Our Heavenly Destiny 11-18-18
Revelation 4:1-11 Lesson 19
Let’s take our Bibles and open them to the Book of Revelation, chapter 4 and verse 1. The title of our message this morning is Our Heavenly Destiny. And as you’re turning there I want to thank Will Miller and Gabe Morris for filling in, in the pulpit, the last couple of weeks. I trust their ministries were a blessing to you. I know some of you are very eager to hear what we encountered on our trip and I’d love to share it with you but right now my pictures are a little disorganized so I’ll try to put together some kind of presentation to give at some point. But we did have a very blessed time and we really appreciate your all’s prayers during that time.
But for this morning let’s take a look at Revelation 4. Of course if you’ve been tracking with us through the Book of Revelation we had a little interruption for three weeks but we started off the study by answering some basic questions about the background of the Book of Revelation. We went through the prologue or the introduction of the book and then we hit this verse here, chapter 1, verse 19, John is told, “Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.” There is your three part outline of the book. The “things that you have seen,” chapter 1. The vision that John saw of the glorified Christ on a little tiny island called Patmos. We weren’t too far from there on our trip in the Mediterranean Sea.
Then he’s told to write down “the things that are,” and that’s where we have been for several weeks prior to our departure, studying chapters 2 and 3, the seven letters to the seven churches. We worked our way through those seven letters and it was an astounding section, wouldn’t you agree, the things that Christ reveals to His church.
But then there’s a third part of the outline, “write down the things that will take place after these things.” That’s the final section of the book, the longest section of the book that we’re entering into now, the information that everybody is very interested in because it concerns the future, chapters 4-22. John was told to “write down the things that would take place after these things.” The translation of “after these things” is meta tauta. So how do we know we’re in that final section? Well, we know it because of chapter 4, verse 1, “After these things” does that sound familiar– meta tauta? “…I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place” when? “after these things.”’ meta tauta is repeated twice; that’s how we know we’re in the third and final section of the book.
Because this is the longest section of the book we kind of have to think about how we’re going to divide this up and here is a very simple outline. The first part of the outline is the things in heaven that will take place before the tribulation period, chapters 4 and 5, the section we’re starting to study today, sometimes called The Heavenly Scene. Part 2 is events during the tribulation period itself, this is the section of the Book of Revelation that most people are aware of, at least some of its contents, chapters 6-19, where God pours out His judgments upon this earth. And then you have a third part, the things that will take place after the tribulation is over, chapters 20-22, things like the kingdom, (20:1-10) the Great White Throne Judgment [20:11-15), the Destruction of this Earth by fire (21:1), and then finally, the last two chapters, the New Heaven and New Earth (21‒22).
So we have tribulation, Second coming, kingdom, Great White Throne Judgment and then the eternal state and don’t worry if you didn’t grasp all of that first time around, we’ll be making many references to that. But that’s the general thrust, the general trajectory (if you will) of these final chapters in the Book of Revelation.
Let’s start with the things that will take place before the tribulation period even begins. Before the judgments of God are ever poured out on the earth we have sort of a pause in the action, chapters 4 and 5, the heavenly scene, where we’re told the place where the judgment will come from (heaven), and then we’re told about the person who will bring forth this judgment, (Jesus Christ). Before the judgment comes the Holy Spirit wants us to know from where the judgment will come, place, and who is going to pour out this judgment, Jesus Christ, person. Who and where would be another way of saying this.
Now you might recall how the prior chapter ended—as Jesus was speaking to the church at Laodicea He says, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” [Revelation 3:21] He made an issue of the fact that there are two thrones here. But it’s very interesting to note that in heaven on the Father’s throne you have two members of the Trinity currently. And that insight dovetails nicely into chapters 4 and 5 which highlight those two members of the Trinity in heaven on the Father’s throne, God the Son and God the Father. God the Father is the focus of chapter 4, the chapter we’re going to begin looking at today. God the Son is the focus of chapter 5, the final chapter in this heavenly scene before the judgments come to the earth.
Maybe this chart will help. How do you navigate your way through Revelation 4 and 5? Well, first of all, they’re different chapters (obviously). Secondly, they feature different members of the Godhead, God the Father is the focus in chapter 4, God the Son is the focus in chapter 5. Their different roles are highlighted. The role of God as the Creator is highlighted in chapter 4; the role of God the Son as the Redeemer is highlighted in chapter 5.
And when you look, for example, at chapter 4, verse 11, the very beginning of the verse, “Worthy are you.” [Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” If you go over to chapter 5 and verse 9 it says the same thing, “Worthy are You.” [Revelation 5:9, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”]
And you drop down to chapter 5, verse 12 it says the same thing, “Worthy is the Lamb.” [Revelation 5:12, “…“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”] What is happening here is you’re seeing true worship, worship or worth is being ascribed to God the Father and God the Son. God the Father is being glorified because He created all things; God the Son is being glorified because He redeemed all things.
And you see, some of these judgment that we’ll be reading about in chapters 6-19 are of such an intensity level and of such a severity you might ask yourself the question, does God really have the right to judge creation, like He’s going to do it? And the answer to that question is found in this heavenly scene, before the judgments even come, because we learn that God the Father and God the Son are qualified because through God we have creation itself and through God we have redemption itself. The Triune Godhead is the Creator (which would be enough of a right) but also the Redeemer. God the Son stepped out of eternity into time to redeem through the crucifixion and the resurrection the creation that was brought into existence.
So if someone is the Creator of creation and the Redeemer of creation can you think of any higher credentials than that? There are no higher credentials. And so what happens is the credentials of the Trinity are established in these two chapters and so God have every single right, both as Creator and Redeemer to pour out judgment upon creation in His providence and His timing, because you see, man is always challenging God… you have no right to do this! God says of course I have the right to do it, I created you! In fact, you wouldn’t even have your very next breath if I wasn’t allowing it. And not only did I create you I did everything in My power to redeem you. So man cannot stick his finger in God’s face and say you have no right to do this. Every right God has as established in these chapters. That’s why there’s some very critical information here about the place of judgment (where the judgment will come from), and the person who will bring forth this judgment.
And so now inching our way into chapter 4, we have three parts to chapter 4. Number 1, the summons into heaven to see these things, verse 1. John is summoned into heaven to observe this heavenly scene. Number 2, you have the sights that John saw in heaven, verses 2-8. And then number 3 you have the song of heaven itself, verses 9-11, as the heavenly entities are praising God the Father for His role in creation.
Notice verse 1, the summons into heaven. Notice, if you will, the summons into heaven, we have a vision, verse 1 and then a voice, verse 1. Notice the vision, Revelation 4:1, “1After these things” after what things? After the information that John was given concerning the seven letters to the seven churches, “After these things I looked,” that information was given in chapters 2 and 3, “After these things I looked and behold, a door standing open in heaven,” John sees in heaven a heavenly doorway, and this is the vision and the vision is followed by the voice.
What does John hear, “…and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me,” and He said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” The expression “Come up here” is imperative, it’s in Greek what you call an imperative. He’s commanded to come up. He sees the door in heaven and he is commanded to go up and actually he goes into heaven to observe the heavenly scene, the person who will bring forth the judgment and the place through which the judgment will come demonstrating the qualifications and credentials of the Triune Godhead to bring forth this very harsh judgment on planet earth. “…and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, Come up here.”
Now the big question here is this the rapture, because we too will hear a voice one day, the trump, a trumpet of God and we will be taken out of this world. Is chapter 4, verse 1 talking about the rapture. I hate to sound like a politician when I answer this question; the answer is yes and no. It’s no in this sense, the church here is not really being raptured (that I can tell), it’s John being personally catapulted up to heaven in the first century. It’s John’s personal rapture, not so much describing the rapture of the church. You say this is crazy, this sounds like science fiction, you mean a guy all the way back in the first century is suddenly torn out of the earth and brought into heaven? You expect me to believe that? Well, the reality of the situation is there have been many such occurrences in the Bible, going all the way back to Enoch, Genesis 5; Elijah, 2 Kings 2, even Jesus Christ in His ascension, Philip the deacon was brought up into heaven and in Acts 8 Paul was brought into the highest third heaven, 2 Corinthians 12. This is what is happening to John. And even in the Book of Revelation itself it’s going to happen to two more individuals in the city streets of Jerusalem, the two witnesses. So this idea of people suddenly being pulled up into heaven is not a strange idea at all; it’s something that’s happened many times before in the Bible. There have been many personal raptures in the Scripture.
But this is not talking about the rapture of the church, this is talking about John’s personal rapture. So is this describing the rapture of the church. No, in the sense that it’s speaking only of what John experienced. But let me give you the other side of the equation: Yes, in the sense that what John experienced here is a prefigurement (if you will, it’s a type if you will) of what the church itself one day will experience.
You see, who was John? John was very special because he was the last living apostle at this particular point in time. And here the last living apostle is summoned out of the earth into heaven. And there will arise, by way of prefigurement, by way of typology, a final generation in the age of the church. Just as John, the last living apostle, was summoned into heaven one of these days the last generation of Christians will be taken into heaven through what is called the rapture of the church where God is not coming for an individual: He’s coming for a whole busload of people. You find this doctrine of the rapture described very overtly in the Bible: John 14:1-4, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-58.
[John 14:1-4, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going.”
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
1 Corinthians 15:50-58, “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”]
And it’s interesting to me that John’s personal rapture is described so similarly to the future rapture of the church. John hears a command; that’s what we’re going to hear according to these other passages. He hears a loud voice; we’re going to hear a trump, the voice of an archangel. John here, you’ll notice, mentions a trumpet; that’s what we will hear in passages like I gave earlier. John is instantaneously caught up; that’s what will happen with the church. He’s “caught up” or harpazō, which is the same word used to describe the rapture of the church by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In fact, you’ll notice that some of these verses I have underlined; that’s where the same word harpazō, is used.
See Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says we will be caught up, he uses the word harpazō. From the word harpazō we get the word harpoon; you can think of what you do with a harpoon, you stick it into something and pull it to yourself. That is sort of what the rapture is, it means to be seized or caught up by force. [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”]
That’s what happened with Jesus in His ascension, Revelation 12:5. Revelation 12:5, “And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.” Acts 8:39, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.” 2 Corinthians 12:2, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven.”]
It’s what happened with Philip in Acts 8, the deacon. It’s what happened with the Apostle Paul in terms of him being “caught up into the third heaven,” 2 Corinthians 12. That’s what’s happening here to John the apostle. That’s what’s going to happen, not just to John, the final apostle, but the last generation of Christians.
So the rapture is here in Revelation 4 by type or prefigurement only. And is it a valid type? Is it a valid prefigurement? I mean, does John’s personal rapture really signify the future rapture of the church? I’m convinced that it is a valid type. Why is that? Because after John is caught up into heaven the word “church” appears nineteen times in the prior chapter. How many times is the word “church” ever mentioned on the earth (or in the whole book for that matter) after John is caught up into heaven? It’s not mentioned a single time. You are going to go all the way through the Book of Revelation and you’re never going to see the word “church” again. The only time it’s even mentioned is when Jesus signs off at the end and says preach these things in the churches. Revelation 22:16. [Revelation 22:16, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”]
I mean, isn’t it kind of interesting that this word “church,” ekklesia in Greek [εκκλησία] is mentioned 19 times in chapters 1-3 but not a single time after John is taken into heaven. Why is that? Because John’s personal rapture prefigures typologically the future rapture of the church. And we’re going to go through the Book of Revelation and we’re going to see God’s hand once again on a nation, the nation of Israel. It’s going to be clear in Revelation 7, Revelation 11, Revelation 12, Revelation 14, God is dealing with the nation again. And so therefore how could the church be present because the church, by definition, consists of people from where? All nations. We’ve just moved from a transnational program back to a national program. Why is that? Because the church isn’t there. The church is in heaven. John’s personal rapture therefore prefigures typologically the future rapture of the church.
And this morning I’m going to show you, as time permits, two references to the church immediately that John sees. They are number one, the twenty-four elders and number two, the seven lamps. Both, as I’ll try to demonstrate, refer to the church. And where are the twenty-four elders and the seven lamps? They’re not on the earth but they’re in heaven.
So what you have in the Book of Revelation is John is caught up; the word “church” disappears and if the church is ever referred to it’s always in heaven, so therefore I am very confident to say that yes, this is not the rapture of the church but it prefigures it typologically. Is John’s rapture representing the rapture of the church? Yes and no. No in the sense that it’s just John’s rapture; yes in the sense that it’s a valid type or prefigurement.
So John is caught up, He’s summoned upward and what does he see? This takes us to the second part of our chapter outline, verses 2-8, the sights in heaven. What did John exactly see when he was “caught up.” He sees two things: number one, a throne; number two, he sees items surrounding the throne. Let’s talk first of all about this throne. What does John see exactly in heaven? He sees a heavenly or a celestial throne.
Take a look, if you could, at chapter 4:2-3, “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.  And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.” Now you’ll notice this word “Immediately.” John hears the call and “immediately” he goes into heaven; that is a prefigurement of the rapture. Why is that? Because when the rapture happens, 1 Corinthians 15:52, it will take place in the twinkling of an eye. [1 Corinthians 15:52, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”] How long does it take someone to twinkle their eye? A split second. It will take place in a flash or a moment and the word translated “moment” in 1 Corinthians 15:52 is the Greek word, atomō [ἀτόμῳ] where we get the English word atom; it’s a particle so small it’s indivisible. So that indivisible particle is analogized to the speed at which the rapture will take place. And this is typified by John’s immediate removal from earth into heaven to see this heavenly scene.
And you’ll notice what John says [Revelation 4:1] after the word “Immediately” he says, “I was in the Spirit;” what is this talking about? It’s talking about revelation and inspiration, something that only the biblical writers can claim. 2 Peter 1:20-21 says, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,  for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” That is the claim of the Bible. The claim of the Bible is the Holy Spirit came upon the writers of Scripture in such a supernatural way that they penned God’s message. And in fact, when 2 Peter 1:20-21 says “they were carried along, it’s the Greek word “phero” which is used in Acts 27:15 and verse 17 to describe wind that comes upon the sails of a sailboat in the Mediterranean Sea near the island of Crete, where I just was on my trip and I can testify to you that there’s an awful lot of wind out there. [Acts 15:17, “SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,’”]
So the wind would come upon this boat and the boat would be propelled; that’s basically how your Bible came into existence. The Holy Spirit used these men to write God’s message and now the Holy Spirit is using John to write God’s final message, giving him information about what he sees, and propelling him along to write God’s message and record it. This is why 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is” what? “inspired by God.” What does “inspired by God” mean? It’s a compound word, [theópneustos] theo, meaning God, neustos meaning Spirit, God-breathed, God’s breath. The Holy Spirit somehow took these people, respecting their individual temperament, and gifts, and writing styles, and backgrounds, and strategically used them. First he showed them the things that they were to write and then they were propelled along in the writing process itself.
John claimed this expression, “in the Spirit” as early as Revelation 1:10. [Revelation 1:10, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet.”] The whole Book of Revelation is written this way, as is the entire Scripture. And here John is re-emphasizing that he was in the Spirit. He is doing something that very few human beings in world history have ever had the privilege of being used in this way, delivering God’s message to man.
So we see “Immediately,” we see “in the Spirit,” and what does John see? He sees a celestial throne, a heavenly throne. That shouldn’t surprise us because I mentioned earlier Revelation 3:21 [“He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” [Revelation 3:21] It concludes with the two members of the Godhead on God the Father’s throne in heaven. That’s how chapter 3 ends. So it should come as no great shock that this throne, which we have a few references to at the end of chapter 3, would move into the forefront there in chapter 4.
And who does John see on this throne? If you go down to verse 5, verse 4 and verses 2 and 3 he begins to talk about a throne standing in heaven, actually verse 2, and he talks about one sitting on the throne. [Revelation 4:2-4, “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.  And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.  Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.”  Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God;” ]
Now as we go through the Book of Revelation I’m going to try to make the case that the one “sitting on the throne” is always God the Father. We see that in Daniel 7:9, Revelation 4:5, Revelation 5:5, Revelation 5:7, Revelation 6:16, Revelation 7:10, Revelation 9:4, it’s always God the Father on this throne.
[Daniel 7:9, “I kept looking Until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire.” Revelation 4:5, “Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God;” Revelation 5:5, “and one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.’” Revelation 5:7, “And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” Revelation 6:16, “and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb;”’ Revelation 7:10, “and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” Revelation 9:4, “They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.”]
And so when John sees someone sitting on the throne there in verse 2 I believe that he is seeing God the Father. So what is John seeing? He’s seeing things on the throne, here’s where we’re going to see our prepositions work out, “on the throne,” then he sees something “above the throne,” then he sees something coming “out of the throne,’ and then he sees something “before the throne.” What exactly is on the throne? On the throne is God the Father. But what does he see above the throne? Take a look at verse 3, “He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow” that’s interesting, “around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.”
Now God the Father is on the throne and He is analogized to this color, sardius, which is a fiery red color. So that most likely speaks of holiness, purity, judgment, and wrath, all appropriate images because that is what is going to be brought to the earth in the Book of Revelation. So that is what is on the throne.
But what is above the throne is a rainbow and it’s not your normal multicolored rainbow; it’s a rainbow like an emerald in appearance. Now when you think of rainbow you obviously think of God’s covenant with Noah, how God in Genesis 9:11-17 said that he would never flood the earth again, He would never wipe out the world as He had done in the Book of Genesis, reducing it to just eight survivors.
[Genesis 9:11-17, “I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.”  God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations;  I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.  “It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud,  and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh.  “When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”]
Something like that will never happen again. And isn’t interesting that as wicked as humanity has become God has always kept that promise. In fact, He’s even keeping that promise as the judgments will come forth in the Book of Revelation because although vast segments of the population will be destroyed the entire world will not be reduced to eight people, as it was in the Book of Genesis. He will preserve a remnant and through that remnant he will fulfill His covenants and begin His kingdom on planet earth.
And it’s also interesting that when the judgments of God come forth in the Book of Revelation they are not a flood, as God did in Noah’s day. That form of judgment is past, these are different forms of judgment. So God is, even in judgment itself, remembering to some extent the covenant that he made with Noah which may be the reason for the reference to this rainbow above the throne.
Now what comes out of the throne? Take a look at chapter 4 and verse 5, “Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.” A storm is coming forth from the throne. That storm is foreboding, prefiguring the judgment that is about to come to the earth. A storm is brewing because a storm is about to come to planet earth. In fact, in the oldest book of the Bible, Job 37:4 God’s judgment is analogized to thunder and lightning. Job 37:4 says, “After it, a voice roars; He thunders with His majestic voice, and He does not restrain the lightnings when His voice is heard.” So there’s coming upon the earth a terrible storm through the seal judgments, the trumpet judgments and the golden bowl of wrath judgments. We’ll have much more to say about those as we progress through this study. But here those judgments are sort of revealed in a fore-boding storm. A storm is coming forth as represented by this lightening and this thunder coming out of the throne.
So we have seen what’s on the throne, God the Father. We have seen what’s above the throne, the rainbow, the emerald rainbow. We’ve seen what’s coming out of the throne, peals of lightning and thunder. And then we also have, verse 6, a description of what is before the throne. Take a look if you could at verse 6, I’m jumping around just a little bit but don’t worry, we’ll be covering every single verse in this study. It says, “and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal;” he sees what best could be described as a glassy sea.
It is interesting that when God describes Himself many times in the Bible before a person can approach God there’s always water between themselves and God. For example, if you were to enter the temple of the Old Testament time period, or going back to the time of Moses, the tabernacle, and you were to enter from the east one of the first things you would see is a bronze laver. In fact, it’s very interesting that that bronze laver in 1 Kings 7:23 is actually called the sea, a “sea of cast metal ten cubits from brim to brim, circular in form, and its height was five cubits, and thirty cubits in circumference.”
Isn’t it interesting that when man approaches God they typically see water. In this case this glassy sea. Why is that image so prominent in the Scripture? Because God wants us to understand that you cannot come into His presence without cleansing. That’s why you come into the tabernacle, you come into the temple, the first thing you see is this bronze laver reminding sinful humanity that they cannot come into God’s presence without proper cleansing. And perhaps this glassy sea before the throne is revealing the same idea. And isn’t it a wonderful thing to understand that we have that cleansing available to us through Jesus Christ. He becomes that bronze laver, He becomes that glassy sea, that body of water that gives us the cleansing that we so desperately need to allow us as mere sinners to enter into the presence of a holy God.
So John has seen quite a bit. Number one, he’s seen a throne, he’s seen what’s on it, what’s above it, what’s coming out of it, and what is before the throne. Now what did he also see? He sees items surrounding the throne and there are three items he sees. Number one, twenty-four elders, verse 4.
Number two, seven lamps, verse 5, and number three, four living creatures, verses 6-8.
Let’s talk about some of these, shall we? Who are these twenty-four elders and why should we care who they are? Well, their identification is a big deal for reasons I’m going to make you aware of in just a moment, but notice verse 4, “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.” Who in the world are these twenty-four elders. Let’s talk about who they are not. Many people pontificate that these twenty-four elders represent the nation of Israel. That really wouldn’t make a lot of sense, would it? The nation of Israel will not receive its resurrection until the beginning of the millennial kingdom, much later on in the Book of Revelation. Revelation 20:4, Daniel 12:1-2.
[Revelation 20:4, “Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Daniel 12:1-2, “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.  “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”]
These twenty-four elders look to me like they’re resurrected but Israel doesn’t receive its resurrection until later so to make this Israel would be chronologically out of place in the Book of Revelation. Other people pontificate, well, these twenty-four elders represent the redeemed of all ages, people saved today, people saved in Old Testament times, Noah, Job, Daniel, Ezekiel, people that will be saved later on. But again, that really doesn’t work well because these folks look resurrected and all non-church age saints, everybody that’s not part of the body of Christ between Acts 2 and the rapture, they don’t receive their resurrection once again until the beginning of the millennial kingdom. Daniel 12:2, Revelation 20:4.
So I don’t think these are generic references to Israel. I don’t think they’re generic references to the redeemed of all ages. Probably the most popular interpretation of the twenty-four elders is that they are angels. But I don’t think that works because what are these twenty-four elders doing? Look at verse 4, [Revelation 4:4]“Around the throne were twenty-four thrones and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders” what are they doing? “sitting.” They’re sitting. What we know of angels is angels do not sit in the presence of God; angels stand in the presence of God. Luke 1:19 talks about Gabriel, a very high ranking angels, and it says, “… I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, [and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”] These twenty-four elders are in a seated position.
If you look over at Revelation 5:11 you’ll see that the twenty-four elders are distinguished from the angels. It says in Revelation 5:11, “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; [and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands.]” Category one, angels; category two, living creatures, category number three the elders. The elders are marked off from the angels, demarcated from the angels. You see the same thing in Revelation 7:11, “And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; [and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,”] you’ll notice there that the elders are in a different class of persons than the angels.
Beyond that, when you go over to Revelation 5:8-9 you read these words, these are what the twenty-four elders are singing. This is the praise, if you will, coming from the twenty-four elders. Revelation 5:8, “And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.  And they sang” who’s the “they”? The twenty-four elders. What are they singing about, “they sang a new song, saying:” and here comes the song, quote, “Worthy are you to take the book and break its seals for you were slain and you purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and language.”
What are these twenty-four elders praising the Lord for? They’re praising the Lord for redemption, the fact that they’re counted in that number that has been redeemed due to the costly blood of Jesus Christ. Now how could that be angels? The plan of salvation is not open to the angels. First of all, the good angels are confirmed in their holiness and don’t need the plan of salvation. And secondly the wicked angels, the ones that sinned with Lucifer the third are confirmed in their wickedness and have no hope of salvation. So it would be kind of odd, wouldn’t it, to have an angel praising the Lord for redemption when they’re not even a recipient of redemption?
So if these twenty-four elders do not represent Israel, they do not represent the redeemed of all ages, if they don’t even represent angels who in the world do they represent and why should we even care? I think it’s very clear that these twenty-four elders represent the church. Why do I think that? Because they are described exactly as the churches have been described in the chapters we just finished studying, Revelation 2 and 3. When you read Revelation 4 you should be reminded in verse 4 of the seven churches because notice the parallel of the descriptions.
Number one, these twenty-four elders are crowned, does it not say that? “sitting clothed in white garments, golden crowns on their heads.” Revelation 4:4. Did not Jesus tell the church at Smyrna that because of her sufferings, Revelation 2:10, that she would receive the crown of life? [Revelation 4:4, “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.” Revelation 2:10, “’Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”] Did not Jesus tell the church at Philadelphia be careful that no one take your crown, no one take what you have worked for, no one take that you have labored for, Revelation 3:11. [Revelation 3:11, “’I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.”] The church is promised crowns, these twenty-four elders are crowned.
Number two, they are clothed in white. Doesn’t Revelation 3:5 make a promise to the church at Sardis, “’He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; [and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”]
Number three, they are redeemed. That’s what they are praising God for, their redemption. Doesn’t that describe the church? Aren’t we redeemed in Jesus Christ?
Number four, they’re seated on thrones. Isn’t that what Jesus said to the church at Philadelphia? Revelation 3:21, “’He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down” aren’t these twenty-four elders seated, “sit down with Me on My throne, [as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”] That’s why these elders are portrayed in the seated position.
Number one, they’re crowned, number two, they’re clothed in white. Number three, they’re redeemed. Number four, they’re enthroned. Number five, isn’t it interesting that they’re called elders… elders! Wait a minute, that rings a bell, isn’t that how the local church is governed, through a plurality of elders? We learned about that, did we not, in Sunday School this morning. Acts 15:6, Acts 20:17, 28. [Acts 15:6, “The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.” Acts 20:17, “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.” Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”] In Sunday School this morning we talked about how you determine if the elders are qualified or disqualified from their role.
Number six, is it not interesting that they are called a kingdom of priests—where are they called that? Over in Revelation 5:10; this is what the twenty-four elders are singing about. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Isn’t that what the church is called, a kingdom of priests? Isn’t that how the Book of Revelation opened? Revelation 1:6, “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father– to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” The similarities are really starting to pile up here. Crowned, clothed in white, redeemed, enthroned, elders, they’re called a kingdom of priests. Now I know what you’re thinking, okay, Mr. Smarty Pants, why are there only twenty-four of them? I mean, why does it say “ twenty-four elders”?
It’s interesting that when you go into the Book of 1 Chronicles, chapter twenty-four interestingly enough, the priesthood in Israel was organized into unites of twenty-four . The church is not Israel, Israel is not the church, but the church is analogous to Israel in some respects. Israel had a priesthood organized in twenty-four units or increments. The church, by definition is a priesthood. By the way, did you know that you’re a priest? And that was part of the struggle on my trip is when it came time to pray, since I was the trips Bible teacher everybody looked at me and said well let’s let Andy bless the food, as if I’m the only priest in the room when the reality of the situation is everybody on that trip, we had three buses of people, they were as much priests as I’m a priest, I just happen to have the role of teacher. But they have an access to God just like I do. So we are all priests with direct access to God but number twenty-four is a reminder of that priesthood because that’s how Israel’s priesthood was organized, in a unit of twenty-four. It’s a very subtle way that the Holy Spirit is reminding us of our priestly identity.
Wasn’t the rallying call of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation the priesthood of all believers? Isn’t that why Martin Luther wanted the Bible in the hands of the common person, so they could read the Bible for themselves and not have it given to them through a magisterium called the priesthood. Isn’t that why the Protestant Reformers were all about literacy and schools, not so their kids could pick the best stocks and retire early but so they could become literate and therefore read the Scripture themselves, in their own language. Isn’t this why Martin Luther took eleven years not trusting the Roman Catholic translations of the Bible, the Latin Vulgate, but going back to the Hebrew and translating from Hebrew into the German language, the language of his people. And he did the same thing with the New Testament in a shorter period of time. Why go to the trouble? Because Martin Luther believed in the priesthood of all believers.
This number twenty-four, I don’t have a problem believing these are literally twenty-four elders, no problem! But the number twenty-four is more significant than just the number twenty-four, it’s a reminder of the priestly identity of the church and that’s what the twenty-four elders are singing about, that they’re a kingdom of priests, because God, Revelation 1:6 has made them to be a kingdom of priests [Revelation 1:6, “and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father– to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”]
Now many people get very weird with this number twenty-four, and they give you this long explanation and the commentaries go on and on about this—well, if you take the number twenty-four and divide it into two you’ve got twelve and twelve and therefore we’ve got twelve apostles and we’ve got twelve tribes. Does John ever say to divide by two here? I mean, is this a math problem? People want it to be some kind of mathematical issue, let’s divide by two. It never says to divide by two. It never says these twelve mean this thing and these twelve mean that thing. It doesn’t even mention twelve. It says twenty-four. twenty-four goes back to chapter twenty-four of 1 Chronicles twenty-four where the priesthood was organized, I can give you the verses if you want to read them on your own—7-18 into increments of twenty-four.
The number twenty-four is literal, these are literally twenty-four guys but the number twenty-four is a reminder of the priestly identification of the church. Crowned, clothed in white, redeemed, enthroned, elders, kingdom of priests, twenty-four representing the priestly identification of the church. Can I offer you my conclusion on the matter? These elders are not Israel. They don’t represent Israel. They don’t represent the redeemed of all ages. They don’t even represent angels. They represent the church in heaven before the judgments of God come forth to the earth. Well how do they get into heaven? They were raptured there.
Well, gee, pastor, do we have any prefigurements of the rapture? Yes, we do, verse1 and verse 2. John’s personal rapture into heaven prefigures the rapture of the church. The church is in heaven before these judgments come forth upon the earth and that’s why the word “church” is not found in the futuristic section of the book. This is why God’s hand is on Israel in the futuristic section of the book, because the church is not there. You see?
Why make an issue out of this? Because there is a growing cacophony of voices today trying to tell you that the church will not escape the wrath of God but will be plunged into it. Now I notice that a lot of these voices would teach the perverted doctrine are also selling survival gear, get your weapons, get your guns, get your gold, get your copper bullets, because you’re going to eyeball it with the antichrist. Bu the way, I’m sort of a prepper myself, but it has nothing to do with my eschatological position. It’s always a good thing living in a fallen world to have some supplies and we do live in Texas (the last time I checked), the second amendment still applies. Amen! To defend yourself should mayhem break out, but it has nothing to do with the fact that I think I’m going to eyeball it one day with the antichrist.
And by the way, if you think you’re going to eyeball it with the antichrist one day do you think your copper bullets are really going to help? I mean, he’s going to take you down, he’s more powerful than you. People say well, you know, I’m going to be the last man standing. Well, lots of luck with that! Beloved, the church is not appointed unto wrath and that’s why as the twenty-four elders representing the church, she is in heaven. Don’t live your life expecting to see the antichrist. You live your life expecting to see who? Jesus Christ! The rapture of the church is imminent, it is the next event on the prophetic horizon. And so many people lose this doctrine, their minds become fixated upon the world and the new world order and the struggles of the world and the antichrist is coming and I believe all of that. He is coming and there is a new world order coming that won’t be good but that’s not you, that’s not your identity. It certainly isn’t your destiny.
Now I’m not up here painting Christianity as a bed of roses, an easy path. In this world we go through all kinds of problems; the wrath of man, the wrath of the world system, even the wrath of Satan himself. We’re perpetually at war with our three great adversaries, the world, the flesh and the devil. We’re in bodies that are decaying but need resurrection. I’m not here arguing that we’re going to have some kind of easy path. What I’m saying is theirs is a dimension of wrath and a form of wrath that you, as a member of the church, have no part in, and that is the wrath of God. When Jesus is in heaven opening the scroll, which we will be studying, which brings forth these catastrophic events on the earth, you’re not part of that. God is not going to propose to His bride and beat the daylights out of her before the wedding day. That’s why these twenty-four elders are in heaven. God is not a spousal abuser.
Now Israel has a different calling and a different program where she will be brought back into faith through a time of distress. Jeremiah 30:7. [Jeremiah 30:7, “’Alas! for that day is great, There is none like it; And it is the time of Jacob’s distress, But he will be saved from it.”] That’s Israel’s program; that’s not the church’s program. And so the twenty-four elders representing the church are in heaven before these judgments take place. Now what else does John see here, and by the way, here’s all the rapture views. Pre-tribulation rapture theory, Mid-tribulation rapture theory, Post-tribulation rapture theory, Pre-wrath rapture theory, Partial rapture theory, you feel like you’re in the tribulation itself trying to figure out all these different views. We believe the Pre-tribulation one is correct because what did Jesus say, and Paul say when He gave the doctrine of the rapture? He said “therefore comfort one another with these words.”
By the way, you’re going to go into the wrath of God and most of you are going to be martyred and assuming you’re not martyred maybe you’ll be protected by the rapture, “comfort one another with these words.” Does that make any sense? Those aren’t comforts at all. When Jesus and Paul articulated the rapture, John 14:1-4, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, He said “comfort one another with these words.” We’re not in the wrath of God; we’re in heaven when the wrath of God comes to the earth. That’s who these twenty-four elders are.
What else does John see here? He not only sees twenty-four elders but he sees 7 lamps. Look, if you will at chapter 4 and verse 5. “Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.” Look at the second part of verse 5, “And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God;” John, when he’s caught up into heaven in his personal rapture doesn’t just see twenty-four elders, he sees seven lamps and these seven lamps represent the fullness of the Holy Spirit because that’s what it says right there in verse 5. The “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God” seven being a complete number.
He saw “the seven Spirits of God” in Revelation 1:4, Revelation 3:1, at the time I said it represents the fullness, the completion of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit in heaven completely has His way. There’s nothing to restrain Him, there’s not one to disagree with Him. Aren’t we told in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “Do not quench the Spirit”? Why do I have an ability to quench the Spirit, 1 Thessalonians 5:19, grieve the Spirit, Ephesians 4:30? [Ephesians 4:30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”] Why do I even have that ability today? Because I’m living in a fallen world, in a fallen body with a sin nature that happens to have the Holy Spirit inside of him. And as a Christian I can, through my own volition, go back to the sin nature. I shouldn’t do that but it’s always a possibility and every time I do that until my sin is confessed before God I grieve the Spirit, I quench the Spirit, I minimize the impact that the Holy Spirit wants to have through me, through my own sin.
But think of being in heaven, after the rapture, in a resurrected body where the temptation to go back to the sin nature doesn’t even exist anymore. That’s what happens when you receive your glorified body. At the rapture the sin nature is removed from it. It’s the body as it was meant to be. And so therefore the temptation to go back to sin, the opportunity to go back to sin doesn’t even exist anymore; you can never again quench the Spirit nor grieve the Spirit. And consequently in heaven the Spirit is having His fullness, His completion.
Isaiah 11:2 talks about this seven fold ministry of the Holy Spirit through seven genitive expressions. [Isaiah 11:2, “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”] “The Spirit of the LORD,” number one, will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom,” number two, “and of understanding” number three, “The spirit of counsel” number four, the spirit of “strength” number 5, “the spirit of knowledge” number 6, and of “the fear of the LORD,” number seven. Those are all the things that the Holy Spirit did through Christ that He wants to do through the child of God today and yet many times it’s hindered. And yet in heaven, in glory, He’ll have a complete ability to work those things through us. That’s what John sees in heaven. He sees these seven lamps which are the seven spirits of God, the fullness of the Spirit.
Now can I ask you a question? Can you have a lamp without a lampstand? I think that would be somewhat difficult, wouldn’t it. I mean, doesn’t a lamp in heaven imply that the lampstands are in heaven as well? Would you say that’s a safe assumption? And you say well, gee, pastor, that’s a very interesting question, what do the lampstands represent? And I’m so glad you asked the question because if you go back to Revelation 1:20, you might recall this verse, it says very clearly, “and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” [Revelation 1:20, “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.”]
So the lamps have lampstands, seven lamps, seven lampstands, the seven lampstands are the seven churches so where are the lamps in heaven? Where are the lampstands in heaven? The church represents the lampstands so where is the church? In heaven. See what is happening here is you don’t have one image of the church, you’ve got two. The twenty-four elders represent the church; the seven lampstands represent the church, the church is not on the earth when these judgments come to pass, the church is in heaven.
So I don’t know about you; you can go ahead and a Midtribulationalists and weapon up or a posttribulationalist and weapon up, a pre wrath rapturist, these are people that think the rapture will take place three-quarters into the tribulation, weapon up, nuke up, do whatever you’re going to do, sit around in fear that you don’t have enough [can’t understand word] foot and gold because the economies of the world are going to collapse because God is going to take His bride and thrust it into the tribulation period. If you want to live your life that way you just go right ahead and watch what happens to your level of joy. You’re not going to have a lot of joy in the Christian life but you live every single day of your life as perhaps today, perhaps today I can hear the trump of God and go home to be with Jesus Christ. Yeah, this world is a dark place but maybe today is the day. You know what’s going to happen to your level of service, your level of commitment, your level of joy, your level of expectancy in the Christian life? It’s going to skyrocket.
Paul says living the days as though the days are evil, we’re not naïve, we recognize that we’re living in a fallen world and bad things happen to good people. The Bible never sells us any different program but while we’re living in the devil’s terrain, living in wisdom, we understand the promise of Jesus Christ that at any moment the church could hear the call, be summoned into heaven and be part of that glorious witness and audience in heaven, as represented by the twenty-four elders and the seven lampstands praising the Lord. You say well, what are we going to be praising the Lord for once we’re there? And I’m going to try to answer that question next week because once you’re in heaven you’re going to see worship like you’ve never seen it before, and honor and worth and majesty are being ascribed to God because He’s the Creator and because of God the Son He is the Redeemer. So He deserves the honor, doesn’t He? And if He deserves that honor He’s got the credentials to bring judgment to the earth which everybody in this book is going to second guess but He has the authority to do it because of who He is.
If you’re here today visiting and maybe you’re not a Christian at all, maybe you’ve never trusted in the Savior, maybe you just talk of an appearance of Jesus as just sort of a new thing to you, you really don’t know if you have a real with God the Father through God the Son. And our exhortation to you here at Sugar Land Bible Church is the gospel; “gospel” means good news, it’s called good news because Jesus did everything possible to give us this relationship, through His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. His final words on the cross were “it is finished!” A translation of the Greek word tetelestai, which means paid in full. It’s all paid! So to enter into a relationship with God you either receive that as a free gift or you don’t. If you don’t want to receive it as a free gift you can’t receive it; if you do want to receive it as a free gift your whole destiny is changed. God doesn’t come down and negotiate terms with us; that’s the package, it’s the grace of God once received involves participation in the rapture should it occur today, should it occur this afternoon.
The Holy Spirit has come into the world to convict the world of their need to receive this gift. That’s what the Holy Spirit is doing in the world today. And maybe you’ve never received it. If you’ve never received it our exhortation to you is to receive it the only way you can receive it which is to receive it as a gift which has to be by faith. Faith means trust, you hear the gospel, you’re convicted by it and you trust in its promise. Another way of saying it is you rely on the promise, you depend on the promise, it’s not a matter of walking an aisle, joining a church, giving money, it’s a matter of privacy between you and the Lord where you rest or trust or biblically believe in this promise and you have a personal relationship at that point with the God that made you. Our exhortation to you is to receive that gift right now even where you’re seated. People may be listening online or via social media, just to receive that gift the best you know how, in the privacy of your own mind and the quietness of your own thoughts and heart receive that gift, trust in what Jesus has done. And once you receive that gift continue to grow as a believer, continue to grow as a Christian and we think we can help you with that here at Sugar Land Bible Church as we continue to teach God’s Word verse by verse.
Shall we pray. Father, we’re grateful for this ancient book, these ancient places, and yet how they speak to us in the twenty-first century, where you continue to have Your hand of blessing on this church as we honor Your truth and Your word. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said… Amen!