Revelation 4

At this point we come to the end of the seven-church paradigm which is primarily earthly in focus. In this chapter our eyes are turned heavenward to show us the heavenly elements involved in the judgment of the character and behavior of all humanity. “One thing will certainly be understood from the study of Revelation―that the connection between God and His people is close and decided.” [1] The relationship among the seven churches on earth in Chapters 2 and 3, and the things of heaven shown in succeeding chapters, will substantiate the truth of that statement.

Verse 1: After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.

The antecedent to the words “after this” is the last church, “the church of the Laodiceans” depicted in the last 8 verses of Chapter 3 regarding the “people adjudged.”

Now, John sees “a door . . . opened in heaven.” But it is not the “door” of Revelation 3:20, which is a metaphor for the heart of man on earth that only man can open. Rather, this is a heavenly “door,” the “open door” of Revelation 3:7, 8 which no man can “shut” or “open” in the heavenly sanctuary. Only Jesus, who has “the key of David,” is in control of this one.

John then hears “the first voice which [he] heard” at the beginning of his vision, which was “a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am Alpha and Omega” (Revelation 1:10, 11). This is apparently the same trumpet-like voice of Jesus who introduced the vision. [2] Thus, we see Jesus directing John’s eyes heavenward, inviting him to see “things which must be hereafter” or, into the future, not only to John’s time, but, on into the time [3] of the Laodicean period of church history and beyond.

Verse 2: And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.

Saying he was “immediately in the spirit,” suggests he was not “in the spirit” or “in vision” prior to this. He was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10) and there is no evidence he was out of “the spirit” while the Lord was speaking to him in Chapters 2 and 3. Later, John twice says he was “carried . . . away in the spirit” (Revelation 17:3; 21:10), suggesting a spiritual transport, in this case, from earth to heaven, but remaining in the “spirit” the whole time. Therefore, it seems this is his way of saying his view has now been redirected from the seven, earthbound churches, heavenward, in mind, at least, if not in body.

The first thing he sees is “a throne” and someone sitting on it. Take note, however, that He is not being seated (or enthroned) anywhere in this chapter or in the next. Rather, we see Him opening up the view of the “throne” in this chapter, and in the next we see Him coming before the throne and its occupant.

Verse 3: And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.

The personal pronoun “he” is the only article indicating the occupant of the throne to be a person, until we see His “right hand” holding a “book” (Revelation 5:1).  This is as much as we will see of the Father, which is completely unlike what we see of the Son whose clothing, feet, chest, head, hair, eyes, face, mouth and the sound of His voice were described in some detail (see Revelation 1:12-16).

The only words John could use to describe the Father were to compare Him to the beauty and glory of precious stones, including a peculiar rainbow we have never seen, “in sight like unto an emerald” which is noted for its “green color” [4], in contrast to the multicolored rainbow we are familiar with. Nevertheless, it is just as indicative of the hope and protecting care of God as was the “bow” to Noah (Genesis 9:13).

John’s omission of detail in God’s appearance seems to harmonize with a vision White had where she “saw a throne, and on it sat the Father and the Son . . .The Father’s person I could not behold, for a cloud of glorious light covered Him. I asked Jesus if His Father had a form like Himself. He said He had, but I could not behold it, for said He, ‘If you should once behold the glory of His person, you would cease to exist.’” [5]

In another description, she “stated that a cloud of glorious light covered the Father and that His person could not be seen. I also stated that I saw the Father rise from the throne. The Father was enshrouded with a body of light and glory, so that His person could not be seen; yet I knew that it was the Father and that from His person emanated this light and glory. When I saw this body of light and glory rise from the throne, I knew it was because the Father moved, therefore said, I saw the Father rise. The glory, or excellency, of His form I never saw; no one could behold it and live; yet the body of light and glory that enshrouded His person could be seen.” [6] But, in spite of the Father’s invisibility, we will go along with the artist, in this illustration, who depicts Him visually in order to conceptualize what John is saying he saw.

This composite picture, showing the Father, falls way short of visualizing a Person who could not really be seen and whom John says looks like a “jasper and a sardine stone.”

Verse 4: And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.

This picture represents what Daniel saw when he “. . . beheld till the thrones were cast down” around the throne where “the Ancient of days did sit” (Daniel 7:9). While Daniel did not enumerate the number of “thrones” nor the occupants, John saw twenty-four “seats,” and twenty-four “elders.” This is another example of the complementary relationship of John’s vision to that of Daniel’s.

Their “white raiment” and “crowns of gold” bear a good deal of significance. The “white raiment” indicates they were overcomers (see Revelation 3:5, 18) who put on the “white raiment” of Christ’s righteousness. [7] The golden “crowns,” signifying victory [8] over sin, are complementary to the white raiment. Therefore, although seen in heaven, these “elders” obtained their position, with Christ’s help, by overcoming in the same battle against sin that we face. Consequently, they are human beings, not angels.  So, “if the 24 elders are human beings, it follows that they must be men already in heaven in John’s day.” [9] Although John fails to tell us where they came from, this statement is helpful: “As Christ arose, He brought from the grave a multitude of captives . . . They ascended with Him as trophies of His victory over death and the grave,” [10] some 65 years before John had this vision. [11] Since Daniel makes no mention of them as such, we can assume they filled their positions sometime after Daniel recorded his view. Very likely, the 24 elders were chosen from among those former “captives.” Why only 24? Why not the whole “multitude of captives”?

Since this scene appears to be a gathering where “the judgment was set and the books were opened” in the presence of a “thousand thousands . . . and ten thousand times ten thousand” (Daniel 7:10) of angels in Daniel’s vision, only 24 humans selected from the “multitude” of humans must be significant. Consider that the number “24” is a multiple of the twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve loaves of bread on the table of shewbread (Leviticus 24:5, 6), or the twelve apostles, etc. That being the case, “24” is double the number. Since the gathering depicted here is obviously a court scene, we can expect court regulations to apply. One that comes to mind is that “one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die” but “at the mouth of two . . . or three witnesses . . .” (see Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6). Twenty-four would satisfy that requirement. The remainder of the “multitude of captives,” we can be sure, were also present among the gathering of the angels for the judgment proceedings that were about to transpire.

Verse 5: And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.

Daniel reported things similar to the “lightning and thunderings” “out of the throne” saying that God’s “throne was like the fiery flame” and “a fiery stream issued and came forth from before him” (Daniel 7:9, 10), although he said nothing about “seven lamps of fire.” John did not say anything about “his wheels.”  Nevertheless, there are enough parallels in these two scenes to assure us that Daniel and John were viewing the same thing, making it clear that John’s view augments that of Daniel’s.

Although the Investigative Judgment (which was paralleled by the yearly Day of Atonement in the earthly sanctuary) began when Christ entered the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary, the “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne,” that John depicts, were located in the first apartment (Holy Place) “without the veil” (Exodus 26:35). [12] Since the only other items in the Holy Place (first apartment) are the altar of incense and the table of shewbread, John is apparently referring to the table of shewbread as God’s throne.

If that is the case, how can we be sure the antitypical day of Atonement, suggested by the “open door” (Revelation 3:7, 8; Daniel 7:9, 10, 13), is being described? Abundant evidence of movement is found, such as “his wheels” coupled with the movement of “one like the Son of man [who] came . . . to the Ancient of Days . . .” and being “brought. . . near before him (Daniel 7:9, 13), that all suggest a transition from the first to the second apartment (Daniel 7) [13]. There is nothing at all about movement in Revelation 4, however Chapter 5 will give us more information about that movement shown in Daniel 7.  

Verse 6: And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.

The scene is one of suburb beauty. The floor “before the throne” may be composed of smooth “glass” that looks like a “sea,” or undisturbed water that is so smooth it looks like “glass.” Later on, John saw “a pure river . . . clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne . . .” (Revelation 22:1). Therefore, the “sea” “before the throne,” must be a watery, “sea of glass” ―obviously something we can’t imagine!

These “four beasts,” that Daniel says nothing about, are an entirely new element in John’s vision. Note that they share the same space with the “Lamb” who is also “in the midst of the throne . . .” (Revelation 5:6). At first glance, we might conclude they must be “the seven Spirits which are before [God’s] throne” representing the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead.

For a parallel, go to Ezekiel where a “number of wheels of strange appearance, intersecting one another, were moved by four living creatures. High above all these was ‘the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.’ ‘As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.’ ‘And there appeared in the cherubims the form of a man’s hand under their wings.” [14] The “man’s hand” must belong to One whose “appearance” was that “of a man,” the same Person who looked like “a jasper and a sardine stone” “upon a throne . . . set in heaven” (Verse 3).

Therefore, the “four beasts” must be the same four “living creatures” [15] in Ezekiel’s vision, also called “the cherubims” (see also Ezekiel 10:1-20). Consequently, they are created beings, who in spite of being “full of eyes before and behind” implying the omniscience of the Godhead,” we may conclude, because they are created beings, the four cherubim are “full of the” Holy Spirit from God the Father who provides them the power to see as He sees.

Verse 7: And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.

Note that when the “first beast” invites us to “come and see,” a “white horse” gallops in (Revelation 6:1, 2). Then when the “second beast” says “come and see,” the “horse that was red” appears (Revelation 6:3, 4). Afterwards, when the “third beast” says “come and see,” a “black horse” is standing there (Revelation 6:5). Finally, when the “fourth beast” invites us to “come and see,” a “pale horse” comes into view (Revelation 6:7, 8).

The appearances of the beasts, as strange as they are, must be intended to convey something of enormous importance with regard to the judgment proceedings depicted in Chapters 4 and 5, as well as in the ongoing scene in Chapter 6. Three of these beasts were like animals, while one “had a face as a man.” Ezekial states that all of his “living creatures . . . had the likeness of a man . . . and four faces.” When we compare John’s beasts with the “living creatures” of Ezekiel’s vision, beast number one, that was “like a lion,” looked the same as “the face of a lion, on the right side.” John’s beast number two, “like a calf,” was similar to one of the faces of Ezekiel’s that was “the face of an ox on the left side.” John’s beast number three, with “a face as a man,” was identical to Ezekiel’s that “had the face of a man,” which must have been front or back because the left and right were occupied by the lion and ox faces. John’s beast number four “like a flying eagle,” bore similarity to Ezekiel’s, and again, its location was not specified. [16]

Another interesting feature about Ezekiel’s creatures is the beautiful, intricate “wheels” with “one wheel upon the earth . . . a wheel in the middle of a wheel” that “were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes” and go “up from the earth” with “a noise of great rushing . . .” (Ezekiel 1:15-21; 3:13). Without doubt, they are the same “wheels” (Daniel 7:9) Daniel spoke of in connection with God’s throne, confirming that the scenes described in Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel are apparently the same.

Verse 8: And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

Although considerable similarity exists between John’s “four beasts” and Ezekiel’s “living creatures,” John’s had “six wings,” while Ezekiel’s only “had four” (Ezekiel 1:6; 10:21).

Isaiah says he “saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up . . . Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried to another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke” (Isaiah 6:1-4).

While John and Ezekiel saw four creatures with identical features, Isaiah says nothing about their features, but his have the same number of wings as John’s and do the same thing. All of them are closely associated with God’s throne in the heavenly sanctuary, therefore, they are all likely the same in spite of their variations. White generally lumps them all together saying “Cherubims and seraphims, angels and archangels, are watching the battle that is going on in this life. Between whom?  The Prince of life and the power of darkness.” [17]

Therefore, if they are observing the controversy between Christ and Satan on the earth, their lion-like, calf-like, man-like and eagle-like appearances must have something to do with what they are seeing. When our study reaches Chapter 6, we will find that each separate beast introduces each of the “four horses of the apocalypse” with the invitation to “come and see.” Consequently, an important relationship must exist, between those four horses and the four beasts, that is not generally understood.

Verse 9: And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,

Remember, Jesus was showing John all this strange imagery, and what the “beasts” were doing, as He conducted John in this tour of the heavenly sanctuary. [18] Even though Jesus is not depicted with “him that sat on the throne” here, recall that He was “set down with [His] Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21) just a few moments before, which must be the same “throne” depicted here.  In other words, God the Father is center stage in this chapter, while God the Son was actually presenting the details of this scene to John personally. Jesus was always talking about “your Father which is in heaven” when He was on earth. For example, He said “glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) Also check up on Matthew 5:45, 48; 6:1; 7:11, 21; 10:32, 33; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10, 14, 19; 23:9; 11:26 where Jesus uses the same phrase.

His presentation of the Father in this scene is wholly characteristic of Him who came to bring honor to God the Father while He was on earth and is seen here doing the same thing. Some believe that Jesus is not depicted in Chapter four, but, as you can see, Jesus is the One with a “voice . . . was as it were of a trumpet talking” to John as we learned in Verse 1, saying, “I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.

Jesus shows us the four beasts expressing adulation and gratitude, seemingly only to the Father, rather than to Himself, which is characteristic of Jesus who sought not His own glory (John 8:50) but leaves that to others to do later, as we shall see in the next chapter.

The next two verses complete the scene of this chapter.

Verses 10 & 11: The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

So, “him that sat on the throne” is addressed as the “worthy . . . Lord” because He “created all things . . . for” His “pleasure.” It portrays God the Father as One who thought it undesirable “from His point of view in being alone in an empty universe. It pleased Him that the universe should be peopled with intelligent beings, capable of appreciating and reflecting His infinite love and perfect character.  This was His purpose in creating them.” [19]

The “intelligent beings” include the “four and twenty elders” who “fall down before” God the Father “when those [four intelligent] beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne . . .” This scene depicts the “beasts” as leaders in this doxology of praise.

God the Father was not alone in His work of creation because He said way back at the beginning of time, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). John also said: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made . . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 3 & 14).

Therefore, God the Son and God the Father were both involved in the work of creation.  It was not a One-Man job even though, in this case, Jesus is directing all the credit to His Father.  But that is just like Him.  While He was on earth He was heard to say, “the words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (John 14:10).

Even though some believe Jesus is not seen in this chapter, it should be obvious by now He was the active “behind-the-scenes” agent throughout the entire chapter, revealing the wonders of the things depicted here.

Summary of Chapter 4: Seen in the context of Chapters 2 and 3, where the seven earthly churches are scrutinized by Jesus standing “in the midst of the seven candlesticks” (Revelation 1:13), the “door . . . in heaven,” in this chapter, must be Jesus Himself, noted to have “a great voice, as of a trumpet,” who opened this “door”(Revelation1:10). His trumpet-like voice is heard inviting John to “Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” Referring to the parallel scene in Daniel 7:9 and 10 where “the judgment was set,” we see God the Father on His throne with “thrones . . . cast down” around Him, and likewise here in Revelation 4 we see 24 elders seated around Him, plus four strange beasts “in the midst . . . and round about the throne.” They together with the elders bow in humble, joyful adoration to God the Father because He “hast created all things, and for thy pleasure.” Since seven lamps of fire are seen positioned before the throne of God in Verse 5, which must be equivalent to the seven branched candlestick located in the first apartment, we can assume this is where Jesus took up His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary following His resurrection and ascension into heaven to take up His duties as our High Priest. When John saw Him in this marvelous vision, He had been ministering there for more than thirty years. Therefore, this is not His inauguration into His priesthood, but a look into what He had been doing for some time. The fulfillment of Daniel 8:14, when the sanctuary would be cleansed, was not to take place for another 1,748* years from the time John received this vision. Before that time, Jesus had remained at His post in the first apartment ministering to His church on earth. But this chapter seems to be setting us up to witness the movement in heaven to inaugurate that very thing. The next chapter, which continues this scene, will tell us much more. (*See Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, page 721)

[1] Manuscript Releases by E.G. White, Vol. 18, page 24

[2] See Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, page 767 (left column under “The first voice.”)  The Commentary argues this to be a “second” vision.  I see it as a continuation of just one vision from the beginning of chapter 1 to the end of chapter 22.

[3] The Commentary’s remarks on “Hereafter” is that it “is, not necessarily after the fulfillment of the previous vision, but from the standpoint of John’s own time.” (Ibid) From my standpoint, “hereafter” should be considered as following that of the seven churches in general, and Laodicea in particular, and not a throwback to Chapter 1.

[4] Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, page 767

[5] Early Writings by E.G White, page 54

[6] Ibid, page 92 (italics supplied)

[7] See, for example, Selected Messages by E.G. White, Vol. 1, page 358

[8] “crown” from: “stephanos” (Strong’s #4735) “a mark of royal rank; or a wreath or garland which was given as a prize to victors in public games; a metaphor for “the eternal blessedness which will be given as a prize to the genuine servants of God and Christ.”

[9] Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, page 767 (right column under “four and twenty elders.)

[10] The Desire of Ages by E.G White, page 786

[11] If John’s vision was given in 96 A.D., and Christ’s ascended in 31 A.D., 65 years had transpired.

[12] Support for Chapter 4, depicting a “first apartment” scene, is found in The Great Controversy by E.G. White, page 414; and Patriarchs and Prophets by E.G. White, page 356.

[13] White assures us that Daniel 7:13 “is not his second coming to the earth, He comes to the Ancient of days . . . to perform the work of investigative Judgment . . .” (see Great Controversy 479, 480 and) Early Writings by E.G. White, page 55.

[14] Testimonies for the Church by E.G. White, Vol. 5, page 751; see Ezekiel 1

[15] Ezekiel also uses the term “full of eyes.” Ezekiel 1:18 & 10:12

[16] Ezekiel 1:10 is the only place where the “faces” of the “living creatures” are described.

[17] Sermons and Talks by E.G. White, Vol. 1, page 241

[18] See Revelation 1:10 and 4:1 where Jesus’ “voice” sounded like a “trumpet.”

[19] see Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, page 769 (right column under “For thy pleasure.”)

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