Revelation 4

Revelation 4  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 8
WE have been looking in chapters 3 and 4 at the history of God's assembly on earth, viewed as lampstands (or light bearers), and connected with man's responsibility. At the opening of chapter 4, the scene is translated from earth to heaven. We find a remarkable vision of God's throne in heaven and the heavenly saints around it, viewed as elders. This clearly involves the removal of the saints from earth to heaven, although there is no mention made of it in the passage itself. In 1 Thess. 4:15-1815For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15‑18) we get a marvelous description of the sudden and secret rapture of the heavenly saints. Those who have fallen asleep through Jesus are raised, and those who are alive and remain on earth till that moment of our Lord's return, being changed (1 Cor. 15:51, 5251Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51‑52)), all are caught up together to meet Him in the air. (1 Thess. 4:15-1815For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15‑18).) There is no doubt but that Laodicea, the last phase of the church on earth, is present, and hence this marvelous event may be fulfilled at any moment, non-converted professors being left behind to come into judgment on earth. (Matt. 25:1-13; 21Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. 2And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 3They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: 4But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. 6And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. 7Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. 8And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. 9But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. 10And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. 11Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. 12But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. 13Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. (Matthew 25:1‑13) Thess. 11:12.) In the Book of the Revelation we do not get our reception by Christ in view of our introduction into the place prepared in the Father's house. That promise came from His own blessed lips in John 14 But here all is portrayed in relation to the revelation of Jesus Christ and His coming kingdom and glory. It is a different line of truth.
Before entering into the detail of this chapter it will be helpful to notice the remarkable connection of verse 1 with the third clause of chapter 1:19. "The things which thou hast seen" refer to the vision of One like unto the Son of man in chapter 1; "the things which are," to the history of the church on earth in chapters 2., 3. The third clause adds, and "the things which shall be hereafter." This word hereafter scarcely conveys the thought of the original, which is more definite. It signifies "after these." We have already, referred to this in dwelling upon chapter 1:19, but would impress it upon our readers as all-important, in order to rightly apprehend the division of the book. Now turn to chapter 4. I and you will find the same words twice repeated. "After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard [chap. 1:10] was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter" (or, after these). Chapters 4, 5 indeed show us what will transpire in heaven after the ways of God (except in the execution of judgment) have ceased as to the professing church on earth.
John looked, and saw above him a door opened in heaven. The voice of chapter i. invites him up, and promises to show him the things which must be after these which he had already seen. He is to come up and to behold the scenes following from the point of view of the One who speaks.
Clearly he could not respond in his own power. But the power of God was present. Hence it adds, "Immediately I was in the spirit." To be in the Spirit was heedful for him to see, and for us also if we would enter into God's thoughts. Spiritual things are spiritually understood. (1 Cor. 2:10-1610But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:10‑16)) "Behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. 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." "A throne was set." It is God's throne in relation to the creation and government of the world. It is "in heaven." The whole administration will proceed from above. The throne is occupied. No name is mentioned, but in verse 8 the One on the throne is celebrated as "Lord God Almighty." He whom John beheld was in appearance like two brilliant, precious stones, the jasper and the sardine. And round about the throne was a rainbow like to an emerald. As God was about to renew His dealings and relations with the earth in a more public way than during the absence of Christ, He graciously allows John to see that wonderful rainbow, reminding him of His covenant with the earth, after He had destroyed the world with a flood. Judgment was again about to ensue, though it would partake of another character, but God had not forgotten His covenant, and in the midst of the execution of judgment will surely remember mercy.
“And round about the throne were tour 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." The introduction of the four and twenty elders is a matter of the deepest interest. It has often been pointed out that the original word translated "seats" really signifies "thrones." It appears as though the translators thought that the elders represented saints, and with a mistaken humility would put them in a less exalted place in relation to the throne of God. The idea connected with elders would be intelligence and experience, etc. The Apostle Paul speaks of saints having the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:1616For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16).) And the prophet saith of all His own, they shall be taught of the Lord. (Isa. 54:1313And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. (Isaiah 54:13).) Now, if you turn to Chronicles 24., you will find that in the families of the sons of Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar, the lot for the ordering of the service in the house of the Lord, according to the commandment of the Lord God of Israel, fell upon twenty-four. No doubt the number of twenty-four elders is derived from these courses of the priesthood in Israel. In all probability the twenty-four elders represent the sum of the heavenly priesthood (as we have already remarked) in relation to God's throne, inclusive of the saints of both the Old and New Testament in their glorified condition. A kingdom of priests, in accord with Rev. 1:66And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:6), they are viewed in heaven (after the accomplishment of 1 Thess. 4:5-185Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: 6That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. 7For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. 8He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit. 9But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. 10And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; 11And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; 12That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing. 13But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:5‑18)) in priestly, garb, white raiment, crowned with gold in divine righteousness. Moreover, they are viewed as seated in the divine presence, which conveys the thought of perfect divinely-given suitability for that wondrous position of favor and rest before God.
Another deeply instructive point in relation to this marvelous vision is, that this richly blessed company of saints are seen in their kingly and priestly character glorified, and enthroned, not only before the commencement of the execution of the judgments of God upon the world, but before even the symbols of judgment are mentioned in connection with His holy throne! "The Lord will give grace and glory." (Psa. 84:1111For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11).) The last act of grace is to bring the saints to glory. Believers come not into judgment. (John 5:2424Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24).) Hence, as Enoch was removed by divine power before the flood (Heb. 11:55By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5)), and Lot rescued before the destruction of the cities of the plain, so also all God's saints, at the eve of His threatened judgments on the earth, will be translated from this world, and safely housed on high. This event takes place before God's throne of grace becomes a throne of judgment. Faithful is He that promised, who also will do it.
Next we get the symbols of judgment. "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." (Ver. 5.) Nothing is more sudden and searching than the effects of lightnings; nothing more awful and solemnizing than mighty thunderings; nothing more calculated to arrest the attention than the voices of invisible speakers. Hence nothing is more suited to impress us with the deep solemnity of the judgments shortly to follow. The seven lamps of fire, which represent in the vision the seven Spirits of God, would denote not only the plenitude of the action of the Holy Ghost in relation to His dealings with the world, but also its exposing and searching character. "Whatsoever doth make manifest is light." (Eph. 5:1313But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. (Ephesians 5:13).) "Our God is a consuming fire." (Heb. 12:2929For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29)). Everything will be fully exposed, and nothing hid, when judgment goes forth from the throne of the Holy One.
“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." (Ver. 6.) This imagery is taken from the temple of Solomon. Therein, near to the shrine, was a molten sea, supported on twelve oxen, which contained water for the ceremonial washing of the priests, and there were also lavers for the washing of the burnt offering. (2 Chron. 4:2-62Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about. 3And under it was the similitude of oxen, which did compass it round about: ten in a cubit, compassing the sea round about. Two rows of oxen were cast, when it was cast. 4It stood upon twelve oxen, three looking toward the north, and three looking toward the west, and three looking toward the south, and three looking toward the east: and the sea was set above upon them, and all their hinder parts were inward. 5And the thickness of it was an handbreadth, and the brim of it like the work of the brim of a cup, with flowers of lilies; and it received and held three thousand baths. 6He made also ten lavers, and put five on the right hand, and five on the left, to wash in them: such things as they offered for the burnt offering they washed in them; but the sea was for the priests to wash in. (2 Chronicles 4:2‑6).) But before the throne of God on high there was a sea of glass like unto crystal. Entirely separate from this world of sin, there will be no need of washing there. The sea itself is perfectly transparent. It appeared to the eyes of the favored prophet as glass, like unto pure crystal, carrying with it the thought of fixed holiness and purity.
Next he beheld four beasts. It is to be regretted that the English translation is not more correct. It is well known that the Greek word signifies "living creature" rather than beast. Four living creatures appeared in the midst and round about the throne, utterly unlike any that John had hitherto seen. Being seen in the midst of the throne as well as around, shows their intimate connection with Him who sat upon it. And being full of eyes before and behind would indicate intense perception and discernment both towards the external scene around and as to the workings of the throne from within. Nothing escapes the gaze of Him with whom we have to do.
“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." The four creatures thus so wondrously represented denote the four chief heads of this lower creation. God's throne is established in connection with His rule and government, and both man and beast come within the sphere of its operations. A lion would set forth majesty, dominion and power; a calf, patience and endurance; a face as a man, wisdom and intelligence; a flying eagle, rapidity, and suddenness. All these things characterize the action of God's throne. It is further to be noticed, in relation to this scene, that there is no mention of the angelic hosts. But no doubt that which is set forth in the four living creatures symbolically is here carried out by angelic administration.
“And the four beasts [or living creatures] 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." (Ver. 8.) In Ezek. 1 we have a wonderful description of four living creatures, and there is a remarkable analogy between them and those mentioned in Rev. 4 But there are also differences. The same symbols are mentioned, but each had four faces-of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. They appear to have been cherubic in character, having each four wings. (Ver. 23.) They ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning. (Ver. 14.) The noise of their wings was like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host, etc. (Ver. 24.)
In Isa. 6 we get seraphims in connection with the throne of the Lord, and each has six wings. Hence the living creatures in Rev. 4 having six wings would seem to point also to their seraphic character, in which are found holiness and mercy combined. Further, they not only had eyes before and behind, but it is added now "within," setting forth the inward perception and intelligence by which those represented are characterized. They are occupied unceasingly, like those of Isa. 6, in ascribing holiness to Him who sat on the throne. They rest not day and night, which again indicates that the throne is established in relation to the things of time, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, or, Jehovah Elohim Shaddai. We learn here who the One is in verses 2, 3, like to a jasper and a sardine stone. And He was, He is, and He is to come, the eternal One. It is the high and lofty One, who inhabiteth eternity.
“And when those, beasts [or living creatures] give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth forever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." Moreover the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to the enthroned One, who liveth forever and ever, language concerning Him which is repeated in the verse following. The four and twenty elders, or heavenly saints, hitherto seated at rest in His holy presence, now prostrate themselves before Him, and worship Him, and cast their crowns before the throne. All in heaven bow before the presence of the divine Majesty. It is to be noted that there is no song as yet. That is reserved until the Lord appears on the scene as the Lamb, in His character of Redeemer, as we shall see in the chapter following. But here the elders say, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power." The language they use confirms the thought that the saints are in view. It would be presumption on the part of angels, blessed ministering spirits as they are, to address the Lord thus. But it is the privilege of saints to say and sing now as in heaven, "Thou art worthy." The living creatures give glory, honor, thanks. The, elders say, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power." They say it on the eve of His taking His power manifestly. And who is He? The Creator; the Lord God Almighty. It is the Creator who is about to reign. "Thou hast created all things." The Lord Himself called all into existence. All things were created by Him. (Gen. 1:11In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Genesis 1:1); John 1:33All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3); Col. 1:1616For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: (Colossians 1:16); Heb. 1:22Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; (Hebrews 1:2).) "And for thy pleasure they are [or-were] and were created." All the heavenly saints in glory shall own that all things that compose the glorious creation, which has been marred by the entrance of sin, were created by the Lord, were for His pleasure so long as they remain, and were created to that end.