Worship sounds and songs in God’s throne room (Revelation 4 & 5)

Summary

Revelation 4:8 continued

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.”

So far, Revelation 4 described God’s throne room visually. From this verse onwards, Revelation 4 describes the sounds of worship in God’s presence.

HOLY, HOLY, HOLY – God is holy because He is the Uncreated Source of all things. All else exists because He exists.

Day and night – While the four living creatures praise God “day and night,” Satan accuses God’s people “day and night” before God (Rev. 12:9); effectively accusing God of unfair judgment. Christ’s victorious death (Rev 12:5; cf. 5:5) made an end to Satan’s accusations (12:8) but Revelation 4 describes the time before Christ died. Consequently, the four living creatures, by praising God “day and night,” are opposing Satan’s “day and night” accusations.

THE ALMIGHTY – This phrase appears 9 times in Revelation and only once in the New Testament outside Revelation. The Bible never refers to Jesus as “the Almighty” but distinguishes Him with “the Almighty“ (21:22; cf. 19:15). For a discussion, see The Almighty. 

WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND IS TO COME – This may be related to the “I AM“-title in Exodus 3:14 and another way of saying that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). In Revelation, only the Father:

      • Is called God (cf. 1:2);
      • Is the Almighty,
      • Sits on the throne,
      • Lives forever (5:9),
      • Willed all things to exist (4:11) and
      • Was and is and is to come (cf. 1:4-5).

Revelation 4:9

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

When – This word implies repetitive action and can also be translated as “whenever.” It confirms that this fourth chapter does not describe one specific event, but the general condition in God’s presence.

Him who sits on the throneThis is the “One sitting on the throne” in verse 2, namely God.

Him who lives forever and ever – Jesus is “alive forevermore” (1:18), but only the Father is “Him who lives forever” (4:9, 10; 15:7). The Father “alone possesses immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16). As the only begotten Son of God, Jesus derived His eternal nature from the Father. The Father is the Unbegotten Source of all things. See, God is the Head of Christ.

Revelation 4:10

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,

Fall down … worship – This verse translates the two key words for worship in Revelation as “fall down” and “worship.” Both words mean to prostrate oneself in obeisance toward a god or an exalted person like a king.

Cast their crowns before the throne – In this way, the twenty-four elders acknowledge that they owe their victory completely to Him.

Revelation 4:11

“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.”

Lord (Greek: kurios) – This means owner, master, or husband. It is an expression of respect, similar to “sir” in English. The New Testament uses it for God (e.g., Matt 5:33), Jesus Christ (e.g., Matt 20:31) and the Roman emperor (Acts 25:26).

God – This translates the Greek word theos which the Greeks used for their many gods. The New Testament uses theos for:

    • The God of Israel (Gal 4:8),
    • The Father who sent Jesus (John 17:3),
    • Jesus (John 1:1),
    • Satan (2 Cor 4:4) and
    • The gods of the nations (1 Cor 8:5).

The title theos, therefore, may also be translated as “god.”

The ancients did not distinguish between lower- and upper-case characters. The word “God,” with a capital G, is a more modern invention that functions as a proper name for one specific Being, namely the Almighty. To retain the original meaning, it might have been more appropriate to translate 4:11 as “our lord and our god.”

For You created all things – That is why God is worthy to receive our “glory and honor and power.

Because of Your will they existed – Behind the act of creation lies His “will.” Were it not for the will of God, the universe would not exist. 

FIVE SONGS

There are five songs of praise in Revelation 4 and 5:

    • The first two are sung to the One sitting on the throne, “for You created all things” (Rev 4:11).
    • The third and fourth hymns are sung in praise to the Lamb, “for You … purchased for God with Your blood men” (Rev 5:9-10).
    • But this final hymn in 5:13, as the climax of the series, is sung to both and by every created being.

Worship both the Father and the Son

In Rev 5:13, all creation bows down to praise both “Him who sits on the throne” and Jesus. Some use these verses as evidence that Jesus Christ is equal to His Father. However:

    • The Father is “Him who sits on the throne” and, therefore, the ultimate Ruler.
    • As discussed above under 4:8, in Revelation, only the Father is Almighty, has essential immortality and has willed all things to exist (4:11).
    • Philippians 2:6-11 also explains what happens after Jesus’ ascension to heaven and, therefore, explains this scene in Revelation 5. That passage indicates that Jesus is worshiped:
      • Because “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (v9) and
      • To the glory of God the Father” (v11).
        For a discussion, see the article on Philippians 2.

God is the Creator, but He created all things through His Son, gave all authority to His Son and wish that “all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” But when God’s end-time people are called to “Fear God, and … worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (Rev. 14:7), it is a call to worship the Father.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

A previous article discussed the first seven verses of Revelation 4, which give a visual description of heaven. The current article discusses the sounds and the songs of worship in God’s presence, as we find in the remainder of that chapter and in Revelation 5; after Jesus appears in the throne room.

Revelation 4:8

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.

Day and night” means continual or ongoing.

To continually sing “holy, holy, holy” may seem boring, but the four living creatures have been created with the ability to understand something about God’s immeasurable holiness. Therefore, their intense emotions explode into words of exaltation: holy, holy, holy.

To be holy means to be separate:

      • Things are holy when consecrated to God.
      • People are holy when God assigns specific tasks to them.
      • God is holy because He is distinct from all creation. He is the Uncreated Source of all things. He is that which exists. All else exists because He exists. He created all things, and because of His will, they exist (4:11).

OPPOSING SATAN’S ACCUSATIONS

While the four living creatures praise God “day and night,” Satan accuses God’s people “day and night” (Rev. 12:9). By accusing the people God has chosen for eternal life, Satan, by implication, accuses God of unfair judgment (cf. Job 1 and 2).

Christ’s victory as a human being over sin and evil (Rev 12:5) refuted Satan’s accusations and made an end to Satan’s “day and night” accusations (Rev 12:8). But Revelation 4 describes the time before Christ died on the Cross:

Revelation 5:1-4 describes the time when there was a sealed book in heaven (Rev 5:1), causing much sorrow (5:4).

But then, in verse 5, Jesus appears as a slain lamb (pointing to His death), turning the sorrow into joy.

Revelation 5:1-4, and therefore the entire Revelation 4, describes the time before Christ’s victory when Satan was still accusing God’s people.

Consequently, the four living creatures, by praising God also “day and night,” were opposing Satan’s “day and night” accusations against God.

This is the reason for the great focus on the throne of God in Revelation 4. The throne represents the rule and authority of God, but that authority was being challenged by Satan.

GOD COULD NOT RESOLVE THE DISPUTE.

The One sitting on the throne created all things (4:11), but not even He is able to resolve the dispute by Himself because it is His judgments that are being questioned (See Book of Life.)

God creates free, intelligent beings because He desires a universe where love would rule and because love cannot be forced. True love is only possible where there is freedom. And freedom means that love can be rejected and creatures may rebel against God.

By creating intelligent beings with free will, God limited His own freedom. He sacrificed a great deal of control over the course of events in the universe. God is not a micro-manager who forces every detail into a pre-conceived mold. To protect their freedom, God’s intelligent beings must decide for themselves whether Satan’s accusations are true. The controversy can only be resolved on the basis of evidence.

THE ALMIGHTY

Verse 8 describes God as “the Almighty.” This phrase appears 9 times in Revelation and only once in the New Testament outside Revelation. The Bible never refers to Jesus as “the Almighty.” On the contrary, Jesus is contrasted with “the Almighty,“ for example:

The Lord God the Almighty
and the Lamb are its temple
” (21:22; cf. 19:15).

For a discussion, see Is Jesus the Almighty? Or Does the book of Revelation present Jesus as God?

WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME

Verse 8 also applies this title to God. This three-fold description of God occurs four times in Revelation (1:4, 8; 4:8; 11:17). However, in Revelation 11:17 the “is to come”-part is omitted because He has already come (11:15).

Who is and who was and who is to come” may be another way of saying God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). It may also be related to God’s “I AM“-title in Exodus 3:14.

All four uses of this phrase in Revelation apply only to God the Father. Titles such as “the first and the last,” “the beginning and the end,” “the Alpha and the Omega,” are possibly applied to Christ in 22:12-13 and mean that the Son is eternal. Nevertheless, the Father and Son are distinguished in the book of Revelation, and only the Father:

      • Is called God (cf. 1:2);
      • Is Almighty,
      • Sits on the throne,
      • Lives forever (e.g. 5:9),
      • Is the One by whose will we all exist (4:11) and
      • Was and is and is to come.

See the articles referenced above for further discussion.

Revelation 4:9

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

The word “when” implies repetitive action and can also be translated as “whenever.” Similar to this entire fourth chapter, this verse does not describe one specific event, but the general condition in God’s presence.

Glory, literally, is the brightness or radiance that surrounds a divine figure. Here it is used in an extended sense of how wonderful God is.

Honor, literally, is an expression of reverence or respect toward another.

To give thanks is the foundation of true worship. Those who are mindful of all that God has done for them will express themselves with gratitude and this gratitude keeps them focused on God’s character and actions.

GOD IS WORSHIPED
BECAUSE OF WHAT HE HAS DONE.

Worship in the Bible is all about God and His mighty acts on our behalf, it is not about us, our feelings, or our duties. Worship is not a recital of what we need to do, it is a recital of what God HAS DONE:

    • In 4:11, God is worthy to “receive glory and honor and power” “because” (NIV) He created all things.
    • In Rev. 5:13, both “Him who sits on the throne, and … the Lamb” receive honor “because” (NIV) the Lamb was slain (5:9).
    • In Rev. 11:17, God is given thanks “because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.”

Worship throughout the Bible is talking about, singing about, repeating the acts that God has done (Deut. 26:1-11; Ps. 66:3-6; 78:5-15; 111:4).

Understanding and practicing this truth will unleash God’s power in a local church. If worship often seems powerless, it is because it is rarely centered in God. In Bible times, when people rehearsed what God had done for them in the past, the power of God’s original act was unleashed in the worshiper’s present (2 Chron. 20:5-22; Dan. 9:15; 10:19-21). Worship focuses attention away from us and toward God. Our weakness takes hold of His strength.

to Him who sits on the throne

Him who sits on the throne” refers back to the “One sitting on the throne” in verse two, who is God.

to Him who lives forever and ever

Jesus is “alive forevermore” (1:18) and “will reign forever” (11:15), but only the Father is “Him who lives forever” (4:9, 10; 15:7). The Father “alone possesses immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16). As the only begotten Son of God, Jesus derived His eternal nature from the Father but the Father is the Unbegotten Source of all things. He, alone, has inherent immortality.

Revelation 4:10

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,

This verse repeats much of the previous verse. Here, the 24 elders worship God. In verse 8, it was the 4 living creatures. Whenever the four living creatures offer their triple praise to God, the twenty-elders fall down and worship God. In other words, worship is initiated by angels (represented by the living creatures) and then joined by human beings (represented by the 24 elders).

This verse translates the two key words for worship in Revelation as “fall down” (Greek: pesountai) and “worship” (proskunêsousin). Both words mean to prostrate oneself in obeisance toward a god or a king or somebody else. To translate the second word as “worship” goes beyond the meaning of the Greek word, for the English word “worship” implies that the one receiving obeisance is a god. For a discussion, see, Jesus is worshiped.

The crowns that the twenty-four elders throw down are not royal crowns (Greek: diadêma) but crowns of victory (Greek: stephanous). To cast their crown before the throne indicates that the wearers acknowledge that they owe their victory completely to Him. In a sense, they feel unworthy to wear their crowns in the presence of the One who gave them their victory.

Revelation 4:11

“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.”

Worthy are You, our Lord and our God

The word “worthy” is one of the key words of chapter five, but its first appearance is here in the last verse of chapter four. Worthy means deserving, qualified, or fitted for. In this verse, the one sitting on the throne is deserving of worship because He created all things.

LORD

The one seated on the throne is addressed as Lord and God. The basic meaning of “Lord” (Greek: kurios) is owner, master, or husband. It is often used as an expression of respect, like “sir” in English. In the New Testament is used to designate:

    • God (Matt 5:33; Mark 12:29-30; Luke 1:11, 15, 17, etc.),
    • Jesus Christ (Matt 20:31; Acts 2:36; Rom 1:4; 10:9; 1 Pet 1:3) and
    • The Roman emperor (Acts 25:26).

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word Yahweh is nearly always translated with kurios (Gen 2:4; Exod 6:3; 20:11; Deut. 7:7-9; Ps. 1:2; Is. 53:1; Hosia 1:1). In 4:11, kurios refers to the Father.

GOD

The word “God” translates the Greek word theos which, in the Greek culture, was used for the many gods of the ancients. In the New Testament, theos is used for:

    • The God of Israel (Gal 4:8),
    • The Father who sent Jesus (John 17:3),
    • Jesus (John 1:1),
    • Satan (2 Cor 4:4) and
    • The gods of the nations (1 Cor 8:5).

In First Century Asia Minor, the emperor Domitian was known as “lord and god.” The word theos, therefore, is used for any being whose power is far beyond that of ordinary people; even for exalted people. For that reason, theos may also be translated as “god,” rather than “God.”

The ancients did not distinguish between lower and upper case characters. The word “God,” with a capital G, is a modern invention that functions as a proper name for one specific Being, namely the Almighty. For these reasons, to retain the original meaning, it might have been more appropriate to translate 4:11 as “our lord and our god,” for the ancients did not have a word equivalent to the modern word “God” and the 24 elders, by referring to God as “our lord and our god,” were acknowledging the Creator as THEIR lord and god; not as THE ONLY lord and god. For a further discussion, see, Is Jesus God in Revelation?

to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created

In verse 9, the four living beings ascribed “glory and honor and thanks” to Him. The current verse replaces “thanks” with “power,” for He is the Almighty Creator. All power inherently belongs to God. There never was a time when He did not have it. But He restrains His use of that power (11:17). God never forces anyone but seeks to win the love of His creatures rather than to use His power to force them to comply with His will (see Rev 15:3-4).

The words “for” and “because” indicate cause and consequence: Because God created all things, He is worthy to receive our “glory and honor and power.”

All things” means the entire universe (Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 1:10; 3:9; Heb 1:3; 2:10); the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them.

Because of Your will” – Behind the act of creation lies the will and purpose of God. Were it not for the will and purpose of God, the universe would not exist. 

WORSHIP IN REVELATION 5

FIVE WORSHIP HYMNS

Five hymns are sung in Revelation 4 and 5. The first two are sung in honor of the One on the throne. The next two songs praise the Lamb. The last hymn offer praise to both. There is a crescendo in the size of the groups singing these hymns:

SUNG TO: SUNG BY:
(1) 4:8 “Holy, holy, holy” The One on the throne The 4 living creatures.
(2) 4:11 – Praising God as the Creator The 24 elders
(3) 5:9-10 – Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals The Lamb The 4 living creatures and the 24 elders
(4) 5:12 – Worthy is the Lamb to receive power, riches, wisdom … The 4 living creatures and the 24 elders are joined by millions of angels.
(5) 5:13 – blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever Both Every creature in the entire universe

So the whole sequence of Revelation 4-5 moves forward to the great climax in which “all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).

JESUS RECEIVES THE SAME HONOR AS THE FATHER.

In Revelation 5, all creation bows down to praise both “Him who sits on the throne” and Jesus:

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth … singing:
– ‘To him who sits on the throne
– and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power!
” Rev 5:13.

Because of this, it is often stated that this scene accords to Jesus Christ EQUAL STATUS with His Father. However:

      • The Father is the One on the throne (5:13) and, therefore, the ultimate Ruler.
      • As discussed above, in Revelation, only the Father is Almighty, has essential immortality and has willed all things to exist.
      • Philippians 2:6-11 also explains what happens after Jesus’ ascension to heaven and, therefore, explains this scene in Revelation 5. That passage indicates that Jesus is worshiped:
        • Because “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (v9) and
        • To the glory of God the Father” (v11).
          For a discussion, see the article on Philippians 2.

God is the Creator, but He created all things through His Son (e.g. John 1:3; Heb. 1:2; 1 Cor. 8:6). God is the ultimate Ruler, but He gave all authority to His Son (Mt. 28:18). God alone is worthy of worship, but “all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23), for that is God’s wish (Phil. 2:9; Heb 1:6). God’s end-time people are called to “Fear God, and … worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (Rev. 14:7). In the language of Revelation, this is a call to worship the Father. In Revelation, God is also Jesus’ God (1:6; 3:12). To elevate Jesus to the level of the Almighty God distorts the Word of God. For a further discussion, see – In the Trinity theory, God is three Persons in one Being, but Jesus is not God.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

      1. Revelation 4 depicts the time before Christ’s victory on earth.
      2. The reason for the great focus on the throne of God in Revelation 4 is that God’s authority was being challenged by Satan.
      3. God created intelligent beings with freedom and they must decide for themselves whether Satan’s accusations are true. 
      4. Only the Father is Almighty and the ultimate uncaused Cause of everything else.
      5. The Greek word translated “worship” means to prostrate oneself in obeisance toward a god or an exalted person like a king.
      6. The word translated “Lord” means owner, master, or husband.
      7. The word translated “God” is used for the many gods of the ancients and even for exalted human beings.
      8. In Revelation 5, all creation bows down to praise both “Him who sits on the throne” AND Jesus but that does NOT mean that these beings accord to Jesus Christ EQUAL STATUS with His Father.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN SEALS

OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

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

Revelation 4:1-8 – a visual description of God’s throne room.

SUMMARY

REVELATION 4:1

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven

After the letters from Jesus to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 1 to 3.

and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said

Jesus’ voice (Rev 1:10, 13)

“Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things. 

In Revelation 1, Jesus was standing between “seven golden lampstands,” symbolizing “the seven churches” (Rev 1:12, 20). There, He was on earth. Now, Jesus calls John up into heaven. Chapter 4, therefore, shifts the focus from earth to heaven.

In the view of many people, Rev 4:1 is the rapture of the church. But since Revelation 5 describes Jesus’ enthronement after His ascension, it cannot be the rapture. This is confirmed in Revelation 10, where John personally symbolizes the church, and he is still on earth. It is more likely that Rev 11:12, where the two witnesses are also called to “Come up here,” represents the rapture of the church.

REVELATION 4:2

Immediately I was in the Spirit

John did not literally enter heaven and he does not see a real place; he only sees a symbolic representation of the invisible reality in a vision of his mind.

and behold, a throne

The first thing that John sees, is God’s throne. “Throne” is the main word in chapter 4. Everything in this chapter happens in and around the throne. Revelation 4 is a vision of the governing center of the universe, and the throne symbolizes God’s authority.

was standing in heaven

The throne “was standing” before John saw it. This implies that John is now not viewing one specific event but a timeless description of God’s throne room. Further indications of this are:

        • The four living creatures praise God “day and night” (Rev 4:8).
        • Whenever the four living creatures praise God, the 24 elders join them in worship (Rev 4:9).

and One sitting on the throne

This Person is not named but Rev 5:13 and Rev 6:16 distinguish between “Him who sits on the throne” and Jesus Christ. The “One sitting on the throne,” therefore, is God. (Revelation uses the title “God” only for the Father.) Since He sits on the throne, He has the ultimate authority over the universe.

REVELATION 4:3

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.

There is a vagueness in God’s description. Other throne visions describe Him in human terms. For example, in Ezekiel 1:26-27, the one sitting on the throne, from the waist up, looks like glowing metal and from the waist down like fire.

God’s appearance is vague because He cannot be seen (John 1:18). He “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1Tim 6:16). He has created all things that can be seen. He exists outside space, time, and matter. Therefore, the substance of His Being can never be defined in terms of physical things.

REVELATION 4:4

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.

Based on the following, the 24 elders are human representatives of God’s people; not angels:

    • Elder” is a familiar Biblical title for human beings but not for angels.
    • Angels never sit on thrones and never wear crowns of any kind but humans do (Rev 2:10; 3:11; 3:21; 20:4).
    • The number 24 is a doubling of 12 and Revelation associates the number 12 with the people of God (Rev 12:1; 21:9-10).

The 12+12=24 elders symbolize God’s people from both the time of the Old Testament and from the church because Revelation merges the church into Israel. For example:

    • Revelation uses Israel’s capital (Jerusalem) as a symbol for the bride of Christ (Rev 21:2; cf. 19:7; 21:27) and, on it, the names of both the 12 “tribes” and the 12 “apostles” are written (Rev 21:12, 14). 
    • The woman of Revelation 12 first symbolizes the Old Testament people of God but, after Christ ascended to heaven (Rev 12:5), she symbolizes the church (e.g., Rev 12:6).

Jesus, similarly, said to His disciples:

In the new world … you … will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28).

In other words, Jesus said that the twelve disciples have become the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel.

REVELATION 4:5

Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.

Since these are things that happen in the air in a thunderstorm, and since they here come out of the throne, they represent God’s decisions. The “earthquake” and “great hail,” that are later added to this trio (Rev 8:5; 16:18; 11:19), represent the earthly consequences of God’s decisions.

And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne,
which are the seven Spirits of God

God does not literally have seven Spirits. The number seven is a symbol that is derived from the seven days of the week. As such, the number seven is different from the other numbers in Revelation in the sense that the seven stand in a chronological sequence—the second follows after the first—the third after the second, and so on, with the seventh as the last. The number seven, therefore, should be understood as ‘always’. Consequently, the seven Spirits of God may be interpreted to mean that God’s Spirit is ALWAYS present.

REVELATION 4:6-8

6 and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal;

Not a real sea of glass – John is doing his best to describe his vision.

and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures

They represent the angelic portion of God’s kingdom. They are always in close proximity to the throne (Rev 4:6; 5:6; 7:11; 14:3). They seem to be intermediaries between God and the human race, represented by the 24 elders. They are the primary connection between God and creation.

full of eyes in front and behind.
7 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.

The throne vision of Ezekiel 1 also has four living creatures with faces like a lion, ox, man, and eagle/vulture that are full of eyes (Ezek 1:5, 10, 18). Also in that vision, the four living creatures are especially close to God.

8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings

The seraphim of Isaiah 6 each has six wings (Isa 6:2) and, just like the four living creatures of Revelation 4, they constantly say, “holy, holy, holy” (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8).

are full of eyes around and within

This is not to be taken literally. Their eyes probably represent omniscience, for God knows everything. Since the number four represents ‘the whole earth’, the four living creatures symbolize knowledge of everything on earth.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE SEALS

The seven seals are described in four chapters from Revelation 4:1 to 8:1. It may be divided in the following parts:

Revelation 4 does not describe any specific event but provides a timeless description of God’s throne room.

Revelation 5:1-4 describes a time when there was a book in heaven that is sealed with seven seals, and nobody was able to open the book. This caused much sorrow (Rev 5:4).

As from Rev 5:5, the atmosphere in heaven changes from sorrow to joy, for Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Then Jesus appears as “a Lamb … as if slain” (Rev 5:6). This implies that we have now reached the time of His cross and that the time of sorrow was the time before His death.

The rest of Revelation 5 focuses on one specific event, namely Jesus’ glorification at His Father’s right hand after His ascension.

In Revelation 6, Jesus breaks the seals of the book. Each time that He breaks a seal, things happen on earth. The fifth seal describes a specific point in time, interpreted as the beginning of the time of the end.

The sixth seal, at the end of Revelation 6, concludes with the Return of Christ (Rev 6:15-17).

The first part of Revelation 7 (Rev 7:1-8) jumps back in time to describe the sealing of the 144000, which happens before the Return of Christ.

Revelation 7:9 picks up where Revelation 6 left off and to describe an Innumerable Multitude standing before the throne of God. This, therefore, is after the return of Christ.

The seventh and last seal is described in only a single verse (Rev 8:1). It says that all the worship and sounds of heaven, which we read about in Revelation 4 and 5, turn to silence for about half an hour. This website interprets this silence as the sorrow in the universe at the destruction of the lost at the end of time.

REVELATION 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.”

After these things
This phrase often introduces a new vision (as in Rev 7:1, 9). In this verse, “these things” refer to the seven letters to the seven churches, as contained in chapters two and three (cf. Rev 1:19). 

I looked and behold
John did not look with his literal eyes, but in a vision in his mind.

… a door standing open in heaven
This “door” refers metaphorically to an opening in the sky that enabled John to look into heaven. In his mind, he is no longer on Patmos, but at the gates of heaven.

… and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me

This refers back to Rev 1:10 where John heard a loud voice, “like the sound of a trumpet,” behind him. When he turned to see where the voice was coming from, he saw a vision of the Son of man among the seven candlesticks (Rev 1:12-18). 

The voice is not a trumpet, but only sounds “like” a trumpet. In Rev 1:15, Christ’s voice sounds like many waters. That does not mean that that is the voice of a different person. These are two descriptions of the same voice.  It is, therefore, Jesus who speaks to John in Rev 4:1. Jesus is absent from chapter four of Revelation but it is He who leads John, in vision, through these visions.

In the first three chapters, John met Jesus ON EARTH, for Jesus was standing between the candlesticks which symbolize the seven churches (Rev 1:20). For that reason, Jesus was “behind” John, not above him. The seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 were also addressed to seven churches ON EARTH. But in chapter four, the scene changes from the earthly to the heavenly.

… said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things

This is the second time that the phrase “after these things” appears in this verse. It refers to refer to chapters two and three, which reflected John’s time. From this verse forward, John will be seeing visions of events that are largely in his future. However, past events will also be mentioned to provide context.

REVELATION 4:2

Immediately I was in the Spirit;
and behold, a throne was standing in heaven,
and One sitting on the throne.

Immediately I was in the Spirit
John does not enter heaven physically; he is carried in vision by the Spirit into the heavenly places. John becomes “in the Spirit” four times in the book of Revelation. The first was in Rev 1:10, where he encountered the glorified Jesus. The second is here. The third and fourth are in Rev 17:3 and 21:10. Of the four, this is the only one that calls John into heaven. The others call him to different vantage points ON EARTH where something special happens.

… and behold, a throne was standing in heaven

The main word in chapter 4 is “throne.” This word appears fourteen times in the eleven verses of the chapter. Everything in this chapter happens in relation to the throne. In addition to God who sits “on” the throne (Rev 4:2, 4, 6, 9, 10), we read about things:

      • In the midst of the throne (Rev 4:6),
      • Before the throne (Rev 4:5, 6, 10),
      • All around the throne (Rev 4:3, 4, 6),
      • Above the throne, and
      • Coming out from the throne (Rev 4:5),

The term “throne” is drawn from the governmental language of the time. The person who sits on a throne has the legal authority to rule over some territory or over a nation. Revelation 4 depicts the governing center of the universe, and the throne is the symbol of God’s authority to rule the universe. That authority is grounded in creation (Rev 4:11). God is counted worthy to sit on the throne and govern the universe because He created all things.

There are four major throne scenes in the Old Testament. Revelation 4 strongly alludes to the throne scene of Ezekiel 1. The description of the four living creatures (Rev 4:6-7) and the “holy, holy, holy” of Revelation 4:8 are references to the throne vision in Isaiah 6. Another major throne scene in the Old Testament is in Daniel 7.

The throne “was standing” in heaven. It means that the throne in Revelation 4 “was standing” before John saw it. This confirms that John is not viewing one specific event but a general description of God’s throne room. This may be contrasted with Daniel 7:9, where the throne was placed for a special event.

… and One sitting on the throne

The One sitting on the throne is not named but Revelation 5:13 and 6:16 distinguish “Him who sits on the throne” from Jesus Christ (cf. Rev 5:5-7, 9, 13). The “One sitting on the throne,” therefore, is God the Father. Since He sits on the throne, He has the ultimate authority.

REVELATION 4:3

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.

And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance

Jasper is translucent and not normally sparkling but, in Rev 21:11, the glory of God is likened to a clear-as-crystal jasper stone. So, there is uncertainty as to exactly what the ancients meant by jasper. The sardius is a reddish, semi-transparent, precious stone.

Jesus is described in much detail in Revelation 1:13-18 but there is a vagueness in this description. Other throne visions are more specific:

    • The one sitting on the throne in Ezekiel 1:26-27 has a human appearance. From the waist up the figure looks like glowing metal and from the waist down like fire.
    • Daniel 7:9 describes “the Ancient of Days” (God). “His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool.”
    • Revelation 5:1 refers to God’s “right hand.”

These visions describe God in human terms. But God cannot be seen (John 1:18). He “alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1Tim 6:16). He has created everything that can be seen and cannot be described in terms of things that can be seen.  God does not exist somewhere in the universe.  The universe exists somewhere within God. He exists outside space, time, and matter. He may appear in a theophany, which is an appearance of God, but a theophany is only a faint reflection of not His real full Being. Since space, time, and matter exist somewhere within God, the substance of His Being can never be defined in terms of physical things.

… and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.

Does that mean that the rainbow was horizontally around the throne? Or was the rainbow a half-circle vertically arched above the throne, as rainbows are on earth? 

While a rainbow normally exhibits multiple colors from purple to red, the primary color of this rainbow is the green color of an emerald.

In the flood story of Genesis, the rainbow was a symbol of God’s covenant with Noah (Gen 9:12-17), an assurance that He is faithful in keeping his promises.

REVELATION 4:4

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.

Similar to the rainbow in Rev 4:3, the 24 elders also are “around the throne,” which should be taken in a horizontal sense. If the rainbow is like a halo horizontally around the area, the 24 elders could be understood as sitting in or under it.

In normal human meetings, the audience sits in front of the speaker but the twenty-four thrones encircle the throne. 

THE ELDERS ARE PEOPLE.

The article on the 24 elders identifies them as human representatives of God’s people on earth.  This is based on the following:

      • Elders” is a familiar Biblical title for human beings. Angels are never called elders.
      • They sit on thrones and Revelation promises that THOSE WHO OVERCOME will one day sit on thrones (Rev 3:21; 20:4). Angels never sit on thrones.
      • They are “clothed in white garments” (Rev 4:4). Revelation promises white robes to the PEOPLE OF GOD (Rev 3:4-5; cf. 3:18; 6:11; 7:9, 14).
      • The 24 elders have victory crowns (stephanos) which is the reward for the OVERCOMERS (Rev 2:10; 3:11) and symbolizes eternal life (Rev 2:10; cf. 2 Tim 4:8).
      • The number 24 is a doubling of the number 12 and Revelation associates the number 12 with the PEOPLE OF GOD (Rev 12:1; 21:12, 14, 17; 7:4-8).

Their thrones indicate that the elders share in God’s rule of the universe. It is wonderful to think that human beings, that love their fellow human beings like themselves, represent humanity in the control room of the universe.

FROM BOTH ISRAEL AND THE CHURCH

The article on the 24 elders shows that the 24 elders are from both the time of the Old Testament and the church. The 24 elders are one example of how Revelation merges the Old and New Testaments by applying Old Testament imaginary to the church.  Other examples are:

      • On the New Jerusalem—the city of God’s people in the new heavens and new earth—is written “the names of the twelve tribes … of Israel” and the “names of the twelve apostles” (Rev 21:12, 14).
      • The woman of Revelation 12 represents both Israel and the church.
      • The Jewish “seven lampstands” become a symbol for the church (Rev 1:20).
      • The key figures of the Old and New Testaments are combined in the song of Moses and of the Lamb (Rev 15:3).
      • Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, becomes the bride of Christ (Rev 21:2; cf. 19:7; 21:27).

REVELATION 4:5

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;

Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.

The language here builds on Old Testament ‘theophanies’.  The original theophany was on Mount Sinai (Exo 19:16-20). In the first chapter of Ezekiel, the appearance of God also included lightning and loud noises (Ezek 1:13, 24).  

The word for “noises” (Greek: phonai) can mean sounds in general or it can mean voices, as in Rev 10:3.

This series of words (lightning – sounds – thunder) is repeated three more times in Revelation:

      • Rev 8:5 and 16:18 add “earthquake” to the list.
      • Rev 11:19 adds both “earthquake” and “great hail.”

Since the “lightning and sounds and peals of thunder” are things that happen in the air in a thunderstorm, and since they come out of the throne, they represent God’s decisions. The “earthquake” and “great hail,” on the other hand, are things that happen on earth and probably represents the earthly consequences of God’s decisions.

And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; 

The Greek words translated “lamps” in this verse is different from the word translated “lampstands” in Rev 1:12-13. Whereas the seven “lampstands” represented the seven churches (Rev 1:20), the seven “lamps” represent the Spirit of God. Nevertheless, the concept of “seven lamps of fire” still recalls the Hebrew sanctuary, in which seven lamps of fire were constantly burning (Exo 25:37).

The seven Spirits of God” is here located before the throne of God; apparently subordinate to the “One sitting on the throne” (Rev 4:2).

God does not literally have seven Spirits. The number seven must be interpreted symbolically.  It originates from the seven days of the week, is mentioned many (56) times in Revelation, and is interpreted as a symbol for ‘the full period’.  The number seven in Revelation is different from the other numbers in Revelation in the sense that the seven stands in chronological sequence to each other—the second follows after the first—the third after the second, and so forth, with the seventh as the last or end. The same cannot be said of the other important numbers in Revelation, such as 4, 10 and 12. The number seven, therefore, has to do with time and should be understood as completion or perfection of time—the full period. Consequently, the seven Spirits of God can be understood to mean that God’s Spirit will ALWAYS be with us.

As discussed elsewhere, the number 7 symbolizes fullness in terms of time. The seven Spirits mean that God’s Spirit is ALWAYS with us.

REVELATION 4:6

and before the throne there was something
like a sea of glass, like crystal;
and in the center and around the throne,
four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.

and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal;

It is not a real sea of glass; it is “something like a sea of glass.”  John is doing his best to describe heavenly things in human language.

Glass and glass-blowing were known to the ancients but the ancient glass was often coarse and semi-opaque. In contrast, the reference to crystal emphasizes the transparent clarity of this sea of glass.

The “sea of glass” appears again in Rev 15:2. There it is mingled with fire.

and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.

It is a bit difficult to understand what “in the center and around the throne” means. It could mean that the four living creatures move around (cf. Rev 6:1-8; 15:7). It could also mean that they are in the center of the circle of elders; between the elders and the cross. The four living creatures are always in close proximity to the throne (Rev 4:6; 5:6; 7:11; 14:3), which would place them between God and the circle of elders. They seem to be intermediaries between God and the human race, represented by the 24 elders.

THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES OF EZEKIEL 1

There are also four living creatures in the throne vision of Ezekiel 1. There are multiple similarities between the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1 and in Revelation 4. Both Revelation 4 and Ezekiel 1 have:

      • Four living creatures (Ezek 1:5; Rev 4:6);
      • With faces like a lion, ox, man and eagle/vulture (Ezek 1:10; Rev 4:7);
      • Full of eyes (Ezek 1:18; Rev 4:6),
      • A rainbow surrounding the throne (Ezek 1:28; Rev 4:3).

In both, the four living creatures are especially close to God. In Ezekiel, they are the bearers of God’s throne chariot. There are also some interesting differences between Revelation 4 and Ezekiel 1. For example:

EZEKIEL REVELATION
Each of the four living creatures has four faces, one each of man, lion, ox and eagle (Ezek 1:10). Each living creature was like only one of the four (Rev 4:7).
Each of the four living creatures has four wings (Ezek 1:11). Each has six wings (Rev 4:8).
The wheels are full of eyes all around (Ezek 1:16-18). It is the living creatures themselves that are covered with eyes front and back (Rev 4:6).
The four living creatures are under the throne (Ezek 1:26) and are the means by which the throne moves (Ezek 1:12, 15-21). The throne seems stationary (Rev 4:2).

But the two prophets saw the same scene. The prophets did not physically see God’s throne room. These were visions in the minds of the prophets. What detail God gave them may be different from time to time, depending on the purpose of the revelation.

LIVING CREATURES IN OTHER SOURCES

1 Enoch 40:2 (Ethiopic Enoch)—a Jewish book known in New Testament times—mentions four archangels named Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael. If this is reliable, the four living creatures represent the leaders of the angels. In that case, in Revelation, the first circle around the throne consists of angels and the second circle consists of human beings; represented by the 24 elders.

Ezekiel 10:20 refers to the four living beings as cherubim. This term occurs over 90 times in the Hebrew Bible but only once in the New Testament (Heb 9:5), where they are located “above” the ark of the covenant (Heb 9:4-5).

The four living creatures of Revelation have six wings each. This points to Isaiah 6, where angels, called seraphim, have six wings each (Isa 6:2) and, just like the four living creatures of Revelation 4, constantly say, “holy, holy, holy” (Isa 6:3; cf. Rev 4:8). Revelation 4, therefore, combines features drawn from both the cherubim in Ezekiel and seraphim of Isaiah 6.

INTERPRETATION OF THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES

The King James Version describes the four living creatures as “beasts,” but that is not a good translation. The word for beast represents the animal kingdom and is reserved for the forces of evil in Revelation (Rev 6:7; 11:7; 13:1, 11, etc.). “Living creature,” on the other hand, is a broader term that can represent also angels, birds and humans.

The four living creatures are full of eyes in front and in back. This is not to be taken literally. Their eyes probably represent the omniscience of God, who knows everything that can be known. The number four represents ‘the whole earth’. The four living creatures, therefore, know all things that happen on earth.

In conclusion, the four living creatures are the primary connection between God and creation. They might correspond to the four archangels of Jewish tradition; the leaders of the angels. As such, the four living creatures represent the angelic portion of God’s kingdom, while the twenty-four elders represent the human race before God.

REVELATION 4:7

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.

These features indicate endurance, perseverance, strength and speed. The “face like a man” implies intelligence, relative to the animal kingdom.

REVELATION 4:8

And the four living creatures,
each one of them having six wings,
are full of eyes around and within;

And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings

Since the living creature of Ezekiel 1 had four wings each, the six wings recall the six-winged cherubim of Isaiah 6; two wings were used to cover their faces, two wings to cover their feet and two were used to fly (Isaiah 6:2).

are full of eyes around and within

In verse 6, four living creatures were “full of eyes in front and behind.” In the current verse, the eyes are “around and within,” which is difficult to visualize. Nevertheless, the meaning is that the vision of the living creatures is not impeded in any way. They were created by God with the highest possible alertness, perception and knowledge.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

      • God, the Father, has the ultimate authority over creation because He willed and created all things.
      • Symbolizes by 24 elders sitting on thrones around God, God’s people share in His rule over creation.
      • By applying Old Testament imaginary to the church, Revelation merges the Old and New Testaments. Consequently, God only has one group of people from all dispensations.
      • The angels are the primary connection between God and creation.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN SEALS

OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

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