Revelation Chapter 4


Adam/Dave: August 20, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 4


“The preterists consider the letters to apply to little else than the contemporary situation of the seven churches as they existed in John’s time. As with all biblical epistles, however, application to similar churches of any time is acknowledged” (Steve Gregg, Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), p. 81).

Verse 1: John’s eyes are opened to see a door standing open in heaven. A voice like a trumpet invites him upward, and he is told that he will be shown “what must take place after this.” As Steve Gregg states, “Since John was told (in the first century) that these things were ‘about to take place,’ a first-century fulfillment is to be looked for” (p. 84). This is what John’s original audience would have understood and expected. “To the dispensational view,” though, says Gregg (p. 85),

after this…means after ‘the things of the church,’ or after the church age. Thus the material in Revelation after this point will be fulfilled after the church is gone. Some believe that John’s transportation to heaven may be viewed as a type of the Rapture of the church, and the mention of a voice…like a trumpet (v. 1) here may recall the language of the Rapture passages in I Corinthians 15:51-54 (which refers to ‘the last trumpet’) and I Thessalonians 4:16-18 (which refers to the ‘voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God’). Dispensational futurists note that the church is not seen hereafter on the earth—only in heaven (7:9-17).

Others, however, would “note that the terms saints (5:8; 8:3-4; 11:18; 13:7-10; 14:12; 15:3; 16:6; 17;6) and redeemed (5:9; 14:3-4) are indeed ‘terms which are characteristic of the church, the Body of Christ,’ when found elsewhere throughout the New Testament” (p. 87). Therefore, the church IS seen throughout the book of Revelation.

Verse 2: John, now “in the Spirit,” beholds Christ seated on His throne. Steve Gregg, speaking for the Preterist position, writes, “We are introduced, most probably, to a heavenly courtroom scene. The Judge sits on the throne (v. 2) where, as we shall see in chapter 5, He is about to hand down sentence upon the accused. The plaintiffs are the martyrs of Christ, whose complaint against their persecutors is recorded later in the vision (6:9). The accused (Jerusalem) is about to be condemned” (p. 84). This is not stated explicitly in the text, but would have to be deduced from the overall context as a possible explanation.

Verse 3: The One on the throne appears as “jasper and carnelian” (fiery red and sparkling white), and His throne is surrounded by an emerald (green)-colored rainbow.

Verse 4: How are the 24 elders to be identified? There is a difference of opinion as to who these elders are. Steve Gregg writes (p. 89), “The majority opinion among dispensationalists (e.g. Gaebelein, Ryrie, Walvoord, Lindsey, and others) identifies the 24 elders as the New Testament saints, who were raptured into heaven (in v. 1).” Henry Morris, another Futurist, suggests that they are “the first 24 ancestors of Christ (Adam through Pharez) listed in Genesis 5 and 11,” while George Eldon Ladd and Robert H. Mounce believe them to be angels. Jay Adams, a Preterist, however, believes this is not possible because “they are distinguished from angels throughout chapters 5 and 7. David Clark sees them as representing the church, and David Chilton suggests that they are “the representative assembly of the Royal Priesthood, the Church” (pp. 86, 88).

I personally favor this explanation from Mark A. Copeland, a Preterist: “Summers and Hailey suggest that they depict the twelve patriarchs of Israel and the twelve apostles, who represent the redeemed of both covenants now united in Christ.  Note that in 5:8-9 they do seem to speak [on] behalf of the redeemed.”[2] Further support for the idea that the 24 elders depict the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles can be seen by the fact that the names of both groups are displayed on the gates and foundations of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:12, 14).

The elders are pictured clothed in white garments (which generally denotes the righteousness of God’s people; cf. Rev. 19:8), and with golden crowns on their heads. They are later (verse 10) shown casting their crowns before the throne in worship to God. We know elsewhere in Scripture that there are crowns laid up for believers, a crown of rejoicing (I Thess. 2:19), a crown of righteousness (II Timothy 4:8), a crown of life (James 1:12; cf. Rev. 2:10, 3:11), and a crown of glory (I Peter 5:4).

Verse 5: Steve Gregg remarks (p. 88),

The lightnings, thundering and voices (v. 5) recall Mount Sinai, where God first established His covenant with Israel [Exodus 19:16; cf. Rev. 8:5, 11:19]. Similar phenomena are mentioned here to suggest the end of that covenant and its replacement with another. The writer of Hebrews (citing Hag. 2) likened the overthrow of the first covenant (publicly demonstrated by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70) to the time of its establishment at Sinai, but the latter would be accompanied by even more fearful phenomena (Heb. 12:18-29).

We will see these same phenomena (thunder, lighting, and rumblings) two more times in this book, in response to the cumulative prayers of the saints (Rev. 8:5) and at the sight of the ark of the covenant and God’s temple in heaven (Rev. 11:19). The final occurrence of these phenomena serves to validate what Steve Gregg has suggested, that the reader is to understand that what is being pictured is the overthrow of the Old Covenant in favor of the New Covenant. One purpose, then, of the judgments which are to follow is to establish the New Covenant within the Church in the exclusive sense. The total destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 AD facilitated this purpose (in the remaining chapters, we will see many examples of how the events during the Roman-Jewish War of 66-70 AD fulfilled what was written in Revelation). Ever since 70 AD, the New Covenant has been unencumbered by the vestiges of the Old Covenant and Judaism, which never has recovered as an intact system. The Judaic age was brought to an end, and the Kingdom of God from that point on has fully belonged to the Church (cf. Matthew 21:33-46, Hebrews 8:13). God came in judgment to take away the Kingdom from the Jewish nation, just as Jesus said He would (Matthew 21:33-46), and it was given to the Church (cf. Daniel 7:13-28).

Pastor Mike Blume sees a series of parallels between Revelation 4:2-11 and Exodus 25:10 – 26:37.

“The sequence of furniture God spoke to Moses to build, which we learn in Hebrews 9 was a pattern of the tabernacle in Heaven, follows with John’s sequence of sights in Heaven.

Ark of the covenant – Exodus 25:10-22
Throne of God – Rev 4:2

Table of Shewbread – Exodus 25:23-30
Twenty Four seats – Rev 4:4

Candelestick – Exodus 25:31-40
Seven Lamps Burning – Rev 4:5

Barrier of Curtains and Veil with Cherubims embroidered: Exodus 26:1-10; 31-37
Barrier of Crystal Sea and Four Beasts (Cherubims): Rev 4:6-11.”

Q: How are the four living creatures described in verses 6-8?
They are full of eyes in front and behind, and also “around and within,” and each has six wings. One is like a lion, one like an ox, one has the face of a man, and the last one is like a flying eagle. They constantly cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and who is and is to come!”

Verses 6-8: See Ezekiel 1:5-14 and 10:14, where the four creatures that Ezekiel saw were very similar. In Ezekiel’s vision, each creature had all of the four faces mentioned above (human, lion, ox, eagle). If John saw the same creatures Ezekiel saw, perhaps they were turned in four different directions since John describes them as if each had only one of the four features. See also Isaiah 6:2, where Isaiah beheld the seraphim which also had six wings.  According to Jay Adams,

the creatures, like the 24 elders, are neither angels nor men, ‘since they…are distinguished from both in chapters 5 and 7. They are rather to be identified with the Cherubim of Ezekiel, to which they most closely conform. Their function is to guard and bear the throne of God. In this passage, they serve the purpose of emphasizing the majesty of the vision. Like the elders, they are to help the revelation unfold’ (p. 90).

Q: What happens whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the One seated on the throne?
The 24 elders fall down in worship before Him, and they cast their crowns before His throne.

Verses 9-11: If we are to receive literal crowns one day, I’m pretty sure that we won’t be holding onto them as emblems of our achievements on earth. We will know (as we ought to know now) that we could do nothing without Him. We will be extolling His worthiness, as the 24 elders did in John’s vision. The 24 elders proclaimed that God is worthy of glory, honor, and power because He “created all things, and by [His] will they existed and were created.”


Our study of Revelation 5 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[2] Source: Mark A. Copeland, Revelation: A Study Guide,

3 thoughts on “Revelation Chapter 4

  1. I agree with Copeland as well in regards to the 24 elders being representative of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles, who represent the redeemed of both covenants now united in Christ. BTW, I’m an amillennialist.


  2. Alex, thanks for your feedback. That explanation certainly seems to make the most sense. None of the other explanations I’ve seen do much to show why 24 elders were present in this scene (and not another number).


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