Original Teachers’ Notes for Rev 4-5 (Week 4)


Part I: Overview

Key Text: Rev. 5:5-6.

Study Focus: The heavenly vision of chapters four and five Rev. 4:1 – 5:14).

Introduction: The passage covered in this lesson is divided into two parts. First, there is a general description of heavenly worship directed to the one sitting on the throne, God the Father (Rev. 4:1-11). Second, there is a moment of crisis in the heavenly throne room that is resolved by the appearance of the Lamb, Jesus Christ (Rev 5:1-14).

Lesson Themes: The lesson and the focus passage introduce the following themes:

1. Is Rev. 4 a General Description of Heavenly Worship or a One-Time Event? The details of the text answer this question.
2. The Biblical Concept of Worship. Worship is not about us, our feelings, or our duties. Worship is a recital of what God has done.
3. The Identity of the Twenty-Four Elders. The elders are not an angelic group, they represent the totality of God’s people.
4. The Meaning of the Sealed Scroll. The sealed scroll represents God’s plan of salvation.
5. The Worthiness of the Lamb. The Lamb is uniquely worthy to open the scroll because of His combination of humanity and divinity.
6. The Progression of the Five Hymns (Rev. 4:8, 11; 5:9-10, 12, 13) Underlines the Divinity of the Lamb.
7. The Cosmic Conflict Is the Unspoken Backdrop to this Heavenly Scene.

Life Application. Participants are invited to consider the implications of this heavenly vision for earthly worship and for our understanding of the Sabbath.

Part II. Commentary

At the beginning of chapter four John is invited up to heaven for the first time (4:1). Chapter four is a general description of the continual worship of heaven (see the textual evidence in theme 1 below), in which God the Father is worshiped on account of creation (Rev. 4:11). But chapter five is a one-time crisis event in heaven. A problem is presented that seems so large that even God cannot solve it (Rev. 5:1-4). But the matter is resolved by the appearance of the Lamb, the God-man Jesus Christ (see theme 5 below). He is worshiped because He was slain and this fact resolves the crisis in the universe (Rev. 5:5-14).

Main Themes of Lesson 4 Elaborated:
1. Is Rev. 4 a General Description or a One-Time Event? Three pieces of evidence indicate that chapter 4 is not a one-time event, but a general description of heavenly worship. 1) The throne in verse 2 is not set up, it “was standing” (NASB) continually in heaven (Greek: keitai, imperfect tense). 2) The singing in verse 8 is not a single episode, it goes on “day and night.” 3) The singing of the four living creatures is continuously repetitive (“whenever,” NIV, RSV).

2. The Biblical Concept of Worship. In Rev. 4:11, the ground of worship is “because” God created all things. In Rev. 5:9 worship happens “because” (NIV) the Lamb was slain. In Rev. 11:17 the reason worship happens is “because” (NIV) God has begun to reign. While often translated “for” in English, all three verses use the Greek word hoti, which means the reason or the basis upon which an action is taken. God is worshiped “because” of what He has done. Worship throughout the Bible is talking about, singing about, repeating the acts that God has done (Deut. 26:1-11; Psa 66:3-6; 78:5-15; 111:4). It even includes acting out the events of the cross through baptism (Rom. 6:3-4) and the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:26). Worship in the Bible is not about us, our feelings, or our duties. Worship is a recital of what God has done.

3. The Identity of the Twenty-Four Elders. The lesson rightly asserts that the number twelve in the Bible is often used as a symbol of God’s people and that the twenty-four elders could, therefore, represent God’s people in their totality from both Old and New Testament times. But space did not permit mentioning the most important biblical evidence for these assertions. In Matt. 19:28 Jesus tells His disciples that they would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This verse ties together the number twelve, thrones, the apostles, and the twelve tribes. In Rev. 21:12 the names of the twelves tribes are written on the gates of the New Jerusalem, while the twelve foundations have the names of the twelve apostles written on them (Rev. 21:14). The number twenty-four adds twelve to twelve, as occurs in Rev. 21. In Rev. 7:4-8, furthermore, the people of God are described in terms of twelve times twelve times a thousand (144,000). The multiple of twelve is seen also in the height of the walls of the New Jerusalem, 144 cubits (21:17). So the best explanation of the twenty-four elders is that they represent the people of God in both Old and New Testaments.

4. The Meaning of the Sealed Scroll. Ask the class how many options they can think of for the meaning of the sealed scroll of Rev. 5. Some biblical options include a last will and testament, the constitution of Israel (Deuteronomy), a record of human history, emblem of the Lamb’s right to rule, a record of human deeds, the Book of Life, and a list of rewards and punishments for human behavior (judgment). Based on a comment in a letter of Ellen White, the lesson suggests that the scroll contains the history of God’s providences, and the prophetic history of the nations and the church. The lesson sums up with the conclusion that the sealed scroll represents the plan of salvation. John weeps (Rev. 5:4) because the plan of salvation will not be implemented unless someone is found worthy to open the scroll.
How do we know the book (Rev. 5:2, Greek: biblion) is a scroll and not more typical of books today? The same word is used in Rev. 6:14 which says that the “sky receded like a scroll (Greek: biblion) rolling up.”

5. The Worthiness of the Lamb. The Lamb is uniquely worthy to open the scroll (Rev. 5:5-6). The key qualities of the Lamb in the chapter are two-fold. The Lamb is slain, which is a pointer to His human nature. On the other hand, the Lamb is worshiped along with the one sitting on the throne (Rev. 5:13). This points to His divinity. The God-man is unique in all history. Of all created beings (see John 1:3, 14), only the human Jesus could fully reveal the character of God and atone for human sin, because he was fully equal with God. So embedded in this symbolic vision is a profound Christology, a doctrine of Jesus Christ, who is both fully human and fully divine.

6. The Five Hymns (Rev. 4:8, 11; 5:9-10, 12, 13) Under-line the Divinity of the Lamb. The divinity of Christ is underlined in the progression of five hymns in this vision. The first two hymns praise the One sitting on the throne (Rev. 4:8, 11). The third and fourth hymns praise the Lamb (Rev 5:9-12). The fifth hymn offers worship to both the One sitting on the throne and the Lamb (Rev. 5:13). The fifth hymns is the clear climax of the series, in which the Lamb joins the Father on His throne and receives the acclamation of the whole universe.
A second feature of these hymns also highlights the fifth hymn. It is the climax of a grand crescendo of singing. The first hymn is sung by the four living creatures (Rev. 4:8). The second hymn is sung by the twenty-four elders (4:11). The third is sung by both the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (Rev 5:9-10). The fourth hymn is sung by more than a hundred million angels (Rev. 5:11-12). The fifth hymn is sung by every creature in the universe (Rev 5:13). So the fifth hymn is the climax of a great crescendo as all attention focuses on the throne, affirming the divinity of the Lamb.

7. The Cosmic Conflict Is the Unspoken Backdrop to this Heavenly Scene. A striking aspect of Rev. 4-5 is the total absence of Satan, in spite of the fact that the heavenly crisis must have something to do with the cosmic conflict (Satan first appears in the context of the fifth trumpet– Rev 9:11). But the role of Satan in Rev. 4-5 is clarified in Rev. 12:10. Rev. 12:10 summarizes the scene of chapter five in terms of Christ’s coming to power. But his coming to power is paired with the casting down of Satan, the “accuser of the brothers.” The verse clarifies that Satan accuses the brothers “day and night.” This is strikingly reminiscent of Rev. 4:8, where the four living creature sing the triple holy song “day and night.” Their constant praise drowns out the constant accusations of Satan, which are no longer heard or seen. Satan is absent from the scene of chapters 4-5 because he has already been cast down on account of the cross.

Part III: Life Application

1. Considering the biblical evidence regarding worship in theme 2 above, talk about the typical worship service in your local church. Is it God centered or is it centered on the worshipers? Does it emphasize what God has done (creation, cross, daily promptings of the Spirit) or what we must do? Understanding and practicing this truth is the secret of unleashing God’s power in a local church. If worship seems powerless, it is because it is not centered in God. In Bible times, when people rehearsed what God had done for them in the past, the power of God’s original act was unleashed in the worshipper’s present (2 Chr 20:5-22; Dan. 9:15; 10:19-21). Worship is not about us, it is about God. Worship is not telling each other what we should do, it is reminding each other of what God has done.

2. What is the relationship between Rev. 4-5 and the Sabbath? Worship is presented to God and the Lamb on account of creation (Rev. 4:11) and salvation (Rev. 5:9-10). In the Old Testament the Sabbath is the memorial of both creation (Exod. 20:11) and the Exodus, the great act of Israel’s salvation (Deut 5:15). So the Sabbath points us to the mighty acts of God in creation, the Exodus and the cross. Keeping the Sabbath is not about earning merit with God. When we remember the Sabbath we are also remembering the great things God has done for us, and this is the foundation of true worship.

11 thoughts on “Original Teachers’ Notes for Rev 4-5 (Week 4)

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      To be honest, I get so many of these from all over the world on a weekly basis, your chances if I don’t know you are next to nothing. What I do here is outside my regular job.

  1. Withrow Mark

    I completely understand no problem. Though I do disagree with your position on Revelation 5 regarding the time I appreciate listing to your thoughts. Inauguration of temple has to occur when Sin entered. Lamb slain from foundation of the world.


    Mark Withrow

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      That is an intuititive position, it makes sense. Working against it is the virtual absence of “heavenly sanctuary” references in the OT. It seems to be a NT perspective, associated with the ascension of Jesus and triggered by the cross (see more than a dozen references like Hebrews 8:1-2).

  2. Mark Withrow

    Yet Moses was told to make after the pattern of the heavenly. Are you indicating there was no intercession before Jesus ascended. Seems Jesus’ intercession started at the entrance of Adams sin. For on the day you eat of it you will surely die. Seems the entire sanctuary service seems n the old points to (by Faith) the better or more perfect. So I guess I see the “heavenly “ all through the old. Blessings and prayers for you that the Holy Spirit will bring you more truth. You have a tremendous responsibility to the flock?
    Mark Withrow

    1. Jon Paulien Post author


      Keep in mind that the earthly sanctuary is an object lesson, not the real thing. Metaphors rarely stand on all fours. I see no contradiction between the two ideas, depending on what one means by intercession. Something changed at the cross, yet there is continuity between the testaments. In another sense, one can even argue that intercession is unnecessary (John 16:25-27). Some of the things we fight about are due to the limitations of each biblical metaphor (our understanding is not limited by God but because of our human limitations.

  3. Mark Withrow

    No question that our limitations as fallible finite creatures stand in the way of understanding truth. We have to be cognizant of our own biases when we come to scripture and not conjecture beyond what God has revealed. We can philosophize about the reality of a heavenly sanctuary yet scripture itself does seem to reveal a reality. I wouldn’t say we “fight” ( although some do), as humble followers of Christ we seek wisdom and defend the faith as revealed in His word. If we don’t understand the timing of Revelation 5 and the timing of the trumpets the whole of Revelation becomes best guess or favorite theologian opinions. I’m praying for you that the Holy Spirit brings you clarity of truth?

  4. Mark Withrow

    I’m reminded of what Jesus said to Nicodemus, Jesus is telling me constantly you must be born again, before prophecy He says don’t forget the most important essential you have to be born again. My prayer for you as it is for me to grow in grace and truth. You have such an important roll in leadership for the church that I believe if you come to a clearer understanding of present truth your impact would be tremendous. Praying for truth to come to you as to me ?

  5. Mark Withrow

    what I find very intriguing is the books of Revelation and Daniel at least the apocalyptic section, have a structure that produces a foundation upon which a puzzle is revealed. The stories seem to have a chronological timeline For example, as I read Rev 5 & 6, I see evidence of a chronology that starts with the receiving of the Book and proceeds through six of the 7 seals. There is a chronological break between the 6th seal and the 4 angels of ch.7, but then chronology resumes up till 8:1… the timelines establish the structure
    Upon which the eschatological story is revealed
    Praying for your ministry ?


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