The Amazing Scene in Heaven, 1-11

4:1 After these things I looked, and there was a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said: “Come up here so that I can show you what must happen after these things.”

‘This section chs 4 and 5 may be viewed as a turning-point in the book of Revelation. It provides a fuller understanding of the Christ and his salvation that dominates the previous chapters and of the judgments and the kingdom which are the subjects of the chapters that follow. A single motif binds together the twofold vision of chs. 4 and 5, namely that the God of creation is the God of redemption, who brings to pass his purpose through the crucified and risen Christ.’ (Beasley-Murray, NBC)

After this – that is, after the first vision, the record of which extends from Rev 1:12-3:33.  Whether this second vision occurred immediately, or after an interval, we cannot tell.

A door standing open – The open door is the door of revelation: John is giving us, not the product of a fertile imagination, but the result of visions given to him by God, Rev 1:1. Others have been granted similar access to mysteries which were otherwise unknowable, Eze 1:1; 2 Cor 12:1-4. See also, Mt 3:16; Acts 7:55.

Heaven is, of course, the dwelling place of God. Although the word can be used for (a) the region where birds fly; and (b) the region where the stars shine, John is called up to ‘the third heaven’. (cf. 2 Cor 12:2) his ascent ‘is not the kind that could be made either in a balloon or in a spaceship’ (Wilcock).

The voice…like a trumpet – loudly, clearly, and with authority, cf. Rev 1:10. The voice is that of Christ himself.

What must take place – The word ‘must’ is emphatic: these things are the outworking of God’s sovereign will, Eph 1:11.

After this – contrasts with chapters 1-3, which concerned the (that is John’s) present.

4:2 Immediately I was in the Spirit, and a throne was standing in heaven with someone seated on it! 4:3 And the one seated on it was like jasper and carnelian in appearance, and a rainbow looking like it was made of emerald encircled the throne.

I was in the Spirit – This suggests that John was in a special state, not so much of ecstasy, as of inspiration.  Cf. Ezek 3:12; Acts 7:55.

A throne in heaven – This throne is the focal point of the present vision.  Indeed it is the focal point of the entire universe.  For it is the throne of God himself.  Despite any appearances to the contrary, ‘our God reigns’.  Cf. Psa 47:8; Isa 6:1; Ezek 1:26.

A throne in heaven

At the centre of the universe is a throne.  From it the wheeling planets receive their orders.  To it gigantic galaxies give their allegiance.  In it the tiniest living organism finds its life.  Before it angels and human beings and all created things in heaven above and earth beneath bow down and humbly worship.  Encircling the throne is the rainbow of God’s covenant, and surrounding it are twenty-four other thrones, occupied by twenty-four elders, who doubtless represent the twelve tribes of the Old Testament and the twelve apostles of the New, and so the completed and perfected church…

These chapters of the book of Revelation (4 to 7) leave us in no doubt about the security of the people of God.  The Eternal Father sits on his throne, surrounded by the worshipping host of heaven.  The Book of Destiny is in the hand of Christ, and no calamity can befall humankind unless he breaks the seals of the book.  Moreover the winds of judgment are not permitted to blow upon those who have been sealed by the Holy Spirit.  These are the symbols of divine sovereignty.  The church’s security is guaranteed by the Holy Trinity.

Stott, Authentic Christianity, 404f

Having ‘come up’ and passed through the door, John finds himself confronted by the majestic spectacle of a throne, cf Isa 6:1. This ‘throne’ is the focal point of the vision. Indeed, it is the focal point of the entire universe, for, despite any appearances to the contrary, God, who is seated on his throne in heaven, rules over all he has made.

‘How was St John to describe the transcendental glory of him who reigns from the throne and the dazzling brilliance of this exalted scene? The finite language of this earthly sphere is incompetence to define and depict the infinite realities that he saw before him. Yet it was the only language at his command; hence his use of earthly similitudes, but always with the understanding that the heavenly reality far surpasses the earthly symbol. And so the comparison he offers is with the flashing splendour of precious stones and the polychromatic lustre of the rainbow. The magnificence of it all is indescribably awesome and beautiful.’ (Hughes)

No description of God himself is attempted, for ‘no-one has ever seen God’, Jn 1:18; 1 Jn 4:12. But God’s radiance is described in terms of brilliant, many-coloured light, Ps 104:2; 1 Tim 6:16. The whole picture described here is one of dazzling brilliance.

Jasper is a clear jewel (probably diamond), possibly symbolic of God’s purity. Carnelian is blood-red, suggesting wrath. Emerald is, of course, green, and this colour may represent God’s mercy, as does the rainbow which recalls Gen 9:8-17 and Eze 1:28.

4:4 In a circle around the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on those thrones were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white clothing and had golden crowns on their heads.

Who are these these ‘twenty-four elders’? They may be high-ranking angels, Cf Isa 24:23. The fact that the elders are mentioned along with angels, Rev 5:11; Rev 7:11; further suggests that they are themselves members of an angelic order. Some expositors link them with the 24 priestly courses mentioned in 1 Chron 24. Many think that they represent the whole church of both dispensations (12 patriarchs plus 12 apostles = Rev 21:12-14). In any case, it is clear that the elders have a priestly and representative function:-

  1. They sit around the throne of God, Rev 4:4.
  2. They cast down their crowns before the throne, Rev 4:10.
  3. They worship God, Rev 4:11.
  4. One of them reassures John, Rev 5:5.
  5. They offer to God the prayers of the saints, Rev 5:8.
  6. One of them assists in interpreting the vision, Rev 7:13.

Dressed in white – suggestive of moral purity.  They are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, Rev 3:4f,17; 7:9,14; 19:8,14.

Crowns of gold – they reign with Christ, cf 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 22:5.

4:5 From the throne came out flashes of lightning and roaring and crashes of thunder. Seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God, were burning in front of the throne 4:6 and in front of the throne was something like a sea of glass, like crystal.

The vision is not static, but alive with dramatic activity. The manifestations mentioned here are frequently linked in Scripture with God’s judgement and self-revelation, Ex 19:16; 1 Sam 2:10; Eze 1:13. See also Rev 8:5; 11:19; 16:18.

The seven lamps remind us of the lampstand which was placed in the tabernacle, Ex 25:31-40. Once again, John’s vision is strongly reminiscent of Ezekiel’s, Eze 1:13.

The representation of the Holy Spirit as fire is especially apt, for fire illuminates, spreads, purifies, energises. See Mt 3:11 Acts 2:3 Heb 12:29.

The seven spirits of God represent, no doubt, the sevenfold Spirit of God, as in Rev 1:4; 3:1. Indicated here are the perfections of the Spirit, and also the rich variety of his influences. See 1 Cor 12:4-11.

What looked like a sea of glass – Possibly reminiscent of the view of the Aegean Sea from the hills of Patmos on a clear, still day. The picture is one of immensity, distance, and serenity. In olden times, glass was usually rather dull and opaque; only the most precious glass was ‘clear as crystal’. This element of John’s vision seems to indicate God’s surpassing holiness, and the impossibility of our approaching him until we have been cleansed of our own unholiness.

Some scholars find here a reference to the old tabernacle, and to the laver which was used by the priests for cleansing, Ex 30:17-21.

In Solomon’s vision, 1 Kings 7:23, this feature is actually referred to as a ‘sea’.

In the middle of the throne and around the throne were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 4:7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second creature like an ox, the third creature had a face like a man’s, and the fourth creature looked like an eagle flying.

Here is another strong parallel to Ezekiel’s vision, thus helping us to identify these creatures. See Eze 10, esp v20. See also Gen 3:24; Ex 25:18ff; Ex 26:31ff; 2 Kings 19:15; Ps 99:1.

Comparing the above references, it is reasonable to conclude that the four living creatures belong to a high order of angels, namely, the cherubim. An alternative interpretation is that they represent the whole of animate creation (lion = wild beasts; ox = domesticated animals; man = humankind; eagle = birds): so Hughes. The number (4) also indicates that the totality of animate creation is being referred to, four being the number of universality (as in ‘the four winds’, ‘the four corners of the earth’ and ‘the four points of the compass’).

They are described as being covered with eyes: this may symbolise their intellectual penetration, or perhaps their watchfulness and wakefulness.

v7 Once again, there are strong resemblances to Ezekiel’s vision. He, too, saw four living creatures, although in his case each one had four faces – a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Moreover, in Ezekiel’s vision, the creatures moved, Eze 1:4-25; 10:1-22.

The creatures are described in terms of the very best of created beings known to us – the noblest, strongest, the wisest, and the swiftest. They are the pinnacles of God’s creation, yet they make it their business to serve and worship God, v8.

4:8 Each one of the four living creatures had six wings and was full of eyes all around and inside. They never rest day or night, saying:
“Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God, the All-Powerful,
Who was and who is, and who is still to come!”

These creatures call to mind the seraphim of Isa 6:2-3, not only because of their six wings, but because of the ceaseless song they sing. In Isa 6, the emphasis falls on God’s glory; here it is his eternity which is celebrated.

It seems, then, that these creatures are mighty angelic beings. They attend God’s throne, sing ceaseless praise, and execute God’s will, with particular reference to animate nature. Indeed, all of creation is headed toward the time of its redemption, when, delivered from its bondage to corruption occasioned by human sin, it will itself be free to glorify God unitedly, perfectly, and for ever, Rom 8:19-22.

Day and night they never stop saying… – Not that this is all they do, but that ‘it is their constant disposition; their every action is an expression of adoration; praise is ever on their lips’ (Hughes).

“Holy, holy, holy” – Addressed to the Holy Trinity, cf Isa 6:3. On this song of praise as a whole, see Ps 148, which is a summons to the whole creation, in all its diversity, to praise the Lord who made it.

‘Interestingly, of all the songs in the Book of Revelation, not one is a solo. The twenty-four elders sing and cast their crowns before his feet, the united voices of countless angels resound, every living creature in heaven and earth and under the earth and all that is in them are joined in one song. Those who are victorious over the beast are given harps and a song to sing. In every case multitudes of people or angels unite in the same song with absolute unity.’ (Graham Kendrick) See: Rev 5:8-14; 7:9-17; 11:15-18; 15:2-4; 19:1-8; 22:1-5.

4:9 And whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 4:10 the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne, saying:
4:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
since you created all things,
and because of your will they existed and were created!”

They offer their crowns before his throne – This is, I suppose the source of Charles Wesley’s line’s in his great hymn, ‘Love Divine’:

‘Till we cast our crowns before thee/lost in wonder, love and praise.’

Tom Wright complains that this sentiment (by no means limited to Wesley), mistanly understands the text as referring to the future, when it actually refers to the present:

‘The wonderful description in Revelation 4 and 5 of the twenty-four elders casting their crowns before the throne of God and the lamb, beside the sea of glass, is not, despite one of Charles Wesley’s great hymns, a picture of the last day, with all the redeemed in heaven at last. It is a picture of present reality, the heavenly dimension of our present life. Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life—God’s dimension, if you like it.’ (Surprised by Hope)

v11 This verse is the focal point of the chapter: all creation, both in heaven and earth, will join in praise to God because he is Creator and Sustainer of all things. Note here:-

  1. Who they are who offer this worship: they are noble and glorious in their own right, yet they ascribe to God all honour.
  2. How they worship: in complete humility and subjection – they ‘fall down’ before God, and ‘lay their crowns before the throne’.
  3. The reason for their worship: God is worthy of it, for he is the Author of all things – everything has its origin in the purpose and power of God.

Constant praise. ‘All true believers wholly ascribe their redemption and conversion, their present privileges and future hopes, to the eternal and most holy God. Thus rise the for-ever harmonious, thankful songs of the redeemed in heaven. Would we on earth do like them, let our praises be constant, not interrupted; united, not divided; thankful, not cold and formal; humble, not self-confident.’ (CMHC)