The Celestial Adoration (Study # 4)
Study 4 – A Vision of Heaven
Revelation Chapters 4 and 5
I. The Celestial Adoration
1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”
2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.
The Jews give three meanings to the word “heaven.” In the first meaning, it is the atmosphere that surrounds the earth; in the second meaning, it is the whole universe; and in the third meaning it is the dwelling place of God. The Apostle John was taken up into the Third Heaven, the dwelling place of the Lord. In this book, we are going to encounter descriptions of horrible events. These will be pestilences, earthquakes, and wars which will cause the deaths of at least one-half of the world’s inhabitants. But in the midst of all of these scenes of destruction, the Lord gives His prophet glimpses of Heaven to encourage him and all other believers who come after him. Before commencing the prophecies of the events of the end time, John was given this first vision of Heaven and the throne of God.
3 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.
We noticed the humility of the Apostle John when he referred to himself in the first chapter simply as . . . your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. . . But here we have a demonstration of the high esteem in which God held the apostle by showing him His glory. As in the vision of the resurrected Christ, John goes to the limit of human language to describe what he saw. He says that the glory of God was like brilliant jewels, like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance, and around the throne there was beautiful rainbow in appearance like an emerald. Without doubt, this description, as marvelous as it is, is only a weak reflection of the glory that he saw. In this is seen the truth of what the Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 2:9: But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
4 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.
5 And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
Before the throne of God the apostle saw twenty-four other thrones on which were seated twenty-four elders. We are going to see in Chapter Five that those elders were redeemed persons who had already received their thrones and their crowns. Our study of Revelation will show that in all probability the Rapture of the believers is not going to take place until the final part of the Tribulation. Only when the saints are taken from the world and receive their immortal bodies will they begin to reign. Nevertheless, John saw some saints who had received their white garments and were already occupying their positions as kings. This speaks to us, therefore, of a resurrection that has already taken place.
On one occasion, I was talking with two Jehovah’s Witnesses about the hope every Christian has that at the moment of death he will go immediately to be consciously present with the Lord. Not being in agreement, they directed my attention to a portion of the discourse of the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost which is found in Acts 2:29-35: “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’”
Those Jehovah’s Witnesses asked me the question: “Where did David and Christ go when they died?” In this portion of Acts it is clearly seen that the soul of Christ was not left in Hades, and also that David did not ascend into Heaven. So I gave my visitors the answer they wanted: “Neither David nor Jesus Christ went to Heaven when they died!” I had been talking to them about the certainty that every Christian has of going to Heaven to be with the Lord upon dying. What the Jehovah’s Witnesses did not understand were the facts relating to the twenty-four elders mentioned in Revelation 4 and 5.
But I had not ended my answer to the two Jehovah’s Witnesses. I directed their attention to Luke 16:19-31, where there is found the story which Jesus told about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. The two died, and in Hades the rich man lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and he saw, a long way off, Abraham and Lazarus in his bosom (v. 23). Here, Jesus drew away the veil of death for just a moment to show what was on the other side. There is nothing in this story that indicates that it was a parable. Indeed, it is the only time in His preaching that Jesus specifically used the name of an actual contemporary. Would Jesus, as though He were a liar, make warnings about a danger that in reality did not exist? No! Our Lord told something that had literally happened.
This story overthrows the doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that teaches that Hades is nothing more than the grave, that when one dies he is no longer conscious, and that his soul is nothing more than his breath. One reason that I have absolutely no use for the popular New International Version of the Bible is that in Acts 2:31 it renders “Hades” of the original Greek as “the grave.” This plays right into the hands of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
There is a big distinction between “Hades” and “the grave.” Before the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all the dead, without exception, went to Hades. Hades had two sections, the “place of torment” and “Abraham’s bosom” (a phrase the Jews used to refer to Paradise). At death, the evil-doers went to the place of torment and the righteous went to Paradise. So we see that, upon dying, the rich man was tormented in Hades while Lazarus was in Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22,23). Jesus was telling us that the rich man (in Hades) and Abraham (also in Hades, but in the section called Paradise) were in close enough proximity that they could see each other and talk to each other. The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus with a little water because he was suffering in that flame (v. 24). Abraham told him that it was impossible to cross from one place to the other because there was an abyss between the two places (v. 26). Then the rich man asked that Lazarus be sent to his father’s house to warn his five brothers so that they would not come to that place of torment (vv. 27,28). Abraham answered him that they had the testimony of Moses and the prophets and that if they did not want to listen to them, neither would they believe even though someone should arise from the dead (vv. 29-31).
Another mention of Paradise is found in Luke 23:39-43. There we find the account of the two criminals who were crucified with Jesus. One repented of his sins and, Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42,43). If the repentant sinner had been going into an unconscious void, Jesus would not have had any hope to give him. (I might mention that both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists teach soul sleep, and each of these cults has its own mutilated version of the Bible. What they do with this promise of Jesus is to have Him say, “Today, I say to you, you will be with Me in Paradise.” That rendering makes no sense at all. They are simply trying to twist the Scriptures to make them conform to their doctrine.) This repentant criminal was the only one present that day, besides Jesus, who believed that Jesus had a future. His disciples had given up on Him; His enemies were rejoicing because they thought they were finally done with Him. The dying thief said, “Lord, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” When Jesus told him,“Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise;” what He was really saying was, “In a conscious form you will be with Me today in Paradise.” Jesus did not go to Heaven when He died; He went to Hades. It is for that reason that it is said in the Apostle’s Creed that Jesus died and descended into hell, that is, Hades. We should also notice that the malefactor to whom Jesus spoke the word of salvation did not have the opportunity to be baptized or to pass through any other religious ritual. He didn’t have the opportunity to better his life by good works. He was saved because he admitted his evil-doing and he placed his faith in the Savior.
We read in I Peter 3:18,19: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison. . . When Jesus was dead in the body, He was still alive in the Spirit. He went to Hades and he preached to the other spirits who were also alive and conscious.
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:8-10: Therefore He says, “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended” -- what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) In the clearest manner possible, Paul teaches that Jesus, before ascending into Heaven, descended into the lower parts of the earth, that is, into Hades. Very likely, Satan had thought that Jesus, being dead and in Hades, would be under his power, because in a certain sense the sector of Paradise, being there in Hades, was under the dominion of Satan. But the Savior arose from Hades and took with Him the spirits of the righteous who were there. For that reason, Ephesians 4:8 speaks of Jesus that when He ascended on high, He led captivity captive. . . He took with Him when He ascended into Heaven those who, in a certain sense, were in captivity even in Paradise. From that time to the present, Hades has served as the dwelling place of Satan, his demons, and those human beings who died in rebellion to God.
We also read in Matthew 27:52,53: . . .and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. This agrees with what we have read in Luke’s Gospel, in I Peter, and in Ephesians. Jesus went down into Hades preached deliverance to the saints who were there. When He arose, they also were resurrected, and they went to Heaven with Him. From the resurrection of Jesus until the present, His redeemed saints, upon dying, have not gone to Hades but have gone directly to Heaven to be with their Savior. It is for that reason that we read in II Corinthians 5:6-8: Therefore we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
These Scriptures which we have read explain to us who the twenty-four elders were that the Apostle John saw seated upon the thrones. They were saints who had resurrected and ascended into Heaven with Jesus. In I Chronicles 23, 24, and 25, there is given the organization that King David made of the priests and the Levites who ministered in the Tabernacle. They were organized into twenty-four groups. Each group served by turn in the Tabernacle, offering sacrifices and praises to the Lord. These twenty-four elders in Revelation represent the faithful servants of God in antiquity, already resurrected, sitting upon their thrones as kings, and in their function as priests, offering the sacrifice of praise to the Lord. The other believers, who have died after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, have gone directly to Heaven. But since they have not yet been resurrected, they are not yet occupying their positions as kings and priests. Their spirits are in the heavenly dwelling place but they have not received their immortal bodies, and they will not receive them until the coming of the Lord.
6 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.
7 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.
8 And 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!”
In some versions of the Bible, this phrase, or term, “four living creatures” is translated “four beasts.” But that, in reality, is an insult to those sublime beings, because they occupy the first rank in Heaven. The Prophet Ezekiel also saw in the first chapter of his prophecy four living beings. In Chapter Ten he identified them as cherubim. Ezekiel saw them with four wings, the hands of a man, and having feet like the soles of calves (Ezekiel 1:6-8). The Prophet said that each one had four faces, and mentions the same ones that are mentioned here in Revelation (Ezekiel 1:10).
The Prophet Isaiah speaks of some beings that he saw in a vision which he had of Jehovah (Isaiah 6:1-7). He called them seraphim, which in Hebrew means “the burning ones.” Those seraphim, like the living beings in Revelation, had six wings and they announced the holiness of God.
We read in Genesis 3:24 that after Adam and Eve had sinned and were expelled from the Garden of Eden, God placed cherubim to guard the entrance to the Garden. If the living beings that John saw were the same cherubim or seraphim which are mentioned in the Old Testament, they were angels of the first rank. In any event, these living beings have their part in the events of the end time, as is seen various times in Chapter 6. They announce to the Apostle John what is to happen, and they also guide and direct the worship of God in Heaven. But, there is something else we should take into account: in the next chapter there is a phrase indicating that these beings seen by John, although they are like the cherubim and the seraphim in the Old Testament, perhaps are redeemed persons. It is true that there are degrees of blessing in Heaven according to the faithfulness and devotion that one has to Jesus Christ in this life.
9 Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever,
10 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:
11 “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.”
Here we see the four living beings directing the sacrifice of praise offered by the twenty-four elders, that is, the twenty-four groups of saints who are already resurrected and exercising their function as priests. They assign all glory to God because he is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. This is a precious picture of God presented in this hymn of praise. He is an omnipotent Being, not an impersonal force, who, after having made His creation, takes care of it and sustains it with benevolent love. The special focus of His love is redeemed man!
II. The Scroll and the Lamb
1 And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.
He that is seated on the throne is God the Father. Students of the Scriptures have had many differences of opinion as to the meaning of the sealed scroll. But the most adequate explanation comes from a portion of the Law of Moses. (Here again, we are following the principle that the Bible explains itself.) In the ancient law there were ordinances about the division of the Promised Land once the Israelites had come into possession of it. Jehovah established the principle that the land was His; He was only loaning it to the sons of Israel.
Each family had the right to its own parcel of land and if, for some reason, had to sell their land, it could be for a limited time only. Each fifty years there was to be a year of Jubilee during which all properties had to be restored to their original owners, their heirs, or descendants. The individual who bought a property was in reality buying a certain number of harvests which he would obtain from that moment until the year of Jubilee. So the price would be according to the number of harvests he would hope to receive (Leviticus 25:15,16). If, for example, there were still thirty-three years before the Jubilee, the price would be much higher than if there were only fifteen years. When the 50th year came, the year of Jubilee, that property would revert to its original owner.
There was another provision in the Law of Moses regarding the original owner’s right to the land. He himself, or one of his relatives, could at any time redeem the property -- buy it back (Leviticus 25:25-27). There was also the custom, as seen in Jeremiah 32:6-12, that upon redeeming a property, there would be two copies made of the transaction -- one an open copy, and the other sealed. This was to avoid fraud. The open copy served for reference, while the sealed copy served as guarantee that that there had been no falsification of the documents.
2 Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?”
3 And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.
4 So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it.
There was no one worthy to open the scroll, not even any of the four living beings. John wept, not because of frustrated curiosity, but rather because he knew that this scroll was the title to a great possession that had been lost. The Apostle Paul writes in Hebrews 2:5-8: For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying: “What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man, that You take care of him? You made him a little lower than the angels, You crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him.
Here we find the purpose of God in creating man. He made him in order to put all the other works of creation under his dominion. God crowned him with glory and honor. He made man a little lower than the angels. Man was created to be a king. Let us read Hebrews 2: 8 again: . . . For in that He put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. The Apostle Paul is saying that man does not have possession of all that which the Lord intended for him to have. Man was created to reign, but when he sinned he lost his position as king and became a slave to Satan. The sealed book, or scroll, which is spoken of in Revelation 5, is man’s lost inheritance -- the inheritance to kingship and priesthood. John wept because there was no one found worthy to open the book, that is, to restore to man what he had lost.
5 But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep, “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.”
6 And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it has been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
One of the resurrected saints consoles the apostle. Someone had been found -- the Lion of the tribe of Judah! He, by his victory over death, had the right to open the book and to break its seals. He was presented as a Lion, but John saw a Lamb that had been sacrificed; a Lamb as though it had been slain. In all the rest of New Testament, the lamb is used four times to refer to Jesus; but in the Book of Revelation alone He is called the “Lamb” 29 times! The word that is used in this passage in Revelation means in the Greek a little lamb, a term of affection which also speaks of the humility of our Savior.
John saw a little Lamb as though it had been slain. He saw Jesus bearing the wounds that He had suffered for us. His wounds were His credentials, indicating that He had the right to take the scroll and open it, because by His wounds He satisfied the demands of Divine justice. He humbled Himself in order to conquer. The victory of Jesus, the God-Man, is referred to in Hebrews 2:9: But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”
The little Lamb had seven horns. The number 7 is the number of perfection. The word “horn” in the Bible is a term that symbolizes power. Jesus was an innocent victim. He was humble, but He was not weak! We read this about the Master, when hundreds of soldiers and officers came to arrest Him: Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Then -- when He said to them, “I am He,” -- they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:4-6). With only His word Jesus had dominion over His enemies. The sacrifice he made of himself was by His own will and in full possession of His power.
The symbolic representation of the little Lamb is complete with the seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, that is, the Holy Spirit in the fullness of his power. Jesus laid aside His glory and His divine power when he came into the world, as we see in Philippians 2:5-7. It was for that reason that He received the fullness of the Holy Spirit when he came out of the waters of the river Jordan after His baptism (Matthew 3:16; John 1:32-34). It was in the fullness of the Holy Spirit that He exercised His earthly ministry, showing supernatural wisdom in His teachings and power to do greater miracles, in greater number than those that had been done by all the holy prophets of antiquity. Once He had arisen from the dead, He ascended to Heaven. There, in full possession of His equality of power, wisdom, and glory with God the Father, our Savior poured out the fullness of the Holy Spirit upon His believers. It is thus that Luke refers to His earthly ministry as the things that Jesus began both to do and to teach (Acts 1:1). It is in that fullness of the Holy Spirit that the followers of Jesus Christ have labored, died, and conquered until the present day. They will continue doing so until their Savior comes in glory to receive them. Praise the Lord!
7 Then he came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.
8 Now when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
See the value that God gives to our prayers. He considers them to be as fragrant incense. Jesus conquered through His humiliation, His power, and his wisdom. He is worthy to take possession of our lost inheritance. The living creatures and the saints who are already resurrected fall down before the triumphant little Lamb, recognizing that His victory is entirely due to the merits of His shed blood.
9 And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, . . .
The four living creatures sang together with the twenty-four elders, “You ... have redeemed us to God...” Since they have been redeemed, these living creatures are not angels, but resurrected men made like to the cherubim. These men, as do the cherubim, occupy the first rank there in Heaven’s glory.
10 And have made us kings and priest to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”
The theme, repeated here, and found various times in the Scriptures, especially in Revelation, is that we shall be kings and priests. It is for that reason that God originally made man. Everything that we have lost is returned to us by means of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus will fulfill in us the purpose for which He created us.
11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands,
12 Saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And every creature which is in Heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and forever!”
It should fill us with joy to think that the praises we offer to Jesus Christ at the present time are the beginning of our existence in Heaven. If we are faithful to our Savior, we will find ourselves one day there among thousands of the redeemed, participating in that tremendous praise service. We will have the freedom and the eloquence to express all our love and our gratitude to Jesus, King of kings, Lord of lords, worthy Lamb, our Savior.
14 Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshipped Him who lives forever and ever.
If the saints and the angels in Heaven are singing to the Lamb, “You are worthy to receive honor and glory;” we on earth should give Jesus first place in our lives. We need to use our strength to glorify Him and to serve Him. He is worthy of all our devotion. Glory to His name!