Revelation 4:1 – 5:14
Vision of heaven
“After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this..’ At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.”
Revelation 4 begins with John being asked to “come up here.” The moving of an individual by the Spirit is seen in other places in Scripture. Some examples include:
Elijah: “I don’t know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you” [said by Obadiah in 1 Kings 18:12].
Ezekiel: “The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the Lord on me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days—deeply distressed” [Ezekiel 3:14 – 15].
Philip: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing” [Acts 8:39].
Paul: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows” [2 Corinthians 12:2].
The Revelation 4 throne is occupied. The general feeling is this is THE ONE who rules all. Everything comes from and to this one who is seated on the throne. This is the appearance of God the Father. There is NO physical description of the one on the throne other than colors and impressions. The language is rabbinical to describe the “shekinah” glory of God. We also have God posturing Himself as the confident victor in the inevitable war that follows.
“And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.” The rainbow (literally “iris” and can be translated “halo”) is the symbol for covenant and promise (see the covenant given to Noah after the flood).
Surrounding the throne were 24 other thrones, and seated on them were 24 elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.
This is the only mention of the number 24 (used symbolically in scripture). Wesley suggests the 24 thrones/elders represent “the whole body of saints.” Possible ideas: the 12 tribes + 12 apostles, the divisions of Aaron’s descendants (and duties), angelic rank (Colossians 1:16), great and minor prophets, etc…
“From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal” [verses 5 – 6a]. The ancient world worship “gods” that terrorized people with lightning and thunder. However, the image we have brings joy to those in heaven. The seven lampstands have already been identified as the seven churches, but they also have a connection to the lampstands in the temple. The significance of seven connects with the seven-fold Spirit (Holy Spirit). Notice the nature of the old covenant (temple), the new covenant (church), and the Holy Spirit are to light up their surroundings and operate in the light.
“In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back” [verse 6b]. The four living creatures have been a source of speculation. The cherubim on the mercy seat (lid to the “ark of the covenant”) had two wings. In Isaiah 6 there are seraphim who have six wings. The eyes of the living creatures are a picture of ceaseless vigilance and unending intelligence. They are the “honor guard” for the one who sits on the throne. Early Christian writers understood the creatures to represent the four gospels, the four “great” apostles, and/or the church of both the Old and New Testament (Israel marched under four banners: Reuben = man, Dan = eagle, Ephraim = ox, Judah = lion). Wesley suggested that they represent the church, because they “sang a new song” [verse 5:9ff] only possible for humans. This song’s theme is redemption, something angels do not know. They sang, something angels are never mentioned doing.
The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle [verse 8]. Wesley gives this opinion: The first living creature was like a lion to signify undaunted courage. The second, like a calf or ox, was to signify unwearied patience. The third with the face of a man was to signify prudence and compassion. The fourth, like an eagle was to signify activity and vigor.
We now cross the first two praise anthems. These times of praise supplement the awesome images of God. “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.’ Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’”
The first praise anthem reflects back to Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple (Isaiah 6:3). This threefold “holy” is referred to as the “Trisagion.” This threefold pattern is then repeated in a reference to time: was, is, and is to come. We see the threefold nature of God (“trinity”) and His relationship to time (before, now, and future), indicating God’s presence everywhere (not just in physical space). This also emphasizes God eternalness. It has been suggested that they also represent the three stages of God dealing with us: creation, redemption, and sanctification.
The second praise anthem represents a response to the truth of the first anthem. The elders lay down their crowns, which is an act of worship. Their praise is directed at “our Lord and God.” This is a significant counterpoint to the Roman emperor worship. We see preparation for the clash of two kingdoms.
Notice that God is “worthy.” What God is worthy of is to “receive” (or “take”) is “glory, honor, and thanks” (another tricolon). In fact, God is the ONLY being in the universe who is worthy to receive these things. The reason for this worth is God is the one who created and sustains all things by his will (again said three times). The rights of ownership apply to the one who has created the world and us. It is His to set the laws since He understands how life is supposed to work. The creation/creator motif plays a significant role in Revelation (as well as theology). The reason God is worthy is that He is THE creator.
John is now presented with a quandary that seems to stop the progression of the vision: “Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside” [5:1 – 4].
The expression “saw” or “looked” occurs often in Revelation so often that John is sometimes nicknamed the “Seer.” What John sees is a scroll written on both sides with seven seals. Ezekiel was given a scroll written on both sides to eat (Ezekiel 2:10). A Roman will was sealed with the seals of seven witnesses. This may be considered the “last will” of sinful humanity. A seal could only be broken by the person for whom the sealed document was intended. Anyone else opening a sealed document risked death.
Notice nobody in heaven, or earth, or under the earth could open this scroll. This is connected to supremacy of Jesus found in Philippines 2:9 – 11: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Again we see a threefold emphasis. However, the significance is that no angel (or heavenly creature), no human, and no fallen angel (demon) is worthy to break the seals. Satan would like to take God’s place, and humans have tried (and are trying) to take the place of God; but this worth must be earned.
John’s weeping sets in because he understands the importance of this scroll and the necessity of it being opened. Is it possible there is no heir to open the will? Is it possible there is nobody to rightfully inherit the document and its contents? In this, the only dark moment in heaven, something remarkable happens.
Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
“Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne” [5:5 – 7].
John is informed the “the Lion” has triumphed and is able! However, what John sees is a Lamb. On an animal scale, these two animals would be opposites. One is a powerful predator while the other is about as helpless as it gets. The lamb looks like it has been slain, referring to Jesus’ death (and by implication resurrection). The image of the “root of David” vaults us back to the multiple prophecies about Jesus; His rightful place, His death, and resurrection.
The Lamb is seen having seven horns (symbolizing power) and seven eyes (symbolizing the sevenfold Spirit of God). All power, knowledge, and wisdom are His.
Revelation 5:8 – 14 gives the next three anthems of praise in the book of Revelation: “And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’ Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’ Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’ The four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.”
The third anthem is sung. The focus of number four is “with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Two ideas jump out at this point; Jesus has purchased us with His blood and this is open to all people everywhere at all times. We see the basis of our faith in the blood that purchased us. We also see the equality of every human and God’s desire to bring all to faith.
The fourth anthem is spoken by the angels, and more or less confers the similar worth to Jesus as to the God (the Father). The fifth anthem features the first two groups being joined by “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea.” Notice this is very similar to the list of those who were unable to open the scroll and those who, according to Philippines 2:9 – 11, will “acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Before the mayhem begins we get a good picture of the magnificent glory of God. We taste the joy of the results of our resurrected Lord and Savior. This is a prelude to God unleashing His justice on a world that will constantly refuse salvation despite the final and dramatic attempts God goes through to offer salvation to all.