Saturday, 27 August 2016 01:20

28. An open door to the throne * Revelation 4:1-4

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1   After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up here, and I will show you things which must be hereafter.

2   And immediately I was in the spirit; and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.

3   And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a carnelian stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in appearance like unto an emerald.

4   And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones: and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white clothing; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.

 

In chapters 1 to 3, we have Jesus walking in the middle of the churches, and the focus is on what is happening with the church here on Earth. The text in chapter 1 uses symbology that refers to the Old Testament Sanctuary. In that chapter, we studied the references John made about the candlesticks, the items of bronze, and the priestly outfit. The last of the seven letters to the churches in Asia end with a promise to the one who overcomes. It says that the overcomer will sit with Jesus in His throne, just as He sat with His Father, in His throne (Revelation 3:21). This verse is the perfect segway to chapter 4, where we see the description of the events that are taking place in Heaven. These events hold the key to the understanding of the rest of the book of Revelation. The Sanctuary language continues in chapter 4 and 5, where we read about things that happen around the throne of God.

*** Opened door in Heaven, and the invitation from the One with the voice like a trumpet ***: After John received the message about the churches, he looks up, and sees an open door in Heaven. Then, John hears the One with the voice like a trumpet. It is the same voice he first heard in Revelation 1:10 (lesson #7). Jesus is calling John to come up through the open door. Jesus wants to show him what must take place in the future, from John’s perspective. This statement also reminds us of what Jesus told John in Revelation 1:19. But here, John is not asked to write down the things Jesus is showing him. He is invited to see them. Upon hearing this invitation, John is immediately taken in a vision, receiving the message from Christ. Just like he said in Revelation 1:10, he is “in the Spirit”. This door that John goes through leads to a room in Heaven, and he sees a beautiful throne there. The word door (in the Greek thura), occurs many times in the Old Testament, and most often than not, it refers to the Sanctuary or the Temple. This is very significant, because we will see in the following verses, that this open door was the passageway to the Heavenly Sanctuary.

*** The throne and the One who sat on the throne ***: John initially sees a magnificent throne. The throne of God is found in 16 of the 22 chapters of Revelation, and in many instances the throne is used to represent God Himself. The throne is the central theme of chapter 4. Everything is described in relation to the throne. John then sees the One sitting on the throne. He identifies Him as “Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8), and “Lord” (Revelation 4:11). But in other verses, John refers to God as “the One sitting on the Throne” (Revelation 4:3,9,10; Revelation 5:1,7,13). The image of God sitting on His throne in Heaven is often depicted in the Old Testament, where He reigns in all His glory and power (1 Kings 22:19; Psalm 47:8; Psalm 93:1-2; Psalm 97:1-9; Psalm 99:1-5; Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 1:26; Daniel 7:9).

*** Description of God: He looks like a jasper, a carnelian, and an emerald stone ***: Some Bible versions translate carnelian (in Greek sardiō) as sardius, or ruby. Emerald (in Greek smaragdinō), is sometimes translated as turquoise. All three of these stones were found covering the king of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13). They are also in the foundation of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19). But since the Sanctuary symbolism is so strong in this chapter, we must concentrate on what we find there to help us understand the meaning of these stones. They are found on the breastplate of the High Priest in the Old Testament (Exodus 28:17-20). Sardius and Jasper are the first and the last stones on the breastplate. They represent the tribes of Reuben, and Benjamin respectively. And the emerald is the 4th stone on the breastplate, representing the tribe of Juda. Under the light of the Sanctuary language, we see that this description of the stones are identifying the One who sits on the throne as having the same characteristics as Christ: “the first and the last” (Revelation 1:11,17), and the “Lion from the tribe of Juda” (Revelation 5:5). The One who sits on the throne is one with Christ.

*** The rainbow around the throne ***: Ezekiel 1:28 also described the rainbow around the throne of God, saying it “was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.” The rainbow is a 7-color arch that God placed in the sky after the flood, as a perpetual covenant between God and His people. It was to remind them that He would never destroy the Earth with water ever again (Genesis 9:12-17). We can understand that the glory of the Lord itself is for us a reminder of how trustworthy He is.

*** 24 thrones and 24 elders, dressed in white and wearing a crown ***: John's attention is drawn to the other thrones. He first sees 24 of them, and then he mentions the 24 elders. In the Old Testament, we read about the group of 24 priests who took turns as the Sanctuary officials (1 Chronicles 24:1-19). Once again, the Sanctuary symbolism is present here, and it is not out of place. Interestingly enough, they are not present in the throne visions of the prophets in the Old Testament. Even though they are not present in the Old Testament visions, their presence here is actually not all that surprising. In verse 4, John gives a brief description of the elders. They are mentioned in other parts of the book as well, so let’s look at all the information we have on these elders, so we can figure out who they are. Are they angels? Are they human? We can draw a parallel between this description of the 24 elders and the promises made to the one who overcomes throughout the book of Revelation. The overcomer is promised the things that the elders already have:

  24 Elders Those who overcome
1) They sit on thrones around the throne of God (Revelation 4:4) They will sit in a throne with God (Revelation 3:21)
2) They are wearing white robes, and have the stephanos crown on their head (Revelation 4:4) They will wear white robes and a stephanos crown of victory (Revelation 3:5; Revelation 2:10)
3) They worship God (Revelation 4:10-11; Revelation 5:14; Revelation 11:16; Revelation 19:4) They will worship God (Revelation 7:10)
4) They have on their hands harps and bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8) They will have harps (Revelation 15:2), and they pray/cry out to God (Revelation 6:10)
5) God had made them kingdom and priests, and they will reign on the Earth (Revelation 5:10)* They are made kingdom and priests (Revelation 1:6), They will reign on the Earth (Revelation 2:26-27)
6) They were redeemed by the blood of Jesus (Revelation 5:9) They are redeemed by the blood of Jesus (Revelation 7:14)

* From the Textus Receptus manuscripts, which is one of the manuscripts that some of the earlier Bible translations were based on, such as the King James.

All unfallen creatures, such as angels or other celestial beings, worship God. The fact that the elders worship God does not help us identify them more specifically. These unfallen beings never sinned, and so, they cannot be considered to be redeemed. It becomes evident that the elders could not be unfallen beings or angels, since Revelation 5:9 says the elders were redeemed by the blood (according to Bible translations based on the Textus Receptus manuscripts). Other arguments supporting this view are that there are no promises in the Bible made to angels, saying they will reign on the Earth. God’s chosen people on Earth are the ones called to be kingdom and priests. Only His redeemed people receive the promise of a white robe of righteousness and a victory crown. Angels are never portrayed as wearing victory crowns. And finally, only the redeemed are promised to sit on a throne with God. Angels are always mentioned as standing or falling down in the presence of God. We can clearly see that the 24 elders must be humans. Humans that have been glorified already. But how did humans end up in Heaven before the Second Coming of Christ?

As we studied in lesson #10, when humans die, the norm is that they are not immediately taken to a place of eternal fire, or to Heaven. The Bible teaches that the dead actually don’t know anything (Eclesiastes 9:5), they are as if they were asleep (Psalm 90:5; John 11:11-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13), and that people’s reward will be given to them on the last day (Revelation 22:12). However, the Bible mentions a few special people who got their reward earlier, and had the privilege to be taken to Heaven before the Second Coming. We know that Enoch, Moses and Elijah were taken to Heaven (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5; Jude 1:9; 2 Kings 2:11; Matthew 17:3). Enoch and Elijah never actually experienced death. The Bible also tells us that when Christ died, and resurrected, “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints that slept arose” (Matthew 27:52). As it was the custom of a victorious king in the ancient times, upon winning a battle against His enemy, Christ took with Him the spoils of war. In other words, He took for Himself people who were to be integrated into the population of Jesus' own Celestial Country. Psalm 68:18 and Ephesians 4:8 tell us that Jesus led a group of captives when He ascended. Those people had been tied down to their brief existence on Earth, and slaves to their grave. They were in bondage. But Jesus took them out of that condition. We don’t know how many were resurrected at that time, but it is possible that they were the ones taken to Heaven to serve as Sanctuary officials, serving as priests and kings - living representatives of humanity in Heaven. The fact that there are 24 of them is also relevant, because it is twice the number 12. The number 12 is prominent in Revelation, because it relates to the 12 tribes of Israel (standing as the church in the Old Testament time), and the 12 disciples (Standing as the church from the New Testament forward). The New Jerusalem is described as having 12 gates named after the 12 tribes, and 12 foundations named after the 12 apostles (Revelation 21:12-14). The number 12 + 12 represents the totality of God's people throughout History.

All the Bible texts we reviewed in this study, tell us that it is not the norm to go to Heaven after death. Actually, those captives, as well as Moses, were resurrected first, before being taken up to Heaven. And that is what is going to happen on the last day as well. Those who died in the faith of Jesus will be resurrected first (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Over and over, we see that the people who died on Earth and that were (or are going to be) taken to Heaven, always, without exception, go through the process of resurrection first - including Jesus. The group of the 24 elders is likely formed by those people mentioned in the Bible, who were taken up without experiencing death like Enoch and Elijah, and also the ones who were resurrected and then taken up, like Moses. They are the perfect representation of the people of God that will be joining them in the last day: “[…] and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

*** Overview ***: The first four verses in chapter 4 have two main themes, which will be recurring over the next chapters: the throne of God, and the 24 elders. The throne however, is the central focus, since everything is described using the throne as the point of reference (upon the throne, around the throne, from the throne, before the throne, in the midst of the throne). John describes the throne as something spectacular, and he uses some of the precious stones from the Old Testament High Priest garment to help with this description. God’s unbreakable covenant is also present, and represents the unfailing glory and mercy of God. God’s word is true, trustworthy. He has the first word, and the also final. The description of the throne of the Father reminds us of the atributes used to describe Christ. The throne of God is a direct reference to the Father Himself, and His unity with the Son. The parallelism with the Old testament Sanctuary is very evident, and is a strong indicator of where John is in this vision: the Heavenly Sanctuary. The Sanctuary on Earth was only a copy (or shadow) of the one which is in Heaven (Hebrews 8:2,5). Now that we situated where this vision is taking place, we can expect to see some of the things that were found in the Earthly Sanctuary. And we do: there are 24 elders, who serve as priests - they carry “bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8). These elders represent the redeemed of God.

   
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