Revelation 4 Overview

When we look at Revelation 4:1-2, we read of the two phrases “voice I had first heard” and “in the Spirit” – both connecting back to Revelation 1:10. This is the same vision, and not a separate vision. The fact that Revelation 1-3 comes first in the book should be noted as preliminary remarks concerning the churches. This also would explain why the word μετα is used. It means both after and with, and not either/or. It is after seeing the first vision, and after writing the seven letters to the churches that John turns his focus to this, which is not a separate vision, but with the first two statements.

In this heavenly vision, we find it paralleling both Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1-2. The difficulty with this chapter for many is preconceived notions of what these symbols must mean, and often they can’t be tied to anything exactly. We see, just like in Isaiah 6, a throne, and angels singing holy, holy, holy. Just like in Ezekiel 1-2, we find the four living creatures, the throne “with the figure like a man”, the throne like sapphire, light surrounding the throne “like a rainbow”, and when adding Revelation 5:1, the scroll with “writing on both sides”. The two visions in the Old Testament by these prophets are the same thing that John is seeing, but the details given in each of these visions are distinct from one another.

From verse 1, we see an entrance into a new scene. There is a door in heaven, and it seems most logical to conclude that John is outside of this door until being beckoned inside.

The throne is the Ark of the Covenant. Others who saw the throne are found in 1 Kings 22:19, Isaiah 6:1, Ezekiel 1:26, Psalm 47:8, and Daniel 7:9. See Psalm 18:6, 10, 80:1, 99:1, Micah 1:2, Habakkuk 2:20, Exodus 25:22, Numbers 7:89, 1 Samuel 4:4, 2 Samuel 6:2, and Isaiah 37:16 as evidence that the Ark of the Covenant is the throne of God. Therefore, the throne room here in Revelation 4 is the Holy of Holies. See Hebrews 8:5. This also brings new meaning to Hebrews 4:16 and 10:19-22. When we come before God in prayer, entering into His presence, we are entering into this scene.

In Revelation 4:3 we read of the one sitting having the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and the throne being encircled by a rainbow. Ezekiel 1:26-28 reads, “Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.” We see later (21:11) that the City of God is described as shining like jasper and crystal (carnelian) also.

In verse 4, we read of these twenty-four other thrones and seated upon them are twenty-four elders. These are representative of the twenty-four priestly families (see 1 Chronicles 24). It is strange that this is here ‘interrupting’ the view of the throne (which is taken up again in verse 5). Also, you would assume the four creatures are explained first, for they are closer to the throne and their worship is what promulgates the worship of the twenty-four elders. The fact that these most likely represent priesthood – the white robes and crowns already explained in notes on 3:5 and 2:10 – would imply that the supposed interruption is in view of 3:21. “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Somehow these ‘thrones’ are distinct, and yet they must be mentioned together with God’s throne – compare Daniel 7:9 and Revelation 20:4.

For the “peals of lightning, voices of thunder, and thunderings” in verse 5, compare Ezekiel 1:13, Psalm 77:18, and John 37:4. The seven lamps and the seven spirits of God are explained in Revelation 1:20, 3:1, and 1:12. In Solomon’s temple there are ten freestanding lamps (1 Kings 7:49). However, there is also high likelihood that these are representing the menorah.

The “sea of glass” in verse 6 is possibly the washing basin outside of the Tabernacle, but there was also “The Sea” in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:23-26). Also see Psalm 104:3, that God sits upon many waters. The “living creatures” are cherubim, and we find the four of them in Ezekiel 1:22, 26, and Ezekiel 10 recognizes them as cherubs. Note that in Ezekiel credits these cherubs as being “under the throne”, but we cannot interpret the Greek in Revelation 4 to meaning under the throne. It means “in the midst” of the throne. Why are the creatures in the midst of the throne here when elsewhere they are described as “around” the throne? John is pulling from 1 Kings 6:27 and 8:6-7. There were two cherubim on the top of the mercy seat and two more “overshadowing” the Ark. The covering of eyes in front and back can be traced to Ezekiel 1:18 and 10:12.

Verse 7 is a four-lined stanza, each line beginning with και (and). In Ezekiel 1:10, the man comes first, not third, but other than that, the order is the same.

In verse 8, John modifies the cherubim into what Isaiah calls “seraphim”. In this, I assume that John is gathering imagery to explain the scene and press the point: he is in the Heavenly Temple, before the Throne, in the Holy of Holies.

Verse 9 is interesting to note the praise of the elders in 10-11 is whenever the living creatures praise. Yet, in verse 8, the living creatures are praising God “continually” (NIV translates as ‘day and night’). This is difficult to reconcile, but the possibility is that the elders are always at the disposition of worship before God, even when they are performing some other work. Compare their praise to Daniel 4:34. The phrase “who lives forever and ever” is repeated in verse 10, 10:6, and 15:7. See Deuteronomy 32:40 and Daniel 12:7.

In verse 10, the twenty-four elders have already been noted to correlate with 1 Chronicles 24. Examine Isaiah 24:23, “The Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before its elders, gloriously.” Here is what we know about these elders:

  • 1) They sit on 24 thrones around God’s throne (4:4, 11:16)
  • 2) They wear crowns of gold and white garments (4:4)
  • 3) They are called πρεσβθτεροι – twenty four in number
  • 4) They occupy these thrones presently, not at the end of the age.
  • 5) The seer addresses one of them as κθριε (lord) (7:13)
  • 6) They act as interpreting angels (7:13-14)
  • 7) They have a priestly function in presenting the prayers of the faithful to God in golden bowls (8:5)
  • 8) They encourage John when he beholds the inhabitants of heaven (5:5)
  • 9) They hold the office of praising God by singing and playing the harp (5:8, 14, 11:16, 19:4)

From these characteristics, we glean that they cannot be men, must be angels. They act as interpreting angels, and unless we say that all messengers of God are human – prophets or glorified saints – we cannot then conclude that these are people. Sorry to the dispensationalist; the rapture didn’t happen. Also, their sitting on thrones prior to the eschaton speaks against them being saints, for the saints receive their reward at the coming of Messiah (22:12). The chief priests were designated “princes of God” in 1 Chronicles 24:5. It is possible that these are angelic counterparts to the twenty-four priestly elders – see note on 1:4 and 1:20. In 1 Chronicles 25:9-39, we find twenty-four orders of Levitical singers as well.

For the phrase “glory and honor and power”, see 1 Chronicles 16:27-28. “For you willed they existed, and were created”; compare this to Psalm 148:5, “For he commanded and they were created.” This seems backward. God had conceived, and therefore created. He thought through what would exist, and then made it physical reality. This could be a verse used to support the eternal existence of the soul, but it wouldn’t be a wise choice to do so. The verse itself doesn’t imply eternality of the soul, but merely conceptions in the mind of God before the creation of the world.

Thus, when we view this scene in chapter 4, we see John taken up from the world and given a seat in heaven to behold the rest of the vision. We see the beginning of God’s ultimate purposes for humanity and history is His glory. In Revelation 1, we saw the glory of God revealed in the Son, and now we see the glory of God in the Father (the Son to be revealed as the Lamb slain in chapter 5), and at the end of Revelations, we find them both sitting upon the throne together in the City of God. The beginning and end is the glory of God, and not the journey to get there. If God is glorified and glorious before we see the end time prophecies, and He is glorified and glorious after the end time prophecies, then He is glorified and glorious in the midst of the prophecies. While it seems as though all hell is breaking out upon the earth, God is still upon the throne, and there is not one detail that falls through the cracks. He is in control of all, not surprised at all, and in all things reveals His absolute sovereignty – even in the midst of displaying the freewill of men to reject Him and curse Him.

This is the God we serve, and it is sobering to consider that when I come before Him, I don’t merely stand before a big party table. I stand before a throne of glory, with angels and elders all around giving praise and homage unto the King of glory. This is sobering, but at the same time exciting. Please, if there is anything that you can take from this, take away that when we pray, we are to show the proper respect that God deserves. Yes, he is our Father – Abba – but no, He is not our “daddy”. He is still God, and if you or I were to behold even partially this glorious sight, we would never again have the thought to simply come before Him with our vain requests of blessings and giving us our desires.

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