Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement after His ascension to heaven.

REVELATION 5

This is an article in the series on the Seven Seals of Revelation. The seven seals begin in chapter five when the Lamb takes the book. The sixth seal ends with the events surrounding the second coming of Jesus. To date the first six seals, the crucial question is, When did the scene of chapter five occur? When did the Lamb take the book and begin to break its seals?

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB translation of the Book of Revelation.

SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE

The purpose of this article is to show that Revelation 5 describes Jesus’ enthronement immediately after his ascension to heaven. This statement is justified as follows:

REVELATION 5 IS A SPECIFIC EVENT

Several key markers in the text suggest that Revelation 4 does not describe a point in time but rather provides a general description of heavenly worship. For example, when John enters the scene, the throne is already there. The throne is not set up for a specific event, as in Daniel 7:9. Chapter 5, on the other hand, is a specific and very important meeting at a specific point in time. The whole universe gathers in God’s throne room to see Jesus receive the sealed book.

GLORIFIED AT THE FATHER’S RIGHT HAND.

NEW TESTAMENT TESTIMONY

According to the New Testament, Jesus was slain, raised to life, ascended into heaven, glorified at the Father’s right hand. For example:

He raised Him from the dead and
seated Him at His right hand
in the heavenly places
” (Eph. 1:20-22).

Furthermore, the New Testament identifies the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2)—fifty days after the crucifixion on the feast of the Passover and ten days after His ascension—as the earthly counterpart of Jesus’ glorification, for example:

Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

THIS IS WHAT WE SEE IN REVELATION 5:

      • Jesus appears as “a Lamb … as if slain” (5:6, 12). The heavenly beings later confirm this by saying to Jesus, “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” (5:9-10). This described His death as something that happened before the event of Revelation 5. It also sets a direct relationship between His death and His worthiness to receive the book.
      • Jesus then takes the book. The book is ON God’s right hand. When He took the book, He is “seated … at His right hand.” also assumed that position. This is confirmed when we later read that Jesus appears “in the center of the throne” (7:17; cf. 5:6). Jesus is then glorified equally to God: He—together with God—is praised by “every created thing” (5:13).
      • The seven Spirits of God” are “before the throne” before Jesus appears (4:5) but “sent out into all the earth” when He appears as a slain lamb (5:6).

Revelation 5, therefore, describes a specific event, namely Christ’s glorification at the Father’s right hand after He ascended into heaven.

The reference to the Holy Spirits sent out implies that Jesus was enthroned on the very Day of Pentecost.

REVELATION 3:21 OUTLINES REVELATION 4-7

A second line of support for this conclusion comes from Revelation 3:21. This is one of the verses in Revelation that are found in the climax of one part of the book that serves as an introduction to the next part. Revelation 3:21 is the climax of the overcomer promises given to the seven churches. At the same time, it is an outline of the seven seals in Revelation 4 to 7. This verse may be divided into two parts:

I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne

This is the second part of 3:21. Both verbs are stated in the past tense. This indicates that, from John’s time perspective, Christ already overcame and already sat down on His Father’s throne. This may be compared to Revelation 5:

      • Revelation 5 also mentions that Jesus overcame as something that already happened: One of the elders said that Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:6).
      • The next verse says that He “came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne” (5:7). As stated above, in doing so, He “sat down” at the “right hand” of God. 

Revelation 5, therefore, elaborates on the phrase in 3:21: Since “sat down” in 3:21 is in the past tense, and, therefore, in John’s past, it means chapter 5 points to an event in John’s past.

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne.

This is the first part of 3:21:

I will give the right to sit with me on my throne” is in the future tense. The people of God will share Jesus’ right to rule with God (sit on His throne) when He returns (20:4). This is fulfilled in Revelation 7, where the overcomers are the great multitude that is able to stand before God (7:9; cf. 6:17; 7:15-17).

This leaves the phrase, “him who overcomes.” This is stated in the present tense which means that God’s people are NOW overcoming. This present tense overcoming happens between:

      • Jesus sitting down and taking the book, as described in Revelation 5, and the
      • God’s people sitting down with Jesus, as described in Revelation 7 – after the return of Christ (6:12-17).

The present tense overcoming of God’s people, therefore, describes Revelation 6.  When Jesus receives the book, it is sealed with seven seals. In Revelation 6, He breaks the seals one by one. Each time, something happens on earth. The sixth seal is just before or includes the return of Christ (6:17). A further important conclusion, therefore, is that the seals describe:

      1. The overcoming of God’s people
      2. From the time of Christ’s ascension to His return.

SYNOPTIC APOCALYPSE

The third line of support for this conclusion comes from the Synoptic Apocalypse(Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21). In it, Jesus divided history into three great eras:

      • First of all, the general realities that are typical of the whole Christian age (preaching the gospel, wars, rumors of wars, insurrections and rebellions, famines, pestilence, earthquakes).
      • Secondly, Jesus talks about a great persecution toward the end of that era – when God’s people suffer the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24).
      • Thirdly, Jesus moves to the end-time with its heavenly signs and other spectacular events surrounding the coming of Jesus (Luke 21:25-28).

Revelation 6 follows this pattern:

      • The first four seals resemble the general realities of the Christian age (preaching of the gospel, war, famine, pestilence, wild beasts, etc).
      • The fifth seal brings a focus on persecution: “Until the number of … their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also” (6:11).
      • The chapter climaxes with heavenly signs and the kind of events directly associated with the end (6:12-17).

Since Jesus’ description of the church age in the synoptic apocalypse is parallel to the first four seals and since Revelation 5 precedes the first four seals, Revelation 5 must be an event right at the beginning of the Christian era.

CHIASTIC STRUCTURE OF REVELATION

The fourth and final evidence that the time of Revelation 5 is at the beginning of the Christian era, rather than its end, can be found in the overall structure of Revelation. The entire book is structured as a chiasm. This means that the earlier chapters are parallel to the later chapters and the structure moves in stair-step or pyramid fashion toward the center of the book. The events in the last eleven chapters focus on the final days of earth’s history. The first eleven chapters of the book of Revelation, on the other hand, of which the seven seals are part, covers the entire Christian age. This is further evidence that the taking of the book by the Lamb in Revelation 5 must have occurred at the beginning of the Christian era.

This argument depends on the conclusions that the seven letters and the seven trumpets also cover the church age. These conclusions are discussed in other articles.

FIFTH SEAL – BEFORE THE END-TIME JUDGMENT

The fifth seal is at a point in time when the events of Revelation 5 and the first four seals are past, but the end-time judgment is still in the future, for the souls of God’s slain people cried out:

How long, Sovereign Lord … until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (6:10, NIV).

But they were told to wait, for more of God’s people are still be killed after this point in time. This makes clear that the scene of Revelation 5 precedes the judgment at the end (cf. 19:2).

CONCLUSION

In Revelation 5, Jesus appears on God’s throne—at His Father’s right hand—as a slain lamb, receives a book because He overcame, is glorified by the whole universe, while the Holy Spirit is sent out into the entire world. This fits exactly with what the New Testament says happened after His ascension. So the time of Revelation 5 is just after His ascension to God’s throne (12:5). This was somewhere between AD 30 to 33, based on astronomical calculations.

At that time, the book was still sealed. In Revelation 6, the Lamb breaks open the seals one by one.  Each time that He breaks a seal in heaven, something happens on earth. The sixth seal is the return of Christ (6:16-17). A further conclusion, therefore, is that Revelation 6 symbolizes the present-tense overcoming of God’s people over the broad sweep of history from the ascension of Jesus to His Second Coming (6:17) and beyond.

Thus far, we discussed what Revelation 5 and 6 symbolize. The remainder of this article discusses various alternative interpretations.

NOT THE RAPTURE

In Revelation 4:1, John is called up to heaven, but since Revelation 5 represents Jesus’s enthronement, 4:1 is not the rapture. This is confirmed in Revelation 10, where John acts as a symbol for the church, and he is still on earth. It is much more likely that 11:12, where the two witnesses are also called to “Come up here,” represents the rapture of the church.

NOT END-TIME JUDGMENT

Many understand Revelation 5 as a judgment prior to Christ’s return. However, in Revelation 5, no books are opened, as one finds in other judgment scenes, and no typical judgment language is used. Furthermore, if Revelation 5 was a judgment before Christ’s return, then Revelation 6 must have been His return.  In contrast, the first five seals represent the history of the Church. The fifth seal, where God gives white robes to His slain people (6:11), seems to be a judgment before Christ’s return and might be the judgment scene of Daniel 7.

NOT THE ANTI-TYPICAL DAY OF ATONEMENT

If Revelation 5 was the anti-typical Day of Atonement (the great Old Testament day of judgment), we would have expected to following to be mentioned:

      • The ark of the covenant, which was the primary piece of furniture associated with the Day of Atonement;
      • Judgment language;
      • The Most Holy Place;
      • A male goat instead of a Lamb.

Since these things are not mentioned, the Day of Atonement is not in view in Revelation 5.

– END OF SUMMARY –

REVELATION 5 IS A SPECIFIC EVENT

Several key markers in the text suggest that Revelation 4 does not describe a point in time but rather provides a general description of heavenly worship:

      • When John enters the scene, THE THRONE IS ALREADY THERE. The throne is not something new. This is in contrast with Daniel 7:9, where the throne was set in place for a specific event.
      • The four living creatures are saying “holy, holy, holy” DAY AND NIGHT without a pause (4:8). This is the language of continuous action over a period of time rather than action at a specific moment.
      • Verses 9 to 11 describe worship as a repetitive action.

While Revelation 4 is a general description of God’s throne room, Chapter 5 is a specific and very important meeting at a specific point in time. All the praise of chapter 4 suddenly stops with anticipation and silence when the whole universe gathers in God’s throne room to see Jesus receive the sealed book. The millions and millions of angels looking on (5:11) and the interest of “every created thing” (5:12) emphasize the intense importance of this heavenly meeting. The question which we will explore in this article is what point in time this scene is referring to and exactly what event is in view.

JESUS WAS GLORIFIED AT THE FATHER’S RIGHT HAND.

NEW TESTAMENT TESTIMONY

A common theme in the New Testament is that Jesus was glorified at the Father’s right hand at His ascension to heaven after He was raised to life, for example:

He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:20-22).

We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven ” (Heb 8:1-2, NIV; cf. Acts 2:31-36; 5:30-32; 7:55-56; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 1:3,13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2 Acts 5:30-31; Phil 2:6-11; Col 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 10:12; 12:2, 21; 1 Peter 3:21-22; Matt 22:44; 26:64; Mark 12:36; 14:62; Luke 10:42; 22:69).

The cross is the center point of all Christian faith (1 Cor 1:17-18; Gal 6:14; Eph 2:16; Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:20) but the value of His victory was confirmed when He sat down at the right hand of His Father (Matt 26:64; Acts 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3, 13; 1 Pet 3:22). These two events—the cross and the enthronement of Jesus—are decisive to the Christian story.

Furthermore, the New Testament identifies the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2)—fifty days after the crucifixion on the feast of the Passover and ten days after His ascension—as the earthly counterpart of Jesus’ enthronement and glorification, for example:

      • The Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).
      • Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

We will now show that these three elements are contained in Revelation 5:

    1. Jesus was slain
    2. But glorified at His Father’s right hand while
    3. The Holy Spirit was poured out.

JESUS WAS SLAIN.

John hears that Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:5). When John looks, He sees Jesus appearing as a slain lamb (5:6, 12).  The heavenly beings later confirm by saying to Jesus, “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” (5:9-10). This emphasis on the cross implies that Revelation 5 shows how Jesus received the book in the same year as the year in which He was slain.

GLORIFIED AT HIS FATHER’S RIGHT HAND

Similar to what the New Testament claims, Revelation 5 indicates Jesus was glorified at His Father’s right hand:

    • The NASB reads that the scroll is IN the Father’s right hand (5:1), but the main meaning of the word translated “in” (epi) is “over, upon or on” (Strong G1909). The book is therefore ON God’s right hand—the place at which Jesus was to be glorified. When He took the book, He also assumed that position.
    • Jesus is glorified in Revelation 5. He—together with God—is praised by “every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them” (5:13).
    • In Revelation 5, Jesus He appears “in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts” (5:6 KJV). The four living beings are “in the center and around the throne” (4:6).  Jesus, therefore, appears at the center of the throne.  Also in 7:17, which is a later scene of God’s throne room, Jesus is “in the center of the throne.” Jesus, therefore, “sat down” on the throne.

THE HOLY SPIRIT POURED OUT

The seven Spirits of God” are “before the throne” before Jesus appears (4:5) but sent out into all the earth” when He appears as a slain lamb (5:6).

 

CONCLUSION

By way of summary, according to the New Testament, Jesus was slain, raised to life, ascended into heaven, glorified at the Father’s right hand while the Holy Spirit was poured out.

This is what we see in Revelation 5:

      • Jesus appears as “a Lamb … as if slain” (5:6). 
      • Jesus then takes the book on the right hand of God, which points to His enthronement, and is glorified equal to God (5:13).
      • At the same time, the “seven Spirits of God (are) sent out into all the earth” (5:6).

Revelation 5, therefore, describes what happens in heaven after Jesus ascended.

The reference to the Holy Spirits sent out implies that Jesus was enthroned on the very Day of Pentecost.

REVELATION 3:21 OUTLINES REVELATION 4-7

The second line of support for this conclusion comes from Revelation 3:21.

REVELATION 3:21

Revelation 3:21 is one of the verses in Revelation that are found in the climax of one part of the book that serves as an introduction to the next part of Revelation. Revelation 3:21 is the climax of the overcomer promises given to the seven churches. At the same time, it is an outline of the seven seals in Revelation 4 to 7. It reads:

To him who overcomes,
I will give the right to sit with me on my throne,
just as I overcame
and sat down with my Father on his throne
(NIV).

The elements of this verse may be analyzed as follows:

To him who overcomes – In the Greek, this is an extremely continuous construction. This is stated in the present tense, which means that God’s people are now overcoming. According to this verse, the primary task of a Christian is to overcome.

I will give the right to sit with me on my throne – This is in the future tense. The people of God will share Jesus’ right to rule with God (sit on His throne) when He returns (20:4; 7:15-17).

Just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne –Both verbs are stated in the past tense, which indicates that, from John’s time perspective, Christ already overcame and already sat down on His Father’s throne. This statement also implies that Jesus “sat down” IMMEDIATELY AFTER He “overcame.”

COMPARED TO REVELATION 5

Revelation 5 also mentions that Jesus overcame. And, from the time perspective of Revelation 5, Jesus also “overcame” in the past: One of the elders said that Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:6). John then saw “a Lamb … as if slain” (5:6). This indicates HOW Jesus overcame, namely, by living a sinless life, even when tempted to the point of death.

As already argued above, Revelation 5 also describes Jesus sitting down on His Father’s throne. While 5:6 presents Jesus as a Lamb, the next verse says that He “came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne” (5:7). As stated above, when He took the book, He also “sat down” at the “right hand” of God. 

Revelation 5, therefore, elaborates on the phrase in 3:21: “I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne:

      • In both 3:21 and Revelation 5, Jesus overcame in the past.
      • In 3:21, “sat down” is in the past tense but it is the present activity in Revelation 5.

Since “sat down” is in the past tense in 3:21, and, therefore, is in John’s past, it means chapter 5 points to an event in John’s past.

TO HIM WHO OVERCOMES

Revelation 3:21, therefore, provides an outline of the seven seals of Revelation 4-7:

    • Revelation 4 describes the Father’s throne.
    • In chapter 5, Jesus “sat down with my Father on His throne.” Therefore, praise in 5:13 is directed at both.
    • The “I will give the right to sit with me on my throne”-part is fulfilled in Revelation 7, where the overcomers are the great multitude that is able to stand before God (7:9; cf. 6:17):

They are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them” (7:15).
The Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd” (7:17).

The remaining portion of 3:21 (“him who overcomes”) aligns with the remaining portion of the seals, namely Revelation 6. In that chapter, the seals are broken, triggering events on earth. This makes clear that chapter six is all about the overcoming of God’s people; from the time when the Lamb takes the book in the time before John until the second coming of Jesus (6:15-17). Like Matthew 24, Revelation 6 is about the going forth of the gospel into the world, its acceptance and rejection and the experience of the people of God on earth, struggling to overcome against opposition and many trials.

OVERCOME

The main meaning of the seven seals may, therefore, be summarized as overcoming:

    • First, the Lamb overcomes and joins His Father on His throne (Revelation 5). This chapter is concerned with events in the year of Christ’s death. After His victory on earth, He was elevated to heaven at His ascension to join His Father on the throne.
    • Then the people of God struggle to overcome all the trials and difficulties that they face over the course of Christian history (Revelation 6). They join Jesus on His throne when He returns.

SYNOPTIC APOCALYPSE

So far, we have shown that:

      • Revelation 5 describes a specific event,
      • Namely, an event often mentioned in the New Testament; Christ’s glorification at the Father’s right hand and that
      • Revelation 3:21 indicates that that event took place in the first century.

The parallel with the synoptic apocalypse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) is further evidence for placing Revelation 5 at Christ’s ascension. In the Synoptic Apocalypse, Jesus divided the Christian age (the time between His day and the End) into three great eras:

      • First of all, the general realities that are typical of the whole Christian age (preaching the gospel, wars, rumors of wars, insurrections and rebellions, famines, pestilence, earthquakes). Jesus is explicit to say that they are not signs of the end but will continue to the end and are signs of the whole age (Matthew 24:6-8).
      • Secondly, Jesus talks about a great persecution toward the end of that era. During these times Jerusalem is to be “trodden underfoot” (Luke 21:24). In Matthew and Mark, this period is blended into the realities of the whole age. Only in Luke is there a clear distinction and progression.
      • Thirdly, Jesus moves to the end-time with its heavenly signs and other spectacular events surrounding the coming of Jesus (Luke 21:25-28). Again, in Matthew and Mark, these tend to be blended together, but in Luke the distinction between the three eras is clear.

Revelation 6 follows this same pattern:

      • The four horsemen of the first four seals (6:1-8) resemble the general realities of the Christian age (preaching of the gospel, war, famine, pestilence, wild beasts, etc).
      • Then in the fifth seal (6:9-11), there is a focus on persecution (the souls under the altar crying out “How long?”). But they are told to “rest for a little while longer, until the number of … their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also” (6:11).
      • The chapter climaxes in the sixth seal with heavenly signs and the kind of events associated with the second coming of Jesus and the end (6:12-17).

In conclusion:

      • Since the heavenly scroll is still sealed in chapter five and the seals are broken one by one in chapter six, Revelation 5 precedes the first four seals.
      • The first four seals are parallel to Jesus’ description of the church age.
      • Therefore, Revelation 5 must be an event right at the beginning of the Christian era, and the ascension and enthronement of Christ qualify as that.

CHIASTIC STRUCTURE

Further evidence that the time of Revelation 5 is at the beginning of the Christian era, rather than its end, can be found in the overall structure of Revelation. The entire book is structured as a chiasm. This means that the earlier chapters are parallel to the later chapters and the structure moves in stair-step or pyramid fashion toward the center of the book. The events in the last eleven chapters focus on the final days of earth’s history. The first eleven chapters of the book of Revelation, on the other hand, of which the seven seals are part, covers the entire Christian age. This is further evidence that the taking of the book by the Lamb in Revelation 5 must have occurred at the beginning of the Christian era.

This argument depends on the conclusions that the seven letters and the seven trumpets also cover the church age. These conclusions are discussed in other articles.

REVELATION 19 AND THE SEALS

As an example of this chiasm, the following shows that Revelation 19 is the counterpart of the seals:

COMMON ELEMENTS

Both (Revelation 19 and the seals) mention 24 elders, 4 living creatures, the throne, worship, and praise:

      • In Revelation 19, the great multitude praises God for destroying end-time Babylon.
      • In Revelation 4-5, God is praised for creation (4:11) and for redemption at the cross (5:9, 10, 12, 13). FIRST

FIRST SEAL

The white horse of Revelation 6:2 is parallel to the white horse of Revelation 19:11. The riders on both horses wear crowns and in both instances, Jesus is the Rider:

      • There is a victory crown (stephanos – like an Olympic gold medal) in the first seal, which is appropriate to the Christian age, symbolizing that the gospel will always continue to go forth.
      • There is a royal crown of rulership (diadêma) in chapter 19. This is appropriate for that chapter because there Jesus is putting an end to all opposition on the earth.

FIFTH SEAL

The most impressive single parallel between Revelation 6 and Revelation 19 concerns the fifth seal, where the souls under the altar cry “How long will you be not judging and avenging?” (6:10) In other words, God’s judgment and vengeance, for the crimes they have been subjected to, HAS NOT YET BEGUN. In Revelation 19:2 comes the triumphant declaration that God HAS judged and avenged the blood of His servants in the destruction of Babylon.

SIXTH SEAL

The sixth seal provides a summary of the events of the end-time when the people of the world hide in the mountains for fear of Him who sits on the throne (6:15-17). This is parallel to the Return of Christ in chapter 19, where an angel invites the birds of the air “for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.” (19:17-18). These are the same people that hide in the mountains in the sixth seal. Revelation 19:17-18 is the end-time but 6:15-17 may be described as moving toward that same end-time event.

REVELATION 7

The seals end with the great multitude coming out of the great tribulation and praising God for their deliverance (Revelation 7). This is the same scene as in Revelation 19 (see the references to the great multitude in 19:1 and 6). These explain how the seals This confirms that the seals describe the Church age.

This supports the proposal that chapter 19 is the chiastic counterpart to the seals.

FIFTH SEAL – BEFORE THE END-TIME JUDGMENT

The fifth seal (6:9-11) is a point in historical time after Revelation 5; well into the sequence that starts with the opening of the scroll (6:1). But it is before the end-time judgment:

The souls of God’s slain people cried out “How long, Sovereign Lord … until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (6:10, NIV). But they were told to wait, for more of God’s people are still be killed after this point in time.

In contrast, in 19:2, the “great multitude” praises God because “He has judged the great harlot … and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants.” This speaks of a time when judgment is in past.

The fifth seal, therefore, is at a point when the events of the first four seals are past, but the end-time judgment is still in the future. This makes clear that the scene of Revelation 5 precedes the judgment at the end.

CONCLUSION

In Revelation 5, Jesus appears on God’s throne—at His Father’s right hand—as a slain lamb, receives a book because He overcame, is glorified by the whole universe, while the Holy Spirit is sent out into the entire world. This fits exactly with what the New Testament says happened after His ascension. So the time of Revelation 5 is just after His ascension to God’s throne (12:5). This was somewhere between AD 30 to 33, based on astronomical calculations.

At that time, the book was still sealed. In Revelation 6, the Lamb breaks open the seals one by one.  Each time that He breaks a seal in heaven, something happens on earth. The sixth seal is the return of Christ (6:16-17). A further conclusion, therefore, is that Revelation 6 symbolizes the present-tense overcoming of God’s people over the broad sweep of history from the ascension of Jesus to His Second Coming (6:17) and beyond.

Thus far, we discussed what Revelation 5 and 6 symbolize. The remainder of this article discusses various alternative interpretations.

NOT THE RAPTURE

In Dispensationalism, Revelation 4.1 is regarded as the rapture. Since we have shown above that Revelation 5 represents Jesus’s enthronement, 4.1 cannot be the rapture, Furthermore:

      • The interpretation of 4:1, where John is called “Come up here,” as the rapture of the Church, rests on very slender evidence. It is much more likely that 11:12, where the two witnesses are also called to “Come up here,” represents the rapture of the church.
      • In 10:1, John sees an angel coming down from heaven. John, therefore, in this chapter, is still on earth. Later in that chapter, John represents the church when he receives the little book and further instructions (10:8-9). This means that the church necessarily remains on earth at least until Revelation 10.
      • The purpose of John’s ascension to heaven in 4:1 is not to rescue the church from tribulation. It is explicitly stated that the purpose is to show John “what must take place after these things” (4:1). “These things” refer to the seven letters in Revelation 1-3 (cf. 1:19). In other words, John is called up to heaven to receive knowledge of future events.

See also the article on the rapture in the discussion of the seven plagues: Revelation 16:15 and the Rapture.

NOT THE JUDGMENT BEFORE CHRIST RETURNS

The strongest structural parallel to Revelation 5 is probably in Daniel 7:9-14. In both passages:

      • God is on the throne,
      • Is a reference to books,
      • The Son of man appears after God is already introduced, and
      • Authority” (Rev. 12:10; Dan. 7:14) is bestowed on the Son of man.

Daniel 7 seems to be a judgment scene shortly before the return of Christ. Many understand Revelation 5 as the judgment prior to Christ’s return to the earth, as in Daniel 7. However:

      • No books are opened in Revelation 5, as is done in Daniel 7:16 or in the last judgment (Rev. 20:12).  Jesus is praised for taking the book, but He does not open it in Revelation 5.  The books are only opened in Revelation 20:12.
      • We find no typical judgment language (judge, avenge) in Revelation 5.  Except for the fifth seal, which is only a request for judgment; not the judgment itself, we only find such language in the second half of Revelation.
      • If Revelation 5 was the judgment before Christ’s return, then Revelation 6 must have been His return.  In contrast, the first five seals represent the history of the Church.

The fifth seal, where God gives white robes to His slain people (6:11), seems to be a judgment before Christ’s return and might be the judgment scene of Daniel 7.

In conclusion, Revelation 5 represents the events in heaven after Christ’s ascension while Daniel 7 is a judgment prior to Christ’s return. These seem to be two different but related meetings in God’s throne room.

NOT THE DAY OF ATONEMENT

There are a number of reasons to rule out the Day of Atonement (the great Old Testament day of judgment) as the primary sanctuary reference in Revelation 4 and 5:

    • The primary piece of furniture associated with the Day of Atonement is the ark of the covenant. John mentions the ark in 11:19 but he makes no mention of the ark in Revelation 4 and 5.
    • There is no judgment language in Revelation 4-5. Revelation reserves that language for clear end-time settings. As we have noticed, even at the time of the fifth seal, which is much later than Revelation 5, judgment has not yet begun.
    • The Day of Atonement was associated with the Most Holy Place (Greek: naos). John uses this term about a dozen times (e.g. 11:19) but all such references are found in the second half of the book and are totally absent from Revelation 4-5.
    • Intercession is in focus in Revelation 5 for the elders are holding bowls of incense which are the prayers of the saints (5:8).
    • If Revelation 5 was the true Day of Atonement, we would also expect a male goat instead of a Lamb as the central figure.

These factors rule out the Day of Atonement as the focus of Revelation 5.

TAMID BACKGROUND

The Jewish sanctuary system had annual, monthly and daily feasts and services. Another line of evidence that the opening of the scroll begins with the ascension of Jesus is that the first half of Revelation alludes to all the activities of the “tamid“– the daily service in the temple. This service involved:

      • Trimming the lamps (1:12),
      • Opening the doors (4:1),
      • Slaying a lamb (5:9),
      • Pouring out the blood (5:9),
      • Burning incense (8:4),
      • A period of silence (8:1), and
      • Seven trumpets (Rev. 8-9).

The Day of Atonement pointed to the end-time events in Revelation. Since the first half of the book of Revelation is based on the tamid service, it naturally covers the whole Christian era. That would also apply to the seven seals. This supports the conclusion that Revelation 5 is at the beginning of the Christian era.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

      • While Revelation 4 is a general description of God’s throne room, Revelation 5 presents a specific event.
      • Revelation 5 describes Christ’s glorification at the Father’s right hand after He ascended into heaven; somewhere between AD 30 to 33.
      • The seals in Revelation 6 describe:
        • The overcoming of God’s people
        • Over the broad sweep of history from the ascension of Jesus to His return.
      • Revelation 4:1 is not the rapture.
      • Revelation 5 is not a judgment prior to Christ’s return, nor is it the anti-typical Day of Atonement.

AVAILABLE ARTICLES ON REVELATION

INTRODUCTORY
   Why is the title of this website Revelation BY Jesus Christ?
   Are events described in chronological sequence? 
   Is a consistently literal interpretation appropriate?
   Does Revelation present Jesus as God?
   God’s throne – the center of the universe.
SEVEN SEALS
   Introduction to the Seven Seals – What book is this?
   Revelation 4:1-8 – Verse-by-verse
   Revelation 4:8-11 – Worship in God’s presence
   The 24 elders are human beings that rule under God.
   Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement after His ascension.
   The Sixth Seal concludes with Christ’s Return.
   Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?
   Seven seals explained
BABYLON
   Babylon; the mother of harlots – main article
   Babylon’s merchants are her false prophets.
   Babylon is not the reconstructed ancient city of Babylon.
   Babylon is the driving force behind the beast.
SEVEN-HEADED BEASTS
   The Seven-Headed Beasts of Revelation identified
   The three beasts are three of the seven heads.
   The Seven Heads identified
REVELATION 13
   13:1-2 – The Beast relates to Daniel 7.
   13:3-4 – The fatal wound
   The beast of Revelation is the Mainstream Church of Christendom.
SEVEN PLAGUES
   The Plagues of Revelation – 16 articles

For further reading, Jon Paulien’s commentary is recommended. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

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