See part one: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 1-3
Every believer from the Old to and through the New Testaments has dreamed of eternity with God. But what’s the process? How does it happen – and most important of all WHEN does it happen? We find that it doesn’t fully happen when we die: we are with the Lord, but those who have died up to now have not yet received their glorified bodies. So when does it happen? How?
For the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation, the word “church” – referring to believers in Jesus Christ on earth – is mentioned seven times with the word “churches” being mentioned twelve times. That’s a total of nineteen times, all ye math whizzes. For the first three chapters, it’s church, church, church. And yet, after referring to the church and addressing the churches over and over again, “the church” is not referenced in any way, shape or form until Rev 19 when Christ returns to earth with His saints. And the only believers referenced in between are the two witnesses and the 144,000 Jews– and we aint them. So what explanation makes sense?
This one: Rev 4:1 begins with the phrase “after these things” (NIV “after this”) and we hear the command to “come up here.” And next thing you know we’re in heaven with John. And the Church mysteriously appears to remain in heaven until we return with Christ as King of kings in Rev 19. This can be nothing other than the Rapture of all true believers that occurs prior to the Tribulation. No other answer makes sense to explain the complete absence/omission from the Church on earth during the Tribulation. Want a little more proof? In Rev 1:12 we have a reference to “seven golden lampstands.” In Rev 1:20 Jesus Himself explains that the seven golden lampstands are the seven churches that He tells John to write to. John is called up to heaven, and what does he immediately see? Among other things surrounding the throne of God, he sees “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne” (Rev 4:5). And I’m just going to tell you that those seven lamps are going to be resting on seven golden lampstands! Because the Church is in heaven where it belongs serving as the seven golden lampstands for those lamps. As a further proof, Jesus seven times says in chapters 1-3, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Yet in Rev 13:9 we hear, “If anyone has an ear, let him hear.” Either God is so angry at the churches He’s no longer even talking to them, or He isn’t talking to them because they’re in heaven and in Rev 13 God is urging the inhabitants of the earth to wisdom. Another proof that the church is now in heaven is the twenty-four elders. We know they aren’t angels because they are wearing crowns (Rev 4:4) – and angels NEVER wear crowns ANYWHERE in the Bible because that honor is reserved only for God and for believing humans whom God honors. The Bible mentions five crowns for believers: 1) the imperishable crown for believers who faithfully run their race (1 Cor 9:24-25); 2) the crown of rejoicing to those who win new believers for Christ (1 Thess 2:19-20; Dan 12:3); 3) the crown of life for Christians who endure trials even to death (James 1:12; Rev 2:8-11); 4) the crown of righteousness to those who love the appearing of Christ (2 Tim 4:8); and the crown of glory to shepherds who faithfully minister their flocks (1 Pet 5:1-4). Further, “24” is symbolic of priestly service and priestly service is associated with human believers, not with angels. As an example, there were 24 classifications of priests in 1 Chronicles 24-25.
Rev 3:10 promises that believers will be “kept from the hour of testing which is about to come upon the whole world.” We have the promise of the sign of Noah and the sign of Sodom where Noah, Lot and their believing families are removed before divine judgment falls upon the earth. There’s a clear pattern: God prophetically warns the world of judgment; God removes His people; judgment falls.
So, by way of conclusion, John epitomizes a glorified believer prophetically called up to heaven at the beginning of events in Revelation 4 just as we shall be, and then seeing the rest of events through the eyes of a glorified believer. We will have “a bird’s eye view” of what happens if there ever was one.
And we’ll be surrounding the throne of God, with the throne of God being the central focal point of the book of Revelation. Everything that proceeds does so first from God on His throne. John’s description of God on His throne is awesome in its majesty: God’s glory radiates like a precious multi-faceted gem (Rev 4:2). Jasper is a white diamond representing divine purity; the sardius stone is a blood-red ruby symbolic of divine wrath and judgment. God’s judgment is tempered, however. Because both God’s purity and wrath are enveloped in a rainbow of emerald representing divine life and mercy. The NIV correctly says “encircled.” Circles represent continuity and eternity. And apparently every Christian is going to find out quickly that surrounding the throne of God is the place to be.
Surrounding the throne are four living beings (Rev 4:5-8). They are apparently a class of angel in addition to the seraphim (Isaiah 6:1-7) and the cherubim (Gen 3:24; Ezekiel chap 1). These four living beings may be a type of cherubim because they guard the throne of God (Psalm 89:1; 99:1). What is most interesting about them is that their features resemble the description accorded to the different portraits of Christ in the four Gospels: In Matthew Jesus is presented as a lion, the king. In Mark Jesus is described as the hard-working ox who is fully obedient to the will of the Father. The living being with the face of a man is recognized in Luke’s portrayal of Jesus as the perfect Man. And the soaring eagle is fulfilled in John’s emphasis of Jesus’ heavenly and divine origin.
The word “sea” is also important. In Rev 13 “the sea” is used to describe sinful humanity tossing around in fury and violence and confusion. Isaiah repeatedly uses the metaphor of a restless ocean to describe the nations as “a troubled sea in a storm” (see Isaiah 57:20). See also Jer 49:23 and Jude 1:13. By way of contrast, we who surround God’s throne will be the picture of divine calm and peace, like a sea of crystal flowing out from the throne of God. I like that picture a lot more than the always-raging sea of sinful humanity.
As we view the throne of God we begin Revelation 5: the exalted majesty of God on His throne leads to one thing – to the exaltation of the Lamb “standing in the center of the throne” (Rev 5:6). Consider the incredible concept of God’s throne being a battle chariot from Daniel 7:9-10. The battle chariot used by Old Testament warriors was a 2-3 man operation, with one steering the chariot while an archer/s and/ or spearman fought. God’s throne is a Trinitarian throne. And it is a throne that goes wherever God goes.
You see in Revelation chapter 5 Christ receiving worship in a manner that is impossible to deny. As an example, in John 20:28 Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!” And Mormons and JWs say it’s just an exclamation rather than a recognition of deity. Jesus stands in the center of the throne of God (Rev 5:6). The elders fall down on their knees before Jesus (5:8). They and the angels pronounced Jesus as “worthy” (Rev 5:12). And then God the Father and God the Son TOGETHER are worshiped (5:13-14). It is merely unbelievable unbelief to deny that Jesus is truly and fully God given the statement of Rev 5.
Now, we have a seven-sealed scroll with writing on both sides on the hand of the Father with the question, “Who is worthy to open it?” And NO ONE is found who is worthy except one and ONLY one Person: the Lamb who was slain. The physical characteristics of the scroll make one thing abundantly clear: it is a legal document that was seen in the ancient world: the contract would be written on the inner side, rolled up and sealed with seven seals, and a short description would be written on the outer side. There are actually six different interpretations of what this scroll represents in various schools of thought. But I’ll only mention the two that are genuine candidates. The scroll is either: 1) the title deed to the earth (God gave man dominion over the earth, but Satan usurped that dominion; and Christ won the title deed back but had never exercised His claim until now); or 2) the decree to issue the judgment that will result in the eschaton (end of days) and ultimately in eternity. I believe it is this second possibility because Christ opens the scroll and we initiate the unfolding of judgment and the beginning of the ushering in of the glorious eternal state. So on that view, why does John weep when no one is found worthy (“qualified”) to open the scroll? Because mankind is in this terrible state and nothing can be done to advance their condition and bring this terrible condition of the human race and planet earth to a good conclusion. Only by Jesus opening the scroll can history move to the conclusion that a righteous, holy and merciful, loving God had foreordained for the world.
The seven years of the Tribulation will be the most fateful years in all of human history. They initiate the countdown to the end of human law and lawlessness, and at the culmination of these seven years Jesus will finally personally return in a cataclysmic appearance on earth to establish the long-anticipated Kingdom of God.
The Tribulation will result in the Millennium in which Jesus Christ sits on the earthly throne of David in the earthly city of Jerusalem and rules over the world as is His right that He won for all time on the cross. What is the purpose of all this? It is twofold: 1) to literally fulfill every single promise that God gave to Israel, to God’s physical DNA-people the Jews. Every promise of prominence, of blessing, of wealth and abundance, of shalom, in which Messiah rules from His David throne while all the peoples of the earth come to Jerusalem to worship Him, will be literally and completely fulfilled. And 2) to also literally demonstrate to secular, unbelieving, sinful humanity that they can NOT create a better world – or even a world capable of surviving – apart from God and most especially apart from Jesus. The world is saying, “We could evolve to our highest potential and solve all of our problems if only it weren’t for those damned Christians.” Jesus is going to give them their chance: and in only seven years they will degenerate to the point that they will destroy themselves and literally destroy the planet they’re living on unless Jesus comes to personally intervene and take control. By the time the Tribulation ends, no one will be able to say, “We were doing fine until Jesus showed up and ruined everything.”
Finally, the twenty-four elders, as glorified human saints, also give us a glimpse into our future work and ministry. God will give believers crowns to honor our faithful service to Him while on earth, but we will primarily use those crowns not to exalt ourselves but rather to have something to exalt our God with as we cast our crowns at the feet of Jesus (Rev 4:9-11). But in Rev 5:5-9 we also see these glorified believers being able to encourage and explain (“Stop weeping; behold!”); they carry “the golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” as priests who minister before God. And, yes, we WILL have harps in heaven and the ultimate capacity to make a truly joyful noise before the Lord.
Part Three: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 6-7
Part Four: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 8-9
Part Seven: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 14-15
Part Eight: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 16-18
Tags: Bible prophecy, Christology, church, churches, four living beings, Jesus, Rapture, Revelation 4, Revelation 5, seven golden lampstands, standing in the center of the throne, throne of God, Tribulation, twenty-four elders