Having completed the letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, John is called up to the throne room in heaven where he is given a vision of God the Father on His throne.
After these things
The phrase is μετὰ ταῦτα [meta tauta] and indicates a transition from “the things which are” (Rev. 1:19+), the letters written to the Seven Churches of Asia in chapters 2 and 3. John enters upon the second of the two major time periods into which this revelation is divided: “the things which will take place after this”. See Structural Outline.
Standing open is ἠνεῳγμενη [ēneōgmenē], perfect tense: “a door already having been opened.” The door was opened prior to John seeing it and now stood ajar. In Revelation 3:8+ Jesus set an open door before the Philadelphian church. This door is not for evangelism, but provides passage for John to heaven to be shown the events recorded hereafter.There are numerous parallels between this passage and the vision recorded by Ezekiel. Ezekiel did not mention a door, but said “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God” (Eze. 1:1). The “heavens were opened” at Jesus’ baptism (Mat. 3:16; Luke 3:21), the stoning of Steven (Acts 7:56), Peter’s vision of the unclean animals (Acts 10:11), and at the Second Coming of Christ (Rev. 19:11+).
This is probably better translated as: “The first voice I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said.”1 This is the voice John heard at the first, on the Lord’s day, which sounded like a trumpet (Rev. 1:10+).2 See commentary on Revelation 1:10.
Come up here
Having written the letters to the churches, John is called “to Heaven that he might look down upon all that should follow from the point of view of Heaven itself. . . . Any true understanding of the course of world events must be based on Heaven’s perspective of those events. Further it may be said that here is a typical teaching in the very act of John’s translation to Heaven for the vision that is to follow. . . . all believers will be caught up to Heaven before the judgment is actually poured out upon the earth.”3 Yet many commentators are averse to seeing any possible connection between the experience of John recorded here and the Rapture of the church:
There is no convincing reason why the seer’s being “in the Spirit” and being called into heaven typifies the rapture of the church any more than his being taken into the wilderness to view Babylon indicates that the church is there in exile. The phrase relates to the experience of the seer, and not necessarily to that of the church.4
This phrase is taken by many to prove the pretribulation Rapture of the church. This text, however, cannot prove anything about the Rapture, for to apply this to the Rapture one must take John to be a type of the church, the call to “come up hither” a type of the shout-command at the Rapture, and the third heaven as the destination of believers at the Rapture, all of which are tenuous connections at best. One cannot base a doctrine on a type, and proof of the timing of the Rapture must rest upon the direct statements of Scripture elsewhere. There is no need to search the Apocalypse for a direct mention of the pretribulation Rapture of the church, when the doctrine is clearly stated elsewhere.5
Many Premillennialists see the Rapture of the Church in this verse, but this requires somewhat of an allegorical interpretation. Following The Golden Rule of Interpretation, this verse merely contains an invitation for John to come to Heaven in vision (Rev. 4:2+) in order that God can show him the things which must come to pass hereafter.6
We concur with Smith that this text cannot prove anything about the Rapture and that the pretribulational timing of the Rapture rests upon other passages and biblical teaching, but we cannot agree with Tenney that this passage has not even a typological relationship to the Rapture. Nor do we agree with Fruchtenbaum that recognizing typology here is akin to allegory. Are we “allegorizing” when we understand the serpent on the pole in Numbers 21 as a type pointing to the cross? By this measure, Jesus would have to be said to be an allegorical interpreter (John 3:14-16).As Smith even recognizes, there are significant parallels between this verse in its setting and the Rapture:
- Like John, the saints will hear a verbal command at the Rapture (1Th. 4:16).
- Like John, the destination of those raptured is heaven (John 14:1-3; 1Th. 4:17).
- Like John, those raptured are in Christ—members of the Church which was created on the Day of Pentecost (1Cor. 12:13).
- John hears a voice as a trumpet. The raptured saints hear a voice and a trumpet (1Cor. 15:52; 1Th. 4:16).
- The command John hears, “Come up here!”, also attends the resurrection of the two witnesses (Rev. 11:12+).
The context also emphasizes the transition between “the things which are” and the “things which will take place after these [things]” (Rev. 1:19+). John has just finished writing the seven letters to seven churches dictated by Jesus. These letters are full of the church. Yet the word church (εκκλησία [ekklēsia]) in the last verse of chapter three is the final appearance of the word until Revelation 22:16+—long after “the things which must take place” introduced here. Surely the similarities between this passage and aspects of the Rapture coupled with the dramatic transition which attends the introduction of this chapter are more than pure coincidence!We find it puzzling why believers are content to recognize subtle typology concerning Christ found in Abraham’s offering of Isaac (Gen. 22) or the serpent on the pole in the wilderness (Num. 21), yet are unwilling to allow for seeing typological hints concerning the Rapture in other passages such as this? If Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi are understood to represent Jesus, the Church, and Israel in the book of Ruth, why is it considered out-of-bounds to notice similar parallels between this verse and what is taught elsewhere concerning the Rapture of the Church, especially given its context? We believe this bias against understanding typology of the Rapture in this verse wrong-headed and believe that the Holy Spirit intended to support here what is explicitly taught elsewhere. See Rapture.
I will show you
This is the primary purpose of the Revelation being given John (Rev. 1:1+, 19+; 22:6+). The scenes in the book of Revelation often follow a pattern where a heavenly setting is described followed by an earthly setting:
Each Vision “in heaven” is preparatory to the Vision afterwards seen “on earth”; and what is seen “on earth” is the carrying out of the Vision previously seen “in heaven.” The one is mutually explanatory of the other. The heavenly Vision explains what is going to take place upon the earth; and the utterances in each heavenly Vision set forth the special object of the earthly events which are to follow. The former Vision of each pair, is therefore, the key to the latter.7
As with all of history, it is critical that the interpreter of events transpiring upon the earth has access to the perspective of God. For without His perspective, all is chaos and disarray. All the more so at the end of history when events upon the earth become extremely chaotic and destructive—seemingly without purpose or plan. Yet as is shown John and conveyed to us, the events are carefully orchestrated and initiated by God Himself as He finally moves His hand to take back that which was lost in the Garden and legally regained at the cross. It is from this heavenly perspective that the great events of judgment in the pages to come must be understood. To those saints living during the time of the end, John’s revelation—wherever a copy might be procured—will be of inestimable value!
things which must take place after this
The things to come are sure for they must take place. God’s prophetic word cannot be broken (John 10:35). This is why the sword extends from the mouth of Jesus—the will of God, once having been spoken forth, is unstoppable (Rev. 1:16+; 19:15+). After this is perhaps better translated after these [things]. It is the same phrase which begins the verse: μετὰ ταῦτα [meta tauta]. This verse follows “the things which are” and Jesus is now introducing the next major topic—the things which are yet future to John’s time.
Once again, John was “in the Spirit,” as he was at the beginning of his vision (Rev. 1:10+). Ezekiel described his similar experience as the hand of the Lord being upon him (Eze. 1:3; 3:14). Later, he records: “the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem” (Eze. 8:3). In subsequent visions, the Spirit took Ezekiel to Chaldea (Eze. 11:24) and to the valley of dry bones (Eze. 37:1). Paul was caught up to the third heaven in a similar experience, although he does not mention the Spirit’s involvement (2Cor. 12:1-2). Being “in the Spirit” refers not only to spiritual or physical transport to a new location or vantage point, but to a unique empowerment by the Spirit to receive special revelatory communication from God (Eze. 2:2; 3:12-14; Gal. 1:16; 2:2; Eph. 3:3). Although the text does not explicitly say so, John was probably transported to heaven. The command was for him to “come up here.” The Spirit transports John to the wilderness (Rev. 17:2+) and a great and high mountain (Rev. 21:10+) later in the book.
Prior to being given great revelation, prophets are often exposed to the glory of God. Earlier, John saw the glorified Jesus. Now he will be shown the throne room in heaven. Isaiah had a similar vision of God on His throne (Isa. 6:1). This is where Jesus is presented to the “Ancient of Days” to receive His kingdom (Dan. 7:9-14). In Ezekiel’s vision, “on the likeness of a throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man” (Eze. 1:26). Isaiah also saw Him: “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1b).See commentary on Revelation 1:12.The One sitting is God the Father, not Christ, for Christ comes to the One on the throne to receive the scroll with the seven seals (Rev. 5:1-7+). This is the One whose wrath, along with that of the Lamb, is poured out upon the earth dwellers (Rev. 6:16-17+) and to Whom, along with the Lamb, salvation belongs (Rev. 7:10+).He is sitting on the throne which emphasizes His ultimate rule and control of all that transpires in the book (Rev. 4:5+, 9+, 10+; Rev 5:1+, 6+, 7+, 13+; Rev 6:16+. Rev 7:10+, 15+; Rev 16:17+; Rev 19:4+; Rev 20:11-15+; Rev 21:5+). Even the final manifestation of evil is dependent upon permission being granted from the Father (Rev. 3:21+; 6:4+; 7:2+; 13:7+, 14+, 15+). God is completely sovereign over the affairs of history, yet those who participate in sin are fully responsible moral agents (Acts 2:22-23). God’s throne is prominent throughout the book and indicates His ultimate role as judge (Rev. 20:11+).8Hundreds of years before John, Ezekiel saw the same One seated on His chariot throne:
And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking. (Eze. 1:26-28)
Ezekiel was overcome by what he saw. Here, no mention is made of John collapsing under the vision of God’s glory as occurs so frequently elsewhere (Isa. 6:5; Eze. 1:28; 3:23; Dan. 10:8; Mat. 17:6; Mark 9:6; Acts 9:4; Rev. 1:17+). Perhaps this is because John had already been strengthened by Christ following his collapse at the earlier revelation of the risen Christ (Rev. 1:17+).What John sees is not some immaterial spiritual revelation, but a real material place:
Heaven is a material place. John saw a throne. If the objection is that he was in the Spirit and that it might be a spiritual throne, we would answer that the body of Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and that our Lord said, “Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39); and it was that body which ascended into Heaven. There must be a material Heaven or there was no ascension, and if there was no ascension, there was no resurrection, and if there was no resurrection, there is no salvation.9
Jasper describes the light of, foundation, and walls of the holy Jerusalem (Rev. 21:11+, 18-20+). It was the last of the twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel which were mounted in the breastplate of the high priest (Ex. 28:20; 39:13). When Satan was in the Garden of God, his covering included precious stones like jasper (Eze. 28:13-14). “Modern ignorance of ancient terminology makes precise identification of the stones quite tentative (Morris). Probably the equation of iaspidi (‘jasper stone’) to the modern jasper which is dull and opaque (Alford) is wrong because the modern stone is hardly considered costly as the text implies.”10 “From Rev. 21:11+, where it is called most precious, which the jasper was not, Ebrard infers it was a diamond.”11
“The sardius, better known in our day as the carnelian, is red. Hengstenberg quotes ancient authorities who call it ‘blood-colored’ and takes it to describe the righteous wrath of God, the color of the fire of divine anger.”12 This stone is also mentioned as part of Satan’s covering in the Garden of God (Eze. 28:13). It is the sixth foundation stone of the holy Jerusalem (Rev. 21:19+) and the first of the twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel in the breastplate of the high priest (Ex. 28:17; 39:10). The inclusion of both the first stone, sardius, and last stone, jasper from the breastplate denote the idea of all Israel, first and last, beginning and end, or alpha and omega (Rev. 1:8+, 17+; 2:8+).
The jasper and the sardine stone are the first and last of these twelve stones [representing the tribes of Israel]. The jasper represented Reuben, the first of the tribes, since Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob. The sardine stone represented Benjamin, the youngest of the twelve sons of Jacob. In other words, the two stones represented the first and the last and therefore may be regarded as including all the other stones in between, that is, the whole of the covenanted people.13
Most see the references to precious stones here (and in Eze. 28) as a description of brilliant colored lights which radiate from God and His throne (Eze. 1:26-28): “We need not find symbolism in each element of the vision; it is enough to allow the archetypical imagery to create the impression of transcendent glory.”14
The brilliant light emanating from the throne resembled a rainbow of emerald hues. The rainbow was given as a sign following Noah’s flood to remind God of His covenant never again to destroy all flesh with a flood (Gen. 9:13-16; Isa. 54:9-10). Ezekiel saw this same rainbow as the brightness around the throne (Eze. 1:28). The world that was previously perished in the flood. In the chapters to follow, the judgment will be by fire (2Pe. 3:5-7).
As the rainbow was first reflected on the waters of the world’s ruin, and continues to be seen only when a cloud is brought over the earth, so another deluge, namely, of fire, shall precede the new heavens and earth: the Lord, as here, on His throne, whence (Rev. 4:5+) proceed “lightnings and thunderings,” shall issue the commission to rid the earth of its oppressors.15
like an emerald
The color of the third stone of the high priest’s breastplate (Ex. 28:17; 39:10) and also associated with Satan’s covering in the Garden of God (Eze. 28:13). The stone of the fourth foundation of the holy Jerusalem (Rev. 21:19+).17
Multitudes surround God’s throne (1K. 22:19; Rev. 5:11+; 7:11+), but in concentric positions. Those closest to God appear to occupy positions of special service, blessing, and favor. The elders occupy a position of prominence near the throne along with the four living creatures (Rev. 4:6-9+). The Lamb is also in their midst (Rev. 5:6+).
on the thrones
These elders appear to co-reign with the Father in some lesser capacity. This brings to mind the promises made to the apostles wherein they will rule over the twelve tribes in the regeneration (Mat. 19:28) and the promises made in the previous chapters to the overcomer (Rev. 2:26-27+; 3:21+ cf. Rev. 20:4+, 6+). Nowhere in Scripture do we see mention of elect angels occupying thrones.18 Later, during the Millennial Kingdom, we find humans which sit upon thrones (Rev. 20:4+).Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days mentions “thrones” which “were put in place” prior to a court being seated (Dan. 7:9-19). The court’s judgment results in the destruction of the beast and the removal of the dominion of the other beasts (Dan. 7:12). This is the “judgment . . . made in favor of the saints of the Most High” when “the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom” (Dan. 7:22). The saints will be given into the hands of the beast for “a time and times and half a time” (Dan. 7:25; 9:27; 12:7; 11:2; 11:3, 13:5)19 but the court shall be seated and “take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever” (Dan. 7:26). The only other mention of thrones (plural) in this book are those occupied by saints who take part in the first resurrection and rule and reign during the Millennium (Rev. 20:4+). These elders comprise the court which will be seated and rule against the beast bringing about his eventual overthrow and ushering in the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 19+, 20+). Paul revealed that saints would be entrusted with the judgment of such weighty matters. “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? . . . Do you not know that we shall judge angels?” (1Cor. 6:2-3).
The twenty-four elders repeatedly worship the Father (see commentary on Revelation 4:10). One of the elders comforts John explaining that Jesus has prevailed to loose the seven-sealed scroll (Rev. 5:5+). Later, an elder explains to John the identity of those coming out of the Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:13-14+). The 144,000 with the Father’s name on their foreheads sing a new song before these elders and the living creatures (Rev. 14:3+). A wide range of opinions attends the identification of these elders. “There are at least thirteen different views of their identity, ranging from the twenty-four ruling stars (or judges) in the heavens to the simple figure of wholeness and fullness.”21
Attempts to identify the elders have fallen into two broad categories, one saying that they are men and the other that they are angels. Each category has three variations, the former one saying that the men are either representatives of Israel, representatives of the church, or representatives of both. The latter category sees the angels as representatives either of the OT priestly order or of the faithful of all ages, or as a special class or college of angels.22
Whether to understand the elders as human or angelic beings turns on several factors:
- Can the term “elder” describe an angel?23
- Do angels wear crowns, symbols of reward not found in association with angels elsewhere?
- Do elect angels sit on thrones, although never mentioned elsewhere?
- Is the textual variant at Revelation 5:9+, which explicitly includes the elders among the redeemed, the preferred reading?
The elders are πρεσβυτέρους [presbyterous], presbyters. Frequently translated ‘elders’ (67 times in the KJV). The term is never used of angelic beings:
Nowhere else in Scripture is the term [elder] used to describe celestial or angelic beings. This term is used of humans in positions of authority either in the synagogue or church.24
Presbuteroi (elders) is never used in Scripture to refer to angels, but always to men. It is used to speak of older men in general, and the rulers of both Israel and the church. There is no indisputable use of presbuteroi outside of Revelation to refer to angels. (Some believe that “elders” in Isaiah 24:23 refers to angels, but it could as well refer to humans.) Further, “elder” would be an inappropriate term to describe angels, who do not age.25
The number of the elders, twenty four is seen by some as symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel (written on the gates of the New Jerusalem, Rev. 21:12+) and the twelve apostles of the Lamb (written on the twelve foundations of the city, Rev. 21:14+). Thus, they suggest twelve of the elders represent OT saints and the other twelve NT saints.
That these twenty-four represent the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles is abundantly confirmed in Scripture. When we come to the description of the new Jerusalem, we find twelve messengers at the gates and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel, while the names of the twelve apostles are on the foundations of the city (Rev. 21:12-14+). Our Lord promised the disciples that they should sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mat. 19:28; Luke 22:30). So it is that believers of all ages are seen here.26
Yet the Lord said the apostles would judge the twelve tribes “in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory” (Mat. 19:28). This does not take place until His Second Coming when the Millennial Kingdom is established (Mat. 25:31; Rev. 20:4+). This scene in heaven precedes that time by at least seven years for the Lamb has not yet taken the scroll from the Father to loose the first of its seven seals (Rev. 5+). So it is not clear that OT saints are pictured here. The time at which this vision occurs within the sequence of events shown John implies that the elders are already in heaven prior to the events of The 70th Week of Daniel. We believe that passages such as Daniel 12:1-2 imply that OT saints are not resurrected until after this time of Jacob’s Trouble—prior to the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 20:4+). To be sure, the souls of OT saints are in paradise (heaven at this time), but it seems unlikely that they would have received rewards (i.e., crowns) or rule on thrones prior to the resurrection attending the Millennial Kingdom.27Others note the parallel with the twenty four divisions which David and Zadok made of the sons of Aaron for their priestly service (1Chr. 24:1-5). Rather than twelve OT saints and twelve NT saints, the number twenty four could merely represent the priestly role of the NT saints:
The figure 24 is probably taken from 1 Chronicles 24, where David divided the Tribe of Levi into 24 courses to represent the whole. Since the Church is a kingdom of priests, these 24 elders represent the Church as a whole. This actually provides [another] clue to the fact that the 24 elders represent the Church and not angels.28
The events of the Tribulation period which follows argue against their identification with Israel:
Some believe the elders represent Israel. But while individual Jews have been and will continue to be redeemed throughout history, at the time of this vision the nation as a whole had not yet been redeemed. Their national judgment and salvation (Rom. 11:26) comes during the Tribulation (chaps. 6-19), largely as a result of the evangelistic efforts of the 144,000 (introduced in chap. 7). When the twenty-four elders are first introduced, those events are yet to take place.29
Various lines of evidence suggest they represent the redeemed of the present church age.30
The biblical description seems to point to believers of this present church age. They are already in heaven (Rev. 4+-5+) before the opening of the seal judgments (Rev. 6+). They are sitting on thrones before God (Rev. 4:4+). Angels never sit in the presence of God. However, Christ promised church-age believers that they would sit with Him on His throne (Rev. 3:21+). God positionally has made all believers today sit together in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 2:6). The elders are clothed in white robes (Rev. 4:4+). Church-age believers are promised such pure clothing (Rev. 3:5+, 18+; 19:7-8+). The elders have crowns of gold on their heads (Rev. 4:4+). . . . Believers in the churches are promised such crowns (Rev. 2:10+; 3:11+). In the Epistles, believers are also promised crowns for spiritual accomplishments (1Cor. 9:25; 1Th. 2:19; 2Ti. 4:8; Jas. 1:12; 1Pe. 5:4). Holy angels do not wear crowns, but believers can and will wear them. . . . The elders are set in contrast to angels (Rev. 5:11+). The term presbuteros (elder) is never used of angels in the Bible. The word denotes maturity and growth. Holy angels could not be designated with this term because they were all created at the same time. . . . The more plausible explanation of the twenty-four elders is that they represent the redeemed of this present church age.31
Among the well-known commentators who regard these elders as representative of the Church are Alford, Barnes, Benson, Binney, Carpenter, Clarke, Clemance, Book, Crafer, Crosby, Dusterdieck, Fausset, Girdlestone, Godet, Gray, Henry, [Hengstenberg], Holden, Kiyper, Milligan, Plummer, Roberson, Scott, Sheppard, Simcox, Slight, Smith, Swete, Weidner.32
If these represent saints of the church age,33 then we have another piece of evidence in favor of a pretribulational rapture: “Here then is yet another proof that the Church shall not pass through the Tribulation, for we find these singers in Heaven before the beginning of the judgments.”34
As John beholds certain subjects of redemption, robed, and crowned, and enthroned, as priests and kings in heaven, we here have (let it be noted) positive demonstration, that, at the time to which this vision relates, a resurrection and a translation have already taken place. . . .They occupy these thrones, while yet the closed book, which brings forth the seals and trumpets, lies untouched in the hand of Him that sits upon the throne. They see it there, and they vote the Lamb worthy to open it. They behold Him taking it up, and fall down and worship as He holds it. They are in their places when heaven receives the accession of the multitude which come “out of the great tribulation” (Rev. 7:11-14+). They have their own distinct positions when the still later company of the hundred and forty-four thousand gather round the Lamb on Mount Sion. And they are spectators of the judgment of great Babylon, and sing Alleluia in glory as they see her fall (Rev. 19:4+).35
Elders will also rule with Christ from Jerusalem in the Millennial Kingdom (Isa. 24:23).
The elders are clothed in white which speaks of a covering for sin provided by Christ’s atonement on behalf of the saints. See commentary on Revelation 3:4 and Revelation 3:5.There is some question as to whether the elders include themselves among the redeemed mentioned in Revelation 5:9+ as textual variants attend the text. The TR and MT texts indicate the elders are redeemed whereas the NU text does not. See commentary on Revelation 5:9.
crowns of gold
Crowns is στεφάνους [stephanous]. The crowns may indicate that the elders are among those who have been made “kings and priests” (or “a kingdom of priests”, NU text) as is promised the overcomers (Rev. 2:10+; 3:11+). See commentary on Revelation 1:6. They were awarded these crowns, yet they repeatedly cast them before the Father’s throne in recognition of the superiority and source of their blessing (Rev. 4:10+).36 “When all earthly crowns and thrones have perished, the redeemed ones of Christ will be at the beginning of their reign. How small then will appear the great majesties of earth, and how insignificant the power they have to bestow!”37In Scripture, angelic beings are never promised nor found wearing crowns. Yet some suggest the elders to be angels. Crowns (other than those worn by God) are typically associated with rewards attending judgment. The judgment of angels would likely take place after this scene in heaven because: (1) the saints participate in their judgment—presumably after having been glorified (1Cor. 6:3); and 2) significant events attending the angelic realm have yet to transpire before they can be judged. “If this passage is regarded as chronologically before the time of the tribulation which succeeding chapters unfold, it would seem to eliminate the angels, as at this point they have not been judged and rewarded since their judgment seems to come later.”38 This assumes the angelic judgment by the saints is for both reward and punishment. If these crowns are not associated with reward, or the angelic judgment is only for punishment from which the elect angels are exempt, then the plausibility of the elders being angels encounters fewer difficulties.See Crowns.
These portend the magnificence and glory of the Father and bring reverent fear to those who experience them, as when God revealed Himself to the children of Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:16-18; Heb. 12:18-21) and to Ezekiel (Eze. 1:13). In this book, thunder attends moments of great significance and impending judgment (Rev. 8:5+; Rev 10:3+; Rev 11:19+; Rev 16:17-18+; Rev 19:6+ cf. Ex. 9:23-34; 1Sa. 2:10; 7:10; 1Sa. 12:17-18; 2Sa. 22:14; Ps. 18:13; 104:7). “This is the faint rumbling of the judgment that shall come forth against mankind out of Christ, against the empire of Satan, and the farthest worlds of the universe. Now there is a premonition of judgment, but soon worlds shall perish.”39 “These demonstrate that the throne is one of judgment, and that wrath is about to proceed from it.”40The voices may be those of the “seven thunders” whose utterance John is told not to record (Rev. 10:3-4+). “ ‘The thunderings express God’s threats against the ungodly: there are voices in the thunders (Rev. 10:3+), that is, not only does He threaten generally, but also predicts special judgments’ [Grotius].”41
These lamps are said to be the seven Spirits of God which are burning before the throne. See commentary on Revelation 1:4. These are not the “seven lampstands” which are the churches (Rev. 1:12+, 20+), but represent the Holy Spirit Who is the source of light (illumination) and Who empowers the seven lampstands. Their continual burning is an indication of judgment (Mat. 3:11) and zeal (Acts 2:3), for nothing escapes the penetrating witness of the Holy Spirit (Gen. 15:17; Rev. 3:1+; Rev 5:6+). The lamps are associated with lightnings and thunderings and are burning as an indication of the time of judgment which follows.
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the LORD of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch.” (Mal. 4:1)
See Trouble Ahead.
Those who achieve victory over the beast (by not loving their lives to the death, Rev. 12:11+) are seen standing on this sea of glass before the throne. There, it is said to be “mingled with fire” possibly indicating the brilliance of light radiating from the crystal-like structure (Rev. 15:2+).Moses, the sons of Aaron, and the elders of Israel saw something similar when they met with God on Mount Sinai:
Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. (Ex. 24:9-10)
This sea may also symbolize the “river of life” which flows from the temple during the Millennium (Eze. 47:1-9) and proceeds from the throne in the eternal state (Rev. 22:1+), where there is no more sea (Rev. 21:1+). Both are said to be like crystal.42 Corresponding to the bronze laver in the tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple (Ex. 38:8; 1K. 7:23), the sea pictures the washing away of uncleanness by Christ’s atonement. This sea of glass is under the throne, but was seen above from Ezekiel’s perspective below the chariot throne (Eze. 1:22-26).43
Thank God the laver [in heaven] will be turned to crystal. The day will come when one of the saints will ever need confession. . . . I shall never have to go to the Heavenly Father again to tell Him I have sinned. . . The laver is of crystal only because I and all the saints of all the ages will have been made like into the Lord Jesus Christ. There will be no more sin. This is one of the reasons why it will be Heaven.44
See commentary on Revelation 15:2.
around the throne
There are four creatures indicating the universal character of their representation (see the symbolic meaning of four). They are Living creatures, ζῷα [zōa]: “to denote beings that are not human and yet not really animals of the usual kind . . . Of the four peculiar beings at God’s throne, whose description Rev. 4:6-9+ reminds us of the ζῷα [zōa] in Eze. 1:5ff, the cherubim. See also Rev. 5:6+, 8+, 11+, 14+; Rev 6:1+, 3+, 5-7+; Rev 7:11+; Rev 14:3+; Rev 15:7+; Rev 19:4+.”45 Ezekiel also sees four living creatures, τεσσάρων ζῳιων [tessarōn zōiōn] (Eze. 1:5-22; 3:13; 10:1-20). Ezekiel’s creatures have close similarity to these:
- They attend the throne.
- They are winged.
- Aspects of their character represent a lion, an ox (or calf), a man, and an eagle.
But there are also significant differences:
- Ezekiel’s creatures had four wings whereas these have six.
- Ezekiel’s creatures each had all four faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle whereas these each have one of the characteristics.46
- No mention is made of Ezekiel’s creatures themselves having eyes—although the wheels they attend are full of eyes. These creatures themselves are full of eyes.
Similarity does not make identity and we must conclude that these living creatures, while probably cherubim, are different in identity to Ezekiel’s cherubim (Eze. 10:20). Since Isaiah’s seraphs had six wings, perhaps these creatures are of that order (Isa. 6:2, 6).It appears that these creatures attend God’s stationary throne whereas Ezekiel’s cherubim attend God’s chariot throne which transports the manifestation of His glory (Ps. 18:10; Eze. 10:19-20; 11:22). We first meet with cherubim in their service of God guarding the way to the tree of life after the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden (Gen. 3:24).47Satan was created as one of these cherubim serving at God’s throne until he fell (Eze. 28:14). “Here are the living ones, in every way his equals, yes, infinitely his superiors, since they have access to all of the power of God. These are not with him in his rebellion. They are ready to carry into effect the orders of divine judgment.”48These living creatures call John’s attention to the effects of the Lamb’s loosening of the first four seals whereupon the four horsemen of the Apocalypse ride forth (Rev. 6:1-7+). One of the four living creatures gives the final seven bowls of God’s wrath to the seven angels who will pour forth the seven plagues.
After the Flood, the Teraphim (probably a corruption of the Cherubim) were made in imitation of them and became objects of worship [Gen. 31:19, 34-35; Jdg. 17:5; 18:14, 17-18, 20; 1S. 15:23; 19:13, 16; 2K. 23:24; Eze. 21:21; Hos. 3:4; Zec. 10:2]. The remembrance of them was carried away by the scattered nations (Gen. 10), and probably the Assyrian sculptures are traditional corruptions of the Cherubim, for they consisted of a man with an eagle’s head; a lion or a winged bull with a human head.49
The cherubim attend God’s throne. The writer of Hebrews informs us that the things in the earthly sanctuary were a model of the ultimate reality in heaven above (Heb. 9:24). In the earthly Tabernacle and Temple, we find these living creatures portrayed at each end of the Ark of the Covenant and on the veil separating the holy place (Ex. 26:31; 36:35). Their images attended God’s glory which was said to “dwell between the cherubim” above the mercy seat (Ex. 25:22; Num. 7:89; 1S. 4:4; 2S. 6:2; 1K. 7:29; 2K. 19:15; 1Chr. 13:6; 2Chr. 5:7; 6:41; Ps. 80:1; 99:1; Isa. 37:16; Eze. 41:18). See The Abiding Presence of God, A Heavenly Pattern.
lion . . . calf . . . man . . . eagle
The interpretations of the symbols of the four living creatures are, of course, numerous and varied. Some of them are: the four Evangelists or Gospels; the four elements; the four cardinal virtues; the four faculties or powers of the human soul; the Lord in the fourfold great events of redemption; the four patriarchal churches; the four great apostles, the doctors of the Church; the four principal angels, etc.50
As we discuss elsewhere, the interpretation of symbols can often lead in unbiblical directions, especially to the degree that non-biblical sources provide the source for their interpretation. When other passages within Scripture are taken into consideration, it seems the likeness of these four creatures reflect the four primary roles of Messiah Jesus revealed in the four gospels:
Evidence in support of this view is presented in our discussion of the Four Gospels.
The simile of the first two and the last are like animals (lion, calf, flying eagle). The description of the third centers on its face being like that of a man. Nothing is said concerning the likeness of the remainder of its body.
The cherubim Ezekiel saw had four wings (Eze. 1:11-12) whereas these creatures have six wings like the seraphim which Isaiah saw attending the throne (Isa. 6:2, 6). “In Isa. 6:2 we read, ‘Each had six wings: with twain he covered his face (in reverence, as not presuming to lift up his face to God), with twain he covered his feet (in humility, as not worthy to stand in God’s holy presence), and with twain he did fly [in obedient readiness to do instantly God’s command].’ ”51
around and within
“John’s object is to show that the six wings in each did not interfere with that which he had before declared, namely, that they were ‘full of eyes before and behind.’ The eyes were round the outside of each wing, and up the inside of each when half expanded, and of the part of body in that inward recess.”53 “Being so full of eyes positioned in this manner, they are able to move their wings without ever disrupting their vision.”54
Holy, holy, holy
Isaiah’s seraphim made a similar pronouncement concerning God’s uniqueness (Isa. 6:3). Praises of God’s holiness are said to “enthrone” Him (Ps. 22:3). “Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Ex. 15:11). Worship of God is a major theme of this book as He brings about the redemption of creation in the culmination of history. See Worship of God. Three denotes completeness or may reflect the Trinity. See Three: Life, Resurrection, Completeness, the Trinity.
Who was and is and is to come
ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ω῍ν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος [ho ēn kai ho ōn kai ho erchomenos], the same phrase as is found in Revelation 1:4+, 8+, but with the 1st and 2nd titles reversed. Comprised of a verb and two participles: “The he was and the who is and the coming one”. This unusual grammatical construction is discussed in the commentary on Revelation 1:4.
This is a repetitive event as evidenced by the future tense: δώσουσιν [dōsousin], they shall give.
who lives forever and ever
See commentary on Revelation 1:4.
Their action is tied to the doxology given by the living creatures. Whenever the creatures shall give glory, the elders shall themselves fall down: πεσοῦνται [pesountai], future tense middle voice. This is repetitive and voluntary worship (Rev. 4:10+; Rev 5:8-10+, 14+; Rev 11:16+; Rev 19:4+). They “worship at His footstool” for “He is holy” (Ps. 99:5).
Him who lives forever
The one living into the ages of the ages. This is God the Father seated on His throne. How similar His identity is with that of Jesus: the Living One, and dead I became and behold living I am into the ages of the ages (Rev. 1:18+). See commentary on Revelation 1:18. His eternal existence is coupled with His role as Creator (see next verse) because He alone is without previous cause. He is the unique “uncaused cause” which has always existed and from which all else was brought forth. If God were not eternal, then all eternity would have been nothingness because no agent would have preexisted creation to bring it forth. “This is the strongest possible expression for an unending eternity. We make special mention of it because later we shall see that the same phrase is used of the duration of the punishment of Satan, his captains and those of earth who have followed him.”55
They recognized the supreme worthiness of the One on the throne. Their own crowns are entirely dependent upon His grace and bestowal. “What are these crowns? . . . they are the symbols of reward. They are the prizes, which have come from God’s heart of grace, given unto those who, at the best, were unprofitable servants. When we shall see the worship of the mighty cherubim, we shall realize therefore, that no crown belongs to us rightfully and we shall cast them down before the presence of Him who lives forever.”56See Crowns.
You created all things
If there could have been any doubt about Who is seated on the throne, here it is removed. He alone is creator, all else is creature. He alone is independent, all else is dependent upon Him. Recognition of this distinction is the foundation of all right worship, for worship of any other is directing to that which is dependent what is only for the Originator (Rev. 22:8-9+). All worship directed elsewhere is idolatry.Scripture reveals that all three persons of the Trinity participated in creation:
- The Father (Gen. 1:1-31; Isa. 40:21-28; Isa. 43:1, 7; Isa. 45:12, 18; 48:13; 51:13; Acts 14:15; 17:24).
- The Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; 33:4; Ps. 104:30; Isa. 42:5).
- The Son (John 1:3; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 3:14+).
by Your will they exist and were created
His role as Creator underwrites all worship of Him, for He alone is Creator and all else is creature and therefore, entirely dependent upon His will for continued existence (Heb. 1:3). “In Him all things consist” (Col. 1:17) “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).TR and MT have εισι [eisi], exist. NU has ἦσαν [ēsan], existed. The past tense emphasizes the creative act. The present tense emphasizes their ongoing existence by His will.Were created, ἔκτισας [ektisas], the aorist tense typically denotes past time. God finished creation and then rested (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:11; 31:17). “When the NT refers to creation... it always refers to a past, completed event—an immediate work of God, not a still-occurring process of evolution.”57 Even if it were somehow possible for complex life forms to arise by chance,58 the notion is precluded by Scripture. Creation is not an ongoing process.59Here we need to alert the reader of the danger of allowing the chapter break between chapters 4 and 5 to destroy the flow of the text. There is an intimate connection between the words of the cherubim and elders concerning creation and the events of the next chapter where the Lamb takes the seven-sealed scroll. For here the subject is creation and there it will be redemption. Not redemption positionally which was accomplished at the cross, but experientially. Not just redemption of saved men, but of the entire created order (Rom. 8:18-22) which has been subject to Satan since the fall (Mat. 4:8; Luke 4:6; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2Cor. 4:4; 1Jn. 5:19; Rev. 13:1+; 13:7+).
Thus, creation is the subject of the first great utterance of the Zōa and the Elders. Their words announce the blessed fact that the judgments which are about to take place, have for their great object the removal of the curse [Gen. 3:14-19], and of all unholiness from the earth; and the ending of creation’s groaning and travail.60
2Many red-letter Bibles seem unwilling to identify the voice as being that of Jesus for they render the words of this voice in black but the words of the voice speaking in Revelation 1:10-11+ in red. An exception is the KJ2000 Bible, http://life-equals-jesus.org/Couric/KJ2Khome.html, available from http://www.spiritandtruth.org/download/tools/index.htm.
11A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 4:2.
17Mounce observes: “Ex. 28:17-21 lists the twelve stones, each inscribed and representing a tribe in Israel. Note that the jasper and the carnelian (sardius) are the last and the first (Benjamin and Reuben; cf. Gen. 49:3-27). On this basis the emerald (no. 4) would stand for the tribe of Judah.”—Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 134. But in the list of stones given by Exodus 28:17, the emerald is listed as the third stone—the last in the first row of three—and would represent the tribe of Levi, not Judah.
18“Nowhere in Scripture do angels sit on thrones, nor are they pictured ruling or reigning. Their role is to serve as ‘ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation’ (Heb. 1:14; cf. Mat. 18:10).”—John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), Rev. 4:4.
19Daniel 11:3 probably denotes the first half of the 7-year period. The remaining 3.5 years are the time of the beast’s dominion.
23In support of identifying the elders with angels, [Ibid., 345] notes the Septuagint rendering of ‘elders’ in Isa. 24:23 refers to a heavenly assembly. But the context of the passage is the Messianic Kingdom in which resurrected humans are known to function in leadership roles.
25MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Rev. 4:5.
27 “The entire scriptural doctrine concerning the state of the dead, forbids the idea that disembodied souls are already crowned and enthroned, although at rest in the bosom of God. . . . The coronation time, is the resurrection time; and no one can be crowned until he is either resurrected if dead, or translated if living.”—J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 104. The OT saints are not in Christ in the sense of having been baptized into His body (1Cor. 12:13) and are not part of the Church which was formed on the Day of Pentecost. “Even though Israel is redeemed by the blood of Christ, Israel never experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit which placed them ‘in Christ,’ so this phrase can only describe those saints of the present age who are thus related to Christ.”—J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 407. Therefore the OT saints are not raised at the Rapture of the church when the dead in Christ arise (1Th. 4:16), but at a later time—prior to the Millennial Kingdom in which Israel will play a key role (Mat. 19:28). “Resurrection is viewed as a terminating event and Israel’s resurrection could not come until her program were terminated.”—Ibid., 410.
29MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Rev. 4:5.
30For the view that they are heavenly beings, see [Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation, 217-220] and [Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 344-348]. For an extended discussion of the identity of the elders, see [Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology, 207-208, 253-258].
33“Identification of the twenty-four elders should not be dogmatically held, but such evidence as there is seems to point to the conclusion that they may represent the church as the Body of Christ.”—Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 107.
35Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation, 104.
36Fruchtenbaum sees their wearing crowns as an indication that the events of these two chapters follow the bema seat judgment of believers’ works. “The fact that these 24 elders are wearing these stephanos crowns also shows that the events described in chapters four and five occur after the Judgment Seat of Messiah but before the Marriage of the Lamb.”—Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, 167.
40Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation, 102.
42Passages related to the river of life: Ex. 17:6; Ps. 36:8-9; 46:4; Sos. 4:15; Isa. 12:2; 44:3; 55:1; Jer. 2:13; 17:13; Eze. 47:1, 8-9; Joel 3:18; Zec. 13:1; 14:8; John 4:10; 7:37-38; 19:28; 1Cor. 10:4; Rev. 7:17+; 21:6+; 22:1-2+, 6+; 17+.
45Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 341.
46Only one of the creatures is said to have a face like a man. The other creatures are simply said to have a likeness to a lion, ox, and eagle, respectively. We should not be dogmatic about whether it was their faces which bore the likenesses in all four creatures.
47Cherubim are mentioned in Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:18-20, 22; 26:1, 31; 36:8, 35; 37:7-9; Num. 7:89; 1S. 4:4; 2S. 6:2; 22:11; 1K. 6:23-29, 32, 35; 7:29, 36; 8:6-7; 2K. 19:15; 1Chr. 13:6; 28:18; 2Chr. 3:7, 10-14; 5:7-8; Ezra 2:59; Ne. 7:61; Ps. 18:10; 80:1; 99:1; Isa. 37:16; Eze. 9:3; 10:1-9, 14-20; 11:22; 28:14, 16; 41:18, 20, 25; Heb. 9:5.
58All objective science shows that the generation of complexity requires intelligence. Design requires a designer.