REVELATION 4, JUDGMENT OR INAUGURATION?
Chapters four and five set the stage and are crucial to the understanding of the first half of the Book of Revelation. There has been ongoing debate as to whether these chapters 1) are simply a view of heaven, 2) constitute the coronation/inauguration of Jesus into his priestly/kingly ministry after the resurrection and ascension, or 3) introduce the pre-advent investigative judgment (the position taken by this book).
The coronation/inauguration interpretation has received increasing support in recent years. This view will be addressed in three parts: 1) the evidence that chapters 4-6 are the pre-advent “investigative” judgment, 2) answers to the criticisms of this position, and 3) objections to the coronation theory.
VIDENCE FOR PRE-ADVENT JUDGMENT
First of all, the themes and language of chapters four and five borrow heavily from the two most prominent “Investigative Judgment” passages of the Old Testament: Daniel 7 and Ezekiel 1-10.
|DANIEL 7||REVELATION 4,5|
|“I watched till thrones were put in place…the Ancient of Days was seated…His throne was a fiery flame" (Daniel 7:9).||“Behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne…Around the throne were twenty-four thrones” (Revelation 4:2,4).|
|“The court was seated and the books were opened” (Daniel 7:10).||“Who is worthy to open the book?…The root of David has prevailed to open the book” (Revelation5:2,5).|
|“A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him..” (Daniel 7:10).||“I heard the voice of many angels…and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Revelation 5:11).|
|“One like the Son of Man…He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom (Daniel 7:13,14).||“In the midst of the throne…stood a Lamb as though it had been slain…Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne (Revelation 5:6,7).|
|“The greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High” (Daniel 7:27).||“You…have made us kings and priest to our God and we shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9,10).|
Daniel 7 clearly refers to the pre-advent judgment when "the court was seated and the books were opened." Parallel language and themes suggest that Revelation 4 and 5 are dealing with the same subject.
The first 10 chapters of the book of Ezekiel also have many parallel elements with Revelation 4 and 5:
|EZEKIEL 1-10||REVELATION 4,5|
|“Four living creatures…each had the face of a man…the face of a lion…the face of an ox…the face of an eagle” (Ezekiel 1:5-10).||“Around the throne were four living creatures…the first…was like a lion, the second…like a calf, the third...had a face like a man, and the fourth…was like a flying eagle” (Revelation 4:7).|
|“The likeness of the firmament above the heads of the living creatures was like the color of an awesome crystal stretched out over their heads” (Ezekiel 1:22).||“Before the throne was a sea of glass, like crystal” (Revelation 4:6).|
|“Above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne…on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it” (Ezekiel 1:26).||“Behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” (Revelation 4:2).|
|“Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it” (Ezekiel 1:28).||“There was a rainbow around the throne” (Revelation 4:3).|
This section in Ezekiel depicts the investigative judgment of God’s people during the time they were being sent into Babylonian exile. “Do you see what they are doing?…You will see greater abominations…Go in, and see the wicked abominations which they are doing there…Have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols? For they say, the Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land...etc...Have you seen this? Therefore I also will act in fury” (Ezekiel 8:6-18). The striking parallels in themes and language would suggest that Revelation 4,5 is also dealing with investigative judgment. The investigation in Ezekiel is followed by the sealing of the faithful on their foreheads, which leaves the unmarked to be slain (Ezekiel 9). This is what happens in Revelation 7 with the sealing of the 144,000 “on their foreheads” followed by the destructive judgments of the trumpets on “those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.”
There are also close links with another investigative judgment chapter, Revelation 14, which contrasts those who worship the beast (chapter 13) with the 144,000 who “are without fault before the throne of God” (Revelation 14:5). The process that culminates in their final victory begins on earth with the announcement, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come” (Revelation 14:7). The heavenly scene of Revelation 14 mirrors Revelation 4 and 5. The Lamb, who is the central figure in Revelation 5 (vs. 6-12), also opens the scene in 14:1. The throne is in both scenes (4:2-6, 14:3,5), the four living creatures and the 24 elders are present (4:4,7, 14:3), there are harpers playing harps and singers singing songs (5:9, 14:3). Even the themes are the same: giving glory to him who created all things (4:11, 14:7) and the redemption of people from “every nation, tribe, tongue and people” (5:9, 14:6). Since the "hour of His judgment" is a central theme of chapter 14, it would also be a central theme of chapters 4 and 5.
A prominent symbol of Revelation 4 and 5 is the throne. Thrones are very strongly linked to judgment in both the Old and the New Testaments—Daniel 7 has already been mentioned. Others include Psalms 122:3-5 and Proverbs 20:8. “The tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord to the Testimony of Israel…for thrones are set there for judgment.” “A king who sits on the throne of judgment scatters all evil with his eyes” See also 2 Samuel 22:28, Proverbs 15:3, 1 Kings 14:22, 15:11.
Jesus said of His followers, “But you are those who have continued with Me in my trials, and I bestow upon you a kingdom…that you may... sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:28-30). Jesus will sit on a throne to judge—“When the son of Man comes in His glory…Then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another…then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom…Then he will say to those on the left hand, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:31-46).
The fact that the throne of God is the most prominent feature of this section points to a "Most Holy Place ministry" rather than a "daily" ministry. Some expositors have pointed out that the seven lamps (Revelation 4:5) are in the Holy Place, and have theorized that the throne that John saw is analogous to the table of showbread which was also in the Holy Place, with the two stacks of bread symbolizing the Father and the Son on their throne. But there are a number of problems with this view. First of all, there is no Bible evidence that the table of showbread symbolized God on His throne so the theory is a matter of speculation. Moreover, all the other articles in the sanctuary were symbols of a phase of God's salvific activity, not of God Himself. For that matter, the use of bread or anything else to represent God is a violation of the second commandment and would seem especially inappropriate in light of the Roman Catholic mass which is the heart of the false doctrinal system that "takes away the daily sacrifice" (Daniel 8:10, 11:31), in which the priest "creates his Creator" by "transubstantiating" bread into God. Finally, it seems rather odd that God the Father would be on the Table of Showbread throne in the Holy Place for 1,813 years while the Ark and the Mercy Seat were sitting empty in the Most Holy Place waiting to be occupied. More satisfactory is the view that the "door open in heaven" (Revelation 4:1) was the door between the Holy and the Most Holy place and John could see both rooms as the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement began.
The phrase in Revelation 4:1, “after these things” (Greek meta tauta) indicates that the scenes in chapters 4 and on follow chronologically after the seven churches. It is true that this phrase is used in other parts of Revelation to indicate a movement from one theme to another, but in Revelation 4:1 the phrase is used twice, first to change the scene and then to indicate the chronology. The progression of the church through history followed by the investigative and executive judgment is in harmony with this. But to go from the period of the church at the end of the first century back sixty plus years to Christ’s coronation is not in chronological order.
Another prominent symbol in Revelation 4 and 5 are eyes: the Lamb has seven eyes (Revelation 5:6), and the “four living creatures” who are “around the throne” are “full of eyes in front and in back…around and within” (Revelation 4:6,8). Eyes symbolize the Lord’s ability to distinguish in judgment those who are righteous from those who are not: “The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. The Lord tests the righteous” (Psalms 11:4-7). “A king who sits on the throne of judgment scatters all evil with his eyes” (Proverbs 20:8, see also 2 Samuel 22:28, Proverbs 15:3, 1 Kings 14:22, 15:11).
The fact that this scene has imagery from both the Holy Place (the seven lamps of fire) and the Most Holy Place (the throne) suggests the Day of Atonement, the only day in the ceremonial year in which the priest ministered in both rooms.
The chiastic structure links chapters 4 and 5 with chapters 19 and 20, which are the key executive judgment chapters. This suggests that chapters 4 and 5 also have a judgment theme.
ANSWERS TO OBJECTIONS
Much has been made of the fact that the Greek words for judgment do not appear in chapters 4 and 5. This is a little strange since those who object have no problem considering the seven trumpets to be judgments, even though the words for judgment do not appear there either. The fact is that the words for judgment almost never appear in the first half of the Book of Revelation. The thirteen instances of the use of the Greek words for judge and judgment are all either in the second half of the linguistic chiasm (from 14 on) or refer to events which will take place at that time (6:10 and 11:18). The words are used in connection with the meting out of punishments (executive judgment), not the investigation phase of judgment. The two instances (14:7 and 20:4) which relate to an investigative phase are followed within their context by the executive phase (14:17-20, 20:11-15).
Obviously the phrase “investigative judgment” does not appear in the Bible, but the concept is everywhere, as has been pointed out in chapter 5. The typology is from the Day of Atonement, and in the passages in Leviticus 16 and 23, where the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement are described, the words “judge” or “judgment” never appear. So why should we be surprised that they do not appear in Revelation 4 and 5?
The objection is made that the proving of worthiness and acclamations of praise found in the drama of taking the sealed scroll in Revelation 5 are not found and do not fit in Old Testament judgment passages including the Day of Atonement. However, Revelation 4 and 5 includes a concept that never appeared in the Old Testament type: a challenge that there was no one worthy of carrying out the Day of Atonement ceremony. In the type, the priest offered sacrifices first for his own sin, but in the antitype this was clearly irrelevant because the antitypical priest (Christ) was Himself the sinless offering. Thus there is a new aspect and we could expect a new and unique response.
The fact is that we would not expect a challenge to Christ’s right to rule after His sinless life, perfect death and victory over the grave. The usurper of the throne was clearly defeated. However, we would certainly expect a challenge that sinful humanity could be redeemed, and this is the point of the investigative judgment. The challenge is answered, not by the appearance of the Lion of the tribe of Judah or the Root of David (both symbols of sovereign rule), but by the Lamb as if it were slain (the symbol of redemption). We would certainly expect celebration of the fact that the whole purpose of Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection, that is, the redemption of humanity, was finally going to be accomplished.
Chapters 4 and 5 do not give a comprehensive view of the investigative judgment, they simply set the scene for the judgment (which is carried out in chapter 6). These chapters correspond to Daniel 7: 9,10 where “the judgment was set” and where we also see the “thousand thousands” who no doubt are also celebrating the giving of “dominion and glory and a kingdom” to “One like the Son of Man.”
The objection is made that in Revelation 4 and 5 only one book is mentioned, whereas in Daniel 7 it is “books”, and that in Revelation 4 and 5 the book is not yet opened. But notice that in Revelation 20 the real focus is on one book, the Book of Life, and the other books are peripheral—“The dead were judged...by the things which were written in the books...and anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12,15). This was the thought that made John weep much—that neither he nor any of his beloved brethren could be redeemed unless the Book of Life could be opened. The other books (for example, the book of the law) have essential information, but they do not have the information about the individuals’ responses to God that will be the evidence that will allow them to saved. Chapters 4 and 5 establish the right to open the Book of Life. It is in chapter 6 that it is actually opened (presumably with the other necessary books).
The objection has been raised that if Revelation 4,5 describes the opening of the investigative judgment in AD 1844, then everything that follows Revelation 5, including the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the ministry of the two witnesses of Revelation 11, would occur after the year 1844. That is the position that this book has taken (with the exception of the obvious flashback portion in chapters 12 and 13). There are serious problems with trying to apply the seals and trumpets to the progression of history, so much so that modern commentators are generally unwilling to assign specific dates or events.
It is also claimed that the literary arrangement of Revelation shows that the structural composition of the first half of the book focuses on the historical Christian era, rather than on the eschatological period. I see the clearest literary arrangement to be the chiastic structure. When the chiasm is correctly laid out (as in chapter 1 and appendix 1), it shows that there are eight sections (plus prologue and epilogue) which divide between chapters 13 and 14. This means that there are two climaxes rather than just one, with chapter 13 being the climax of the first half and chapter 14 the climax of the second half. This division does not support the two halves of the book as being history and future, but rather that the book is divided into the two sides of the great controversy, Satan’s challenge and God’s victory. Within this context chapters 4 and 5 depict Satan’s challenge to the opening of the Book of Life, an attempt to prevent the investigative judgment from taking place. It is from the Book of Life that Christ presents the evidence that God’s children have believed and can be saved, and in chapter 5 Satan (the "strong angel" v. 2) attempts to stifle that evidence.
PROBLEMS WITH THE ENTHRONEMENT INTERPRETATION
Probably the most serious problem with considering chapters 4 and 5 to be the coronation and enthronement of Christ is that the Lamb is never pictured on the throne. It has been suggested that the scroll “in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne” (Revelation 5:1) means that the scroll is sitting on an extended couch-like throne on the right side, so taking it from the hand must mean sitting on the throne. This is unconvincing, especially in light of the fact that in verse 13 and later in chapter 7, after the enthronement has supposedly taken place, the praise is to “Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever.” “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 5:13, 7:9, 10). This would be a time when the worshipers should mention that both the Father and the Lamb are sitting on the throne if the point of the chapters was the enthronement. There is no question that Jesus did sit upon the throne upon His ascension, but this does not seem to be a chapter that emphasizes His enthronement.
There is no question that Jesus did sit upon the throne upon His ascension, but this does not seem to be a chapter that emphasizes His enthronement.
According to the coronation scenario the book is sitting on the couch/throne to the right of “the one who sat on the throne” and the Lamb comes and sits there, taking the book. But the Greek of verse 7 kai ilthen kai eilhfen ek tis dexias tou uses the preposition “ek”, which signifies motion away, so it would either show motion taking the book away from the throne (which would not seem to support sitting on the throne), or, more likely, as all English and modern Greek translators have rendered it, motion taking the book away from the right hand. This is in contrast to the use of the preposition en (in, on) when Paul clearly speaks of Jesus sitting on the throne, ekathisen en dexia toy thronou (seated at the right hand of the throne, Hebrews 8:1). In other passages, when Jesus and the other New Testament writers referred to His future sitting on the throne at the right of God they omitted the definite article tis (kathou ek dexion mou, Mark 12:36, Acts 2:34, Heb. 1:13), showing that the reference was to the right in general (as in direction) rather than to something specific on the right (as in the right hand). In other words, the original Greek does not seem to support the depiction of the Lamb sitting down on the right side of the throne, but rather of taking something (the book) from the right hand.
Since the text doesn’t say that the Lamb sits on the throne, and most translators have rendered the scroll as being in the right hand rather than on the right side, it seems presumptuous to formulate a doctrine of enthronement when there is only an assumed sitting on the throne.
There is essentially no parallel language between chapters four and five and such coronation texts as 2 Kings 11, 2 Samuel 2 and 5, 1 Kings 1, 2 Kings 23 or the prototype in Deuteronomy 17. This calls into serious question the enthronement interpretation, since Revelation is built upon themes identified by parallel language and allusions from the Old Testament. With such clear parallels to the investigative judgment texts as have been shown above and none for the coronation passages, the enthronement interpretation is difficult to sustain.
The idea that the sealed book of Revelation 5 could be analogous to the Deuteronomy 17 copy of the law that hte king was supposed to "write for himself" (v. 18) upon his inauguration is interesting. That book was to be copied by the king himself so that he could “read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord His God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes.” It is a tremendous leap to the idea that this book represents some kind of “eternal covenant, the revelation of God’s salvific acts on behalf of humanity, a record of the cosmic controversy, symbolic of the sum and substance of God’s plan and purpose for the human race and the entire universe” as has been maintained. There seems to be a lack of scriptural evidence. There are only the few sketchy references to a book ever being given to a king, the main one being at the coronation of Joash (2 Kings 11:12), and in none of the texts is there any exposition of its significance beyond instruction in the law. To confidently assert a linkage between the Deuteronomy 17 book of the law and the sealed book of Revelation 5 seems presumptuous.
Even more difficult to grasp is the connection between the sealed visions of Isaiah 29, the law which is sealed “among my disciples” in Isaiah 8 and the book of the law in Deuteronomy 17. The idea that God sealed his law so that it was unavailable or incomprehensible to his people because of their sins is not scriptural. The law is always wide open to saint and sinner alike, even when God “hides His face” (Isaiah 8:17). Certainly there is no consensus among theologians concerning the meaning of the phrase “bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.” Therefore it would not be wise to make this verse an essential link in the interpretation of Revelation 5.
The concept of worthiness is the focus of the heavenly praise in chapter 5. But the acclamations do not focus on the kingly titles the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and the “root of David”, but rather “worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” “You are worthy…for You were slain, and have redeemed.” The focus is not on Christ’s worthiness to be the ruler of history, as would be symbolized by His royal inauguration, but on His ability through His sacrifice to rescue those who would otherwise be judged and condemned to death. The pre-advent judgment seems to be the most appropriate context for this praise of the slain Lamb’s worthiness because the only reason anyone will be pronounced worthy of eternal life in the judgment is Christ's sacrifice for their sins.
To sum up the objections to the coronation theory, we should not that 1) there are few if any scriptural links to the passage in Deuteronomy 17 or to other coronation texts, 2) According to Deuteronomy 17, the king of Israel was to write a copy of the law; it was not presented to him, 3) The application and key importance of this text is questionable since there are no clear examples of it being carried out in the coronations of the kings of Israel, 4) It is highly questionable that the book of the law could in any way be considered a sealed book, 5) It is a tremendous, unsubstantiated leap from a copy of the law of Moses which the king was to use to help him rule properly to “the scroll of God’s eternal covenant—the revelation of His salvific acts on behalf of humanity…a record of the cosmic controversy, symbolic of the sum and substance of God’s plan and purpose for the human race and the entire universe”
In conclusion, more evidence and clearer links need to be shown in order to sustain the interpretation of Revelation 4,5 as the Day-of-Pentecost coronation of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, especially in the face of the obvious links to the pre-advent judgment.
 For example, Ranko Stefanovic, Revelation of Jesus Christ, (Berrien Springs, MI Andrews University Press, 2002).
 Daniel 7:9,10 implies that God's mobile throne (with its fiery wheels) moves from the Holy to the Most Holy Place rather than God moving from one throne to another.
 Stefanovic, p. 201
 Stefanovic, p. 196
 Stefanovic, p. 169-172