Best We Can Do From Our Perspective
We now jump back to the progression of John's vision. As we start to walk through the vision, after examining the story of the seven churches and the fate of these believers at the end of the Tribulation and the Millennial Reign, we remind ourselves we are dealing with visions.
As with many prophetic passages, the clear meaning may not emerge. Since the Revelation is given to a future people, in a future age, we can only speculate. We will try to speculate in a way which is consistent with the whole counsel of God in scripture, but we admit we are limited. We are again reminded that Daniel didn't understand his own visions and Gabriel told him not to worry about it, they are for a future time. Might want to remember this the next time some group in you area offers a free seminar on the Revelation. They will take it out of its context and swear to you they know what it all means.
[Gabriel said,] “The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.”
I, Daniel, was worn out. I lay exhausted for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.
These visions do refer to literal events, people, and nations, but they obscured. As we have seen, this is somewhat common when the Bible looks at the prophetic events of the last days. Sometimes the Lord is gracious and explains a vision. We saw this in our study on the Parables of Matthew 13. We also see it the Revelation and in companion passages in the Prophets. For example, let us quickly look at God, through his messenger, helping Daniel as the prophet struggled to understand what he was seeing.
“I, Daniel, was grieved in my spirit within my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. I came near to one of those who stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: ‘Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings which arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.’
This passage is import in this series as we will see these Beasts again in the Revelation. The image the Lord gave Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2 covers history of the Gentiles from Babylon through "what will be in the latter days" (2:28). The passage quoted above from Daniel 7 is slightly different. It fast-forwards to the latter days.
If we read it as "shall arise," as in some translations, it would seem these are different than the kingdoms represented in Chapter 2 as Babylon was already coming to and end. Daniel sees four beasts coming out of "the sea." These are kings who rise up out of the Gentile nations. We see another version of these beasts in Rev 13. I lean toward the idea that the four great kingdoms from Daniel to Christ have a significance to end time events, even if only in regard to the land affected.
Charles Welch refers to this as "Prophetic Earth" in his Alphabetical Analysis. This is partly derived from the use of the Greek word "oikoumene" in the Septuagint. This is the "habitable world." I include that only for your consideration. Mr. Welch presents for consideration as well.
I note these seemingly minor distinctions to show how difficult it can be to be dogmatic when it comes to our interpretation. One of things which concerns me in modern prophecy ministries is the reluctance to consider any alternatives to the "accepted" view (which usually mirrors Hal Lindsey's "Late Great Planet Earth"). I am far less insistent of a number of my interpretations.
This should also serve as great WARNING when groups come around claiming to know EXACTLY what the Book of the Revelation is teaching. If Daniel and John were confused because the their visions are meant for a future people, beware groups which claim they have the interpretation.
For this middle section of the book (chapters 4-19), I will tend to write in general terms. It is not imperative that those of us in this age be precise, but it does help us and encourage us if we are aware of the possibilities as we look at the world around. It could help explain what we're experiencing.
The Opening to John's Vision from Up Hither
We just want to notice a few things here. John heard a voice which sounded like a trumpet. John is called "up hither." He is to be shown things which "must be hereafter." There is a teaching that the letters to the seven churches lay out the history of the "church" and that the "hereafter" refers to things which happen after the "rapture" of the church. I once held to this interpretation, but have since discarded it. Primarily because I have a very different view of 1 Thessalonians 4 upon which the doctrine of the Rapture is built, but also because the Revelation is Jewish from the beginning. The references in the seven letters are wholly Jewish and one is hard-pressed to jam them into the context of the One Body.
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
If you recall, it is my contention that the man to which Paul refers in 2 Corinthians 12. the man who was "caught up into the third heaven" and "caught up into Paradise," is John. We are told that man heard things he was not allowed to utter. John is told in Chapter 1, and all through the book, to "write." In one instance, in Revelation 10, John is told to "write not" what he heard. God has always hidden things in himself. Similarly, Daniel was told to close up his book. God has secrets and he reveals them according to his will and plan.
The "shofar," so closely related to Israel in reard to her covenant, warnings, and battles is connected to John's vision "up hither."
The Orthodox Jewish Bible translates Revelation 4:1 thusly:
After these things I looked, and, hinei, a delet (door) having been opened in Shomayim, the kol harishon [the first voice, 1:10], the voice like a shofar that I heard speaking to me, said, Come up here! And I will show you MAH DI LEHEVE ("what will happen," DANIEL 2:28f) after these things.
The shofar is important in Israel's history. It called the people to worship and to hear the words of the Lord. The shofar is a ram's horn. In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), the same word in Greek translated "trumpet" in Revelation 4:1 is the used in the Law and the Prophets for the shofar. This "trumpet" is an integral part of this book and of the timing of events for Israel and the "Jews first" church.
We also notice the reference to Daniel. That which the Lord shows Daniel "will happen" is that which "will be in the latter days." We've note this, but I did not want to lose sight of what we are dealing with: the latter days. Daniel is told the prophetic 70 Weeks "are determined for your people and for your holy city." That is, upon Israel (Jews) and Jerusalem.
The Presence of Metaphors and Similes
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.
John saw things that may not be understood by the mind of man. He is forced to do the best he can. He employs similes. Perhaps he is seeing jasper, etc., but he may only be describing what he sees in language readers can grasp.
We do not want to miss the picture of a throne here. The Lord is completely in charge. I see a lot of Christians, especially with Prophecy ministries, getting excited about Israel building the third temple. While the prophetic implications are exciting, the temple itself will be the temple of Antichrist. It will make very dark days ahead for Israel. God is unmoved on his throne, but terrible times are ahead for the nation until God intervenes.
The Twenty-Four Elders
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices.
The go-to interpretation of these elders is that they represent the church. Sometimes, when the symbol is not clear or has no specific reference, is not easily found, man imposes his thoughts on a passage. I want to stick to the context of the book as accurately as I can. I believe these 24 represent Israel in waiting. The number Twelve is connected to Israel and governance.
Here is how, in part, Dr. E.W. Bullinger explains it:
Twenty-Four being a multiple of twelve, expresses in a higher form the same signification (as 22 does of 11). It is the number associated with the heavenly government and worship, of which the earthly form in Israel was only a copy. We are told that both Moses and David ordered all things connected with the Tabernacle and Temple worship by direct revelation from God, and as a copy of things in the heavens, Hebrews 8:5; 1 Chronicles 28:12, 19. And the sevenfold phrase (in Exo 40) "as the LORD commanded Moses" witnesses to the Divine ordering of all. It was so with the twenty-four courses of priests in the earthly Temple; these were formed on the "pattern of things in the heavens." Why is it necessary for us, when God tells us anything, to conclude that it means something else? Why, when, in Revelation 4, we read of the twenty-four heavenly elders, are we to assume they are anything but what we read, viz., the leaders of the heavenly worship? Why seek to make them redeemed men, or the symbolical representation of redeemed men? Why not leave them alone? It is by such additions as these to what is written that the people of God are divided up into so many schools and parties.
(E.W. Bullinger, excerpt. Number in Scripture)
One of the reasons many see the modern church here is found in Rev 5:9, "For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation..." The "redeemed" is assumed to be the Body of the present time. Dr. Bullinger breaks down the Greek and manuscript evidence here (which you can find in the referenced work on Numbers), but suffice to note for this study, the rendering in the Revised Standard Version.
thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation
But I believe it is the following verse were we can clearly see Israel is in sight.
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.”
This is the "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" promised in the covenant God made with Israel in Exodus 19. The verse also speaks of reigning "on the earth" or possibly "in the land." The Body of the present dispensation has its hopes and blessings in the far above the heavens.
Seven Spirits of God
Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
The Four Living Creatures and Worship
Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:
“Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”
These living creatures are the Cherubim which surround the throne. They connected to the Garden of Eden. They are part of Ezekiel's vision. As this is not a study of the Cherubim, I will focus on what they looked "like." Ezekiel is a book which is so rich in imagery and prophetic truth, it deserves its own study. We will tie it in as necessary, but unfortunately, I am not equipped at the present time to fully expound it as a whole.
As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle.
Each one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, the second face the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
Before I comment on the slight difference, let's take a look at the imagery in Rev 4 and Ezek 1. I will use the order listed in the Revelation.
Lion = Matthew's Gospel of the King
Calf = Mark's Gospel of the Servant
Man = Luke's Gospel of the Perfect Man
Eagle = John's Gospel of the Great God and Savior
The cherubim in the temple had two wings, which formed the throne; they looked on the covenant [Israel's], and at the same time, as of pure gold, were characterized by the divine righteousness of the throne to be approached. In Ezekiel they were the support of the firmament above which the God of Israel was: it was a throne of executive judgment. They were like burnished brass, and like fire-a symbol we have considered already. They had four wings: two to fly with, two to cover themselves. From Ezekiel 10:1-22 it appears they were full of eyes (it is not said within) it was to govern what was outside, according to God, not divine intelligence within. In Isaiah 6:1-13 the seraphim (or burners) have six wings as here; they are above the throne, and cry as here, Holy, holy, holy! They, with a burning coal, cleansed the prophet's lips; they were above the throne.
It may be that the absence of the Lion is a picture of Israel losing it's position as mediators and king over creation. God's promise to Israel is that she will one day be a kingdom of priests. We see that priesthood for individual Jews as reward for faithful service (we looked that in our study on the Lake of Fire).
In Daniel and later in the Revelation we will see "beasts" arising. Gentile nations only appear in scripture from Gen 12 through the Revelation (apart from the last 7 books of the Apostle Paul's ministry) in connection to Israel. As things may have several levels of meanings, I will address the beasts when we come to them.
Praise, Holiness, and Judgment to Come
Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:
“You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.”