Bible Study Series: Revealing Jesus in Revelation
Revelation Chapter 4: A Glimpse of Eternity
by I Gordon
Welcome! We are moving through the book of Revelation and chapter 4 provides us with a dramatic change from what went before it. In this chapter we'll leave the church age behind and will leave the earth behind also! This chapter is a glimpse of heaven. It is a glimpse of eternity. It is the current experience of believers who have gone to be with the Lord and will be the experience of the remaining believers who are still alive at His coming. There are only 11 verses in this chapter but they are packed with insight. But I don't want to get too theological in this message. Ok... there will be a little bit of that but I want to keep it pretty simple concentrating on what we can take from this glimpse of heaven. It will be based around the following four points:
- The Suddenness of Eternity
- The Sights of Eternity
- The Sensations of Eternity
- The Sounds of Eternity
Sound good? I hope so! Believe me... the reality of this definitely is and will be good whether this study does it any justice or not!
The Coming Rapture Pictured
Rev 4:1 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."
Before focusing on the suddenness of eternity, let's break down this important first verse in Revelation chapter 4. This is an event that happened to the Apostle John around 96AD. As a very old man, exiled on the prison island of Patmos, he looked and saw a door open into heaven. If that wasn't cool enough, he then heard a voice like a trumpet saying 'come up here'. Now this was an actual event. Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel had all seen visions of heaven... while on earth,,. but John was actually caught up into heaven and this chapter explains what he saw and heard from that heavenly vantage point.
Now I believe John also stands as a picture here. Revelation uses pictures and symbols and his rapture into heaven is a pointer to the coming rapture of all believers into heaven. Look at the pictures and symbolism given just in this one verse:
- I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven - Heaven is opened only twice in the book of Revelation. Once here, to receive John, and once in Rev 19:11 where Jesus and the saints come out of Heaven to make war against the nations. So the first opening is for the believer going up and the second is for Jesus and believers coming down. These two openings represent the rapture and the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ. And let me add that if we want to be part of this first open door to heaven we need to have first opened the door of our own heart to the Lord as indicated in the letter to the Laodiceans! (Rev 3:20)
- And the first voice which I had heard... speaking with me - In Revelation chapter 1 John sees the Lord Jesus in glory (Rev 1:12-20) and then here, hears the Lord telling Him to come on up! In like manner, at the Rapture, it is the Lord who personally comes for His bride 'For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first..' (1Th 4:16)
- The first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet - John heard a voice like a trumpet just as believers will hear a trumpet at the rapture (1 Thes 4:16, 1 Cor 15:51). The trumpet will sound, drawing the congregation of God together ready to set out on a new, very exciting journey!
- "Come up here" - John is given the command to 'Come up here'. At the rapture there will be a loud command (1 Thes 4:16) from the Lord and it could well be 'come up here'. As mentioned earlier Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah were all given a vision of heaven but only John was actually commanded to 'come up here'. Why? Again, because this is all a picture of what will happen to believers at the rapture. It will not be some amazing experience while we remain here. We are going up!
- "And I will show you what must take place after these things" - Revelation 4:1 twice says 'after these things'. So... what things? And why emphasize and repeat this? The Greek is 'meta tauta' and it is the same exact phrase that Jesus used in Rev 1:19 where he gave His outline to the book of Revelation. Rev 1:19 "Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.
1. 'the things which you have seen' is the Vision of Jesus (Rev 1:12-20)
2, 'the things that are' is the Church age (Rev 2-3)
3. 'the things that take place after this' is that which occurs after the Church age (ie: Tribulation, Messianic Kingdom, Eternal State)
Chapter 4 begins something new in the book of Revelation. It begins the third part. It is the transition point. There always comes a time when God says enough, as He did in the days of Noah and the flood, and He will do it again at the end of the Church age.
The Suddenness of Eternity
Rev 4:2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.
So John was taken from earth to heaven 'at once'. Most versions say 'immediately' but both picture the suddenness1 of eternity! John immediately goes from being on the island of Patmos to Heaven... just like that. Here one moment and in heaven the next. It reminds us of course of what will happen to all believers at the Lord's coming. Speaking of this event, Paul wrote to the Corinthians that we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye - in an instant, in a moment of time. The Greek word translated moment is 'átomos'. This is the smallest possible period of time, from which we derive the English word "atom". Paul taught that we will be changed suddenly, instantly. And he knew how quickly you can go from earth to heaven for he had previously had his own personal rapture event!
2Co 12:2-4 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-- God knows. (3) And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-- (4) was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.
Paul went from earth to heaven in an instant being caught up to the third heaven2. The word for 'caught up' here is the Greek word 'harpazo'. It is the same word used in 1 Thess 4:17 about the coming 'catching up' of all believers. It means to 'seize, snatch away' and implies a forceful quick event. When the Lord comes, it will happen suddenly3. It will be like a thief in the night. Jesus will be robbing the earth of its very best but unlike most thieves, He will be snatching that which is already His!
Now you might be thinking - 'yeah but people have been speaking of His coming for a long time. And it hasn't happened.' You are right. They have and it hasn't. But it will! Oh it will. As sure as all the other past prophecies of God have been fulfilled perfectly, so will this one. If you are a believer you will go from earth to heaven as quickly as John was taken through that open door into heaven. Here one moment, in heaven the next. So that is the first point to take from this chapter - the suddenness of eternity. We stand literally a moment, an 'atomos' of time, away from eternity. And when that day occurs, life as we know it will change completely, never ever to be the same again.
And how will it change? What will we experience? Well, let's start with the first things we shall see. Let's start with the sights of eternity.
The Sights of Eternity
1. The first and foremost sight in heaven - The Lord!
Rev 4:2-3 ...and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and sardius. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.
So what is the first thing John sees in heaven? Well it is not 'a thing.' It is a person. It is the One on the throne! The throne is very prominent in Revelation. Did you know that there is a throne in heaven and there is a King on that throne? This theme of the throne will become all the more relevant as things begin to unravel on earth in the coming chapters of Revelation but here the emphasis is the majesty of this One who sits as King of heaven upon that throne. And who is this? We know that the Lord Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father on His throne. So while both are upon the throne (Rev 3:21) here the emphasis seems to be upon the Son. We get a somewhat sneaky clue in His description for He is seen like the appearance of jasper and sardius. Both the colors and significance of these stones point to the Lord Jesus. H.A Ironside writes well stating:
The jasper of the Revelation is not the opaque stone we know by that name. It is later described as clear as crystal (21:11). It is probably the diamond, the most brilliant of all the precious jewels. The other stone is blood-red and may really be the ruby. Thus the two together give the idea of glory and of sacrifice. Remembering that many of the first readers of the Revelation were converted Jews, we might ask what these stones would suggest to them. Surely every instructed Hebrew would instantly recall that they were the first and last stones in the breastplate of the high priest (Exodus 28:17-21). These stones were engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel, arranged according to the births of the twelve patriarchs; so the ruby (sardius) would suggest at once the name Reuben, “Behold a Son,” and the Jasper Benjamin, “Son of my right hand.” It is Christ enthroned, the Son about to reign in power who is before the seer’s vision.
H.A Ironside, Notes on Revelation
Scripture tells us that there was also an emerald rainbow encircling the throne. All rainbows are full circles but down here we only see half the circle because of the horizon of the earth. In heaven the full circle of the rainbow will surround the throne. This full circle points to the eternal nature of the One who sits on the throne, who, like a circle, has no beginning and no end. And this is an interesting colored rainbow... it is emerald green. So what stone in the High Priest's breastplate did emerald represent? Being the third stone (Ex 28:17) it points to the third of Jacob's sons - Levi, the priestly tribe. Thus this throne is of a King and a Priest. The two offices are met in One person just as the prophetic scriptures pointed to:
Zec 6:12-13 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Behold, a man whose name is Branch... He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices."'
So the first thing the believer will see is the Lord Himself. And so it should be. It is not heaven without Him!
2. The second sight in heaven - The Church!
Rev 4:4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.
The second sight was of 24 thrones surrounding the Kings throne and upon those thrones there were 24 elders. Sitting... clothed in white... with golden crowns upon their heads. These mysterious elders have long been the subject of much debate. The two most prominent interpretations are particular angelic beings or rewarded believers.
While there are some complications in whichever position you take, I believe they represent the redeemed, crowned, rewarded believers4. I believe this because:
- The name 'elders' in scripture is used of Church leaders (Tit 1:5), not angelic beings
- The elders have never been seen or mentioned as being in heaven before (ie they were not seen by Isaiah, Ezekiel or Daniel's vision of heaven) but only show after the 'rapture' type event of Revelation 4:1-2.
- The elders are seated on thrones (which angels never are) which was a promise in Revelation to the church (Rev 3:21)
- The elders are dressed in white (speaks of redemption and purity) which was promised to the church (Rev 3:4)
- The elders have victors ('stephanos') crowns like those who have competed in the games and been rewarded. Again, this was a promise to the church (Rev 2:10)
So what will you see? When you make it to heaven, especially after the rapture, you'll see the entire church since the book of Acts onward come together for the first time. That in itself will make for an incredible sight! All the redeemed... all the called out ones... the ecclesia all in one place at one time. And they will be pure, clothed in white and rewarded for their work with crowns on their head. And they will be with Jesus, seated around His throne. May both you and your loved ones be there on that day.
3. The third sight in heaven - The Angelic Beings!
Rev 4:6-7 ...In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. (7) The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.
But there is more to see! In the letter to the Hebrews, describing heaven it says 'But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.' (Heb 12:23) So this description of heaven says there are thousands upon thousands of angelic beings all in joyful assembly which we'll also see in Revelation 5... I like that!
One type of angelic being are the 'living creatures' that surround the throne5. These are a higher order of angelic beings. Ezekiel, in his vision of heaven, saw something similar but there the living creatures each had four faces of a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle (Ezek 1:6, 10).
Now there are some wonderful and sometimes odd creatures that God has created for this planet. My current personal favorite for this planet is the blobfish. Yeah, ok, its true that some have called him the 'world's ugliest animal' but his droopy face and big nose kind of makes him enduring don't you think? Maybe? No? Just a little?
Though, to be fair, I'd probably get the heebie-jeebies if I went fishing and pulled this thing up! But as odd as Mr Blobfish is, he has nothing on angelic beings with four faces! Or those described in Revelation as being covered with eyes front and back! In both cases I wouldn't know where to look and you'd definitely feel like you are being watched! But oh the sights we will see on that day. If you think there are strange and incredible sights and creatures down here, wait till you get to heaven!
So you have the throne which the Father and the Son sit upon. Surrounding that is the elders, representing believers. You've also got myriads of angelic beings, full of joy, in the presence of their King. And four living creatures covered with eyes front and back. Goodness... and this is just the sights before us.
The Sensations of Eternity
So we have looked at what we will see. But what shall we feel and experience? Jumping back to verse 5 we read:
Rev 4:5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. (6) Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
From this we have three things we will experience:
- The power of God - It says from the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Have you ever been in full-on thunder storm? I mean actually being outside in the storm, not while you are hiding under your bed! As a kid I had a newspaper-round before school and another one after school. I remember one day delivering the papers after school when a full on thunder storm hit. There was forked lightning all around with almost instantaneous loud claps of thunder. Needless to say, I set a record on the time taken to deliver the papers that day! It was impressive. Not my time... the storm. The power was both frightening (especially when you are out on your BMX delivering papers!) and awe inspiring at the same time. Well in our scene of heaven, a small glimpse of God's power is seen here. Lightning and thunder come from the throne, that is its source, signifying the immense power of the One sitting there! Thankfully, for believers, this throne is a throne of grace! (Heb 4:16) But for the unbelieving world this is but a glimpse of the judgements, seen later in Revelation, that come upon the world.
The One who has power over powerAs an application, we should remember that Jesus' power protects our lives today. According to scripture we 'are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.' (1 Pet 1:5) Let me give you a recent example of this. My nephew Jack, who is a Christian, is currently doing his electrician apprenticeship. Last Thursday he was digging a hole outside a new home when he put his spade right through the live mains cable running to the house. The electricity immediately went up his spade blowing it to pieces and throwing Jack meters backwards. And yet he was perfectly fine! Shocked yes, literally and probably mentally... but no electrical burns, pain or damage at all. His boss, with a long history as an electrician, cannot understand how Jack is still alive. Let alone having no signs of the electrical shock! All you can say is that the power of electricity is immense... but there is One who has power over such power, and that is the all-powerful One!
- The Spirit of God - What other sensations will we experience in heaven? Also before the throne are the seven spirits of God. This is the Spirit in all it's fullness. At the moment the believer is said to have received the first-fruits of the Spirit who is a pledge or guarantee of the fullness still to come (Rom 8:23, Eph 1:13-14). So what sensations will you experience in Heaven? The fullness of God's Spirit. The fullness of joy. The fullness of love. The fullness of all that the Spirit is. Goodness!
- The peace of God - Despite the awe-inspiring power shown in the lightning and thunder, there is also what looks like a sea of glass, clear as crystal, before the throne. I used to surf quite a bit when I was younger and the second question after 'is there a wave?' was always 'is it glassy?' A glassy sea comes from a calm, still, wind-free day. Listen - in this life the wind, the waves and seas roar. Both naturally and figuratively. You will have trouble. The nations and the wicked are likened in scripture to a troubled sea and we can definitely see the roaring of these seas today.
'Alas, the uproar of many peoples Who roar like the roaring of the seas, And the rumbling of nations Who rush on like the rumbling of mighty waters!' (Isa 17:12)
'But the wicked are like the troubled sea, When it cannot rest, Whose waters cast up mire and dirt. (21) "There is no peace," Says my God, "for the wicked." (Isa 57:20-21)
But there, before the throne, is calmness you have never experienced before. No panic, no turmoil, just a sea of glass, clear as crystal... perfect stillness and peace. All troubles will be behind you on that day, for all time, never to rise again. And they will be replaced by the peace of God in all its fullness!
Now, I'm not making this up! : ) That will be the experience of all believers. A sense of God's power, the fullness of His presence and His perfect peace. So what about the sounds? What will we hear?
The Sounds of Eternity
Rev 4:8-11 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." (9) Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, (10) the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: (11) You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.
So what about the sounds of heaven? We see here that these living creatures are continually speaking the praises of the triune God. 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come' they repeatedly say. It says day and night they never stop. And yet it doesn't get old! There are different angelic beings that are closer to the very being and presence of God. Some, like these living creatures, surround the throne itself. And it is fair to say that the closer you are to God the more you worship! You can't help it. The more you see of Him, the more in awe you are! These angelic beings are so close they never stop worshiping. They continually give glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne. That in itself is a scene which would be incredible to see and hear. If you are a believer, one day you will. But on that day you won't just be watching.
We also read that the twenty four elders, a representation of believers in Christ, also worship, casting their crowns before the One who sits on the throne.
"Once during her reign, England’s Queen Victoria listened to a chaplain preach a sermon about the second coming of Christ. Those near the royal box noticed that the queen’s eyes were filled with tears. When the service ended, she asked to see the chaplain alone. Seeing her great emotion, he asked why she was so moved. She replied, “Because of what you said about the coming again of the world’s rightful King, I wish still to be here when He returns that I might lay my crown at His blessed feet!”
It is great that the Queen was moved and recognized Jesus as the true King. But how much greater will it be when believers throw their crowns before Him? This last weekend saw the coronation of King Charles III. But an earthly Monarch's crown is not earned. They are born into that position. But the believer's crown is a reward for their hardships, toil and service to the true King. And yet, as they cast them before the Lord Jesus, they acknowledge that everything comes from Him and He alone is worthy of praise. They realise that their work, which was rewarded, was actually His work through them. Thus He gets the final honor as He should. As the Apostle Paul wrote:
1Co 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
So as we conclude, here in Revelation 4 we have been given a glimpse of eternity. Do you remember the verse I quote earlier about heaven saying there are 'thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly'? Well believers shall join with them, in joyful assembly, in worshipping the King. The Cherubim's will be there. Michael the archangel will be there. Gabriel will be there. The strange looking living creatures will be there. Thousands upon thousands of angels will be there.
And I trust you will be there... for millions upon millions of redeemed sinners, from every tribe and tongue, will be there. All surrounding the throne in fullness of joy! So...
- What are the sights of eternity? Firstly, Jesus... seated upon His throne as King of the Universe. Imagine seeing Him! Secondly, believers... close to the Lord surrounding the throne. May you be there and see those you love there. Thirdly, angelic beings and wonderful creatures... all in joyful assembly as they bask in God's presence.
- What are the sensations of eternity? The power of God with lightning coming from the throne, the fullness of His Spirit and His wonderful peace!
- What are the sounds of eternity? It is the sounds of praise. It is the sound of thanksgiving. It is the sound of the greatest worship, singing and rejoicing you have ever heard or participated in!
And it is all for the One who left heaven and became nothing on earth so that we could leave earth and experience the glory of heaven!
And to think that all this could be reality in an 'atomos' of time, when the trumpet sounds and the command is given to 'come up here'! Hmm...
Some this is taken from another study I wrote on the 'Sudden ending'. There is more on this theme than I can write here so I would encourage you to read that study as well if interested: https://jesusplusnothing.com/series/post/TheSuddenEnding
On the third heaven, Nelson's New Illustrated Commentary states: "It was common to speak of three “heavens”: The first is the atmosphere where the birds fly; the second is the place of the sun, moon, and stars; the third is where God dwells."
Jesus Himself emphasized the 'suddenness' of this event at His coming:
Mar 13:32-37 "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (33) Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. (34) It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. (35) Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming--in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning-- (36) lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. (37) And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"
Who is represented by these twenty-four elders? They cannot be angels. Angels are never seated upon thrones (not seats, as in the Authorized Version), nor are they crowned, nor can they sing redemption’s song as the elders do. There is only one possible meaning. They represent the redeemed, the saints in glory. They are priests (clothed in white) and they are kings (crowned); they are the royal priesthood in the presence of the throne. And why twenty-four? It points us back to the work David did for the temple. He appointed twenty-four courses of the priests (1Ch 24:1-31). Twice twelve would suggest the saints of the Old and New Testaments.↩
Many people have pointed out how these four living creatures seem to also point to the four gospels as shown below: