The letters to the seven churches ends with a picture of Jesus standing at a door and continually knocking; saying if you hear him knocking and open the door Jesus will enter for intimate fellowship with the believer. Then chapter four begins with a vision of a door standing open and a voice calling to the apostle to come up to heaven and Jesus will show him what will take place “after this”.
In Rev. 1:19 John is told to write down what he sees, what is now and what will take place later. Chapter four begins the account of what happens next; John uses the phrase “after this” four times in Revelation (4:1, 7:9, 15:5 and 18:1) which seems to indicate that John received the vision in units of material. As we continue in Revelation it is as if we are crossing through that open door to get a glimpse of heavenly realities.
Jesus calls John up into heaven; we are instantly reminded of God calling Moses up on Mount Sinai to receive the Law, the description of “flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder” a remembrance God’s demonstration of his wonder and power in the desert.
Some interpreters see the rapture of the church in John’s call to “come up here” combined with the phrase “what will take place after this”. This pre-tribulation view interprets all that follows, the terrible judgments poured out on the earth are not for the church to experience because the church will have been removed by that time. However, a simple reading of Rev. 4:1 would not reveal this as the rapture of the church unless you are specifically looking for phrases that could fit that preconceived interpretation. A plain interpretation is that John was called up into the throne room of God in a spirit filled vision.
John describes what he sees as a throne room with someone seated on the throne; he describes it as brilliant unapproachable light reflecting colors of the rainbow. The colors of the throne room are reminiscent of the High Priest’s breastplate: Jasper is a white stone the stone of Ruben the first tribe of Israel, Carnelian is a blood red stone of Benjamin the twelfth tribe and Emerald is the stone of the tribe of Judah – Jesus’ tribe.
Surrounding the Throne of God are 24 thrones and seated on those thrones are 24 elders. These 24 elders represent a complete number of believers in heaven worshiping and serving God. Many understand them to represent the 12 tribes of Israel of the Old Testament and the 12 Apostles of the New Testament. The elders are dressed in white and have gold crowns on their heads; they are the crowns received by those who have remained faithful and have overcome.
Before God’s throne are seven lamps blazing and what John describes as a sea of glass clear as crystal. In the center surrounding the throne are four living creatures, covered in eyes, with six wings; the first looked like a lion, the second like an ox, the third like a man and the fourth like a flying eagle. The creatures never rest day or night, the continually say “Holy, holy, holy is the lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”
In orchestrated worship every time the creatures praise God the twenty-four elders fall down to worship the LORD laying their crowns at the feet of the Living God. I see many connections to our previous chapters when Jesus is encouraging the churches to persevere through their trials and hold on to the truth, rejecting false teachings and the culture that entices them away from Jesus. Their reward for overcoming is: to eat from the tree of life, to not be hurt by the second death, to be given a new name and a white stone, the authority to rule over the nations, to be dressed in white, with a crown as a reward and to be acknowledged before the Father by Jesus. John now sees into the throne room of God to witness the heavenly worship already happening, the celebration of those who overcome and most importantly the worship of Christ the center of it all. While the church struggles to overcome – heaven celebrates because the work is finished, The Lamb has Overcome!