Revelation 4-5: Preview of Heaven

"Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place
after this." Revelation 4:1
Opening Prayer: Father, we have no concept of Your glory, or what heaven is like. Give us a glimpse today, we pray.

How many of you live in heaven already?

Well, that's about the usual number for a group this size.

Actually, I've only spoken to one person who had a near-death experience of heaven. Even she was only able to get as close as the threshhold before the Lord gently advised her that He had more work for her to do back on earth.

What's your point, teacher?

My point is that life down here is difficult. For most of the world, life is not a beautiful, glamorous experience. The TV stations do not send reporters to heaven to broadcast live interviews with the saints and angels up there. In fact, the TV and movies have become so violent that they look more like hell than heaven.

Whether we can imagine it or not, heaven is a real place. Whether you realize it or not, Jesus Himself is preparing places in heaven for you and for me.

The scene opens in Revelation chapter 4, verses 1-5:

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this. 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. 3 And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance, and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.

Hmmm. This doesn't sound much like my house. Without question, we have been given a rare picture of God the Father on His throne in heaven.

Ezekiel saw a similar picture, in Ezekiel chapter 1, verses 26-28:

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. 27 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 downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. 28 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.

John's Jewish readers no doubt were able to instantly relate the two appearances. Without question, it is God on the throne.

Why does the rainbow appear around God's throne in both accounts?

The rainbow is a picture of God's covenant with Noah after the Flood. (If you're not familiar with the story, you might want to click here to refresh your memory.) This is important, because God gave us the rainbow as a constant reminder of His grace. Whenever He sees the rainbow in the clouds, He remembers His promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood. We should do likewise when we see rainbows -- even the tiny ones caused by our lawn sprinklers. Without God's grace and mercy, we would never have a chance to see (much less inhabit) heaven. Without the rainbow around the throne, you and I could never get close enough to see God in His glory. If you feel that your perfect character and behavior qualify you to stand before God in your own merits, click here.

OK, but who are the 24 elders?

Good question. The number 24 is rare in Scripture, so we cannot relate it directly to any key group in the Bible. However, the number 12 is prominent. There were 12 sons of Jacob, leading to the 12 tribes of the nation Israel. There were 12 hand-picked disciples of Jesus, leading to the Christian church.

Since 24 is the result of 12 plus 12, many commentators believe that the 24 elders represent all the saints of all time, in both the Old and New Testaments. The key word here is represent. Don't waste your time trying to figure out which 24 Bible characters are going to be part of some kind of heavenly elite. John didn't ask for help identifying them, so he apparently recognized the elders as a group he was part of. This first vision is a simplified picture, and the focus is on God and us.

Does that mean you and I will be in that group?

There's an excellent chance of that. John was told "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this." The words "Come up here" in verse 1 are consistent with our Lord's upward calling of His faithful disciples just before the Tribulation period. This will be discussed in great detail in another lesson. For now, be assured that while this verse alone is not irrefutable proof, it is entirely consistent with the concept of a pre-Tribulation Rapture.

As we will see in other chapters, heaven will soon be filled with other groups of believers, who arrive at different times. And we'll learn more about this group of 24 elders. But for now, let's enjoy the simplified view of heaven, with just us and God ... and some interesting creatures...

Let's read verses 6-8:

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 living creatures full of eyes before and behind. 7 And the first creature [was] like a lion, and the second like a calf, and the third had a face as a man, and the fourth [was] like a flying eagle. 8 And the four creatures had each of them six wings; 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.

Who are these creatures?

I don't know, but they must be very special to be so near the throne of God. One thing worth noting is that their appearance reflects the themes of the four gospel accounts of Jesus:

How important is that?

If God thought they were essential to our salvation, He'd have included much more detail. These four creatures might be symbolic of a multitude of angels, just as the 24 elders symbolize the multitude of believers. For now, just remember that they are part of this first glimpse into heaven, but their purpose is to direct our attention and praise to God.

Now verses 9-11 conclude chapter 4:

And when those creatures give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, 10 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, 11 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 picture is consistent with other episodes in Scripture where men and women encounter the living God and fall down at His feet. In God's presence, there is no place for pride or arrogance or imagined dignity. God knows us and our weaknesses. When we finally DO see Him in heaven, you and I will have no trouble bowing before Him and casting our crowns at His feet.

What crowns?

In our lesson on Revelation 2-3, Jesus described several types of crowns He will give to those who remain faithful to Him. These crowns are precious (both to God and to us) and will be ours for eternity. Yet when we experience the reality of God's power and presence and love for us, everything else becomes secondary.

Earthly monarchs walk tall and proudly when they wear their crowns -- perhaps to keep them from falling off. In the presence of the living God, all I plan to do is worship Him and acknowledge that all I have comes from Him.

Chapter 5 introduces a new element:

And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a scroll written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the scroll, and to loose the seals thereof? 3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the scroll, neither to look thereon. 4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the scroll, neither to look thereon. 5 And one of the elders said unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll, and to loose the seven seals thereof.

What is so important about that scroll?

Most commentators call that scroll "the Title Deed to the earth." In God's Law, a family was supposed to own the family property forever. Sometimes financial pressures would force a family to mortgage the property. The transaction was written on a scroll and the scroll sealed, with the price of redemption written on the outside. Only the family (or the kinsman redeemer) were permitted to pay that price and redeem the property.

So what's the connection?

God gave the earth and its richness to Adam, to care for and to govern. When Adam sinned, he yielded control of the earth to Satan and lost the privilege of eternal life. The scroll represents the price of man's redemption, both for eternal life and for control of the earth.

John was weeping because no mere man was worthy to pay the price to redeem the entire human race. But the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus, was no mere man. Jesus was our Kinsman Redeemer, and His sacrificial death on the cross paid the price for the entire earth. He had paid the price and was worthy to take the scroll from His heavenly Father. All who acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior will receive the benefits of that redemption.

Now let's read verses 6-10:

And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. 7 And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne. 8 And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
9 And they sang a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10 And have made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.

Is the Lamb the same as the Lion the elder was talking about?

Yes. John the Baptist was the first to identify Jesus as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. In this book, the author uses a different Greek word for Lamb. Other NT passages use a Greek word that means a lamb already singled out to be a sacrificial victim. This passage uses a different word, signifying a lamb that is free to roam.

What about the elders in this scene?

First, they are pictured as having harps (musical instruments) and "golden vials full of incense." The Lord didn't want us to miss it, so He specifically identified the vials of incense as representing the prayers of saints. Sometimes it feels like our prayers aren't accomplishing anything. But God wants us to know that none of our prayers are wasted. He hears and appreciates every prayer. It is a sweet fragrance to Him, like incense, and like music to His ears.

Second, the 24 elders sang a new song that further helps us identify them. These elders rejoice that they were redeemed out of "every tribe" and every "nation." This is a big hint that they represent BOTH Israel and the true believers in Jesus. And they plainly state that they (we!) will rule and reign with Jesus after He returns to the earth. This is an important concept that will reappear in other lessons in this series.

Let's finish the rest of chapter 5:

And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; 12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. 13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, [be] unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. 14 And the four living creatures said, Amen. And the four [and] twenty elders fell down and worshipped Him that liveth for ever and ever.

What's so special about this scene?

This scene is critical to understanding who Jesus really is. Many religious groups downplay the importance of Jesus, saying that He was a created being, or that He was the half-brother of Lucifer, or that He's really one of the archangels. This scene shows Jesus being worshipped together with the Father, and that ALL created beings must bow and submit to both. That limits our choices: either we must submit to the Lordship of Jesus the Messiah, or we must tear these pages out of our Bible and go invent a different religion.

Very soon, every creature on earth will be confronted with our Lord's return to earth. God Himself will walk among us, and will not tolerate evil. And the worst evil of all is man-made religions, which deprive people of the true joy that could be theirs today and send their victims straight to hell.

If you're fond of a particular man-made religion ("They're such NICE people!"), I pray that you ponder this lesson carefully. If you still have questions about the future of other religious groups, you should read an upcoming lesson in this series, The Day of the Lord. And if you truly love the people in the other groups, you will pray and make an effort to share the truth with them before it's too late.

My hope is that you have already discovered the joy of walking with Jesus. If you are not sure where you stand, please click the "mail-to" address below to send us an e-mail. Express your concerns and you'll receive a personal answer soon.

Closing Prayer: Lord, it's hard to imagine that You want for me to serve You and rule and reign with You. Open my heart to understand Your plan for my life, and let Your Holy Spirit continue His work of changing me from the inside out. Amen.

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