Revelation 4:1-2, “After these things I looked (for context this is the Apostle John writing in the first person), 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.’ Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.”
Unique to this manuscript is the fact Jesus provides for us at the end of the first chapter an outline for the way this incredible revelation of Himself would unfold. Back in chapter 1, after providing the reader with a general greeting and introduction, John recounts the very moment he received this spectacular revelation of Jesus Christ…
While exiled by Rome to the prison located on the island of Patmos, John writes how he was caught up “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” heard a loud voice coming from behind him, only to then turn around and see the glorified Jesus in the midst of His Church represented by these “seven golden lampstands.” Overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the scene he was witnessing, John remembers felling down at Jesus’ feet as if he were dead.
It’s within this context that Jesus not only comes to John, lays His hand on him, encourages him not to be afraid — but it’s at this juncture Jesus then instructs John to “write the things which he’d just seen” clearly referring to the revelation he’d just been given, “the things which are (present tense), and the things which will take place after this (future tense).”
As a student of Scripture please note there is little to no scholarly disagreement that the third section of this threefold outline begins with the first verse of Revelation 4 — naturally leaving these seven letters written to seven churches contained in chapters 2 and 3 the middle designation of the book. Not only are all seven epistles written in the present tense obviously being “the things which are,” but the 4th chapter transitions us in such a way there is little doubt we now find ourselves entering the third and final section.
John opens chapter 4 (“after these things I looked”) using the identical phrase originally articulated by Jesus in Revelation 1:19 (“write the things which will take place after this”). In the original Greek language, the phrase used in both instances is “meta tauta” making this shift undeniable. In fact, if this couldn’t be more evident, meta tauta is also used for a second time at the end of verse 1 when Jesus instructs John to “come up here” so that He could “show him things which must take place after this.” This transition is clear!
Knowing that Revelation 4 initiates this new section of the Book of Revelation, the logical question that will prove relevant as to the timing of the events and descriptions contained in the remaining chapters is… While these things “will take place,” after what exactly?
Within the chronology of the way in which John receives this revelation, some scholars try to argue “after this” and the larger outline simply refers to the flow of the book itself — and really has nothing to do with marking a transition from the Church or a Church Age. As such, they argue the first verse of chapter 4 is just John’s way of letting us know the things he’s about to describe he witnessed after dictating these seven letters for Jesus.
While I can concede this would be the most simplistic explanation, the problems with this reading are numerous. First, those who make this particular argument do so because they generally deny a futuristic interpretation of Revelation 6 through chapter 19:10. I would add this also leads to a butchering of the heavenly scene in chapters 4 and 5 as well.
As we’re going to discover in the weeks ahead, the issue with such a position is that the events recorded by John in this third section have no historical fulfillment necessitating a still yet future understanding or at a minimum a reading that requires a total abandonment of any type of literal interpretation. You can’t avoid the fact that, if these things happened after John pens these letters, we still find ourselves waiting for them to happen today!
Secondly, such an argument ignores the mountain of textual evidence these seven letters were written by Jesus also intended to address the Church as a whole and not just seven actual churches located in Asia Minor at the end of the first century.
I don’t want to belabor this particular point because we’ve spent the last seven weeks carefully and thoroughly working our way through each letter, but the evidence Jesus is addressing His Church throughout all time using these seven letters is overwhelming.
Aside from the fact the subject matter of each perfectly corresponds to a section or movement of Church History with 4 of the 7 continuing up to and in 3 cases into the Great Tribulation, if you deny such a position, you’d have to answer a few important questions…
Why would Jesus write to seven churches if there wasn’t anything significant to the fact He picked seven? I mean it’s unlikely the number seven would be used to signify completion all throughout the Bible only for Jesus to now break this important precedent.
Beyond this… If there wasn’t more being addressed through these letters, why would Jesus decide to write to specifically these seven churches when there were much larger, more prominent church communities in Asia Minor He could have chosen? You see it defies reason that Jesus didn’t single out these seven for a particular reason.
If we’re being honest the ultimate reason some resist this broader interpretation of the seven letters centers on the clear and obvious implications. It’s without dispute that if Jesus was addressing the entire Church throughout all time in chapters 2 and 3, then the way you read John’s transition in Revelation 4:1 becomes much different.
Think about it… If “the things which are” refers to the Church Age, then the transition “after these things” and therefore all the apocalyptic events beginning in Revelation 6 must then describe a future time on the earth in which the Church does not exist — a Churchless Age.
For Postmillennialist (who don’t believe in a Tribulation at all), Mid-Tribulationalists (who believe the Church will endure half the Tribulation), or Post-Tribulationalists (who believe the Church will have to endure the entire Tribulation) this doesn’t align with their eschatology.
If you’re unsure where you happen to fall across the eschatological spectrum, it’s worth mentioning that following chapter 3, “the church” is never mentioned again in the Book of Revelation — not once! In fact, in the final few chapters, when we get to the Second Coming of Jesus, His Millennial Reign, and then the ushering in of eternity we only have mention of “the saints of God.” No church. No Israel. Just “the saints of God.” If you’re a Preterist and believe Revelation has already occurred, this is difficult to explain!
One additional thought I believe ties directly into this discussion is the interesting change that occurs in the way John describes the glorified Jesus and His activity in Revelation 1 and the way he does in chapter 5. In Revelation 1, Jesus is adorned with the garments of a High Priest and He’s active in the midst of His church — “the seven golden lampstands.”
And yet, in contrast, in the heavenly scene of chapter 5, John sees Jesus as “a Lamb as though it had been slain” coming, taking the scroll, and then losing the seals releasing judgments on the earth. There is no question something happens between these four chapters that necessitated a transformation of Jesus, His present role, and current activity. Jesus is no longer tending to His Church — He’s actively judging the world!
In the end, I’m convinced this timeline of the Book of Revelation substantiates the position the Church will not be present on the earth during the Tribulational Period.
Not only is this consistent with Daniel’s 70-Week Prophecy and a sermon Jesus gave known as the Olivet Discourse which indicates these final seven years of tribulation were designed to finish God’s work in the lives of the Jewish people as well as judge the world of her sin and wickedness — but this belief is consistent with the heart of God and promises of Jesus.
Aside from the numerous precedents in Scripture, to a church that was worried they had missed Jesus’ Coming, the Apostle Paul would write to the believers in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, saying, “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.”
As I’ve mentioned before it’s insulting to suggest Jesus the Groom would beat up His Bride right before the Honeymoon! In fact, to the faithful church of Philadelphia, Jesus actually promises in Revelation 3:10, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” I’m convinced this promise to deliver the faithful church from the global trial designed to test the entire world requires a Pre-Tribulational view of the Rapture.
Building on this idea, one of the main reasons many end up having a hard time believing the Church will be absent from the earth during the Tribulation centers on their rejection of this doctrine that weaves its way throughout Scripture known as the Rapture of the Church.
In case this is a new idea to you, the Rapture is the belief that a future moment in time will come when everyone who was going to accept Jesus as their Savior will have done so enabling Him to supernaturally call His Church home to be with Him in heaven. In Romans 11:25, this idea is referred to as “the fullness of the Gentiles.”
Concerning what will actually happen when this day comes, the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:52, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, “The Lord 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. Then 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
On account of these various passages of Scripture as well as the basic outline Jesus establishes for the Book of Revelation, I believe, beginning with chapter 4, everything we read must take place “after these things” — after the Church has been Raptured!
“Zach, I’m sorry but that just sounds too weird to believe. It sounds like we’re all wearing tinfoil hats, drinking cool-aid, looking for the Hale-Bopp Comet to come by and take us to the mothership!” Bear with me but I do want to address this sentiment… If you don’t feel like you can believe in the Rapture of the Church because it sounds weird, what book have you been reading because the Bible is filled with all kinds of crazy things! Exhibit A: The fact God would love you enough to send His Son to die for your sins! That’s NUTS!
In fact, the notion God could or would supernaturally rapture someone from one location instantly placing them in another, whether it’s on earth or in heaven, is not without Biblical precedent. In the middle of a long genealogy, we have this strange account presented in Genesis 5:24, “And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.”
After causing the Jordan River to part in two, in 2 Kings 2, we read, “Then it happened, as Elijah and Elisha continued on and talked, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”
As just one example from the New Testament, in Acts 8:39-40, we read, “Now when Philip and the Ethiopian came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.”
How about this one… Revelation 4:1-2, “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.’ Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.”
While John had already experienced some type of supernatural event back in chapter 1 when he found himself “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” resulting in this revelation of Jesus and one that continued as he scribed these seven letters, upon finishing the letter to the church of Laodicea, this aged Apostle now experiences another radicle moment of sorts.
According to his own account, after Jesus finished His dictation, John “looked and beheld” or literally he looked up, saw, and his attention became occupied with this “door standing open in heaven.” As he stood there in awe and contemplation, John says he then heard an audible “voice like a trumpet” speak to him with the instructions he “come up here.”
Keep in mind, this “voice” that John heard was not an actual trumpet but only sounded “like a trumpet.” The idea is this particular voice was loud, distinct, and authoritative. Additionally, while John cannot see who it was that’s speaking to him from the other side of this open door in heaven, he does recognize this as being “the first voice which I heard.”
In the Greek, prōtos can mean first in order or first with regards to rank. Either way, it’s clear this was the voice of Jesus directing John to now “come up” to heaven through this open door so that He could “show him” the “things which must take place after this.” Again, after the Church Age had come to a completion with the Church home in heaven.
John says that upon receiving this command from Jesus “immediately he was in the Spirit,” through the door, and into the halls of heaven. He then adds that he saw, “A throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” Of this particular experience, two things are clear…
First, because John’s experience happens after the Church Age, he’s taken by the Spirit from the tale-end of the first century into the future to witness and write about “things which must take place.” It’s important to note before we even get into the particulars of all John sees in the future, these things are going to happen. They “must take place!”
Secondly, John’s first experience as a time-traveler will occur in the halls of heaven! In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Paul describes his own experience in heaven, “Fourteen years ago, whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, I was caught up to the third heaven… into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” In Paul’s exploit, he says that what he saw was so overwhelming he felt as though it would be wrong for him to even attempt to use human words to describe heavenly wonders.
In John’s case, because Jesus told him to write what he saw, he didn’t exactly have the same luxury. I should add this explains why John uses “like” consistently (he was linguistically limited in describing what he saw) and why he only says he was “in the Spirit.” Also, like Paul, it’s evident John really wasn’t sure this was purely a spiritual experience or whether or not his actual body had been physically caught up to heaven.
Before we get into the things John witnesses, I want to point out that, while awesome in and of itself, John’s description of heaven is incomplete. In fact, there are many things the Bible says about heaven John makes no mention of. As we’ll see, John will start with the center and slowly describes things working out from that vantage point. In a lot of ways, John will only provide us a glimpse into the throne room of heaven where God dwelt.
Notice, upon entering heaven, the first thing that catches his attention was the “throne set” or more accurately translated established “in heaven!” As the central focal point of heaven, there exists an actual seat of power and authority! John declares, “Behold, a throne!” Amazingly, the word throne will be used in this book more than any other place in Scripture.
And yet, it doesn’t take long for John to also observe the “One who sat on the throne.” Again, it wasn’t just that there was a “throne” as the centerpiece of heaven — there was a throne upon which “One sat!” This was a throne occupied by God Himself! Friend, you need to know God is presently sitting on a throne and He governs the universe!
Revelation 4:3, “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.”
As it pertained to the “One who sat on the throne” John does his best to tell us what “He” looked like. Regarding His “appearance” or literally what John could see, it seems he was unable to make out any type of physical description such as hight, skin or eye color, or facial features. Instead, John only describes the outshining of His countenance.
From the “One who sat on the throne” there emanated two different auras. John says the first was like a “jasper stone” meaning there was a perfectly clear, bright, brilliant light. He adds that the second light was like a “sardius stone” indicating a deep, ruby hue. According to Exodus 28, the first stone on the breastplate of the High Priest was a sardius stone and the final stone on the fourth row was a jasper. Clearly, this is God the Father!
While John doesn’t provide any details about the throne itself, he does say “around the throne” or circling all around it “was a rainbow” who’s “appearance” was “like an emerald.” In this description, John says there was a “rainbow” made up of multiple shades of green.
Revelation 4:4, “Around the throne (definite article sets this throne above all others) were twenty-four thrones (these were lesser thrones), and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.”
As John is working his way out from Him who sat on this main throne, he notices “twenty-four” additional “thrones” positioned “around” the center one. God’s throne was preeminent with these additional twenty-four positioned in the equal distance around it. What makes this interesting is God is not the only one reigning in heaven with power and authority.
Additionally, John takes note that “on these thrones” sat “twenty-four elders” who were each “clothed in white robes” and had “crowns of gold on their heads.” Obviously, the grand question people have comes down to the identity of the “twenty-four elders.”
One of the main clues is found in Revelation 5:8-10 when John tells us the moment Jesus “had taken the scroll, 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. And 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, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.’”
Because this song personalizes “redemption” not only does this eliminate these twenty-four elders from being angels, but it necessitates they be human beings. This explains why these twenty-four men and women (the word “elder” is not gender-specific) were “clothed in white robes” signifying righteousness. It also explains these “crowns of gold.”
The Greek word for “crown” denoted the type given as an award to an athlete who’d won a race. Unlike a crown given because of lineage or birthright, these were merit-based crowns.
Furthermore, because of this reference that they’d been called “out of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation” we can surmise that, while there is nothing prohibiting these elders from being Jewish, it’s unlikely they were connected to Israel and represented the Twelve Tribes.
Finally, because the song itself is only applicable to Christians whom Jesus has “redeemed and made kings and priests” to “reign on the earth,” we can say with certainty that these unidentified twenty-four elders are representative of God’s people in the throne room. Again, keep in mind, John is not seeing all of heaven, just the inner sanctum.
It’s worth noting that in the Old Testament descriptions of the throne room of God provided in the books of Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Daniel, they make no mention of these other thrones. Why? Jesus hadn’t finished His mission and the Church had not yet arrived in heaven!
John continues his description coming back to God’s throne… Revelation 4:5, “And from the throne proceeded lightnings (brilliant blasts of light), thunderings (brilliant bursts of sound), and voices (indiscernible sounds and undertones). Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” (All of this is similar to the description of God’s presence on the top of Mount Sinai recorded in Exodus 19- 20.)
Aside from the presence of God the Father emanating from the throne itself, John adds that directly “before the throne” were these “seven lamps of fire which are the seven Spirits of God.” While we’ve already seen this Old Testament description of the Holy Spirit two other times in the Book already, the new wrinkle is the Spirit manifesting as “seven lamps of fire!”
In a similar way as on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit manifested as “tongues of fire” above the Apostles, in heaven, the complete fullness and power of the invisible Spirit will be on display for all to see. God the Father and the Holy Spirit are ever-present!
John then tells us… Revelation 4:6-8, “Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal (it’s hard to say if there was an actual body of water before the throne completely still and transparent like crystal or if the glass was so expansive it looked as if it was a sea). And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The 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. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within.” John observes, “And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’”
It’s likely on account of the reflective nature of this floor that John finally notices the presence of “four” additional “living creatures” flying all around the throne. He describes these living beings as being “full of eyes in front and in back” adding that their eyes were “around and within.” Each of these creatures could also fly possessing “six wings.”
John describes how one “was like a lion,” one “like a calf,” one “had the face of a man,” and the fourth “was like a flying eagle.” In Ezekiel 1 and 10, we’re told these beings were angels called Cherubim. Knowing the blueprints for the Tabernacle were patterned after heaven, it’s not an accident Cherubim were showcased on the Mercy Seat which sat on top of the Ark of the Covenant which is where the presence of God came to rest.
It’s worth pointing out that in Ezekiel’s description of these Cherubim, he said each of these beings was actually four-sided meaning they all possess the characteristics of a lion, calf, man, and eagle. It’s likely that in his revelation John saw only one side or dimension.
Concerning the symbolism of the four faces, theories range from them representing the emblems of the tribes closest to the Tabernacle, personifying the four Gospels, or that each animal represented the excellence of creation within their own unique classifications. Since the Cherubim are not the point of the passage, you can study this more on your own.
Either way, as he watched, John observers how these “creatures did not rest day or night” (nor did they tire) declaring over and over again, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” In the Greek language, a threefold repetition or a triplicate was the way you’d provided the greatest emphasis to something. It’s similar to the way we use good, better, and best in English. It’s not just that God is “holy” — He’s the holiest!
Identical to the titles Jesus uses for Himself back in chapter 1, these angels declare Him to be the “Lord God Almighty” or the One who has His hand on everything as well as the One “who was and is and is to come!” He is the eternal God. The uncaused cause. The I Am!
Revelation 4:9-11, “Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the 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: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for (why is He worthy) You created all things (He is the Creator), and by Your will they exist and were created.’”
I love this final refrain, “And by Your will they exist and were created.” A better translation of this would be that everything was created for His pleasure! Understand, you were created by God for one reason — to bring pleasure to your Creator! Friend, until you center your life on pursuing the very thing you were created for (pleasing God) you will never be satisfied.
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