In the last study I discussed the events between the close of Revelation 3 and the start of Revelation 4, where I believe the rapture of the church occurs. This week I will press forward with a discussion of Revelation 4 and Revelation 5.
Many times, people express curiosity about what heaven will be like. There are, of course, scriptures throughout the Bible which discuss this subject abstractly or in detail. As we proceed through Revelation, we will see glimpses of heaven and some of the things that go on there, day and night. Sometimes this is in symbolic language, and sometimes the pictures that are painted are black and white. These next two chapters focus on just a few of the aspects of heaven and provide an interlude between the church age and the descriptions from Revelation of the events of Daniel's 70th week that begin in chapter 6.
Various authors point out that John is first given a glimpse of heaven before beginning his prophecies, just as Ezekiel and Isaiah saw a vision of heaven before starting their prophecies. The parallels are quite close - compare Ezek. 1;10:8-22 with the scripture here.
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 hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
The start of the chapter describes a portal or door being opened between heaven and Earth (or between the spiritual realm that heaven exists in and the physical realm that earth exists in, and the voice of Christ (as in chapter 1) saying to come up hither to see what all is going to happen after the church era.
Description of the Throne of God
4:2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
4:3 And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
Immediately after this, he is shown by the spirit another vision of heaven. He sees the throne of God, and God sitting on the throne. He may not have a complete vision of the majesty of God, but he does see a physical spirit body of God, sitting on a throne. The description of this spirit body is not unlike what is described in the first chapter, although the description is more colorful. The rainbow may be suggestive of a fairly high humidity environment, where God's glory provides the lighting that produces the rainbow effect in the throne room as the sun does in the mist on Earth.
With what is upcoming in the rest of the book of Revelation, it may be God's reminder to Himself and to John, that He will not destroy man utterly in the events that are about to prophetically transpire. Through it all, God's Spirit will be striving with man, trying to save every last individual.
The 24 Elders
4:4 And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
4:5 And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
From the above scriptures, we see a few more things about the throne room. Around God's throne are 24 other seats (in the KJV, but the same word as is translated throne above), and there are 24 elders in white raiment with crowns of gold sitting on them. There is some debate as to whether the elders are special angelic beings or whether they are 24 specific redeemed saints. Dake tends to believe that they are in fact redeemed saints, and I would agree with that. They are mentioned in a few other places in Revelation and usage seems consistent that they are redeemed saints. Their description of being dressed with white and crowned seems consistent with other places and they are mentioned separately from angels in chapter 5.
The description includes lightning and thundering and voices emanating from the throne, and as discussed in our study of Chapter 1, either the Holy Spirit is in attendance or possibly seven specific angels are in attendance.
The Four Beasts
4:6 And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
4:7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
4:8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
4:9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
4:10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
Around the throne is a floor that is as clear as crystal. Who knows what you could see if you looked through it, but the effect must be both a bit cool and a bit terrifying if you are afraid of heights or walking on air. It might put the new Indian Grand Canyon overlook to shame!
The description then goes on to say that there are four beasts that surround the throne. The word beast here is probably mistranslated and should be living creature instead of living beast. The description here is very close to what Ezekiel described of the cherubim, although the description is not identical. It is perfectly possible that these are either the same spiritual being and each author just highlighted different things about them that struck him, or that they are two different similar creations of the Father which serve His desires.
Having just read the National Geographic article about the Arlington Cemetery, and particularly the honor guard that walks before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, I am struck by a similarity. We see in John's vision either a spiritual representation of these creatures or a physical description that matches a being that is far out from our realm of reference.
In either case, they appear to have one job. That is, to worship God. John describes them saying "Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come" resting not, day and night. When they give glory and honor and thanks to God on His throne, the 24 elders fall down before God, worshiping Him, casting their crowns at His feet, giving honor as well.
There is another school of thought that the four beasts are representative of four things - fill in the blank ______. I tend to feel that they are in fact cherubim, but if I was going to wax symbolic, I would say that with each of their four faces, they could represent symbolically all creation that we think of as existing in our air breathing world. There are the wild animals symbolized by the lion, the domesticated animals symbolized by the calf, mankind, and the birds of the air, symbolized by the eagle.
All worship God. In fact, if you remember Jesus' entry into Jerusalem when the multitudes cried:
19:38 Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest
he was rebuked by the Pharisee's and told to rebuke His disciples. His response is found in:
19:40 And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.
So I would say that if stones could cry out praises to Jesus, that a symbolic representation of God's creation in heaven could certainly cry out. The many eyed nature of this part of the vision might tend to support this.
I'm not sure what all we'll be doing in heaven, but worshiping the Father will definitely be a part of our jobs (and hopefully our desires). Remember that this constant worship of the Father was part of what got Satan into trouble. He got an exalted opinion of himself and got in trouble with God over his bad attitude. We need to strip our own pride away now while it is easy to do and get a good grip on the fact that we are dust and saved by grace through faith and not by our own works. Even the 24 elders don't think they are worthy of the crowns they have been given, and cast them at the feet of the Father. Truly, we can do no less.
This section of scripture was made into a chorus that we have occasionally sung here - "Thou art worthy". It tends to be sung more often in other churches, and is a fine chorus.
5:1 And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
5:2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
5:3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
5:4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
Revelation 5 begins with a question. A strong angel is asking (rhetorically, for he knew the answer) who was worthy to open the book. The seven seals had to be broken in order to do this, and the unsealing will be described in Revelation 6 and Revelation 8, with a parenthetical section in Revelation 7.
The fact that nobody is able to open the book - either in heaven or on earth - makes John sad. Nobody was worthy to look on the book, much less open it.
5:5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
5:6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
5:7 And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.
In this next passage, it is clear that Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah and the Root of David has prevailed by His Sacrifice on Calvary to be found worthy to loose the seals of the book and to open it. He takes the book from God.
Worship of Christ
5:8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.
5:9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
5:10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
This passage has some slight difficulties in translation. It says that the four beasts and the four and twenty elders all fall down and worship Christ, holding the prayers of saints as odors, and harps before them, singing that Christ is worthy because of His death on Calvary and His redeeming us to God by His blood. There is an objection that the creatures are created and haven't fallen and thus don't need to be redeemed. If they are indeed cherubim, then this would be correct. If they are symbolic of the creation on Earth, then all the creation has fallen and although the redeeming blood of Christ saves us from sin, His work on Calvary may have redeemed creation in some other way.
Some say that the word us and we should have been translated as them and they, reflecting that not all of them need to be redeemed. If you do that, though, it is hard to make the elders out to be redeemed saints, which I feel is the correct interpretation there. I tend to believe instead that the words to the song they are singing are simply repeated by all of the creatures and the elders.
Alternatively, John could have recorded what he heard the majority say, and not differentiated the words of the creatures. How many services have you been in where somebody joined the church or was baptized and you go ahead and say the words because it is expected, even if you aren't a member? We shouldn't get hung up on the words.
5:11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
5:12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
5:13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
5:14 And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.
At the end of the chapter, we see a summary of the worship of the Father and the Lamb. We have not only the creatures and the elders, but the voices of ten thousand times then thousand and thousands and thousands of angels worshiping God. Every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the seal and all continued this worship for ever.
The main thing that strikes you in this chapter is the majesty of God, and the absolute worship that He commands and receives. We can get caught up in discussions about what the beasts represent, who the elders are, and so many other aspects, and miss this one true and obvious reality. God will be worshipped.
When the beasts cry holy, holy, holy and give glory and honor to God, all the 24 elders drop whatever they are doing and join in. The apparent sole purpose for existence for these beasts is to cry holy, holy, holy before the throne of God. There may be other purposes, but this is certainly what John was allowed to see. Compared to this, in our church services today, regardless of what denomination or church we attend, our worship of the Father and the Lamb is pathetic! If you get nothing else from this entire Revelation series (save that you need to be ready for His return), grasp this concept!
Clearly understanding the truth of who God is and what He deserves by His very nature will go a long way to fixing the problems your church or denomination may have as pointed out in Revelation 2 and Revelation 3. Clearly understanding this chapter will go a long way to understanding just how far humanity in general and even the church has fallen from what God expects of His people.
The Old Testament High Priest went into the Holy of Holies after much purification at only the appointed times and with a rope tied around his ankle in case he was found wanting. In the New Testament, lying about the selling price of a piece of land caused a husband and wife to be struck down in front of Peter (Acts 5:1-11). The price wasn't the issue and they weren't required to give all their proceeds to the church. They were just supposed to tell the truth about it.
Compared to these things, we in the church today are black as night! The church often times hasn't earned the respect of the people. This is something that everyone in the church hierarchy will have to give an account for when they stand before Christ at the judgment of the righteous people's works. But that won't be an excuse for how the common folk have acted towards the church in front of God. Let us all start doing right in God's sight.
If you get a good grasp of just how far away from God's standards humanity has fallen, then the rest of Revelation won't come as such a shock. Unless you see just how unworthy I, and you, and all of us are save for the blood of Jesus, you will read the rest of Revelation with a sense that God is being unjust. He's not. He's laid out His standards clearly in the Bible and He expects us to live up to them.
Praise God for His Grace and His Mercy! Praise God for His Love towards us! Praise God for His plan of salvation through the blood of God! Forgive me, and forgive us for taking our Worship lightly and not understanding the relationship of God the Father as King!
We don't understand, as humans, how good we have things, until we see how bad things could be up close and personal. The same is true in heaven. It might not seem like much fun worshiping God forever, but when you gaze into hell and see the alternative, worshiping God is going to look pretty good.
While it might seem boring to worship God in heaven, too often we feel the same way here on Earth. I'm sure that much of the world views it as boring to go to church every Sunday. Certainly, few do attend faithfully. But whatever your opinion of prolonged worship is, remember that the alternative is not something you want to face! It's time to start attending church whenever its doors are opened to get in shape for the worship sessions we will participate in one day!
We'll try to cover all of the seven seals and the parenthetical chapter in next week's lesson.