Lesson Number 10
THE HEAVENLY VISION
"After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things. Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. And around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. And from the throne proceed flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, 'HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.' And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 'Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created." (Revelation 4:1-11, NASB)
We now begin the second great division of this book, which is the Vision proper. It extends from 4:1 thru 22:5, and provides an overview of several key factors. First, it is going to reveal the manner in which the Lord Jesus is reigning--"in the midst of His enemies." This was prophesied in Psalms 110:1-2: "The LORD says to my Lord: Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet. The LORD will stretch forth Thy strong scepter from Zion, saying, "Rule in the midst of Thine enemies." Second, the manner of Satan's attack against the church is revealed. Third, some of the involvements of overcoming-faith are unveiled, showing that victory does not mean the total suppression of the enemy in this world, as ideal and desired as that may be. Fourth, the final destiny of the devil and his hierarchy of evil, the wicked, and the righteous is delineated. If we can take hold of these things by faith, we will become equal to the challenges that stand between us and glory.
Briefly, this section of the book may be divided as follows. (Stage 1) A vision of heaven and its throne- centered activities (chapters four and five). (Stage 2) The seven seals (6:1-8:1). (Stage 3) The seven trumpets (8:2-11:19). (Stage 4) The visions of the woman, the dragon, the first and second beasts, and Babylon, together with their inter-relationships (12:1-14:20). (Stage 5) The seven vials, or bowls (15:1-16:21). (Stage 6) The harlot and Babylon the great (17:1-19:21). (Stage 7) A brief recapitulation of the final period of history (20:1-15). (Stage 8) A glorious depiction of the heavenly Jerusalem (21:1-22:7).
We are going to see a specific segment of history: i.e., from Jesus Christ's birth to the end of the world. Everything will NOT be chronological, or written in strict historical sequence. The purpose of this book is not to merely convey information to us. Nor, indeed, is it written to allow the construction of a creedal statement. The message of this book is intended to bless those who read hear, and keep it (1:3). Kept within the recesses of the heart, where Divine influences can open them to the understanding, they will prepare the individual for the coming of the Lord. That is why one of the closing statements of this grand book is, "Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book" (22:7). While your mind will be tempted to become entangled in the visions of this volume, I urge you to HEAR the words as coming from the Lord Jesus Himself. Hear them as words designed to acquaint you with the manner of the Kingdom, and prepare you for the appointed return of your Lord. Novelties do not bless, nor will they sustain the soul. Good preaching and teaching exits the novelty shop and enters into the antique shop.
"After these things . . . " "These things" are the personal messages delivered to "the seven churches of Asia," as well as every individual in every segment of time that "hath an ear." With Christ, the first priority is not knowing the future, but securing, and maintaining, a right relationship with Himself. That includes the commendation of those fighting the good fight of faith, and the rebuke of those who have lapsed into spiritual sleep. Every praiseworthy activity will be duly noted by the Lord, and every encroachment of the flesh will be rebuked. The church must be strengthened before it can "handle aright the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). Sin cannot be tolerated, and righteousness cannot go unnoticed. The future without Jesus is bleak, indeed. With Him, however, rivers can be forged, valleys negotiated, and deserts traversed. The purpose of the first three chapters of this book is the preparation of the church for involvement with Christ in the future both here and there.
A Popular, But Incorrect, View
Among a large body of fundamentalists, it is taught that, beginning with this section of Revelation, the church has been removed from the world. The events that immediately follow are said to occur without the body of Christ in the world. This includes a "great tribulation" that is said to fall upon a world without the people of God resident in it. In this view, "After these things" means after the church has been removed after history that includes the residency of the redeemed in the world. I feel compelled to briefly deal with this perspective because of its impact upon our understanding of the Revelation.
A High Purpose
The notion that God would work in the world, whether for blessing or cursing, without the church, contradicts the revealed purpose of God. Through Jesus Christ, the primary objective of God is not to evangelize or change the world, even though they are involved in His purpose. God is revealing Himself to principalities and powers "through the church." This is a matter of revelation, and is fundamental to our understanding of Scripture. "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him" (Eph 3:8-12, NKJV). There is no reason for any child of God to be ignorant of this purpose. The Living God appointed an Apostle to the Gentiles to make it known, bringing the redeemed into involvement with that purpose. That purpose was not revealed in previous ages, but now it has been made known. There is no acceptable excuse for being ignorant of it.
The Divine intent is to show His remarkably multifarious wisdom to the heavenly hierarchy "through the church." There is not the slightest hint in Scripture that the world, as we know it, will remain after that purpose has been fulfilled. Nor, indeed, is there any insinuation in God's Word that this purpose shall come short of Divine intent. Lest we fail to grasp the magnitude of this affirmation, this "intent" is associated with "the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus."
The church is particularly described as "His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:23). This is the appointed vehicle through which Christ works. The church is His "fullness," the repository from which Divine dispensation and judgment proceeds. Both blessing and cursing are facilitated through "the church." As it is written, "For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved AND among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor 2:15-16). Salvation is realized through the activity of "the church, which is His body." The blindness of the blind is brought out by the Gospel the church declares (2 Cor 4:3- 4). If some object to this, saying the reference was to the Apostles, let them remember the Apostles were placed "in the church" (1 Cor 12:28).
The idea that Jesus would continue to work in the world without His body is an absurdity, unworthy of our acceptance! Glory will be brought to God "in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever" (Eph 3:21). As long as this world remains, glory will be brought to God through the church in this realm. Then, with its passing and the coming of "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Pet 3:13), it shall continue "world without end." While the world remains, there will be no time where the redeemed are not its "salt" and "light."
The End of the World
Jesus described the time of the gathering of His people as "the end of the world." With remarkable precision, the Savor described that hour. "The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" (Matt 13:39-43, NKJV). In the parable of the Net, Jesus declared the same thing in these words. "So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matt 13:49-50, NKJV). Until that time, the wicked will, in fact, be "among the just," or righteous. It is in THAT setting that God has determined to show His remarkable wisdom to heavenly hosts.
Some, fastening on the lexical meaning of the world for "world" (à ), say this is referring to the Gospel "age," and not the end of the world itself. While this word does have the meaning of "age," it is often used of the period of time itself, and not merely a segment of it, as these teachers suppose. Thus, the Spirit spoke of words articulated "by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world (à ) began" (Lk 1:70; Acts 3:21), or from the beginning of time. John 9:32 also uses the term in the sense of ALL time: "Since the world (à ) began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind." Acts 15:18 affirms "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world (à )."
Suffice it to say, there is no clear word in all of Scripture that affirms the church will be taken out of the world before time concludes, or before Jesus appears in all of His glory. Our review of this book will, therefore, assume the presence of "the church" during all of God's works and judgments upon the earth. There is neither reason nor Divine statement that leads us to think otherwise. Further, to think differently contradicts what God has revealed about His determined intention, making God a Reactionary rather than the Implementer of an "eternal purpose."
I affirm the revelation which follows assumes the presence of the body of Christ in the world, and the execution of His purpose through it. The wickedness of the wicked is accentuated by the PRESENCE of God's people, not their absence. "After these things," then, does not mean after the end of the world. Rather, it means, "After receiving the message for the churches, this is what I saw." It is true, that at this point in The Revelation of Jesus, the religious world divides in their interpretation and does so significantly. We must not allow this to happen among us. There are chasms in this book areas of deep and profound mystery which we must not fill with the wisdom of men! We are reading about principles more than details, and things that make for comfort rather than the increase of factual knowledge. Principle, not detail, is the theme of apocalyptic, or symbolic, language. This does not mean detail will be absent in this book. It DOES mean detail will not be its focus.
A DOOR WAS OPENED IN HEAVEN
" . . . I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven . . . " The first thing that confronts John is most glorious, indeed: "a door standing open in heaven!" But, John had to "LOOK" to see it! And, he could not "look" until he had first discharged the commission to write to the messengers of the churches. Without dwelling long upon it, there is a Kingdom principle to be seen here. As a rule, the things of the Spirit of God do not dawn upon the soul until it looks for them until the attention is drawn upward. Secondly, those who are lethargic in doing the revealed will of God will not be afforded life-changing glimpses into Divine purpose. To see by faith, you must first yield to Divine impulses the drawing of God and Christ (John 6:44; 12:32), and the gracious pleadings of the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19; Eph 4:30).
As John peers into the heavenly realms, he beholds "a door standing open in heaven." How is it that this door was opened? This is another perspective of the veil violently torn in two at the death of Christ Jesus (Matt 27:51). It is a depiction of the heavens being opened BY GOD to the redeemed of the Lord. Its opening is "the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes" (Matt 21:42). It is another way of saying revelation, insight, spiritual understanding, comprehension, and wisdom all begin on God's side of the equation. The "door" was not opened in earth, but in heaven. It is only "in heavenly places" that we are enabled to behold it (Eph 2:6)!
The things of God particularly those immediately relating to His "eternal purpose" are so lofty they must be revealed to the sons of men. This aspect of the Kingdom is seen in the word of the Spirit to the Corinthians. "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God" (1 Cor 2:9-10). Whatever you may think of human wisdom, scholarship, and study disciplines, they cannot unlock a single mystery of God! The door stands ajar in heaven, not upon the earth!
Several times in Scripture, the heavens were opened, or made accessible to selected individuals. In every instance, it was a spiritual epoch in which the mind of the Lord was made known. Ezekiel had such visions. "Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God" (Ezek 1:1). What similarity this bears to the experience of John. He too was a captive near a body of water, when the heavens were opened to him. Earthly handicaps need not be spiritual ones! Again, when the Lord Jesus was baptized, it is written, "And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Mark 1:10-11). When finding Nathanael, Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man" (John 1:51). When Stephen was laying down his life for Christ, he cried out, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (Acts 7:56). The opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27) was associated with the opening of the heavens to Peter. It is written that he "fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth" (Acts 10:10-11). Later in this book, John will be shown the public triumph of Christ over His enemies. The revelation will be received when he again sees "heaven opened" (Rev 19:11).
The vision that follows is a pivotal one. It will not be a mere recounting of history, either past, present, or future. The heavens have never opened to pass along mere information. It has always been for the purpose of revealing Divine intent, particularly as it bears upon His dealings with His people. Prior to Christ's enthronement, "windows" opened in heaven were set forth as a superior blessing (Mal 3:10). However, now that Jesus has "spoiled principalities and powers" (Col 2:15) and "obtained eternal redemption" for us (Heb 9:12), the door of heaven stands ajar, becking to those who are reconciled to God. There are wondrous things to be beheld that will strengthen and comfort the heart.
ATTENTION DRAWN UPWARD
The First Voice
" . . .and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither . . . " Although this is a vision something that was seen (1:12,17; 4:4; 5:1,2; 6:1,9; 7:1,2; 8:2; 9:1,17; 10:1,5; 13:1,2,3,11; 14:6; 15:1,2; 16:13; 17:3,6; 18:1; 19:11,17,19; 20:1,4,11,12; 21:1,22) it is the message, or the significance, of the vision that is the point. It is to be comprehended. It will not be enough to simply detect it, it must be discerned! In order for this to occur, John must be brought into the realm of insight. Already, he is "in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (Rev 1:10). Already, he had received an extensive word from Jesus concerning the churches. Now he is admonished to draw even closer.
The "first voice" does not leave the matter to interpretation. It is not a vague voice, nor a still, small, and quiet one. It is a voice like a "trumpet" loud, and attention-getting. When this voice is heard, other voices are dimmed to insignificance. This was not an impersonal voice, or simply a sound of a noisy trumpet. John affirms it was a voice "talking with me" intensely personal. In one sense of the word, this was a battle trumpet. It is as though God was saying (for the book of Revelation was God's message through Jesus, 1:1), John, I have declared war on the world and the world order! I will now show you how I have determined to overcome the world, bringing glory to My Son, and My people to Myself.
The voice shouts out, "Come up hither!" The voice was loud, but John had to be close to get the meaning! He must rise still higher, into loftier realms, where all influences of this world dry up and fall away. To understand this message, the world must be blotted from our view, and its pull upon our spirits reduced to a minimum. John cannot look at the Aegean Sea surrounding Patmos, and hear what the Lord is saying! He cannot ponder the evil of the ruler who banished him to this foreboding and depressing environment, and clearly hear the voice of the Lord. He must "come up higher."
In the Son, God once condescended to be "manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim 3:16). In coming into this world and becoming obedient to death, Jesus "humbled Himself" (Phil 2:8). However, God has now "highly exalted Him" (Phil 2:9), and Jesus will not humble Himself again in this world. Men and women must not "come up higher!" They must be elevated, and draw near to the Lord (Heb 7:19; 10:22; James 4:8). The redeemed must raise their sights, come out of the flesh, and get into the Spirit if they are see any thing of their God! The word is now "COME" (Matt 11;28; John 7:37; Rev 4:16; Rev 17:1; 21:9; 22:17). If we want insight, we must get into the realm where it is experienced! Like John, we must divest ourselves of worldly ambitions and evaluations of self and consider the Kingdom. The Revelation of Jesus was given, and it is discerned, in higher climes, where the mind of the flesh is not welcome, and cannot survive!
Things Which Must Be
And what will John be given to see in these lofty climes? The trumpeting voice declares, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this." "UP HERE," where Divine determination is made, as well as revelation given! John will not be given impersonal predictions foretelling events God sees will occur upon the earth. Those unacquainted with God often view prophecy in this manner: i.e., simply declaring what God, in His omniscience, has seen will happen. We must come away from such mundane and spiritually debilitating notions. John will be shown things that "MUST TAKE PLACE," not merely things that WILL take place.
The working of the Lord will be opened to John what HE is doing, and how He going to do it. The most tragic periods of history will be related to the will of the Lord, as well as the most blessed events. Over and over, we will read phrases declaring this to be the case. "A crown was GIVEN unto him," "there was GIVEN unto him a great sword," "power was GIVEN unto them over the fourth part of the earth," "white robes were GIVEN unto every one of them," "seven angels which stood before God; and to them were GIVEN seven trumpets," "there was GIVEN unto him much incense," "to him was GIVEN the key of the bottomless pit," "unto them was GIVEN power," "it was GIVEN that they should not kill them," "there was GIVEN me a reed," "the court which is without the temple . . . is GIVEN unto the Gentiles," "to the woman were GIVEN two wings of a great eagle," "there was GIVEN unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies," "it was GIVEN unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them," "For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast GIVEN them blood to drink," "and power was GIVEN unto him to scorch men with fire" (6:2,4,8,11; 8:2,3; 9:1,3,5; 11:1,2; 12:14; 13:5,7; 16:8,8).
John will be shown what GOD is doing! In that revelation, the activity of the evil one will also be shown, but ONLY as it relates to, and is within, the will of the Lord. Here we are exposed to Divine determination. This is not a meager relating of historical events, but a proclamation of the work of God as implemented through the reign of Christ Jesus. These are not things that can be altered by the repentance of transgressors, or hastened by the faithfulness of saints. If we can see what God is doing, what we are admonished to do will make sense! If the purpose of the Almighty can be perceived, the malicious attacks of Satan will not cause us to fear! These are things which "must be hereafter," or following what has already been revealed to John.
The Proper Response
"Immediately I was in the Spirit . . . " John responds in keeping with the makeup of the "new creation" (2 Cor 5:17). There is an immediacy associated being "in the Spirit" that is baffling to the flesh! It is interesting to observe the word "immediately" is more related to the New Covenant that to the old. In the KJV, it is not found a single time from Genesis through Malachi. It is used only seven times in the NKJV, five times in the RSV and NASB, nine times in the NRSV and NIV. It is used over 80 times in the Gospels alone (NKJV). When Jesus called James and John, they "immediately" followed him, leaving their nets and their father (Matt 4:22). Christ's miracles were noted for their IMMEDIATE effect (Matt 8:3; 20:34; Mark 1:31; 2:12; 10:52; Luke 4:39; 5:13; 8:47; 18:43; John 5:9; 6:21).
Slow and tardy responses are unnatural for kingdom people! The closer a person is to the Lord, the more quickly they respond. The further they are from Him, the more time elapses before there is a response if, indeed, there is any. It should not surprise you that a great deal of contemporary religion is built around slow and delayed responses. It is as though churchmen depend upon people NOT responding immediately. Some programs have even been developed to ensure the response does not come immediately, for such as response is thought to be unsure and unstable. This is not, however, the manner of the Kingdom. Think of immediate response of the Jews on Pentecost (Acts 2:37), the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:24,33, 43-48), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:30-33), Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:36-38).
As directed by Jesus, John has seven times written, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). Now John sets the pattern for the churches, doing himself what he has urged them to do. He has an ear, he has heard, and now he responds "immediately." I cannot leave this matter without noting its rarity in (what I call) the new religious culture. Today we rarely hear of anyone being "immediately in the Spirit." No, there must be extensive preparation for such to be the case if, indeed, it ever occurs. Much activity takes place to purportedly get people into the spirit praying, singing, praising, exhortation, etc.
Speaking for myself, I do not despise such efforts. It is, however, of great concern that they are necessary. I do not know that Christ Jesus is as tolerant of the carnal mind as such procedures might lead us to believe. Had John not been "immediately in the Spirit," I do not know the Lord would have lingered, waiting for him to get into the Spirit. It is on the part of wisdom to be "in the Spirit" without extensive prodding and preparation. Many a soul has missed the blessing of the Lord, together with great spiritual insights, because they were not ready to receive them. There is a penalty to be paid for being spiritually lethargic.
THE THRONE AND THE ONE UPON IT
" . . . and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne . . . " Oh, what a picture is this! If John is going to be shown the future, He must see it from the perspective of the Throne of Almighty God! The greater light of that throne will remove the mystery of the lesser and subordinate thrones. Circumstance takes a back seat to Omnipotence! John is first confronted with a throne, and ONE sitting upon it. It is a throne situated in heaven, not on the earth and the throne is presently occupied, not to be assumed in the future!
Permit me to dwell upon this for a moment, for this is one of the keys to this marvelous book! John first sees a Throne, not a golden street! He does not see an angel, but a Throne! The Person who is beheld cannot be seen apart from the Throne! John does not first see a dragon, but a Throne; not a beast, but a Throne; not a mark of the beast, but as Throne! First, he does not see martyred saints, but a Throne. The revelation to him does not start with a plague, but with the Throne; not with locusts and a bottomless pit, but with a Throne! The vision does not begin with a view of the church, but with a perspective of a "Throne in heaven!"
It is essential to get this message into our hearts. Many have approached this book with the tribulation, antichrist, or the mark of the beast in mind. That is their dominant consideration, so they derive little, if any, comfort from this book. The less prominent the Throne is in our thinking, the more we will be confused by things that follow. Remember, this is opening of the government of God, as executed by Jesus Christ in the salvation of His people.
Set in Heaven
This throne is not set up on earth, but in heaven! That is the secret! It is something Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way. After seven years in the field, and after his understanding returned to him, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and cried out, "I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?'" (Dan 4:34-35). He learned what Daniel affirmed he would learn in his seven-year exile with the beasts of the earth: "the heavens do rule" (Dan 4:26). John does not require seven years to learn this truth. Being "in the Spirit," immediately he sees what could not be seen by the prideful ruler of Babylon! He did not see a discussion chamber in heaven, but a throne!
This is not the first time the throne of God has been revealed to godly men. Micaiah, an obscure prophet from the time of Ahab, once testified, "I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left" (1 Kgs 22:19). The Psalmist affirmed, "I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left" (Psa 47:8). Isaiah also saw this throne, as it is written, "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple" (Isa 6:1). It may interest you to know that reference is made to this throne in EVERY CHAPTER of Revelation except chapter two (1:4; 3:21; 4:2-10; 5:1,6,7,11,13; 6:16; 7:9-11,15,17; 8:3; 9:13; 10:4,8; 11:16; 12:5; 13:5,7; 14:3,5; 16:17; 19:4,5; 20:11; 21:5; 22:1,3).
The place of ultimate rule is "set in heaven!" That is why we have been raised to sit together with Christ "in heavenly places" (Eph 2:6). All authority except that resident in the One on that throne is derived authority. "There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Rom 13:1). If Pilate appears to have power over Jesus, it is only because it has been "given" to him by the One Who sits upon the throne (John 19:11). The kings of the earth have a King, whether they know it and consent to it or not. The lords of this world have a Lord over them, independently of their consent. Jesus Christ is "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev 17:14; 19:16). That is what He is NOW! In anticipation of His redemptive reign, Jesus prayed, "Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him" (John 17:1-2). Earthly kings who persecute the church are not excluded from that authority! The devil himself, together with all of his wicked hosts are subject to King Jesus! A storm cannot rise on the sea without His approval, nor can a hair fall from your head without His sanction (Matt 10:30). Not even a small and frail bird can fall from the sky apart from the Divine will (Matt 10:29)! His reign is that minute!
There is a sense in which "all things are of God" (2 Cor 5:18), and it is not to be denied or questioned by mere mortals. Lest we miss the importance of this perspective, the Spirit affirms, "For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen" (Rom 11:33). The exalted Christ fulfills the Psalmic expression, "Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places" (Psa 135:6). Such a reign is necessary to subdue our enemies. It is essential for our encouragement and strength. And, it is a requirement, if we are to negotiate through this world, and at last stand before the Lord "without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing."
Revealed in Light
God is described in terms of light, a perspective often developed in Scripture. Paul reminds us that God "dwells in light that no man can approach unto" (1 Tim 6:16). Hundreds of years before Paul, the Psalmist spoke of God "Who covers Himself with light as a garment" (Psalm 104:2). John, in his First epistle, affirmed "God IS light" (1 John 1:5). In the three gems that are mentioned we behold the outflowing attributes of God. The jasper depicts the brilliance of the PURITY of God, or His holiness. The blood-red sardine stone shows the avenging wrath of God. The gentle greenness of the emerald reveals His merciful character, through which we can confront his holiness and justice without being consumed. Because of Christ, these glorious attributes have been joined together for the salvation of mankind. This is a source of great wonder!
Like A Jasper and Sardine Stone
"And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance . . . " John's attention is immediately drawn to the One sitting upon the throne, and not to the throne itself. On earth, the position of the king is what gives him his authority. With the King of glory, it is His Person that gives power and majesty to the throne. Note, John sees no form nor similitude, but the glory of the One upon the throne!
The glory of the One sitting upon the throne (and not the throne itself) is likened to precious stones. The "jasper" is considered a dull opaque stone in our times. But it was not so in the ancient world. It is a member of the chalcedony family, which is a form of quartz, occurring in a variety of colors. The "jasper stone" was used in the breastplate of the high priest of old, being the third stone in the fourth row (ex 28:20; 39:13). This stone is mentioned four times in the Revelation. Once in our text, where it is used to describe the appearance of the One sitting on the throne. It also is used to describe the "new Jerusalem" [the glorified church], which is seed as "Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal" (21:11). Around the city was a wall "of jasper" (21:18). The first foundation of the wall, comprised of precious stones, is "jasper" (21:19). With a capacity of showing many different colors, the "jasper stone" used to describe God's glory is said to be "clear as crystal" (21:11). The stone is seen as translucent, characterized by purity and brilliance! How fitting to describe our blessed Lord in His Sovereignty!
The sardine stone, or sardius, was a blood red stone always red, though varying in shade. Here we see a portrayal of God's jealous and fiery nature. He is, after all, a "consuming fire" (Deut 4:24; Heb 12:29), and His very name is "Jealous" (Ex 34:14). His nature forbids Him to give His glory to another (Isa 48:11), refusing to recognize any other gods, because there really are no other. "The wrath of God" is, indeed, "revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom 1:18).
Here, however, the glory of the jasper and the sardine are mingled brought together in a single Person: the One sitting upon the throne. Here purity and mercy join with righteousness and judgment! We are not faced with a mere attention-getting vision, but a soul-stirring one! In salvation, the attributes of Deity have been joined together for our benefit and consolation. In the words of Scripture, "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Psa 85:10). Mercy and truth are found in glorious harmony in the One upon the throne! Man's transgression has not been overlooked, yet mercy has embraced him! Righteousness has not been cast aside, yet peace has joined it in reconciliation. It cannot be stated better than it is in Romans 3:26: "To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." No Divine quality has been compromised or abandoned in our salvation! In reconciliation, no Divine attribute is suppressed or ignored. No! The One sitting upon the throne glowed with purity AND judgment, with righteousness AND peace, and with justice AND mercy! The TRUTH of man's condition has been confronted and dealt with. And, man has been reconciled to the very God that expelled the race from Eden! Praise be to the One that glows with the glory of the jasper and sardine stones!
A Rainbow Around the Throne
" . . . and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance." What a marvelous sight! A throne with One sitting upon it, encircled with a glorious rainbow. The dominant color amidst this seven-hued bow of colors is green the color of the emerald. The emerald was also in the high priest's breastplate (Ex 28:17, carbuncle in the KJV), and was the fourth foundation of the wall about the city of God (Rev 21:19). The imagery is that of Majesty, and was also shown in part to Ezekiel by the river of Chebar. That prophet also saw the Throne of God and a glory "like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it" (Ezek 1:28).
Here is the token of a faithful God, Who keeps His promises and His covenant. The Lord first introduced this aspect of His Person to Noah. "Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said: This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth" (Gen 9:11-16, NKJV).
The Lord is ever in remembrance of His covenant with Christ, never forgetting it! The recollection of His effective atonement is like a glorious and peaceful rainbow surrounding His throne. The universe is being governed with that atonement in mind. Humanity is evaluated in strict regard of their response to God's "unspeakable gift" (2 Cor 9:15).
TWENTY FOUR ELDERS
"And around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads." Now we enter into the realm of the especially profound. Here is one of the challenging passages of this great Revelation. In our approach to this passage, we must not abandon what we know: namely that this book is a Revelation, particularly of the purpose and reign of the Lord. It is intended to comfort the saints, not confuse them; to build them up, not tear them down; to prepare them for what is coming, not drown them in a sea of difficulty. The focus of this section of the vision is the throne, not what is around it. Therefore, we must consider everything in light of the Sovereign Lord.
Encircled around the throne were twenty four additional thrones. They were not independent of the central throne, but dependent upon it. The twenty-four thrones were occupied by twenty-four elders-- seasoned and mature in their occupancy of the thrones. The elders are pure and holy, as seen in their white garments. They are also reigning, as depicted by their golden crowns. All of this is "around the throne," indicating that they are approved by God in the capacity in which they are presented, i.e., pure and reigning.
Six times in this book, reference is made to the twenty-four elders (4:4,10; 5:8,14; 11:16; 19:4). In every instance, after we are introduced to them (4:4), the elders are said to "fall down" before the One upon the central throne. They have an acute awareness of the Lord's Person and purpose, and willingly acquiesce to His rule, giving Him the honor due His name. Although they have crowns on their heads, they cast them down before the throne of God (4:10). Continually, they worship and praise the Lord (5:11,14; 7:11; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4). They also present to God the prayers of the saints (5:8), and one of their number comforts John when he wept because the book of destiny was unable to be opened (5:5). One of this sacred number even expounds one of the visions to John (7:13). An active cluster of holy personalities, indeed! They know God! They honor God! They bring prayers to God. They discern the need for comfort and thus minister it. They even have understanding of the workings of the Lord. Who are these twenty-four elders?
Old Testament Imagery
First, the imagery is taken from the Old Testament Scriptures. Of old time, prophets depicted a council, of sorts, surrounding he Lord. One vivid picture is presented by the obscure prophet Micaiah. It is one of the more arresting passages in the Old Scriptures. "Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. And the LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, 'I will entice him.' And the LORD said to him, 'How?' And he said, 'I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' Then He said, 'You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.' Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you" (1 Kgs 22:19-23). In the book of Job, we read of the "sons of God" presenting themselves before Him (Job 1:6; 2:11). Isaiah wrote of God reigning in glory before the presence of "His elders," or ancient ones (Isa 24:23). While, in one sense, God reigns "alone" (Isa 44:24), He has also called personalities around Him to participate in His government. This is His manner, which accounts for His aggressiveness in the matter of salvation.
Another perspective may be seen in the manner in which the priests served under the Law. Priests were so numerous, they could not all serve simultaneous. They were therefore divided into twenty-four groups (1 Chron 24:7-18). The Levites were also divided into twenty-four clusters for temple activity, which included praising God with musical instruments (1 Chron 25:6-31). It is interesting to note that the twenty- four elders of Revelation also have harps (5:8). The imagery was introduced under the Law, and now it is seen in its reality.
A Depiction of the Redeemed
From this view, the twenty-four elders portray the entire priesthood of believers who have fought a good fight and finished their course. They are circled around the throne, participating in the reign of the Almighty. Here is the body of the redeemed who have finished the race, brought into accord with the One sitting upon the throne. They left this world via death (with the exception of Elijah), appearing to have been losers. But now they are seen on thrones, with crowns! In the consummate sense, they have been washed from their sins, and are kings and priests unto God, as declared in the first chapter of Revelation (1:5-6).
This is a picture of the redeemed of the Lord, the body of Christ, or the "saved," who are no longer in the body. We know this to be the case, because they become involved in the pouring out of judgments upon the earth (11:16). They are presented from heaven's point of view. They are in close proximity to God, they are holy, and they are reigning. They are not asleep in the grave, as some suppose, but are alive and consciously encircling the throne of God. They speak! They praise! They admonish! They cast their crowns down before their Lord! They are conscious and active while the world remains John saw them!
We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by the number of the elders. The point is that, in Christ Jesus, God has gathered participants around Himself. They are now involved in His government in an introductory manner. In the world to come, they will adjudicate the kingdom, which will be given to them (Dan 7:18,22,27). Some have suggested that the number twenty-four represents the twelve Jewish patriarchs, and the twelve Apostles. I prefer to view it as "whole family in heaven and earth," which is named after Jesus (Eph 3:15)--a number taken from both Jew and Gentile.
There can be no question about these elders typifying the redeemed who have completed their race. The song they sang to God makes this clear. "Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth" (Rev 5:10). This cannot be said of any angel, or cherubim, or seraphim! It is a description belonging to those redeemed from the fall!
Around the Throne
One final word about the position of these thrones, and those sitting upon them. They are "around the throne." They are not in a room, or location, by themselves, as though representing an independent reign. They are not separate like Israel was in Goshen, removed from the seat of power. Nor, indeed, are these thrones found in the outer court, or even in the Holy Place. They are thrones of rule, not positions of servile activity or mere routine. These are expressions of Sovereign rule--an extension of the reign of the Almighty!
In all of this, we must see that heaven is a place of rule (Dan 4:26). Remember, a door into heaven was standing ajar, and John saw that realm--one where personalities sat on thrones and had crowns. This imagery will be projected throughout this book. Angels will be seen as having power over certain segments of God's kingdom (11:6; 14:18). The overcoming ones have already been declared as destined for power (2:26). Heaven is a place of rule, or dominion, and those who are there are associated with authority.
The closer one is to God, the more apt he is to rule. This accounts for answered prayers, like that of Moses (Ex 32:10-14) and Elijah (James 5:17-18). Here, in closeness to the Lord, is where "the prayer of faith" is prayed, and the answer guaranteed (James 5:15). By the same token, the further one is from God, the less authority is possessed, and the less power one has with God. One of the great tragedies of our times is that contemporary religion initiates and maintains a religion of distance from God. It is no wonder it is so powerless! If we have been raised to sit together in "heavenly places" (Eph 2:6), no real work of God can be done outside of that realm. Yet, that is the domain concerning which an abysmal and pervading ignorance dominates the average church.
Clothed and Crowned
Later, this white raiment will be defined as "the righteousness of saints" (19:8). This is not imputed righteousness, now enjoyed by saints in the world, and in the body (Rom 4:22-24). This is the state of eternal glory, where the people of God are found "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Eph 5:27). The righteousness with which they are clothed is what they "with patience" waited for through faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:5). They are no longer encumbered with the "old man," which is to consistently be "put off" during our earthly pilgrimage (Eph 4:22; Col 3:9). No more do they content with "another law," resident in their "members," which wars against the "law of" of their "mind" (Rom 7:23). "Wretched man that I am" (Rom 7:24) never comes from the mouths of these twenty-four elders! There race has been finished, and their crowns have been won. They are reigning, not running!
We know this is the case, because this holy group has crowns, and that is something we do not have in this world. We are running to obtain the crown, but we do not have it yet (2 Tim 2:5; 1 Cor 9:25; 2 Tim 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet 5:4; Rev 2:10).
The judgments that follow are in the interest of the redeemed, God's "elect." In particular, those who have been slain for the word of their testimony, and because they were righteous, will join with the Lord in the judgment of the ungodly. Think of the holy individuals now among them: Abel, the holy prophets, John the Baptist, Stephen, James, Peter, Paul, etc. This book will declare the vindication of the martyrs, and the sealing of their testimony! Too, they represent what will be granted to everyone who overcomes. They too will reign, world without end.
EMITTING FROM THE THRONE
"And from the throne proceed flashes of lightning and sounds (voices, KJV) and peals of thunder." This is a throne of activity. Those who blurt out in the flesh, "Why doesn't God do something!" are ignorant, and unworthy to speak. The throne of the Almighty is not dormant or inactive. The Lord is not waiting to rule, He is ruling! Flashes of lightning come from the throne, together with voices and peals of thunder! Something is going on here! Divine purpose is being implemented from this throne! The throne vibrates, as it were, with activity glorious activity!
Lightnings, Sounds, and Thunder
"And from the throne proceed flashes of lightning . . . " How reminiscent this is of Mount Sinai! Of that awesome occasion, when the holy Law was given, it is written, "Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were . . . lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain" (Ex 19:16). And again, "Now all the people . . . the lightning flashes . . . and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off" (Ex 20:18). Nature is violently disrupted when God begins to reveal Himself! At Sinai, He revealed His Law. In the book of Revelation, He is revealing the destiny of all who oppose him, as well as those who trust Him.
These bolts of lightning depict the introduction to the discomfiting of the enemies of God. As it is written, "He sent out His arrows and scattered the foe, Lightnings in abundance, and He vanquished them" (Psa 18:14). This display shows the world God is about to work it becomes apparent, and the earth trembles. Again, the Psalms declare, "The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook" (Psa 77:18). The immediate reference is the Mount Sinai, where the alienated people were jarred from their murmuring and rebellion by the Presence of the Almighty. But this also reveals the manner of the Lord. When He calls men into account, whether in temporal or eternal judgment, there is always a prelude of terror. Whether it is Egypt trembling in the wake of the ten plagues (Ex 12:30), or Jericho trembling at the thought of approaching Israel (Josh 2:10-11), there is always a prologue to Divine judgment.
Jesus spoke of this procedure when referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, and also to the end of the world. "And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matt 24:6-8). Again He said, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken" (Matt 24:29). Hear His words again, "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken" (Luke 21:25-26). While men take it upon themselves to neutralize these solemn warnings with stilted theological stances, let all who have ears to hear listen! Jesus spoke of the prelude to Divine judgment of things that preceded the baring of His holy arm.
When John saw the throne with lightnings, voices, and thunderings emitting from it, he was being told God was about to work in a climactic way. The world gathered together against His Son. The church, His people, had been exploited by charlatans, and persecuted by others. Now God is going to respond! Reaping time is about to come. Mount Sinai was a small display compared with what will now be revealed.
Think of the Spirit's reference to Divine thunder. "The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them . . . " (1 Sam 2:10). "But the LORD thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel" (1 Sam 7:10). "At Your rebuke they fled; At the voice of Your thunder they hastened away" (Psa 104:7). In the remainder of this book, "thunderings" will be associated with the initiation of judgment against the enemies of God. "And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound" (8:5,6). "And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath" (16:18-19). At the demise of His enemies, voices and "mighty thunderings" are heard in heaven, rejoicing that the enemies have been crushed. "And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, "Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!" (Rev 19:6).
This phenomenon, then, presents us with the God of judgment. That judgment will be in favor of His people, and against all who opposed them, rejecting His Son. You will find His judgment to be a dominant theme in this book. Repeatedly, they are mentioned (Rev 6:10; 11:18; 15:4; 16:5,7; 17:1; 18:8,10; 19:2; 20:4,12).
Seven Lamps of Fire
We have read of these lamps, "which are the seven Spirits of God," before (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). This refers to the working of the Holy Spirit, always active in the execution of Divine objectives. Whether preparing men for salvation, or for Divine judgment, the Spirit is at work in the initiatives of God. He brooded upon the face of the primeval deep in creation (Gen 1:2), strove with men prior to the flood (Gen 6:3), and convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11). Notice, these seven lamps were "burning," depicting the intense and effective activity of the Spirit of God.
One last thing to observe in this remarkable picture: everything centers in the throne of God! John saw the throne. The reigning twenty-four elders were around the throne. The lightnings, thunders, and voices emitted from the throne. And the seven-fold Spirit is "before the throne." The affairs of the earth are in the control of our Lord! He is ruling "in the midst" of His "enemies" (Psa 110:2). The persecuted saints are to derive comfort from this perspective: "The heavens do rule!" The Kingdom into which we have been translated is THRONE-CENTERED! It is only as this is seen that profitable participation is realized.
A SEA OF GLASS
" . . . and before the throne there was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal . . . " The imagery is taken from the tabernacle and Solomon's Temple, where a giant cast sea, or laver, was prepared. It was fifteen feet across and seven and one-half feet high. On the right and left hand of this large "sea" were ten lavers (five on each side) in which the priests washed things to be offered in sacrifice. But the priests themselves washed in the larger "sea" (2 Chron 4:6). The tabernacle had a brass laver that stood before its door, made from the looking glasses used by the women who served at the door of the "tabernacle of the congregation" (Ex 38:8).
We are now beholding that of which the tabernacle was but a "pattern." It was for this reason that God commanded Moses to be precise in the production of the Tabernacle. It was a projection in physical aparatus of heavenly things. As it is written, "as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount" (Heb 8:5; Ex 25:40; 26:30; 27:8; Num 8:4). Solomon's Temple was also built in strict accord with "the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind" (1 Chron 28:12, NIV), which God gave to David. In David's own words, "All this I have in writing from the hand of the LORD upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan" (1 Chron 28:19, NIV). The reason for this demand for precision involved more than simply being exact in obedience. The requirement for exactness is found in the image being projected by the tabernacle and temple--the way of approach to God. Now, in the Revelation of Jesus, we are seeing the substance of which the tabernacle and temple were but figures.
How different is this sea from the seas of this world. In the world, the "sea" is a picture of agitation and tumult. Isaiah said, "But the wicked are like the troubled sea, When it cannot rest, Whose waters cast up mire and dirt" (Isa 57:20). Jeremiah associated the sea with tumultuous roaring (Jer 6:23), and Ezekiel spoke of troublous times being "as the sea causes its waves to come up" (Ezek 26:3). But this is not the picture before the throne of the Almighty! There is no agitation born of uncertainty there! While God is "angry with the wicked every day" (Psa 7:11), yet heaven is peaceful, tranquil, and unagitated. How refreshing it must have been for John, surrounding by the rolling and foaming Aegean Sea, to behold the tranquil realm of the heavenly throne!
The closer you get to the throne of God, the more aware you become that God is in control. Conversely, the less aware you are of heavenly places, the more things appear to be out of control. The association of this sea with the laver of washing depicts a God that has forgiven us without Himself being disrupted. Among men, it is possible for supposed forgiveness to be wrapped in a volatile atmosphere but it is not so in heaven. The shouts of the crowd during the triumphal entry were more true than they imagined. "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!' Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" (Luke 19:38). The peaceful realms of heaven may be realized now by faith. It is tranquil there!
THE FOUR BEASTS (Living Creatures)
" . . . and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within . . . " These "living creatures" are mentioned throughout this book. Mentioned thirteen times, they are ALWAYS found near to the throne and the Lamb of God (4:6,8,9; 5:6,8,11,14; 6:1,6; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7). They are a primary part of this book, clarifying the nature of the activity around the throne of God.
These four beasts, or "living creatures" (NASB) have been mentioned before in Scripture. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel saw the throne of God, and made mention of similar beings. Similarities in the visions are found in table #1. The creatures in Isaiah's vision are called "Seraphim" (Isa 6:2), while the ones in Ezekiel's vision are called "Cherubim" (Ezek 10:1). Both prophets saw "creatures" in the immediate proximity of the throne (Isa 6:1; Ezek 1:26; 10:1). In Revelation, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, the "living creatures" are noted for intelligent activities and expression. Raw emotion and expressions without objectivity are not found about throne of the universe.
We are introduced to this high order of personalties at the very threshold of human history. A representative or representatives of their number guarded the entrance to the "tree of life," not allowing any to approach it (Gen 3:24). They were also prominent in the tabernacle service. The "mercy seat," which covered the ark of the covenant, was adorned with two "cherubim" one on each side of it (Ex 25:18-20). Made of solid gold, their wings spread over the top of the mercy seat, while they faced each other looking toward the mercy seat. In the tabernacle service God communicated with the high priest from the mercy set. His promise was, "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel" (Ex 25:22). Artistic designs of Cherubim were also found on the curtains of the tabernacle (Ex 26:1; 36:8), and on the veil of separation as well (Ex 26:31; 36:35). These figures were also prominent in the Temple (1 Kgs 6:23-30; 2 Chron 3:7). A remarkable picture of the throne room of the Almighty, surrounded by lofty personalities with His mercy being prominent! As the priests ministered within the tabernacle, they became acutely conscious of God Himself, and a surrounding entourage of lofty personalities! This is what we are witnessing in the Revelation.
In the Midst, and Round About
These "living creatures" are ALWAYS found near the throne (4:6,8,9; 5:6,8,11,14; 6:1,6; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7). While, in a sense, God is God alone, His reign is one of participation in which other personalities take part. We see this in creation, where it was said, "Let US make man" (Gen 1:26). We learn from Scripture this referred to the pre-incarnate Word, through Whom God "created all things" (Eph 3:9). As it is written, "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (Col 1:16-17). That is the ultimate in participation the inter-involvements of the Godhead Itself!
The "living creatures" provide us with a glimpse into other personalities participating in the Lord's reign. Throughout this book we will also be introduced to angels who play a key role (Rev 1:1; 5:2; 7:2; 8:3- 13; 9:1; 10:1). Even the saints are involved in Christ's reign by means of their prayers (Rev 8:4). Ultimately, the saints will reign with Christ free and unencumbered in every sense (Rev 20:4; Dan 7:18,22,27; 1 Cor 6:2- 3). In this segment of the Vision, we are seeing the nature of heaven's rule. It is one in which several personalities participate under the reign of Christ Jesus. In the four living creatures we see a very high order of personalities.
Of particular interest here is the area occupied by the living creatures. They were "in the midst (center) of the throne, and around the throne" (v. 6). Their focus was the throne of the Lamb! Their activity centers in Divine rule. As such, they set the tone for all valid endeavor. The kingdom of God is THRONE- CENTERED, not world-centered! It deals with what God is doing, not what man is doing. The most productive activity in this kingdom is therefore proclamation, not application! Those who serve God are not primarily resolver of human dilemmas, but announcers of the Divine agenda. This is a circumstance that is scarcely known in the contemporary church at least in the Western world. There are entire systems set up in the name of Christ whose agenda centers in this world.
If anyone could make an application of truth, it would be these living creatures. They are a high order of beings, with unusual insight into what God is doing. Yet, they remain around the throne, unwilling to venture out on their own. How must the impulsive activities of mankind appear to these personalities. I fear the type of persuasions we face in the religious community are far more serious than some would have us believe.
Full of Eyes
These creatures are noted for their inscrutable wisdom. The fulness of their eyes is said to be "in front and behind," and also "within" (4:4,6). They know things to come (eyes in front), and have insight into the past (eyes behind). They also have a propensity to perceive what is occurring (eyes within). Noted for their understanding, they are filled with praise, for praise is provoked by understanding.
There is another aspect of the Kingdom that is seen here. The progress of the Messianic rule is characterized by inscrutable wisdom. The "eternal purpose," determined before the foundation of the world, is never placed into the background. The character of God is never ignored. The nature of man, the malice of the devil, and the exaltation of the Lamb of God are always prominent. While there are outbursts of praise, they are always insightful. Every determination is noted for Divine objectivity. There are no obtuse personalities around the Lord's throne. There is no involvement divorced from high and lofty purpose. Participation without insight may occur at a distance from the throne, but never in its proximity. This view devastates religious thrusts that lack objectivity, are founded on raw emotion, and are not marked by spiritual discernment.
The Significance of the Imagery
"The first living creature was like a lion . . . " Here is a portrayal of strength that is never intimidated. Solomon provided an expression of this type of strength. "A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any" (Prov 30:30). It is also a depiction of one of the wild beast category of living things. The lion is also supreme among such beasts.
" . . . the second living creature like a calf . . . " Here was a very prominent animal of sacrifice (Lev 9:2-8), a depiction of continual recognition of Christ's vicarious atonement. Here also is a picture of another order of living things the domesticated. The calf, or ox, is supreme among cattle.
" . . . the third living creature had a face like a man . . . " Here is a depiction of the loftiest of all Divine creation intelligent life, made in the very image of God (Gen 1:27). Man is supreme among all creatures.
" . . . the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle." The eagle soars high, winging its way to lofty heights, yet having most keen vision. Those waiting upon the Lord are noted for mounting up with wings like an eagle (Isa 40:31), which is noted for renewed strength (Psa 103:5). The eagle is supreme among birds.
Here is a marvelous depiction of all things being made by and for Christ. As it is written, "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist" (Col 1:16-17). Nothing can properly be viewed apart from association with the Lord. Even the creation, in all of its diversity, has been touched by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. To this very day it "groans" in expectant travail, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom 8:18-19). It is then that it will be liberated from the corruption imposed upon it because of man's sin (Rom 8:20-21).
As Christ represents humanity, so these living creatures represent the totality of creation, made for the purpose and pleasure of the Almighty. They are real personalities that form a continual reminder of the purpose and coming culmination of all things. Although much more can be said on this subject, this will suffice for this time.
There is also a view which has the four living creatures standing for the four Gospels. The face of a man is said to apply to Matthew who presented Jesus as a MAN. The face of a lion is understood to refer to Mark, who presented Jesus as KING. The calf, or ox, is said to refer to Luke, who presented Jesus as SERVANT. Finally, the eagle is seen as referring to John who declared Jesus in His high and lofty attributes. Thios view was first taught by Augustine around the fourth century. For myself, this seems to be stretching the imagery of this chapter. Too, I am not persuaded that this is a clear presentation of the Gospels.
The Six Wings
The versatility of the "living creatures" is seen in their six wings. Isaiah saw the six-winged seraphim and provided some insight on the matter. "Each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew" (Isa 6:2). The inexplicable glory of the Lord is too great to be viewed without a covering, and thus two wings are used to cover the face. Humility before the Lord is seen in the covering of the feet. Insightful obedience is depicted by the two wings with which they flew. The picture of Isaiah saw presents the seraphim as hovering over the throne, ready to instantly respond to the command of their Lord. For them, it was much like Israel eating the Passover with their staff in hand, shoes on their feet, and girded for immediate departure. Those, of course, who consider winged heavenly creatures an absurdity, do well to become more familiar with the Word of God.
Who are the Living Creatures
I take it that these are the cherubim who kept the way to the tree of life. They were portrayed in the tabernacle. God Himself, it is written, "rode upon the cherub" at Mount Sinai (2 Sam 22:11; Psa 18:10); i.e., His presence was made known through them. In rich tabernacle imagery Asaph wrote, "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth!" (Psa 80:10). Surrounding the throne, these remarkable beings fill the air with "Holy" and "Amen," suitable responses for those in the Divine presence (5:14; 19:4).
" . . . and day and night they do not cease to say, "HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME." And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created." The ascriptions of honor are ceaseless. The greatness of the conquering Lamb is the subject of inquiry and expression in heaven. It is our aim to have it dominant among us as well!
Notice the insightfulness of this praise. No shallow expression before the throne! Those who content themselves with superficial expressions of praise do not do well. Simplicity has its place, but it is never close to the throne of God! The character of God is discerned and ascribed to Him. His authority and eternality are recognized. Glory is given to the Lord, together with honor and thanksgiving.
Holy, Holy, Holy!
Being close to the throne, the "four living creatures" see the dominance of His holiness. In his vision, Isaiah also saw holy beings crying "Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts" (Isa 6:3). In particular, He is holy in all of His ways, words, and judgments. It is one thing to say God is holy, it is quite another to see, or perceive, it. By ascribing holiness to the Lord, He is being given glory and honor. As it is written, "The LORD is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works" (Psa 145:17). This righteousness is particularly seen in the government of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is seated upon the throne. The manner in which He is bringing "many sons to glory" (Heb 2:10) is righteous! He is impeccably "holy" in His Word His assessments, demands, and direction. A delineation of His holiness is expressed in Psalm 89:14. "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face."
In the record that follows, the saints of God will be given over for a season to an enemy who will overpower them (Rev 13:7). Fierce judgments will be poured out upon the wicked (14:7; 17:1; 18:10). In all of this, the King is "holy, holy, holy!" Those who question His judgments only acknowledge their distance from the throne! The "living creatures," however, always see and confess to the holiness of their Lord. We do well to follow their example.
At the announcement of the King's holiness, "the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him." While it is fashionable in our day to stand and "worship," of old time people "fell down" and worshiped (Psa 72:11; Matt 2:11; 1 Cor 14:25; Rev 5:14; 19:4; 22:8). This portrays the redeemed acknowledging the Source of their salvation, the uprightness of their Savior, and their absolute subjection to Him. No assertiveness of self-will here not before the throne!
It was their cognizance of the One upon the throne that moved them to so worship. It was not, however, mere appearance, but an awareness that He "lives forever and ever." Upon being confronted with the King's holiness, the twenty-four elders fall down and worshiped! Again, I want to emphasize the nature of heavenly praise. It flows from understanding, and reflects insight. While imperfect expressions may be employed upon earth in what is called praise, no such thing exists in heaven! Satan demanded such worship from Jesus (Matt 4:9), and Nebuchadnezzar demanded it of the Hebrews children (Dan 3:5-15). But God and the Lamb alone are worthy of such worship!
Crowns Cast Down
By casting their crowns "before the throne," these, who were sitting upon thrones, acknowledged their reign was given to them. They were "made" kings (Rev 1:5-6). From one perspective, when before the Throne, their crowns became insignificant. What are achievements even valid ones when we are before the Throne of God and of the Lamb!
It was no loss to the twenty-four elders to cast their crowns before the throne! In fact, it provides the secret for keeping the crowns recognition of the One Who gave them. In a sense, we begin to do this even now by acknowledging, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor 15:10). It is, after all, God Himself Who "works in us both to will and to do of His own good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). The throne-zone is characterized by an acute awareness of the Source of blessing and rule.
Once again, praise is elicited by the announcement of the Divine character. It is intelligent praise, flowing from the understanding. "Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created." "Glory" accentuates the apparentness of the Lord's working i.e., it was revealed. "Honor" speaks of lifting Him up because what He has done is seen. "Power" declares an understanding that all authority is resident in the One Who sits upon the throne. This is insightful praise (as though there were any other kind).
I cannot overemphasize this fact. The closer we are to the Throne the presence of the Lord the more intelligent our praise becomes. It is my persuasion that contemporary Christianity is majoring on the mechanics of praise, but is sorely lacking in the area of insight. That indicates that much of what is called praise is really not praise at all. It is not the result of seeing the One on the throne.
Notice that the worthiness of the Lamb is associated with creation. This is not the only reason for worthiness being ascribed to Him. Later the Lamb will be extolled in these words, "You are . . . For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth" (Rev 5:9-10). However, the honor begins with our Lord being the Creator! "For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created." Although men can arrange, discover, and rearrange, they cannot create! God alone can do that! The assessments that He has made of the churches were made in this authority. The judgments that follow in this book are executed uprightly and in truth.
We have peered through a door standing ajar in heaven. The glimpse afforded to us sets the remainder of the book in perspective. The book of destiny is nothing less than the execution of the Monarch of creation the Lord of all. The government has been placed upon His shoulder, and the Revelation reveals how He is governing. We will see history from the perspective of the Throne!
This government is being implemented in an arena of participation. While God can rule alone, He has chosen not to do so. First, He is ruling through His Son, the exalted Lamb. Second, the Son employs various personalities from angels to men to fulfill His will. Even the devil and all of his forces, both spiritual and fleshly, move within the circumference of His will. They are used by Him, but He is never used by them!
The will of the Lord is done in an environment of insightful praise. The purpose of God is intelligent. The reign of the Lamb is thoughtful and purposeful. And, the involvements of those close to the throne are also characterized by perception and understanding. Let us resolve to put behind us a religion that lacks purpose, and is not distinguished by spiritual insight. Redemption has brought us to God to the Throne. As we become more perceptive of this environ, the traits of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders will also be found in us.