Sunday, April 22, 2018
Lesson: Revelation 4:1-6, 8-11; Time of Action: 96 A.D.; Place of Action: Patmos
Golden Text: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
I. INTRODUCTION. In this week’s lesson, our focus is on the Lord God Almighty who sits on His throne. This study will give us a clearer picture of true worship. Very often we equate worship with singing songs, praying, and listening to a sermon. Certainly, all those things contribute to worship, but they are superficial if we don’t have a heart attitude of adoration for our Lord. The term “worship” comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “to see the worth or value of something or someone.” Simply put, worship means to give worth to someone. When we worship God, we are declaring His worth to us. We are telling Him we recognize His value. Our lesson this week will help us develop the proper heart attitude, and raise our level of understanding of what true worship really is. One moment the Apostle John was languishing in exile on an island, and the next he was transferred to the very throne of God. With the sights, sounds, colors and glory of heaven, John was introduced to those around the throne who praise the Lord God Almighty.
II. LESSON BACKGROUND. The Apostle John, imprisoned on the island of Patmos for the sake of Jesus Christ (see Revelation 1:9), was given a series of heavenly visions and instructed by the glorified Christ to write down what he saw. This included “the things which thou has seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter” (see Revelation 1:19). What John had already seen was his vision of Jesus Christ, which had ended (see Revelation 1:10-16). The “things which are” (see Revelation 1:19) refers to the message to be delivered to the seven churches of Asia Minor (see Revelation chapters 2-3). The things that will happen in the future are the subject of the rest of the book (see Revelation chapters 4-22). These visions described events that were still future when John was writing and for the most part, are still future today. Our lesson begins with chapter 4 following the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2-3.
III. JOHN IS CAUGHT UP TO GOD’S THRONE (Revelation 4:1-2)
A. The heavenly invitation (Revelation 4:1). Our first verse says “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” The words “After this” refers back to the instructions John had been given about the seven churches. John said after that “I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven.” This was the beginning of a new vision (see Revelation 1:10), which shifted his attention from earth to heaven. Along with the open door, John said that “the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me.” This trumpet-like voice was the same one John had heard earlier (see Revelation 1:10-11). We should take note that many of the things John will be shown are very real. However, some of the things he saw and heard really could not be identified, so he described them as “looking like something he recognized,” or “sounded like something he recognized.” Many things that John saw and heard symbolized an indescribable scene in heaven. Here, he said the very first voice he heard “was as it were” or sounded like a trumpet talking to him. This voice that sounded like a trumpet then said to John “Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” Beginning here, John’s viewpoint has moved from earth to heaven. Reference to the church does not appear again until Revelation chapter 19 when she comes back with her Lord at His second coming to set up His millennial reign. So, the words “Come up hither” symbolize what will happen to God’s people when the Church Age comes to an end. At that time, heaven will open, there will be a voice and the sound of a trumpet, and the saints will be translated or caught up to heaven to meet the Lord (see I Corinthians 15:52; I Thessalonians 4:13-18). This will happen before the events of the tribulation period which are described in chapters 6-18. The fact that there is no reference to the church in chapters 4-18 appears to be proof that the church is not on earth during the tribulation period (see Revelation chapters 6-18), but is in heaven with the Lord. Once John entered the open door, the voice said, “I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” The word “hereafter” means that John is about to be shown what “must” happen after the rapture of the church. The use of the word “must” guarantees us that what John saw is not just likely to happen; it will surely happen.
B. The heavenly vision (Revelation 4:2). This verse says “And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.” As soon as John was invited to come up to heaven, he said “immediately I was in the spirit.” This expression refers to the trance-like condition which the Holy Spirit put John in (see Revelation 1:10). While his body may have remained on the Isle of Patmos, all his senses were transported into heaven. Like only a few others in the Bible (see I Kings 22:19; Isaiah 6:1; Daniel 7:7-9), John was privileged to view the heavenly throne. He suddenly found himself in the magnificent throne room of God for he declared “behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.” The throne in heaven symbolizes God’s majesty and sovereignty. It becomes the focal point of all that happens from this point on, including the judgments God pours out on earth (see Revelation chapter 16). John said that he saw a “throne” and “one sat on the throne.” He did not identify the one sitting on the throne probably because he knew his readers would know who it was. But from the context and other passages (see Revelation 4:8), we know that it was God the Father. We know that it’s not Jesus Christ because He appears separately as a Lamb (see Revelation 5:6), and receives worship along with “him that sitteth upon the throne” (see Revelation 5:13).
IV. JOHN WITNESSES THE SCENE AROUND GOD’S THRONE (Revelation 4:3-6)
A. God on the throne (Revelation 4:3). This verse says “And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” When John looked into the heavenly throne room, he saw God sitting on the throne. He said that looking at God was like looking “upon like a jasper and a sardine stone.” Since there is no way we can really describe God, John like most of us would, said that looking at God was like looking “upon like a jasper and a sardine stone.” He didn’t say that God looked like a jasper or sardine stone, but that looking at God was like looking at a jasper or sardine stone. John was comparing the appearance of God to the brilliance of gems like jasper and sardine or sardius. Today, jasper stones are opaque, meaning they are dull. But in Revelation 21:11, John described “jasper” as “clear as crystal.” So the stone that John compared to the brilliance of God may have been a diamond that reflected the glory and radiance of God. Since the Hebrews described gems by color or hardness, precisely identifying them was difficult. The “sardine” or sardius stone was a ruby color. “Jasper” was also opaque and usually red, but it could also be brown, yellow, or green. These two stones will also be part of the foundation of the New Jerusalem (see Revelation 21: 19-21). John also said “there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” The “rainbow” may have had its usual different colors, but a brilliant green color was dominant, the color of emerald. So John described the One on the throne as having a dark appearance, “like a jasper and a sardine stone” surrounded by a “rainbow” the color of emerald. The “rainbow” surrounding the throne may have been something like a halo. Note: In Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God, he said he saw the likeness of a throne and the brightness of what appeared to be a rainbow. To Ezekiel, this looked like the glory of the Lord (see Ezekiel 1:26-28). While it may not be easy to imagine the scene John witnessed, it is clear that what he saw was tremendously beautiful. The point of what both John and Ezekiel described was to show the beauty and magnificence of God; something that really cannot be put into words. But one day we believers will see it for ourselves.
B. The elders around the throne (Revelation 4:4). This verse says “And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.” As John looked upon the One who was sitting on the throne, he also said that he saw twenty-four seats around the throne with “twenty-four elders sitting” on those seats. They were also dressed in “white raiment” or white clothing, and “they had on their heads crowns of gold.” The fact that they were wearing gold crowns indicates that they are also royalty. Note: But who are these elders, or who do they represent? There are many interpretations concerning who these “elders” were. Some think they represent the twelve sons of Jacob and the twelve apostles. Others consider them to be symbolic of the twenty-four courses of the Aaronic priesthood (see I Chronicles 24:1-18). Still others believe that the elders are an exalted angelic order who serve and adore God. However, considering what the Bible says about “elders” these twenty-four elders represent the Church or believers from the church age who are already in heaven following the rapture (see I Thessalonians 4:13-17). Most Christians believe this, as I do, because the very word “elder” has church significance (see I Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5). Throughout the New Testament “crowns” are only given as rewards for the faithful in the Church. These “elders” also have an exalted position since they sit on thrones which are associated with the central judgment throne of God (see I Corinthians 6:2-3; II Timothy 2:12). The “elders” in John’s vision, are already glorified, crowned, singing the song of the redeemed (see Revelation 5:8-10), and enthroned before the opening of the sealed book of judgments (see Revelation chapter 5), and before the end-time judgments are loosed upon the world (see Revelation chapters 6-18). This reaffirms that the Church won’t experience the wrath and judgments of the Great Tribulation (see John 5:24; Romans 5:8-9; I Thessalonians 5:1-11; Revelation 3:10), because we will have been caught up to heaven and will not be on earth when it happens.
C. The surroundings including the living creatures (Revelation 4:5-6).
1. (vs. 5). This verse says “And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” Looking at the scene around God’s throne, John said “out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices.” This presents a frightening picture. No wonder Isaiah said “woe is me!” when he had a similar vision (see Isaiah 6:4-5). We are not told what the “voices” were saying, only that they came from “the throne.” In front of the throne, John said that there were “seven lamps of fire burning…which are the seven Spirits of God.” John identified the seven burning lamps as being the “seven Spirits of God.” Since the number “seven” represents perfection, these are not seven separate spirits or beings, but refer to the Holy Spirit in His fullness (see Isaiah 11:2-3; Zechariah 4:1-6; Revelation 1:4; 3:1). So, here we see that both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are present. It’s interesting that God the Son will make His appearance in chapter 5.
2. (vs. 6). This verse says “And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.” As John continued his description of what he saw, he noted that in front of the throne of God was what looked like a “sea of glass like unto crystal.” In other words, John said that there was something like a “sea” or a large expanse of glass, like the clearest crystal. In the middle of “the throne” and also around it, there were “four beasts full of eyes before and behind.” The word “beasts” here translates the Greek word “zoa” meaning “living creatures.” It’s not the same Greek word used for “the beast” in Revelation 13:1, 18, whose number is 666. The “eyes” that these “four beasts” or living creatures had in front and behind may indicate that these angels are aware of everything that goes on around God’s throne. Note: We can’t be sure, but the way these living creatures are described in the next two verses, indicate that they are most likely angels who are often associated with the presence, holiness, and majesty of God. There is a similar scene in Isaiah 6:1-2, where the angels are identified as seraphim. In another similar vision, the angels in Ezekiel 1:4-25 are referred to as “four living creatures” and are later identified as cherubim (see Ezekiel 10:15). There were “four living creatures” in Ezekiel’s vision just as there were in John’s vision. So, based on other passages, these “four living creatures” were probably angels, either seraphim or cherubim or both.
V. JOHN WITNESSES THE WORSHIP AROUND GOD’S THRONE (Revelation 4:8-11). Verse 7 is not part of our printed text, but that verse tells us more about the four living creatures that would support the idea that they are probably angelic beings. One of the keys to understanding Revelation is the fact that much of the imagery is taken from the Old Testament. Many of the symbols come from the apocalyptic visions of the Hebrew prophets. Two passages from the Old Testament seem to relate to the living creatures of Revelation chapter 4. First, Ezekiel 1:5 describes “four beasts” or living creatures that are similar to those that John saw. However, in Ezekiel’s vision each creature had four faces; the face of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (see Ezekiel 1:10). The beasts in John’s vision also resembled the ones in Ezekiel, but one beast or living creature according to Revelation 4:7, “looked like a lion, and the second beast like a calf (ox), the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.” The difference in the number of faces each beast had between Ezekiel and John’s visions may be because of the vantage point or position from which John was looking at the throne. A second passage that deserves our attention is Isaiah’s call (see Isaiah 6:1-8). In that vision, Isaiah saw six-winged angelic beings called “seraphims” (see Isaiah 6:2). John also described the beasts he saw as having “six wings” (see Revelation 4:8). John said that these living creatures he saw were offering continuous praise before God’s throne, just like the creatures Isaiah described: |”One cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts” (see Isaiah 6:3). Because of the similarities, many scholars believe that these four living creatures are the same in Isaiah, Ezekiel and Revelation. They symbolically represent the attributes of God including His omniscience indicated by the creatures being “full of eyes.” In addition, these four living creatures who also look like animals bring out other attributes of God: the lion indicating majesty and omnipotence (all-powerful); the ox, typical of faithful labor and patience; man, indicating intelligence; and the eagle, the greatest bird, representing God’s supreme sovereignty.
A. John witnesses worship by the living creatures (Revelation 4:8-9).
1. (vs. 8). This verse says “And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” Still describing the “four beasts” or the four living creatures, John said that each one of the creatures or angels as we have determined them to be had “six wings about him.” The wings probably signify mobility and speed in carrying out God’s will. Again, Isaiah said that the seraphim he saw in his vision also had six wings. In addition, John said that all four creatures “were full of eyes within” meaning that these beings had eyes all over them including their wings which signifies watching over God’s creation. Then John said that the living creatures “rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” Although these beings are seen doing other things (see Revelation 6:1-7), their primary duty, “day and night” is to worship God. Their expression of worship calls attention first to God’s holiness or separateness. The threefold expression of praise “Holy, holy, holy” places superlative emphasis on God’s separateness from His creatures. The seraphim in Isaiah 6:3 also worship God with the same threefold repetition of praise. Since God’s holiness cannot tolerate the presence of evil (see Revelation 21:27), it justifies the judgment He will bring upon the sinful dwellers on the earth. The worship of the living creatures recognizes God’s omnipotence for He is the “Lord God Almighty.” He is all-powerful, and this magnificent title includes God’s deity, His authority, and His power. Another attribute of God that the living creatures acknowledged in their worship is His eternal nature. God is the one “which was, and is, and is to come.” These words appear at the beginning of this book (see Revelation 1:4, 8) and will occur again (see Revelation 11:17). It was important for John’s readers to know that their God transcends history and controls events past, present, and future. God has always existed, and always will exist in His glorious splendor.
2. (vs. 9). This verse says “And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever.” The four living creatures or angels appear to take the lead in worship. As they focused on God’s holiness, power, and eternality, they gave “glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever.” The words “And when” leads us into the next verse that tells us what happened when the four living creatures praised God.
B. John witnesses worship by the elders (Revelation 4:10-11).
1. (vs. 10). This verse says “The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying.” This verse is connected to the previous verse that introduces what also took place when the living creatures praised God in worship. John said that when that happened “The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever.” The elder’s worship was expressed first by prostration; they fell down before the One sitting on the throne. Prostration or falling down on one’s face, is an act, often involuntary, that expresses unworthiness combined with submission to the will of an overlord. But the “elders” who had high status themselves, had no problem humbly laying flat on the ground before “him that sat on the throne.” They recognized Him as the eternal God “that liveth for ever and ever.” In doing so, the “elders” reaffirm the same confession made by the four living creatures (see verse 9). Then the “elders cast their crowns before the throne.” As part of their worship, they threw their “crowns” in front of the throne praising the God who had honored them with their “crowns.” Note: As noted in verse 4 above, the elders represent the church saints, so the crowns must be what the Lord gives to believers for their service for Him on earth. These crowns or rewards will be given to church age saints at the judgment seat of Christ which will take place at the rapture of the church (see II Corinthians 5:8-10; Revelation 22:12). Believers earn rewards by faithfully serving the Lord as we serve others in this life (see Matthew 25:14-21; I Corinthians 3:8, 13-14; 4:2). These rewards are called “crowns” (see Revelation 3:10-11). The Bible lists five wonderful crowns which will be given to faithful believers as rewards. First, there’s the “crown of rejoicing” (see I Thessalonians 2:19) given to those who win others to Christ. It is also called the “soul winner’s crown” (see Proverbs 11:30; Luke 15:10; I Corinthians 9:19; James 5:20). Second is the “crown of righteousness” (see II Timothy 4:8; Matthew 24:45-47) which is given to those who live a clean life while looking for and loving the Lord’s return. Third is the “crown of glory” (see I Peter 5:2-4) which is given to those who faithfully feed the flock of God through teaching and preaching God’s Word. Fourth is the “incorruptible crown” (see I Corinthians 9:24-26) which is given to those who run a good race in the Christian life. The fifth reward is the “crown of life” (see James 1:12; Revelation 2:10) given to those who suffer for the name of Jesus Christ.
2. (vs. 11). The previous verse continues into our final verse. As the elders threw their crowns before God’s throne (see verse 10), they also proclaimed “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” This exclamation of praise “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power” is found in many passages in this book (see Revelation 5:9-14; 7:12-17; 11:15-18; 12:10-12; 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 19:1-7). Giving glory and praise to God is appropriate because He alone is “worthy…to receive glory and honor and power.” John’s heavenly vision reveals that only the Almighty is to be addressed as worthy and as Lord and God. It is blasphemous for any human ruler to claim such titles. The elders declared that God was worthy of His praise because “thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” As the Creator of all things, God alone is exalted on His throne. The heavens and the earth owe their existence to the will of God who spoke the word and they appeared. Because of His creative acts, God is worthy of the worship of His creatures, especially us! Note: As we noted earlier, the word “worship” means “to give worth or value to something or someone.” It’s the outward display of the value we place in something or someone. John declared that God was the Creator of all things and therefore, was worthy of all praise because everything came from Him. But what is God worth to us? Anyone can say that He is the most valuable aspect of his or her life, but that can’t be measured. So, is it enough just to say it? I don’t think so! Isn’t value or worth determined by how much a person is willing to spend? There are two books that will determine how much we truly value God: our checkbooks and our schedule books. First, what does our checkbook say about the importance of God in our lives? Are we truly laying up treasures in heaven, or merely piling them up here on earth “where moth and rust doth corrupt” (see Matthew 6:19-20)? Second, how much time do we devote to God? Do we spend time in prayer, in reading His Word, in serving Him by serving others? Do our checkbook and schedule book back up our claim that He alone is worthy to be worshiped? In heavenly realms, the highest value will be placed unreservedly on God for who He is, and what He has done. It is no wonder the Apostle Paul declared, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen” (see Romans 11:36).
VI. CONCLUSION. Our churches today have various forms of praise and worship. Some congregations stand and are very animated during worship time, while others sit and appear to be very solemn. Then there are those who alternate between standing, sitting, and kneeling. However, of greater significance than our posture is a real awareness that all genuine adoration comes from a grateful heart and belongs to the Lord God Almighty who is worthy “to receive glory and honour and power” (see Revelation 4:11). Our time of worshiping Him on earth is just a foretaste of the time we will worship Him throughout eternity. That is our ultimate purpose. That’s what God has put us on earth for; to worship him and bring Him glory.
***The Bible Expositor and Illuminator, Union Gospel Press***