Part 3. Adoration in the court of heaven (4:1—5:14)
3.1. Worship of God as Creator (4:1-11)
3.2. Worship of the Lamb (5:1-14)
† PICTURE: A gigantic door leading to heaven suddenly appears before John. He ascends into the great court of heaven. It is a court of tremendous size, extended as far as the eye can see. In the centre is the great throne of God, surrounded by a sea of crystal. A rainbow encircles the throne. Around the throne are 24 elders on 24 thrones, 7 lamps (7 spirits), and 4 living creatures.
4:1 John is now swept up in the Spirit to the very door of heaven. He beholds a vision of a sovereign God in full command of the course of human history in the great throne-room.
Pretribulationalists believes that this verse describes the rapture of the church which is represented by John. Such interpretation is forced and overextended as John knows nothing of a rapture.
4:2 John sees a throne which symbolizes the absolute sovereignty of God (Isa 6:1). This scene is said to be the inspiration for Handel’s Messiah, particularly the last song with the same words.
4:3 God, the one who sits on the throne, is not specifically described apart from the splendour that surrounds Him. In antiquity, the 3 stones (colourless jasper, red carnelia, green emerald) are representative of precious stones. Jasper is linked with majesty, holiness, or purity, carnelian with wrath or judgment, and emerald with mercy (also the rainbow in Gen 9:16-17).
4:4 The elders may refer to: [a] 24 courses of Aaronic priests (1Ch 24:5); [b] the universal church —adding the 12 patriarchs of Israel to the 12 apostles, yet their song is not about being purchased by the blood of Christ; [c] an exalted angelic order. In the OT, angels can be called elders (Is 24:23). Their white garments speak of holiness, and their golden crowns of loyalty.
4:5 The lightnings, rumblings, and thunders are symbolic of the awesome power and majesty of God. In the OT, God disclosed Himself in the dramatic activity of nature. The 7 lamps burning before the throne are interpreted as the 7 spirits of God (see comments on 1:4).
4:6 Before the throne is the sea of clear crystal, showing God’s separateness from His creatures.
The 4 living creatures are worship leaders. They are similar to the cherubim of Eze 1 (4 faces, 4 wings). Here, each has 1 face, 6 wings, similar to the seraphim of Isa 6:2-3.
The identity of the creatures is unknown. They may be another exalted order of angelic beings. It is also possible that they represent the entire animate creation. Eyes all around their bodies suggest alertness, wisdom and knowledge. Nothing escapes their notice.
4:7 It is possible that the 4 creaures may have a similar body form with different heads. Meaning of the 4 different forms: [a] representatives of animate creation: the strength of a lion, the ability to serve of an ox, the intelligence of a man, and the swiftness of an eagle. [b] the 4 gospels: the lion of Matthew (Jesus as a king from David’s line), the ox of Mark (Jesus as a servant), the man of Luke (Jesus as the Son of Man), the eagle of John (Jesus as the God).
4:8 The wings may suggest swiftness to carry out the will of God. The 4 creatures adore the sovereign God for His 3 attributes—his holiness, eternity, and power.
4:10 The 24 elders prostrate down as an act of reverence and respect. They cast down their crowns to acknowledge that their authority is a delegated authority.
4:11 The praise from the elders is based on God’s work in creation. “You are worthy” was used at the Roman times praise the moral excellence of the emperor. For the Christians, only the One who sits on the heavenly throne is worthy: the claims of all others are blasphemous.
5:1 The worship of God gives way to the worship of the Lamb. The scroll is filled with words to overflowing; it contains the comprehensive record of God’s decrees as the destiny of the world. It is sealed with 7 seals to insure the secrecy of its decrees. The content may be: [a] the future course of history (Ps 139:16); [b] all the judicial acts that unfold from ch.6 onward; [c] the Lamb’s book of life (13:8; 17:8, etc.). As each seal is broken, its content is put into action.
5:2 The mighty and gigantic angelic herald appears again in 10:1 and 18:21. The call is for someone who is worthy to bring history to its foreordained consummation.
5:4 John wept at the prospect of an indefinite postponement of God’s final and decisive action.
5:5 The titles for Jesus are from the Jewish names for the Messiah: Lion of Judah (Gen 49:9-10) and David’s root (Isa 11:1) By His sacrificial death, the Lamb has taken control of the course of history and guarateed its future. Note that the scroll is never actually read; it is simply enacted.
5:6 The conquerer is not a Lion, but a Lamb! He conquered by an act of total self-sacrifice. The 7 horns speak of perfect power (see Dt 33:17) and His 7 eyes of unlimited wisdom and insight. The 7 eyes are “the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” to carry out a mission.
5:8 Here begins the greatest scene of universal adoration anywhere recorded. The harp (lyre) was the traditional instrument used in the singing of the Psalms (Ps 33:2). The use of incense was a normal feature in Hebrew ritual (Dt 33:10) and here it is symbolic of the prayers.
5:9 The Lamb is worthy to open the book for 3 reasons: [a] He was slain (a historical fact), [b] He purchased people for God (the meaning of that fact), and [c] He made them to be a kingdom and priests (the result of the fact). The song of the elders is not for themselves but for those purchased by the blood of the Lamb.
5:10 Corporately, believers are a kingdom (erroreously translated “citizen” in Chinese), and individually, they are priests to God. As a kingdom, they will reign, and as priests, they serve.
5:11 The adoration of the angels may be more of a chanted response than a hymn.
5:12 Power, wealth, wisdom, and strength are what the Lamb possesses; honour, glory, and praise are the responses of people and angels. The increase from 3 attributes in 4:9-11 to 4 attributes in 5:13 and to 7 attributes in 5:12 and 7:12 reflects progressive expansion.
5:13 Praise by the 4 living creatures and 24 elders in vv.9-10 is followed by the praise by the host of angels in vv.11-12. The climax is reached in v.13 where all creation gives praise, honour, glory, and power to God and to the Lamb. It is the adoration of the entire created world (Ps 19:1).
5:14 The Greek verb “said” possibly mean that the 4 living creatures cry “Amen” after each of the 7 attributes in v.12 and the four in v.13, and the elders fall down in worship every time.
† The magnificent scene in heaven reflects how infinitely great and glorious God is and how insignificant and unworthy we are in comparison. Yet God remembers and knows us individually. No wonder the psalmist asks, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” (Ps 8:4)
† Even more, God sacrificed His son to purchase us (Rev 5:9). We are even given the honour to serve as God’s priests and to rule as God’s kingdom (5:10). All these abundant grace of God deserves our daily remembrance and gratitude.