Last Sunday we began our examination of the third and final section of the Book of Revelation by diving into this amazing fourth chapter. After finishing up his dictation of Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia, our author John tells us “after these things” he immediately found himself being raptured “in the Spirit” into the throne room of heaven.
Not only does John then describe the countenance of “Him who sat” on the throne (God the Father), but he goes the extra mile by portraying for us the incredible scene surrounding the throne itself. John documents this amazing green-hued rainbow encircling the throne and the floor that looked as if it were a sea of glass as brilliant and translucent as crystal.
Additionally, the Apostle John can’t escape the sights and sounds of these incredible bursts of lightenings, thunderings, and voices coming from the throne as well as how the presence of the Holy Spirit was before the throne manifesting as seven lamps of fire.
Aside from these things, John details these additional twenty-four thrones placed all around and in equal distance to God’s throne and the elders who occupied them. These twenty-four unnamed individuals were “clothed in white” and had “crowns of gold!”
Lastly, John does his best to describe these four crazy-looking angels “in the midst of the throne” who were continually declaring the holiness of “the Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” John says these flying creatures had six wings, eyes all around and within, with each one possessing the likeness of a lion, calf, man, and eagle.
As you attempt to process all that John is describing concerning this throne room, it’s important you always remember John has been taken into this future, heavenly scene for a very particular reason. You see providing a depiction of heaven or detailing what our eternal existence will be like was not his mandate. Instead, Jesus called John into this throne room so he could witness and therefore record what’s about to happen in chapter 5.
Because of this, you need to keep in mind John’s description of heaven is limited to the throne room and therefore his revelation will exclude many of the other details the Bible provides of what heaven will be like and what our experiences will entail. As we’ll see, while John will eventually hear an innumerable multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God, the only human presence he mentions in the throne room were these twenty-four elders.
Though I’m sure every citizen of heaven will be cognitively aware of all that occurs in this inner sanctum, unless you happen to find yourself being one of these twenty-four unnamed elders, your experience in heaven will be much different than what John is describing.
Following last Sunday’s study, I had enough of you ask me questions about heaven — questions that our text doesn’t address — that I’d like to take a few minutes, pull away from our exposition, and attempt to round out your perspective of what heaven will be like.
While John doesn’t mention any additional structures in his revelation, in John 14:2-3, Jesus would say, “In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Jesus is clear heaven will be filled with literal homes that the citizens of His Kingdom would occupy and enjoy. If you think about the incredible number of “mansions” that would be needed to house every saint who’s ever lived, you understand heaven itself will be vast!
Building upon this idea, there are also numerous places in the Scriptures where beyond being called a “kingdom” heaven is referred to as “the city of the living God.” Again, John is only describing for us the King’s throne room, but you should note there is a city beyond his view literal enough to necessitate foundation stones made up of precious gems, massive outer gates constructed with pearls, as well as interior streets paved with gold.
Aside from these physical dwellings and the infrastructure necessary for city-life, the Bible also describes the existence of the natural world existing in heaven similar to what we have on earth. Though man began in a garden and will end in a city, we do have mention of rivers of water along with vegetation, trees, vineyards, and most notably the Tree of Life.
In addition to John failing to mention any of these things in Revelation 4 and 5, according to Isaiah 11 and 65, we also know there will be elements of the animal kingdom in heaven as well. I don’t know about your pet, but I can say with certainty my dog will be in heaven!
Though John has affirmed the existence of human beings in heaven by referencing these twenty-four elders, he doesn’t provide any additional insights concerning our glorified state. As it relates to this topic, the safest place we should turn is to look at Jesus, the “firstborn of the resurrection of the dead” as our example. As such, we can surmise that in heaven we will each dwell in a physical, human body no longer corrupted by sin.
Contrary to modern depictions, in your heavenly state, you will not be a spirit-being, ghost, or angel. Instead, you will be physically human enough to be touched, recognized, spoken to, sing, as well as possess the emotional capacities to laugh and even cry. Furthermore, you will have a mind, intelligence, and an individualized skill-set necessary to fulfill your heavenly job. Also, your memories and earthly relationships will carry into eternity as well.
Because the Bible directly links your future body with your present one explaining that this transformation will occur through an actual and I’d say literal resurrection — Jesus’ body experienced a physical resurrection, what makes you you (your personality and character traits) will likely remain the same just no longer tainted by a sin nature. In heaven, you will be the version of you God always intended you to be and is currently making you into.
Beyond these things, again with Jesus as our example of what these glorified bodies will be capable of, you will also have the ability to teleport, fly, walk through walls, eat and drink, and most importantly — never die! Logically, because we won’t need food or drink to survive, these things will exist in heaven purely for our enjoyment and satisfaction. You won’t have to worry about packing on the pounds or your high blood pressure anymore.
In fact, according to Revelation 19:9, John says the Church's first experience in heaven following the Rapture will be a grand banquet called “the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
Aside from fruit, according to the ESVs translation of Isaiah 25:6, heaven’s menu will include things like “rich food full of marrow” (or tender meats) and “well-aged, refined wine!” I think it will be comical watching all the teetotaler Baptists have their first drink in heaven!
My point in bringing up all of these things is to dispel a fear few Christians are really never willing to express publicly because it just sounds bad. I’ll go and articulate what you’ve all thought… “Sitting in heaven worshipping God for all of eternity sounds like a complete drag!” If you’ve ever had that thought and you feel terrible for doing so, you don’t need to worry because that’s not what your heavenly experience will be limited to!
As John stood there watching this scene, he notices (Revelation 4:9) that “whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, the twenty-four elders fall down and worship” as well. John adds that in an act of worship these elders also “cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘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.’”
It really is amazing that in a scene filled with all kinds of incredible wonders, John’s attention keeps coming back to the throne. It’s the focal point of all activity — the center of everything! As he watches, John tells us that “whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks” to God (which seems to be different than the continual refrain of “holy, holy, holy”) it elicits an immediate reaction from these twenty-four elders. In response, they all “fall down before Him and worship, casting their crowns before the throne.”
Before we go any further I want to take a quick second and address a criticism that more traditional-oriented Christians have of the contemporary worship service. You see there is a school of thought that argues turning the overhead lights low, filling the stage with LEDs, lasers, and smoke machines, incorporating screens that flash creative imagery and having big sound to amplify skillfully played music cheapens our worship of God because it arbitrarily creates an experience for the worshipper through visual and auditory stimulation.
They’ll contend the only way you can really know for sure God is being exalted through your worship and therefore your experience real is to strip away any and all artificial stimulus that may exist in the environment itself — lights up, no color, no screens, no music or at least it can’t be loud, and whatever you do keep the smoke machine and lasers away!
While I’d agree the purpose of worship is to exalt God and we want to make sure whatever our experience ends up being as a result is authentic and genuine (worship leaders can be masters of manipulating the emotions of the audience), my issue serializing the environment of any and all visual and auditory stimulation is simple… HAVE YOU SEEN HEAVEN!?
In Revelation 4, the Apostle John has just described a worship service in the throne room of God that included incredible rays of red, green, and white lights with laser beams emanating from the throne and a glass floor refracting the light all over the place. Aside from this, John notes huge sounds with the Holy Spirit putting on a pyrotechnics display center stage! In chapter 5, John will tell us all twenty-four elders end up jamming on electric guitars!
The truth is God created human beings for sensory experiences and the atmosphere of heaven and the environment in which we worship He intentionally crafted for just this purpose. You see heaven will be so visually appealing and the sounds we hear so absolutely amazing that God will have to fit us into new bodies just so we can fully experience these things!
Looking at this heavenly scene as our model, the key when crafting the environment in which we worship is that, while there is no problem with the scene being visually stimulating and the sounds we hear being pleasing to our ears, we must always make sure the throne of God remains the focal point of the environment and that the motivation for our worship is to exalt no other man but “He who sits on the throne!”
With this topic in mind, we should discuss the fact the worship of these elders (and what we can assume to be the truest worship of God) manifests in three distinct ways. I’ll call them the Three P’s: There is a Posture, a Pronouncement, and a Reciprocation.
First, notice their posture… John observes that upon this prompting from the Cherubim instantly “the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne.” In the Greek, this word used for “fall down” describes an intentional act that reflected an internal attitude.
You see these elders intentionally get up from their thrones and purposely fall on their faces in order to physically demonstrate the reverence and humility of their hearts before the Lord.
To this point, it’s simply a truth that real worship can only manifest from a heart that first recognizes its proper place in light of God’s rightful position! More often than not the greatest hindrance to your worship and why the experience has maybe grown stale comes down to the fact, in your pride, you’ve lost sight of who you are and who God is.
This is why as part of our worship at Calvary316 we always have the Lord’s Table open for you to come and partake of the elements. Sometimes, before we can worship, we need a reminder of what it was that Jesus has done for us and why His sacrifice was necessary.
I should also add that when you worship sometimes it is necessary to adopt a physical posture in order to help codify the correct internal attitude. For me personally, I often raise my hands in the air. Not only does this help me express my ever-present need for more of His Spirit, but it’s an act of surrender. Please know there is freedom in this place.
Secondly, look at their pronouncement… John tells us that from this reverent position the elders proceed to “worship Him who lives forever.” The idea behind this word “worship” is that they credited to God the worth and worthiness He deserved. Once more, they do this verbally… John records their declaration to God, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, honor, and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”
I don’t want to get too nit-picky on this particular point, but there is something important to your worship of God manifesting as an audible expression emanating from your heart through your mouth. You see it’s not enough to feel a certain way if you’re never willing to articulate that feeling out loud. You may love your girl and are determined to be faithful, but in order to get married, we require you to express that love and commitment through vows.
“Well, Pastor Zach, I don’t like singing during worship, because I can’t really carry a tune.” First and foremost, who cares what other people think of your singing voice!? In the end, the only opinion that ultimately matters is what God thinks. In Psalms 100 we’re told to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord!” Joy is the only requirement God cares about.
Let me say something controversial… I have found that it’s much easier to tell when someone is singing to please God and not impress men when they’re absolutely terrible at singing, sing anyway, and really don’t care what the people around them think about it.
We used to have a young lady sit close to the front and she would close her eyes, raise her hands, and just sing to the Lord with all her heart. Here’s how I knew it was real… Her singing was so bad that, unlike the person belting out the third part harmony from the back pew possibly showing off their pipes, only God could have possibly enjoyed her singing!
One of the criticisms of modern worship music I find credible is how me-centric our songs tend to be at the expense of being Christ-focused. For example, in this song, it’s clear the focus was exalting God and God alone! “You are worthy… You created… by Your will they exist!” I should add the song sung at the end of chapter 5 follows the same pattern.
It’s true you can always tell the purpose of one’s worship by the object of their worship. It’s sad, but since many approach worship for the spiritual experience they hope to receive, songwriters are more than willing to oblige this compulsion by authoring songs focused more on the worshipper than on Jesus! Anytime I hear, “Pastor, I wasn’t feeling worship today” I like to respond, “That’s ok because we weren’t worshipping you!”
Finally, don’t miss the reciprocation of their worship… In light of who God was and what He’d done for them, it was not enough to fall on their faces and make pronouncements — as glorious as they were. John says they also “cast their crowns before the throne.” You see the attitude of their hearts and the words of their mouths demanded action!
In Roman times whenever the Emperor visited one of the provinces throughout the Empire it was customary that the local ruler removes his crown and cast it at Caesar’s feet. Actions took the place of words to demonstrate honor, respect, and submission. In turn, Caesar would not keep the crown, but return it acknowledging he’d accepted the gesture.
I’ve heard Christians ask what they could possibly give back to the God who gave everything for them? Well, the answer is actually quite simple — you give Him everything! This is why, though worship necessitates the correct posture of one’s heart and manifest through the pronouncements of one’s lips, real worship always fosters a reciprocal action.
In heaven, you will cast our crowns at His feet, but today may be your worship motivates you to be more generous with your money, kind to a neighbor, or benevolent with your time.
Let’s jump back into the scene… Revelation 5:1-4, “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it (literally to open and read it).”
As this heavenly scene unfolds and we can only presume while the twenty-four elders are continuing to worship, John’s focus shifts from the “One who sat on the throne” to this “scroll he sees in His right hand.” Regarding this particular manuscript, John notes that it was “a scroll written inside and on the back” that had been “sealed with seven seals.”
Furthermore, upon this “strong angel’s proclamation” inviting anyone to come and “open the scroll” by “losing its seals,” John says “no man” had the “ability” or the legal standing to do so. Overwhelmed by this reality, John begins to openly and unashamedly “weep!”
From his description, there are a few things we can say for sure about this scroll… First, while it was typically uncommon to write on both sides of a scroll, there was one notable exception. When the contents of an important document concealed from view on the inside were reserved for only a particular person needing to fit a certain set of criteria, the outside of the scroll would list the qualifications of who was actually allowed to open it.
Because John is clear this scroll was “written on the inside and on the back,” we understand the contents were reserved for Someone specific — which makes complete sense as John observers how everyone “in heaven, on earth,” and “under the earth” somehow knew they weren’t “worthy” to lose the seals and open this important document.
Secondly, because this scroll was found in the “right hand” of Almighty God and had been “sealed with seven seals,” we know the specific directives that were contained within this manuscript had been reserved by God to be opened at a specific time and place.
You see the very fact this scroll had been kept under seal tells us the things this document intended to initiate or set into motion God had determined to bind or hold back until the moment the seals were finally loosed by the legal and worthy recipient.
Thirdly, while John doesn’t tell us what the contents of this scroll happened to be, it appears he knows. For example, when John realizes that “no man” was found “worthy” to “open the scroll and loose its seals” he’s so overwhelmed by the implications of this reality he begins to weep uncontrollably. The question begs what was contained in this scroll?
There are scholars (and I should add a vast number of them) who contend this scroll was the title deed to planet earth and that in loosing the seals Jesus would be reclaiming what was rightfully His. Biblically, they’ll point out that in Jeremiah 32 we have an example where such a deed would be sealed until the appropriate time the land needed to be claimed.
While this sounds novel, the problem with this position is that it really doesn’t make sense. Sure, we know the kingdoms of this world are under the dominion of Satan. And yet, when exactly did God lose the title deed for the world itself? Once more, if He had, why does He have the deed in His possession? To this point, in Psalms 24:1, David affirms that “the earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.”
Regarding the contents of this scroll, I think the biggest clue is found in the fact the scroll was specifically bound with “seven seals.” When the contents of a scroll were to be kept reserved for either a particular person or situation, it was normal that a string be tied around the document, wax then dripped onto the knot, and the sender's signet pressed into the wax affirming the content was reserved for only a particular individual.
Logically, upon the arrival of the scroll to the intended person, an unbroken seal guaranteed to the reader the contents had remained private, undisturbed, and for their eyes only.
And yet, while one seal would have worked if this had been the purpose, the existence of “seven seals” tells us this scroll was of such importance it needed to be sealed using seven individual signets indicating seven eyewitnesses had been necessary to ratify both the content of the scroll as well as the qualifications of who could open it. In Roman times, such a unique practice was typically reserved for a last will and testament.
In case you are unaware, from the very beginning of time, the sovereign God has had a plan for the trajectory of human affairs. God has a will and in the end, His will is inescapable and totally certain. God’s will will happen and it will all play out exactly as He’s determined.
While we can see how so much of God’s plan has already been executed in human history, we know there is a final act God has yet to initiate — a portion of Biblical prophecy dealing with Israel, God’s judgment of the world, and the establishing of Jesus’ kingdom on this earth that has yet to come to fruition. We refer to these things as the End Times.
Personally, I find it fascinating that, at the end of his life, the Prophet Daniel who saw and wrote about so many of these future developments recorded in the Book of Revelation was instructed (Daniel 12:4) to “shut up the words and seal the book until the time of the end.”
You see I believe John understands that within this scroll sealed up and in the right hand of God the Father was the final act of His will for this earth. Up until this future moment in time that John now finds himself witnessing and recording, God had kept these final events from taking place on the earth binding them up and sealing them in this scroll.
And yet, John has now been taken by the Spirit into this future scene in the throne room of heaven to specifically witness the moment when God’s final act was ready to be initiated. The only thing needed was Someone “worthy” enough to come and set it all into motion.
Understandably, because no one was initially found worthy and therefore the consummation of God’s will remained on pause, John is gripped with emotions. Without the contents of the scroll being enacted, he knows there could be no final resolution to world affairs.
John knows that without the seals being loosed and the contents of the scroll being executed things on earth would continue as they were. Nothing would change. The world would remain hopeless, trapped forevermore in its cycle of pain, despair, and wickedness. From John’s perspective, it was evident that no mortal man could initiate the fullness of God’s plan for the future. No one was worthy — or so He thought!
In closing, there is a question that needs to be answered in light of the fact God’s future will for this planet is presently sealed up for a future moment in time… Why is He waiting? To be honest, if the Rapture of the Church does not occur before the seals are loosed, answering this question proves difficult. In fact, I’d be at a total loss for how to mount an explanation.
And yet, if this final act of God’s plan for the world ends up being initiated following Jesus’ removal of His Church from this earth, the implications are profound. You see the reason God is keeping the remaining components of His will for this world under seal is that He’s graciously giving humanity a little more time to accept His Son Jesus, and in doing so escape the judgments that will be executed when the seals are finally broken!
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