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 4:1—After 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 throne—a 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.
- 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 throne—living 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.
Watch Messages: YouTube-Upwards Church
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.
Pingback: Heaven’s Open Door – Part 2 – Revelation 5 Commentary | Upwards Church