Before we begin our study of the book of the Revelation and preach on its significance, I would like to make a few points on the nature of the book and how it is best understood primarily from our reformed perspective.
First, the book is apocalyptic. It contains visions and pictures meant to display God’s truth to God’s people. As a genre, it utilizes symbolic language usually given as types and shadows in connection to the Old Testament prophecies. It gives a macro view of events taking place as part of God’s plan of redemption.
Second, it occurs between the first and second coming of Christ. The popular interpretation of the century view this book is purely futuristic. Yet our reformed understanding of these text connects with the way Old Testament prophets view their predictions in relation to its fulfillment. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah and et al, all of them foretold events that occurred during their own time but at the same time they speak of events that will find fulfillment at the coming of the Messiah. Similarly, the prophecies of the Apostle John contained event familiar to his contemporaries but at the same time, it speaks futuristic events connected to the prophets of old. What is the difference? John speaks of the revelation of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. Therefore, this revelation contains events related to the inauguration and consummation of King Jesus. These are the events between the passing age and coming age in Christ.
Third, the book of Revelation centers on Christ as new creation. He brings everything to its consummating end. He is both the judge and ruler of this world and he inaugurated God’s kingdom by his blood. Jesus fills everything his Father asks him to accomplish and he will continue to fulfill all these things until everything is under his rule both in heaven and now here on earth.
What does the book of Revelation teaches as a whole? In sum, God sovereignly rules over creation. Jesus Christ as new creation will bring everything to its consummation. This is what the Holy Spirit wants us to see and understand in the last part of Scripture – the book of Revelation.
We will continue our sermon series of the book of Revelation beginning with a new section from chapter 5 to 8 but as in introduction we will include chapter 4. So for this morning Lord’s Day, we will hear God’s Word preached from chapters 4 and 5 with the following headings: 1) The Throne Room of God, Twenty Four Elders, and Four Living Creatures; 2) The Lamb Who is Worthy; 3) The Worship in Reverence and Awe.
Before we begin, let us pray…
The Throne Room of God, Twenty Four Elders, and Four Living Creatures
Let us begin with chapter 4 for context because chapters 4 and 5 were intended to create a whole picture. I would like to encourage you to read these texts in your private reading of Scriptures. I know it is overwhelming with all the detailed visual depictions that John himself provides here. But always remember our goal is to not get lost in the trees for the forest. So let us focus on three central elements we can read from chapter 4 and they are: 1) The Throne Room of God, 2) Twenty Four Elders, 3) and Four Living Creatures.
John was invited by Christ himself to see “what must take place after this (Revelation 4:1)”. The Spirit takes away John from the earthly view of the churches from chapters 2 and 3 and shows him the perspective from heaven. This was similar to Paul’s depiction of a man taken by the Spirit to the heavens in 2 Corinthians 12:2.
What was the central vision that caught John’s attention in heaven? It was the throne room of God (Revelation 4:2). God the Father sits at the throne ruling and directing everything. He is in control of all things in heaven and even here on earth. Now, there were several descriptions John gave in the next verse (Revelation 4:3) about the throne but simply put they display God’s glory in light and colors. The precious stones and rainbow mentioned there is symbolic to this point. Although no one can see the Father as Jesus himself testified, John saw symbolic glory displayed here which the Spirit allows him to see. In short, it was too majestic to describe but the significance is too important to miss: God is sovereign and he rules and directs all the events of creation and history. God is the one in charge and not the angels nor any creature.
Surrounding the throne though are creatures. They are the angelic beings in the court of God. The fancy term used by the commentators is “courtier”. There were two kinds mentioned here by John: 1) The Twenty Four Elders, 2) The Four Living Creatures. What do they mean?
First, the twenty four elders represents the full measure of God’s people from the Old and New Testaments. They were symbolic as the twelve tribes of Israel plus the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. Taken as a whole, they are the people of God in all of church history. However, the ones near the throne are angels and not mankind. They were only representatives of God’s people similar to the priest attending to the temple in Jerusalem. As Vern Poythress explains these may parallel the twenty four division of Aaronic priest serving in the temple.
Second, the four creatures. They were drawn heavily from Ezekiel’s own heavenly vision from Ezekiel chapter 1. They were similar but different on its configuration. What do they mean? Again, I would like to invite you to re-read the whole chapter 1 of Ezekiel so you can also see the similarities but so save time, I would only focus on the four creatures. They were the lion, eagle, ox, man. Each of them were the strongest and grandest specie of their kind. Again, while the one surrounding God’s throne were the cherubim and seraphrim of God, they reflect the God’s glory in creation both in heaven and on earth.
So in sum the twenty four elders and four creatures were all creatures surrounding the throne of our Creator God. They serve God and submit to his sovereignty. And what did John notice in the end of chapter 4? They were singing in worship to God (verses 10-11). We will focus on this aspect of worship on our last point so let first continue with our second point about the Lamb of God.
The Lamb Who is Worthy
John saw the glory and majesty of God from Revelation chapter 4 but his elation was disrupted by a moment of grief. In chapter 5, God who is in the throne possesses a sealed scroll which contains His plans and purposes (verse 1). However when an angel asks for anyone who is worthy to open them, no one seems to reply (verse 2). It grieved John when he saw that no one can (verses 3-4). Yet the angel comforted John and pointed him to one who is worthy. He pointed him to the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David (verse 5). This parallels the vision of Isaiah in Isaiah 11:6. And here, it becomes the highest point in the vision John receives – the whole history of creation and redemption has been fulfilled by the one who is worthy to open the sealed scroll of God and he is Jesus Christ!
Now it seems paradoxical to see next that the one who conquered, the victorious warrior of God, did not win the battle by his power and might. Rather, John saw exactly the opposite. In verse 5, He was portayed with seven horns and eyes and the fulness of the Spirit (seven spirits). They illustrate his worthiness but in verse 6, John was it as a slained Lamb and he alone was worthy to open the perfectly sealed scroll of God. John saw Jesus as a sacrifice offered to atoned for the sins of his people. His humiliation accomplished for all of God’s people the merit required to fulfill all that God has planned for us. And for the succeeding sections of the vision, Jesus will bring them in its consummation.
Jesus is the new creation who brings all things to its consummation both in creation and redemption. His atoning work, his humiliation guarantees for us the merit required to attain heaven. He alone is one who is worthy and no else. The message of salvation here is clear. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We are not saved by our own efforts and even by any work or assurances from anyone except by the testimony of the Word of God – Christ saved us by his atoning work.
This central message John saw in the heaven brings comfort to his contemporaries who were persecuted for their faith but also to us now reading his book. It was written for our encouragement. For no amount of persecution, natural calamity, pandemic, wars and even annihilation will ever change the fact that God rules and our Savior accomplishes our redemption. We stand secure here in earth because we know there in heaven the one who stands on the throne died for us so that we may receive eternal life! We are his, both body and soul, in life and in death!
The Worship in Reverence and Awe
What is the chief end of man? The shorter catechism of the Westminster confession answers: “The chief end of man is to glory God and enjoy him forever!” This the vision of the whole of Christian life. We are made for God to worship and serve him. It is also the picture John gave to us while he was in heaven. All of God’s creature praise and worship the one who sits on the throne and the slained Lamb. This is also the picture the preacher of Hebrews gave his readers to encourage them while suffer persecution. Let me read it for comparison:
“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:18-24).”
Christian, we do not worship in an earthly Mt. Sinai in the law covenant with Moses as its mediator but in Mt. Zion, in heaven, where God reigns and with Jesus as our living mediator of the new covenant. This is the reality we are in right now as we live between the times of Christ’s first and second coming. Yes, there will be persecution, there will be suffering, we may never find a home here for we will always find ourselves as pilgrims of this world but take heart Christian! Christ conquered the world and now reigns in glory! He intercedes for God’s people and all of heaven moves to bring everything to its consummated end.
Personally, the prolonged quarantine that results to more weeks of spending Lord’s Day apart from God’s people is discouraging to me. I also feel discouraged that it seems we will again need to find a new temporary place to worship. To date even our plans for looking for permanent place will take more time given our economic situation. But surely our help is in the Lord who made the heavens and the earth. Our hope is in our God whose steadfast love endures forever. When the Lord establishes ZCRC(Imus) primarily through His Word and by the Spirit eight years ago, we learned to live by faith and not by sight. We have been grateful in prosperity and patient in adversity. And as sure encouragement from God’s Word we sing praises to God knowing he takes care of us and provides for our every need. In him, we find hope and strength.
ZCRC(Imus), let us worship God and the One who is worthy to stand in the throne of heaven. Let us sing: ““To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! Amen!