CHAPTER FOUR introduces four significant changes; there is: (1) a change of place; (2) a change of subject; (3) a change of time, and (4) a change of position. Idealists do not recognize a change in time but views “what will take place” as indicating “this is the vision I saw next.” Preterists look for a first century fulfillment, and the historicists see conquests of historical Rome, culminating in Constantine’s establishment of Christianity as the religion of the empire. A futurist’s view follows.
The Throne of God
See a layout of the throne of God and those surrounding it in the charts section.
CHANGE OF PLACE: HEAVEN’S DOOR OPENED (4:1). Some hold that the Revelation begins with the fourth and fifth chapters. This supposition disavows the prophetic value of the seven churches.
There are other instances in the Scriptures where heaven was opened:
1. The prophet testified that “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1)
2. After Jesus was baptized “heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him” (Matthew 3:16)
3. At the brink of death and full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56)
4. Peter “saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners” (Acts 10:11)
CHANGE OF TIME: AFTER THIS (meta tauta) or “after these things” (the end of the church age) marks the opening of the next vision in the sequence of the Revelation.
Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church Symbolized
COME UP HERE (4:1) was an invitation for John to enter through the “open door.” The voice was like a trumpet. Here futurists that hold to a pre-tribulation rapture find John typifying the Church.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
AT ONCE I WAS IN THE SPIRIT—A CHANGE OF SUBJECT (4:2) signifies John was transported to heaven to the throne of God. Paul said of his similar experience:
I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows (2 Corinthians 12:1-2).
Door links back to 3:20 and 3:8; trumpet and Spirit to 1:10. The church of Philadelphia had an open door that no one could shut and the church of Laodicea was to open the door to Christ; now He opens the door to heaven.
Standing open is a perfect passive participle that describes an action, which is viewed as having been completed in the past, once and for all, not needing to be repeated. Whether in the body (raptured) or out the body (death), the overcomer and tribulation saint will instantaneously enter heaven’s door. With the exceptions of Enoch (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), the OT saint went to Sheol (Hades) at death.
There is no significant evidence that the Church takes a part in the Tribulation Period; the opposite is true.
First, Jesus promises the Church He loves that He will keep them from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth (Revelation 3:10).
Second, believers are told to wait for God’s Son from heaven, who will rescue them from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10; cf. Romans 5:9). From the breaking of the first seal by the Lamb to commence wrath through His coming to earth as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, every outpouring of judgment belongs to the day of vengeance of our God and Christ’s wrath (Isaiah 61:2; Revelation 5:5; 6:16; 15:1).
Third, there are nineteen references to the Church in the first three chapters and no mention of the Church in chapters 4-18, which cover the Tribulation Period.
Fourth, the Church is missing in the saying, “He who has an ear, let him hear” (Revelation 13:9).
Fifth, the extensive use of OT symbols in chapters 4-18 apply to Israel, not the Church. Israel shall undergo the Tribulation (Jeremiah 30; Daniel 12).
Sixth, the Church is pictured symbolically as the sea of glass in heaven during the Tribulation (Revelation 4:6; 15:2).
Seventh, Christ brings His bride the Church with Him from heaven at the end of the Tribulation (19:11-21; cf. verse 14 with 18:7-8).
A THRONE IN HEAVEN—A CHANGE OF POSITION (4:2). Christ is no longer in the midst of His churches but He has changed positions; He is sitting in the place of judgment—the Throne of God.
Seven things are associated with the Throne (4:3-11):
1. Triune God
2. Twenty-four elders
3. Signs of judgment
4. Sevenfold Spirit of God
5. Sea of glass
6. Four living creatures
7. Heavenly worship of the Triune God
Who sits on the Throne (4:2)?
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:3).
Clearly, Jesus sits beside His Father on God’s throne making intercession for us as High Priest (see explanation “of the appearance of jasper and carnelian” under SYMBOLISM). With the Church raptured, the Lamb now stands to execute His wrath (5:5-6; 6:16).
A RAINBOW (4:3) resembling an emerald encircles the throne. The rainbow is a sign of the earth being productive after judgment. It signifies that God will keep His covenants and that God will remember mercy in wrath (Habakkuk 3:2).
TWENTY FOUR ELDERS (4:4). There are five explanations for these elders:
1. They are exalted angels
2. They are resurrected OT saints
3. They are twenty four orders of the priesthood in the Law of Moses (1 Chronicles 24:4: 25:9-13)
4. They are twelve OT patriarchs and twelve NT apostles (cf. Revelation 21:12-14)
5. They are NT saints (1 Peter 2:9)
If the Textus Receptus is correct, the twenty-four elders cannot be angels since they sing the song of the redeemed—and fallen angels are not redeemed by God.
For thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Revelation 5:9, KJV).
However, “us” is missing in the best manuscripts, and it is placed at various places in verse nine of Textus Receptus manuscript family in attempt to clarify the object of the redeemed. Furthermore, “elder” is never applied to angels is Scripture. This term of rank denotes the head of a family, city, tribe, nation or church in all other places.
The white garments indicate righteousness and purity and the golden crowns are victor’s crowns (stephanos = victor, not diadem = ruler) already awarded (1 Corinthians 6:2; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; 2 Timothy 2:8). The time of the resurrection of the OT saints is uncertain (cf. Daniel 12:13; Matthew 27:52-53).
TWENTY FOUR THRONES (4:4) represent positions of judgment. The apostles will judge Israel (Luke 22:30; Matthew 19:28) and the Church will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).
PRESENCE OF YAHWEH AND COMING STORM (4:5). “From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder,” recalling the terrifying presence of God on Mt. Sinai when Israel promised they would live by God’s Laws (Exodus 19:16-19). The obvious picture is a storm; in this case, the forecasted storm of judgment has arrived.
The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice (Psalm 9:7-8).
Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing, which is the sevenfold spirit of God, is another picture of judgment; compare 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8:
This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
Each member of the Trinity is viewed in connection with the righteous character of wrath and vengeance at the Throne. Each is prepared to execute judgment. This picture of the Holy Spirit is entirely different from His gentle descent on Jesus like a dove (Luke 3:22) or like tongues of fire on the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2:3).
SEA OF GLASS, CLEAR AS CRYSTAL (4:6). Some hold this to be the crystal pavement that serves as the floor of God’s Throne and stretches out like a great, glistening sea (cf. Exodus 24:10; Ezekiel 1:22). It simply adds to the magnificence of the scene.
The bronze basin (Exodus 30:18-21) is called “the sea” at Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 7:23-27). The basin or sea was for priestly purification with water, but in Heaven, this sea appears solid as clear crystal since there is no need for cleansing.
In apocalyptic and mythological genre, sea symbolizes the nations of the earth; for instance:
Oh, the raging of many nations—they rage like the raging sea! Oh, the uproar of the peoples—they roar like the roaring of great waters! Although the peoples roar like the roar of surging waters, when he rebukes them they flee far away, driven before the wind like chaff on the hills, like tumble-weed before a gale (Isaiah 17:12-13).
Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages (Revelation 17:15; cf. Daniel 7:2-3).
What is this crystal sea? None other than the purified Church, which is a holy nation coming out of the peoples of the earth (1 Peter 2:9). Later, the Tribulation saints are those surrounding the Throne and the sea takes on another look:
And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name (Revelation 15:2).
By this point the NT saints have appeared before the Judgment Seat of Christ and received what is due them for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). Each Christian’s work will be revealed by fire:
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
FOUR LIVING CREATURES (4:6-9). These creatures seem to be a combination of cherubim (Ezekiel 1) and seraphs (Isaiah 6:2). The rabbis said that the lion was chief of the wild beast, the ox (calf) of domestic beasts, the eagle of birds, and man of all intellectual creatures. The lion possesses strength; the ox renders service; man possesses intelligence; and the eagle is swift. These are middle signs of the Zodiac: Leo (lion), Taurus (calf), Aquarius (man) and Scorpio (eagle in ancient times). As the heavens declare God’s glory (Psalm 19:1), so do these creatures continually. In addition, these four represent the attributes of Christ’s ministry on earth in the four gospels: Matthew (lion), Mark (ox) Luke (man), and John (eagle). Their song resembles that of the seraphs in Isaiah 6.
WORSHIP (10-11). The twenty-four elders follow the lead of the four living creatures in worship of God the Creator. Five songs are sung by heavenly choirs in chapters four and five. The songs relate to the interpretation of the visions, providing a clue to the literary structure of Revelation, and reflecting the worthiness of the Lamb to receive worship because of His redeeming death.
The first song is addressed to the Trinity = “holy, holy, holy,” 4:8
The second song is addressed to God, 4:11
The third and fourth song are addressed to the Lamb, 5:9-10, 12
The fifth song is addressed to God, 5:13.