John Taken to Heaven to See 24 Elders (Rev 4:1-6a)

October 31, 2016 — 2 Comments

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Summary of Past Studies

B. Revelation 4:1-6a

“1After this I looked, and behold! There was a door open in heaven, and the first noise which I heard was like a trumpet sound to me saying: ‘Come up here and I will show you what is necessary to happen after this. 2Immediately I was in the spirit and behold! A throne was standing in heaven and there was someone sitting on the throne. 3The one sitting on the throne was like jasper and sardius in appearance. An emerald-colored rainbow was around the throne. 4Around the throne I saw twenty-four thrones. On those twenty-four thrones were elders wearing white clothes and golden crowns on their heads. 5Coming from the throne was lightening, noise, and thunder. There were seven lamps of fire burning in front of the throne which is the seven-fold Spirit of God. 6aIn front of the throne was something like a sea of glass resembling crystal.” (Rev 4:1-6a)

John Taken to Heaven to See 24 Elders (Rev 4:1-6a)

“The Four and Twenty-Four Elders” by John Henry Stock (1853-1930)

C. General Remarks about Rev 4:1-6a

“’Heaven’ and ‘earth’, as I have often said, are not, in biblical theology, separated by a great gulf, as they are in much popular imagination. ‘Heaven’, God’s sphere of reality, is right here, close beside us, intersecting with our ordinary reality. It is not so much like a door opening high up in the sky, far away. It is more like a door opening right in front of us where before we could only see this room, this field, this street. Suddenly, there is an opening leading into a different world – and an invitation to ‘come up’ and see what’s going on.” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 42-43)

“The view that the book of Revelation beginning with 4:1 is future, from the standpoint of the twenty-first century, is a broad conclusion growing out of the lack of correspondence of these prophecies to anything that has been fulfilled.” (Walvoord, Revelation, 97)

II. THE TRIP TO HEAVEN (4:1)

“After this I looked, and behold! There was a door open in heaven, and the first noise which I heard was like a trumpet sound to me saying: ‘Come up here and I will show you what is necessary to happen after this.’” (Rev 4:1)

A. Importance of “After this”

The formal title of the “after this” phrase is a pronoun used as a “constructio ad sensum” with “conceptual antecedent.” This use refers to a phrase or a clause. This use can refer to previous events when with mετα. Examples of this are below with my own emphasis added:

  • Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days.” (John 5:1, NLT)
  • Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened.” (John 21:1, NLT)
  • “All this took about 450 years. ‘After that, God gave them judges to rule until the time of Samuel the prophet.’” (Acts 13:20, NLT)
  • “They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.” (1 Peter 1:11, NLT)

Most commentators see “μετα ταυτα, after this” as a phrase that introduces a new vision (Rev 7:9; 15:5; 18:1; 19:1). This same phrase is used throughout the rest of the book to introduce a new new section and to emphasize the progression of the narrative (Osborne, Revelation, 223; Walvoord, Revelation, 98; Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 333).

B. An Open Door in Heaven

This is not the first time a “door is open in heaven” in apocalyptic literature. See 3 Macc 6:18; 1 Enoch 14:10-11; 15:14; 104:2; T. Lev 5:1; also see Gen 28:17; Pss 78:23. However, this is different than the “third heaven” Paul saw in 2 Cor 12:2-4.

C. Trumpet Blast

This “trumpet” is a wind instrument especially used for communication. It is used in Rev 1:10; 8:2, 6, 13; 9:14; Matt 24:31; 1 Cor 14:8; 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16; Heb 12:9. This likely the voice of Christ as in 1:10.

D. Rapture?

According to N. T. Wright Rev 4:1-6 “is not, as some people have supposed, [have] anything to do with God’s people being snatched away to heaven to avoid awful events that are about to take place on earth. It is about a prophet being taken into God’s thrones room so that he can see ‘behind the scenes’ and understand both what is going to take place and how it all fits together and makes sense” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 43). Interestingly, even pre-rapture adherents do not see this as a reference to the Rapture. In the rapture people will be taken to heaven with their entire body, yet when John saw this vision he was still physically on the island of Patmos.

The rapture might have already occurred before Rev 4:1. The word church was very common in Rev 2-3, yet will not be mentioned again until specifically in 22:16 and possibly alluded to in Rev 19:7.

E. Necessary to Have After This

The final clause of this verse foreshadows the events that will take place after Rev 4-5. The “δει, necessary” shows that explains that what John sees in his vision in Rev 4-5 is not the only thing that will happen. There will be further events that will happen after the heavenly vision John sees and records in Rev 4-5. The “after this” at the end of the verse is different than the phrase at the beginning of the verse because “it places the fulfillment of matters about to be prophesied subsequent to the conditions described in chapters 2-3, and does not pertain to the sequence in which John received his visions” (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 337).

III. THE ONE SITTING ON THE THRONE IN HEAVEN (4:2-3)

A. A Throne in Heaven (4:2)

“Immediately I was in the spirit and behold! A throne was standing in heaven and there was someone sitting on the throne.” (Rev 4:2)

1. Manner of Apocalyptic Visions

The vision John saw in Rev 1 was slightly different. From what I can understand, John was on the island of Patmos and the Son of Man appeared to him while John was on the island. In this vision in Rev 4 John is taken up to heaven in the Spirit in a type of “prophetic trance.” In this vision “all of the prophet’s senses were operative; his ears heard, his eyes saw, and his emotions were as real as though his body was literally in heaven instead of remaining on Patmos (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 338).

2. “Spirit” or “spirit”?

In my translation I have chosen to translate πνευμα as “spirit” because I do not believe this is the Holy Spirit here. Some translation say it is the Holy Spirit and translate it as “Spirit” (ESV, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NET, NASB95, NCV, HCSB, LEB, GNB, ASV, RSV, YLT) while others leave it as lowercase as “spirit” (NRSV, AV, D-R, KJV 1900)

3. Behold!

Throughout the book of Revelation we see the particle, “ἰδου, behold” used to draw the reader’s attention to what is happening. Other examples:

  • Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him— even those who pierced him. And all the nations of the world will mourn for him. Yes! Amen!” (Revelation 1:7, NLT)
  • Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20, NLT)
  • “But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation 5:5, NLT)
  • “And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” (Rev 6:2, ESV)

Other examples are in Rev 1:18; 2:10, 22; 3:8, 9; 4:1; 5:5; 6:5, 8; 7:9; 9:12; 11:14; 12:3; 14:1, 14; 16:15; 19:11; 21:3, 5; 22:7, 12.

The Old Testament is perhaps better known for its use of “behold” or “look” when it translates the Hebrew word, הִנֵּה (the Greek translations of the Old Testament—the LXX—translates this Hebrew word into ἰδου).

  • “So Ruth went and she gleaned in the field behind the other harvesters. By mere chance Ruth ended up in the field belonging to Boaz who was from Elimelech’s clan. At that time Boaz arrived from Bethlehem.” (Ruth 2:3-4a)
  • “Now, is Boaz, the one whom servants you have been with, is he not our relative? Look, he will be winnowing the barley at the threshing floor tonight.” (Ruth 3:2)
  • “Now Board went up to the gate and he sat there. And look! The Redeemer whom Boaz had spoken about was passing by. Boaz said, ‘Hey man, sit here.’ And he sat there.” (Ruth 4:1)

4. Throne of God

The throne of God (Rev 4:3, 9, 10; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 20:11; 21:5) is contrasted against the throne of Satan in the book of Revelation. The throne of God is also seen in other passages throughout the Bible:

  • “It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!’ Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.” (Isa 6:1–4, 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.

From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the LORD looked like to me. When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking to me.” (Ezek 1:26–28, NLT)

B. A Description of the One Sitting on the Throne (4:3)

“The one sitting on the throne was like jasper and sardius in appearance. An emerald-colored rainbow was around the throne.” (Rev 4:3)

According to Thomas, the “details of Scripture are always significant. There must be a reason for the use of these symbols instead of others” (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 341). Here’s a brief list possible meanings of these symbols.

1. Jasper

This ἴασπις, ιδος, ἡ, “jasper” stone was a precious stone that was often reddish but sometimes green, yellow, brown, blue, and white. Also used in Rev 21:11, 18, 19. This stone is associated with the glory of God (Osborne, Revelation, 226-227) .

2. Sardius

This σάρδιον, ου, τό, “sardius” or “carnelian” stone was a reddish and precious stone. Also used in Rev 21:20.

3. Emerald

This σμαράγδινος, η, ον, “emerald” is made of emerald and emerald in color. While another form of this verb occurs in Rev 21:19, this word is its only occurance in the entire Bible.

4. Rainbow

This ἶρις, ιδος, ἡ, “rainbow” or “rainbow” or “halo” is an arc or circule of light that may or may not be colored. It is also used in Rev 10:1. This rainbow is associated with the light surrounding God in Ezek 1:28 as well as the Noaic Covenant of Gen 9:13-17.

5. Interpretation of These Jewels

a) Old Testament References

These stones are listed when describing the king of Tyre (Ezek 28:13). They are also part of the twelve jewels of the breastplate of the high priest in which each jewel represents a tribe of Israel (Exod 28:17-21).

b) Taken Together

Some say that these jewels do not have individual significance, but in stead are supposed to be taken and interpreted together. In this view, the key to interpretation is the remembering that the high priest of Israel wore a breastplate that included twelve stones in it. Each stone in the breastplate represented one tribe of Israel. The first stone was a “jasper” stone and it represented the firstborn son of Jacob: Reuben. The “Sardius” stone was the last stone and it represented Jacob’s last born son: Benjamin. In this manner, these two stones represent all the people in between—the entire people of God—who have been redeemed (Walvoord, Revelation, 100-101).

c) Taken Separate

Some say that each jewel has a unique and specific reference to God. As such, the jewels should be studied and interpreted separately.

  • Jasper is God’s majesty, holiness, and purity.
  • Sardius or Carnelian as wrath, judgment, or redemptive purpose.
  • Emerald as the grace and mercy of God.

IV. TWENTY-FOUR ELDERS ON TWENTY-FOUR THRONES AROUND THE THRONE (4:4)

“Around the throne I saw twenty-four thrones. On those twenty-four thrones were elders wearing white clothes and golden crowns on their heads.” (Rev 4:4)

A. The Order in the Circle

The order of beings described in the visions of Rev 4-5 seems to indicate that God the Father is at the center (4:3). The Lamb stands between the throne and the twenty-four elders (Rev 4:5; 5:6). Then, just outside of the twenty-four elders are the four living beings. This vision allows us to possibly see what John saw: God the Father with Jesus the Lamb next to him, and then two concentric circles around the throne consisting of the twenty-four elders and four living beings (Osborne, Revelation, 228).

B. Views on the Twenty-Four Elders

1. Human Beings

Broad sweeping support for this view is based on the fact that angels are not called elders, angels do wear crowns, do not sit on thrones, and nor do they wear white clothing in Revelation is always worn by the saints (3:4-5, 18; 6:11; 7:9, 13; 19:14).

  • Twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament (Exod 4:29; 12:21; 19:7; 24:1; cf 11:2) and twelve apostles in the New Testament (Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30; Acts 14:23; 20:17; 21:18; Rev 21:12-14)
  • Twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 44)
  • Great saints of the Old Testament (which are diffentiated than NT saints)
  • Whole community built on the twenty-four orders of the priesthood (1 Chron 24:4-5; Luke 1:8-20)
  • Church as the true Israel
  • A heavenly court of “victorious” believers who judge (Rev 3:21)

2. Angelical Figures

In support of this view, ther are no other human beings in Rev 4. Additionally, Isa 24:23 angels might be called “elders.” In Pss 89:7 it says that God sits in the “council of holy ones” which could equal angels. In Col 1:16 it is possible that angels are referred to as “thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities” in the unseen world. Angels wear white in Matt 28:3 and John 20:12.

Osborne takes the position that the key is the function of the word, πρεσβυτεροι, elders” within the book of Revelation. He states that elders’ primary role are worship (5:15; 11:16; 19:4), praise (4:11; 5:9-10; 11:17-18; 14:3; 19:4), and intermediaries or interpreters (5:5; 7:13-17). In his view these are “heavenly beings” that might be angels, but they are ruling class of heavenly beings in some form (Osborne, Revelation, 229’ Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 348).

V. THE SEVEN-FOLD SPIRIT OF GOD (4:5)

“Coming from the throne was lightening, noise, and thunder. There were seven lamps of fire burning in front of the throne which is the seven-fold Spirit of God.” (Rev 4:5)

A. Lightening, Noise, and Thunder

Lightening, noise, and thunder are each related to God’s displeasure and judgment throughout the book of Revelation. This is seen when these noises show up in seven seal (Rev 8:5), the seventh trumpet (11:19), and the seventh bowl (16:18).

In the Old Testament, lightening, noise, and thunder were evidences of the glory of God (Exod 9:23, 28; 1 Sam 7:10; 12:17-18), of his omnipotence (Pss 29:3), and judgement against a sinful world (Ezek 1:4, 13, 24).

B. Holy Spirit

While some believe the “seven-fold Spirit” or more commonly the “seven spirits” are angels, the most likely conclusion is that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit. Support for the seven Spirits referring to the Holy Spirit follows:

  • Seven qualities are listed in the Greek version of the Old Testament in Isa 11:2.
  • Zech 4:2, 10 refers to “seven eyes” that roam throughout the earth.
  • In Zech 4:6 the Lord defines action by his Spirit.
  • Other evidence in the book of Revelation mentions the seven Spirits (3:1, 4:5, 5:6).
  • It is a means for expressing the Spirit’s perfection and completion.
  • On the day of Pentecost the coming of the Holy Spirit was made visible by the presence of fire (Acts 2:3).

Support for the Holy Spirit being the seven-fold Spirit is from Mulholland, Revelation (2011), 421; Osborne, Revelation; Thomas, Revelation 1-7; Walvoord, Revelation, 103.

VI. THE SEA OF GLASS (4:6A)

“In front of the throne was something like a sea of glass resembling crystal” (Rev 4:6a)

The most likely connection to the “sea of glass” is the “expanse” or firmament that separated the waters in Gen 1:7 (Pss 104:3; 148:4; 1 Enoch 14.9; 2 Enoch 3.3; T. Levi 2). Additionally, it might allude to the bronze sea in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:23-26; 2 Chron 4:6). Furthermore, in Ezek 1:22 Ezekiel sees a layer of something that looks like crystal above living beings which are moving around in heaven. With that said, this sea of glass that appears in the color of crystal emphasizes God’s “awesome vastness, his transcendence and his holiness that separate him from his creation” (Osborne, Revelation, 231).

VIII. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

A. Our God Is Three in One – Triune

It is hard to get away from the fact that we worship a triune God. Our God consists of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In my study of the Bible and theology this is still one of the hardest concepts to grasp. I do not doubt it; I jus tstruggle to understand it.

B. Emphasis of 12 of Old Testament and 12 of the New Testament

The unity of the Bible never ceases to amaze me. John’s vision in heaven consists of the twelve patriarch sons and the twelve apostles who established the first century church. The nation of Israel and its twelve tribes were foundational for Old Testament prophesies about Jesus the Messiah. The twelve apostles were foundational to establish the first century church. At this point in time—around AD 95—all of the New Testament apostles likely were dead. John was probably the only one still alive.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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  • John Q

    What happened to Revelation Chapter 3?

    • Oh man! You caught me! I have some material on Rev 3, but I did not feel it was thorough enough to post online. It was a little lite and I didn’t feel I had done a good enough job explaining those three churches. I hope to return to it at a later time. Sorry.