After these things I looked, and behold there was a door which had been opened in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard as a trumpet blast was saying beside me, “Come up here and I will show to you the things which are necessary to happen after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit, and behold a throne was lying outstretched in heaven and there was one sitting upon the throne. And the one sitting was like in appearance a jasper stone and carnelian, and a rainbow circled around the throne like in appearance an emerald. And circling around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and upon the twenty-four thrones were sitting elders who were clothed in white garments and upon their heads were golden crowns. And going out from the throne were flashes of lightening, and sounds, and thunder, and there were seven lamps burning fire before the throne which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was something like a glassy sea like clear quartz crystal. And in the midst of the throne and round about the throne there were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. And the first living creature was like a lion, and the second living creature was like a young bull, and the third living creature had a face like a man’s, and the fourth living creature was like an eagle flying. And the four living creatures, each one, had six wings all around and underneath covered with eyes, and they have no pause, day or night from saying:
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God the Almighty, who was and who is, and who is coming.
And whenever the living creatures would give glory, and honor, and thanksgiving to the one sitting upon the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders would fall before the one who sits upon the throne and would prostrate themselves and worship the one who lives forever and ever. Andy they would throw their crowns before the throne saying:
You are worthy our Lord and God to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created everything and on account of your will they existed and had been created.
1. “After these things I looked …” at the beginning of chapter four is a transition device used to close one event in the vision and open another. Besides here it is used at the following places in Revelation:
A. Revelation 7:1: to introduce the pause, or intercalation, that begins in 7:1 after the fifth seal is opened.
B. Revelation 7:9: to shift from the sealing of the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel on the earth to the multitudes praising and worshiping God in heaven.
C. Revelation 15:5: to introduce the transition from the narrative of the dragon’s war against the saints back to the judgments of sevens, i.e., the seven bowls of God’s wrath.
D. Revelation 18:1: to mark the transition from the presentation of the great prostitute Babylon sitting on the scarlet beast and the fall and lament over Babylon the Great.
E. Revelation 19:1: to transition from the fall and lament over Babylon the Great on earth to rejoicing in heaven over Babylon the Great’s fall and destruction.
2. At the beginning of this part of the vision John sees a door into heaven standing open and the same voice he heard in 1:10 commands him to enter through it. In 1:10 the voice was coming from behind him. In chapter four the voice is coming from beside him. This point marks a shift from the seven letters to the seven Churches of Asia to the main body of the vision.
3. The phrase “in the Spirit” is both a theological statement and a transition marker in the book of Revelation. What exactly John means by the phrase is a matter of debate. It seems to mean something like, “under the control of God’s Spirit,” or “the Spirit came upon him,” or “the Spirit enabled him to worship.” Ezekiel uses a similar phrase to describe his experiences within a vision he has of God (e.g. Ezekiel 2:2; 3:12; 3:14; 3:24). Other places where John says he was in the Spirit are:
A. Revelation 1:10: the beginning of the vision.
B. Revelation 4:2: the beginning of his vision of heaven.
C. Revelation 17:3: the beginning of the vision of the great prostitute.
D. Revelation 21:10: the beginning of the vision of the new Jerusalem.
What is clear is the Holy Spirit is an actor in enabling John’s visionary experience.
4. John’s description of the scene in heaven has some similarities to the descriptions of heaven by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6):
Ezekiel saw four living creatures, each having four faces and four wings. The four faces correspond to the four species indicated in Revelation: a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle. While the living creatures are not covered with eyes as in Revelation, the rims of the wheels closely associated with the four living creatures are. Above the four living creatures in Ezekiel’s vision is an expanse like sparkling ice. Above this is a sapphire like throne. Around this throne is something like a rainbow. Ezekiel’s vision of the living creatures and the throne of God emerges out of a great storm cloud from which comes flashes of lightening and a brilliant light like glowing metal.
Isaiah reports seeing the Lord seated on a throne with the train of the Lord’s robe filling the temple. Above the Lord are seraphs each having six wings and calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, the whole world is full of his glory.”
These two visions seem congruent with those in John. The four living creatures in Ezekiel’s vision, which are somewhat different from what John saw are located under the throne and perhaps under the glassy sea like clear quartz crystal. The seraphs in Isaiah’s vision, as far as the prophet’s description goes, are consistent with what John saw.
5. How does John describe the appearance of the one sitting on the throne? He saw the figure was like in appearance to jasper and carnelian stone. The phrase translated “like in appearance” is literally “like to look upon.” It emphasizes appearance and not substance. The most common forms of jasper are reddish in color. Green, yellow, brown, and blue forms also occur. Carnelian is brownish red in color.
A rainbow like an emerald also circled around the throne. Emeralds are a brilliant green and occur in various shades. We do not know if the rainbow was horizontal or vertical. Perhaps an emerald rainbow indicates a rainbow of various shades of green.
6. No explanation is given for the significance of the twenty-four elders whose thrones circle around the throne. An elder is an older person who bears qualities of authority and prestige. These traits are reinforced in this case by the elders proximity to God’s throne, and that they have their own thrones, wear crowns, and are dressed in white. Suggestions as to their identity range from the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel to the leaders of the divisions of priests/Levites in the heavenly temple. The latter view is based upon the assertion that the temple in Jerusalem was modeled after the temple in heaven. The priests and the Levites were divided into twenty-four courses by David (cf. 1 Chronicles 23-25).
The twenty-four elders appear at different places throughout the book of Revelation at different scenes of worship in heaven (Revelation 4:4; 4:10; 5:8; 11:16; 19:4). Their role appears in Revelation to be associated with worship.
7. This initial scene in heaven describes the worship of the twenty-four elders before the throne of God. The word translated worship means literally to prostrate oneself. Andrew McGowan in Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective points out that when the apostles are described as worshiping the risen Christ in Matthew 28:17. They are not singing, reciting prayers, or having an emotional experience. They are flat on their faces. In the Bible worship is about the body and about service. McGowan goes on to write:
On the one hand there is the Biblical language or concept of “worship,” which suggests the reverent orientation of the whole person and of communities toward God – and sometimes just being flat on your face to make that real. This “worship” does include both speech acts and physical performance and may take place in the domestic and personal realm, as well as in the communal and public; but communal rituals of the Christian community are not actually presented as “worship” in the NT. (E Book location: 317 or 9575)
In Revelation four we have dramatic physical performances and speech acts. The four living creatures declare the holiness of God. The elders fall down, prostrate themselves, and declare God worthy of glory, honor, and power because he is the creator. This is how worship of God is described throughout Revelation.
8. Revelation 4:5 contains a description of flashes of lightening, sounds, and thunders going out from God’s throne. This description is repeated and expanded at important junctures throughout John’s vision (cf. Revelation 8:5ff; 11:19ff; 16:18ff). Added to the storm are earthquakes and hail storms which grow in intensity. We will look at the significance of the storm in a later posting.
9. The four living creatures are reported as saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God the Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is coming.” John then says “whenever’ the living creatures would give “glory, honor, and thanksgiving” the elders would fall down and prostrate themselves in worship. Are the words of the four living creatures distinct from John’s following statement, or does John summarize the meaning of what he previously quoted the living creatures saying? Do the elders fall down when they hear the living creatures proclaim, “holy, holy,, holy” or when they hear them give glory, honor, and thanksgiving? In favor of the first few is the significant difference in content between what he quotes the living creatures saying and what he summarizes. In favor of the latter is the word “whenever” which suggests a connection between the two.
10. The words of praise uttered by the twenty-four elders in 4:11 makes an interesting point. The verb to create is used in the active an passive voices. So i have translated it, “you created everything and on account of your will they existed and had been created.” In the first instance the active voice is used. God created. In the second usage on account of God’s will everything had been created. Using the two voices looks at the creation from multiple angles and emphasizes the actual act of creation by God. God was fully involved in the creation from every angle.
11. Finally, this chapter serves as an introduction to the next scene from which the rest of the vision derives. John is invited to witness worship in heaven, for what reason? The next scene will reveal it to us and from that scene will emerge the rest of the book.
Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective, By Andrew E. McGowan, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2014.