Summary of Chapter 4
- In Ephesians 2:6, it says that God “has raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Well here in Revelation 4, we get a glimpse of what it looks like to sit and reign with Christ. This is also the fulfillment of Daniel 7 where “one like the Son of Man” comes to the Ancient of Days, and to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom.
- So the saints are united to Christ and in union with Him we reign over all the world. That’s what Revelation 4-5 are going to describe.
- Chapter 4 gives us a picture of the heavenly throne room of which the earthly temple and tabernacle were models. Now if you remember the descriptions of those buildings, you will remember some of the furniture and objects within them. And here and in the following chapters we are going to see a lot of those same objects but with one exception.
- Here in chapter 4…
- We have a throne, which in the tabernacle was above the ark and the cherubim. That’s where God sits.
- We also have seven lamps before the throne, in the tabernacle there was just one lampstand, and in the temple there were ten. And remember the first 3 chapters were letters to the seven churches and the lampstands we were told are seven churches (Rev. 1:20), however here we are told these lamps of fire are the Seven Spirits of God. The symbol is expanding as the book goes on.
- We also have a sea of glass. In the tabernacle courtyard you had the bronze laver of cleansing, and in the temple courtyard a huge bronze sea on the backs of 12 bulls. Cosmologically this is the firmament that separates heaven from earth and it is through the cleansing waters of baptism that man is granted access to heaven.
- There are four living creatures in the midst of the throne, these correspond with the cherubim in the most holy place.
- In future chapters we will see the book of the covenant opened, incense and the golden altar. But one of the things that is missing from all of this sanctuary furniture is the table of showbread. Where is the bread?
- Well that is one of the many sub-themes in this book. Bread represents the people of God, and throughout this book there will be saints who are harvested and turned into bread through the furnace of martyrdom. We’ll see this especially in Revelation 14.
- All of this imagery brings together both the priestly and kingly aspects of Christ’s reign. A temple is not just a place of worship, it is also a courtroom where the king’s judgments are executed. Just think about how many times we have already encountered words like “witness” and “testimony” so far. Jesus is the faithful and true witness (Rev. 3:14) and Christians are called to bear that same witness unto death (Rev. 2:10). This is language of judgment.
- So Revelation 4 grants us access into the temple and courtroom that rules over the whole universe. And this has deep implications for the potency of what we do every Sunday in worship. Worship is where we can petition the God of heaven to exercise mercy or judgment on our enemies. It is where we find grace to help us in time of need. And when we worship, we are doing so amongst an innumerable cloud of witnesses and these heavenly armies, these four living creatures, these cherubim, and angels. What we don’t see with our natural eyes on the Lord’s Day, Revelation reveals to us by faith.
- So when you go to church on Sunday, think about what Revelation tells us is taking place in heaven as we worship on earth. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places.
- Here in chapter 4…
- Well let’s get into some of the questions you might have while reading this chapter.
Q1. What is the significance of the open door and John’s ability to enter through it?
Some early church fathers say that this invitation to enter the open door suggests that it was previously shut to the saints of old, but now in the new covenant we have access to ascend to heaven and to be taught the hidden mysteries of the Spirit. Some even take the voice saying “come up here” as the voice of Jesus.
In John’s gospel, Jesus says that he is the door of the sheep. No one can come to the Father, but through Him. Jesus of course is not a literal door, but He is the one who gives the saints access to the throne room, and this is something that only takes place after the ascension of Jesus Christ.
Prior to Christ’s ascension to heaven, the saints were down in Sheol, they did not have this kind of access or invitation to come before the throne of God. The book of Hebrews is an extended explanation of how Christ’s priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood and how Christ’s death and resurrection has opened this door unto us.
So John is being invited to enter the holy of holies the place that only the high-priest could go once a year, but now in Christ, we can go there when we are in the Spirit. Or as Jesus tells the woman at the well in John 4, the Father is seeking true worshippers, those who worship in Spirit and in truth. And the purpose of John’s entrance there in the Spirit, is to be shown “things that must take place after this.”
Q2. What do the jasper and sardius stones represent? Why are these stones mentioned?
Jasper is multicolored and earthy looking. Sardius is a reddish color. There are various accounts of what these stones looked like throughout history.
Oecumenius says: For the jasper is a green precious stone, something like an emerald and similar to the rust of a shield, from which it receives its name. The carnelian is another precious jewel and is fiery bright and blood red.
Victorinus says: Jasper has the color of water and Carnelian the color of fire. It was manifested that these two Testaments have been placed over the tribunal of God until the consummation of the world, And of these judgments one has already been accomplished through water (the flood), while the other will be accomplished through fire.
So Victorinus says these two stones represent God’s judgment of the world, first by flood (signified by Jasper), then by fire (signified by Sardius)
Peter Leithart and many others see a connection here with the High-Priest’s breastplate: Twelve precious stones are set in four rows of three in the breastplate of Israel’s high priest, a stone for each of the tribes of Israel (Exod. 28:17–20; 39:10–13). Human beings are made of earth; glorified human beings are precious gems. The stones of the breastplate are listed in birth order, “according to their names” (Exod. 28:21). The first stone is a sardius, a red stone, and the last is jasper. Thus, the jasper and sardius is first and last, beginning and end, Alpha and Omega not only of the Alphabet but of Israel. Leithart then goes on to argue how Sardius and Jasper are Judah and Benjamin, the two royal tribes. If that is the case, then Sardius and Jasper would be emphasizing the royalty of this one who sits upon the throne in Revelation.
My View: Since these two stones of Jasper and Sardius are used to describe the appearance of Him who sits upon the throne, I take them as signifying that this is the High-Priest and High-King from the tribes of Israel. He is the man from heaven, made dust, but now glorified by fire. He walks amongst the fiery stones and there is an emerald (green) rainbow around his throne. Why is this rainbow different from what we see on earth? Perhaps because what we see down here is refracted through the sea of glass which is like crystal prism.
Q3. What is the significance of the four living creatures (like a: lion, calf, man, eagle)?
Church fathers like Irenaeus saw a connection between these four creatures and the four gospels. Other commentators see these creatures as representing the kings of different kinds of animals, the lion the king of wild animals, the ox the king of domestic animals, the eagle the king of birds, man the king of all.
Leithart makes a further connection to the covenantal stages of Israel’s history.
The Ox (calf) is the sacrificial animal that represented the priest. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is presented as a priestly teacher of Torah, giving the law of the Mountain. So the Ox corresponds with the Mosaic or priestly era of Israel’s history.
The Lion is of a course a royal animal connected to the kingly tribe of Judah. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is a warrior always on the move, a true Davidic “Son of God.” This Lion corresponds with the Monarchic era in Israel’s history.
The Eagle flies above the earth and can see from a heavenly vantage point. This corresponds to the Prophetic era. In Luke Jesus is presented as an eagle-like prophet filled with and driven by the Spirit.
In John’s gospel, Jesus is the word made flesh, the human tabernacle, the last Adam and true man. With Christ we enter a new phase in human history that is governed by a literal man on the throne of heaven. This in contrast to the beast-like empires that Daniel saw in his visions.
My View: I take these four living creatures as heavenly cherubim. Cherubim are warrior/guardian angels whereas Seraphim appear to be messenger angels. And we know from various passages in Scripture that angels can change their appearance. They can shapeshift, they can look like men (as Abraham entertained angels), they can look like animals, as these Cherubim do, and Paul says, Satan (who was a former Cherubim) can transform himself into an angel of light. So angels are powerful creatures that have this ability to change their appearance, and these Cherubim have 6 wings and eyes all around, and have the ability to speak and sing and worship God (as they will do in future chapters).
As to there being 4 creatures with these four different likenesses, I think this signifies their comprehensive involvement over all creation. There are four winds, four corners of the earth, four directions, four rivers that flow out of Eden, and the Israelite camp surrounding the tabernacle also was arrayed like the stars in four directions. One commentator says, “The tabernacle in the wilderness was surrounded and guarded by the 12 tribes, 3 being on each of the 4 sides of the tabernacle. The leading tribes of the 4 groups were Judah on the east with the banner of a lion, Ephraim on the west with the banner of an ox, Reuben on the south with the banner of a man and Dan on the north with a banner of an eagle. The 4 living creatures resemble the banners of these 4 leading tribes.”
I think this is a likely connection since Israel was an earthly pattern of the heavenly armies.
Also on a completely different train of thought, and I’m just speculating here, but I wonder if these Cherubim communicate with and are responsible for what we call “instinct” in animals. So when birds fly south, or bears hibernate, they are doing so under the governance of these Cherubim. What we call “natural forces” are all governed by a personal God and I believe there are innumerable angelic and heavenly beings who direct and oversee what we think is impersonal here. One of the major themes in this book is that earthly events like wars, famines, plagues and destruction have angelic or demonic powers behind them. Psalm 78:49 confirms this truth. And I think that just as angels are involved in this remarkable judgments, they are also involved in maintaining what we call the natural order, of weather patterns, cold and heat, wind and snow, gravity, light, electromagnetic waves, etc.
Q4. Who are the 24 elders?
The early church father Victorinus says: The books of the prophets and of the law, and also the 12 apostles and 12 patriarchs.
Tyconius says: Represents the whole church and its government.
Leithart says: The most persuasive answer is that they are heavenly equivalents of the twenty-four courses of priests that David establishes as he prepares for the construction of the first temple. They worship, and later harp on harps and offer incense (5:8). Only priests are allowed to handle the holy incense and censers, and all singing and music-making in the temple is led by Levites. Their crowns are consistent with this identification. High priests wear gold crowns on their heads, and the twenty-four chief priests are sharim, princes (2 Kgs 19:2; Jer. 19:1).
My View: In Revelation 5 these same 24 elders say, “You have redeemed us to God by Your blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.” This suggests that the 24 elders are former sinners (so I take them to be men) who have been redeemed, and now represent the whole church. Just as the 24 courses of priests served in the temple and represented the whole people, here we have something similar. These 24 elders are said to have harps and golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints. This is priestly work, making music unto the Lord and offering up incense before the golden altar in the holy place.
Q5. What is the sea of glass?
In Genesis 1:6, God says, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. “
So I take this sea of glass to be the waters that are above the firmament. And there is a connection here to the waters of baptism. Under the old covenant there were various baptisms and washings that cleansed a man, but under the new covenant, baptism now opens up heaven to you. In baptism we are united to Christ and pass through the firmament, through the glass sea and are granted entrance to the throne room of God. We are baptized in the Spirit and can now go to heaven where the Spirit takes us.