Interpreters of this first school consider Revelation 2 and 3 as depicting the sage of the church; 4.1 as referring to the rapture of the church; 4.4 (with the 24 elders) as representing the glorified church after the rapture; and chapters 5 and 6 as having reference to the beginning of the Great Tribulation. But 4.1 is not spoken to the whole church. It is only spoken to John. “Come up hither” is an accomplished fact in the personal experience of John on the isle of Patmos. Otherwise, Philip’s experience as recorded in Acts 8.29 might also be taken as signifying the rapture of the whole church. As regards the 24 elders, it is rather absurd to deem them as signifying the glorified church (from King and the Kingdom of Heaven, p. 273).
The Scenes at the Throne (4.1-5.14)
4.1 "AFTER THESE THINGS"
On the basis of the words "After these things", some maintain that whatever is described in chapters 4 and 5 are events yet to be fulfilled, since these two chapters speak of the things which will happen at the time when the church shall be raptured and the Lord shall return immediately. Such an interpretation is most widely accepted, but it presents the following eight problems.
(1) If chapters 4 and 5 truly refer to "the things which shall come to pass hereafter", why should such a significant event as the rapture of the church not be mentioned? Rapture is touched upon in chapters 7, 12, 14 and 15 of this book. Why is it not referred to here? Some do suggest that the rapture of the church is implied in the words "Come up hither" (4.1), but are not these words followed immediately by "Straightway I was in the Spirit . . ." (v.2)? The rapture of the church is a bodily rapture, yet here it is in the Spirit. And thus this verse cannot be interpreted as referring to the rapture of the church. How can chapters 2 and 3 speak of the church and there not be a clear word given of her rapture immediately afterwards?
(2) If 4.1 indeed speaks of the rapture of the church, then where is the church seen in chapters 4 and 5? Some people advance the thought that the 24 elders in 4.4,10 and 5.8 represent the church. We shall prove later on that they do not represent the church. For the present we need only to ask one question: Why is it that not even one of the 24 elders is mentioned from 19.5 through chapter 22? Is it possible that the church is limited to the time of tribulation and to the enjoyment in the kingdom, but that she will not be heard of in the new heaven and the new earth? How can it be that she is seen at the beginning but she disappears at the end?
(3) Chapter 5 describes the glory which the Lamb receives in heaven. Can we say that the Lord must wait for about two thousand years before He will receive glory?
(4) The praise from every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth spoken of in 5.13 agrees perfectly with what Philippians 2.10 says. Due to His resurrection and ascension and His receiving the Name that is above all names, He is shown in such glory as is described in Philippians (2.9). How, then, can it be said that Revelation 5.13 describes a scene of two thousand years later?
(5) Why should the new song in 5.9 be sung two thousand years later? Has not the work of redemption already been done? Why cannot the new song be sung at once?
(6) "As though it had been slain" (5.6) is, in the original, rendered "as though it had been newly slain"—This clearly proves that this is the scene of the ascension of the Lord. Although the death of the Lord is forever fresh, the word here designates it as being newly slain.
(7) In 4.8 the four living creatures are recorded as saying: "The Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come"—Compare this with 11.17, where the 24 elders are found worshiping God and saying: "O Lord God, the Almighty, who art and who wast"; in this latter instance the words "who is to come" are not said, thus intimating that the return of the Lord cannot be before 4.8 but after 4.8.
(8) In 5.6 it is said that the seven Spirits of God are "sent forth into all the earth"—May we not ask, then, what the Holy Spirit will be doing in the great tribulation as He is sent out into all the earth? We know that the Holy Spirit comes down after the ascension of the Lord Jesus. It is during the dispensation of the church that He is sent out by the Lord.
In view of these eight points, we may conclude that chapter 4 depicts the daily scene in God’s presence, which is the natural situation in heaven; while chapter 5 speaks of the sight of the Lord’s ascension, for in it we are told of "a Lamb standing, as though it had been [newly] slain" (5.6). This scene is repeated for the benefit of the apostle John—"After these things . . . a door opened in heaven" (4.1). This is not a continuation of the seven churches but rather is a sequel to the vision given in chapter 1.
"A door opened in heaven"—The heavens were opened to Ezekiel (1.1), to the Lord (Matt. 3.16), to Stephen (Acts 7.56), to Peter (Acts 10.11) and to John (Rev. 4.1, 19.11).
"And the first voice that I heard, a voice as of a trumpet speaking with me"—It is not a trumpet blowing, but a voice as of a trumpet.
"Come up hither"—This word is spoken to John personally; it should not be interpreted as a type of the rapture of the church.
"I will show thee the things which must come to pass hereafter"—This serves as an introduction to the prophecies to follow.
4.2,3 THE THRONE
4.2 "Straightway I was in the Spirit"—John was raptured in the spirit, it was not a bodily rapture.
"And behold, there was a throne set in heaven"—The throne is the heart of this book, it is also the focus of all things. The first thing to be seen, therefore, is the throne, since all the things which follow proceed from it. This is a different throne from that spoken of in the New Testament epistles. Hebrews 4, for example, speaks of the throne of grace—emphasizing the side of God’s grace. But this is the throne of judgment here—emphasizing the side of God’s righteousness.
"And one sitting upon the throne"—This one is none other than God.
4.3 "And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper stone and a sardius"—The better translation for "jasper" is "diamond".* Among precious stones, the one stone which resembles most the color of light is the diamond. It is unbreakable and most valued by mankind. It is formed out of carbon. Its light may be compared to the light of the gospel by which man is lifted out of darkness into marvelous light. "Sardius" has the most perfect red color. It therefore expresses the redemption of God, for blood is red in color. So, both of these precious stones, because of their colors, are used to represent both the light of the gospel and the redemption of God which is accomplished through the Lord Jesus.
*"This is not considered to be the same as the modern jasper, which is an opaque variety of quartz of many different colors. To what gem Scripture refers is not known. Some suppose the diamond."—A New and Concise Bible Dictionary (London: G. Morrish, n.d., p. 405).—Translator
"And there was a rainbow round about the throne, like an emerald to look upon"—The rainbow usually viewed on earth is bow-shaped, but the rainbow here surrounds the throne. Now the rainbow is the sign of God’s covenant with Noah, for God is a keeper of covenant as well as the God of covenant (Gen. 9.12-16). Here in Revelation we find that God is going to execute judgment soon; nevertheless, He still keeps His covenant and remembers His promises and grace. The green of an emerald is like the green grass. It is a major color on earth. Hence it shows that in judgment God has grace and He remembers the earth. After the earth has passed through judgment, it gives forth green color (Gen. 8.11).
4.4 "THE TWENTY-FOUR ELDERS"
The common interpretation of the 24 elders as given by most commentators is that they point to the entire glorious church. But do these commentators have sufficient proof for offering this interpretation? Recently some of them have quoted 4.4, saying that these elders have thrones and therefore they reign as kings; they also point out that in 5.8 these elders are shown as having harps and golden bowls full of incense, and hence they are priests. And does not 1 Peter 2.9 state that believers are "a royal priesthood"? Since these 24 elders are both kings and priests, surely, they conclude, these elders represent the glorious church.
According to this interpretation, therefore, the entire church must be raptured together and thus it does not go through the tribulation. But how, then, will 3.10 be explained? Furthermore, there are ten other reasons why the 24 elders do not represent one glorious church.
(1) The name of elder is not the name of the church. If the elders here point to the church, it will be almost like saying that the entire church is made up of elders. According to historical fact, God first chooses the angels (Is. 14.12; Ez. 28.11-19), then the Jews (Gen. 12.1-3), and thirdly the church (for it is formed in the time of Acts 2). Not only the church cannot be reckoned as elders, even the Jews are not to be considered as elders (the election mentioned in Ephesians 1.4 refers to the eternal purpose of God, and hence is quite different from the elect angels as mentioned in 1 Timothy 5.21).
(2) The number of the elders is not the number of the church. The church’s number in the Scriptures is seven or multiples of seven, but 24 is not such a multiple.
(3) The church cannot have the throne and the crown before the Lord Jesus has His. The one who sits on the throne as seen in 4.2 is God the Father (the Lamb is standing, according to 5.6). The 24 elders also sit on thrones, and they all wear crowns of gold as described in 4.4. If they represent the church, how can it be that the church sits while the Lamb stands? According to this interpretation, in 5.6 the church is already crowned. Yet please note that the Lord Jesus will not be King until the time of chapter 20 is reached! How can the church receive glory in advance of the Lord? Moreover, after 19.4 there is no more trace of the 24 elders. If these elders do indeed represent the entire church, what has happened to the glorious church thereafter?
(4) The white garments which the elders wear are not said to be cleansed by the precious blood; however, in another place (7.14) the white garments are said to have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. The white garments here show that the elders are without sin.
(5) The song these elders sing is not that of redemption since the song in 4.11 tells of the creation of God. They thus know only God’s creation; they have no personal knowledge of God’s redemption. Though they do sing a new song as mentioned in 5.9-10, this is because the Lord has redeemed "them"—not these elders, but men of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
(6) All the phenomena in chapter 4 stand for the state of the universe. Besides the throne and the seven Spirits, there are the four living creatures and the 24 elders; none else is mentioned. This indicates that these elders are the elders of the universe. Can we possibly say that the church is the eldest in the universe?
(7) To carry prayers to God as is shown in 5.8 is not the action of the church. Even though the church is commanded in the Scriptures to pray for others, God has not asked her to bring others’ prayers to Him. The church does not have this power. Many commentators agree that the angel spoken of in 8.3-4 refers to the Lord. Whether or not it is the Lord, it can at least be said that the task of carrying prayers to God is done by angels. Thus, bringing prayers of the saints to God as mentioned in 5.8 must be a task done by the angels.
(8) Never once do the 24 elders identify themselves as the church. The "them" in 5.10 is a reference to the church by these elders. If the "them" were indeed an expression of self-identification, the elders should have instead said "us". What the elders do say clearly distinguishes them from the church. The 24 elders cannot represent the entire church. There are three classes of people in view in 7.13-17, namely: (1) elders, (2) John, and (3) those arrayed in white robes. Should the 24 elders be an allusion to part of the church, it would still make some sense for the elders to ask John, "Who are they, and whence came they [those in white robes]?" But if the 24 elders mean the entire church, it would be absurd for the entire church to ask concerning part of the church.
(9) John addresses one of the elders as "my lord" (7.13-17), thus showing the superior position of the elder over John. Otherwise how could the elder permit John to call him "my lord"? (cf. 22.8-9)
(10) The demeanor of the 24 elders before God is most peculiar. They have never been hungry and thirsty like the church nor have they ever shed any tears. They are not afraid of God, neither do they possess any sense of sin. They are strangers to the experience of being redeemed. All these points prove that they are not the redeemed church.
Who, then, are these elders? Let us assume that they are the kings and priests among the angels, that they are the elders of the universe (that is to say, they rule over the angels and the universe in God’s service). The evidences for such a conclusion are as follows.
(1) Since they sit on thrones and wear crowns of gold, they must be kings.
(2) They wear white garments which are the garments of the priests (see Ex. 28; Lev. 6.10, 16.4). They have harps, sing songs, and hold golden bowls of incense—all these are evidences of their priesthood.
(3) The reason they are the priests among the angels is because they are the elders of the universe. In chapters 4 and 5 God is God, the Lord is the Lamb, the Holy Spirit is the seven Spirits, the four living creatures represent the animate creation, and the 24 elders are the elders of the universe since they are the oldest among created things.
(4) Besides the angels, who are entitled to sit on thrones and wear golden crowns ahead of the Lord Jesus? God had originally appointed angels to govern the universe. But one of the archangels fell and turned himself into Satan, there thus coming into existence the satanic kingdom. As to those angels who had not followed Satan in rebellion, God still assigns them the rule over the universe. Now just as Michael is the chief prince over the nation of Israel (Dan. 10.13), even so, all of us who are redeemed have our guardian angels (Acts 12.15; Matt. 18.10; Heb. 1.14). The 24 elders sit while the seven angels who blow the trumpets stand before God (8.2). They are now in charge of the universe. When they see people getting saved they are not jealous at all; rather, they praise God for it. They will govern the universe until the kingdom shall come; and then they will resign their appointments and there will be the transfer of the government of the universe to men (Rev. 11.16-18; Heb. 2.5-8). This is why there is no mentioning of the 24 elders after 19.4.
(5) The number of the 24 elders is the number of the priesthood. At the time of David the priesthood was divided into 24 courses (1 Chron. 24.7-18). The duty of the priesthood is to bring the prayers of the saints to God. The harps are for singing, and the golden bowls are for prayers.
4.5-6 THE SITUATION OF THE THRONE
4.5 "And out of the throne proceed lightnings and voices and thunders"—God is going to judge the world. Hence the throne here is God’s throne of righteousness, the judicial throne of God.
"Lamps of fire" in the original is "torches of fire"—A lamp is for use in the house, whereas a torch is used for the outdoors. (The torch used by the Greeks was trumpet shaped and filled with jute or cotton saturated with oil. It is used outdoors.)
The Holy Spirit is one Person in the Godhead; yet He is described here as the seven Spirits on the basis of His work and effect. This agrees perfectly with the meaning of the torches (see Rev. 5.6; Is. 11.2).
4.6 Why is "a sea of glass like unto crystal" before the throne? Because the rainbow which surrounds the throne is a memorial to God’s promise at the time of Noah that the earth will no more be destroyed by water (Gen. 9.15). The judgment by water passed away; judgment is no longer executed by means of the sea. According to Revelation 15 the glassy sea seems to be "mingled with fire" (v.2). In the new heaven and the new earth there is no more sea. In eternity there will be only the lake of fire—a lake, yes, but one of fire. Robert Govett has observed that "the sea becomes the lake of fire. We are permitted to see it in its intermediate state in chapter 15, when it is a sea of glass mingled with fire."* What he has suggested appears reasonable.
* Robert Govett, The Apocalypse Expounded. London: Chas. J. Thynne, 1920, p. 111.—Translator
Since there is but one throne, what is meant by "the midst of the throne" can only be a reference to the lower center before the throne.
"Full of eyes before and behind"—"Eyes" signify intelligence. By closing his eyes, a person will not be able to see the world. But that which has the most contact with the world is a person’s eyes. To be full of eyes before and behind shows how very intelligent these living creatures are before God.
4.7,8 THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES
Some observers maintain that since the 24 elders represent the church, the four living creatures also stand for the church. But we do not think the book of Revelation is primarily a book of symbols. Whatever is not symbolic should be explained literally. If the 24 elders speak of the church, then how should the other numbers in the book be interpreted? Such an interpretation not only will be most difficult but also will impair the value of this book. Consequently, the four living creatures are not symbolic but are rather the representatives of the created things. As the 24 elders are representative of the angelic beings, so the four living creatures are representative of the living things on earth.
The classifications of the living creatures according to Genesis are six in number: (1) aquatics, (2) birds, (3) fowls, (4) creeping things, (5) beasts, and (6) man. But according to Revelation 4.7 there are only four kinds: (1) lion—the mightiest among beasts (Prov. 30.30); (2) calf—the biggest among domesticated animals; (3) man—the mankind on earth (this does not signify the church, for in the kingdom era the knowledge of God will fill the earth—see Is. 11.9). During that era there will be a difference in the church between the saved and the overcomers; but in the new heaven and the new earth there will no longer be such a difference. Though at the kingdom age men on earth may believe in God, there will be no baptism in the Holy Spirit, and hence they cannot become the body of Christ. They can only believe as individuals. In the new heaven and the new earth they will be restored to the state of Adam before the fall. They shall eat fruits, require sleep, enter into marriage, and beget children, though they will no longer die, be sick, sin, or be tempted by the devil. And (4) eagle—the king of birds.
Why are the creeping things and the fishes not mentioned here? Since the largest of the creeping things is the serpent, there is no representation. During the time of Noah the fishes had not passed through judgment (whereas all the other living creatures had); in addition, in the new heaven and the new earth there will be no more sea. Evidently fishes will be judged later; therefore, there is no representation.
Having been affected by the fall of man, creation has been corrupted quite far from its original state. And so, according to Romans 8.19-22, the whole creation earnestly awaits the revealing of the liberty of the glory of the children of God. When the Lord returns we shall be glorified, and the creation will be liberated from the bondage of corruption. At the coming of the Lord there will be the restoration of all things (Acts 3.21). The effect of our Lord’s death on the cross is far reaching: it reaches to all things as well as to mankind (Col. 1.20). By reading Hebrews 2.5-9, we learn that Jesus "should taste of death for every man"; but "every man" ought to be rendered "every one" or "every thing" in verse 9. This means that Christ has tasted death for all things, even for the whole creation. Not only mankind, but the whole creation as well, will be redeemed.
The Lord Jesus is not only a man but also the firstborn of all creation (Col. 1.15; Rev. 3.14).
The four living creatures represent all the redeemed living things before God.
Now of the four living creatures both the calf and man are clean, whereas the lion and the eagle are unclean. Yet all of them stand before God without any differentiation between clean and unclean.
The lion and the eagle are fierce while man and calf are mild-mannered. But because all are redeemed, all of them can dwell together in peace.
In the Old Testament there are two kinds of angelic beings mentioned: cherubim and seraphim. The cherubim have only four wings (Ez. 1.6), whereas the seraphim have six (Is. 6.2). The faces of the four living creatures are like the living creatures spoken of in Ezekiel. These four living creatures have the faces of the cherubim (Ez. 1.10) and the wings of the seraphim. Thus they are a composite of the cherubim and seraphim.
Cherubim stand for the glory of God (cherubim of gold mentioned in Exodus 37.7 signifies cherubim of glory), and seraphim stand for the holiness of God ("Holy, holy, holy" in Is. 6.3). Glory pertains to God himself, but holiness refers to God’s nature. Hence, the four living creatures here are to manifest the glory and the holiness of God.
"And who is to come" means "the coming one"—This points to the second coming of the Lord.
4.9 There are "thanks" because the four living creatures also represent here all redeemed living things.
4.11 The 24 elders do not say "thanks" but say "power" instead, since they have no personal experience of salvation and they know only power. However, when they see the four living creatures praising God and giving thanks, they join in the worship without any sense of jealousy.
"For thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created"—According to Govett, a remarkablerendering is found in some manuscripts: "Because of thy will they were not, and were created"; this gives the meaning that whether at first God had not created or now God has created all things, it is nonetheless all by His will.
5.1-4 "WHO IS WORTHY TO OPEN THE BOOK?"
5.1 "Him that sat on the throne" is God the Father. "A book"—What book is it? It is the New Covenant, since the New Covenant tells how God will save the church, Israel, the world, and the universe.
"Close sealed with seven seals"—All seven seals, not just one seal, must be opened before what has been determined in the book can be seen.
This book is the New Covenant established by the Lamb with His blood. All the plans of God are presented in the New Covenant.
5.2 "A strong angel proclaiming with a great voice"—It takes a strong angel with a loud voice to proclaim what must be heard in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.
"Who is worthy" is not a matter of power, but of qualification. Who is worthy to bring in the plan of God? None is worthy.
5.3 No one in heaven or on the earth is found worthy to loose the seals.
5.4 "And I wept much"—Fearful lest God’s plan could not be executed, John wept much. Here is a heart which is in full sympathy with that of the throne.
5.5-7 "LION . . . LAMB"
5.5 "The Lion that is of the tribe of Judah"—Kings proceed from the tribe of Judah. Before God, our Lord is the Lamb and not a lion; but to the Jews He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. The lion is mighty and kingly.
"The Root of David"—David is the first king after God’s heart whom God has chosen. The Lord Jesus is a shoot that comes out of the stock of Jesse; yet He is not a branch of David but the Root of David; for David is king after the pattern of the Lord Jesus.
God needs a conquering King to open the book and to execute His plan.
5.6 "A Lamb standing"—The scene at the ascension of the Lord.
As we have indicated earlier, "as though it had been slain" should be rendered "as though it had been newly slain".
"Having seven horns, and seven eyes"—Horn speaks of power, for there is power in the horns of oxen and sheep. Accordingly, the Bible uses such expressions as "our horn shall be exalted" (Ps. 89.17), and "the horn of my salvation" (Ps. 18.2). Eye represents intelligence. The seven Spirits of God are as torches being sent to the dark world. The seven Spirits of God rest upon the Lord Jesus to give Him power, wisdom, and so forth (Is. 11.2). The seven Spirits cause us to draw nearer to the Lord and to praise Him.
5.7 The Lamb takes the book. The heavens and the earth shall then break forth in praises (see below). The New Covenant is now in the hand of the Lamb and it will soon be implemented.
5.8-10 THE DOXOLOGY OF "THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES AND THE TWENTY-FOUR ELDERS"
5.11-13 LAUDATION OF ANGELS AND ALL CREATED THINGS
5.8 The focus of the prayers of the saints is upon the second coming of the Lord. Harps are for praising and bowls of incense are for presenting prayers.
5.9 "A new song"—Because the Lord has only newly died, therefore it is a new song.
"Every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation"—Four earthly things are mentioned here, and four is the number of the earth.
"And didst purchase unto God"—Those who are purchased by the blood are not the 24 elders, since it is recorded that they do not sing "didst purchase unto God us", but "them".
5.10 According to what has been said here, are not all believers kings and priests? Yes, our salvation is based on the Lord’s death, yet it is also through man’s faith. Similarly, then, we are made priests and kings to God by the finished work of the Lord’s blood, but we actually serve as priests and kings both today and in the kingdom through our faithful dedication.
5.11,12 Includes the angels, the 24 elders, and the four living creatures.
5.13 This is the praise of all the created things in the universe.