The Revelation: Chapter 4 (The worship in heaven)

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaWe turn next to chapter 4 —

(Rev. 4:1-11 ESV)  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, 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, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.  

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.  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. 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 honor 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 honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” 

The 24 elders

This is a picture of heaven. It’s not intended to be taken literally — but it teaches true lessons — and the first is that those represented by the 24 elders worship God continually.

Opinions on who the 24 “elders” are differ. At first glance, it seems likely to mean the 12 tribes (or their patriarchs) of Israel and the 12 apostles. But there is evidence that Jewish popular legends in the First Century spoke of 24 arch-angels around the throne of God. (There are not necessarily two different things.)

The twenty-four thrones are probably a symbolic number representing the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles (cf. 21:14). They could be actual humans who have gone to their rewards, or they could be angelic representatives of all the people of God. From the way they are described, we might conclude that they are humans who have already received what Jesus promised to the churches in the seven letters in chapters 2, 3:

• Jesus promised the church in Laodicea in 3:21 that the one who conquers will sit with him on his throne. John here sees those who have what Jesus promised.
• Jesus promised the church in Sardis in 3:5, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments,” and John now sees these twenty-four elders clothed in white garments.
• Jesus promised the church in Smyrna in 2:10, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life,” and now John sees these twentyfour elders wearing golden crowns.

On the other hand, when we see these “elders” in the rest of the book of Revelation, they seem to be classed with angels rather than with humans (cf. 4:4, 10; 5:5, 6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4). If they are humans, they are those who have gone before, who have received what Jesus promised to the overcomers. If they are angelic members of the heavenly court, they testify that Jesus can make good on the promises he has made.

The vision of these twenty-four elders in 4:4, seated on thrones around the throne of God, clothed in white garments, golden crowns on their heads, declares to us that God keeps his promises. Jesus can give what he said he would give. The members of the heavenly entourage possess what Jesus promised to those who conquer.

James M .Hamilton Jr., Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (Preaching the Word; ed. R. Kent Hughes; Accordance electronic ed. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2012), 144-145.

Heavenly worship

When we worship God (whether by living for Jesus, as in Rom 12:1, or in the assembly) we are worshiping along with the faithful dead, who continually praise God — not because God’s ego needs stroking but because this is what they want to do. It’s not about obeying a command but following a regenerated heart.

NT Wright is fond of saying that we become like what we worship. If we worship money, we begin to see the world in monetary terms. We think of other people as “assets” and think in terms of how we monetize our relationships. If we worship power, we see people as rungs on the ladder to the top. If we worship sex, we see people as sex objects, or people who can help us acquire sex objects. If we worship God, well, we throw our crowns at his feet, not just because he’s our King but also because God took off his crown to die on a cross for us. We throw our crowns because there’s no other way to become like God.

(Phil. 2:5-10 ESV)  5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

This is a thought you won’t find in Left Behind.

The four creatures

Regarding the four creatures — lion, ox, man, and eagle — Gorman suggests that they represent all the living beings created. It would make sense.

We can safely say, in view of their closeness to the throne, that these are the most important of created beings, even that they stand in some way for the whole of creation. But it is hazardous to say more.

Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 20; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 92.

Quite possibly, the four creatures represent all creatures on earth — humanity, wild animals (the lion), domestic animals (the ox), and the birds (the eagle). It’s easy to imagine the ancients seeing the world this way. It’s not scientific, but it would represent how we actually experience the world. We Westerners would want to add fish or marine creatures, but the Jews were not seafarers. They thought of the sea as “the abyss” — a realm of fear and danger.

Another explanation (not necessarily inconsistent with the first) is —

The tribes of Israel were divided into four groups in the wilderness, and each group was located at one of the four directions of the compass, with the sanctuary in the middle of the camp. According to Targ. Pal. Num. 2 each group had a standard with the colors of the stones representing their tribes on the priest’s breastplate and with an insignia on it: a lion, a stag (originally an ox), a man, and a serpent (which later tradition changed to an eagle). Later Jewish tradition affirmed that this configuration was intended to reflect the arrangement of the four guardian angels around the divine throne. If this material has a link with earlier tradition, it could suggest further that the living creatures in Rev. 4:8ff. represent humanity, especially the worship of the ideal community of God.

G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 331.

But I rather like the idea of God being worshiped by the entirety of creation. We modern folk don’t think that way, but the Bible does.

(Ps. 148:1-14 ESV) Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!
3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created.
6 And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps,
8 fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!
9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together, old men and children!
13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the LORD!

Sounds a lot like —

(Rom. 8:22-23 ESV)  22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 

The groaning of anticipation becomes a song of praise as the Kingdom becomes fully present and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Yes, it’s poetry. But it’s very important poetry — because it tells us that the earth won’t be thrown away like a candy wrapper. It’s not trash. Rather, it’s made to declare God’s glory.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to The Revelation: Chapter 4 (The worship in heaven)

  1. “This is a picture of heaven. It’s not intended to be taken literally”

    What scriptural evidence do you find that indicates this is not to be taken literally? I can’t find any, but I could have missed something. What did you find?

  2. Larry Cheek says:

    The items expressed in this vision are definitely objects which we have some clue as to their existence, but notice that nothing here seems to be describing anything which would resemble the likeness of a (spirit). God is a (Spirit) and we are described as (spirits). Our physical bodies were not made in a likeness of God’s body, if that was true God would be limited within space and matter just as we are. One clue which I see of a different dimension (one which exceeds our understanding) in the visions of Revelation is, there are souls visible, not bodies but souls. Has anyone seen a soul?
    (Rev 6:9 ESV) When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the (souls) of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. (No bodies here.)

    Rev 18:11-13 ESV And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, (12) cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, (13) cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.
    The slaves here are not bodies which were bought and sold they are (human souls). Everything in this list we are familiar with as an object that we can see or handle. But who can see or handle (souls).

    (Rev 20:4 ESV) Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (No bodies here, just souls.)

    The only place that we see (bodies) in The Revelation seems to be a communication about time on earth.
    (Rev 11:8 ESV) and their dead (bodies) will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.
    (Rev 11:9 ESV) For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead (bodies) and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb,

    Spirits and Souls are in this Revelation but human like bodies are not found. Objects that we are familiar with have been used to convey a message to humans who cannot comprehend the Spirit dimension in which God, Angels and Demons exist. Which is far advanced from our wildest imaginations. God has promised that we will like it there.

  3. laymond says:

    Jay said, When we worship God (whether by living for Jesus, as in Rom 12:1, or in the assembly) we are worshiping along with the faithful dead, who continually praise God — not because God’s ego needs stroking but because this is what they want to do. It’s not about obeying a command but following a regenerated heart.”

    Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.This is the first and great commandment.

    Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

    Mat 19:17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

  4. Jim H says:

    In response to Larry’s question, “Has any one seen a living soul.” 1 Cor 15:44, after the resurrection, Jesus was recognized on the road to Emmaus and his disciples, as well (Thomas) as the 500. Are they examples of “living souls” in resurrected spiritual bodies? If, we are able to recognize one another in heaven, why not bodies like the resurrected Jesus? Just something to consider.

  5. David says:

    Excellent point that perhaps even those who are in heaven and have won their crowns will be casting them before the throne of God. Yes, that’s what He did for us, here on earth. God does not force praise from us. He earns praise from us.

    One of the tragedies of legalism is that it turns that all around. In legalism, God commands praise, we comply and earn our crown. In that situation no one is due any praise. That was me fifteen years ago. After being a church going Christain for over thirty years, I didn’t really have any feelings of wanting to praise God. I have since seen the light

  6. Larry Cheek says:

    Jim H,
    Maybe you can help me some. I noticed your comment, “If, we are able to recognize one another in heaven, why not bodies like the resurrected Jesus?”
    I had not given much consideration to whether we will recognize each other in Heaven, I know that we sing many songs and communicate with each other about meeting and seeing our loved ones in Heaven. But, as I had remembered searching about (bodies) in Heaven, I did not remember many occurrences of recognizing anyone there, there were Souls there but no identities. Other than recognizing God and The Lamb (there could several visions which could represent The Lamb or Christ). I searched the complete NT (ESV) for the words (see) 260 matches, (seeing) 30 matches, partial matches of (know) 577 matches, all partial matches of (Heaven) 286 and then thought maybe (Abraham) would be someone who would be recognized as being in Heaven. But, the only scripture that I found which could come close to portraying that we might be able to recognize anyone in Heaven was this. But, it identifies not Heaven but The Kingdom of God, could be the same place? I did not even notice earlier that it is those who are cast out who would recognize individuals in The Kingdom, viewed from outside.
    Luk 13:28 ESV In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.
    What has lead you to believe that we will recognize individuals from our life on Earth?

  7. laymond says:

    Larry asked; “Has anyone seen a soul?” Larry both you and I see souls everyday, and whether we intend to or not we form an opinion, or judge whether that soul/spirit is God like/created in the image of God .that is a failing we humans have adopted, something we have been warned about.

    Gen 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

    nephesh or soul/spirit, is the core of humanity, the heart of man.
    4.the man himself, self, person or individual
    5.seat of the appetites
    6.seat of emotions and passions
    7.activity of mind

    In my opinion, and understanding when one dies, life returns to God who gave it, the body returns to dust, from which bodies came. the spirit/soul goes to wait on judgment. Even the spirit/soul of Jesus Christ waited until God said it is time to come home. the time Jesus waited in my opinion was miniscule compaired to the time others who have died has to wait.
    I doubt we will recognize people by sight, but I do believe we will know each other. I have never seen Jesus but I believe I will know him.

    The spirit of man was the thing that was created in God’s image, not the body of man. Male and female God created human kind, their bodies are different, but their spirts are the same. Images of God.

  8. laymond says:

    “who continually praise God — not because God’s ego needs stroking but because this is what they want to do.”

    Exo 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
    Exo 34:14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
    Deu 4:24 For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.
    Deu 6:15 (For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.
    Jos 24:19 And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.

    Am I wrong when I see the very first commandment as demanding worship of God. Not only that but didn’t Jesus call it the “Great Commandment”.?
    As hard as we try, we can’t change God into this meek old man in the past . He demands what he wants. his will remains foremost. even to the death of his begotten son. God does not love everyone, just those who love and obey him. The wrath of God will not be pretty.

  9. Larry Cheek says:

    Laymond,
    There is nothing I can think of that would differ in your interpretation of the body, soul and spirit of a man and mine.
    There is one more concept in my mind that has developed as researching this subject. If we were to have a grand reunion in heaven with those whom we remembered from earth, that would create a great detour from our main purpose for being there. Remember how much (time) in our concept was involved in the praises being performed by those who were already there. Would we devote any portion of (time) to our own selfish desires from the past. God is the center of all. We have a tenancy to believe that mankind is the center of God’s purpose. Which places God secondary to man.

  10. Mark says:

    Psalm 19:1 To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

    This sounds like creation also teaches.

  11. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Mark,

    Absolutely true. More to come on the Revelation and Creation Care theology.

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