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Revelation 4:1

(1) After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and (2) the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, (3) "Come up here, and I will (4) show you what must take place (5) after these things."

1. After these things I looked = introduces a new unit in John’s vision sequence. After these things is clearly a textual marker. However, care should be exercised when stating what is actually indicated by this marker. The exact same phrase is used in Revelation 7:9; 15:5 and 18:1. Whatever else the marker indicates, it does not indicate a temporal shift. This does not mean that a significant amount of time has transpired between the units of material. Rather, the marker indicates that John received the vision in units of material. Revelation 1:1-3:22 is the first unit. Revelation 4:1-7:8 is the second unit. Revelation 7:9-15:4 is the third unit. Revelation 15:5-17:18 is the fourth unit. The last unit of material John saw is contained in Revelation 18:1-22.

2. The first voice which I had heard = connects us back to chapter one. The first voice John heard was that of "one like a son of man." This is none other than the Lord Jesus, Himself. As He has detailed His role as Judge of the church, He indicates to John the next sequence of events to follow. He is judge of the world.

3. Come up here = indicates that John must leave earth and enter heaven. On three separate occasions, John will be invited to a place to see a revelatory vision (4:1; 17:1; 21:9). The fact that John is called up into the heaven should not be pressed at this point. While this unit begins in heaven, it ends on earth.

Unfortunately, some pretribulationists have tortured this verse to support their notion of the timing of the Lord’s removal of the elect from earth to heaven. However, this view is usually argued by laymen who merely repeat what they have heard others say. There is no exegetical or scriptural basis for this claim.

4. Show you = this particular verb is used eight times in the book of Revelation (1:1; 4:1; 17:1; 21:9, 10; 22:1, 6, 8). In six of the eight cases, an angel interprets the events seen by John (17:1; 21:9, 10; 22:1, 6, 8). In this particular vision, however no interpretation is necessary. John clearly sees the events and understands their significance (5:1, 2, 6, 11; 6:1, 12; 7:1).

5. After these things = "after what things?" is an important question. Pretribulationists like Robert L. Thomas attempt a divorcement between the "church age" and the events that constitute Revelation 4-19. Thomas states, "The prophecies [of Revelation 4-19] will describe what will happen after the period of the church has run its course (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 337)." Thomas’ exegesis is clearly biased.

There is no textual basis to claim that the "church age" has ended at Revelation 3:22. The are no explicit passages of Scripture that make such a claim. The argument that Revelation 4-19 does not involve the church is one of silence. It goes like this: the absence of any reference to the church between Revelation 4:1 and 18:24 means it is not involved in the events that constitute this section. Therefore, the church must be raptured to heaven.

This is called an argument from silence. It is not an argument at all. This type of logic can cut both ways. The term church is also absent from Revelation 20-21, which deals with the millennium and eternity future. The term church is never used to designate an entity in heaven. It is as if the church disappears from history after Revelation 3. However, this is clearly not the case.

A fundamental point of apocalyptic literature is to use nothing that would allow the unwanted to discern the meaning of the essential message. Leon Morris writes,

There appears to have been times when it would have been politically unwise for them to have done so. They evidently trusted that their friends would be able to discern their essential meaning, and that their enemies would not be able to do so. (Morris, Apocalyptic, 38)

It would have been very unwise for John to so identify the church with the future destruction of the kingdoms of the world that the world could easily discern it from his apocalypse. The Revelation was written to comfort God’s people, not provide ammunition for their destruction. We have seen what the enemies of God will do with a little information detrimental to their future (Matt 2:1-12, 16-23).

The fact that the term church does not appear in Revelation 4-19 does not mean that the entity itself is not represented in these critical chapters. All would agree that the reference to wife in Revelation 19:7 designates the church. Revelation 20:4 records, "Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them." This group must contain at least a portion of the church given the Lord’s promise in Revelation 2:26b-27 and 3:21 that overcomers will reign with Him during His physical temporal kingdom on earth (Matt 19:27-30).

There are at least nine different references to the church in Revelation 4-19:

1. Every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 5:9c
2. A kingdom and priest, 5:10
3. Fifth seal martyrs, 6:9
4. A multitude, 7:9; 19:5-6
5. Bond-servants, 11:18; 19:2, 5
6. Our brethren, 12:10
7. The rest of her children, 12:17
8. Saints, 13:7, 10; 14:12; 18:20, 24
9. Wife, 19:7

Each of these designations will be defended as we confront them in context. Please see relevant chapter and verse.

Revelation 4:2-3

Immediately I was (1) in the Spirit; and behold, (2) a throne was standing in heaven, and (3) One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.

1. In the Spirit = the capitalization of spirit by the translators suggests that John is in the Holy Spirit, which is certainly true. However, this is not what John is attempting to communicate here. All believers have opportunity to be in the Spirit, but that does not mean such a one will receive revelation from God. This phrase "is an idiom indicating that John’s revelatory experiences took place not "in the body" but rather "in the spirit," i.e., in a vision trance…(Aune, Revelation 1-5, 283).

2. A throne was standing in heaven = the Greek literally says "and behold a throne was set in the heaven." The difficulty arises with the timing of the verb ekeito. This verb is used 25 times in the New Testament. In the predominate number of cases, it refers to the recent past, as in John 2:6. However, it can refer to the indefinite or distant past, as in 1 Thess 3:3. John uses the term nine times. Seven occurrences refer to the recent past (John 2:6; 19:29; 20:5, 6, 7, 12; 21:9). One reference can refer to recent past or distant past depending on one’s interpretation (Rev 21:16).

There is only one occasion in Scripture that records God the Father taking a seat (Daniel 7:9). Daniel describes the Ancient of Days in the context of the final period of human history, as we know it, taking a seat prior to the judgment of the little horn. Daniel’s thrones are thrones of judgment (Dan 7:9-10). Revelation 4 records the Lamb’s reception of the contract of judgment, which is indicated in the large scroll. Therefore, the scene John is shown occurred in the recent past. For it is only after the Lamb has been slain that He is worthy to open the seals.

Chapter 4 has been described by some as the throne-room scene. This is fitting. What follows in Revelation 4 is clearly focused on a throne. First, John focuses on the One seated on the throne. Second, he focuses on what is around the throne. Third, he indicates what flows out from the throne. Fourth, he points out what’s before the throne.

3. One sitting on the throne = God the Father.

Revelation 4:4

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw (1) twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.

1. Twenty-four elders sitting = around the throne. They form a complete circle. Twenty-four thrones encircle the throne of God. They face God’s throne.

The identity of these individuals is tortured. Few pay attention to the textual details, but focus on wide speculations that feed the fires of non-literal interpretations of the Revelation. What does the Revelation say about these beings? Taken in order of fact:

a. They form the first circle around the throne of God, 4:4a
b. They are called elders, 4:4b
c. They are twenty-four seated on twenty-four thrones, 4:4c
d. They wear white garments and gold crowns, 4:4d
e. They fall down and worship God, 4:10
f. They sing hymns to God, 4:11
g. They make comments to John, 5:5
h. They have harps and censers full of incense that are said to represent the prayers of the saints, 5:8
i. They explain things to John, 7:14-17

The Jews would have readily understood the entity elders. Both the meaning and significance of the term would have been plain to John’s Jewish audience. However, John does not use the Greek article with this noun, which indicates that the readers were not familiar with this particular group of beings.

That the elders are angelic beings would not be questioned if it were not for a poor translation of Revelation 5:9-10 in the King James Version of the Bible.

King James translation of Revelation 5:9-10:

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; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth (Italics added).

New American Standard translation:

And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. "And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth" (Italics added).

The difference is easily recognized:

KJV = "us, us and we" vs. NASB = "men, them, and they"

The central issue concerns the Greek manuscripts used as the basis for our English translation. In terms of the sheer number of manuscripts, a reading with us is favored in verse 9. This would support the King James translation. However, following this same reasoning results in a contradiction with the last part of verse 10. The verb "they shall reign" is clearly third person plural. In other words, "they shall reign" and not "we shall reign," which is a first person plural pronoun.

Now a good English student knows that subjective and objective pronouns must agree in number, i.e., singular with singular and plural with plural. Since we believe that John did not make mistakes when recording his prophecy and that Scripture does not contain contradictions, we support a harmony of the text.

There is very little debate that verse 10 should read "they," and not "we." A guiding principle of biblical interpretation is to interpret the difficult in light of the clear. Reasoning back to the first part of verse 10, we conclude that the phrase "You have made us" should read "You have made them." This would necessitate that verse 9 should read "You have redeemed them."

This is the only reading of verses 9-10 that removes any possible contradiction, which is reflected in the New American Standard translation. This interpretation also answers the question concerning the identity of the elders. At least we are able to say that they are heavenly beings and in no way can be identified with the "church."

Revelation 4:5a

(1) Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.

1. Out from the throne comes = John indicates that these storm indicators are a continual phenomenon. It is fitting that sights and sounds, which frighten all on-lookers, continually represent an invisible God.

Revelation 4:5b—8a

And there were seven lamps of fire burning (1) before the throne, which are the (2) seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something (3) like a sea of glass, like crystal; and (4) in the center and around the throne, (5) four living creatures (a) full of eyes in front and behind. (b) The first creature was like a lion, and the (c) second creature like a calf, and (d) the third creature had a face like that of a man, and (e) the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, (f) each one of them having six wings, are full of (g) eyes around and within;

1. Before the throne = John’s description moves now to the scene before the throne of God.

2. Seven Spirits of God = See comments at Revelation 1:4d.

3. Like a sea of glass, like crystal = the floor of God’s throne-room.

4. In the center and around the throne = describes the location of the four living creatures. The phrase "in the center" is problematic. It is hard to understand how these creatures could be in the center of the throne. It is better to understand them as stationed in the four directions of the compass: east, north, south and west.

5. Four living creatures = Cherubim. These heavenly beings are described in similar language in Isaiah 6:2. Ezekiel 10:20 explicitly identifies "living creatures" as cherubim.

a. Full of eyes = the ability to see in all directions is necessary when one is charged with the responsibility to protect the holiness of God.
b. Like a lion = forthcoming
c. Like a calf = forthcoming
d. Like a man = forthcoming
e. Like a flying eagle = forthcoming
f. Six wings = forthcoming
g. Eyes around and inside = forthcoming

Revelation 4:8b

And day and night (1) they do not cease to say, " Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, (2) the Almighty, (3) who was and who is and who is to come."

1. They do not cease to say = Not only are the Cherubim everywhere watching, but they are always praising God. This is a fabulous job. Natural human response: it must get tiresome after a while. Angelic response: it’s never tiresome when God is the object of praise. Wait until you see Him.

2. The Almighty = panto (all) krator (powerful) = is the first self-designation God used for Himself in the Bible. Genesis 17:1 records, "Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, 'I am God Almighty…'"

Scholars are not sure of the basic meaning of the Hebrew term. It could refer to the breast or to a mountain. Regardless, the incomparability of God in power and might is foremost. The Cherubim constantly remind all who would approach Who it is they draw near unto.

3. See Revelation 1:4.

Revelation 4:9

And (1) when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks (2) to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever,

1. When the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks = the word when indicates that this is not a repeated action. This action will happen once. As John sees the vision, it has not occurred yet. Revelation 5:13-14 records the fulfillment of this event. It occurs in the context of the Lamb breaking the seals, which temporally relates to the Seventieth Week of Daniel. This event will mark the beginning of the final sequence of events associated with Revelation 6-19.

2. To = this preposition has two objects. Both refer to God the Father. The repeated reference to God’s eternality serves to remind the reader that God’s judgments are just. He has watched over all human history and consequently knows all the details related to the case.

Revelation 4:10-11

(1) The twenty-four elders (2) will (a) fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and (b) will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and (c) will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for (3) You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created."

1. The twenty-four elders = this will be the response of the twenty-four elders to the praise, honor and glory of the living creatures.

2. Will = indicates a future event.

a. Fall down before Him = this is the first of a two-part action.
b. Worship Him = this is the second of a two-part action. In ancient worship, one both bowed and offered verbal praise.
c. Cast their crowns before the throne = some in misidentifying the twenty-four elders have suggested that believers will cast their crowns before the throne of God. However, this is poorly defended in Scripture.

3. You created all things = of all the possible comments available to the twenty-four elders, they focus on the fact that God alone is creator of all that is. This statement can be dismissed, but it cannot be discredited. Creation is a work of God, the Father and not an accident or the result of random chance.

It is clear that chapter 4 is dedicated to the exalted God who sits on the throne. This is none other than God, the Father. Chapter 5 will focus on the Lamb, who is none other than God, the Son.


Next Section: Chapter Five - The Large Scroll
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