Chapters 4-5 introduce the visions and judgements to come. John presents God in His heavenly court, and the Lamb who has a central role. John contrasts the majesty of God with the so called majesty of Caesar. God’s power and splendor is unparalleled against any ceremonial court of any earthly ruler. The first eleven verses describe God’s throne room. It is almost impossible to imagine. This vision uses the visions found in Isaiah 6:1-4, Ezekiel 1:4-28, and Daniel 7:9-10 and builds onthem. All of these visions find God enthroned in power and majesty. God’s throne dominates the Book of Revelation and the worship in the rest of the book flows from this scene. God’s magnificence, grace, and glory are fundamental to the church’s worship. Verse 4:1 signals the beginning of a new section of the book which reveals the terrifying events that will occur in the future. The beginning does not signify chronological sequence but the beginning of a new visionary experience. The voice John had hear behind him earlier now commanded him to come. The voice of the Lord invites John to come and look at things from God’s perspective. By being in the Spirit, John could experience spiritual realities and grasp insights about God’s presence, the heavenly realm, and God’s intentions in history. Rather than painting a visual picture of God John used gemstones and the rainbow to suggest God’s qualities. The rainbow is from God’s covenant with Noah that God would never again destroy theearth by flood. But this might signal that a different kind of judgement was about to come upon the earth. In Revelation, we will see the earth destroyed by fire.
Twenty four elders occupy other thrones. Their identity is not certain. Some believe they represent all people. Others are certain they are the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. Others have identified them with the 24 divisions of the Israelite priesthood. Still others think they may be angels who comprise a heavenly ruling court. In this heavenly drama they act as antiphonal chorus, which is an alternating group of speakers or singers. The white robes and crowns point to those who are confirmed in righteousness and who possess ruling authority. The wearing of crowns indicates they had already been judged and rewarded. The thunder and lightening is God’s call to attention and it reflects the awesome majesty of God. The seven lamps or torches presents the fullness of the sevenfold character of the Holy Spirit. In ancient times torches were set in front of rulers to show their authority. These torches with burning flames represent the perfect Spirit of God. And they signify the unique role of the Holy Spirit in executing judgement. The sea of glass that sparkles like it is crystal is similar to the most dramatic part of ancient theaters. This was the glistening mosaic where the speaking orchestra was positioned to provide perspective. It may also be the basin in heaven whose counterpart was the “sea” in the tabernacle and then the temple. This was a the basin of water that the priests used to wash their feet and hands as they worked, offering sacrifices and burnt offerings. There were four living creatures there and they are very similar to the cherubim Ezekiel saw close to God’s throne. They represent the whole created order. Being covered with eyes means they see everything. They had knowledge and understanding. The four creatures symbolize four types of created beings. The lion represents wild animals, the ox represents domesticated animals, the Eagle represents birds and the human represents humanity. They are most likely drawn from the cherubim in Ezekiel 1 and the seraphim in Isaiah 6. They may represent the best of creation as worshiping God.Missing are the fish, which ancient people associated with the evil sea, and insects, represented by locusts in the evil kingdom. The four living creatures ceaselessly praised God’s basic characteristics: his holiness, His power, and His eternity. Restmight be necessary on earth but in heaven it is not necessary. There is nonstop worship, day and night. The holy, holy, holyhere comes from Isaiah 6:3 and is the highest affirmation of worship in scripture. Doubling something makes it emphatic but tripling makes it ultimate. Saying God is the one who is, who was, and the one who is to come speaks of the eternal nature of God; past, present, and future.
The antiphonal chorus of 24 elders provided divine perspective on creation. Whenever the four living creatures praise God, the 24 elders fall down, or prostrate themselves, and worship “the One sitting on the throne”. This is typical of Jewish indirectionto avoid speaking God’s name. By casting their crowns down they are showing their willing surrender of their authority in light of the worthiness of God as Creator. Because no one but God can create, He alone should be worshiped and recognized as sovereign. The phrase “you are worthy” is never used of God in the Old Testament but, it was frequently used in Rome during emperor worship. Here we see that ONLY God is worthy and deserves worship. Many in the ancient world believed the gods were too busy to be concerned with humans. But, God Almighty is involved as Creator and Lord. In Revelation, creation affirms that God is in sovereign control of the world. And, God has a purpose for everything are creates.
In chapter five John introduces the Lamb, Jesus Christ, the central figure of the Book of Revelation. He is God’s chosen agent for accomplishing His purposes. The scroll is like a dramatic script that details God’s plan for the world. It is sealed with seven seals, a complete number. The scroll was in His right hand which represents God’s authority and power. God has put His purposes for history in an impenetrable safe and His purposes will be completed only when the seals are broken. The writing both inside and outside of the scroll means that God’s plans for history are full and complete. At first no one in the divine universe seemed to have the power or authority, or waseven worthy to break open the seals. John wept because even though the revelation had been promised to him, he thought he would be denied knowledge of the divine script; God’s plan for history. John’s weeping highlights the significance of the anticipated revelation. One of the 24 elders called for John to stop weeping because there was One who could open the seals. The One was the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. Both of these titles are Old Testament Messianic titles for Jesus. Because Jesus won the victory at the cross He is the only oneworthy to open the scroll and reveal God’s purposes. God’s plan for history centers around Jesus and what He has done. His relationship to the scroll indicated His control of history. God’s purpose is twofold. He will reclaim His kingdom and He will redeem His people. This twofold victory over the evil one is first predicted in Genesis 3:15 and then covenanted to Abraham in the promise of both land and seed, or descendants.
The Jews expected the Messiah to come as a conquering lion. Instead Jesus came as a Lamb. The Lamb who was slain was now standing. This refers to Jesus death and resurrection. This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, as John the Baptist called Jesus. The Lamb’s seven horns represent His complete power and His seven eyes represent His complete knowledge. The Lamb took the scroll from the right hand of the One seated on the throne. When that happened the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. The crucified and risen Christ has divine authority to initiate the events of this age and He is worthy of worship. The picture here is quite amazing. The 24 elders each have a bowl full of incense. These are the prayers of God’s people and they play an important role in the Lamb’s opening of the scroll and the ensuing judgement. The whole created order joined in a new song of praise to the Lamb. He is indeed worthy because through His sacrifice, He won the right to break the seals of the scroll and enact God’s purposes in history. This song summarizes the implications of the Good News about Jesus.
The description of God’s people as a kingdom of priests who will enjoy ultimate victory and will reign with Christ reflects the images of Jesus as both King and High Priest. A ginormous angelic chorus numbering thousands and millions provides an antiphonal response. All of heaven responds to creation’sconfession of Christ’s sacrifice. Wow! Verse 12 is a doxology that ascribes to Jesus divine honors which are reserved for God alone. It echoes Isaiah53:7. The second response comes from every creature, even those under the earth, (the place of the dead) and in the sea (usually associated with evil). This may imply a mandatory response even by those in rebellion against God. From the vantage point of heaven, these verses look forward to the climactic point when “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Their Amen affirms the truth of what John has seen, as the 24 elders prostrate themselves in worship.
From 6:1-16:21 there are three sets of seven judgements; seals, trumpets, and bowls. This is the core of the Book of Revelation. Chapter six contains the breaking of six of the seven seals on the scroll. The four horses and their riders sum up the power structures of the world. Their activities primarily lead to war, violence, economic imbalance, and death. In other words, it is pointless to put our hope in these power structures. Some believe this section describes the beginning of the tribulation period. Some believe the rider on the white horse to be Christ, like is found in 19:11 but the only real similarity between the two is the horse. The four riders represent the destructive, senseless world and show no redeeming qualities. When the first seal is broken we see a white horse and rider. His bow indicates the rider is a warrior and the crown suggests he is a ruler. This rider is powerful and the focus on war and conquest illustrates human depravity. The breaking of the second seal brought a red horse. He represents bloody violence on earth. Although peace was what Rome promised (the Pax Romana ) widespread violence was the horrible reality. This rider represents killing with the sword for war instead of peace on earth. There will be civil upheavals and ethnic cleansing. Seal number three calls forth the black horse which represents economic and social dysfunction, inequality, and famine. This is indicated by the scales used in commerce. This is shown by the cost of the staples of life, bread or the grain to make make it. A loaf of wheat bread or three loaves of barley bread will cost a days pay. But the luxuries of life, wine and oil will remain the same price. Here we see the picture of economic and social injustice. With the fourth seal comes a ghastly looking horse. In the ancient world pale green was the color for depicting a corpse. It is fitting this horse is ridden by one whose name is death. And Hadesfollowed after him to claim those who have died. This fourth judgement is the inevitable consequence of the first three. Up to this point they are characterized as the sword, famine, and pestilence. They are the same means God used to bring Israel to repentance. For the Greeks, Hades was the abode of the dead, just like the Jews believed Sheol was that place. Now we begin to see the consequences. The rider named death, and Hades are given authority over a quarter of the earth to kill with the sword, famine, disease or pestilence, and wild animals. Only killing one fourth of those on earth indicates that the final judgement has not yet arrived. These four things summarize the tragedies of the earthly existence. The world cannot offer hope to humanity.
The fifth seal introduces Christian martyrs who ask how God intends to deal with evil. These were folks who had been slain for the word of God and Christ’s testimony. This is the samereason John was on the island of Patmos. Rather than follow the world’s destructive ways the martyrs gave their lives for the word of God. These martyr’s souls were under the altar because that is where the sacrificial blood was poured out in temple worship. The martyrs are impatient for the Lord to avenge their blood and judge all those who are not among His redeemed. They shouted to the sovereign Lord because they trusted in His power to address their grievances. How long? Is God slow to act? Will justice be done? God does act decisively and his wrath must be understood in terms of justice and righteousness. This vengeance won’t be carried out until chapter 19. Each martyr is given the white robe of the overcomer and told to rest until God’s appointed time. The white robe is a symbol of the martyr’s victory and God’s full acceptance. Only God knows the full number of those Christians will be martyred before the end. In His sovereignty God will fulfill His purposes through his children who are martyred and God will vindicate them at the appointed time.
When the sixth seal was broken there was a great earthquake. This offers a glimpse of the end of the created order. These are cosmic disturbances and are associated in scripture with the Day of the Lord, when God’s judgement will overturn the whole created order. Late figs appeared in the winter, the off season, and were easily blown off the tree. The description of the sky being rolled up may be describing the scene of the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven. And the moving of every mountain and island would cause seismic damage way in excess of any recorded earthquake, ever. After that, in the face of God’s judgement, the unredeemed people will be terrified and seek a safe place to hide. But there won’t be any such place. The prophets warned repeatedly that the great day would be a day of wrath and judgement. The ultimate question is who will be able to survive, or who can stand? Unbelievers, no matter how strong cannot stand. Those protected by the Lord are enabled to stand, whether on earth or in God’s presence. God’s children will rejoice to see Him because they understand God’s response to the martyrs cry for vengeance and they themselves have nothing to fear from God’s judgement. However, those who have persecuted God’s people will quake in fear as they face the wrath of the Lamb.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W