The basic message of this book is that even though Christians may be called upon to suffer terrible persecution in this life, they must remember that they will win in the end because Jesus, described as the Lamb that was slain, defeated evil on the cross and has prepared a place for his faithful people to be with him forever.
The way this message is conveyed is through pictures. All these pictures are from this world, reminding us that they are not to be taken literally. The reader has to look for the meaning behind the pictures.
Always remember, the reality which the word pictures represent will be far, far, greater than anything that can be imagined; like the very first scratchy black and white moving pictures of over a century ago have morphed into a big, smart, ultra-high-definition TV, able to tune in live to anything, anywhere in the world.
All that said; let’s look at the great vision of heaven which John described in Chapters 4 and 5 of the Revelation.
Revelation 4:1-6 [Read]
John sees an open door into heaven. Before him is someone, not described, on a throne. This represents God ruling over all things.
Surrounding the throne are 24 other thrones with 24 elders sitting on them. They represent all of God’s people gathered in the presence of God. They are decked-out in white, with crowns of gold on their head; these represent purity and honour.
From the throne comes flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, representing God’s awesome power and holiness. Before the throne is what looks like a sea of glass, clear as crystal, representing the tranquility and safety of that place.
Revelation 4:6-7 [Read]
Then there are the four living creatures, representing the whole heavenly realm, who know all that can be known about the one who sits upon the throne.
Revelation 4:8-11 [Read]
They never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the 24 elders fall down before him seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever saying;
‘Worthy are you our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power for you created all things and by your will they existed and where created.’
Here are the essential elements of heaven in worldly pictorial form. We don’t know what it will actually look like, but we know enough to be sure that it will be wonderful beyond description and much too marvelous for words.
All his people, purified from sin, will be in his presence. It will be a place of awe and wonder, and it will be beautiful and secure like a tranquil sea.
Notice also that the focus in this vision is on God as creator. In a sense it takes us back to Genesis.
Revelation 1:1-25 [Read]
The theme of God as creator permeates the whole Scripture.
Take as an example Psalm 8 as David gazed up to those very same heavens:
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. … When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him? … O Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth.
Back to Revelation 4, what do the people of God, gathered in his presence, say? Verse 11:
Worthy are you, our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things and by your will they existed and where created.
When faced with the challenges and mysteries of life in this world, we need to give more thought to our great, almighty Creator, who can do anything he wants to, and always does what is exactly right.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- How would you explain to a new Christian the significance of God as creator when so many today live as if he doesn’t even exist?
- When faced with natural disasters such as the Covid -19, or terrible earthquakes, how do they fit into our world-view as Christians in ways that might lead us to worship God the way it is portrayed in this vision?
Revelation 5:1-5 [Read]
But even the picture of God as creator is not the complete story. For that we must go to the second part of this vision, Chapter 5:1:
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals?’
In all of heaven, no one was found worthy to open the scroll. John began to weep loudly because of this. Then, verse 5;
One of the elders said to me, ‘weep no more; behold, the Lion of Judah, the root of David has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’
Is that familiar? Think of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), Isaac (Genesis 26:1-5), Jacob (Genesis 34:9-15), Judah (Genesis 49:8-10), David (2 Samuel 7:8-17), and great David’s greater son, Jesus?
He is the one who has conquered Satan and all his works. … So he alone has the right to know what is written on the scroll and what is to come.
Revelation 5:6-7 [Read]
Having introduced us to the long promised conquering king, under the title ‘The Lion of Judah’, the imagery changes; verse 6;
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a lamb standing as though it had been slain, with seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.
From now on in the Book of Revelation, Jesus is mainly referred to as ‘the Lamb that was slain’, who has redeemed us to God.
This reminds us that in heaven we will never be able to forget that we are there because he laid down his life for us and took upon himself the penalty for all our sins.
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying;
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open the seals, for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth.
Is this not what God promised to Abraham in the beginning? Is this not what God promised, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David and is not Jesus the fulfilment of all those promises? That is what we will be affirming in heaven, that all the promises of God find their fulfilment in Jesus.
Exactly what it will be like in heaven, we cannot imagine, but the key point to remember is that whatever it turns out to be like, it will all be about our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will have gathered us to himself like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and it will be wonderful beyond anything that has ever entered our minds.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- In addition to God as Creator, how would you explain to a new Christian the significance of the phrases ‘the lamb that was slain’ and ‘The Lion of Judah of the root of David’?
- Why do you think it is important to state these descriptions of Jesus in the vision?
- How would you explain why the ‘Lamb’ is worshipped alongside the one who is seated on the throne?
Imagine we are those Christians in Asia Minor being told to confess Caesar as Lord. Imagine you are a Christian in the Middle East or in Nigeria being ordered to renounce Jesus and embrace Islam, imagine you belong to a house church in China and the knock comes on the door and they take you away for re-education. What would we do?
If we have the hope of eternal life burning in our hearts, if we fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, we will stand but if we take our eyes off him …
That is the message behind is great heavenly vision which we must hold onto in good times and the bad.