Revelation 4 Chapter Study

INTRODUCTION

As we come now to chapter 4, we mark a significant change in the tone of the book.

In chapter 1, John relates the vision he had of Jesus in glory while he was imprisoned on the Island of Patmos.

Then in chapters 2 & 3, John records 7 letters dictated to him by Jesus that were to be sent to seven churches located in the Roman province of Asia what today we know as the nation of Turkey.

But as we come to chapter 4, we enter that portion of the book most people think of when they think of Revelation seemingly arcane & esoteric visions of the future.

 

Its important we realize theres a fixed outline for the Book of Revelation given by Jesus to John in 1:19

Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.

This three-part outline organizes the entire book.

When Jesus tells John to write the things hes seen hes referring to the vision that precedes v. 19 in chapter 1.

The things which are are Jesuss message to the churches in chapters 2 & 3.

These messages spoke to specific situations that were taking place in those churches at that time.

But as we saw last week, those seven messages also lay down a summary of the history of the Church from the ascension of Jesus to His return in the Rapture.

The third and final section of the book Jesus calls, the things which will take place after this. These are found in chapters 4-22.

Its interesting to note that its these same words that open chapter 4 . . .

CHAPTER 4

1After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.

In 1:19 after this is meta-tauta

S q r S kr r S N .

4:1 begins and ends with the exact same phrase -

N q, r k zv d , r x | } E d , E , r S s N .

The Holy Spirit doesnt want us to miss the point that we have now entered the third and final section of the book.

After these things; what things? The message to the churches.

John looks and sees a door standing open in heaven.

This reminds us of Jesuss promise to the Church of Philadelphia in chapter 3

8I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.

9Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lieindeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.

10Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.

As we saw so clearly, this is a promise to keep the faithful from the Tribulation by removing them in the Rapture.

And what John is seeing here in v. 1 of chapter 4, is the Rapture.

After the things of the church age, represented by the messages to the church in chapters 2 & 3, John sees a door open in heaven and hears a voice calling him to come up.

Its interesting that the word church is used 19 times in chapters 1-3, but isnt used again from Chapter 4 all the way through the visions of the Last days.

In fact, it isnt used again until the end of the last chapter (22:16) and one of the titles of Jesus.

The reasons we dont find the word church in all the visions of the last days judgments is because the church is not present on earth during that time.

Its in heaven which is where we see John going in his vision here in 4:1.

1After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.

The first voice John heard was in 1:10

10I was in the Spirit on the Lords Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet

As we read what this voice says we realize its the voice of Jesus.

Here in 4:1, Jesus again speaks to John and calls him up through the open door to heaven.

Jesus voice is once again likened to that of a trumpet.

And its fitting that this voice which rallies John into heaven sounds like a trumpet because trumpets were used for precisely this purpose in the ancient world and in the nation of Israel in particular.

The sound of the trumpet was notable as the summons to the nation of Israel to gather for a solemn assembly.

The trumpet announced to the nation during the Exodus that it was time to strike their tents and move on to their next camp.

And here John hears the voice of the Lord like a trumpet, calling him to come up to heaven.

Were reminded of Pauls words about the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4

16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

 Jesus tells John that once hes come up, He will show him things which must take place after this.

And again we have the word meta-tauta.

Dont miss this point John will be shown things that MUST take place after the things of the church age.

His vantage point is heaven but he will be shown things that will take place on earth.

And all of it is after these things after this.

The preterist interpretation of Revelation says that almost all of the book of Revelation, all but the very last chapters, were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Yet here Jesus says that the things of chapters 4 & on will take place after this meaning after the time John lived and wrote.

Its a settled fact that John penned Revelation in the early 90s, well after the destruction of Jerusalem!

So the only way the preterists can make this interpretation work is to assign an earlier date for Revelation sometime PRIOR to 70 AD.

There is simply no way to justify this since we know John was banished to Patmos by Diocletian and he didnt reign till the 80s!

So folks, as the Preterist view of Bible prophecy grows and becomes more popular, instead of getting caught up in answering it line by line, just remember this simple fact, in Rev. 4:1, Jesus tells John he will show him things which must take place after this and John wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem.

 

At this point, John is caught up to heaven and describes for us what he saw there.

He attempts to describe heaven, but has to use symbols.

He uses the word, like a lot, which indicates hes using words for earthly things to describe what he sees in heaven.

Since he uses a lot of symbolic language here its important we clarify a couple things.

1) When using symbolic language, the symbol always stands for a real thing.

Those who interpret the bible primarily spiritually or symbolically tend to dismiss the fact that John actually saw something.

They turn Johns words and descriptions of heaven and of the visions he had into something completely other than what he says.

Interpreting the Bible literally, which is the proper way to interpret, means to understand that when John describes a vision he had and uses symbolic or figurative language, we understand that he is describing something he REALLY saw, and that the visions are meant to portray real events and real things.

2) Symbols almost always end up coming short of the thing they are attempting to describe. The real thing is greater than its symbol.

So as we read Johns descriptions of what he saw in these visions, realize that while they may appear pretty wild, the reality they portray will be even higher and greater.

2Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.

As soon as the voice of Jesus issues the command to come up John says he was in the Spirit.

Once again we see a foreshadowing of the Rapture for that is precisely what 1 Cor. 15 says will happen to us.

We will be instantly transformed from mortal to immortal; in a moment, like the twinkling of an eye, we will be changed, and as Paul describes it, this physical body will be changed into a spiritual body.

Then John is immediately aware that hes in heaven, where He sees a throne.

Again, as Paul says in 1 Thess 4 in talking about the Rapture, we will be caught up to meet the Lord and will be with Him thus forever.

Where is Christ? He is in heaven seated at the right hand of the Father!

And that is what John beholds a throne with a glorious occupant!

 

Have you ever wondered what heaven will be like?

We get a picture of it here and we would do well to study it.

A few years ago, a group of us went to Kauai.

Now, for several months, Kauai was nothing more than a name of one of the Hawaiian islands to me.

Then, as the time for our trip grew closer, I started reading the Tour book.

It told about the history of the island and the sights to see.

There were pictures and maps and the more I studied the more excited I got about going.

When we finally arrived, as my eyes fastened on things I had only read about, I got excited because I understood their significance so much better.

One of the blessings of the Book of Revelation is that it gives us a great picture of what heavens going to be like.

The more we study it, the more familiar we become with the glory that awaits us and the more it will prime our hearts to worship God.

As we diligently study Johns visions of heaven, we wont be walking around heaven like a bunch of country bumpkins and goofy tourists saying, Wow, whats that?

A man was driving through a mining region one Sunday when he noticed a large number of mules in an open field. When he stopped for gas at the next town he asked about the mules and was told that the animals had been brought up from the dark passages of the mines below to preserve their eyesight. Unless they were regularly exposed to the sunlight they would eventually go blind.

We need similar experiences to keep us from losing our spiritual vision.

We live in a spiritually dark world and need to have our vision of heaven renewed regularly so we can be reminded of our destiny and the glory that awaits us.

 

The first thing to occupy John's attention is a throne and the One who sat there.

This throne is the main theme of chapter 4.

The word is used 12 times in these 11 verses.

In fact, its used 46 times throughout the entire book!

Johns attention is arrested by this throne, and everything else is described in relation to it.

Please take careful note of this. John is caught up to heaven and whats the very first thing that occupies his attention? = The Throne of God!

In light of all the turmoil and trouble that we are about to see in the visions of John, he wants to remind us that above and behind it all is the throne of God!

He is sovereign and no matter how bad things may get, God is still on His throne and in control.

 History is His Story from beginning to end, and at the center of it all is the throne of God.

3And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.

John tries to describe what he saw, but his words fall short so he repeatedly says, It was like . . .

He doesnt describe a form for God; instead he speaks of the glory that emanated from the One who sat on the throne and describes it as light reflected from precious gems.

The word jasper is the Greek word n (iaspis) and is not the jasper of our modern day.

It was a precious stone that came in many different colors.

The sardius was a stone that came in two colors, flesh and red.

The flesh colored stone was known as carnelian while the red was sardine.

The sardius was often a blending of these two; swirled flesh and red.

If we try to visualize what John saw wed picture light that shimmers with a multitude of hues, thats the jasper, but shooting through it are rays of light that are swirls of flesh and red.

The jasper speaks of the fullness of Gods glory, embracing all the colors, while the sardius represents humanity of Christ, who became flesh and show blood was shed to grant us access to the glory of heaven.

Around the throne John saw a green rainbow.

The rainbow was a sign of God's covenant of mercy, that He would never destroy the earth by a flood again. (Gen 9: 13)

To the ancient world. the color green speaks of life and refreshment.

Being an agricultural society, green was the color of the crops and fields.

It spoke of life and prosperity.

Green was the color of renewal and refreshment, just as today, we find rest in the shade of a tree and the picture of someone stretching out on the grass speaks of peaceful repose.

What John is seeing is that the throne of God is the origin of life and final place of rest.

Just as Paul says in Ephesians; Christ has finished His work and is now seated at the right hand of Glory, so we are seated with Him in heavenly places.

And Jesus promises to the overcomers in 3:21 that they will sit with Him on His throne!

 

What a striking image this is a throne surrounded by a rainbow!

A throne is a place of rule and speaks of sovereignty.

A rainbow is a symbol of a promise and speaks of faithfulness

God is sovereign yet has given us precious promises.

He will exercise His control over all things to make sure each and every one of His promises are fulfilled.

The green rainbow reminds us Gods promises are not old and stale; they are fresh and new just as it says in the Psalm, His mercy is new every morning.

You and I can take great comfort in the sovereignty of God, because we know Gods sovereignty is on our side.

No good purpose or promise of God relating to the believer will ever be left undone.[1]

Now, Johns vision widens out -

4Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.

John sees other thrones arrayed in a circle around the throne of God.

On each of these 24 thrones he sees an elder sitting.

He can tell theyre elders just by looking at them and we might ask, How?

Elders played a crucial role in the ancient world, especially in Israel.

In every city, town and village, the elders were the town council the leaders.

They were always older men who had proven themselves successful in living and business.

As befitting their station, they wore clothing and groomed themselves in such a way that if they were in a crowd, you could pick them out as an elder.

When one town was negotiating with another over some issue, it was the elders who did the negotiating.

They were the leaders and representatives.

John takes one look at these 24 thrones and sees men sitting on them who are clearly elders.

The throne speaks of authority and rule.

That they are arranged around the throne of God means that their thrones are extensions of His and that He over-rules their thrones.

What we are seeing here is the fulfillment of what Jesus said in 3:21 when He promised the overcomers they would sit with Him upon His throne.

But why 24 whats the significance of that number?

Commentators have ventured many guesses but once again, we need to take our cue from the OT.

In 1 Chronicles 24 we learn that by the time of King David, there were too many priests to let them all serve at once so he divided them into 24 divisions; each with its own schedule for service and each with its own representative.

It was the duty of the priests to lead the nation in the worship of God, and in Revelation 5, we find the 24 elders engaged in the same activity -

5:8Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying: You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10And have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.

The 24 elders are representatives of all God's people, from all ages.

The number 24 probably speaks of the 12 tribes of Israel along with the 12 apostles who laid the foundation of the Church.

In Matthew 19:28, Jesus told the apostles they were going to sit on 12 thrones in the Kingdom.

That the 24 elders are redeemed believers is proven by what they wear white robes, which in 3:5 & 18 are promised to those who overcome.

They also have golden crowns, which reminds us of the numerous promises in the Bible about the crowns that are given to the people of God as heavenly rewards.

 (1 Corinthians 9:25; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4)

5And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.

Lightning, thunder, voices and fire are all things that were part of Gods presence at Mount Sinai in the Exodus. (Exodus 19:16-19 & 20:18-19)

One of the tools in the arsenal of hostage rescue teams is whats called a flash-bang grenade.

Its not like a regular grenade which tears everything apart by flying shrapnel.

A flash-bang temporarily stuns its victims by exploding with a very loud noise and a bright flash of light.

The combination of sound and light overwhelm the senses of the target and incapacitate them for several seconds.

As we read Johns description of heaven, we wonder if he wasnt totally overwhelmed by what he heard and saw.

Now, coming from the throne of God he sees lightnings, and hears thunderings and voices.

If youve ever experienced a thunderstorm in the Midwest, then you have a good idea of what John was seeing.

The storms we get here on the west coast are nothing like the thunder & lightning storms you get in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois.

Lightning will strike again and again in rapid bursts and the thunder is so intense it shakes that ground and causes the very air to pulse.

Theres something notable about these storms too no matter where you are, the light from the flash pierces even to the darkest recesses and the thunder vibrates through any wall.

Thats the idea here there is no place in all creation that isnt affected by the rule of God.

There is no darkness that will escape His light and no place where the sound of His voice will not reach.

John then sees seven lamps of fire before the throne, which are described as the seven Spirits of God.

We already encountered this in both 1:4 & 3:1

Seven is the number of completion and this refers to the Holy Spirit in His fullness.

Isaiah 11:2 gives us the 7-fold fullness of the Holy Spirit -

The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

Its interesting that the Holy Spirit is represented by lamps of fire.

In Acts 2:3 when the Holy Spirit came in power on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, we read that He appeared as tongues of fire resting on them.

Fire is a symbol of refining and purifying.

He is the called the HOLY Spirit; the goal of His indwelling is to make us more like Christ by making us Holy.

6Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. [Stop]

Stretching out before and around the throne of God is a vast sea that looks to John like the finest glass.

The glass of that day was of rather poor quality, being rather discolored and bubbly.

It light through but was not clear as we know it.

Clear glass was made of crystal and was highly prized.

John sees the ground of heaven like the finest glass.

When Moses came down from Mt Sinai with the 10 Commandments, he also came with plans for a special building called the tabernacle.

God told him to be careful to build it just like he had seen it.

Then in the book of Hebrews we learn that the earthly tabernacle was a copy of heaven.

In the tabernacle there was a large bronze basic called the laver, or sea.

It was used for washing in preparation to enter the Holy of holies, which is the model of the throne room of God.

Here in v. 6, John sees the real sea the laver only symbolized.

This heavenly sea represents the forgiveness and cleansing God offers us.

But instead of a large basin, its an entire sea, signaling the fact that His mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing are limitless and beyond exhausting.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.

But now think whats the medium of our cleansing its the Word of God!

Psalm 119:9 says -

How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says

16All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

 

Then in Ephesians 5:25-27 we read this -

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.

Its Gods Word that shows us where we err, and then corrects us and establishes us in righteousness.

You could say the Word of God is our foundation, the spiritual ground we stand on and that is precisely what we see in the crystal sea of heaven.

[6]And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!

We find these creatures at several places in the Bible

They play an important part in Ezekiels visions of God in chapters 1 & 10 where they are called cherubim. [10:20]

Isaiah saw them in his vision of the throne room of heaven in chapter 6.

Every time we encounter the cherubim, theyre around the throne of God (4:6 5:6 14:4)

In fact, theyre so intimately tied to the presence of God that Hes referred to as the God who dwells between the cherubim. (2 Kings 19:15 Psalm 80:1 99:1 Isa.37:16)

Figures of the cherubim were woven into the design of the curtains in the tabernacle (Exodus 26:31)

We find them on the top of the mercy seat over the Ark of the Covenant. (Exo. 25:18-21)

They seem to function very much like ceremonial Heavenly bodyguards.

 

As John sees them, they are full of eyes, speaking of their eternal vigilance.

The first of the 4 cherubim looks like a lion, the second like a young ox, in the peak of its strength.

The third looks like a man, while the fourth looks like an eagle.

In Ezekiels description of the cherubim, each of them has 4 faces, with these 4 different creatures making up one face.

John is probably describing the side of each cherub as it was facing him.

But he sees a lion, a man, and ox, and an eagle.

These creatures represent the noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest of natural creation.

When they, along with the 24 elders, worship God, which they constantly do together, it represents all of creation, both nature and man, worshiping God.

There has been no end to the conjecture as to what the 4 creatures represent.

In the book of Numbers[2] were told how the camp of Israel was arranged around the tabernacle when they camped.

There were 3 tribes on each side, N, S, E, & W.

In front of each group of 3 tribes a standard or ensign was raised, and on these 4 ensigns reliable Jewish tradition tells us were these 4 creatures.

Judahs standard had a lion on it. Ephraims had an ox, Reuben had a man, Dan an eagle.[3]

If the tabernacle was a model of heaven and the center of the camp of Israel was the Holy of holies, then its fitting that around the tabernacle would be these standards, representing the cherubim.

Theres one more rather provocative thing to consider about the arrangement of the camp of Israel as we see it recounted in the Book of Numbers.

As the name of the book suggests, Numbers gives us a census of the tribes of Israel.

As we plot the layout of the camp by their population, we discover that the shape of the camp would have been a cross!

 

Another popular view of why these four creatures are represented is found in very early Christian tradition that the four gospels are symbolized by these four creatures.

Matthew presents Jesus as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies and the Lion of Tribe of Judah.

Mark presents Jesus as the perfect servant, represented by the young ox.

Lukes gospel makes pains to present Jesus as the perfect man, while John goes to equal pains to present Jesus as the one from Heaven so the eagle.

Some of the earliest of Christian art depicts Jesus as one or all four of these creatures.

 

Whats noteworthy is their song in v. 8

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!

This is called the trishagios; the thrice-holy

If the Bible says something once, its important.

If its repeated, its of special note and attention.

But when we find something spoken three times in succession its elevated to a place of primacy!

God is Holy!!! This is the main declaration of the cherubim, of those creatures which surround Gods throne.

Day and night, without rest they utter this declaration and word of worship - Holy, holy, holy.

The holiness of God is a truth that needs to be emphasized today!

Ill have a lot more to say about this in our study on Sunday.

Some see in the trishagios, the thrice-holy, a reference to the Trinity.

 

The cherubim call God the Lord Almighty.

He is Lord; the supreme authority.

And he is Almighty; its that word Pantokrator that we looked at in Chapter 1.

He is the One Who has His hand on everything.

Who was and is and is to come. He is eternal.

 

This is the song of the cherubim, and though Johns description of them sounds bizarre, we can only conclude that these creatures are not barbaric or uncouth on the contrary, they are super-intelligent.

They are all eyes, speaking of mental alertness and awareness.

They have 6-wings, meaning they are mobile and purposeful in their movement.

And what is it we see them doing every time we encounter them?

They are worshipping Him who sits on the throne.

These most intelligent, refined, and powerful creatures spend their time doing what?

All failure to truly worship is rooted in nothing less than a lack of seeing and understanding what is real.

If we could see God in His glory right now our response would be to worship.

And the more we grow in the knowledge of God, the more we will be mobbed to worship.

He who says he knows God and is not a worshipper does not know the God of the Bible, or the God of heaven.

9Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:

11 You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.

Since the living creatures are worshipping God constantly, so are the 24 elders!

They vacate their thrones to prostrate themselves before God's.

They remove their crowns, the rewards handed them for their faithfulness, and cast them at Gods feet as acts of adoration.

Have you ever gone to a party only to discover that you were supposed to bring a gift and didnt know it?

In heaven, the rewards weve received from the Lord for our faithfulness will only become the emblems of our love and devotion back to Him.

We will take what is our best, and expend it on Him.

In the casting of their crowns at Gods feet, theres also an allusion to a practice known in the Roman Empire.

Caesar ruled over many lesser kings, and these kings were occasionally commanded to come before the Emperor and lay their crowns down before him in homage.[4]

Then he would give them back, as a demonstration that their right to rule came from him.

So the elders cast their crowns at Gods feet, He gives them back, and they once again heave them forth as signs of their utter dependence on Him.

 

Soon after Queen Victoria ascended her throne, she attended a concert in which Handels Messiah as performed.

She was told, Your Majesty, its customary for royalty not to stand when the Hallelujah Chorus is rendered. Though everyone else stands, Your Majesty is to remain seated.

When the orchestra and chorus came to the part where they proclaimed Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords, the queen, against custom and protocol, stood and bowed her head in worship and adoration.

She was not afraid to break convention of Englands court to honor the higher custom of the Court of Heaven.

The word worship in both Hebrew and Greek comes from the word meaning to bow down.

Worship involves the whole person: body, soul, spirit.

Its not just our voices raised in song.

Worship involves all we have and are.

 

V. 11 will be the focus of our study on Sunday, so well leave further comment till then.



[1] Guzik, David

[2] 2:3-25

[3] Seiss, Clarke, and Poole each mention this approach, and cite Jewish writers (Seiss), the Talmudists (Clarke), and the learned Mede . . . from the Rabbins (Poole)

[4] Guzik, David