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Revelation 4-5: The Vision of the Throne—The Lamb and the Sealed Book
Publish date: Sep 16, 2011
Summary: This article on Revelation 4 is an excerpt from the book Unveiling Daniel and Revelation by Roy Allan Anderson.
Now begins the real pageant of the Apocalypse. What has been presented hitherto has been but an introduction. The whole objective of these prophecies is to reveal the justice of God and to show how His character will be vindicated before the universe. Our comprehension of these themes will be greatly aided if we permit ourselves to think of John as being carried forward to the time when the judgment of God begins.
Chapter 4 opens with the invitation for him to "come up hither" that he might behold the things which "must be hereafter." In vision he enters the sanctuary of God, and from the throne room of the Eternal he witnesses the portrayal of the great judgment scenes, when the cases of all are decided.
These events in the moving redemption of drama fill him with awe. Paul says God "hath appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained." Acts 17:31. And again: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." 2 Corinthians 5:10.
A Door Opened in Heaven
The earthly sanctuary built by Moses contained two apartments. These were called the "holy place" and the "most holy place." No one entered the "most holy place" except the high priest, and then only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Throughout all their history the Hebrews have understood the Day of Atonement to prefigure the day of judgment when the cases of all will be decided. The earthly sanctuary was a type of the heavenly (see Hebrews 9), and in vision John saw "a door...opened in heaven;" not into heaven but in heaven. It was the opening of an inner door in the heavenly sanctuary. He was taken in vision to behold the solemn scenes of the judgment when the High Priest performs His closing work of ministry.
A voice spoke and said, "Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter." Revelation 4:1. The prophet responds, and the first thing he sees is a throne.
There is a striking similarity between John's description in Revelation 4 and Daniel's description in 7:9-14. Both prophets were looking at the same scene. Each pictures "the thrones" or "seats" set in order around the central throne, and both Daniel and John attempt to describe the One occupying that throne.
Daniel says His "garment was white as snow." John says He was "like a jasper," or more accurately, "like a diamond." Daniel says, "A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him." John says He was like "a sardine stone" or the sardius, a brilliant red stone. The dazzling white of the jasper or diamond could well represent His holiness, while the fiery red stream or the blood red of the sardius could symbolize His righteousness.
The throne itself was like "an emerald." Green, being the living color, well expresses the mercy of God, while the "rainbow about the throne" is a beautiful symbol of hope. When the rainbow first appeared, it was a sign of God's everlasting covenant of peace. Genesis 9. But there could be no rainbow without the shower; it is the mingling of the sunshine and the shower that produces it. So the rainbow-encircled throne is where God's mercy and His justice meet and mingle. At the throne of grace "mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Psalm 85:10. The throne John and Daniel described is not the "throne of glory" (Matthew 25:31 and Revelation 20:11). No, dear reader, it is "the throne of grace" where you and I can come for mercy and pardon from sin. Hebrews 4:16.
But the greatest comfort and the first guarantee of victory is the fact that God is on His throne. He has not abdicated in favor of any other power. No earthly dictatorship can overthrow the Occupant of that throne.
The word "seat" is the Greek word thronos, from which we get our word "throne." These seats were the seats of honor, or throne, on which the twenty-four elders were sitting. Daniel says the thrones were "cast down" or "placed." Daniel 7:9. The custom in those days, when an assize was to be held, was for one to throw down or place cushions on which the dignitaries would lean during the court session. These elders, like the priests of ancient Israel, were clothed in white raiment, a symbol of "the righteousness of saints." Revelation 19:8. Ministering as they do in the Melchizedek order, they are therefore crowned as king-priests.
But who are these elders? From whence did they come? They themselves declare they were redeemed from the earth. Chapter 5:9. They are, therefore, sinners saved by grace. A priest had to be chosen from among his brethren. Hebrews 2:17. These men, being priests, were the chosen representatives from every race and nation of the world. When Christ arose from the grave, "many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves." Matthew 27:52, 53. Then "when He ascended on high, He led a multitude of captives." Ephesians 4:8, margin.
It was in this sense that He became "the first-born among many brethren." Romans 8:29. When He was installed as our High Priest, He was anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows. They were His "brethren" who arose with Him from the grave. They were the antitypical wave-sheaf offering, as it were, and became the antitype of the ceremonial in the Mosaic ritual. Leviticus 23:15.
Christ is our First Fruits (1 Corinthians 15:20), and He arose on the very day of the first-fruit offering. Jesus died on the fourteenth day of Nisan, the first month, and He arose on the sixteenth day, exactly fulfilling the type.
Twenty-four priests appear with Christ in His priestly ministry. This, too, is a fulfillment of the type. In the temple service there were twenty-four courses of the Levitical priesthood. See 1 Chronicles 24:3-19; 2 Chronicles 8:14.
The "Seven Lamps of Fire"
These lamps are declared to be the "seven Spirits of God," seven being the figure of completeness or perfection. This is a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit searching constantly throughout the whole world for those whose hearts are perfect toward Him. 2 Chronicles 16:9; Proverbs 15:3.
The "Living Creatures" About the Throne, Revelation 4:4
The "four beasts," or "living creatures," as other translators render the Greek word zoon, seem to be more intimately connected with the throne than even the twenty-four elders. The symbolism of a lion, a calf, a man, and a flying eagle is particularly significant. Similar imagery is found also in the first chapter of Ezekiel.
These, doubtless, denote strength, perseverance, intelligence, and swiftness. Commentators for centuries have linked these symbols with the four aspects of our Saviour as emphasized particularly in the four Gospels. Matthew writes on the kingly side of our Lord, emphasizing the King and His kingdom. This is well symbolized by the lion, the majestic king of beasts.
Mark deals largely with the Saviour as a servant of man, the ox symbolizing service. Luke, the physician, reveals His human aspect as the Son of man, hence the face of a man. John emphasizes His diety—Christ the Eternal Word—who created all things. This phase of our Lord is symbolized by the flying eagle.
Though the account of the organization of Israel in the wilderness as given in Numbers 2 does not so state, non-Biblical records indicate that these symbols were used as follows: the section grouped around Judah were under the lion standard; those standing near Ephraim, under the ox; those around Reuben, under the standard of a man; and those around Dan, under the flying eagle.
The scene that is about to open is one of the great climaxes in the apocalyptic story. The tremendous sweep of events here introduced leaves one awestruck wit wonder as he tries to catch their true significance.
The Book With the Binding Seals
The One who occupies the throne has a book in His hand, sealed with seven seals. Whatever this book is, it concerns the redemption of men, for as soon as it is taken from the hand of the Occupant of the throne, a paean of praise breaks forth as the elders cry in rapturous exaltation, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain" "and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood." Yes, it has everything to do with our redemption. And that is why the study of this book is so important.
While redemption has its roots in the past, its full realization lies in the future. The price of our redemption was paid when our Lord shed His precious blood on Calvary's cross. But not until He comes the second time in power and glory is redemption complete.
This world, so long under the sway of the powers of evil, is to be repossessed and given back to the people of God. "Blessed are the meek," said Jesus, "for they shall inherit the earth." That inheritance is still future. Looking forward to that hour of victory, He told us to be ready and outlined many signs which locate the time of His appearing. "When these things begin to come to pass," He said, "then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." Luke 21:28.
The apostle Paul spoke about the inheritance as a future hope. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the earnest, or pledge, of that inheritance, which is "the redemption of the purchased possession." The inheritance is pledged, yet it has to be repossessed from its usurper and made ready for its eternal citizens. That cannot be accomplished until after the judgment.
Under the ancient laws and customs of the Hebrews it was impossible to alienate estates beyond a certain time. If one found it necessary through misfortune or dispose of his land, the new ownership continued only until the year of jubilee, when each property automatically came back to its original owner or his heirs. In fact, an owner or heir did not even have to wait until the jubilee, providing he could establish legal claim to the property and could pay the redemption price.
At the time of forfeiture of the property a legal document was executed in duplicate, specifying the terms, so that the proper authorities would have a basis for adjudicating a redemption before the year of jubilee.
"For the manner of writing the contract, he who was to by the ground wrote two instruments [documents]; the one to be sealed with his own signet, the other he showed unclosed to the witnesses, that thy might subscribe and bear witness of that which was written. This, the witnesses did subscribe UPON THE BACK of the enclosed instrument."—Weemse on the Judicial Law of Moses, chapter 30. Quoted by J. A. Seiss in The Apocalypse, vol. 1, p. 273.
The one who had possession of an alienated or forfeited property thus was always liable for the return of it, according to the terms of agreement. But the repossession or redemption could be negotiated only by a "goel," the nearest of kin. In Jeremiah 32 there is an account of a redemption of property involving the sealed and unsealed books of purchase, and the witnesses.
Now let us catch the significance of this heavenly scene. When Adam sinned he forfeited all the rights to this world. And the inheritance passed not only out of his hands but out of the hands of all his posterity. Satan claimed this world, and for all these thousands of years strangers and intruders have overrun and debased it. Yet all the while those title deeds have been awaiting the time when the Redeemer or the Goel would take that sealed book and repossess the lost inheritance.
Before the enemy and his seed can be evicted and the rightful heirs reinstated, there must be a thorough investigation of all the rights and claims. This calls for the opening of the books in heaven. These must be searched before pronouncement can be made. Before our Lord returns in power and glory to receive His church, every case will have been decided, for He brings His rewards with His, to give "every man according as his work shall be." Revelation 22:12.
Before He comes as King He terminates His work as Priest as He pronounces eternal sentence on the whole human race in these words: "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still." Verse 11.
In every judgment there are three phases: (1) the investigation of the evidence, (2) the decision and pronouncement of the sentence, (3) the execution of the sentence. In the great assize in heaven, these same three phases are evident. The execution of the sentence is not the whole judgment. Before that can be carried into effect there must be the pronouncement of the sentence. Before that there must be an examination or investigation of every case.
This takes place not because God needs the evidence, for He is God and knows all thins, but that the whole universe may know the justice of the sentence and God's name may be vindicated.
The apostle Paul says, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." 2 Corinthians 5:10. He furthermore declares that Christ shall judge the secrets of men. Romans 2:16. And again: God "hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained." Acts 17:31. And the appointment of that ordained Man is assured by the fact that "He hath raised Him from the dead." This Man, who can be none other than Christ Himself, declares, "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." "And hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man." John 5:22, 27.
These words of Jesus emphasize two of the phases of the judgment, namely, that which brings into review the record of every life, and second, that which follows when the sentence of judgment is carried into effect. Note these strong statements:
"Christ has been made our Judge. The Father is not the Judge. The angels are not. He who took humanity upon Himself, and in this world lived a perfect life, is to judge us. He only can be our Judge. Will you remember this, brethren? Will you remember it, ministers? Will you remember it, fathers and mothers? Christ took humanity that He might be our Judge."—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 185.
"He who has given the light, He who has followed the soul with tendered entreaty, seeking to win it from sin to holiness, is in one its advocate and judge...It is He who has encountered the deceiver, and who through all ages has been seeking to wrest the captives from his grasp, who will pass judgment upon every soul."—The Desire of Ages, page 210.
"Christ Himself will decide who are worthy to dwell with the family of heaven. He will judge every man according to his words and his works."—Christ's Object Lessons, page 74.
"The Ancient of Days is God the Father...It is He, the source of all being, and the fountain of all law, that is to preside in the judgment...Attended by heavenly angels, our great High Priest enters the holy of holies, and there appears in the presence of God, to engage in the last acts of His ministration in behalf of man,—to perform the work of investigative judgment."—The Great Controversy, pages 479, 480. Italics supplied.
Why is Christ our appointed Judge? We quote His own words: "Because He is the Son of man."
"Because He has tasted the very dregs of human affliction and temptation, and understands the frailties and sins of men; because in our behalf He has victoriously withstood the temptations of Satan, and will deal justly and tenderly with the souls that His own blood has been poured out to save,—because of this, the Son of man is appointed to execute the judgment."—The Desire of Ages, page 210.
Among ancient Israel's annual feasts two were particularly important, i.e., the Passover and the Day of Atonement. The first came in the spring; the second in the autumn. These represented vital phases in the work of Christ. Paul says, "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us." 1 Corinthians 5:7. He rose from the tomb to become our High Priest in heaven, where He ministers the virtues of His sacrifice, making effective by His Spirit in us what He did for us on the cross.
That ministry reached its climax in a work of judgment. This was prefigured by the services of the great Day of Atonement. Coming just at the time of harvest, it typified the great pre-advent judgment in heaven just before our Lord comes to reap the harvest of the earth. We are now living in the antitypical day of atonement, when our Lord climaxes His intercessory ministry in heaven.
With these thoughts a a background let us visualize the scene in heaven as it is outlined in the Revelation, chapters 4 and 5.
The Ancient of Days, seated upon the rainbow-encircled throne, is presiding over that mighty assembly. The majesty of that scene is beyond words. Close to the great throne are the four living ones, and around the, are the four and twenty elders, occupying seats or lesser thrones. In the hand of the Almighty is a book. It is written on the inside and also on "the back side," or the outside. A mighty angel steps forward and challenges the universe. "Who is worthy to open the book," he cries, "and to loose the seals thereof?"
In the light of what we have already noticed concerning lost inheritance, such an announcement has tremendous significance, for the destiny of this lost world seems to hang in the balance. All heaven is silent. Will no one reach forth and take the book? The suspense is awful. John's tender heart is moved to tears. he weeps, but not because he is impatient to see inside the book. His tears are not those of disappointed curiosity. This disciple and saintly soldier of the cross knows the significance of that sealed book. If no one is found worthy to open the book and to break its binding seals, then all the promises of the prophets, all the hopes of the suffering people of God, all the messages of apostles and evangelists have been in vain. If no goel appears, then the purchased possession must go by default. The sons of the lost race can never inherit the earth. The though is overwhelming.
Then one of the elders comes and speaks to the prophet. He says, "Weep not: behold the Lion and the tribe of Judah,...hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals." Drying his eyes, he looks, and lo! in the midst of the throne area is a Lamb, but not in unblemished beauty and innocence: it is as if in the veryact of being slain. The Lamb reaches forth and takes the book from the hand of Him that sits upon the throne. As He does, a thrill of joy sweeps through the whole universe, and the heavenly host bursts forth into praise. There stands the Goel. A Redeemer has been found; the redemption of the purchased possession is assured.
As He steps forth to list the title deeds of the alienated inheritance, the prophet notices some prominent features. He is a Lamb, but withal a Lion-Lamb. Thus the sacrificial virtue is prominent. But He has several horns. These denote His strength. His eyes emphasize intelligence and wisdom. Seven being the number of perfection, He is therefore the symbol of perfect strength and perfect wisdom. Twenty-eight times in this book He is called the Lamb. But the symbols in this scene link us with the other prophetic utterances. Habakkuk 3:4. He was wounded in His feet that He might atone for sins of walk; He was wounded in His hands that He might atone for sins of deed; He was wounded in His head that He might atone for sins of thought; and in His side, that He might atone for sins of holy affection.
His hands alone are worthy to break the binding seals of that book. The destiny of men and nations is in the nail-pierced hands of the Lamb that was slain. Moreover, every revelation we get of God comes to us through the Man of the cross. All we know of the future comes to us through Him who loves us and gave Himself for us.
The New Song Before the Throne, Revelation 5:9-13
As the Lamb takes the book, the living ones and the elders in adoration and praise raise the anthem, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." In chapter 4:8-11 a similar song was heard, but it was praise to Him who, as Creator of all things, is seated upon the throne. But in chapter 5 we hear that the same group of heavenly beings singing a "new song." It, too, is a song of praise, but it is addressed especially to the Lamb as He listed the book from the hands of the Almighty. They sense what this means. The centuries of sorrow are about to come to an end, for He who has paid the purchase price—the heavenly Goel—is now entering upon the final phase of His meditation for lost men; the judgment is about to begin.
"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain," "and hast redeemed is to God by Thy blood," is the anthem that bursts from redeemed lips. But something else arrests our attention—the four and twenty elders are seen with golden bowls full of incense "which are the prayers of the saints." Why this reference to prayers here? Could it be that the great prayer of all the saints of all ages is about to be answered? Since Adam fell, the cry of centuries has been, "Thy kingdom come." Persecutes prophets, suffering saints, and martyrs without number have prayed and longed for this day. Through all the long and tragic night of sin, when men and women sealed their testimony in their blood, a great chorus of prayer has come up before God. Not only prayer has been lost. All have been carefully treasured, as it were, in these golden bowls.
While the elders lead the song of praise, it does not stop there; its theme is caught by the innumerable company of angels. Then it sweeps out into the periphery of God's might creation. Far off in the very depths of space the prophet hears the same sound of praise. Wider and wider it spreads until it reaches every creature in God's mighty creation in heaven, in earth, and on and on through the limitless expanse of the universe, until it reaches the proportions of epic song. The whole universe is exclaiming in one rapturous song, "Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever."
"We shall reign on the earth," sing the elders in triumph. Verse 10. They are not on the earth now, nor will they always be in heaven. The earth is their home, and if faithful, we with them shall reign on the earth made new. This is prefigured in the marvelous setting of this great assembly. What majesty! What glory is there! Daniel, describing this, says, "His throne was like the fiery flame, and His wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him: thousands and thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment was set, and the book were opened." Daniel 7:9, 10.
But the prophet John, guided by the Spirit of God, describes the scene in greater detail. That old apostle in invited to join the company of angelic host. He takes his place beside the living ones and the elders, and from that place of vantage he begins to watch as each event moves forward in a mighty panorama. This great scene is without parallel in all the Scriptures. It is the opening of the judgment, culminating in the second advent.
As we close this first of the thrilling scenes of the Revelation, let us with the triumphant saints unite our voices in thanksgiving to God for the hope that it our, that throughout eternal ages it will be our privilege to sing of the Lamb and His sacrifice. Our constant song will be of Him who, having conquered death, has redeemed us to God by His blood. But if we would join in that eternal anthem of praise in the hereafter, we must catch the echo of it not, as we cry with the angels that redeemed men—"WORTHY IS THE LAMB THAT WAS SLAIN."
This article is an excerpt from the book Unveiling Daniel and Revelation by Roy Allan Anderson. Get your copy of Unveiling Daniel and Revelation from AdventistBookCenter.com.
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