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Bible Commentaries

Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Revelation 4

Introduction

A HEAVENLY COUNCIL

--Revelation 4:1-11

Those interpreters who assign each of the seven letters of chapters 2 and 3 to successive periods of church history during the past 19 centuries also treat the whole of the rest of the book of Revelation from chapters 4-22 as all dealing with the future. This makes the book to have no message for the days when John was writing--nor for today. But in chapter 1 verse 1 and 19 John is specifically given a message concerning things which are NOW taking place as well as future things.

Without any basis for doing so those who treat chapters 4-22 as dealing with future events introduce the RAPTURE of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 between Revelation chapters 3 and 4. The plain fact is that John does not describe the RAPTURE at all in the book of Revelation. It is an error to insert the RAPTURE between chapters 3 and 4 of the book of Revelation.

As Christians do we not affirm the parousia (the presence) of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ with us NOW? Was not His promise of nineteen hundred years ago, "Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age" fulfilled through the centuries--hundreds and thousands of times? The fourth gospel, written by John, gives strong teaching that the Risen Lord Jesus comes to be with us NOW. He came when He was resurrected and was freed from the limitations of time and space at His ascension. He comes to us in our times of need to help, to guide, to bless. The danger of waiting for His calling us to the skies is the danger of not knowing that Christians should be aware of His presence NOW.

Christians who realize the Lord’s presence now are also aware of His urgent continuing challenge for us to be caught up in involvement in His purposes--sharing the gospel--becoming channels of His Spirit NOW. As we accept Jesus Christ as Lord of our life we give ourselves to working with Him in extending the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Revelation chapters 4-22 deals with the message to the church in tribulation NOW, as well as in the future, and brings its word of courage to Christians today with the assurance that the church on earth need fear no enemy in any generation for "God is in the midst of her."

Chapters 4 and 5 form an interlude before the conflicts between the church and the world are described. Chapters 4 and 5 tell us that the earthly struggle between good and evil, the church and the world, is known in heaven. John bids us take courage as Christians because the ultimate victory of the church is sure because of Christ’s redeeming work. In other words, to a church in tribulation Revelation chapters 4 and 5 says "let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe in Me." The church need fear no enemy or trial. She is already more than conqueror. These 2 chapters echo Psalms 46:1-7 "God is our Refuge and strength . . ."

Chapters 4 and 5 describe a council in heaven.

II. MEDITATION--; Revelation 4:1-11

The subject of the whole book of Revelation is the struggle and conflict of the world against the church. That struggle is not described until chapter 6. But after having described the universal church in chapters 2 and 3 John reassures the church of her preservation and victory in chapters 4 and 5.

In these chapters a council is meeting in heaven. The subject being considered is the church on earth. In the central place is God on the throne. The symbols make clear His holiness, judgment and mercy. The Holy Spirit is there. And there are the representatives of the church and of mankind all praising God. All the universe--from the remotest star to all things near and around us are described as being in the hand of God who is working out His plans and purposes in His own time and way.

When you get discouraged by the seeming weakness and failures of the church an intelligent reading of chapters 4 and 5 of the book of Revelation will do much to reassure and encourage you. These chapters will remind you that your greatest privilege in this world is to be a member of the Christian church for she alone of all world organisations will survive the shocks of time.

The main message of chapters 4 and 5 to Christians is "BELIEVE IN GOD." The church need not fear any enemy or trial. She is already more than conqueror. These two chapters of Revelation echo the truth of Psalms 46:1-11.

"God is our Refuge and Strength Therefore we will not fear any trial For God is in the midst of His church And will preserve her and give her victory."

Verse 1

4:1 John writes "I LOOKED, AND LO, IN HEAVEN AN OPEN DOOR."

1. HERE IS A REMINDER OF THE NEARNESS OF THAT OTHER SPIRITUAL WORLD.

The material seen world in which we live looms so large in our thoughts that me need this reminder that our present world is but a mere speck in God’s universe. Above, around and beyond it is the great REAL world which is spiritual. Here we now have the SEEN and TEMPORAL, there is THE UNSEEN AND ETERNAL. Unseen yes! But REAL and NEAR. So near that it is pictured here as only a single door, only a plank of wood between us and the unseen eternal world.

There is an important truth brought to us in Revelation 4:1 of the open door--the nearness of that spiritual eternal world. And what a moment for us when that open door is set before our eyes as it was to John’s!

Some day that open door will be set before us at the moment of death. "Lo, in heaven an open door." This was what happened to the first Christian martyr, as Stephen cried out "Behold, I see heaven open."--The nearness of that other world!--only a door between us and that unseen, real, eternal world, a door which may open before our eyes at any moment. AND WHAT A COMFORTING THOUGHT!

That other world in heaven is neither empty nor unconcerned with our present world and life. John’s vision shows us that heaven has its inhabitants too, and there, just beyond the door God sits, thinking, caring, watching, preparing for His church, His church militant here on earth, and for every member of His church. Here is cheer and courage when we become depressed and down-hearted because of the trials, set-backs and difficulties of the church on earth--to remember that just beyond that door in heaven God is on His throne, that the things here on earth are not mere chance and change--but that God’s eye is watching, His heart is loving, His hand is working. The eye, heart and hand of God is leading us on step by step to that glorious day when He will OPEN THE DOOR to us and bid us "Come up hither"--only then, entering there, to go out no more, but to abide in His presence forever.

I link Revelation 4:1 with the words of Jesus in John chapter 14--"Believe in God, believe in Me. In my Father’s house are many rooms beyond this present room of the seen and material life." At death we pass through the opened door into those unseen but real rooms in God’s house where we will live in the nearer presence of God--in a new world unseen to human eyes but real and eternal. Jesus said "I go to prepare those rooms for you, and someday I will come for you--I will open the door of heaven."

The Christian who has grasped the point of Revelation 4:1 "And lo, in heaven an open door" and of John 14:1-31 is no longer afraid of death. It is only the opening of a door into the unseen, real and eternal world.

There is comfort and courage and hope to Christians in the message of Revelation chapters 4 and 5--that God watches over the fortunes of His church and children on earth and someday the church on earth will be the church triumphant in heaven--for "the gates of hell shall not prevail against her."

An understanding of chapters 4 and 5 of the book of Revelation helps us to see the church as she really is in God’s eyes. One realizes now that God is WATCHING over His church, that God’s PURPOSES will be FULFILLED, that the church will ULTIMATELY be victor overall evil.

And, as in verse 3 of chapter 4 John saw a RAINBOW around God’s throne, so there is HOPE, deathless hope--for God’s MERCY and care from His throne in heaven beyond our present sight assures the Christian and the church on earth of conquest over evil.

Chapter 4 shows us then--THE NEARNESS OF THAT OTHER WORLD "only a door between."

"After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door" wrote John in 4:1.

Recall that John was a prisoner of the Roman authorities on the island of Patmos. Domitian the Roman emperor had closed the door of LIBERTY against John, yet John tells us that he saw a door opened in heaven.

(1) John’s vision of the door opened in heaven tells us that THERE ARE LIMITS SET TO DOMINEERING MIGHT AND ADVERSE CIRCUMSTANCES.

(2) The vision of the opened door in heaven came to John IN THE PLACE OF EXILE, THE PLACE OF HARDSHIP, LONELINESS AND SORROW.

Surely this vision is meant to teach us that it often happens that the most enriching and significant experiences in human life have come out of trouble, out of sorrow and adversity and things which seemed all against us--one has only to think of the letters of the Apostle Paul in our New Testament which came out of his prison experiences--or the writings of John Bunyan from the Bedford jail--

(3) John’s vision of the door opened in heaven SUSTAINS US AMID THE HARDSHIPS OF OUR OWN PATMOS EXPERIENCES.

Countless members of Christians have found life liveable even at its hardest and worst when imprisoned on a Patmos of a monotonous existence, of grinding poverty, of hopeless invalidism, of crippling misfortune, of abject failure, of crushing sorrow. They have found courage to live bravely and even triumphantly because they, with John, have seen some door opened in heaven.

(4) John’s vision of the door opened in heaven WITNESSES TO HEAVEN’S INTEREST IN EARTH.

Those who have seen "a door opened in heaven" know that there are powers, reinforcements, resources at our disposal which most surely testify to God’s active and abiding interest in us. They are sure that at the heart of the universe is a God of infinite love and mercy, and that the rainbow of hope is still there with its promise. Those who share with John in the vision of "the door opened in heaven" of Revelation 4:1 are indeed blessed abundantly by the realisation of God’s concern and love for them.

Another truth brought to us by Revelation chapter 4 is THAT ONLY BY SEEING THE CHURCH AND THE UNIVERSE THROUGH THE EYES OF GOD CAN WE BE SATISFIED.

There are several ways of looking at things. There is the worm’s eye view, the bird’s eye view, the man’s eye view, and there is the God’s eye view. John was not satisfied with the crawling worm’s eye view of the church on earth as seen by a pagan hostile world. Nor was John satisfied with the physical loftiness and remoteness of the bird, nor with the enquiring yet baffled view of man. John could only be satisfied by seeing the church through God’s eye--then he is beyond bewilderment. So, in chapter 4 he sees "a door opened in heaven"--into the ultimate mystery--and he hears a voice clear as a trumpet calling him from time into eternity. It is only by following John’s lead in this chapter that Christians can find peace and assurance in a world hostile to the church.

The study of John’s Revelation has brought hope and assurance of the ultimate victory of the church which a hostile world has never been able to put out. A study of this "neglected book" will save a Christian from despair for the church. A Christian who grasps the essential truth of John’s "Revelation" sees in God and the heavenly council A WAY AHEAD. Today many are confused--because they don’t read this last book of the Bible. Some profess to have all the answers now. But an honest reader who believes in God on the throne doesn’t profess to know and understand everything about the future of the church. But he knows THAT GOD IS WATCHING, THAT GOD’S PURPOSES WILL BE FULFILLED, THAT THERE IS A WAY AHEAD, THAT THE CHURCH WILL ULTIMATELY BE VICTORIOUS OVER ALL EVIL.

The care of God over His church in peril, and the throne of God in heaven (beyond our human sight) has a rainbow in it.

Here is HOPE, deathless hope, many colored hope.

Verse 3

Verse 3.

"Like JASPER and CARNELION." "Jasper," as we learn from 21:1 1 is "clear as crystal"--a bright, sparkling stone of various colors representing THE STRENGTH AND GLORY OF GOD. And "Carnelion"--a fiery red color, representing the JUDGMENT OF GOD. "And round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. "THE RAINBOW"--After the flood of Noah’s day the rainbow has been a symbol of GOD’S MERCY (Genesis 9:12-17). All phases of light make the rainbow. The rainbow round the throne of God reminds us that all aspects and facts of truth are considered in heaven in MERCY.

Verse 4

Verse 4.

"The four and twenty elders"--The number 12 and its multiples in this book always indicates THE CHURCH. Twenty four is the totality of the leaders of the church of the Old and the New Testaments (The 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles; see 21:12, 14). This council in heaven is concerned with the fortunes of the church on earth. There is comfort and encouragement in the realisation that the affairs and struggles of the church on earth are known in heaven. The 24 elders are "SEATED" for they represent the church TRIUMPHANT. "The great church triumphant shall be the church AT REST." "Clad in WHITE GARMENTS, WITH GOLDEN CROWNS UPON THEIR HEADS." The white garments (of PURITY and CONQUEST) and crowns mark them as the church triumphant since Christ promises this to the church militant as its reward in 2.10 and 3:5.

Verse 5

Verse 5.

"The lightning, voices and thunder" from the throne indicates the approaching judgment as in Exodus 19:16. "THE SEVEN SPIRITS"--as in 1:4--The Holy Spirit.

Verse 6

Verse 6.

"The sea of glass, like crystal" before the throne indicating the DEPTH, EXPANSE, CLEARNESS of God’s counsels. "The FOUR LIVING CREATURES"--not "beasts" as in the A.V. which confuses with "the beast" of chapter 13. "FOUR" in number these "living creatures" represent MANKIND. They have eyes on all sides. That is, they see all that is going on in all directions. They have the qualities of a LION--STRENGTH, an OX--SERVICE, the FACE OF A MAN--INTELLIGENCE, and the EAGLE of HIGH SPIRITUAL FLIGHT. Like Isaiah’s seraphim (Isaiah 6:1-13) each has six wings. And they sing of the might of God PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE. (verse 7). J. P. Love suggests "It will be well worth while to read this fourth chapter of Revelation and the sixth chapter of Isaiah together and then go carefully through the hymn "Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty," noting how remarkably the hymnist has blended the figures used by Isaiah and John." (Dr. J. P. Love "Layman’s Bible Commentary on John--Jude--Revelation" SCM Press, Page 64). The praising of God by the four living creatures and the elders in verses 6-11 lift our hopes for the time when the qualities of ALL mankind shall be equal to the STRENGTH of the lion, the POWER and SERVICE of the ox, the INTELLIGENCE of a man, and the SWIFTNESS of the eagle.

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Bibliographical Information
Norris, Harold. "Commentary on Revelation 4". "Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/nor/revelation-4.html. 2021.