Session 6

Revelation Study –Session 6

 

In this session we begin our journey into the main body of Revelation, which begins in chapter 4.  Everything we have looked at in the first four sessions of this study has been in preparation for our journey into this part of the book.  Revelation is a great drama, the “Drama of Redemption” as some have referred to it.

  • In chapter 1 the writer, producer, and director of the drama is introduced.  In that first vision of this book of many visions, John makes it clear that what he is about to share comes from none other than Jesus -- the resurrected, victorious Lord.
  • In chapters 2 and 3 the audience, for whose benefit the drama is being produced, is presented.  The primary audience is the Christians who were living under intense persecution in Asia Minor.  They are represented by seven specific churches.  Seven, being the number of fullness or perfection, is representative of the entire Christian community.  Of course, even though the message is directed primarily toward the Christians in the 1st century, it certainly has application to all Christians in all centuries.

 

Following these introductory chapters, the drama unfolds in seven scenes:

Act 1 – Vision of God on His throne and the Lamb of God (chapters 4:1 – 5:14)

 

Act 2 – The breaking of the seven seals revealing the judgments of God (chapters 6:1 – 8:5)

 

Act 3 – The sounding of the seven trumpets showing additional features of the judgments of God (chapters 8:6 – 11:19)

 

Act 4 – The revelation of seven significant signs revealing the identity of the

combatants in the conflict between good and evil (chapters 12:1 – 14:20)

 

Act 5 – The pouring out of the seven bowls of wrath revealing the totality of God’s judgment (15:1 – 16:21)

 

Act 6 – The revealing of seven scenes of celebration of God’s victory over evil (chapters 17:1 – 20:10)

 

Act 7 – The revealing of the destiny of unbelievers and believers, of unredeemed and redeemed (chapters 20:11-22:5)

 

Conclusion (chapter 22:6-21)

 

Now with that in mind, let’s look at the 1st verse of chapter 4.  “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.”

  • “After these things” obviously refers to the events of chapters 1 – 3.  This is a phrase John uses several times to transition from one part of the book to another.  For example, the phrase occurs again in 19:1 as John transitions from dealing with events that will take place during the 1st century to events that will occur at the consummation of all history.
  • “a door standing open in heaven” – This is a common device in apocalyptic literature.  The writer envisions a portal through which he sees into the spiritual realm.  In Ezekiel 1:1 the prophet speaks of “the heavens being opened” like curtains being rolled back on a stage.  It was through this open door that John was able to view the events of earth from the perspective of heaven.  And that perspective made all the difference in the world.  From an earthly perspective, the outlook was bleak and the cause of Christ in the world seemed to be in jeopardy.  How could the young, fledgling church possible stand against the power and might of the Roman Empire?  But from heaven’s point of view, everything looked different.  God was on His throne.  He was in control.  He was not abdicating his power and sovereignty to the Roman Empire, Domitian, or anyone else.  (There’s a great lesson in that for us.  Being able to view earthly events from a heavenly perspective can change our entire outlook on life in this world.  That’s why the Bible reminds us to “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things tghat are on earth.” [Col.3:1])
  • “the first voice ... like the sound of a trumpet” – Obviously refers back to 1:10 where the voice was that of Jesus.

Some people see in this verse a reference to what is often referred to as “the rapture” of the church from the world.  (See notes from the previous session for a detailed discussion of the this.)

 

The primary argument put forth is that from this verse until near the end of the book, the word “church” which was used so frequently in chapters 2 & 3 does not appear in Revelation.  From this they conclude that the church has been extracted from the world.  Those who don’t hold this view counter this argument in two ways:

  • They point out the word “church” is never used in Revelation to refer to the people of God as a whole, but only to local congregations.  The fact that the word does not appear after chapter 3 has no bearing on the whereabouts of the people of God.
  • They point out that throughout Revelation there are references to the “saints” which is a common NT way of referring to Christians, and these saints are obviously still in the world.  For example, look at Revelation 13:7-10. 

 

Even though He is not identified by name until vs. 8, it is very clear from the outset that the One described in this vision is none other than God, Himself.  God on His throne in heaven is a common biblical image.  For example, Isaiah begins describing his great vision of God with this statement in Isaiah 6:1 – “In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted...”  And numerous other times in Scripture (such as in I Kings 22 and Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7) God is depicted as sitting on a throne in heaven.  That picture is a reminder that He is in control.  He is in charge.  And, of course, that is exactly what the suffering Christians in the 1st century and Christians of every century need to hear.  From their earthly perspective it appeared that Rome was in charge.  But from the heavenly perspective, it is obvious that God was still on His throne in heaven.

 

There are at least seven symbols used to describe God and there is something significant to be learned from each of them.

  1. “...like a jasper stone and sardius in appearance...” – Jasper is an opaque stone which is a member of the quartz family.  In Revelation 21 John describes the brilliance of the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God with the phrase “...a stone of crystal-clear jasper...”  Some have speculated that the clarity of this stone represents the purity of God.  Sardius is bright red in color, like a ruby.  Some have suggested the red color is reminiscent of blood and is intended to remind us of the righteousness of God that requires the shedding of blood for the remission of sin.  Others see in this stone an allusion to the wrath of God against those who reject Him and harm His people.  At least two other times in the Scripture these stones are mentioned together, and both references are important:

·         Exodus 28 gives detailed instructions for the attire to be worn by the high priest.  Part of that attire included a breastplate.  The breastplate had four rows of three stones.  The first stone on the first row was to be a red stone like a ruby or sardius.  The last stone on the last row was to be jasper.  Thus these two stones begin and end the sequence of stones on the high priest’s breastplate.  Since is was the duty of the high priest to communicate to God for the people and to the people for God, perhaps the use of these stones to describe the appearance of God, stones that were found in the high priest’s breastplate, are used to remind us that God is approachable.

·         In his vision of the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21, John saw twelve types of foundation stones adorning the walls of the holy city.  The first stone on the list was jasper and the sixth stone on the list was sardius.  The city of God resembles God, Himself, in appearance.

 

  1. “...there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald green in appearance...” -  Genesis 9:12-17 gives the well-known account of God, after the great flood, giving the rainbow as a sign to Noah and his descendants that He would never again destroy the earth by water. 

·         The rainbow became a symbol of hope and mercy in the midst of judgment and a reminder that God keeps His promises.   The rainbow around the throne is a reminder that God had not forgotten His promises to His redeemed people. 

·         This was an unusual rainbow, emerald green in appearance.  Green is a symbol of life. This is a reminder that God is in the life-giving business.  While the enemies try to destroy life, God in His grace and mercy protects and gives life to His people.

 

  1. “And around the throne ... I saw twenty-four elders...” – This is a recurring symbol in Revelation.  The 24 elders are mentioned five times in the book.  Who are these twenty-four elders and what do they represent?  As you might expect, many different ideas have been put forward about these elders.

·         Let’s start with their number – 24.  This, I think, gives us the best clue as to the meaning of this symbol.  Remember, there is always a meaning behind numbers in Revelation.  It is important to understand the origin of this number.  This is the number used to symbolize strength (2) multiplied by the number for organized religion (12).  So it is reasonable to conclude that the number 24 is a reminder of the strength of God’s divinely ordained religious institutions. 

·         Much speculation has been made about their identity.  I agree with those scholars who see in the number 24 a reference to the 12 tribes of Israel in OT and the 12 apostles in NT.  In light of the number 24 and the symbolic meaning of the number, I think that interpretation makes sense.  These 24 elders in heaven are a reminder of God’s religious institutions in the world represented by the 12 tribes of Israel in the OT and the 12 apostles in the NT.

·         The purpose of this picture is to give comfort to the persecuted Christians.  They were facing death because of their loyalty to Christ.  But the promise is that after death, they would find themselves perfectly safe in the very presence of God.  Notice how they were dressed:

o   “white garments” – White is a symbol of purity.  They were cleansed from all impurity.  (cf. Colossians 1:21-23)

o   “golden crowns” – Symbol of victory.  While from a human point of view they were being defeated and even killed, from heaven’s point of view they were victorious and would one day reign with God.  Jesus encouraged His disciples with the assurance that one day they would reign with Him. (cf. Matt. 19:28)  This picture of the 24 elders around God’s throne symbolizes that time for all those who follow Christ.

Before we leave this symbol, I feel compelled to say that much more important than the identification of these 24 elders is what they do.  This chapter ends with moving scene of the elders falling down before the throne of God, casting their crowns before the throne, and offering praise to God. (see vv.10-11)

 

  1. “...from the throne proceed flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder...” – In Hebrew literature lightning and thunder is often identified with the presence of God and God’s authority and power.  (cf. Exodus 19:16 when God gave the law from Mt. Sinai)  Who cannot help but be reminded of God’s awesome power when a sudden burst of lightning shoots across the sky followed by the booming peal of thunder?  Dr. Summers contends this image is designed to show God’s displeasure of those who oppose His cause and His people symbolized in the 24 elders around the throne.  This is a way of reminding His people that the omnipotent God has not left His people at the mercy of their enemies.

 

  1. “...seven lamps of fire burning before the throne...”This imagery is taken from Zechariah 4:2 where the prophet saw “...a lampstand of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it...”   John interprets this for us as “...the seven spirits of God.”  We came across that same concept in Revelation 1:4.  Seven is used qualitatively rather than quantitatively.  It means perfection, fullness, and completeness.  The phrase it a reference to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is pictured as being present in heaven giving light and glory to the One on the throne. This is in keeping with the New Testament picture of the Holy Spirit.  Though the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and just as divine as God the Father and God the Son, His purpose is not to glorify Himself but to glorify the Father and the Son.  He always points beyond Himself!!  And the encouraging thing about this picture is that the very same Spirit Jesus promised to His followers, the Spirit that would indwell them, guide them, comfort them, is present before God’s throne in heaven.

 

  1. “...and before the throne ... a sea of glass...” – There are two possible sources of this symbol. 

·         John was writing from Patmos - a small, rocky island with views of the Aegean Sea from almost any point.  Everywhere he looked he could see the Sea. 

·         The thrones of Kings in ancient times often had a large, shiny surfaces surrounding them, giving the impression of water and making the throne seem unapproachable

In ancient times the sea was recognized as a protective barrier. The sea made God’s throne unapproachable and symbolizes God’s transcendence. The sea separates God from His people, just as the sea surrounding Patmos separated John from his fellow believers.  In Revelation 21, where John describes the new heaven and new earth he says “...the sea is no more...” meaning people have direct fellowship with God.  While those persecuted Christians in Asia Minor now felt separated from God, John assures them that it would not always be that way.

 

  1. “...and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind...” – This is the most interesting the symbols in this chapter.  Some of the older Bibles translate the word “creature” as “beast” but that is not a good translation.  The word is “zoa” and it is best translated ”living creature.”  Later on in Revelation we come across the word beast, which is a translation of a completely different Greek word.

 

The location of the living creatures is significant.  We’re told that they were “in the center and around the throne...”  In other words, on each of the four sides of the throne of God one of these living creatures stood at the very center of the throne.  They were not there to guard the throne.  God’s throne does not need guarding.  They are there to offer praise continually to God.

 

There are two basic lines of interpretation concerning the meaning of these four living creatures:

·         Some say they represent the basic attributes of God in caring for His people.  In this view the –

o   Lion represent bravery

o   Calf represents strength

o   Man represents intelligence

o   Eagle represents swiftness

This view says that taken together these attributes symbolize the eternal watchfulness of God and provide a strong reminder that God has not forgotten His people and is strong and swift in avenging their suffering.  While this view is attractive in that it would have been especially meaningful to the suffering Christians in the 1st century, the fact that the creatures are worshipping God seemed to indicate they represent more than God’s attributes.

·         The other view is that these four living creatures represent four general areas of life on earth.  In this view, the

o   Lion represents wild animal life

o   Calf represents domesticated animal life

o   Man represents human life

o   Eagle represents bird life

According to this view, the living creatures represent God’s sovereignty over all forms of life.

 

Each of the creatures has six wings.  If there is any connection to the six-winged seraphim in Isa. 6, one pair showed reverence, one humility, and one swiftness to obey.  Summers – “The picture is such as to produce encouragement for the obedient and terror for the disobedient. This in reality is what the sovereignty of God does.”

 

As was true in the case of the 24 elders, more important than who they are is what they are doing.  They are continually, day and night, ascribing praise and honor to Him on the throne.

·         “Holy, holy, holy...” stresses the biblical idea of God’s otherness, His majesty, His difference from us.

·         “Lord God Almighty” – This phrase is used frequently in Revelatioi and nowhere else in the NT.

·         “who was and is and is to come...” is a reminder of God’s eternal nature.

Verse 9 tells us that they give “glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne...”

·         “glory” indicates the brilliance, brightness, or majesty of God

·         “honor” points to God’s esteem

·         “thanks” is the natural response to His goodness

 

The 24 elders, taking their cue from the four living creatures, join in the worship of God.  They do two things:

·         “cast their crowns before the throne...” – This is dramatic demonstration of their acknowledgement of God’s absolute sovereignty.  The only reason we should desire a crown in heaven is so that we can lay it before God!

·         They sing a “song of creation.”  Because God is Creator, He is worthy to receive glory and honor and power.

 

On first reading, Rev.4 is a chapter of strange and disturbing symbols. But on closer inspection it is a chapter of hope and encouragement.  It’s a beautiful picture of our God who is eternal, creator, protector of His people, punisher of evil, reigning on His throne.  Though His enemies and the enemies of His people rage against Him, He remains unmoved, intact upon His throne. That was a message the first century Christians desperately needed to hear and one we need to hear in our world today.  

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