Revelation Chapters 4 and 5, Part 1 of 2 Parts
by Karl Kemp
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This article was taken (with some modifications and improvements) from the internet version of my paper titled "A Verse-by-Verse Study of Revelation Chapters 1-10," which was taken from the paper by that title which was published in July, 1999. I was able to use bold, italics, underlining, and footnotes in the original paper and the version on my internet site. Sometimes I will use double brackets [[ ]] and (( )) to make them more obvious. All quotations from the Bible were taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Are you aware that you can click on my name beside any of my articles on this Christian article site and see a listing of all my articles on this site (so too for any author)?
Every verse of the book of Revelation is discussed in papers on my internet site, except for Rev. 11:1-14:5, which are discussed in a verse-by-verse manner in my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture." For a condensed version, see my paper titled "Twenty-Four Articles on the Mid-Week Rapture" that is available on my internet site. Those twenty-four articles are available individually on this Christian article site: "The Mid-Week Rapture, Part 1," and so on. Those twenty-four articles serve as a good introduction for my book and for the mid-week rapture viewpoint (that Christ will return and the rapture will take place right in the middle of the seven-year period that is sometimes called Daniel's 70th week). There is a fold-out Chronological Chart in the back of the book, and a chapter of the book explains the chart in some detail.
"After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven [cf. Ezek. 1:1], 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.' [[The "first voice which [John] had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with [him]," refers back to Rev. 1:10, where Christ Himself apparently spoke, so Christ Himself apparently speaks here too. (He clearly spoke in Rev. 1:17ff.) John was invited to come up to heaven to receive the rest of the revelation that would become the book of Revelation. He was taken to heaven, to the very throne room of God (Rev. 4:2), but he didn't remain at that location throughout the rest of the revelation. In Rev. 17:3, for example, he was carried away in the Spirit to a wilderness to receive part of the revelation. John probably wasn't taken bodily to heaven (to a wilderness, etc.); he probably was taken there in spirit by the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 12:1-4).
The words "what must take place after these things" here undoubtedly equal "the things which will take place after these things" of Rev. 1:19 (cf. Rev. 22:6). ("The things which are" of Rev. 1:19 have been completed now that the messages to the seven churches have been delivered.) Revelation chapters 4 and 5, however, don't prophesy regarding the future hardly at all; they set the stage for the detailed revelation regarding the future things.
The time setting for the scene of Revelation chapters 4 and 5 is early, apparently shortly after the glorification and ascension of the resurrected Lamb of God, after He had overcome so as to defeat sin, Satan, and spiritual death and earn the right to bring to pass the things spoken of in the book of Revelation. This includes His saving all the elect and taking them to the eternal glory of God's new heaven and new earth with its new Jerusalem and His removing Satan and all who continue to follow him in his rebellion. The atoning death, resurrection, glorification, and the saving results that flow from His overcoming can all be seen in Revelation chapter 5.
Most of the future things included in "what must take place after these things" (Rev. 4:1) were yet far in the future for those of John's day (looking at it from our perspective some nineteen hundred years after John received this revelation). They are things that will come to pass at the end of this age, mostly during Daniel's 70th week, but some will come to pass in the subsequent millennial kingdom and in the eternal state that follows that kingdom.
Most of the detailed revelation regarding the future is apparently contained in the scroll that Christ takes from the hand of God the Father in Revelation chapter 5. (He was the only One found worthy to take the scroll, to remove the seals, and to open it.) We don't receive much in the way of new revelation until the seventh and last seal has been removed (Rev. 8:1). The first six seals are removed by the Lord Jesus in Revelation chapter 6.
Most who hold the pre-week-rapture viewpoint believe this verse (Rev. 4:1) speaks of the rapture of the church. I believe it's rather obvious that's not what this verse is speaking of. (Some pre-week rapture advocates will concede this point.) The fact that this is the best the pre-week-rapture viewpoint can do to find the rapture in the book of Revelation tends to demonstrate the weakness of that viewpoint. I should mention that those who hold the pre-week viewpoint have many things right; I have learned much from them, and there are many very sincere Christians who hold that viewpoint.
All end-time viewpoints have what can be considered weak points. I suppose that the primary charge that could be brought against the mid-week-rapture viewpoint is that we can't clearly see the mid-week rapture until we get to the book of Revelation. I don't really consider this to be a weak point. There are many end-time details we wouldn't know without the book of Revelation. For example, we wouldn't know about the seven trumpets or the seven bowls of wrath; we wouldn't know about the spectacular ministry, death, resurrection, and rapture of the two witnesses/prophets; about many of the important details regarding Antichrist (including the fact that he will come back from the dead before the rapture, that he will be supported by the powerful ministry of the false prophet, and regarding the image of the beast that even speaks, and the mark of the beast); about the fact that the gospel will still be proclaimed after the rapture and that many will be converted to Christ after the rapture; about Babylon the great harlot and God's judgment of her; about the millennial kingdom and God's salvation plans for the nations, and about God's new heaven and new earth with its new Jerusalem. A few of the items just listed could be known to some extent before the book of Revelation was given, but the book of Revelation supplies the details.
The book of Revelation was given about AD 95, some thirty years after the apostle Paul died. I doubt that Paul, for example, knew, or taught, the mid-week rapture. (Based on Paul's writings, especially 2 Thess. 1:8-2:12, his teaching fits best with the end-of-the-week-rapture viewpoint. What he wrote, however, leaves room for the mid-week rapture, but I don't believe 2 Thess. 1:8-2:12 leave room for the pre-week-rapture.) God's revelation is progressive, supplying more details as time goes on. Sometimes we have to modify what we thought we knew, based on subsequent revelation.
The Old Testament prophets and Israel, for example, didn't understand the very important fact that the Messiah was to come twice, with the two comings being very different, and (significantly) Israel didn't understand Messiah was to be deity. They didn't know about, and they were/are very reluctant to make room for, God the Son. These things could have been known based on Old Testament prophecies and other teaching of the Old Testament, but these things that are so clear to us now were not at all clear back then.
Looking at the all-important prophetic book of Revelation from the perspective of the mid-week rapture, we can see the rapture several places (unlike with the pre-week rapture). (Those who teach the end-of-the-week rapture typically say the Lord Jesus will return at Rev. 19:11. It is significant that no resurrection, or rapture, or trumpet, etc. is mentioned in those verses.) Revelation 7:9-17 don't specifically mention the rapture, but we see the just-raptured saints before the throne of God. This scene (of Rev. 7:9-17) comes, appropriately enough, just at the time judgment day begins. (See Rev. 6:12-17. These verses give us a brief, but powerful, picture of the arrival of judgment day before the scroll is opened.) The rapture of the two witnesses in the middle of Daniel's 70th week, which is pictured in Rev. 11:11, 12, is quite relevant because their rapture will apparently just be part of the mid-week rapture. The most important verse for the mid-week rapture is Rev. 12:5. We can probably also see the just-raptured saints on the white cloud with the Lord Jesus Christ in Rev. 14:14. And we can see the raptured saints with Christ during the second half of Daniel's 70th week in Rev. 17:14; and 19:8, 14, 19; cf. Rev. 12:12; 13:6. ((These verses are all discussed in my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture" and/or my subsequent verse-by-verse studies of the book of Revelation. Revelation 11:1-14:5 (and many other verses from the book of Revelation and from many other books of the Bible) are discussed verse-by-verse in my book. All the other verses from the book of Revelation are discussed verse-by-verse in papers on my internet site.))]] (2) Immediately I was in the Spirit [cf. Rev. 1:10]; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. [As we keep reading, it becomes clear that God the Father is the "One sitting on the throne" here (cf., e.g., Rev. 5:1 [with 5:2-7]; 5:13; 6:16; and 7:10). On God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and the Trinity, see my articles on this Christian article site titled, "Who Do We Worship?"; "Who Do We Pray To?"; "More on the Trinity"; and "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son."] (3) And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow [or, halo; cf. Ezek. 1:27, 28; Rev. 10:1] around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. [[Revelation 21:11 helps us understand the "jasper stone" and that what John saw here in Rev. 4:3 was the glory of God. He certainly didn't see God the Father Himself in any clear way (cf., e.g., 1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 4:12; and Psalm 104:2). The time will come, however, that we will see Him (cf. Matt. 5:8; 1 John 3:2; and Rev. 22:4). In Rev. 21:10, 11 John saw new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, "having the glory of God. Her brilliance [which came from the glory of God] was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper." There's widespread agreement that the "sardius" (which was named for Sardis [cf. Rev. 3:1]) was red.]] (4) Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns [cf. Rev. 4:10] on their heads. [[I agree with the widespread viewpoint that the twenty-four elders are high-level angelic beings. The twenty-four elders are also mentioned in Rev. 4:10; 5:5, 6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; and 19:4. The twenty-four elders can undoubtedly be considered part of "the council of the holy ones/those who are around Him" mentioned in Psalm 89:7. See Isa. 24:23. Note the apostle Paul's use of the word "thrones" in Col. 1:16, "For by Him [the Son of God] all things were created [cf. John 1:1-3, 10; 1 Cor. 8:6], both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him." God the Father created all things through His unique Son (see under Rev. 4:10). At least part of the area of authority/responsibility of the twenty-four elders has to do with the saints, with the members of God's true Israel (cf. Rev. 5:8-10).
((I had a lengthy footnote that goes on for three paragraphs, Consider, for example, the ministries of the mighty angels Michael ("the archangel" [Jude 1:9]) and Gabriel in behalf of the saints (Dan. 8:15-17; 9:21; 10:13, 21; 12:1; Luke 1:19, 26; and Rev. 12:7). I'm not suggesting that Michael and Gabriel are part of the twenty-four elders, but I mention them as examples of high-level angelic beings faithful to God who were/are directly involved with the affairs of the saints.
If Michael and Gabriel aren't part of the twenty-four elders (and I assume they aren't part of the twenty-four elders), they apparently aren't specifically mentioned in Revelation chapters 4 and 5. (Some have suggested that the "strong angel" of Rev. 5:2 is Michael; others have suggested that he is Gabriel. It's possible, but I doubt that the strong angel is one of them. Michael is mentioned by name in Rev. 12:7; Gabriel isn't mentioned by name in the book of Revelation.) But then, "the seven angels who stand before God" (Rev. 8:2), who will sound the seven trumpets of the book of Revelation, or the seven angels with the seven bowls of wrath (Rev. 16:1ff) aren't specifically mentioned in Revelation chapters 4 and 5 either. Apparently they aren't part of the twenty-four elders. It is clear that Revelation chapters 4 and 5 don't give us a complete picture of God's angelic hierarchy, and I believe we must admit that there's a lot we don't know. I'm sure, however, that God reveals to us all we really need to know.
It's possible that twelve of the twenty-four elders were/are especially involved with the believers from Old Testament days (consider the twelve tribes of Israel [e.g., Rev. 21:12]) and that the other twelve are especially involved with the new-covenant saints (consider the twelve apostles [e.g., Rev. 21:14]). Even if twelve of the twenty-four elders were/are especially involved with the affairs of the believers from Old Testament days, and the other twelve are especially involved with the new covenant saints - and this point isn't clear at all - I believe we should still think of all twenty-four elders being continuously active in reigning with God. We shouldn't think, for example, of twelve of the elders being inactive in the days before the new covenant was ratified in the blood of Christ. Also, it's important for us to see the unity of all the members of God's true Israel. For one thing, all the members of true Israel (which includes all the believers from Old Testament days and all true Christians, including those who will be saved after the rapture, which centers in the end-time remnant of the nation Israel) are part of the woman of Revelation chapter 12. All of us are saved through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ.))
The thrones and crowns of the twenty-four elders show that they are reigning. The "white garments" for the saints are discussed under Rev. 3:4, 5, and 18 in the article on Revelation chapters 2 and 3. On "white garments" for angelic beings, see Matt. 28:3; Mark 16:5; John 20:12; Acts 1:10; and Rev. 15:6. On white garments, also see Dan. 7:9; Matt. 17:2; Mark 9:3; and Luke 9:29.
I'll quote part of what Isbon T. Beckwith said on this verse ("Apocalypse of John" [Baker, 1979 reprint], page 498). "The vision of the Seer passes on to the angelic orders who are gathered as courtiers [attendants at a royal court] about the heavenly King, forming the assembly of his council or ministers. Rabbinic writers speak of angelic powers as forming in the presence of God a senate or council to whom he communicates his decrees, and with whom he confers even (Weber, "System" 170f.). Some idea of that kind appears also in Gen. 1:26; 3:22 ('Let us' and 'one of us'); in Isa. 24:23 such an assembly is conceived and the heavenly beings constituting it are called 'Elders'.... The four and twenty 'Elders' of our passage are angelic kings, a rank in the heavenly hierarchy, though they are not elsewhere mentioned in the precise form and number here given. That they are kings is shown in the fact that they sit on thrones and wear crowns. [The twenty-four elders clearly reign, but I'm not comfortable calling them kings.] As such they form an appropriate feature in a picture of the court of the King of kings. 'Thrones' are mentioned in Col. 1:16 in the enumeration of the different orders of the angelic hierarchy. The number twenty-four has no parallel in Jewish literature...."]] (5) Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. [Cf. Ex. 19:16; Rev. 8:5; 11:19; and 16:18.] And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne [cf. Ex. 25:37], which are the seven Spirits of God [which is a symbolic way to refer to the Holy Spirit (see under Rev. 1:4 in the article on Revelation chapter 1).]; (6) and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal [cf. Ex. 24:10; Ezek. 1:22; and Rev. 15:2]; and in the center [literally, "middle of the throne"] and around the throne, four living creatures [[The four living creatures are also mentioned in Rev. 4:8, 9; 5:8, 11, 14; 6:1, 3, 5, 6, 7; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; and 19:4. The four living creatures here are comparable with, but not identical with, the four living beings (NIV "four living creatures") of Ezek. 1:5; 10:15, 17, 20, who are also called "cherubim" in Ezekiel chapter 10. The four living creatures are also comparable with, but not identical with, the "seraphim" of Isa. 6:2, 6. We'll discuss the cherubim and seraphim further as we continue, but here I'll point out that the singular noun cherub with the plural cherubim, and the plural seraphim, which are found in our English Bibles, are taken directly from the Hebrew. The "im" ending forms the plural for many Hebrew nouns, including cherubim and seraphim.]] full of eyes in front and behind [Compare Ezek. 1:18; 10:12. For one thing, these eyes make it impossible to sneak up on the four living creatures. One function of these high-level beings is to guard access to God, and access to the life that comes from Him (cf. Gen. 3:24)]. [[The four living creatures clearly are high-level beings, who are pictured being "in the center and around the throne." The margin of the NASB shows that a more literal translation of the Greek would be, "and in the middle of the throne and around the throne, four living creatures...." Apparently these words inform us that the four living creatures are in some way located on the throne itself (where the throne consists of more than a seat), outside of God (including God the Son; see Rev. 5:6). The four living creatures are pictured being "around the throne," and apparently they are inside of the twenty-four elders.
In Rev. 5:6 we have God the Father on the throne and the Lamb (God the Son), and the Holy Spirit would apparently be included here too (cf. Rev. 4:5; anyway it is clear that the Holy Spirit is deity with God the Father and God the Son). Going on out we have the four living creatures and then the twenty-four elders. Revelation 5:11 says, "...I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands." The many angels were around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they were outside of the others. The idea behind God's lines of authority isn't that one is superior to the other, or that some are inferior, and God certainly doesn't tolerate His servants competing with one another, looking for a superior status. There's no room for pride in God's kingdom. It's clear though that God does have lines of authority.
I'll comment briefly on the relative status of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders. It may be inappropriate to speculate whether one of them has a higher place or more authority than the other, and we probably don't have enough information to decide the matter with any assurance anyway. For one thing, these high-level beings are quite different than one another, by God's creative design, with different roles assigned by God. The fact that the four living creatures are pictured the closest to God doesn't prove that they have a higher status than the twenty-four elders. Their location could just go with their function of guarding the throne. The four living creatures do more than guard the throne of God and worship Him, however; for one thing, they are involved with the events taking place that are spoken of in the book of Revelation (see Rev. 6:1-8; 15:7).
As I mentioned, the four living creatures are comparable with, but not identical with, the four living creatures/beings/cherubim of Ezek. 1:5-28; 10:1-22, and with the seraphim of Isa. 6:2-7. Like the seraphim, the four living creatures of the book of Revelation each have six wings (Isa. 6:2; Rev. 4:8). The cherubim of the book of Ezekiel each had four wings (Ezek. 1:6; 10:21). What the four living creatures say in worship of God in Rev. 4:11 is comparable with, but not identical with, what the seraphim said in Isa. 6:3. The seraphim of Isa. 6:1-7 and the four living creatures of Revelation each apparently have just one face, whereas the cherubim Ezekiel saw each had four faces (Ezek. 1:6, 10; 10:14, 21). The four living creatures of Revelation each have a face that is quite different than the face of the others (Rev. 4:7). The different faces are similar to, if not the equivalent of, the four faces that each of the cherubim of the book of Ezekiel had (based on the NIV translations of Rev. 4:7 and Ezek. 1:10, which has "ox" in both verses). The cherubim that were carved on the wall of the temple in Ezek 41:18 each had two faces.
The only places the word "seraphim" is mentioned in the Bible are Isa. 6:2, 6, but the cherubim are frequently mentioned. The singular cherub is found twenty-five times in the Old Testament, and the plural cherubim is found sixty-five times in the Old Testament and one time in the New Testament (Heb. 9:5). Many of these uses, including Heb. 9:5, speak of the two golden cherubim that were on top of the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place or of the two large cherubim that were in the Most Holy Place in the temple Solomon built. One function of the cherubim of Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10 was to transport God (cf. Psalm 18:10) with His movable throne.]] (7) The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf [The NIV has "ox." The BAGD Greek Lexicon (under "moschos') has "calf, young bull or ox."], and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. (8) And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, 'HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY [Compare Isa. 6:3. On "the Lord God, the Almighty," compare Rev. 1:8; 11:17.], WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME [[This is a name/title for God the Father in the book of Revelation (see under Rev. 1:4 in the article on Revelation chapter 1). I'll mention a detail that I didn't mention under Rev. 1:4. This name/title for God the Father builds on the super-important name "Yahweh" that is used of God over 6,800 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is typically translated LORD (with four capital letters) in the NASB; NIV; KJV; and NKJV. The name/title in the Hebrew communicates the super-important meanings that He (the God of creation; the God of Abraham and Israel) is God, and only He is God, and that He always existed and always will exist.
The name/title is typically used of God the Father in the Old Testament, but it is used in several verses in the Old Testament for God the Son (who appears in the Old Testament as the Angel of Yahweh; the man dressed in linen; etc.), but not in a way that confuses Him with the Person of God the Father, who has the preeminent role in the Trinity. See my paper titled "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son" that is available on this Christian article site. For more information on the Trinity also see my papers titled "Who Do We Worship?"; Who Do We Pray To?"; and "More on the Trinity."]].' (9) And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne [God the Father (see under Rev. 4:2)], to Him who lives forever and ever [cf. Deut. 32:40; Dan. 4:34; 12:7; Rev. 4:10; 10:6; and 15:7], (10) the twenty-four elders [see under Rev. 4:4] will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns [cf. Rev. 4:4] before the throne [For one thing, God (the triune God) must receive all the glory. All good things, including the authority and crowns of the twenty-four elders, came/come from Him.], saying, (11) 'Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power [God receives glory and honor and power in the sense that these things, which belong to Him by virtue of who He is and what He has done, are ascribed to Him by His worshipers.]; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.' " [[God the Father, who has the preeminent role in the Trinity, created all things through His Son (cf., e.g., John 1:1-3, 10; 1 Cor. 8:6 ["yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by [I would translate "through" with the NIV] whom all things came and we exist through Him"]; Col. 1:16; and Heb. 1:2).]]
We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Revelation chapters 4, 5 in Part 2, starting with Rev. 5:1.
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