International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Revelation 4:1-2, 6-11Lesson Title: Heavenly Worship
One doesn’t have to be an exceptional student of Scripture to recognize that The Book of Revelation is different from the other books of the Bible. There is much symbolism, imagery, judgment, and the most glorious description of Heaven that awaits every true believer. Notwithstanding the mysterious nature, Revelation was not written to frighten or confuse its readers, but to aid in understanding God’s program for now and the future. But more than anything else, Revelation is about Jesus Christ. The very name of the book of Revelation which means “disclosure,” helps us understand that its content is intended to be a disclosure of the person of Jesus Christ. He is the chief subject of the book. Even the chapters where signs, symbols, and mysterious events seem to dominate the subject, the person of Jesus Christ is still central (Revelation 1:12-18).
Revelation was probably written in the last decade of the first century of the Christian era, at some time between the opening of the reign of Nero (A.D. 54-68) and the close of the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96). It was intended to be read by the seven church of Asia that are listed in the first three chapters. Perhaps these seven churches were selected because they represent the main virtues and weaknesses of all churches everywhere. Few details are given in Revelation concerning its author. His name was “John” (Revelation 1:4, 9; 22:8), and he is classed among the “prophets” of the church (Revelation 22:9). John is believed to be John the apostle, author of the fourth gospel and three epistles. However, John does not claim apostleship in the book, but wrote to his readers and said, “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9).
The main contrast in the book of Revelation between those who are lost and those who are saved is that of worship. The saved worship the Lord, the lost worship the “dragon” which is Satan and the “beast” which is the Antichrist (Revelation 13:4). In Revelation, John’s vision focuses on true worship. John was astounded and amazed by what he saw, causing him to worship. What unfolds in Revelation 4 is continuous and correct worship in heaven itself and a biblical pattern for us to follow if we desire to worship God.
An Invitation from Heaven (Revelation 4:1)
“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.” “After this” refers to the revelations of chapters 2 and 3. John, having been the channel of revelation to the seven churches, is now being invited into the very presence of God in heaven. “Heaven” is not the atmospheric heavens or the starry skies, but that which is beyond the natural eye. This is the “third heaven,” the immediate presence of God to which Paul was privileged to go (2 Corinthians 12:2).
The “voice” is a reference to the same “voice” heard in Revelation 1:10. It is described as the voice “of a trumpet,” and is a reference to the seriousness of what God is about to say or reveal. The invitation from the “voice” to John to “come up hither” is so similar to that which the church anticipates at the rapture that many believers interpret this invitation as a reference to the rapture of the church. Admittedly, it is hard not to come to that conclusion because of the events that follow in Revelation. Beginning with Revelation 4:1, the word “church” (Greek ekklesia) does not appear again until Revelation 22:16, after judgment is completely finished. With that being said, the biblical basis for the Pre-millennial return of Christ and the rapture of the church does not rest on Revelation 4:1. It is certainly understandable how it can be interpreted that way because it is strikingly similar to what is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. It appears however, that John’s invitation; “come up hither” is a vision of himself being caught up from earth to heaven, and an invitation for John to be temporarily transported to heaven to receive revelation about future events. This is indicated in the words “…and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” The implications in the words “things which must be hereafter” is that the prophecy John is about to receive will occur after the events of the present age.
A Throne in Heaven (Revelation 4:2-5)
“And immediately I was in the spirit…” is the same as Revelation 1:10 where John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. It means John was conscience of the working of God’s Spirit. John was being carried beyond normal sense into a state where God could reveal supernaturally what He wanted him to see and in Revelation 4 the worship taking place in heaven. “Behold” means John was astounded and amazed by what he saw. The first object which appears to John is a “throne set in heaven.” “Throne” is mentioned 34 times in Revelation, 12 times in chapter 4. It is more than a piece of furniture. It is a symbol of God’s sovereign rule and power and is the dominate feature of what John saw in heaven.
True worship is based on a foundation of Who God Is and not what God does! Therefore, worship begins when we see the sovereignty of God in relation to His throne! God spoke to Isaiah about His throne, “Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool…” (Isaiah 66:1). The psalmist also spoke of God’s throne, “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all” (Psalm 103:19). By showing John His throne, God is saying through the Spirit that from now on, all of future events which unfold are coming out of the throne of the sovereign God. The “one” that “sat on the throne is God and He is in charge. Aren’t you glad dictators, kings, presidents, governors, yes, and even preachers aren’t in charge! Our future is not left to luck, fortune tellers, false prophets, or well meaning prognosticators! God is in charge! In fact, God has more authority “sitting” down than man does standing up!
These verses describe the impression made upon John by what he saw and how he expressed them. John sees color, and he describes the presence of the “One” on the throne as “like a jasper and a sardine stone.” The “jasper” is described in Revelation 21:11 as a clear like crystal and precious stone. This represents God’s glory. The “sardine stone” would be like a ruby red, beautiful in color. This represents God’s redemptive righteousness. The “rainbow round about the throne” was “in sight like unto an emerald.” “Emerald” is green. A normal rainbow consists of seven colors of the spectrum. This is a special green rainbow designed by God to shine around His throne. The “rainbow” is of course a sign of God’s faithfulness to His promises. I think we are safe in saying the “green” is a color of hope. It is a comforting color. You and I can take comfort in the coming days of God’s faithfulness. We worship Him for His purity, redemption, and His faithfulness.
The “four and twenty elders” round about the throne is redeemed humanity, not angels, not Israel, not those saved during the Tribulation. They seem to be a representative body of all the saints of all ages, more particularly, the church, the Body of Christ. The word “elder” the “white raiment,” and the “crowns” all point to that interpretation (2 Timothy 4:8).
The “lightnings, thundering, voice, and seven lamps of fire burning before the throne” are “the seven Spirits of God.” These are similar to the lightning, thunder, and voice which marked the giving of the law in Exodus 19:16 and are a fitting scene for John prior to God’s outpouring of judgment which is to follow in the great tribulation. “Lightning, thunder, and voices” all speak of a coming storm. In this case, the storm of coming judgment upon the earth. The “seven Spirits of God” are mentioned in Revelation 1:4 and 3:1. These are best understood as a representation of the Holy Spirit in a sevenfold way rather than seven different spirits. The number “seven” is characteristic of perfection throughout Scripture and here represents the perfection of the Holy Spirit. This heavenly scene to which John is transported includes all three Persons of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Four Living Creatures in Heaven (Revelation 4:6-8)
John gives us no explanation for the “sea of glass” described as “like unto crystal.” The “sea” is obviously a metaphor since there is “no sea in heaven” (Revelation 21:1). What John saw was a crystal glass like a sea. John, however, is not occupied with the “sea of glass.” He sees “round about the throne, four beasts full of eyes before and behind.” John sees “four beasts” that are both in and around the throne. They are in the center or in the middle of the throne and around it. It gives the sense of an inner circle moving through and around the throne very close to the presence of God. They're in motion, surrounding God and moving.
“Beasts” refers to “living ones,” not animals. The prophet Ezekiel gives a detailed description of these beings in Ezekiel 1:4-25. Ezekiel 10:15 identifies these “four beasts” as an exalted order of cherubim, or angels that have been given a specific duty in and around God’s throne. Ezekiel 10:15 says, “And the cherubims were lifted up. This is the living creature that I saw by the river of Chebar.” Cherubim are the highest of all created intelligence. “Four beasts full of eyes before and behind” symbolizes their awareness and intelligent knowledge to what is taking place. These “beasts” are not all knowing or all seeing, yet everything God is doing in relation to their duties does not escape their eye. “Before and behind” means they see it all from every angle.
These “beasts” are diverse in their character and John sees them a little different than Ezekiel. From John’s vantage point, each description is how the “beasts” looked in relation to the created world. The “first beast was like a lion.” The “lion” is the king of the beasts and represents majesty. The “calf” or ox represents the most important of domestic animals and signifies patience and labor. The “third beast had a face of a man” which is the greatest of all God’s creation, especially in intelligence and rational power. The “fourth beast was like a flying eagle.” The “eagle” is the greatest of God’s creation among birds and is symbolic of sovereignty and supremacy. Considering prayerfully the meaning of John’s description of these “beasts” leads us to conclude that the “faces” represent various qualities of God. The “lion” represents God’s majesty and power. The “calf” represents God’s faithfulness to accomplish His plans. The “man” represents God intelligence and purpose. The “eagle” represents God’s sovereignty.
Comparison has also been made of the “four beast” to the four Gospels which present Christ in four major aspects of His person. The “lion” represents Christ as King in Matthew’s Gospel. The “calf” or ox represents Christ as Servant which is Mark’s Gospel. In Luke’s Gospel, Christ is presented as “man.” And of course, John’s Gospel presents Jesus as the divine Son of God, the “eagle.” This interpretation may fit but is probably not the best comparison of John’s vision.
The “four beasts had each of them six wings about them…” The cherubim of Ezekiel 10 are “full of eyes” (Ezekiel 10:12) and have faces of a “cherub, man, lion, and eagle” (Ezekiel 10:14) but they only have “four wings” (Ezekiel 10:21) instead of the “six” John saw in this vision. In Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6:2) the angels had “six wings.” In spite of the difference in wings in Ezekiel, Isaiah, and John’s vision, the living creatures use their wings in ascribing holiness unto God. Their supreme responsibility is to constantly worship God. In Isaiah 6:2 they “covered their face, feet, and did fly” with their wings. Four of their six wings are used to worship and the two remaining wings gives them mobility. It seems from this description that worship is their permanent occupation.
“They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come” emphasizes the heart and purpose of their worship. The holiness of God and His eternity is the focus of their worship. The threefold repetition of the word “holy” is also found in Isaiah 6:3. Holiness is the summation of all that God is. In her words of praise, Hannah said, “There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2). Not only do the living creatures worship God for His holiness, but calling Him “Lord God Almighty” indicates they also worshipped Him for His power. “Almighty” means God is the strongest and most powerful being. There is absolutely no weakness with Him (Isaiah 40:28). The living creatures also worship God for His eternality. “Which was, and is, and is to come” is a reference to God always being God!Four and Twenty Elders in Heaven (Revelation 4:9-11)
Although verse 8 says the living creatures “rest not day and night” giving worship and praise to God, according to verse 9 they occasionally “give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever.” Evidently this is a special aspect of worship given to God as He sits on His throne. When this occurs, according to verse 10, “the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne…” The “four and twenty elders” is a reference to redeemed humanity as stated in verse 4. “Fall down” is a position of reverential worship which is a proper response to the holiness, power, and glory of God. “For ever and ever” is another reminder of God’s eternality. You and I are slaves to calendars, time, and appointments, God isn’t. The next time you look at your watch or hear the alarm clock sound, worship Him because He is not limited to time! He has authority over everything that limits and regulates our lives.
After falling down before the Almighty God, the twenty-four elders “cast their crowns before the throne.” These are not the crowns [diadems] of royalty but rather the “crowns,” stephanos in the Greek, “crowns” that have been won in the arena of faith. “Crowns” represent achievements, accomplishments, rewards. In Revelation 4:4, the twenty-four elders had “crowns” on their head as a symbol of honor and beauty. By casting their “crowns before the throne” it symbolizes that these “twenty-four elders” are so preoccupied with the majesty, holiness, and glory of God that their honor means nothing to them. They are willing to lay all their rewards, achievements and honors in worship before the Lord.
The twenty-four elders say, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour, and power…” God alone is worthy of the three things men seek the most: “glory, honor, and power.” “…For thou hast created all things” means they worshiped God because of His activity in creation. Evolutionists cannot worship God! Only those who believe in the Creator God can truly worship Him. It was for God’s “pleasure” that “all things” “are” today and “were created” (Job 38:4-7; Psalm 104:31; 148:3-5, 7). God alone is “worthy.” The word “worthy” in the Greek is axios, and was used in John’s day when an emperor marched along in a triumphant procession.
According to Revelation 5:9, there is worship in heaven because of God’s redemption. He is worthy to be worshiped for His activity in creation and His activity in redemption. He not only hung the stars in space, He also hung His Son on a rugged cross. He is worthy of praise!
To worship means “to ascribe honor to, and that is exactly what John sees taking place in heaven from the living creatures and the twenty-four elders. The world today does not give such honor to the Lord God. And sadly, much of what we call “worship” today in churches and religious gatherings is nothing more than entertainment with God’s name attached to it. Revelation 4 gives us a glimpse of what is taking place in heaven where all created beings and redeemed humanity join together in a symphony of worship. John saw worship taking place prior to the outpouring of judgment. Worship is the best thing we can today as we live in these last days. All who know the Lord would be wise to join the symphony or worship!
Contact Information Office: 828-758-2818Click to contact me.
Physical Location311 Abington Rd. N.W. Lenoir, N. C. 28645
Mailing Address311 Abington Rd. N.W. Lenoir, N. C. 28645
Designed by TTM Consulting