The Throne Room of Heaven
Caught up to Heaven 4:1-2a
“1 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this. 2 At once I was in the Spirit …”
Chapter one focusses on Jesus at the centre of His Church, with full glory, power and majesty, ready to stand in judgement of mankind, and chapters 2 and 3 record the important communication Jesus had for seven churches in Asia Minor (Covered in the series Seven Letters for Seven Churches). It is after these letters have been completed that John, at the start of chapter 4, is taken up into heaven for the “revelation” of the main body of the book.
Chapter 4, when read carefully, reveals important information indicating that the rapture has occurred, and that John is taken up to heaven with the rapture, whether in body or in spirit we are not informed (c.f. 2 Corinthians 12:7). God is not bound by the passage of time, so it is absolutely feasible that John was in body in heaven. For those who are unsure of exactly what the rapture is, a short definition is required. The word “rapture” does not appear anywhere in the various English Bible translations. However, the word “rapture” was introduced into the English language by Protestants who took the word from the dominant Bible of the pre-Reformation Church, Jerome’s Vulgate, a Latin translation of the original Greek New Testament. The word “rapture” is taken from the statement in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, where Paul explains that believers will be “caught up… to meet the Lord in the air.” The Greek word explaining the act of being “caught up” is harpazo, which means to be grasped hastily, to be snatched up. The Greek word harpazo translated into Latin is raeptius, which eventually became the term used today – rapture, which signifies the believer being caught up to be with Jesus in the air for the marriage supper and the union of Jesus with His Church. The event is described in detail in both 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
The description of John being taken up to heaven in the first two verses, is the same as Paul’s description of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Both have:
- A voice calling out. In Thessalonians the voice is identified as an archangel.
- There is the sound of a trumpet.
- The action of being caught up to heaven.
Verse one provides further evidence that John is raptured in that, he is shown “a door standing open in heaven”. The Jews believe that the gates of heaven are opened on Yom Teruah so that the righteous may enter in (Isa. 26:2, Ps. 118:19-20), the significance of this is seen in the prophetic nature of the seven feasts. The first four feasts are all prophetic pointers to Jesus as the Son of Man, the last three feasts must therefore also be prophetic pointers, this time to events of the Second Coming of Jesus. The next feast in the order, i.e. the fifth feast, is Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets), and this feast must therefore match with the first prophecy of the Second Coming, which is the return of Jesus for His Bride at the rapture. God gave Ezekiel a vision of the Millennial Temple, and He explains to Ezekiel that the gate to the inner court of the Temple must remain open on “the day of the new moon” (Ezek. 46:1). As the Millennial Temple is a replica of the Temple of God in heaven, it follows that the gates of heaven are also opened on the day of the new moon, which would include Yom Teruah. John describes that while being “in the Spirit,” he is taken up to heaven in Revelation 4:1-2, and seeing the Temple door “standing open in heaven” to receive him. Therefore, this is strong evidence that He is “caught up” to heaven at the commencement of the Feast of Trumpets. John is taken up to heaven to be shown what takes place “after this” – the Church period – so the first event that takes place is the rapture, which John becomes a part of. John then witnesses the Lamb of God receive the seven sealed scroll, and only after that does the seven years of Tribulation commence. Thus, Revelation chapter 4 supports a pre-Tribulation rapture.
The order of the events described by John at the start of the book of Revelation also has significance, as Jesus has completed His dictation to John of the seven letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, and then John, a representative of the Church is caught up to heaven at the start of chapter 4. Also, from Revelation 1:1 to Revelation 3:22 the word church/es is used 19 times. Then from Revelation 4:1, which is the time where John is called up to heaven and the events of the Tribulation are revealed to him, there is no mention of the word church (ekklesia) again until Rev. 22:16, which is the summation, where Jesus explains that the testimony of Revelation is “for the churches”. Surely if the Church was present on earth during the Tribulation, it would receive a mention, but there is not a word! And the duty of the Church to be a witness to all the world is taken over by the 144 000 Jewish believers (Rev. 7:4-8), the two witnesses (Rev. 11:3) and an angel (Rev. 14:6-12). The reason must be because the Church is no longer present on earth!
The Throne Room of Heaven (4:2b-3)
“… and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian (sardius), and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald”.
John uses symbols to describe what he sees in heaven, however, not everything is symbolic. John is both describing what he sees, and using symbolism when necessary to emphasize a point of special significance. The reader of Revelation needs to understand that symbolism is always going to be less than the reality of what John is observing – heaven will always be greater than any description of it. The description of heaven by John is the fourth time believers are allowed to attain a glimpse of heaven in the Bible, the other times being:
- Isaiah 6:1-6, reveals the train of God’s robe filling the Temple.
- Ezekiel 1:4-28, reveals the four living creatures, and the wheels within wheels.
- Daniel 7, reveals the Son of Man appearing before the Ancient of Days.
Of the four views of heaven recorded in Scripture, John by far reveals the most detail.
The word “behold” is repeated a second time by John, as His attention is immediately drawn to the remarkable and impressive sight of the Throne of God. The throne is the centre of all things, the seat of authority, majesty and power that governs all, and controls all. When mankind rejects God, there is an empty throne that needs a replacement; at the time of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, mankind places the throne at the top of the Tower, man had raised himself towards the heaven and proclaimed himself to be god. But Moses places everything in perspective, when he writes that God had to come down to observe the Tower (Genesis 11:5). Now, John at the very start of the book of Revelation, which records man’s rebellion against God, and reveals the proclamation by the Antichrist that he is god, shows the Ancient of Days to be seated on His throne on High. Man’s attempts at self-deification always falls woefully short, that is why God hates syncretism, which is when man combine God’s Word with the philosophies of men, man’s wisdom is tainted and corrupted, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
John was given the immense privilege of viewing the highest seat of authority, the Throne of God. The fact that God is in control of the empires of the world is clearly seen in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue of a man in Daniel 2. John also reveals that no matter what is happening on earth God is in control – He is on His throne. From chapter 4 onwards the Throne of God will be the centre around which the book of Revelation rotates, from the Throne all judgements emanate, and towards the Throne all praise is directed. There is no description of God by John, the imagery he uses points to the glory and sovereignty of God. There is no possible way John can properly describe the glory of God on the throne, the best John can do is make comparisons using gem stones.
The red of the Sardis (modern name being carnelian) is symbolic of the sacrificial love shown by Jesus at Calvary. The fruit of that love, is all those who received that love that was so freely given. The green of the Jasper illustrates the light of the Glory of God which illumined ” that great city, the Holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:19). The blood shed by Jesus was life giving, fertile, through the salvation it provided, it produced fruit which glorified God as the divine planner.
Some interpretations infer that the jasper may actually mean “diamond,” and therefore shines forth the brightness and purity of God. I see this as bending the evidence to fit a perceived concept of the radiant glory of God. The two stones, Sardis and Jasper, also represent the first and last stones on the breastplate of the High Priest (Exodus 39:8-13), this fact gives support to the idea that it is the blood shed by the sacrifices, which were pointers to Jesus (red), that brought the nation into the service of God, and in turn intern Glorified both God and the nation (green).
The rainbow that John sees around the throne makes a complete circle, not an arc. The rainbow is a symbol of God’s covenant of mercy, and in heaven all things are complete. Just as Noah was saved out of the flood, so too has the Church been saved out of the Judgement of the Tribulation. The emerald green representing the glories of God (Rev. 21:19). In this case the covenant rainbow is revealed prior to the judgement occurring, not at the end of the judgement. God as part of His covenant relationship with the Bride of Christ, promised to deliver her from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 5:9; Rev. 3:10). Just as Noah and his family were delivered safely to the slopes of Mt Ararat, the Church is delivered safely to the Mount of God, His throne room in heaven.
Twenty-four Elders (4:4-6a)
“4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads”.
In verse 4, the apostle John reveals that seated before the throne of God are twenty-four elders. As was mentioned earlier, Daniel, like John was shown the throne room of God, when Daniel sees the thrones being set up before God, they are empty (Daniel 7:9), but when John sees them, they have been filled! There are twenty-four elders seated on the thrones, the question that then arises is, who are these elders? They are not angels, and all evidence points to them being representatives of the raptured Church. The seven letters to the Churches in Asia Minor contain promises to the Churches, three of which we see fulfilled in the depiction of the elders. They are seated on thrones (Rev. 3:21), clothed in white robes (Rev. 3:5); and the third promise fulfilled is that they have crowns of gold on their heads (Rev. 2:10). In Biblical times, to be seated in the presence of the king without express permission meant certain death. Angels, who were created to serve would not even consider the option as available to them. To be seated in the presence of Almighty God must be seen as a privileged position, which could only be occupied by those who are joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).
The number 24 is also significant as seen in David’s allotting the Levites their various ministries (1 Chron. 23-24). David set apart the Levites for their varied ministries into twenty-four divisions, they were to be a representation of the people of Israel before God. The elders then are representatives of the Church before God.
“5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal”.
John’s attention is once more drawn to the mighty throne of God, and his description matches the summit of Mount Saini during the first Shavuot, “flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder”. Powerful anomalies were present over the peak of Mount Sinai, dark cloud, lightning and earthquakes, highlighting the presence of God on Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:18; 20:18). It seems that the Throne of God descended to Saini with Yahweh, when He spoke with Moses (Exodus 19:16-19; 20:18-19). The thunder and lightning not only reflect the majesty and awesomeness of God, but also is an indication of the coming judgement. The cross is a manifestation of both God’s love for the sinner, and His wrath against sin. In heaven we are shown the rainbow as the symbol of God’s provision for the sinner being fulfilled, and the thunder and lightning as God’s impending wrath against sin. The cross is evident in the throne room of God. The lamb, the provision for sin, is about to open the scroll that will result in the judgement of those that have rejected that provision.
In chapter 1 verse 4, there is a greeting from the Godhead, which includes the Holy Spirit who is described as “the seven spirits who are before his throne”. John now also sees seven lamps blazing, as well as the “seven spirits” before the throne of God. Symbolism is consistent throughout Scripture, and Rev. 1:20b tells us that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches”. These seven churches represent all the churches through the Church period. Therefore, when John writes of seeing the seven lamps blazing before the throne of God in heaven (Rev. 4:5b), when the lamps should be on earth, he is implying that the Church is in heaven, again this is before the first seal of the scroll is broken by Jesus indicating a pre-Tribulation rapture.
To understand the symbolism of the “sea of glass,” we must once again remember that symbolism is consistent throughout Scripture, and the symbolism of a restless sea in Scripture is the masses of sinful humanity (Isa. 60:5; 57:20). The symbol of peace and tranquillity before God’s throne is the righteous taken out of the wicked nations at the rapture, revealing the finest glass which is crystal in form, pure and translucent – without sin. The fact that the revelation of the “sea of glass” by John, follows the seven lamp stands which are no longer on earth, but before the throne of God, is further evidence that the “sea of glass” is the Church in heaven.
There is a Temple in heaven, which John makes mention of in chapter 16:1: “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, ‘Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God’.” There is an obvious comparison between the earthly Temple and God’s Temple in heaven:
|Earthly Temple||God’s Throne Room|
|Holy of Holies||Throne of God (4:2)|
|Seven-branched candlestick (menorah)||Seven lamps of fire before the throne (4:5)|
|Bronze laver||Sea of glass (4:6)|
|Cherubim over the mercy seat||Four living creatures around the throne [Cherubim] (4:6)|
|Bronze alter||Alter (6:9)|
|Incense alter||Incense alter (8:3)|
|Ark of the covenant||Ark (11:19)|
Four Living Creatures (4:6b-11)
“And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” 9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
The final element of John’s description of the throne room of God are the four living creatures, “full of eyes”. No scene of heaven would truly be complete without the presence of magnificent angels before God’s throne, these angels are covered in eyes front and back, symbolising worship that is rooted in seeing and understanding (Psalm 1). It is no coincidence that the first song of the book of Psalms is about the importance of God’s Word. The primary worship of God is the time and effort placed in the study of His Word, it is a worship that is grounded in observing God and through attaining a better understanding of Him, a person draws closer to Him and is better able to serve Him.
A comparison of the four living creatures with Ezekiel 1:4-14 reveals that these creatures are cherubim, who, from John’s description never cease from worshipping God, so magnificent and awesome is He, that they are completely captured by God presence, repeating their praises to Him. In Scripture the repetition of a word is used to emphasize the importance of that word, the repetition of “Holy”, by the angels uplifts the worship of the pure, righteous and good God. He is Yahweh Sabaoth “Lord of Hosts”– the one who has power over all things, the Great “I am,” everything exists because He exists.
While John described four cherubim, each with a different face, in Ezekiel the cherubim having four heads, each head with a different face. It seems that when John observed the cherubim, each one of the four different faces was pointed in his direction.
The Cherubim, according to Ezekiel, have four heads each head symbolises one of the four books of the Gospels – each Gospel focuses on a different aspect of Jesus:
- The first living creature was like a lion (Matthew – the Lion of Judah)
- The second living creature like an ox (Mark – the humble servant, the worker)
- The third living creature had a face like a man (Luke – the perfect man, the second Adam)
- The fourth living creature was like a flying eagle (John – the man from heaven, the Son of God).
There were three dominant groups of people during the gospel period – Jews, Greek and Romans. The Gospel of Matthew is written for the Jews, to reveal to them their Messiah, The Gospel of Mark was written to the arrogant proud Romans, to reveal the humble servant, and the Gospel of Luke was written for the Greeks, who followed the philosophy of Plato and sought to find the perfect man. John wrote his Gospel for all mankind, revealing the Son of God to all.
Ezekiel reveals that each of the cherubim were accompanied by wheels within wheels. While the four living creatures represent the Gospels – the New Covenant – the wheels within wheels represent the Old Covenant. The nation of Israel was required to keep a covenant relationship with God, which meant the celebration of the weekly Sabbaths, the yearly Feasts, the seven-year Shemitah and the fifty-year Jubilee. The Jews celebrated the wheels within wheels, which can also be translated as cycles within cycles. God continually led Israel on a circular path that reminded them of their relationship with the Lord, it was a path of righteousness – the path that David alludes to in Psalm 23. The Hebrew word for “path” that David used was agol, which is a circular path.
The twenty-four elders are similarly struck by the awesome presence of God, and as one they fall down before Him and worship Him, because “by (God’s) will they existed and were created” (Vs 11). They cast their crowns, symbols of their service at the feet of God, giving Him the credit for their own work and reward. The blood of Jesus was shed for their salvation (the appearance of sardius around the throne), and enabled the Holy Spirit to operate through them. The elders by casting down their golden crowns, celebrated the glories of God and His saints, (symbolised by the “appearance of jasper” around the throne).
There are five heavenly crowns mentioned in the New Testament that will be awarded to believers, and which could be worn by the 24 elders:
- The Imperishable Crown – Just as athletes have different talents, and thus each athlete will compete in events only suited to their ability, so too does each believer have a specific gift, which the Lord requires us to use in His service – each believer is part of a body that is their church. The imperishable crown is awarded to those that forsake temporal rewards of this world, and strive to serve God, thus earning a reward that will never perish (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
- The Crown of Rejoicing – This crown is the evangelists crown, given to those that continually look to lead people to faith in the Lord Jesus (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19).
- The Crown of Righteousness – This is a crown that many churches deny their members, as they do not preach on the Lord’s return. This crown is only given to those who “watch and pray,” who long for the Bridegroom to return for His Bride (2 Timothy 4:8).
- The Crown of Glory – This crown is given for dedicated and committed service to the Lord by leaders of a church, faithful shepherds of the flock of God (1 Peter 5:4).
- The Crown of Life – Also referred to as the martyr’s crown, as it will be given to those who suffer great persecution for their faith, which could result in their dying as one of the lord’s martyrs (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10).
When I was a teenager attending High School, we were required to sing hymns at the start of the school assembly each day. One of my regrets is that these powerful worship songs are no longer part of modern-day worship in evangelical churches. They have been replaced by modern tunes, many of which are no more than mantras. Don’t get me wrong, there are a good number of modern worship songs that glorify the Lord, it is just that hymns should still hold a special place in our worship – they are sermons put to music. An example is a hymn by Reginald Heber (1783–1826), that gave me my first understanding of the throne room of God:
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
who wert and art and evermore shalt be.
Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye made blind by sin thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love, and purity.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea;
holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty,