Tag Archives: Revelation 4

Concluding Thoughts on the Vision of Rev 4 and 5 (Enthronement 9)

Considering the biblical evidence regarding worship, how does the typical worship service in your local church compare? Is it God centered or is it centered on the worshipers? Does it emphasize what God has done or is doing (creation, cross, daily promptings of the Spirit) or what we must do? In the Bible, worship is always centered on what God has done rather than what we must do. And it is that God focus that unleashed the power of God’s original act (creation, Exodus, resurrection of Jesus) in the later situation (Exodus 15, 2 Chronicles 20, Daniel 9). When Israel recounted the mighty acts of God in their past, He acted mightily for them in the present.

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. 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.

What is the relationship between Revelation 4-5 and the Sabbath? In the vision of the heavenly throne room, 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.

The Sabbath reminds us that creation is solely God’s work, we had nothing to do with it, yet it affects everything we do. God made us free to live, choose, and create. The Sabbath reminds us of the Exodus, which is the model for our personal salvation. And Sabbath reminds us of the cross, where God demonstrated that He is safe to be in relationship. He does not even strike back at His creatures who are torturing Him and putting Him to death. Keeping the Sabbath is not about earning merit with God, it is a rehearsal of the mighty acts of God in creation, the Exodus and the cross. 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.

The Identity of the Twenty-Four Elders (Enthronement 4)

The number twelve in the Bible is often used as a symbol of God’s people. The most natural reading of the twenty-four elders, therefore, is that they represent God’s people on earth in their totality from both Old and New Testament times. There are a number of biblical evidences that support this assertion. For starters, in Matthew 19:28 Jesus tells His disciples that they would one day sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This verse ties together the number twelve (half of twenty-four), 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). This shows that the association between the number twelve, the tribes and the apostles can all be combined together in the book of Revelation. The number twenty-four in Revelation 4 and 5 adds twelve to twelve, as occurs also in Revelation 21.

In Revelation 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 mentioned also in the height of the walls of the New Jerusalem, they are 144 cubits high (21:17). Combining all of this evidence confirms that the best explanation of the twenty-four elders is that they represent the people of God in both Old and New Testaments.

The most popular rival to the interpretation that sees the twenty-four elders as a symbol of the totality of God’s people is that they refer instead to a group of angelic beings along the lines of the four living creatures and the ten thousand times ten thousands of 5:11. The fact that they are in heaven and associated with other groups of angels stands in favor of such a view. But there are serious problems with such a conclusion. The twenty-four elders wear victory crowns (Greek: stephanos), are seated on thrones and are called elders. In all of the ancient world elsewhere angels are never depicted as wearing crowns, they are never seated on thrones and they are never called elders. If that were John’s intention here, it would be unique in the ancient world, which would require him to spell out his intention. It is not the way these symbols would naturally be read back then.

I conclude, therefore, that the twenty-four elders are not a group of angelic beings, but represent redeemed humanity taking up its role as “kings and priests” in the heavenly throne room. Since this scene occurs in the context of Jesus ascension to heaven, they elders may refer to the select group of “saints” that were raised from the dead at the time of the crucifixion and ascended with Jesus to heaven. But Jesus delays His entrance into the throne room to allow the elders to be seen there first and to be part of the entourage which welcomes the Lamb back to the throne.

The Biblical Concept of Worship (Enthronement 3)

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. God is the focus of worship, and 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). Worship 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.

A corollary of this theme is the impact of worship on the worshipper. While worship itself is God-focused, it also has a powerful impact on us. The core principle here is that “we become like the God we worship.” Worship is focused on God, yet it changes us more than it changes Him. If our picture of God is arbitrary, severe, judgmental, and cruel, we become more and more like that. If our picture of God is kind, gracious, loving and forgiving, we become more and more like that. So worship is rather critical to the formation of human character. But since true worship is God-focused, the key to character formation is the kind of God we believe we are worshipping. So a right understanding of Scripture and the God portrayed there is vital in shaping the kind of person I am becoming.

On the other hand, “me-centered worship”, which focuses on my needs and what I am supposed to do, is virtually guaranteed to shape us in a twisted fashion. Behavioral scientists have noticed that extrinsic religion, which is performed under a sense of obligation or to please another, tends to be a negative for mental health. In contrast, intrinsic religion, which is performed joyfully out of inner conviction, has many benefits for mental health. So is worship good for us or bad for us? It depends on what kind we practice. One of the key factors in young people choosing to stay in the church is whether or not family worship was fun and interesting. If worship is something we choose to do because we want to, it is also good for us. If it is something we do because we feel we have to, it has a negative impact on health.

Is Rev. 4 a General Description or a One-Time Event? (Enthronement 2)

Three pieces of evidence indicate that the vision of Revelation chapter 4 does not portray 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). In Daniel 7 the throne is “set up” (Greek aorist) in preparation for a special event. But the imperfect tense of Revelation 4:2 means continuous action in the past. The throne waaaaaaaaas there. At some point before the time of the vision the throne was already there and continued to be there. This suggests that what follows is not a one-time event, but a description of an on-going, repetitive scene.

2) The singing in verse 8 is not a single episode, it goes on “day and night.” The parallel to this is in the “day and night” accusations that Satan throws at the “brothers.” Just as Satan does not accuse God’s people at a single event in heaven (his accusations are extremely and annoyingly continuous), so the worship and praise in heavenly places occurs “day and night.” This is not a single event of worship in heaven, the vision is describing the ongoing worship that constantly continues there.

3) The singing of the four living creatures is continuously repetitive (Rev. 4:9– “whenever” in NIV, RSV). “Whenever the four living creatures give” (Greek: Hotan dôsousin ta zôa) praise to the One sitting on the throne, the twenty-four elders bow in worship. The English well expresses the continuous nature of the Greek. “Whenever” the four living creatures sing, the twenty-four elders respond. This is the language of continuous, ongoing worship. The scene of Revelation four is a general description of the worship that occurs in heaven, it is not describing a specific scene at a specific point in time. This sets the stage for Revelation five, where a moment of crisis occurs in heaven.