Please read the fourth and fifth chapters of Revelation.
At the close of the first chapter of Revelation, John was told to write the things which he had seen, the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter (1:19). The “things which he had seen” must speak of the vision of the glorified Christ described in chapter 1. The “things which are” refer to the conditions existing in the present church age as we saw them depicted in chapters 2 and 3. The “things which shall be hereafter” are the endtime events described in Revelation 4 through 22. These three time periods form the major divisions of the Book of Revelation. Things past (chapter 1); things present (chapters 2-3); things future (chapters 4-22).
The lesson today begins the third portion of the Book—things future. The entire set of chapters (from Revelation 4 through Revelation 22) deals with future events—events that occur after the present age is over. The first verse of chapter four is one of the keys which helps unlock the meaning of the Revelation. The “door opened in heaven” for this writer signifies the translation of the church—the time when Jesus returns and gathers the saved into the Father’s house. There are several reasons for this conclusion:
(1) The first verse of chapter four comes immediately after Laodicea at the close of chapter three.
(2) The word “door” refers to an opening or a passageway through which one moves from one place to another. The “door opened in heaven” symbolizes the time when the “Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout”—and the graves will open, and the bodies of those who died in Christ will rise, and the living saints shall be changed in a moment’s time, caught up into the presence of God. In that great day when Jesus Christ returns as a thief in the night, a great door in Heaven will be opened to admit the saved of all ages.
(3) The “voice as of a trumpet” (4:1) reminds us of 1 Corinthians 15:52, where Paul speaks of the Second Coming of Christ and says, “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.” The second coming of Christ (the translation of the church) is associated with a trumpet.
(4) Notice also that up to chapter four in the Revelation, the word “church” (ecclesia) is mentioned nineteen times, but from chapter four on through chapter twenty of the Revelation, the word “church” is not mentioned even one time. The general word “saints” is used—a word speaking of the saved of all ages—but the church (the ecclesia) is not mentioned at all in these chapters. When we come to the end of chapter three in the Book of Revelation, the church age is all over.
In our lesson today (Revelation 4 and Revelation 5), we have a picture of what takes place in Heaven immediately after Jesus returns and gathers the saved home to the Father’s house.
In chapter 3, we saw that all indications point to the fact that the church is now in the Laodicean period of history. We are living in an age of formality and lukewarmness and apostasy. One of these days (while things are going on in their ordinary way), a shout will be heard from Heaven; the voice of the archangel will sound; and every redeemed soul will respond to the call of God’s trumpet. Those who have acknowledged their lost condition and have been washed in the blood of Christ, will be transformed in a moment’s time, and will gather around the throne of God in Heaven, and will fall down to worship Him. The lesson today describes that scene in Heaven. In chapter 4, we see a vision of God the Creator. In chapter 5, we are shown a vision of Christ the Saviour.
1. The Vision of God the Creator (Revelation 4:1-11)
Beginning at verse 2 of chapter four, John finds himself caught up into Heaven. He was overwhelmed by the vision of God’s throne, and strives to describe what he saw. This is not a complete description of Heaven, but we are given some insights into the nature of the heavenly city.
Verse 2 says that John was caught up in spirit, “and behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.” John makes no attempt to describe the Almighty. Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:16 that God dwells “in the light that no man can approach unto.” John did not actually see God in His full essence. There was a rainbow that surrounded the throne (according to verse 3), and apparently the full brightness of God’s glory was hidden from his view. Nevertheless, John did get a glimpse of God’s glory, and he describes it in verse 3: (1) The glory of God appeared as a jasper stone (a clear, brilliant, transparent stone symbolizing the holiness of God). (2) It also appeared as a sardius stone (a bright, fiery-red stone, symbolizing the wrath of God).
Then, in circles round about the throne, John saw the various orders of beings that make up the society of Heaven. The “twenty-four elders” (in verse 4) are seated on twenty-four smaller thrones surrounding God’s throne. These are generally understood to symbolize the people of God. They represent the saved and the sanctified from the days of Abel down to the translation of the church. They are the leaders of praise and worship to God (see verses 10-11).
In the Book of 1 Chronicles, King David appointed twenty-four elders to represent the entire Levitical priesthood. There were several orders of twenty-four elders. Each order of elders served in the Temple for a period of two weeks, taking turns. There were thousands of priests in Israel in those days, but they couldn’t all come together at one time. Thus, when the twenty-four elders met, the whole priestly house was represented. And just so, the twenty-four elders that John saw in Revelation 4, represent the entire company of the saved. Twelve symbolize the patriarchs of Israel; twelve symbolize the apostles of Christ.
We note too that the representatives of the saints were “clothed” with white garments (verse 4). It’s interesting to note in the Bible that a description of the occupants of Heaven usually mentions clothing, whereas descriptions of the occupants of Hell say nothing about clothing. This implies that in Hell—Satan and demons and sinners are naked. The devil knows that the moral ruin of mankind is closely related to the way people dress, and so he advocates bold, daring, shameless, and immodest customs. The question of clothing and dress is much more relevant than most people realize. Never try and keep God out of your wardrobe! The occupants of Heaven will be clothed; the occupants of Hell will very likely be naked. If you don’t like clothing that modestly covers the body here, you’ll never be happy in Heaven.
In verse 5 we read that lightning and thunder issued from the throne of God. The flashes of lightning and voices of thunder signify God’s majesty and power. The “seven lamps of fire” are the “seven spirits of God” which set forth, not seven distinct and separate spirits, but the one Holy Spirit in the seven-fold aspect of His work.
The pavement surrounding God’s throne (verse 6) was like a “sea of glass.” It was a smooth expanse of transparent glass like a calm sea, a symbol of abiding peace. The sea is restless. One wave rolls in after another, but the sea of glass is calm. The storms of life are over. The sea is calm for those whose portion it is to stand upon that pavement in Heaven.
And then John notes four Living Creatures surrounding the throne of God. The word “beasts” means “living ones.” The Four Creatures are likely four angelic beings somewhat like those described in the first chapter of Ezekiel. Verse 7 says they possess strength like the lion, and render service like the ox, and have intelligence like a man, and are swift like the eagle. Their function is to bring honor and glory to God, emphasizing His holiness and His eternity.
The four Living Creatures constantly give glory and honor and praise to the One sitting on the throne. Verse 8 says “they rest not day nor night.” Periodically however, they give special praise and honor to God—and whenever they do this, the twenty-four elders join with them in their worship of God, and fall down before Him on His throne and praise Him. Read Revelation 4:9-11.
The emphasis in Revelation 4 then is that Almighty God is enthroned in Heaven. The universe is under God’s control. Everything is going to work out in accord with His schedule. The center of power in this world is not in Moscow nor in Peking nor in Washington, but at the throne of God. And when John was caught up into Heaven, he was overwhelmed at the sight of God’s throne.
2. The Vision of Christ the Savior (Revelation 5:1-14)
In chapter 5, John moves on to describe a new item of importance, namely a book “sealed with seven seals.” The book of course was a scroll, rolled up, and the seals were fixed on the edges of the scroll in such a way that as each seal was broken, the scroll could be unrolled a little farther so that more of the writing would be exposed. The scroll contains a record of the judgments which God is about to pour out upon the earth. The prophet Daniel looked forward and said, “And I heard, but I understood not; then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And he said, Go thy way Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” (Daniel 12:8).
The taking of the scroll (here in Revelation 5) means that John in his vision looks forward to the end times when the book is about to be unsealed and the purposes of God will be made known and executed on the earth. The book tells about the destiny of the world. It contains the record of what is going to happen in the last times. It is a book telling about the final acts of God as He liberates this cursed universe. We will see the seals opened up one by one in our next study.
You see, Jesus redeemed man’s soul at Calvary. We have been redeemed not with silver and gold but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). He is going to redeem the body at the translation of the church. Jesus spoke about His second coming and then said, “Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28). But redemption applies not only to man (to his body and soul); redemption applies to all creation. We learn in Romans 8 that the whole creation groans and travails in pain, looking to the time when it shall be “delivered from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21).
After the Fall of Adam and Eve, there was a curse not only upon the serpent, and Adam, and Eve—but upon the earth itself. God said “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” God never made a desert (not in the original creation). Deserts came into being as a result of the curse upon the ground, but in the end time, the curse is going to be removed and the entire earth will become like the Garden of Eden. And here in Revelation 5, God holds in His hand a scroll containing the price and the condition for redeeming the earth!
In verse 2 we read that a mighty angel appears and cries with a loud voice, calling for one who is worthy to “open the scroll” and to “break its seal.” But no one responded to the angel’s call, and it looked as though the scroll may not be opened. Therefore John wept. Read verses 2-4. John feared that if no one was worthy to open the book, that God’s purposes might not be fulfilled, and that the end of sin on the earth would never come. Would it not be a terrible thing if disasters, sin, and war would continue forever?
In verses 5-7 we read that just as John was weeping, one of the Elders brought the good news that one had been found. The whole picture is a symbolic representation of Jesus Christ. The “horn” is a common biblical symbol for power; the “eye” suggests Christ’s omniscience, the fact that He sees and knows all things; the word “lion” speaks to us of His kingly character; the “root of David” means that He was not only David’s offspring, but that He was David’s Creator; the word “lamb” speaks of His sacrifice on Calvary as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. Surely this is a description of Jesus Christ, and He is worthy to open the seals of the scroll and to execute God’s plan for bringing the affairs on earth to a close. Jesus Christ not only saves sinners from Hell. Some day He is going to redeem the entire creation!
The act of receiving the book from God the Father (verse 7) makes it clear that power over the earth is committed into the hands of Christ the Son of God. It means that all authority will now rest fully in the hands of God’s Son, and it guarantees that this wicked earth will someday be in subjection to Him. In that day every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God.
When the Lamb took the scroll from God’s hand, verse 8 says that then the four Living Creatures and the twenty-four Elders fell down before the Lamb and they began to sing. They sing a new song—a song that emphasizes the two great achievements of Jesus Christ: (1) “Thou hast redeemed us unto God by thy blood” (verse 9); and (2) “Thou hast made us kings and priests and we shall reign on the earth” (verse 10).
Concerning Christ’s first achievement, we are reminded again that it is the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son that cleanses us from all sin. Clyne Buxton tells how he was going ten mph over the speed limit in the city one day. He was stopped by a policeman and told that he would have to pay a fine of $17.50. The policeman explained that he can pay it in cash at City Hall, or he can pay it with blood. Clyne was puzzled about his paying the fine with blood, and upon inquiry learned that the fine could be paid in cash, or by giving a pint of blood to the Red Cross. When Clyne took his slip of paper (indicating that he had donated the blood) back to City Hall, the clerk wrote across the bottom of his ticket “Paid with blood.” And just so, when I remember how I had been speeding toward destruction in Hell, and how I had been “fined” with the penalty of eternal death—and that Christ paid my fine with His blood—I want to be eternally grateful to Him.
But not only did the four Living Creatures and the twenty-four Elders sing “Thou hast redeemed us unto God by thy blood”—they also sang, “Thou hast made us kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth.” After the dark hours of the Tribulation on earth are over, our Lord Jesus is going to return to the earth and break the power of the enemies of God and set up His kingdom, and the saints are going to reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). My friends, the eternal world is not going to be a dull, static experience. There are going to be some new and exciting activities over there.
The final doxology described in Revelation 5 expresses adoration for the Christ who lives for ever and ever. Myriads of angels are going to say “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.” You may have noticed from reading the Bible that angels do not sing. They “say.” It may be because angels have never been redeemed and brought back to God. Only the redeemed can sing, and oh how we mortal creatures who have experienced the forgiveness of God should sing! We should sing the songs of Zion with enthusiasm, being careful to mean each word that passes from our lips.
The description in Revelation 4 and 5 depicting Christ’s glory and power and the redeemed round about the throne, should create within us an increased longing for our Saviour’s soon return. It is because of the events described in these chapters, that a child of God can lift his voice and sing with his last breath:
“Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.”
In Revelation 6 (part of the next lesson from Revelation), the scene is going to shift. It will shift once again back to earth. Remember that scenes on earth are always dark compared with the glory of Heaven. As the narrative in chapter 6 turns back to the scene on earth, you will note that the same Lord and Redeemer who is the object of worship and praise in Heaven, is the One who will judge the earth. For those who respond to God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, there is the promise of blessing throughout eternity, and deliverance from the wrath of the Lord. For those who refuse God’s salvation, there is only tribulation and judgment ahead. Every human soul will someday either reign with Jesus on earth, or burn in Hell, begging for a drop of water to cool the parched tongue.
If you have never repented of your sins and submitted your will to the will of Jesus Christ, please know that the Heavenly Father loves you; the Holy Spirit calls you; the church prays for you; Jesus knocks at the door of your heart. He comes not as a salesman trying to sell you something; not as a politician seeking your vote; not as a beggar begging something to eat. Jesus comes offering you peace and happiness and eternal life. Won’t you yield your life to Him today?