Today we continue in the book of Revelation. We left off with the addresses to the seven churches. Now, the second vision cycle begins with John seeing a door open in heaven and Christ calling Him to come up to see what must take place “after this” (4:1). John then says he was “in the Spirit” (v. 2). He understands that he wasn’t seeing a physical reality, but a spiritual vision. The description of the One on the throne pulls from Old Testament imagery (especially from Ezekiel’s visions) that refer to God in His glory (v. 3). The 24 elders around the throne represent the elect of all time (v. 4). Twelve represent the Old Testament saints (from the 12 tribes of Israel) and twelve the New Testament saints (from the 12 Apostles). The white garments (3:5, 18), crowns (2:10, 3:11) and thrones (3:21) are a callback to the promises Christ gave His church.
The lightning, rumblings (or “sounds” or “noises”), and thunder match Old Testament passages that describe the presence of God (v. 5 – see Ex 19:16). The seven torches represent the Holy Spirit. The sea of glass follows Jewish belief that there was a physical barrier between heaven and earth (v. 6 – see v. 1, Ezek 1:22). The four living creatures (v. 7) are also a callback to Ezekiel, and they represent Christ: King (lion), servant (ox), human (man), and God (eagle). That Christ gives glory to the Father is consistent with His ministry on earth (v. 8). And because He bore witness to the Father, the elect worship God (vv. 9-11).
John then sees in the hand of God a scroll with seven seals (5:1). This represents all of history between Christ’s two comings. That there is nobody worthy to open the seals and reveal what’s in the scroll (vv. 2-4) except for Jesus Christ (v. 5) refers to His unique role in the history of redemption. Only He is able, as the the fulfillment of prophecy and God’s promises, to put God’s redemption into motion in space and time. Among the elders (the elect) John sees Christ as the Lamb slain (v. 6). The seven horns are His complete authority. The seven eyes are His complete omniscience. The seven spirits are the Holy Spirit Whom Christ sent to dwell in all the elect. He receives from God the scroll (v. 7) and is worshiped for it (vv. 8-10), because opening it requires Him to be obedient unto death. His blood has to be spilled. John then sees the whole host of heaven – including innumerable angels – worship the Lamb (vv. 11-12). He also hears every other created being – dead and alive – worship the Lamb (v. 13). Finally, he sees the elect of all time worship the Lamb (v. 14).
The Lamb then opens the first seal (6:1). As these seals allow the history between His comings to advance (the scroll to unroll – for history to move toward His Second Coming!), each one represents an aspect of life in this time between His comings. The first reality is the going forth of the Gospel (v. 2). The pure and holy Gospel goes forth in the time between Christ’s comings, conquering this world for God. The second seal is war, both physical and spiritual, an ever present reality until the Prince of Peace comes and restores all things (vv. 3-4). The third seal represents famine (vv. 5-6). Throughout history – and today in the world and even our own home towns – there are those who go hungry from lack of food. The fourth seal is death, the continuing result of sin (vv. 7-8).
When the Lamb opens the fifth seal, John sees the dead in Christ under the altar (v. 9). That they are slain for the Word of God does not necessarily speak of martyrdom, though the martyrs are included here. We have all died with Christ (see Rom 6:1-11). This altar John sees is the Altar of Incense. It was the altar closest to the presence of God, and the only sacrifice performed on this altar was the one on the Day of Atonement, which pointed forward to Christ’s atoning death. The dead in Christ pray to God for His judgment to come (v. 10). Why? Because with the judgment they would receive their resurrection bodies and be with Christ physically. They are given white robes (see 4:4) and told to wait until all of the elect have come to faith (v. 11).
When the sixth seal is opened, we see symbols of judgment used throughout the book of Revelation, and throughout the Bible (v. 12). The earthquake (v. 12), the heavenly bodies ceasing to give light (v. 13), and mountains being destroyed (v. 14) are common symbols in the Old Testament prophets of the Day of the Lord. That this is the final judgment beginning is shown in the reaction of the world (the reprobate) hiding from the Judge on the great day of the wrath of God (vv. 15-17 – see 1:7).
Before the seventh seal is opened, John sees four angels (7:1). Angels are used throughout the Bible (especially in the book of Revelation) as God’s agents of judgment and salvation. Here, they are agents of judgment. They are awaiting the command to destroy. Another angel appears (v. 2) and tells those angels not to begin the destruction of the world until the servants of God are sealed (v. 3). This is another reference to the salvation of all the elect. We must all first be sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption before the end comes.
It is important to note that what is described next is what John hears (v. 4). He hears the “number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” Remember, the book of Revelation (and other places in the New Testament) refer to the church as the true or spiritual Israel. That is what is happening here. First, note the 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel (vv. 5-8). Except here, there is no tribe of Dan. Why? Because this is referring to the spiritual remnant. When physical Israel returned from captivity in Babylon, there were no descendants of the tribe of Dan (see 1 Chr 4-7). The tribes listed here represent the spiritual remnant of God’s people. What’s more, John hears about these 144,000 (a symbolic number for the elect of all time: 12 x 12 x 1,000), and then what does he see? An innumerable amount of people from every nation, tribe, people, and language (v. 9). John hears and sees the same thing: the elect of all time. And they worship God and the Lamb (v. 10).
In addition, one of the elders asks John who these people are (v. 13). Then he tells him: they are the ones coming out of the great tribulation (life in the world as believers) (v. 14). These are those who have been given the white robes, which were made white in the blood of Jesus. And because their sins are atoned for by the blood, they are forever in God’s presence (v. 15), free from judgment (v. 16) and have the Lamb as their Shepherd (v. 17), Who will wipe away every tear when He returns (see 21:4).
Now that the number of the elect has been symbolically completed, the seventh seal is opened (8:1). There is silence in heaven because Christ returns to earth (HIs Second Coming) with the angels of heaven and all the elect. After a precursor to the next vision cycle (v. 2), John sees an angel come to the Altar of Incense with a censer (vv. 3-4). The prayers of the saints are those from 6:10. Here, their prayers are answered when the final judgment occurs (v. 5). The thunder, rumblings, lightning, and earthquake will accompany multiple visions of the final judgment.