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Chapter four begins a new section of Revelation. This section terminates with chapter eleven which reaches the climax at that point with the sounding of the seventh trumpet and the judgments upon the first great persecutor of the Christian church. Some interpreters carry the seventh trumpet on into the subsequent chapters and make it include the seven vials; but such a view is unwarranted and not based upon the text. Chapters four and eleven inclusive, constitute a section with a definite objective.
It is necessary at this point to consider a scheme of interpretation imposed upon these chapters and including subsequent chapters to the nineteenth. Much is being written and spoken on the book of Revelation, most of it unwarranted by the plain facts in the book itself. The Premillennial teaching in conferences, schools, classes, and publications seeks to inculcate a peculiar view of Revelation. We have been told that the seven churches of Asia prefigure seven periods of history from Christ's day till the end of the age. That Laodicea, the apostate church, represents the age before Christ's advent, and that we are now in that period. Coming to this fourth chapter we are told that chapters four to eighteen inclusive, describe, what the Premillennialists call the Tribulation period, supposed to be seven years.
At the beginning of the fourth chapter, that is previous to the Tribulation, Christ will descend into the atmospheric heavens, then will occur the Rapture, all the righteous dead will be resurrected, and ascend into the air and remain with Christ in the air during those seven years. This period will be a time of tribulation on earth, for the unbelieving Jews and the wicked that remain; and that these chapters, four to eighteen inclusive, describe that period, with all the judgments that will be poured out upon the earth. The reasons assigned for this view are: .
1. That the word church is not found in these chapters and therefore the church cannot be on earth during this time.
2. It fits the scheme by standing between Laodicea in the third chapter, which they conceive as an apostate age, and the nineteenth chapter which they interpret as the Second Coming.
3. Thus we get a program of the ages, and if this is not the scheme intended, then we have no such program.
As to these arguments, we remark that while the word church is not found in these chapters, the church is found as we shall see when we come to study them. The word God is not found in Esther, but who would say that there was no God in the time of Esther or in the events of Esther's history, for God is through and through the book in all the providences recorded.
As to a chart of the ages down to the end of the world, we have no such chart in detail, and if Revelation be such, it is quite exceptional in the analogy of prophecy.
While we have some hints given as to the course of future ages, we have not so much of a chart nor the kind of a chart that the Premillennialist asserts. But moreover in these chapters we find Jerusalem, and the temple, and the altar, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish state as the first great persecutor of Christianity. That event was future to John and the people to whom he wrote, but is past to us.
Again we find in these chapters the overthrow of old pagan Rome, called the city that sat on seven hills, the second great persecutor of the Christian church. This is so plain that no man can miss it unless he closes his eyes or wears colored spectacles. John describes that Roman empire as far as his own time by five kings that had fallen, one that is, and one yet to come; clearly the Caesar dynasty up to John's time or to the fall of Jerusalem.
Now if the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of Rome are in these chapters, they are not the description of some period yet to come, and the whole scheme that would put these chapters thousands of years after the days of Jerusalem and Rome is wholly fictitious.
We need to hold the above facts clearly in mind as we pursue the study of this book. To hold the salient features as indicated will save one from being warped in a general estimate of the book of Revelation.
V. 1. John's vision begins with a door opened into heaven; looking into heaven. The vision he sees is introductory to what follows. He is now preparing his readers for the immediate and main purpose of his writing. The immediate purpose is to meet the moral needs of God's persecuted people, not to amuse them with splendid pictures, not to sketch a scheme of world events, but to lift their hearts and thoughts above the deadly decrees of tyrants, and their souls above the fear of prison, sword, and stake.
A voice said, "Come up and I will show you things that must be after this." The words "after this" imply soon after.
V. 2,3. He saw a throne and one sat on it, brilliant as precious stones, and a rainbow round the throne. It was not said, who that was, but there can be no doubt.
V. 4. Here are twenty-four seats and twenty-four elders in white garments and wearing crowns of gold. Who are they? Well, we see that they offer intelligent worship, they explain certain things to John, they are personal beings, but not angels. Since they sing: "Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood," we conclude they are saints, or representatives of those saved by Christ's blood. This is a vision to comfort those who might find themselves faced with sudden prospective sainthood. We think these visions had a definite reference to the people to whom they were addressed and to the conditions in which they lived and especially in view of the circumstances they were soon to face.
V. 5. Seven lamps are before the throne. In Rev_1:4 , the lamps are the churches, but here they are said to be the seven spirits of God. It is important to observe that symbols are not always uniform.
Vs. 6-8. John next sees four beasts full of eyes before and behind, bearing a general resemblance to a lion, a calf, a man, and an eagle. Each has wings and eyes, and they rest not day or night, saying: "Holy, holy, etc." Our first impression is that here is all animate creation worshipping God. We like to think of all nature animate and inanimate praising God in every sound and motion. What a chorus of praise! Brook, and bird, and bee, and flower; thunder, and wind, and ocean, and mountain, all in gladsome harmony hymning God's praise. But beautiful and appropriate as that suggestion is, it can hardly sum up this symbol.
The word translated 'beasts' should be rendered "living ones;" not as though they were wild beasts though they are living, but higher beings by far. In eleven, or more, other places in Revelation they are mentioned and their employments shown.
They worship; they do service; they say at various times to John, 'Come and see'. Therefore we look upon them as personal beings, angels, or archangels around the throne.
Vs. 9-11. These living ones give glory and honor and thanks to him that sits upon the throne; and the twenty four elders representing the redeemed of earth, fall down before him that liveth forever and ever and cast their crowns before the throne saying: "Thou art worthy, Lord, to receive glory and honor, and power, for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are, and were created." God as Creator is sovereign and omnipotent.
So the chapter closes with a great outburst of praise to God, who is all in all in heaven and on earth. God has created them all, and his very creation of them expresses his desire for their good, and happiness, and as well his authority over all, and his power to bless and save, and do them good. In his hands who can harm?
This is John's first vision in this series. It is a vision of heaven and of God. That is a good starting-point. From this standpoint we see all things in a right light, and estimate all things at their proper value. And if these early Christians were being called to face persecution, prison, fire, and death, we can appreciate the appropriateness of this introductory scene to steady them in their approaching baptism of blood. God is their God and Creator, and all blessing, and all destiny rest with him. It is well to remember, in addition, as we go through this book, that John is seeing these visions in heaven even though they have to do with earth and time.
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the Second Week after Epiphany