The Things Which Shall Be Hereafter: Prophetic Events
Revelation 4 – 22
Revelation 4 – 22
O U T L I N E
Written Within and on the Backside. Another helpful outline of the main section of Revelation is taken from Revelation 5:1; "And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals." When a sealed scroll is unsealed, it can be gradually unrolled. What you see first as the seals are removed is the writing on "the backside". Once unrolled, you can read what is written "within". The Book of Revelation is like that. Chapters 6 - 11 give us a chronological sequence under seven seals and seven trumpets that run from the beginning of the prophetic week all the way the appearing and reign of Christ. This straightforward sequence is like what is written on the backside of the scroll. Then in chapters 12 - 22 we have added details about persons and events that fit within the previously described sequence of events. This second section is like what is written on the inside of the scroll. In fact, the chronological sequence of events can actually be shown to begin with chapter 1 (historical), followed by church history (ch.2-3), followed by a scene in heaven (ch.4-5), after which the seals commence.1
Prologue: Christ’s Rights to the Inheritance
Revelation 4 – 5
Revelation 4 – 5
Revelation 4 – 5. When the church’s door is closed to Christ on earth (Rev. 3:20), God opens a door in heaven (Rev. 4:1). The true church is taken to the Father’s house, and the judgments are about to unfold. These two chapters are like a parenthesis, opening up to us a scene in heaven. If we were to skip these two chapters, prophetic events on the earth continue chronologically from ch. 3 to ch.6. However, we do not want to skip this chapters, because, as will all parenthetical sections of scripture, important principles are found in them that are vital to understand the enclosing subject matter. Chapters 4 – 5 come at an important juncture in the book of Revelation. The chronological sequence of judgments that runs through the end of ch.11 is about to begin. But there is a moral prerequisite to those judgments. Who has the right and the power to judge the earth? These chapters deal with that question: the authority of God and the worthiness of the Lamb. We will find a number of reasons why Christ has the right to judge the earth. First, because He is the Creator. Second, because He is “holy, holy, holy”, and the earth has been corrupted by sin. Third, because He was given a shameful martyrdom death at the hands of man, and He must be vindicated. Fourth, because He has paid the price of redemption.
The Throne and the Book. Two main symbols come before us in ch.4 and 5. Everything in ch.4 centers around the throne and the maintenance of its glory and holiness. Worship in ch.4 does not go beyond recognizing that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. In ch.5 the theme is the book, which I believe represents God’s counsels to bless the earth under the dominion of Christ, which will be brought about through judgment. In ch.5, the Lord Jesus is clearly distinguished as a Divine Person, and worship by the elders rises above the subject of creation to include the theme of redemption.
- Christ’s Rights through Creation (Rev. 4)
- Christ’s Rights through Redemption (Rev. 5)
Christ’s Rights through Creation (Rev. 4)
¶ After these things I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice which I heard as of a trumpet speaking with me, saying, Come up here, and I will shew thee the things which must take place after these things. v.1 Introduction. A door is now opened “in heaven”. In a certain sense, we need to approach the truth of prophecy through this door; i.e. from heaven’s viewpoint. John is called up to heaven by “the first voice”, the same voice as was speaking in chapters 1 – 3 (see Rev.1:10), although now it is speaking from a new direction. The scene has changed. The voice still is like a trumpet, but it is no longer on earth in the midst of the candlesticks. It not speaks from heaven. Why? The church period has passed. We read no more of the church until ch.21. The voice tells John to “Come up here”. This is not the rapture specifically, but it is a dim allusion to it. The voice tells John that he will be told the prophetic events which will take place “after these things”. After what things? After the period described by the seven churches; i.e. the church period (Rev. 1:19).
Description of the Throne, the Sitter, the Elders, and the Living Creatures (4:2-8)
¶ 2 Immediately I became in the Spirit; and behold, a throne stood in the heaven, and upon the throne one sitting, 3 and he that was sitting like in appearance to a stone of jasper and a sardius, and a rainbow round the throne like in appearance to an emerald. vv.2-3 The Throne and the Sitter. As he had in ch.1, John again becomes “in the Spirit” in the special capacity of inspiration. It needed to be refreshed for the next vision. A throne stands in heaven. The throne is a symbol of authority. It is God’s throne. If Revelation tells us nothing else, it tells us that there is a throne in heaven, and that God rules in spite of all the evil that goes on down here. The sitter on the throne is God in Godhead. He is in a seated position, which indicates stability. Though all on the earth is in turmoil, God is perfectly stable! The gems symbolize the glory of God. The “jasper” is a high-grade diamond, representing not His essential glory, but that which can be revealed and even conferred upon a creature (John 17:22-23), such as the church in the Millennium; e.g: her light (Rev. 21:11), her wall (Rev. 21:18), and her first foundation (Rev. 21:19). The “sardius” is a ruby, and it pictures God’s glory and justice and judgment. The “rainbow” speaks of blessing after judgment, because it appears after the storm. Here it precedes the storm, showing that, although God is about to judge, there is mercy in store (see the rainbow again in Rev. 10). Yet the rainbow is not an arc, but an unbroken circle. It speaks of eternity, and shows that God’s mercy is eternal (Psa. 136). The “emerald” is green and is the characteristic color of the earth as seen from heaven. Earth as seen from heaven is setting of prophecy.
4 And round the throne twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones twenty-four elders sitting, clothed with white garments; and on their heads golden crowns. v.4 The Elders. Next we have a description of the heavenly company. These saints area called “elders” because of their maturity and wisdom (1 Cor. 13:9). They are the administrative representation of Old and New Testament saints; 12 for the Old Testament + 12 for the New Testament = 24 elders. They are arranged “around the throne”, occupying a place of intelligence and understanding, much like the counselors in the old times who would sit near the king’s throne. The elders themselves are “upon thrones”, showing that they are royalty! They are clothed in “white garments”, speaking of their priesthood. In fact, the fact that there are twenty-four elders may be an allusion to the twenty-four courses of the priesthood (1 Chron. 24). The earthly priesthood during the kingdom of David was divided into twenty-four courses, and over each was a chief priest, and over all was one high priest. The elders have a priestly character, and the High Priest is of course the Lord Himself. Together, the throne and garment represent their twofold office as “kings and priests” before God (Rev. 1:5). But they are “sitting”, which shows that the saints will be at perfect peace, even with lightning and thunders coming out of the throne! The “crowns” are a result of the judgment seat of Christ. Everyone has one.
Crowns in Scripture. There are a number of crowns is the New Testament: the crown of life (Jam. 1:12; Rev. 2:10), the crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:4), the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8), the crown of rejoicing (Phil. 4:1), the crown of incorruptibility (1 Cor. 9:25), the Philadelphian crown (Rev. 3:11), and the crown of gold (Rev. 4:4).
5 And out of the throne go forth lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and seven lamps of fire, burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; 6 and before the throne, as a glass sea, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, four living creatures, full of eyes, before and behind; vv.5-6 The Throne. Coming out of the throne were “lightnings, and voices, and thunders”, which are pictures of the terrors of God and the coming judgments. These judgments must flow from the throne before the stream in Rev. 22:1 can flow. Before the throne most importantly are the “seven Spirits of God”, representing God’s various operations in judgment. The seven Spirits here are pictured as burning torches, searching out evil. In Rev. 5:6 we have them again pictured by the Lamb’s seven eyes, representing perfect discernment. Also before the throne is a “glass sea”, in contrast with the laver (Ex. 30:18-21) and molten sea (1 Kings 7:23-37) for the purification of the priest. In heaven washing is no longer needed, so the sea is fixed. The objective of the throne is a fixed state of purity for the whole creation. In and around the throne are “four living creatures”. I will attempt to show that these creatures represent the offices of those who administer God’s judgment. In this chapter, they are angels, but in the next chapter they are men. There are “four” creatures because the number four represents universality in creation (Gen. 2:10). The judgment will have a universal effect. They are “full of eyes” showing superior discernment. Every angle of perception is covered. They can see “before” (future events) and “behind” (past events).
7 and the first living creature like a lion, and the second living creature like a calf, and the third living creature having the face as of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. v.7 The Likeness of the Four Living Creatures. The four living creatures have the likeness of the chief creatures of earth and air. Notice that creatures of the sea are not mentioned. Only the kinds saved in Noah’s Ark in the judgment of the old world. The first was like a “lion”, symbolizing power or strength. The second was like a “calf”, symbolizing patience or endurance. A calf has more energy than an ox. The third was like a “face of a man”, symbolizing intelligence. The fourth was like a “flying eagle”, symbolizing speed or rapidity. Together, these are the features of God’s judgment. They combine the characteristics of both cherubim (executors of God’s judgment, Gen. 3:24, Ex. 25:18-22, Ezek. 1, 10:2) and seraphim (who bear witness to God’s holy nature, Isa. 6:3).2
8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having respectively six wings; round and within they are full of eyes; and they cease not day and night saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come. v.8 Description of the Creatures. The creatures had “six wings” for supernatural speed, although six is just short of perfection (seven). Contrast with four wings and wheels of Ezekiel 1. They were full of “eyes” around and within, for both external and internal perception, not so much of events, but of God’s purposes and motives. They bear witness without intermission to three things. First, “Holy, holy, holy”, the holiness of a triune God. Second, “Lord God Almighty”, the power and absolute authority of God. Third, “who was, and who is, and who is to come”, the eternal being of God.
Thrice repetition. In the exclamation “Holy, holy, holy”, the thrice repetition of the word ‘holy’ (treishagion) is a Jewish literary device. In Hebrew, if you want to emphasize a word like you really mean it, you say a word and repeat it. e.g. “I love, love you” or “I love you, you”. But several times in the Old Testament a word is elevated by thrice repetition, to where it has no greater possible emphasis! Such is the case with Isa. 6:3, and again in Rev. 4:8.
The Worship of the Elders (4:9-11)
9 And when the living creatures shall give glory and honour and thanksgiving to him that sits upon the throne, who lives to the ages of ages, v.9 The trigger for worship. This verse gives us what the living creatures do, and what is the trigger for the worship of the elders. It is helpful to compare the response of the elders to that of the living creatures. The creatures celebrate, declare, and give thanks while the elders worship with intelligence. The glorious truths as to the nature of God declared by the living creatures are a trigger that lead to a burst of praise and worship from the redeemed company. This will always be the case! It is another example of how the truth of Who God is draws forth praise from the hearts of redeemed men. Another example is in Rev. 1:5.
10 the twenty-four elders shall fall before him that sits upon the throne, and do homage to him that lives to the ages of ages; and shall cast their crowns before the throne, saying, v.10 The Worship of the Elders. In spite of their dignity and maturity, when the worship begins, the elders quickly leave their honored thrones to fall before the worthy One. Happily they part with their crowns of gold, and ascribe it glory to Him. We have in this verse an example of worship:
- “The twenty-four elders shall fall before him that sits upon the throne”. The prerequisite to worship is that we must get low; i.e. have no thoughts of self, and only thoughts of Him.
- “Do homage to him that lives to the ages of ages”. Consider the greatness of God the Father revealed in the divine Person of the Son.
- “And shall cast their crowns before the throne”. The results: the elders attribute every received glory and blessing to the proper Source, then express praise vocally (v.11).
11 Thou art worthy, O our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honour and power; for “thou” hast created all things, and for thy will they were, and they have been created. v.11 The Praise of the Elders. The creatures give glory, honor, and thanks while the elders wish upon Him glory, honor, and power. The elders enter into His personal worthiness. They say “thou”. It shows us that the redeemed saints are able to give a reason for their worship. We were “called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), created for “His praise” (Isaiah 43:21), and “created for His pleasure” (Rev. 4:11). See also Col. 1:16. While all three persons were involved in creation, the Son is often accredited with the work of creation because He became a man. He is the benefactor and beneficiary, that means and the motive, the source and the sink, of the universal creation.
Christ’s Rights through Redemption (Rev. 5)
A shift in administration. There is a change of administration when the Lamb takes the book. Notice there are no “angels” are specifically called out in Rev. 4, but the four living creatures have angelic qualities and appear less intelligent in their worship than the elders. We can conclude that the living creatures are angelic in ch.4. But in Rev. 5, angels are mentioned as a distinct class from the four living creatures, and the creatures join the elders in the song of redemption: all pointing to the creatures being redeemed men in Rev. 5. How can they be angels in ch.4, and men in ch.5? We must conclude that there has been a change in the administration when the Lamb takes the book, in which the saints in association with Christ replace the angels as administrative executors – a change fully developed in the Millennium (1 Cor. 6:3). “For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come” (Heb. 2:5). God has chosen to have a man set over this creation. Adam failed in his headship, but Christ will perfectly succeed. A transfer of power is needed, because today the administration of the world is in the hands of angels, who do the Father’s bidding (Heb. 1:13). But before the Millennium begins, the whole host of elect angels will be subjected to the authority of the Son of man. This is comprehended in the prophecy; “when he brings in the firstborn into the habitable world, he says, And let all God’s angels worship him” (Heb. 1:7; Psa. 97:7). Of course the angels do worship Christ today, but when the Father brings the Firstborn in the world a second time, the angels will worship a Man on the earth! We will join the glorified Son of man as administrators of the Millennial earth; the “world to come”. In this way, we “the saints” will “judge angels” (1 Cor. 6:3). Therefore, on account of this shift, we discern that the living creatures represent more of an office than specific persons. In ch.4 the living creatures are angels, in ch.5 they are the heavenly saints.
The Book and the Search for an Opener (5:1-5)
¶ And I saw on the right hand of him that sat upon the throne a book, written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. v.1 The Book. In the “right hand” of God is a book. It is connected the power and authority of God. The book contains the counsels of God for the blessing of the earth that will be brought about through judgment 3 It has also been called “the title deed to the inheritance”. See Isa. 26:10. Many men have tried to bring about the blessing of the earth, and many of them have tried to do it through judgment and bloodshed. But none who have attempted were successful, because they were not worthy to do it, and they did not have the power to accomplish their aim. God holds the title deed to the earth, and only one Person is worthy to take it from His hand. Perhaps it is a chapter from the book of Heb. 10:7. It is “written”, because God’s will is unalterably settled. The book is full, written “within and on the backside”; i.e. full of judgement. If it were only written on one side, more could be added, but nothing beyond can be added to this book. It is sealed with “seven seals”, the number of Divine perfection. The counsels God are perfectly hidden in the divine Mind until the Lamb reveals it. Each seal closes a certain portion of the book, and the contents are successively revealed in order.
2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to break its seals? 3 And no one was able in the heaven, or upon the earth, or underneath the earth, to open the book, or to regard it. vv.2-3 None Worthy to Open the Book. Some angels are stronger than others. This voice penetrates to the utmost bounds of the universe, searching three great sectors; heaven, earth, and under the earth. When it comes to opening the book, the primary question is of worthiness (v.2). But the response (v.3) adds another thought: ability. No one is found morally worthy or physically able to deal with the vast system of evil that plagues the world, and to bring in blessing. But many have tried (Napoleon, Hitler, etc.). The One mentioned in v.5 meets both of these requirements. As a “lion” He is able, and as the “Lamb” He is worthy. Worthiness has two parts: moral perfection and the right of redemption. Christ is worthy because of His spotless Person, and also because He purchased the inheritance with His own blood. Notice that opening the book and breaking the seals are separate events. Naturally, the order seems backwards. One must break the seals first in order to open the book. But there is a moral order to this: first the contents are unfolded, then the execution follows. In the search for an opener, “no one” is found worthy or able; no created being. The three sectors are again mentioned. (1) Those “in the heaven” are the angels, the attendants of God’s throne. (2) Those “upon the earth” are men and animals. (3) Those “under the earth” are creatures that live under the surface of the earth.45 Well-intentioned men have been trying for 6000 years to eliminate the effects of sin and bring in blessing. All attempts have failed; none were able to open the book.
4 And “I” wept much because no one had been found worthy to open the book nor to regard it. 5 And one of the elders says to me, Do not weep. Behold, the lion which is of the tribe of Juda, the root of David, has overcome so as to open the book, and its seven seals. vv.4-5 John’s Weeping. Contrast John with the intelligent elder who speaks to him. In the book of Revelation, John is more in the character of an Old Testament prophet than an apostle to the church. Thinking only of man’s inability and unworthiness, we would weep like John. How sad to hold a hopeless view of this earth; to thing that the creation will never be brought into blessing. John adds that none were even able to “regard it”; i.e. even to contemplate it. The book represents something so weighty and momentous that neither man nor angel could examine it. John is encourages that One has been found who can open the book! Who is this Person? He is the “Lion of the tribe of Judah”, picturing irresistible power, majesty, and sovereignty to secure the blessing of Israel and the earth (see Gen. 49:8-10, Prov. 30:30). He is also the “root of David”, representing the royalty of the kingdom. More than being David’s son (offspring or branch, Rev. 22:16, Isa. 11) Christ is David’s Lord (Matt. 22:41-46) the root the source of all Davidic titles and promises. He has “overcome” every spiritual power by His death on the cross. As the lion He is able, as the Lamb He is worthy!
The Lamb Takes the Book (5:6-7)
¶ 6 And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing, as slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God which are sent into all the earth: 7 and it came and took it out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. vv.6-7 A Lamb as it had been Slain. John sees a Lamb instead of a Lion; i.e. seeming weakness instead of majesty. The word “Lamb” occurs 28 times in Revelation, and it is always in the diminutive form; i.e. “a little lamb” or “lamkin”. The Lamb has several characteristics. First, “as slain”, it is a picture of holy suffering and rejection (Isa. 53:7). Christ was rejected with a violent death. He is glorified in heaven now, and who but He who suffered so is worthy to take the book? Second, He has “seven horns”, representing complete power, or omnipotence. Third, He has “seven eyes”, representing complete discernment, or omniscience. The eyes are again the seven Spirits of God, which are sent into “all the earth”, showing His presence everywhere, or omnipresence. The Lamb takes the book from God upon the throne. It pictures Christ taking the reins of power into His own hands. The result is praise in heaven!
The Resulting Praise: Three Circles of Praisers (5:8-14)
8 And when it took the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, having each a harp and golden bowls full of incenses, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sing a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open its seals; because thou hast been slain, and hast redeemed to God, by thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, 10 and made them to our God kings and priests; and they shall reign over the earth. vv.8-10 Circle #1: Redeemed Men, and Their New Song. The thought of Christ having His rightful place over the inheritance triggers the praise of the redeemed saints. This is the third “trigger” so far of the redeemed company’s worship (see Rev. 1:5; 4:9). The “harps” represent the heavenly saints’ praises, which are primarily for the Lamb’s goodness to His saints on earth (see v.9). The “bowls full of incenses” represent the prayers of the earthly saints in their time of need being offered by the heavenly saints now functioning as priests. Prayer on earth is incense in heaven! They sing a “new song”. In their song, the heavenly Saints connect the worthiness of the Lamb with His suffering: (1) because He was slain, and suffered a violent death at man’s hand, therefore He must be vindicated, and (2) because He has accomplished redemption, and suffered the work of atonement to pay the price of redemption. The heavenly saints sing to Him, while the angels chant about Him (v.12). They sing of glory brought to God through redemption. These can sing of redemption by blood (connect with Rev. 15:3). They sing of those redeemed from “every kindred”. There is no such thing as the redemption of a “race” (see Psalm 90:3). The saints sing, “thou hast redeemed them“. Unselfishly, the elders sing of the redemption of the earthly saints. Only the redeemed can sing this song, and later it is taught to the Jewish remnant (Rev. 14:1-5). They are said to “reign over the earth”. This expression always refers to the reign of the heavenly saints with Christ in the Millennium. How does that follow with v.9? The answer is that those spoken of are earthly saints shortly to be martyred (in the first three and a half years (Rev. 6:7-11) and in the last three and a half years (Rev. 11; 14:3) who will partake in the first resurrection, and join the heavenly saints with Christ reigning over the earth.
¶ 11 And I saw, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and their number was ten thousands of ten thousands and thousands of thousands; 12 saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that has been slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. vv.11-12 Circle #2: Redeemed Men and Angels. “Singing” (circle #1) and “saying” (circle #2 and #3) will be going on in unison for all eternity. There is one theme, but different pitches or levels of intelligence. We are not told that the praise will ever cease. However we do read of a silence in heaven for half an hour before the first trumpet is sounded (ch.8). Notice that in ch.5 angels are mentioned as distinct from the living creatures (see note at top). On earth our praise has but two notes (“glory and dominion”, Rev. 1:6), but many more in heaven, to bring the total to seven notes! The notes of praise are for “the Lamb that was slain”, and the subject is His worthiness to receive His kingdom glories. A beautiful contrast is seen in what Christ will have in His kingdom with what He had in this world at His first coming.
|He will have||He had in this world|
|Power||Weakness||2 Cor. 13:4|
|Riches||Became Poor||2 Cor. 8:9|
|Wisdom||Foolishness||1 Cor. 1:24|
|Blessing||Made a Curse||Gal. 3:13|
13 And every creature which is in the heaven and upon the earth and under the earth, and those that are upon the sea, and all things in them, heard I saying, To him that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, blessing, and honour, and glory, and might, to the ages of ages. 14 And the four living creatures said, Amen; and the elders fell down and did homage. vv.13-14 Circle #3: Every Creature. In the third circle of praisers, every creature is included. Now instead of seven notes, this circle’s praise has four notes. Four is the number of universality in creation (Gen. 2:10). How does the creation praise? See Isaiah 11:6-9; 55:12; Rom. 8:19-21. In response to all three circles, the heavenly saints do two things. As the living creatures, in the aspect of administration, the saints say “Amen”. But as the elders, in the aspect of priesthood, the saints fall and worship the Lamb!
- Address by Tim Ruga, Prophecy Part 3: Outline of Revelation, St. Thomas 2019
- “For the “living creatures” in Rev. 4 and elsewhere have no real or intended relation to the four Gospels.” – Kelly, William. Exposition of the Gospel of John.
- Definition from Bruce Anstey.
- The apparently similar phrase in Revelation 5:13 is in reality quite different, and only includes animate things which live and move under the surface of the earth. This is the fulfilment of Psalm 150 — “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” — everything on earth, whereas the expression in Philippians comprises also infernal beings. – Dennet, Edward. The Glories of Christ as the Son of Man.
- Every creature “under the earth,” ὑποκάτω τῆς γῆς, must be carefully distinguished, notwithstanding Bengel, from the καταχθονίων in Phil. 2:10. The former, I suppose, means the things, animate or inanimate, beneath the earth’s surface which anticipate in the vision, their deliverance from corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. They cannot of course share the liberty of grace which we enjoy; but when we are in the glory, it will be the pledge of their glorious change speedily to follow. The latter in Philippians means the infernal beings, who must bow with every knee elsewhere at (or in) the name of Jesus. I am aware that Dean Alford, with Theodoret, etc., takes καταχ. as the dead; but this, though a classical usage of the word, seems to be far from the scope of the passage. – Kelly, William. Lectures on the Book of Revelation.