Understanding The Apocalypse

Revelation 4:1-11
Chapter 9

Speaking of the Church, Charles Spurgeon said, "We stand between two Epiphanies; the first is the manifestation of the Son of God in human flesh, in dishonor and weakness; the second is the manifestation of the same Son of God, in all of His power and glory."

As we begin reading Revelation 4, we realize that we are seeing, through John's description, a glimpse of the Glory of Heaven and the God who will greet His Church.

I. The Invitation

"After this I looked and, behold, a door was opened in heaven; and the first voice that I heard was, as it were, of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up here, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter" (Revelation 4:1).

With these words the door of heaven is opened for John and he is, according to Revelation 4:2, immediately in the Spirit before the throne of God set in heaven. This happens so he can be shown the "Things which must be hereafter."

You may recall that in Revelation 1:19, John was commanded to "Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter." This is the key verse to understanding the entire Book of Revelation.

In Revelation 1, John wrote about the Glorified Christ he saw in a vision. In Revelation 2 & 3, he wrote about "The things which are," meaning the Church Age, in the letters to the seven churches.

Now, beginning in Revelation 4, he looks to the future, to "The things which shall be hereafter." This is evident by the first two words of Revelation 4:1, "After this..." After what? After the letters to the churches. Remember, each of the letters represents a specific period in church history, ending with the apostate church at Laodicea.

This final state of apostasy marks the end of the Church Age that culminates with the upward calling of the Saints described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

"For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall 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 so shall we ever be with the Lord."
Notice, the similarity in John's experience. He heard the voice from heaven, a trumpet and the command to "Come up here." How perfect the picture of that great and glorious day when all the Church will be caught up to meet our Lord, in the air. John was called into Heaven as a representative of the Church, to witness the things that will occur at the conclusion of the Church Age.

Also, in writing the "things which shall be hereafter," John does not mention the Church on earth. In fact, the Church on earth is not mentioned again until Revelation 22:16.

From these evidences, we can readily see John's viewpoint is no longer from and for the Church on earth, but is now of and from heaven. The Church is no longer the focal point of the Book. Now, John is writing about the events that will occur following the rapture of the Body of Christ.

The first thing John sees after his representative "rapture" is

II. The Throne Room of God

"And Immediately I was in the Spirit and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne" (Revelation 4:2).

How fitting that John first focuses on the throne of God, the great symbol of His Majesty, His Authority, His Power, and His Sovereignty. Surely, it is before His throne that all humanity will first see the One who created them. But how different John's visit to the Throne of God from those in Revelation 20:11-15. Then, those who come before His throne do so for judgment and are condemned forever to the Lake of Fire. But John, like all whose names are written in the "Lamb's Book of Life," is privileged to see,

III. The Glory of God

"And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardius stone; and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like an emerald" (Revelation 4:3).

The stones in this verse have been said to represent many things. For example, the crystal clear jasper and the red sardius speak of the holiness of God and His redemptive purpose. However, the real significance of John standing in the presence of God on His throne is best understood after reading Exodus 33:18-23. There, Moses asked God to show him His Glory (v:18) and God's reply is,

"Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me, and live. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock; And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by; And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back; but my face shall not be seen" (v:20).
Notice, it was necessary for God to shield Moses because sinful flesh cannot look upon the unveiled Glory of God and live.

The glistening stones represent the Glory of God radiating from Him and His throne, but because John is not shielded from God's glory as Moses was, we must conclude that John's body is not sinful flesh. Surely, all those in the presence of the Almighty and His throne from whence His glory radiates are righteous.

John, after his symbolic rapture, stands in righteousness before the same throne that will later be a throne of judgment for those who are not righteous.

1 John 3:2, speaks of this event.

"Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is."
John is representative of all the glorified saints standing in the presence of the Throne of God. They are made righteous by the blood of Christ that has redeemed forever, those who trust Him as their only Savior.

However, there are others in the Throne Room and as John looks around, he describes what he sees. In Revelation 4:4, he writes,

"And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones, and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold."
Some have said that these "elders" are an order of angels serving as counselors, but apart from the fact a sovereign God needs no counselors, the symbolism used in describing them seems to make them representatives of the Church, the Body of Christ.

There are four significant facts concerning the elders:

(1) There are twenty-four of them.

The elders around the throne of God are often said to represent the Church, but the small number of elders around the throne has caused many to doubt that they are the Church, and truly, if twenty-four is taken to mean the complete number, then these elders cannot possibly be the Church, for we know the Church numbers far more than twenty-four individuals. However, if we view the twenty-four elders as representatives of a larger group, then from the other evidence in Revelation 4:4, it seems they do represent the Church. One explanation for the elders numbering twenty-four is this would allow for an equal number of representative Jewish Saints and Gentile Saints. Evidence for this is in Matthew 19:28,

"And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Perhaps, twelve of the elders are the twelve Apostles and the other twelve are Gentiles.

(2) They are seated on thrones.

Paul said, in 2 Timothy 2:12, "...we shall also reign with Him." And in 1 Corinthians 6:3, "Know ye not that we shall judge angels?"

To be seated on thrones indicates reigning and judging. It is not a group of angels that will reign with Christ and it is not a group of angels that will judge angels. It is the Church that will do these things.

To reign with Christ has been reserved for those who are born-again children of God, who have been baptized into the Body of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is not the privilege of angels. It is only available to those who are born of water and of the Spirit, and only humans have this opportunity. These elders are not angels. They are humans who represent the Body of Christ that is destined to reign with Him.

(3) They are "Clothed in white raiment."

To be "clothed" is to be covered with a garment that hides one's nakedness. If you recall when Adam sinned against God, he realized he was naked and hid himself. His nakedness represented his unrighteousness and Adam remained naked until God covered him with the skins of animals.

When John tells us that the elders are "...clothed in white raiment," he is saying their unrighteousness has been covered with righteousness, which is what the white raiment represents.

Again, this is something foreign to angels. Those who fell have no savior, so there is no redemption for them. On the other hand, those who did not leave their first estate remain righteous because they were created that way and they have no need for covering.

Only sinful humans who believe Christ died for their sins and rose again are covered with the white raiment or righteousness of Christ. Because these elders are covered with imputed righteousness, they cannot be angels, they must be humans, they surely represent the redeemed Body of Christ.

(4) They are wearing crowns of gold.

There are two Greek words used in Revelation to indicate two different kinds of crowns. One word is "diadem" which is the crown of a sovereign or the symbol of governmental authority. The other word is "stephanos" which is a crown of victory such as those given to athletes who win a contest.

The "Crowns of gold" in Revelation 4:4, are "stephanos" or victory crowns. These are the rewards or crowns given to the individual members of the Church, for faithful service. The elders are wearing crowns as badges of their faithfulness. They are representative of the rewards the Body of Christ will receive.

The evidence that these elders represent the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ, before the throne of God is great. Certainly this fits with the viewpoint that the Church will be called into Heaven, into the presence of our Lord, before the beginning of the Tribulation.

Again, our attention is directed to the Throne of God in Revelation 4:5, where John says, "And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderclaps, and voices."

In Exodus 19, Moses gathered the Children of Israel around the base of Mt. Sinai. There were thunders and lightnings and a voice loud as a trumpet when the Lord descended upon the mountain to deliver the Law to Moses. In view of the phenomena that accompanied the giving of the Law, is it not fitting that thunder, lightning and voices should precede the outpouring of God's judgment upon the people who have not obeyed his commandments?

IV. The Presence of The Holy Spirit.

"And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God" (Revelation 4:5).

A better reading of the last part of this statement would be "Sevenfold Spirit of God." This "Sevenfold Spirit" is explained in Isaiah 11:2, which says, "And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord."

The seven lamps of fire are the way the presence of the Holy Spirit is made known to John. This occurs because ordinarily in the Scriptures the Holy Spirit is visible only when embodied in some way. For example, on the occasion of our Lord's baptism the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a Dove so that He was visible. At Pentecost, He appeared as flames of fire.

In the Church Age, He indwells the Believers and is visible through them. However, after the Church is called into heaven, He will no longer indwell them so His presence is made known to John through the seven lamps of fire.

Also, the Holy Spirit's presence associated with the throne of judgment in Revelation 4:5, indicates His involvement in the outpouring of God's wrath or judgment upon the earth.

V. "A Sea of Glass Like Crystal" (Revelation 4:6).

There is a paradox between the lightnings and thunderclaps of v:5, and the serenity portrayed by the calm clear waters of v:6. We simply do not expect thunder and lightning to produce a calm sea, that is a sea of glass like crystal. On the contrary, storms produce turbulent water, which dredges dirt and debris from the bottom causing the water to dirty and clouded. It therefore, seems reasonable to conclude the conditions described in v:5, are not the "cause" of the "effect" in v:6.

John is apparently describing two different things. However, John is not describing the conditions surrounding two different thrones, for there is only one throne. Notice v:2, clearly says, "a throne," meaning one.

Perhaps, the explanation lies in the fact that while there is only one throne, it will be viewed by all humanity in only one of two possible ways. It is either a throne of judgment, as in Revelation 20, or it is a throne of Grace, as in Hebrews 4:16. So perhaps, the thunder and lightning in v:5, represent the judgments that God will pour upon the earth and the clear, calm waters of v:6, represent the grace of God.

I'm reminded of that memorable line in the 23rd Psalm, "He leadeth me beside the still waters." Indeed, it is only the Grace of God, made manifest in the Person of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ that can calm the stormy waters of life.

Those who place their trust in Him will find God's throne to be a throne of grace, while those who reject Christ will find the throne of God to be a throne of judgment.

John continues his account of the throne room by describing,

VI. Four Living Creatures

"And before the throne there was a sea of glass like crystal; and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. And the first living creature was like a lion, and the second living creature like a calf, and the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures had each of them six wings about him, and they were full of eyes within; and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. And when those living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him that is seated on the throne, who liveth forever and ever" (Revelation 4:6-9).
The identities of these "Living creatures" and what they represent have been subjects of discussion for generations. While it is not possible to present every viewpoint offered, let me share some of the highlights.
(1) Some believe the four living creatures represent the attributes or qualities of God, embodied, to be visible to John.

(2) Others think the four living creatures represent the four gospels that present Christ in four major aspects of His Person.

(3) Others say they represent the standards of the four tribes of Israel that pitched their tents on the four sides of the tabernacle.

While there may be merit to each of these conclusions, before we agree with one of them, it seems better to first search the Scriptures for references to other similar beings and if these references exist, perhaps, we should consider these "Living creatures" literal beings rather, than embodiments or apparitions.

In Ezekiel 1, the prophet describes four living creatures he saw in a vision and he clearly identifies these creatures as Cherubim in Ezekiel 10:20. Because his description includes the faces of a lion, a calf, a man and an eagle, similar to the creatures in Revelation 4, it is often thought they are the same.

But while there are similarities, there are also differences. The Cherubim in Ezekiel have four wings, while the creatures around God's throne in Revelation have six. Also, the Ezekiel account says that each creature has four faces while Revelation says that each creature had a different face.

In Isaiah 6:1-3, we find a description of beings identified as Seraphim. The text reads,

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet; and with two he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His Glory."
This is also a description of beings similar to those in Revelation 4. Notice, the Seraphim have six wings and one face and they surround the throne of God, proclaiming His Holiness.

Because there are similarities to both the Cherubim and Seraphim, perhaps, the "Living creatures" in Revelation 4, are both. Now, we need to go a little deeper into the Scriptures and examine the responsibilities of the Cherubim and Seraphim to explain this statement.

In Genesis 3:24, the Cherubim are guarding the Tree of Life and this was necessary to keep Adam from the tree after he sinned. Adam was expelled from the garden of Eden and kept from the Tree of Life by Cherubim and from this information we can conclude that Cherubim are associated with the judgments of God.

On the other hand, in Isaiah 6:6-7, one of the Seraphim touched Isaiah's lips with a live coal and said, "thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." Clearly, this is a demonstration of the Grace of God, which is the basis for the purging of sin and removal of iniquity. Therefore, we can conclude the Seraphim are associated with the Grace of God.

There can be little doubt that the Cherubim are associated with the judgments of God and Seraphim are associated with the grace of God. Because God's throne will represent judgment to those who reject Christ, the presence of the Cherubim is warranted. Also, because God's throne is a throne of Grace to all who believe in Christ, the Seraphim will surely be there.

According to this information, it is possible these living creatures represent both the Cherubim who are associated with God's judgments and the Seraphim who are associated with the Grace of God. Most likely, these creatures are an order of angelic beings whose purposes are to guard the Glory and Holiness of God, to praise Him and carry out His directives.

Now, we turn our attention to the descriptions of these living creatures to see how well suited they are to carry out their missions.

(1) "Full of eyes in front and behind." I suppose there is a time in the life of every child when he believes that mother has eyes in the back of her head. Unlike dads, who are oblivious to practically anything short of an atomic blast, it just seems that moms always know what is happening.

John is telling us these guys are like moms - they have eyes in the back of their heads. They know what is happening and consequently, no one will ever sneak before the throne of God. God's throne can only be approached in one of two ways: Through faith in the substitutionary death and resurrection of Christ, which makes it a throne of grace, or for those that reject salvation through their unbelief, it is a throne of judgment.

(2) Coupled with this awareness, the living creatures have physical attributes that well suit them as guardians and messengers.

Their strength is represented by the lion, the most powerful of beasts, meaning, there is no power capable of overthrowing this Kingdom.

Patient endurance is demonstrated by the calf or the ox. There is no wearing down of these who guard the throne and sing God's praises.

Their intelligence is shown by the face of the man and their abilities to swiftly carry out the directives of God are portrayed by the flying eagle.

Note, that v:7, describes these living creatures as having faces like the inhabitants of earth and v:8 tells us they are not men or beasts from the earth.
[1] They are winged - This indicates the living creatures are an order of angelic beings. We commonly understand angels to have wings.

[2] They are constantly, "wide eyed" or alert and they have no need for rest. Certainly this is not the case for earth's inhabitants, for from the beginning God ordained a day of rest and all of God's created beings on earth require rest.

VII. The Purposes of the Living Creatures

In Revelation 4:8, we read the continuous declaration of the living creatures, which is, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."

Along with this continuing praise of God's holiness and eternal Being, it appears in Revelation 4:9, that there are times when these beings offer special praise to the Almighty seated on His throne.

In Revelation 4:10, we see the elders who represent the Church joining them in this time of special worship. However, there is a big difference in the worship offered by the elders and the worship offered by the angelic beings. Not only do the elders give glory, honor and thanks, they also are able to cast their crowns before His throne and in doing so the elders are able to do something the angels cannot do. They are able to worship God as their Redeemer.

These crowns or rewards for service are only available to those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Only humans are in this category, for Christ became a human, to die for humans. He did not become and angel to die for angels.

To lay our crowns at the throne of God is to acknowledge that He alone is our Salvation. He alone redeemed us from servitude to sin and gave us the opportunity to have fellowship with Him. Not only is He deserving of our praise because He is our Sovereign Creator, He is also deserving of our worship because He purchased us with His own body and blood.

Truly, it is the purpose of humanity to glorify God and according to Philippians 2:10-11, there will come a day when every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father. Some will make this declaration before the Great White Throne where they will be condemned to the Lake of Fire for all eternity. Others will prostrate themselves before the throne of Grace and cast their crowns before it as they say, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."

VIII. Conclusion

Perhaps, the primary purpose of John's narrative in Revelation 4:1-11, is to tell humanity that when the curtain of time on earth is closed, our first glimpse of our Creator will come while before His throne and it is another example of God's grace to tell us what to expect when that day occurs. The throne one stands before to proclaim God's praises is determined by rejection of, or trust in, the substitutionary death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ during this lifetime. For those that trust Jesus for their salvation, it is a throne of grace, but for those that reject salvation by grace through faith, it will be the Great White Throne of judgment.

"Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for they pleasure they are and were created."

From "Understanding The Apocalypse"
A book of sermons by Pastor Jim McColloch, Th.M., Th.D.
© Copyright 1994, 1999, 2006