A correct understanding of Revelation 4 and 5 are crucial for understanding the whole first half of the Book of Revelation, but they are among the most misunderstood sections of the book. Many commentators teach that this section simply gives a view of the majesty of God on His throne in heaven so that we can know what heaven is like. Others maintain that these chapters describe the inauguration of Christ into His priestly or kingly ministry after He ascended to heaven, or refer to the rapture of the church just before the time of trouble.
As in all of Revelation, if we want to understand what it means we need a correct understanding of the symbols used and the links to Old Testament scriptures. The first thing John saw was “a door standing open in heaven” (Revelation 4:1). This exact phrase was also used in Revelation 3:8 (and nowhere else in the Bible), and there it refers to the beginning of the final Day of Atonement, which was symbolized by the solemn day of judgment that concluded the yearly ceremonies in the ancient Hebrew sanctuary system (see section 3:8 The Open Door in The Book).
John, “in the Spirit,” was taken to heaven and saw an awe-inspiring drama taking place inside the heavenly sanctuary. He saw “a throne set in heaven, and One [God] sat on the throne.” He also saw 24 elders seated on 24 thrones (Revelation 4:3,4). In fact, there are more references to thrones in chapters 4 and 5 than in the rest of Revelation together. Daniel chapter 7 presents a very similar scene, and in fact there are some impressive scriptural links between Revelation 4, 5 and Daniel 7. Daniel saw that “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated…the court was seated and the books were opened” (Daniel 7:9,10). Here is another link indicating that this section has to do with the judgment.
John saw four living creatures surrounding the throne, with the faces of a lion, a calf, a man and an eagle. These same creatures also appear in Ezekiel 1-11, where they participated in the judgment of the people of Judah just before they were taken captive to Babylon.
There are several other links between the language and symbols of Revelation 4 and 5 and the theme of judgment (see chapter 4). The point is that this section of Revelation obviously describes a judgment; the question is, what kind of judgment, and when does it take place? The answer to this is exciting and highly relevant to us today.
God’s judgment, like every legal proceeding, has two basic phases. There is the investigative phase where the evidence is examined, and this is followed by the executive phase where the sentence is pronounced and carried out. Most people have assumed that God would not need to do any investigation since He already knows everything. But is the judgment carried out for God’s sake? Many of the judgment passages of scripture emphasize the angels, “living creatures,” and human representatives that are involved. Is it possible that the judgment is for the sake of the intelligent inhabitants of the heavenly realms who will be the eternal “neighbors” of anyone who is granted eternal life?
Revelation chapter 5 shows that the evidence that is presented in the investigative phase of the judgment is found in “a book…sealed with seven seals” (Revelation 5:1). Satan definitely does not want this book to be opened, and he challenges that no one “is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals” (Revelation 5:2). But there is someone who is worthy—Jesus, the Lamb of God, was slain in order to prove that we who believe should be granted eternal life, even though we have broken the law of God.
This article just touches on some of the exciting concepts that are unpacked in chapters four and five of the book “A Revelation of Jesus.” You can read chapters 4 and 5 with these links, or click on the link “The Book” at the top of this page to start at the beginning. And if you would like a hard copy click on the link “Order the Book” at the top of this page.