos, a crown won as a prize; in 19:12 Christ wears many diadēmas, royal crowns. Unlike this rider, who carries a bow, Christ carries a sword (19:15). Finally, Christ returns at the end of the Tribulation, not at its beginning.

Others identify the rider as Antichrist. But since the other three riders represent not individual persons but impersonal forces (war, famine, and death), it is best to view the first one as a force as well. That force is best defined as a worldwide peace, shattered during the second seal by the second rider; 6:4). However Antichrist, as will be seen, will play a leading role in promoting this worldwide obsession with seeking peace.

So before the terrors of the Tribulation break loose and lead to the battle of Armageddon there will come a period of world peace. But it will be a deceptive peace, as the world is lulled into a false sense of security followed by war, famine, and death. The world’s desperate desire for international peace will serve as the bait for the satanic trap. That longing for security and safety will play into the hands of Antichrist, Satan’s ruler, who will convince the world that he can provide them. He will particularly deceive Israel, whose people have for so long desired peace, and he “will make a firm covenant with the many [Israel] for one week” (Dan. 9:27). Antichrist’s peace pact and protection of Israel will not last, however: “in the middle of the week [the Seventieth Week of Daniel’s prophecy; the Tribulation] he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate” (Dan. 9:27). The false peace that Antichrist brings will come to an abrupt halt at the midpoint of the Tribulation when he desecrates the temple in Jerusalem, betrays the Jewish people, and launches deadly attacks on them (Matt. 24:4-10). There can and will be no peace until the Prince of Peace sets up His earthly kingdom (20:1-6).

The Bible repeatedly warns of the deadly lure of false peace. Jeremiah described those in his day who pronounced “‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14; 8:11). He cried out to the Lord, “‘Ah, Lord God!’ I said, ‘Look, the prophets are telling them, “You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place”‘” (Jer. 14:13). The Lord replied, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds” (v. 14). Writing of the deceitfulness of this future false peace Paul said, “While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape” (1 Thess. 5:3).

It may seem incredible that the world, hovering on the brink of final disaster, could be so totally deceived. Yet that is precisely what happened on a smaller scale before the outbreak of the most devastating war to date, World War II. Adolf Hitler spelled out in detail his plans for conquest in his book Mein Kampf, published more than a decade before World War II began. Yet, incredibly, the Western allies (particularly Britain and France) persisted in believing Hitler’s false claim to be a man of peace. They stood idly by as he reoccupied the Rhineland (demilitarized after World War I), thus abrogating the Versailles Treaty, then annexed Austria, the Sudetenland, and Czechoslovakia. Desperate to appease Hitler and avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with the Nazi dictator at Munich in 1938. Upon his return to England, Chamberlain triumphantly waved a piece of paper (containing a worthless pledge of peace from Hitler) which he claimed guaranteed “peace with honor… peace for our time.” When Winston Churchill (one of the few never taken in by Hitler) rose in the House of Commons to declare that England had suffered a total, unmitigated defeat he was shouted down by angry members of Parliament. The deception was nearly universal; almost everyone misread Hitler’s intentions. Only after he invaded Poland in September 1939 did the allies finally acknowledge the truth. By then it was too late to avoid the catastrophe of the Second World War.

That the rider had a bow but no arrows, and that he was honored with a crown that was freely given to him, reveals that his conquering will involve bloodless victories. His crown (stephanos) is a winner’s crown. He is no real king and has no real monarch’s crown (diadēma), but has won a crown from the world for his triumphant achievements leading to world peace. He will not conquer by military force, but by cunning and deceit (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9-11). His conquest will be a “cold war” victory, a peace won by agreement, not conflict (Dan. 9:24-27). Even as the final doom of the world approaches, Antichrist will promise a golden age of peace and prosperity. In gratitude, the world will honor him and elevate him to the position of supreme leadership. But both the accolades and the peace will be short-lived.

The Second Rider: Inter-personal Conflict

When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him. (6:3-4)

The world’s euphoric mood of peace and harmony will be rudely shattered as the second horse and rider appear on the scene. Just as World War II followed the deceptive peace promoted by Hitler, so devastating wars will spread throughout the world following the collapse of Antichrist’s false peace. Here the story turns ugly and remains that way until the true King returns to establish His kingdom.

As the Lamb broke the second seal John heard the second living creature summoning the second horseman, saying, “Come.” Immediately a red horse went out. Red, the color of fire and blood, depicts war. God’s judgment descends and the short-lived, false peace led by Antichrist dissolves in a bloody holocaust.

John first notes, concerning the rider, that to him… it was granted to take peace from the earth. All that happens will be under God’s sovereign control. He allows the false peace, and He ends it and brings war on the earth. Contrary to the teaching of some, the judgments of the Tribulation do not reflect the wrath of men or the wrath of Satan; they can only express God’s wrath poured out on the world. It is He who holds the seven-sealed scroll and the Lamb who unrolls it. Sometime early in the first half of the Tribulation, during the beginning of the birth pains (cf. Matt. 24:8; Mark 13:7-8; Luke 21:9), world peace turns to worldwide conflict as peace vanishes from the earth. Describing this time Jesus said, “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars… Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matt. 24:6-7). Men will slay one another on an unprecedented scale. Violent slaughter will become commonplace. While Scripture does not give the details, the advances in modern weaponry suggest a terrible, unimaginable holocaust.

John also noted that a great sword was given to the rider. Machaira (sword) refers to the short, stabbing sword a Roman soldier carried into battle. It was also a weapon used by assassins. The vision depicts a great sword to describe the extent of the war. Antichrist’s false peace, then, will dissolve in a maelstrom of battle, assassination, rebellion, revolt, and massacre.

As he was prominent in promoting the false peace, the final Antichrist will play a major role in the wars that follow it. Though the chief architect of the false peace, when wars break out all over the world he will have no choice but to resort to war himself in order to preserve his authority and power. Antichrist will be as skillful at war as he was at promoting the false peace. Daniel 8:24 describes his career as a warrior: “He will destroy to an extraordinary degree and prosper and perform his will; he will destroy mighty men and the holy people.” Among his victims will be many of God’s people (cf. 6:9; Matt. 24:9).

Antichrist’s setting up of the abomination of desolation (Dan. 11:31; 12:11; Matt. 24:15) will touch off a massive conflict, described in detail in Daniel 11:36-45:

Then the king will do as he pleases, and he will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will speak monstrous things against the God of gods; and he will prosper until the indignation is finished, for that which is decreed will be done. He will show no regard for the gods of his fathers or for the desire of women, nor will he show regard for any other god; for he will magnify himself above them all. But instead he will honor a god of fortresses, a god whom his fathers did not know; he will honor him with gold, silver, costly stones and treasures. He will take action against the strongest of fortresses with the help of a foreign god; he will give great honor to those who acknowledge him and will cause them to rule over the many, and will parcel out land for a price. At the end time the king of the South will collide with him, and the king of the North will storm against him with chariots, with horsemen and with many ships; and he will enter countries, overflow them and pass through. He will also enter the Beautiful Land, and many countries will fall; but these will be rescued out of his hand: Edom, Moab and the foremost of the sons of Ammon. Then he will stretch out his hand against other countries, and the land of Egypt will not escape. But he will gain control over the hidden treasures of gold and silver and over all the precious things of Egypt; and Libyans and Ethiopians will follow at his heels. But rumors from the East and from the North will disturb him, and he will go forth with great wrath to destroy and annihilate many. He will pitch the tents of his royal pavilion between the seas and the beautiful Holy Mountain; yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.

As the head of a Western confederacy, Antichrist, as noted above, will initially portray himself as a champion of peace. He will even appear to do what no one has been able to do, bring peace to the troubled Middle East. He will make a treaty with Israel, posing as their protector and defender. But all too soon his true colors will show, and his desire for dominance will provoke rebellion. Antichrist’s attempts to crush his enemies and rule them with an iron hand will touch off wars that will last throughout the remainder of the Tribulation. Finally, when earth’s true King, the Lord Jesus Christ, returns, Antichrist will be cast into the lake of fire forever (20:10).

The wars that begin with the opening of the second seal will last for the brief remaining time before the coming of the millennial kingdom.

The Third Rider: Famine

When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.” (6:5-6)

As the Lamb broke the third seal, the mighty voice of the third living creature heralded the coming of the third horse and rider. John’s use of the word behold reveals how startled and shocked he was by the rider’s ominous appearance. The color black is associated with famine in Lamentations 5:10 (kjv). Famine is a logical consequence of worldwide war as food supplies are destroyed and those involved in food production are killed. Jesus also predicted this future famine in Matthew 24:7: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.” God has used famine as a means of judgment in the past (e.g., Lev. 26:26; Deut. 32:24; 2 Kings 8:1; Ps. 105:16; Isa. 3:1; Jer. 16:4; Ezek. 4:16-17; 5:16; 14:13; Hag. 1:11), but this will be the most devastating famine in all of human history.

The pair of scales the rider carried in his hand pictures the rationing that will result from the famine. As in the United States during the Depression, in Europe in the aftermath of World War II, and today in many war-torn third-world nations, there will be starving people standing in food lines. But they will not find enough food to live on, as the fourth seal in John’s vision reveals. Following the appearance of the black horse and its rider, John heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures. Since the four living creatures were stationed around the throne (4:6), this is likely the voice of God, the One sitting on the throne (4:2-3). God also speaks in connection with the fifth seal (6:11). He speaks here as a reminder that the famine is a direct judgment from Him.

God’s pronouncements reveal how devastating the famine conditions will be. A quart of wheat is barely enough to sustain one person for one day, while a denarius represents one day’s wages for an average worker. People’s labor will barely provide enough food for themselves and not enough to feed their families. Those with families will be able to purchase three quarts of barley for a denarius. That will provide food for their families, but barley was low in nutritional value and commonly fed to livestock. Thus, a person’s wages will barely feed three people with low quality food. Both of those scenarios represent starvation wages, and signify severe famine conditions.

In light of those extreme conditions, God cautions people not to damage (waste) the oil and the wine. Basic food staples will become priceless luxuries. Olive oil and wine, used in the preparation and cooking of food, as well as the purification of water, will need to be carefully protected.

A deceptive peace followed by worldwide wars and a resultant devastating global famine will combine to escalate the universal chaos. All this will take place during the first half of the Tribulation, while the worst will be yet to come.

The Fourth Rider: Death and Destruction

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (6:7-8)

The fourth seal in the vision follows the pattern of the first three. The Lamb broke the seal and the fourth living creature summoned the fourth horse and its rider. John described the final horse as an ashen horse. Chlōros (ashen), from which the English words “chlorophyll” and “chlorine” derive, refers to a sickly, pale, yellow-green color. It describes green vegetation in its only other New Testament uses (8:7; 9:4; Mark 6:39). The horse’s color vividly portrays the pale-green pallor of death characteristic of the decomposition of a corpse. Fittingly, the rider who sat on it had the ominous name Death. Death on a massive scale is the inevitable consequence of widespread war and famine. In this macabre and terrifying scene, John saw Hades… following with Death. Hades (here representing the grave) becomes, as it were, the grave digger, burying the remains of Death’s victims. Death and Hades are also paired in 1:18 and 20:13, 14.

The extent of the death and destruction wrought by war and famine is then quantified; authority was given to Death and Hades to destroy a fourth of the population of the earth. At the world’s current population of nearly 6 billion, that would amount to the staggering total of almost 1.5 billion deaths. In an age of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, such a total is terrifyingly plausible. Death will use four tools in his grim task. The first three elements, the sword, famine, and pestilence, are often linked together in Scripture (e.g., 1 Chron. 21:12; 2 Chron. 20:9; Jer. 14:12; 24:10; 44:13; Ezek. 6:11), and all four elements appear in Ezekiel 14:12-21.

The sword (war) and famine have already been discussed in connection with the second and third seals; the fourth seal exacerbates these conditions. Pestilence translates thanatos, the same word translated “Death” earlier in verse 8. Here it may primarily refer to disease as the cause of death (cf. 2:23; 18:8) but is broad enough to encompass natural disasters such as the earthquakes predicted by Jesus (Matt. 24:7), floods, and volcanic eruptions. It could also refer to the effects of biological and chemical weapons.

Throughout human history, disease has killed people on a far more massive scale than war. More Union and Confederate soldiers died from disease during the Civil War than were killed in battle. An estimated 30 million people died during the great influenza epidemic of 1918-19—more than three times as many as the estimated 8.5 million soldiers who died in battle during World War I. In addition, several million more died at about that same time in an outbreak of typhus in Russia, Poland, and Romania. In a world ravaged by war and famine, it is inevitable that such disease will be widespread.

At first glance, the inclusion of wild beasts with war, famine, and disease seems puzzling, since most creatures dangerous to man are either extinct or isolated in unpopulated regions. But one explanation may be that the most deadly creature of all, the rat, thrives in all populated areas. Rats have been responsible for uncounted millions of deaths throughout history, both by eating food supplies, and especially by spreading disease. The most infamous and devastating occurrence of rat-borne disease was the Black Death, a fourteenth-century outbreak of bubonic plague that wiped out one-fourth to one-third of Europe’s population. In a world ravaged by war, famine, and disease, the rat population may run wild.

The first four seals clearly describe awe-inspiring, frightening judgments without parallel in human history. There is nothing that has happened since John had this vision that could be the fulfillment of these judgments. These doomsday prophecies cannot be applied to the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 (which was before John had these visions, since he wrote Revelation about a.d. 96) or any other event since that one. Nothing this devastating has happened, yet these first four seal judgments are just the beginning of the horrific, worldwide woes that the sinful, rebellious world will experience. Far worse is still to come in the remainder of the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls. At that time the world of sinners will realize that “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” Heb. 10:31. There will be no escape for impenitent unbelievers from the terrors of the Tribulation, or from the infinitely worse terrors of hell. In the words of the writer of Hebrews, “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” Heb. 2:3.

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Source: John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Revelation 1-11, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 176-184.

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Heaven’s Open Door – Part 2 – Revelation 5 Commentary

Chapter 5 continues the glimpse into heaven begun in chapter 4. (See last post)

The focus of attention now shifts to a seven-sealed scroll in the hand of God. The scroll could not be read because it was rolled up and sealed (like a Roman will) with seven seals. John could see writing on both sides of the scroll, which meant that nothing more could be added. What was written was completed and final.

In John’s day, books were written on scrolls—pieces of papyrus or vellum up to 30 feet long, rolled up and sealed with clay or wax. The scroll that John sees contains the full account of what God has in store for the world. The seven seals indicate the importance of its contents. The seals are located throughout the scroll so that as each one is broken, more of the scroll can be read to reveal another phase of God’s plan for the end of the world. Only Christ is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll (5:3-5).

The scroll represents Christ’s “title deed” to all that the Father promised Him because of His sacrifice on the cross. “Ask of Me, and I shall give you the nations for Your iinheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Your possession” (Ps. 2:8). Jesus Christ is the “Heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2). He is our beloved “Kinsman-Redeemer” who was willing to give His life to set us free from bondage and to restore out lost inheritance (see Lev. 25:23-46; the Book of Ruth; Jer. 32:6-15).

As Christ removed the seals, various dramatic events took place. The seventh seal introduced the seven trumpet judgments (Rev. 8:1-2). Then, when the seventh trumpet had blown, the great day of God’s wrath was announced, ushering in the “bowl judgments.”  It is possible that the trumpet judgments were written on one side of the scroll and the bowl judgments on the other.

A title deed or will can be opened only by the appointed heir, and this is Jesus Christ. No one in all the universe could be found worthy enough to break the seals. No wonder John wept, for he realized that God’s glorious redemption plan for mankind could never be completed until the scroll was opened. The redeemer had to be near of kin, willing to redeem, and able to redeem. Jesus Christ meets all of the qualifications. He became flesh, so He is our Kinsman. He loves us and is willing to redeem; and He paid the price, so He is able to redeem.

Now we are able to enter into the worship experience described in the remainder of Revelation 5. And we’ll discover Four compelling reasons why we worship Jesus Christ.

  1. Because of who He is (vv. 5-7). Three unique titles are given to our Lord to describe who He is. First, He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. The reference here is to Genesis 49:8-10, where Jacob prophetically gave the scepter to Judah and made it the tribe of the kings.

The image of “the lion” speaks of dignity, sovereignty, courage, and victory. Jesus Christ is the only living Jew who can prove His kingship from the genealogical records. “Son of David” was a title often used when He was ministering on earth (see Matt. 1).

But He is also the Root of David, which means He brought David (and David’s line) into existence. As far as His humanity is concerned, Jesus had His roots in David (Isa. 11:1, 10); but as far as His deity is concerned, Jesus is the Root of David. This speaks, of course, of our Lord’s eternality; He is indeed the “Ancient of Days.” How the Messiah could both be David’s Lord and David’s son was a problem Jesus presented to the Pharisees, and they could not (or would not) answer Him (Matt. 22:41-46).

When John turned to see, he saw not a lion but a lamb! Jesus Christ is called “the Lamb” at least twenty-eight times in the Book of Revelation (the Greek word used means “a little pet lamb”) and the emphasis is not hard to miss. God’s wrath is “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16). Cleansing is by “the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14). The church is “the bride of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:7).

The theme of “the Lamb” is an important one throughout Scripture, for it presents the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. The Old Testament question, “Where is the lamb?” Gen. 22:7 was answered by John the Baptist who cried, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” John 1:29. The choirs of heaven sing, “Worthy is the Lamb!” (Rev. 5:12

The description of the Lamb (Rev. 5:6), if produced literally by an artist, would provide a grotesque picture; but when understood symbolically, conveys spiritual truth. Since seven is the number of perfection, we have here perfect power (seven horns), perfect wisdom (seven eyes), and perfect presence (seven Spirits in all the earth). The theologians would call these qualities omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence; and all three are attributes of God. The Lamb is God the Son, Christ Jesus!

We worship Jesus Christ because of who He is. But there is a second reason why we worship Him.

  1. Because of where He is (v. 6). To begin with, Jesus is in heaven. He is not in the manger, in Jerusalem, on the cross, or in the tomb. He is ascended and exalted in heaven. What an encouragement this is to suffering Christians, to know that their Savior has defeated every enemy and is now controlling events from glory! He too suffered, but God turned His suffering into glory.

But where is Christ in heaven? He is in the midst. The Lamb is the center of all that transpires in heaven. All creation centers in Him (the four living creatures), as do all of God’s people (the elders). The angels around the throne encircle the Savior and praise Him.

He is also at the throne. Some sentimental Christian poetry and hymnody dethrones our Savior and emphasizes only His earthly life. These poems and songs glamorize “the gentle Carpenter” or “the humble Teacher,” but they fail to exalt the risen Lord! We do not worship a Babe in a manger or a corpse on a cross. We worship the living, reigning Lamb of God who is in the midst of all in heaven.

  1. Because of what He does (vv. 8-10). When the Lamb came and took the scroll (see Dan. 7:13-14), the weeping ended and the praising began. God’s people and the representatives of God’s creation joined their voices in a new song of praise. Note that praise and prayer were united, for incense is a picture of prayer rising to the throne of God (Ps. 141:2; Luke 1:10). We shall meet the “incense prayers” of the saints again (Rev. 6:9-11)

What kind of song did they sing? To begin with, it was a worship hymn, for they said, “Thou art worthy!” To worship means “to ascribe worth,” and Jesus alone is worthy. When I was in the pastorate, 1 tried to open each morning worship service with a hymn that lifted the congregation’s minds and hearts upward to the Lord Jesus Christ. Too many contemporary songs are “I” centered rather than “Christ” centered. They so emphasize the believer’s experience that they almost ignore the Lord’s glory. Certainly there is a place for that kind of song, but nothing can compare with adoring Christ in spiritual worship.

But this song was also a Gospel song!You were slain, and have redeemed us by Your blood.” The word translated slain means “violently slain” (Rev. 5:6). Heaven sings about the Cross and the blood! I read about a denomination that revised its official hymnal and removed all songs about the blood of Christ. That hymnal could never be used in heaven, because there they glorify the Lamb slain for the sins of the world.

In Genesis 22, a ram was substituted for Isaac, a picture of Christ giving His life for the individual (see Gal. 2:20). At Passover, the lamb was slain for each family (Ex. 12:3). Isaiah states that Jesus died for the nation of Israel (Isa. 53:8; see also John 11:49-52). John affirms that the Lamb died for the whole world! (John 1:29) The more you meditate on the power and scope of Christ’s work on the cross, the more humbled and worshipful you become.

This song was also a missionary song. Sinners were redeemed “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Kindred refers to a common ancestor and tongue to a common language. People means a common race, and nation a common rule or government. God loves a whole world (John 3:16) and His desire is that the message of redemption be taken to a whole world (Matt. 28:18-20).

This heavenly hymn was also a devotional hymn, for it announced our unique position in Christ as “a kingdom of priests.” Like Melchizedek of old, believers are kings and priests (Gen. 14:17ff; Heb. 7; 1 Peter 2:5-10). The veil of the temple was torn when Jesus died, and the way is opened to God (Heb. 10:19-25). We “reign in life” as we yield to Christ and allow His Spirit to work in us (Rom. 5:17).

Finally, this song was a prophetic hymn:We shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). When Jesus Christ returns to earth, He will establish His righteous kingdom for 1,000 years; and we shall reign with Him (Rev. 20:1-6). The prayers of the saints, “Thy kingdom come!” will then be fulfilled. Creation shall then be set free from bondage to sin (Isa. 11:1-10; Rom. 8:17-23), and Christ shall reign in justice and power.

What a marvelous hymn! How rich would be our worship if only we would blend all these truths in honoring Him!

  1. Because of what He has (vv. 11-14). In this closing burst of praise, all the angels and every creature in the universe joined together to worship the Redeemer. What a cascade of harmony John heard! In this hymn, they stated those things that Jesus Christ deserved to receive because of His sacrificial death on the cross. When He was on earth, people did not ascribe these things to Him; for many of these things He deliberately laid aside in His humiliation..

He was born in weakness and He died in weakness; but He is the recipient of all power. He became the poorest of the poor (2 Cor. 8:9), and yet He owns all the riches of heaven and earth. Men laughed at Him and called Him a fool; yet He is the very wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24; Col. 2:3).

He shared in the sinless weaknesses of humanity as He hungered, thirsted, and became weary. Today in glory, He possesses all strength. On earth, He experienced humiliation and shame as sinners ridiculed and reviled Him. They laughed at His kingship and attired Him in a mock robe, crown, and scepter. But all of that is changed now! He has received all honor and glory!

And blessing! He became a curse for us on the cross (Gal. 3:13), so that we can never be under the curse of the broken Law. (Some translations read “praise” instead of “blessing,” but the Greek word carries both meanings.) He is worthy of all praise!

The worship service climaxed with all of the universe praising the Lamb of God and the Father seated on the throne!

And there was even a loud “Amen!” from the four living creatures! In heaven, we are permitted to say “Amen!”

Keep in mind that all of this praise centered on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. It is not Christ the Teacher, but Christ the Savior, who is the theme of their worship. While an unconverted person could praise the Creator, he certainly could not sincerely praise the Redeemer.

All of heaven’s praise came because the Lamb took the scroll from the Father’s hand. God’s great eternal plan would now be fulfilled and creation would be set free from the bondage of sin and death. One day the Lamb will break the seals and put in motion events that will eventually lead to His coming to earth and the establishment of His kingdom.

As you share in these heavenly worship services, do you find your own heart saying “Amen!” to what they have sung? You may believe in Christ as a good teacher, but have you trusted Him as your Savior?

If not, will you do so right now?

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will eat with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).

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Sources:
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 2, (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 2001), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 584-586.

Life Application Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 2178

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Heaven’s Open Door – Revelation 4 (Rapture)

There is an unprecedented fascination these days among both Christians and non-Christians with the afterlife. Books on supposed after- or near-death experiences and angels top the bestseller lists. TV programs explore the mysterious realm of the supernatural, often focusing on angels and their alleged interaction with humans. Many people, both those who profess to be Christians and those who do not, claim to have visited heaven and returned to tell of their experiences.

The apostle John also had the tremendous privilege of visiting heaven. The Bible refers to heaven more than five hundred times, and others, such as Paul (2 Cor. 12) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 1), wrote descriptions of it. Yet John’s description in chapters 4 and 5 is the most complete and informative in all of Scripture. Escorted by the beloved apostle, readers are carried far beyond the mundane features of this temporal realm to behold the realities of eternal heaven. Through John’s vision, believers have the privilege of previewing the place where they will live forever.

Chapter 4 begins a new vision, the second great vision given to John the Apostle. The Lord’s personal message to the individual churches is now over. He has told them who He is, pointed out their failures, and warned and counselled them to correct their failures. He has also given them the great promises of heaven if they will only overcome.

Now it is time for the churches to see the future events that are coming upon the earth. It is time for the churches to know that Jesus Christ is coming back to earth. He is going to end the world and establish the kingdom of God forever and ever in a new heavens and earth. Remember the brief outline of the Revelation given by John:

 “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” (Rev. 1:19)

  • “The things which you have seen” (the vision of the glorified Christ).
  • “The things which are” (the churches upon earth, their state and condition and the Lord’s personal message to them).
  • “The things which shall take place after this” (the future events that are to happen at the end of the world and throughout eternity).

In Chapter 4 we see that the vision of John, begins the future events.

Revelation 4:1After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up here, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.

John is called up. I believe this is symbolic of the Rapture of the church when we are called up by the Lord when He returns for us. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 that we shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. This word “caught up” comes from a Greek word, harpazo, which means to “seize or snatch up as a robber seizes.” The Latin word that forms the word “rapture” is raptus which means “to seize by force.”

There are several reasons why verse one is a reference to the rapture of the church.

  1. The chronological location in the book is right. In chapters two and three of Revelation we find the church is addressed. In chapters four and five we have a vision of Heaven and in chapter six the beginning of the Tribulation period. We are told that we will be kept from the hour of temptation in Revelation 3:10 meaning that the church will not go through the Tribulation period.
  2. Reason two is the absence of any mention of the Church after chapter three is an indication that it is not on the Earth during the Tribulation period. There are sixteen references to the church in the first three chapters. In chapters 6-18 there is no mention of the Church. Why? It has been raptured off the planet.
  3. The extensive use of Old Testament language and symbols in chapters four through eighteen indicate that God is dealing with the nation of Israel, not the Church. The Tribulation is the time of Jacob’s Trouble, the 70th week of Daniel’s vision. Symbols include the tabernacle, Ark of the Covenant, altar, elders, censers, cherubims, seals, trumpets, and plagues.
  4. The similarity of events in Revelation 4:1, 2 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 indicate that chapter 4:1 of Revelation is a reference to the rapture of the Church. Man says the world is getting better, but God says it will get increasingly worse. Man says that peace among nations is close at hand, but God says there will be wars, rumors of war, and nation will rise against nation. Man predicts in the years to come that he will win the battle against disease, famine, and hardship. God says there is to be a fearful looking forward to the judgments of disease, famine, hardship, and death. Liberals shun the book of Revelation. Like the Pharaoh of Egypt, they won’t face it, but instead scoff at the judgments to come. Let’s continue our journey through this chapter and see what happens in the throne room of Heaven.

The key word in this chapter is throne; it is used fourteen times. In fact, this is a key word in the entire book, appearing forty-six times. No matter what may happen on earth, God is on His throne and is in complete control. Various teachers interpret Revelation in different ways, but all agree that John is emphasizing the glory and sovereignty of God. What an encouragement that would be to the suffering saints of John’s day and of every age in history.

Using the throne as the focal point, we can easily understand the arrangement of this exciting chapter.

On the throne—Almighty God (vv. 2-3a). This is God the Father, since the Son approaches the throne in Revelation 5:6, and the Spirit is pictured before the throne in Revelation 4:5. There is no possible way for human words to describe what God is like in His essence. John can only use comparisons. Jasper is a clear gem (see Rev. 21:11) and the sardine is red. The Lord is robed in light, according to Psalm 104:2 and 1 Timothy 6:16. Both the jasper and the sardius (sardine) were found in the breastplate of the high priest (Ex. 28:17-21).

Around the thronea rainbow (v. 3b). This rainbow was a complete circle, not merely an arc, for in heaven all things are completed. The rainbow reminds us of God’s covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:11-17), symbolic of His promise that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood. God’s covenant, as we shall see, was not only with Noah, but with all of His creation.

Judgment is about to fall, but the rainbow reminds us that God is merciful, even when He judges (Hab. 3:2). Usually, a rainbow appears after the storm; but here, we see it before the storm.

Around the throne—twenty-four elders (vv. 3-4,).

Who are these twenty-four elders seated on thrones? It is unlikely that they are angels, because angels are not numbered (Heb. 12:22), crowned, or enthroned. Besides, in Revelation 7:11, the elders are distinguished from the angels (see also Rev. 5:8-11). The crowns they wear are the “victor’s crowns” (the Greek word Stephanos; see Rev. 2:10); and we have no evidence that angels receive rewards.

These elders probably symbolize the people of God (the church) in heaven, enthroned and rewarded. There were twenty-four courses of priests in the Old Testament temple (1 Chron. 24:3-5, 18; see also Luke 1:5-9). God’s people are “kings and priests” (Rev. 1:6), reigning and serving with Christ. Note especially their praise (Rev. 5:9-10). “Redeemed!” Humans/the church has been redeemed.

Note what else is said about the elders.

  1. They are seated upon thrones that surround God’s throne. This shows that they…
  • are near God, being honored with His presence.
  • are resting in God, being fulfilled, complete, and satisfied.
  • are enthroned with God, that is, they are given a permanent place in His presence forever and ever.

2.  They are clothed in white. This means that they are clothed in the purity and holiness of God and of Christ. There is no imperfection in them at all.

3.  They have victor’s crowns of gold on their heads. These same crowns are promised to believers /the church (1 Corinthians 9:25, 1 Thessalonians 2:19, Timothy 2:5, James 1:12, 1 Peter 5:4)

4. The palm branches speak of victory (see Rev. 7:9). These are the “overcomers” who have conquered because of their faith in Christ (1 John 5:4-5).

Around the throneliving creatures, (6-7)
Also around the throne, John saw four “living creatures” (“beasts” in the King James Version) who were nearer to God than the angels and the elders. They resemble the cherubim that the Prophet Ezekiel saw (Ezek. 1:4-14; 10:20-22), but their praise (Rev. 4:8) reminds us of the seraphim of Isaiah 6.

These creatures signify the wisdom of God (“full of eyes”) and proclaim the holiness of God. They are heavenly reminders that God has a covenant with His creation and that He rules His creation from His throne. The presence of the emerald rainbow further enhances this image, since the rainbow was given as the sign of the creation covenant. No matter what terrible judgments may fall on God’s earth, He will be faithful to keep His Word. Men may curse Him during the judgments (Rev. 16:9, 11, 21), but nature will praise Him and magnify His holiness.

The cherubim described in Ezekiel 1 seem to have a part in the providential workings of God in the world, pictured by the “wheels within the wheels.” God uses the forces of nature to accomplish His will (Ps. 148), and all nature praises and thanks Him.

Some students see in the four faces described (Rev. 4:7) an illustration of the fourfold picture of Christ given in the Gospel accounts. Matthew is the royal Gospel of the King, illustrated by the lion. Mark emphasizes the servant aspect of the Lord’s ministry (the calf). Luke presents Christ as the compassionate Son of man. John magnifies the deity of Christ, the Son of God (the eagle).

Worship in Heaven

The worship of the four living creatures, as they give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, triggers a response from the twenty-four elders. They will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever. This is the first of six times that the elders fall down before God (5:8, 14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4). Such a posture is one of reverential worship, a natural response to the majestic, holy, awe-inspiring glory of God (cf. Gen. 17:3; Josh. 5:14; Ezek. 1:28; 3:23; 43:3; 44:4; Matt. 17:6; Acts 9:4).

Amazingly, after falling down the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne. They are not preoccupied with their own excellence. They are not concerned about their own holiness, honor, or reward. All those things pale into insignificance and become meaningless in light of the glory of God.

The elders add their own note to the chorus of praise initiated by the four living beings, crying out, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” Axios (worthy) was used of the Roman emperor when he marched in a triumphal procession. The focus of the elders’ song is on God’s glory manifested in creation; He is presented as Creator throughout Scripture (cf. 10:6; Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:11; Isa. 40:26, 28; Jer. 10:10-12; 32:17; Col. 1:16). The elders are acknowledging that God has the right both to redeem and to judge His creation. Their song anticipates paradise lost becoming paradise regained.

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Sources:

The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible – Revelation, (Chattanooga: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “VISION TWO, 4:1-16:21”.

John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Revelation 1-11, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 144.

Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 2, (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 2001), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 582.

Rod Mattoon, Mattoon’s Treasures – Treasures from Revelation, (Springfield, IL: Lincoln Land Baptist Church, n.d.), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 116-117.

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