THEOLOGY IN PICTURES
REVELATION 4:1 - 5:14
John was on the Isle of Patmos. And he wasnít there as a tourist. The island was more on the order of Alcatraz - it was an island to which political prisoners were banished. Iíve been to Alcatraz. It is a lonely, desolate, rocky place. I've been to Patmos, too. It is also a rocky place, far removed from the rest of the world. Yet John found himself the recipient of a vision that transported him not only off the island but off planet earth into heaven itself.
This is fantastic. John is about to be given a glimpse of what is going on in heaven. He has been on Patmos, the prison island. It has not been a comfortable place. It has been a place of hardship. But there is another reality that John is about to experience.
This is important for you to hear. You need to hear this because you live in Patmos. You live in the nasty here and now. You are confronted by daily troubles. And in the midst of those troubles, it is easy to forget that there is another reality.
BEFORE THE THRONE
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."
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.
And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. (Revelation 4:1-3).
Have you ever been to Disney World? You take the monorail to the Magic Kingdom and you get off and walk through a hall and there before you at the end of the street is Cinderellaís Castle. I donít care if you are six years old or sixty - you will find yourself standing there for a moment while you look at that Castle in all of its majesty.
It is only after that moment has passed that you will be drawn to the other attractions and you will begin to enjoy all of the different details that make Disney World a childrenís paradise.
That is what happens here. As John is first caught up to heaven, he has eyes only for the throne of God. But as time goes on, he begins to notice other things and the goings on around the throne.
1. The Twenty four Elders.
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. (Revelation 4:4).
Who are these 24 elders? What do they represent? The first thing that comes to mind it that they might be representatives from Godís two economies - 12 from the Old Covenant and 12 from the New Covenant.
How many tribes were there in the nation of Israel?
How many portions of the inheritance were parceled out when the Israelites came into the land?
How many disciples did Jesus choose?
The Bible is very clear in showing us that God has dealt with two groups of people - the descendants of Abraham under the Old Covenant and the spiritual descendants of Abraham under the New Covenant. But God has not left these two groups apart. He has taken them and He has made them into one.
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands --
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Ephesians 2:11-16).
God does not have two churches. He does not have one assembly for Israel and another assembly for Gentiles. There is no segregation in heaven. He has one church. And it is made up of all of His people.
That means you belong to the same church to which Abraham belongs. You are a part of the same group of which David and Solomon are a part. If you have come to Christ in faith, then you are part of the family of God.
The presence of the 24 elders portray a united church. But that is not all they portray. They are also reminiscent of something else in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament priesthood was organized into a series of different courses. They would rotate their priestly duties so that each course would serve twice a year. How many courses were there? There were 24 courses.
Each of these 24 courses would serve in the temple twice a year as a part of their regular duty. But there were also certain times when all 24 courses would come together at the Temple. These were for the special Feasts.
The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread
The Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement
As John sees this vision of heaven, it is expressed in the symbolism of the Temple. This imagery continues as we see the Lamps and the Sea.
2. Lamps & a Sea.
Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God;
There were seven lamps burning before the throne of God. This corresponds to the seven-branched lampstand which stood in the Temple. Revelation 1:19-20 tells us that these lamps represent the church.
But what of the "sea"? The Jews were landlubbers. When they spoke of the ocean, they did so in fear. Think about it. Every time the Bible speaks of a Jew getting into a boat, he got into trouble.
Noahís Ark - the whole world perished.
Jonah - thrown overboard and served up as the main course.
The disciples could barely cross the Sea of Galilee without sinking.
Paul takes an ocean voyage to Italy and ends up being washed ashore.
But this is not a stormy sea. This sea is like glass - like crystal. It is calm. It is peaceful. It serves a different purpose.
In front of the Temple there was a great golden laver filled with water. This water was used for the purification rites. It was commonly known as the "Sea."
Do you see? John does not explain the meaning of this because no explanation is needed. This is Temple language.
3. The Four Living Ones.
...and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.
The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. (Revelation 4:6b-7).
The next thing John notices is the presence of four living creatures standing around the throne. Commentators have come up with all sorts of ideas as two who or what these living ones might be.
Matthew presents Jesus as the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
Mark is said to present Jesus as a calf - a servant animal.
Luke presents Jesus as the perfect man.
John presents Jesus as the Son of God - pictured as an eagle.
Which of those is correct? I donít think that ANY of them are. I will suggest that the answer is found in the pages of the Old Testament. When John saw these four living creatures, he saw something of which he had read in the past.
As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire.
Within it there were figures resembling FOUR LIVING BEINGS. And this was their appearance: they had human form,
Each of them had four faces and four wings.
Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calfís hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze.
Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them,
As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a MAN; all four had the face of a LION on the right and the face of a BULL on the left, and all four had the face of an EAGLE. (Ezekiel 1:4-10).
Notice that the same creatures are here that are in Johnís vision. What are these "living beings"? They are angels. Ezekiel later has another vision where these four living creatures are explicitly identified.
And each one had four faces. The first face was the face of a cherub, the second face was the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
Then the CHERUBIM rose up. They are the living beings that I saw by the river Chebar. (Ezekiel 10:14-15).
Notice that there has been a subtle change. Instead of the calf or the bull, now we see a cherub as one of the living creatures. Why? What is the point? The point is that the specifics of these creatures are not all that important. What is important is that these four living beings are merely representative of every type of life within the creation of God.
The emphasis is on the fact that they are ALIVE. They are called the four LIVING ones. And they stand guard around the throne of God.
When you went into the Temple in Jerusalem, you would see the lampstand on your left and the table of shewbread on the right and the altar of incense and beyond that, the veil.
Once you passed through the veil, there was nothing. Just a bare rock. But in the days of the original Temple, this innermost chamber had been the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. It was a wooden box overlaid with gold. The top of the box was of pure gold. It was called the mercy seat. It was considered to be the throne of God. It was here that the high priest would come once a year to sprinkle the blood of goats and calves.
On each side of the mercy seat was a golden figure. It was the figure of a cherub. Its wings were stretched out over the ark and its face looked down upon the mercy seat. But it was only a golden figure - a lifeless statue. The cherubim that John sees around the throne of heaven are different. They are alive! They are not only alive, they are animated with life. They are speaking.
A VISION OF HOLINESS
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, who was and who is and who is to come."
And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever,10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created." (Revelation 4:8-11).
Here is the point. It is to bring us to focus upon the holiness of God. When you want to emphasize something in Jewish culture, you did so by means of repetition. When you want to emphasize something in Jewish culture, you did so by means of repetition.
When Jesus wanted to emphasize the truth of a statement, He would often repeat it: "Truly, truly, I say to you..." You see this sort of parallel repetition often in the Bible. But you hardly ever see something repeated three times.
Holy - Holy - HOLY!!!!
God is holy. He is not just the "man upstairs." He is not a nice old man with whiskers. He is not merely one of the boys. He is the holy God of the universe. And you had better recognize that when you come into His presence.
THE SEVEN-SEALED BOOK
I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.
And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?"
And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.
Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it;5 and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals." (Revelation 5:1-5).
Johnís attention is now drawn to the right hand of God. It holds something. Our translation calls it a "book." This is the Greek word Biblon. But the context seems to indicate that it is really a scroll. Verse 1 says that it contains writing on the inside as well as on the back. That seems to be describing a papyrus scroll. Scrolls were normally written only on one side. But this one contains so much material that it is written front and back.
You need to know that this is not the first scroll that the Bible speaks of that was written on the front and back. When the Lord first appeared to Ezekiel, He sent His message through a scroll that was written on the front and in the back.
Then I looked, and behold, a hand was extended to me; and lo, a scroll was in it.
When He spread it out before me, it was written on the front and back, and written on it were lamentations, mourning and woe. (Ezekiel 2:9-10).
God had a message of woe for the people of Israel. It was a message of warning. It was a message foretelling what was going to happen to the nation. It was a message that contained the plan of God for the people of God.
I think the scroll that John sees here in Revelation is the same kind of scroll. It contains a message. It is a message containing the plan of God.
But that message is sealed. Its message is hidden from human eyes. We have no way of knowing what Godís plan is for human history. We cannot guess what is in the mind of God. The only way that we can know His plan is for His sealed scroll to be unfolded for us.
And so the call goes out for someone who will be found worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals. But no one is found to be qualified. Not the angels. Not Gabriel. Not any of the saints in heaven.
John weeps with frustration. Somehow he is aware of the awesome significance of the scroll. He is aware that it contains information relevant to the world in which he lives.
Think about this would mean to a Christian who is going through hard times. Think about what it means to an old apostle who has been sentenced to live the rest of his life on a barren prison island.
And so, he weeps. After all, he knows that it is a hard, cruel world. And unless the scroll is opened, it is going to go on being a hard, cruel world. But in the midst of his weeping good news comes.
The Lion of the tribe of Judah has overcome. This is a title for Jesus. It is a title that goes back to the Old Testament. Judah was called a lionís whelp (Genesis 49:9). It was promised that from Judah would come the future king.
John has just been told about the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He looks up and expects to see a lion. But he does not. Instead he sees a lamb.
THE LAMB OF GOD
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. (Revelation 5:6).
This was not any old lamb. It was a lamb which looked as though it had been slain. What does a lamb look like that has been slain? Its throat has been cut. It is a bloody sacrifice.
The principle of a sacrificed lamb goes back to the Old Testament. It goes back before the prophets and before the kings. It goes back before the Judges and before Moses and before Abraham. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
Do you remember what happened after Adam and Eve fell into sin? They recognized their nakedness and they found themselves ashamed. They tried to cover up with fig leaves. Iím not much into fashion design, but I donít think a fig leaf dress would be very durable - certainly not wash and wear. Prior to casting them out of the Garden, the Lord did something special for them.
The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21).
Did you hear the story of when the chicken, the cow and the pig were having a discussion. The chicken said, "It is wonderful how we are able to serve the farmer at each morningís breakfast by providing him with bacon and eggs and milk." TO which the pig replied, "For you this is merely the giving of a portion of your sustenance. For me it is a lifetime commitment."
That is what was involved in the making of these garments of skin. For Adam and Eve to wear such garments means that some animal had to be slain to provide the skins. That was a picture of Jesus. He is the ultimate sacrifice whose life was laid down to provide a covering from sin. It is through His death that we are clothed in a righteousness not our own.
This lamb has some other characteristics that are not found on your everyday and average run-of-the-mill lamb.
1. Seven horns.
The horn was considered to be a symbol of strength in the ancient world. There are a number of Old Testament passages that illustrate this:
And all the horns of the wicked He will cut off, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up. (Psalm 75:10).
In fierce anger He has cut off all the strength (horn) of Israel; He has drawn back His right hand from before the enemy. And He has burned in Jacob like a fire consuming round about. (Lamentations 2:3).
On that day I shall make a hort sprout for the house of Israel, and I shall open your mouth in their midst. Then they will know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 29:21).
In each of these passages, the horn can be seen to be a symbol of strength and of vitality.
2. Seven eyes.
We do not have to guess at the identity of the seven eyes. The passage tells us their meaning. They represent the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. They are pictured as seven eyes. I think that there is a reason for this. It is because God wants us to know that He is watching.
Do you remember the story of Jonah? He thought that he could run to the Tarshish, but God was there. He told the sailors to cast him into the sea, but God was there. And even in the belly of the whale, God was still there. Go where he might, Jonah could not escape the presence of God. And neither can you.
Are you serving the Lord in some small way and wondering whether anyone notices your little work of service? Take comfort. God knows and will reward.
Are you going through hard times? God knows.
Are you only living in obedience to Him one or two days out of the week? His vision is not limited only to when you are in church. There is nothing that takes place that is outside of His knowledge.
THE VICTORY OF THE LAMB
And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.
When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
"You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." (Revelation 5:7-10).
Now we learn something about the victory of the lamb. You donít normally think of lambs as being victorious. A lamb is an animal more designed to be a victim. We think of lambs being led off to the slaughter. Helpless.
But in His very helplessness and in His very slaughter, this Lamb conquered. With His shed blood, He purchased men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And because He conquered, there is a promise that we shall conquer, too.