The Revelation of Jesus Christ
Up to this point in the book of Revelation John has introduced us to the glorified Christ and sought to correct the flaws in the churches so that they will be able to weather the dreadful persecution Satan is about to launch against them. You would think that John would now begin to tell us about the terrible wrath God is going to pour out upon the enemies of His people in order to save His people. Before doing so though, John wants to show us what is ultimate reality. Many times when we go through times of trouble, we focus only on the problems facing us and not what is actually going on. We limit our focus only on the troubles before us with the result that fear grows deep inside us. Fear looks around whereas faith looks up. John wants us to look up in order to show us what is really going on, that God is in complete control. It's like John shows us the final outcome of the war even before the war has begun. The victory will definitely belong to God and the lamb.
THE WORSHIP OF THE FATHER (4:1-11)
At this point John informs us that while he was in the Spirit, the door of heaven opened, and a voice like a trumpet beckoned him to come up to heaven. Many sincere conservative Christians believe that it is at this point the rapture occurs. Paul had said in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 that God would rapture Christians with the sound of a voice and the sound of a trumpet. According to them, John represents all Christians; therefore, when he goes up into heaven, he represents all Christians being caught up into heaven. While I cannot categorically prove that this interpretation is wrong and those who believe this cannot categorically prove that this is right, I believe those who hold this view must answer several questions.
The first question those holding this view must answer is where in the Book of Revelation does it say that John represents all Christians? The answer is nowhere. Second, if this event is the rapture, then why is John later on earth and then back in heaven, etc., all during the time of the tribulation (Revelation 10:1; 11:13, 15-19; 12; 14:18-20)? If John represents all Christians, then those who hold this view must also admit then that Christians go up to heaven, back down to earth, back up to heaven, etc., all during the tribulation. Nobody would buy this. These Christians may then claim then that John only represents Christians in 4:1 and not in the other verses; however, that seems way too convenient. You really can't have it both ways. Either he represents them all the time or none of the time. To assert otherwise simply seems to be a convenient way of getting Christians raptured before the tribulation. Finally, does Revelation 4:1 really sound like the rapture of millions and millions of believers? I think that when everybody is being perfectly honest, they would have to admit it does not. Just when does the rapture occur in the Book of Revelation? We'll see that happen in Revelation 20.
What seems to be going on here is a metaphorical way of saying that John (with his body still on earth) ascended into heaven in a trance so that he could receive spiritual revelations (see 2 Cor. 12:1-4 where Paul claims that the same thing happened to him so that he could receive spiritual revelations). Moreover, according to John himself, instead of representing all Christians, he is God's messenger to all Christians so that they will know what God is going to do before Christ returns (Revelation 1:1-2). This verse then explains how John was able to receive these visions.
When in heaven, John sees One on a throne (God the Father) who has the appearance of 2 precious stones: jasper (a clear stone probably similar to our diamond) and sardius (a red one). Above the throne is a rainbow emerald in color. Moreover, from the throne proceed flashes of thunder and lightning. There is no actual description of God as to form, no anthropomorphism. The only time John uses human analogy to describe God is when he claims that God holds a scroll in His hand (Revelation 5:1). Other than that one instance, John describes the Father only in terms of colors and lightning.
There are 2 views about the colors of the stones and the rainbow. Some see these as being a way to describe God as being majestic and glorious, and not as a way to symbolize certain characteristics of God. The beautiful colors, and the thunder and lightning only describe God as being majestic and yet dreadful in judgment. On the other hand, some see the crystal clear jasper as a symbol of God's holiness, the red sardius as symbolizing the consuming fire of God's righteousness, and the green rainbow as being a symbol of God's mercy upon His people. God had placed the rainbow in the sky to symbolize His promise to, that is, covenant with Noah that He would never destroy the earth again by means of a flood. Green is believed to symbolize mercy. The green rainbow then means that the merciful God will keep His promise with His people--they are not going to be destroyed no matter who opposes them. Both views believe that the thunder and lightning point to the fact that it is God who is on the throne and that He is terrible in judgment. [Many times in the OT thunder and lightning accompany God whenever He appears (Exodus 19:18-19; Hebrews 12:18-19)].
Other characters are on the stage. First, 7 torches representing the Holy Spirit are before the throne. Since the number 7 represents completeness, the 7 torches represent the Spirit in all His fullness. Going out from the throne is a crystal sea, most likely representing the great distance which separates people from God because He is holy and they are not. Only at the end of Revelation when God's people have been transformed and made completely righteous is the sea removed so that there is no longer any distance between God and His people; instead they will actually see God in the face (Revelation 22:4).
Next we see 4 creatures surrounding the throne which constantly give praise to God. Each creature--actually an angel similar to the angels of Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1-2--has a different head from the others. One has the face of a lion, probably representing the wild beasts ; the next has the head of a calf, representing the domesticated animals; the third, the head of a man, representing humanity; and fourth, the eagle's head, representing winged animals. These 4 creatures represent all of creation constantly praising God as the Creator of all things. Each creature has 6 wings; with 2 he like the angels in Isaiah 6 probably covers his face out of reverence to God, with 2 he covers himself out of humility, and with the other 2 he flies swiftly in order to carry out God's commands.
Take special note of the praise they give God: "HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, IS THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME." Domitian and other world rulers have threatened God's people; one day an Antichrist will come who will seek the extermination of all God's people, whether they be Jewish Christians or Gentile Christians. Christians have no need to fear though because our God is the Almighty One. He sits not upon a petty throne in Rome but upon the throne of the universe. God has not abdicated His throne. All power belongs to Him. The only reason Domitian, Hitler, or some future Antichrist has power is that God has allowed them to have it. Just as easily as He gave it to them, He can take it away! Moreover, He is the eternal one as compared to Domitian and the Antichrist who are on the stage for a short time; therefore, we need to be faithful to Him who will outlast all who oppose Him and His people.
In addition to the Spirit and the beasts, 24 elders dressed in white robes with golden crowns on their head sit on thrones, probably completely surrounding God's throne. The number 24 is the number 12 doubled. Twelve normally symbolizes the people of God, for example, the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles. The 24 elders then are those angels which represent God's people in heaven (see Matt. 18:10 where Jesus claims that Christians have angels who represent them before the Father, Revelation 5:8 where the 24 elders present not their own prayers but the prayers of the saints to God, and also Revelation 7:9-11 which distinguishes between the elders and other Christians). They are most likely not God's people themselves but angels which represent God's people in both OT and NT times.
Some claim that since these 24 elders are in heaven, all God's people before the tribulation have been raptured since they are now in heaven. Yet if you claim this to be true, you also have to claim that the 4 beasts are actually animals and not angels, and that the entire animal creation is in heaven since the 4 beasts representing the animal kingdom are in heaven. That would be far-fetched. Rather just like the 4 beasts are 4 angels representing all God's creation, the 24 elders are angels representing God's people--those of the OT and NT, those deceased and those still living on the earth, and those yet to live--praising God that He is the Creator. Moreover, Christians don't have to be raptured for their souls to go to heaven. Their souls are in heaven between the time of their deaths and the rapture.
The 24 elders fall down before God and cast their golden crowns before the Great Throne saying: "WORTHY ART THOU, OUR LORD AND OUR GOD, TO RECEIVE GLORY AND HONOR AND POWER; FOR THOU DIDST CREATE ALL THINGS, AND BECAUSE OF THY WILL THEY EXISTED, AND WERE CREATED." The 24 elders praise God because He is the Creator of all things, including those men who persecute Christians, that is, Domitian and the future Antichrist. Even Lucifer himself has been created by God; though he changed himself into Satan, Lucifer had his origin in God alone.
The fact that God created Domitian, the Antichrist, and even Lucifer is important because this means that God is greater and more powerful than they. Simply because Lucifer and others have been created does not mean that they are weak. God created them powerful beings. The fact He created them though means that He is more powerful than they and is going to win the day. A nuclear weapon is the most destructive explosive man has ever created, able to wipe out entire cities. On the surface it looks like that bomb is more powerful than man. The truth though is that the man who created that bomb can also disarm it. The creator is always greater than the thing it creates.
THE WORSHIP OF THE LAMB (5:1-14)
The scene progresses with John seeing God sitting on His throne holding a book (most likely a scroll) in His hand. This book is significant because when it is opened, wrath pours down upon the enemies of God's people and salvation comes to God's people. There is so much in the scroll that there is writing not just on the inside but on the outside of the scroll as well. The deliverance of God's people depends upon the opening of this scroll. There is a problem with this book though; it has been shut tight with 7 seals. Until those 7 seals have been broken, the final salvation of God's people will be delayed and God's enemies will continue to harass God's people. An angel cries out, "WHO IS ABLE TO OPEN THE BOOK AND BREAK ITS SEALS?" John doesn't see anybody with the moral qualifications to break them and, therefore, breaks down in tears. All seems lost for God's people. All will continue just as it is, and God's people will forever be harassed by the enemies of God.
At this point one of the 24 elders instructs John to quit weeping because the Lion of Judah and the Root of Jesse who has already conquered Satan is qualified to break the seals and open the book. The Jews used both these terms--Lion of Judah and Root of Jesse--to describe a future King of the Jews who would deliver them from their enemies. Jacob coined the term "Lion of Judah" on his deathbed; by applying this title to Judah, he predicted that the kings of Israel would come from the tribe of Judah and that their kingdom would be eternal (Genesis 49:10). Jesus fulfills this promise because (1) He was from the tribe of Judah and (2) His kingship is eternal because He Himself is eternal.
On the other hand, Jesus is also the root of David. One of the passages in the OT which stumped the Jews claimed that whereas the Messiah was the son of David, he was also to be David's lord (Psalm 110:1; Matthew 22:41-46). This confounded the Jews because the ancestor of a person would never call one of his descendants "lord"; the exact opposite was always true--the descendant called the ancestor "lord." Jesus was able to be both the descendant of David and yet also his lord because whereas He was physically descended from David, He was nevertheless the One who lived before David and created David since He was God.
When John turns to look at the lion though, he does not see a lion; he sees a lamb, who had been slain, having 7 horns and 7 eyes. The Jews of Jesus' day slaughtered the lambs for sacrifice by cutting their throats. The lamb's cut throat symbolizes the fact that Jesus as the lamb of God was slain on the cross. The horn represented strength; 7 horns symbolize complete strength. The 7 eyes represent the Spirit in all His fullness who gives Jesus the ability to see all things, especially the way the Antichrist is harming God's people. This is not meek and mild Jesus. This is the all-powerful Lamb who comes to wage war upon the enemies of God's people. The slain throat shows that He defeated them once decisively on the cross (Colossians 2:15); now He is going to complete what He started over 1900 years ago--the complete destruction of Satan and his hosts.
Just what is the relationship between Christ's victory on the cross and His final victory against the Antichrist? It is the same relationship D-Day had with the final destruction of Berlin in World War 2. D-Day was not the end of WWII; however, it definitely was the beginning of the end. Without D-Day, the fall of Berlin would have never happened. D-Day being successful meant that it was just a matter of time though before Hitler and his minions were destroyed. Once the Allied Forces were able to get a foothold on the European Continent, they were able to unleash their awesome power against Hitler. The same applies to the cross and Jesus' second coming. The cross is not the end of Satan; however, it means that it is now just a matter of time before Satan meets his end. The cross is the means by which God got a foothold in this world so that He could unleash His awesome power against the forces of Satan.
Notice that only one was qualified to save God's people and destroy God's enemies--the Lamb of God. Not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Confucius. Eternal life comes only from the Son and from nobody else. It may not be politically correct to say that all of history finds its meaning only in Jesus; however, as Christians, if we are going to have any integrity at all, we must proclaim the Christian belief that life and history find meaning only in Jesus.
Jesus takes the scroll from God's hand because ultimately all of history is in God's hand; He is in control. How eager is Jesus to fulfill this role of opening the scroll and rescuing God's people? The Greek implies that after the angel asked who was worthy to take the scroll and open it, the lamb went right up to the Father and snatched it out of His hand. There is absolutely no hesitancy at all in His taking on the role of rescuing God's people. Why? Because the antichrist is messing with His bride. Any man who is worth his salt is not going to stand by idly and watch somebody else take advantage of his wife and children. People can and do mess with Carey Ford--and that is OK; however, it would be unwise for any and all to mess with my wife and kids. Well, as much as you men love your wife and children, your love for them does not begin to compare with the love that Christ has for His bride. Satan has gone too far with the bride of Christ. Christ grabs the scroll out of God's hand because He is ready rescue her and destroy Satan.