After these things 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 after these things." 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; 6 and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; (NASU)
The opening of chapter four is a major division in the Book of Revelation. The first chapter was the first division and introduced us to Jesus, who He is and what He has done to save us. The second division included chapters two and three, which showed us how Christian churches were fairing in the world from Jesus’ viewpoint. I didn’t capitalize church here because these are organizations, not necessarily congregations of believers. It included a lot of teaching about how we can live as individuals as well as the way the Church really should be. We got a lot of practical stuff out of these two divisions. Now, we enter into the part of the book that few people study because there are many symbols and varied views of how to interpret them. However, by neglecting the remainder of the book we also run the risk of reducing our understanding of Jesus as well as the spiritual forces of evil. We need to know these things because our Father has given them to us to help us in our walk with Jesus, as well as to tell us what will happen in the end times. They haven’t been written simply to give bored theologians something to do.
From this point in Revelation, it is important to start asking a lot of questions about everything that is going on. Does the command to John to come up here apply symbolically to the church? Does it signify the rapture, or is it just an invitation to him so that God can give him His viewpoint? Most times the simplest answer is the right one. The same thing applies to some of the many symbols that appear. The simplest answer can be found when the symbol is explained in other parts of Scripture.
What Must Take Place after These Things
“After this” are two key words that signal that a significant change in the book has taken place. They can be understood in various ways.
Up to this time, Jesus was seen walking among the churches. The first three chapters represent the age of the church. The words “after this” signify that something new or different has arrived. Jesus says that what John is about to see is what must take place after the church age, which has just been discussed.
Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. (Rev 1:19 NKJV)
To answer part of the question about “after this", we need to go back and see what Jesus had in mind. John has already written what he has seen, the description of the Glorified Savior, so that part of his instruction has been completed. The things which are would refer to the description of the churches and His message to them. So “after this” is referring to some time after the messages are delivered.
We have three options of understanding this:
1. The simplest understanding is to say that these things are to happen right after the dictation of the letters. To come to this conclusion at this time in our study would be to relegate most of the rest of the book to our history or something that has already happened in the spiritual realm since most of the events that will be shown haven’t yet been seen on earth.
2. We could say that these things will take place after the rapture, or after the promises and warnings that Jesus gave the churches have been fulfilled. If we try to get too specific about when they will occur, we are in danger of limiting our understanding in the rest of the book because we will have to interpret them in light of what we have already decided.
3. The next thing to think about would be to consider it to be in John’s future at some undisclosed time. This is safer to assume since it places no limitations. If, as we read and study, we can see some things that shed light on the time we can go back and add that detail without the problem of having to fit it into our understanding of this verse.
If you asked the average person in America, he would probably talk about standing around on clouds and playing harps. Everyone there would have wings and look like angels. Get ready, because the visions of heaven have some of these elements but also burst the myths that most people believe.
It is important to see that Jesus invited John to see this vision. This is not something that John has willed or sought after. It is the Sovereign Lord who has decided to give him a vision. When John does go up it is in the Spirit. It is not bodily. Anyone who has had a true vision of heaven could only have it based on God’s provision. The first thing that John sees is a throne with someone sitting on it.
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. (Isa 6:1 KJV)
We will come back to this verse several times because of the appearance of the Lord and His throne and the creatures that are there with Him. Isaiah says he saw the Lord high and exalted. Just what do you image when you think of God being exalted? The dictionary defines exalt as: 1. To raise on high: lift up; elevate. 2. To raise in rank, character, honor, etc. 3. To glorify or praise; pay honor to. 4. To fill with delight, pride, etc. 5 To increase the force or intensity of, as colors. If we take each meaning and think about God’s appearance, we can see how our Lord is elevated. He is on a throne that is physically above us so that we may see Him clearly and without distraction. He has the highest rank that is possible in all of the physical or spiritual realms. There is none greater than our Lord. His character is the purest that can be. He is honored above all creation because He has made all things. We are to give Him praise and honor when we exalt Him. We are to be filled with delight and pride that He is our God when we see Him. There is no way to increase the force or intensity of our God because He is all powerful, but when we see Him exalted, we may begin to understand to a greater degree, His power, majesty and glory. As we look at the description in Revelation, this is the view that we need to have. Yes, He is our Father and our spirit cries Abba, but in light of the end times that are being revealed, His power, majesty and justice will strike fear into the heart of the unbelievers.
Your eyes will see the king in his beauty; they will behold a land that stretches afar. Your mind will muse on the terror: "Where is he who counted, where is he who weighed the tribute? Where is he who counted the towers?" You will see no more the insolent people, the people of an obscure speech which you cannot comprehend, stammering in a tongue which you cannot understand. (Isa 33:17-19 RSV)
Isaiah gives us a hint of what might go through our minds when we come face to face with the Lord. We will see His beauty and maybe, for a split instant, we will wonder about all the evil people that had brought terror to the earth as the Assyrians did when they destroyed and plundered Jerusalem. But our attention will turn back to the beauty of the Lord and they will be utterly forgotten. We need to be so absorbed in His beauty so that evil does not bother us or distract us from our mission now. If we have a vision of our Sovereign Lord as we see Him in Revelation, this can occur.
Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. You rule with a scepter of justice. (Ps 45:6 NLT)
The Lord has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. (Ps 103:19 NLT)
This is what the Lord says: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that? Could you build me such a resting place? (Isa 66:1NLT)
His throne is a symbol of His everlasting nature. From it He dispenses justice. This is very important to remember every day, not just as we study the book of Revelation. He will always be around and He does dispense justice. He has established His throne in heaven, however we need to allow Him to be on the throne of our lives so that He is the center of all we think, do and become. God is even bigger than a throne, for all of heaven is His throne. Our Lord fills all of everything. Nothing escapes His notice.
The appearance of God on the throne is cloaked in terms that are hard to explain. Many versions of the Bible translate some of the words differently. Jasper seems to stay the same but carnelian is also called sardine. Bible dictionaries don’t help a lot; they only explain that they don’t know precisely what John was talking about when he tried to explain what he saw.
Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament, shining like crystal, spread out above their heads. (Ezek 1:22 RSV)
You can continue to read all of Ezekiel’s vision with references to gems, fire, and rainbows. Ezekiel saw something that he had trouble explaining as well. The problem is that both John and Ezekiel were witnessing something that was totally unknown to either of them. This was something that was so marvelous that they tried to explain it in terms of jewels and other things of great value or beauty. From these visions, it becomes evident that our God, the one who cares about us as individuals as well as nations and even the universe, is far beyond our capabilities to explain His appearance. It is only possible from these verses to inspire within us a sense of awe at His presence and who He is.
It is interesting that we can accept the physical impossibility to describe God’s appearance, but we become frustrated when we try to explain His methods or His attributes. Perhaps we should learn to accept some of the mysteries of God without completely needing to understand them as well. As an example, there are numerous references to God’s election in the Scripture as well as many references in which we see God giving us choices. How can both be true? They are true, yet many people spend endless hours trying to explain away one or the other. Others try to explain how both can be true but end up like John and Ezekiel, using terms and theories that give us a glimpse of the infinite mind of God, but are woefully inadequate.
The rainbow that appears in the cloud, even though it is described in Revelation as looking like an emerald, is symbolic of God’s promises. He used the rainbow in Gen 9:13-16 as a specific promise not to destroy the earth with a flood again. When we see the rainbow around Gods throne, we can be assured that it is always in His presence. This reveals that it is His nature never to forget His promises. If this one promise was so important that He would always have a rainbow around Him, what of His other promises in the Word? He has just given seven promises to the churches. All of these involve eternal life.
The twenty-four elders are generally believed to represent all believers. This is mainly due to the description of their clothes. They are all dressed in white, which is promised in Rev 3:5 for believers and they have crowns, which are also promised to us. It could also be said that the number twenty-four stands for the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. Rev 21:12-14 describes the wall around the New Jerusalem with twelve gates. Each gate has a name of the one of the tribes of Israel, while there are twelve foundations, each with a name of one of the apostles. This would then represent those who came in faith from the Old Testament and those who came in faith from the New Testament.
And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come." And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, … (Rev 4:8-10 NASB)
One thing is certain, these elders only appear in the book of Revelation, and they are constantly worshiping the Lord. In Rev 4:10 we see them falling before the throne every time the creatures give glory and honor to God. In verse 8, it says that the creatures never stop saying how holy God is. This is a never-ending circle of worship and praise. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we, too, could always be in a state of worship before God regardless of what we are doing? We should be trying to do just that.
They also acknowledge the sovereignty of God by laying down their crowns before Him. Even though we have studied in Rev 3:26 that He will give us authority to rule with Him, we will still be under Him. Rev 5:8, 14, 7:11, 11:16, 19:4 are all verses where they again fall at the feet of God. It is an inspiration to think about the fact that elders, those we respect and admire, have absolutely no second thoughts about falling down before God. In shedding their crowns, they are removing all pride, holding nothing back from Him. Indeed, they do represent not only all believers, but even more importantly what we should be like in our worship.
Lightning and Thunder
As I looked, I saw a great storm coming from the north, driving before it a huge cloud that flashed with lightning and shone with brilliant light. There was fire inside the cloud, and in the middle of the fire glowed something like gleaming amber. From the center of the cloud came four living beings that looked human. (Ezek 1:4-5 NLT)
Above this surface was something that looked like a throne made of blue lapis lazuli. And on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. (Ezek 1:26-27 NLT)
A great brightness shone around him, and burning coals blazed forth. The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot arrows and scattered his enemies; his lightning flashed, and they were confused. Then at the command of the Lord, at the blast of his breath, the bottom of the sea could be seen, and the foundations of the earth were laid bare. (2 Sam 22:13-16 NLT)
My heart pounds as I think of this. It trembles within me. Listen carefully to the thunder of God's voice as it rolls from his mouth. It rolls across the heavens, and his lightning flashes in every direction. Then comes the roaring of the thunder— the tremendous voice of his majesty. He does not restrain it when he speaks. God's voice is glorious in the thunder. We can't even imagine the greatness of his power. (Job 37:1-5 NLT)
Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, "I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again." When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him. (John 12:28b-29 NLT)
Lightning, thunder, smoke, clouds, and the four living creatures are some of the things that appear to show that the Lord is near. Never do we see a clearly defined figure of God. We see a figure like that of a man. In Ex 19:16-19, 20:18 God manifests His presence in lightning and thunder. The people were so overcome by these manifestations that they trembled and stayed at a distance. As believers we have the opportunity to come into His presence (Ps 100:1).
Lightning and thunder convey images of His judgment in these verses. That's one of the reasons the Israelites were afraid. Since Jesus has taken the judgment of our sins upon Himself, we need not fear His judgment (Heb 4:16, Jude 24).
Thunder also represents the voice of God as Elihu tells of His might and wonder in Job 37. Elihu is the only one of Job's friends who isn't rebuked by the Lord. When he finishes his discourse, God Himself speaks to Job. I gather from this, that Elihu knew the Lord very well. I think that Elihu's heart pounded, not because he was afraid, but because he was thrilled to hear God's voice.
When God actually speaks some know exactly what He has said as Jesus did. Others who do not know Him can only hear thunder. Perhaps it is those who are a bit closer who think that an angel is speaking.
The clouds that surround the Lord can also be seen as His provision to protect us from His wrath. If He were to appear unhidden, we would die. If He appeared clearly in all His glory, the brilliance of His radiance would consume us.
Think of the lightening as energy that radiates from God to uphold all things. The amount of energy that is in a bolt of lightning is immeasurable with our instruments because the instrument would be burned up. Whenever lightning strikes, we say that it is an act of God. How true it is, for only He can control it. The fact that lightening is so immeasurable and that it is so far from our control demonstrates the power and glory of our Lord.
The radiance and light that surround Him always symbolizes His holiness and purity. Things are refined by fire and light. Sunlight shining on a steam of water can kill germs and purify it. He gives us enough of this light to cleans us but not so much to kill us.
In Rev 1:4 we dealt with the seven spirits of God so that won’t be addressed again.
There are some who would say that these lamps are also the lamps that appear in Rev 1:12 and19, which are the seven churches addressed in Revelation chapters two and three. These scholars believe the church has been raptured before the beginning of chapter four since these lamps are now standing before the throne in heaven. I like that idea; however this is not the plain and simple teaching of Rev 4:5. In chapter 1 the Word plainly says that the lamp stands on earth are the churches and this verse very plainly says that the lamps in heaven are the spirits of God. To say anything else is to make the scripture fit what you want.
Sea Of Glass
The sea is figurative of many things in the Bible but most often relates to people and nations.
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6 ESV)
Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.” (Dan 7:2-3 ESV)
A person who doubts is like a wave of the sea. A person who doubts is unsure of God’s will and therefore cannot align himself with it. But in heaven, we see a sea of glass with nary a wave in sight, expressing an absolute calmness. Before the Lord there will be no doubts and no unrest. Unrest is caused by sin, which occurs when we want to do our thing instead of what the Lord wants. When we fight against God there is only one result, personal turmoil. Not until we rest in His forgiveness and perfect holiness can we have a heart that is like a sea of glass.
In Daniel’s verses, the sea is churned up by the winds and four beasts come up out of it. In this case, the sea represents the people of the earth who are restless and never content. The beasts are nations or leaders of nations who come from, or are a product of, the nations.
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. (Dan 7:13 NIV)
The difference is that our rest comes with Jesus because He brings holiness and righteousness where there was none before. He doesn’t come from the sinful sea of mankind but He comes from above, sinless and pure.
In Rev 12:17-13:4 we again see a beast that comes from the sea. There, the message is clear that Satan will give his power to this ruler in a way that he has never done before. It can be seen from this and Mat 4:8,9 that Satan has been given authority and power over earthly kingdoms as he directs and guides this beast and makes him a mighty ruler. But, since God is sovereign, even Satan’s plans fit into the scheme of things and these prophecies will come true.
The main point is that Satan can pull up from a sinful, dissatisfied world people who will follow and be used by him. But Jesus can clean up and make a sinful person satisfied in Him. In Him we have rest.
I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (Phil 4:12 NASU)
Contrast this with Paul who learned to be content with and in all things. When we find discontentment in things, whether it is a job, church, marriage, or any other task or situation, we open ourselves up to Satan’s leading. I’m not talking about seeing a problem that has to be resolved, but an attitude of griping. When I was in the Navy, people always griped no matter what they were doing; they could always find something wrong that was someone else’s fault.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting place shall be glorious. It shall come to pass in that day That the Lord shall set His hand again the second time To recover the remnant of His people who are left, From Assyria and Egypt, From Pathros and Cush, From Elam and Shinar, From Hamath and the islands of the sea. NKJV (Isa 11:9 NKJV)
The knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth like a sea. Politics and philosophies claim solutions to man’s problems. They claim that if everyone would adhere to the conservative, liberal, ideological, or religious values they expound, we would all be at rest. But it will only be when everyone has a saving knowledge of the Lord will we have rest. Even our Christian differences are overcome when we gain this all-encompassing knowledge. That rest will only take place before the throne of God.
This rest will be a place of rest when all the nations come to Jesus. As the banner of Jesus is raised, all nations will come to Him. It will happen as He reaches out His hand and bring people to Himself from the whole world.
The sea is clear as crystal and may very well refer to the holiness of those who stand before God. Crystal was any clear, colorless, hard material like quartz. Crystal is transparent and represents our need to be transparent before God and with each other. When sin separates us from God, it is us who cannot see Him and we try to hide our sin from Him. In reality, we are always transparent because He can see through us. We only become transparent when we stop trying to fool ourselves.
1 John 2:12-14 talks of knowing the Jesus and knowing the Father. The Greek word for knowing expresses the idea of being aware of, feeling, perceiving, being sure, and understanding. When we are transparent with people, we know them this way. We can see when they are hurting or happy without them having to say a word because we know them. This is the way we should know the Father. Without Him saying a word, we should be able to determine His will. This is only possible when His Holy Spirit lives in us. We don’t need Him to say a word because we have already hidden His Word in our hearts and this is the way we come to know Him.
He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. (Eph 5:27 NLT)
The crystal is colorless to indicate that it is without flaw. The sea of glass could then represent all believers whether dead, alive in the state that we should be now, or the way we will be forever in His presence.
May we exalt our Lord in every aspect of our lives, knowing Him better and remembering His promises so that we may be at peace in His presence. That is a witness that will shake the world.
 Webster Comprehensive Dictionary International Edition (Chicago: J. G. Ferguson Publishing Company, 1984)