Revelation 4:1 John sees an open door in heaven, and a voice which calls
"come up here". John is called into the very presents of the One
who sits on the throne. It is Jesus Christ the exalted that calls him to
that position. (Com. 1:10-13 with 4:1) So John is called out of his exile,
out of his tribulation, out of his circumstances, by Jesus Christ, to be
with Him in the Fathers presents.
Some theologians have suggested that John represents the Church at this point, I agree. However those same theologians have done the Church a disservice by suggesting that this verse pictures the Churches removal from the earth, by the rapture. Such a conclusion has no support in the text or context. John does not speak of being physically removed from his surroundings. Instead he tells us "and immediately I was in the spirit." This phrase does not suggest a change in location, but a change in outlook and prospective. John is not physically removed from his situation but he sees his situation in a different light.
As John was called into the presents of the One on the throne so the Church is called to join her Lord and Savior in the throne room. Like John the Church will experience tribulation: Jesus clearly said so: "in this world you shall have tribulation". (John 16:33) However the Church has been given an open door into Heaven. Her calling is to join her exalted Lord in the heavens. (Eph. 1:1)
John is told that he would be shown that "which shall be after these things." The ascended Jesus informs John that what he is presently experiencing is not the end of the matter. John tells us what he was experiencing. Physically he was a "brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ", exiled to the island of Patmos. (1:9) But John; how can you speak of being in tribulation and in the kingdom, at the same time? Are the two not contradictory and mutually exclusive? Surely you aren't suggesting that we experience the kingdom while in tribulation? Yet that is the reality: "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22) So John's exile is his experience of tribulation for the gospels sake. He thus identifies himself with the Churches tribulation throughout history. However John also calls himself a brother and companion in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. For us to be able to understand the juxtaposition of tribulation and the kingdom; we like John must be "in the spirit". (1:10)
By speaking of being “in the spirit” John is not speaking of breaking with reality. Jesus Christ calls John and the Church into a higher dimension of reality. The situations we find ourselves in on the earth are not the end of the story. Those situations must be viewed in the light of John’s throne room experience. There is an "afterwards" that both John and the Church are called into. We like John will make sense of the "afterward" as we walk "in the spirit".
John's vision of that afterwards is prefaced by his experience in the Throne room. That experience sets the stage and is the culmination for the events that follow. John describes his throne room experience in Revelation 4:3 to 5:14. We need to look at the details given by John because they have implications for the Church. For us to understand and apply these details demands that we study them. I wish to focus on two aspect of the details in chapter four, and five.
The Four Living Creatures
four living creatures in the midst of, and surrounding the throne. The
King James Version uses the term “beasts” instead of “living creatures”.
Is there a likeness between these living creatures and the beasts of Revelation
13? These living creatures are attendants in the throne room. They
worship God. The beasts of Revelation 13 do not serve God or His purpose
and their final end is the lake of fire. Are we then to conclude that there
are two kinds of animals: those that serve God, and those that serve Satan?
Obviously these beasts are not to be seen as literal. The beasts of Revelation 13 speak of an evil influence and system that is held in esteem by earths people. The living creatures of Revelation four are attendants in the throne room. They influence and lead in the worship of God.
John's description of these living creatures includes things which are common to all four. However each living creature is unique and identifiable. The things which these creatures have in common are: They are "full of eyes, before and behind", (v6) they each have six wings, as well as being "full of eyes within", and they never cease to glorify God. (v8) Their uniqueness is portrayed in their individuality. The first is like a lion. The second is like a calf. The third creature had the face of a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle.
Since John uses the word "like" he is obviously letting us know that these living beings are not a lion, calf, man, and eagle. Those terms are only used to identify them. So when we identify what they symbolize, that symbolism must fit their identity.
He describes them as in the midst and round about the throne. This gives the impression of an energy field. He also states that they never rest, their activity is unceasing. Perhaps the most interesting thing about these creatures is that when they glorify God the 24 elders fall down before God as well. (Note 4:9 5:8,14) In other words these living creatures are worship leaders in the throne room. Why them and not the elders?
John's words in Revelation 5:8 and following indicates that the living creatures and elders have certain things in common. They each have harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of the saints. All of them worship Jesus, and they worship Him for His work of Redemption. A redemption which has made them kings and priests to God. Is John here suggesting that Jesus redeemed four living creatures and 24 elders, then gives them authority to reign? Of course not! Redemption, and the privilege to be a ruler is the right of "every kindred, tongue, people and nation." (5:9) So obviously it is redeemed humanity that is represented by four living creatures and twenty four elders.
Thus redemption places these four living creatures on common ground with us. But these creatures are not residing on earth, like us. They are seen by John as resident in the midst of and around the throne. And when it comes to worship their place of prominence seems to be that of worship leaders. These living creatures authenticate and validate the worship offered by all in Revelation 5:11-13. Their “amen” in verse 14 initiates more worship from the 24 elders. A strong indication that these creatures fully understand the purpose and scope of Christ's redemption. Thereby implying that Christ’s redemption provided us with something that we have not fully utilized, understood, or appropriated.
John's description of them is meant to identify them. John states they are full of eyes: in front, behind, as well as within. So their most notable and striking feature is their eyes. Eyes indicate sight or knowledge. Thus the truth pointed to concerning these creatures concerns their foresight, hindsight, and insight. This three dimensional view is apparently the reason for their continuous activity. They never rest, but are constantly giving glory to God.
I see these creatures as representing humanities four primary disciplines. The lion represents the Arts. The calf is representative of the Sciences. The living creature with the face of a man represents the Humanities. The eagle stands for Theology. John is shown that God’s plan called for these disciplines to be resident in heaven, giving glory to God. However these disciplines became shipwrecked in society. In our study of the breaking of the first four seals we will discover how this came about. However John sees them in heaven as the worship leaders and so it will be. God's redemption of humanity included the redemption of the four disciplines. Those disciplines are destined to honor and glorify God. God has so ordained it, therefore it will become reality.