Study Notes

Revelation 4:2-11


After writing down the letters that Jesus was dictating to the seven churches, John looked up and saw a door standing open in heaven. Jesus, with a voice like a trumpet, said,

Rev. 4:1 ..."Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things."

John was about to be caught up into heaven.

4:2 In the Spirit

John was in the spirit. What does this mean? It could mean that he was instantaneously filled with the Spirit, but I believe it is more along the lines of being not in the body, but in the spirit. Paul the apostle wrote to the Corinthians,

2Cor. 12:2-4 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago - whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows - such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man - whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows - was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.

Although he experienced it, he did not know if he had physically or supernaturally experienced it. Was he in body or spirit? He didn't know. And this is what I believe happened to John.

A Throne In Heaven

The first thing John sees is God's throne. This throne is "command central," the center of the universe, and the focal point of the book of Revelation, being mentioned 32 times. God Himself is sitting on the throne.

4:3 Jasper And Sardius

We know that

1John 1:5 ...God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

When John sees God on His throne, he is beholding colors of light radiating from God that he has never seen before. The closest he can come to describe them is to describe stones that have similar colors. The jasper stone is clear, reflecting light like a diamond, and the sardius is blood red.

The Rainbow Like An Emerald

Around the throne was a rainbow, like an emerald in appearance. The emerald is green. Interestingly enough, the rainbow is not over, but around the throne, indicating that it is a circle. Most of us have never seen a circular rainbow. That is because we live on the earth. But from the sky, the rainbow can be seen in its true form: a circle.

4:4 The Twenty-Four Elders

John sees that 24 thrones encircle God's throne. Twenty-four elders sit upon them. Who are these 24 elders? It has been conjectured that they are:

1) a board of ruling angels over the present age.

2) representative of the 12 tribes and 12 apostles.

3) the faithful, both Jew and Gentile from the past.

4) the church

How can we know who or what they are? Like many mysteries in the book of Revelation, it requires some intense digging into the Word. Apart from the Word of God, any theories of interpretation are just that - theories.

First of all, we must ask, "what do we know about them?" There are 24 of them. They are elders. They are sitting on thrones. They are clothed in white garments. They have golden crowns on their heads. They sing a new song in chapter five (verses 8-10). They are not listed in the previous visions of heaven.


Before we look at each of these details biblically, I want to immediately discount the most unbiblical of these theories - the notion that they are angels. While angels appear dressed in white, and they have existed for a long time, which could qualify them as "elders," angels are never promised crowns or thrones. The most convincing proof to me is that in chapter five,

Rev. 5:11 And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands

Notice that the 24 elders are listed separately from the angels - they are something different altogether. So let's look at the facts that we know.

Twenty Four

There are 24 of them. As we search out the significance of the number 24 in the Bible, one thing stands out: In 1Chron 24, David divided up the priesthood into 24 courses. Twenty-four makes up the complete priesthood. These 24 elders must be some sort of priests. Who are called priests? The church.

1Pet. 2:9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, a royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

Rev. 1:6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father

The church is a royal priesthood.


The word "elders" in Greek is "presbuteros." (Could these 24 elders be Presbyterians?) Elders are the authorities in the church, hearing from God and leading the church spiritually. They also represent the entire church, as they did in Acts 15, at the council of Jerusalem, with the apostles and elders gathering together to decide the issue of whether Gentiles had to become Jews before they could become Christians.


There are only three times in the Bible that the Lord promises thrones to people in heaven. Jesus told the church at Laodicea,

Rev. 3:21 'He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

He told the disciples that those who had followed Him would sit upon thrones (Matt 19:28), and that those who stood by Him in His trials would sit on thrones (Luke 22:30). In all of these cases, these were people in the church.

White Garments

Jesus told the church in Sardis,

Rev. 3:4-5 'But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments..."

He advised the Laodiceans that they needed them, and only He could provide them. They symbolically speak of sinless character or condition. Who has been made sinless? Those who have been cleansed by Christ.

Golden Crowns

Five times in the New Testament believers are promised a crown.

James 1:12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which {the Lord} has promised to those who love Him.

1Pet. 5:4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

(See also 1Cor 9:25; 1Thes 2:19; and 2Tim 4:8.)

New Song

In the Bible, it is the righteous believers who sing a new song to the Lord.

Ps. 33:1,3 SING for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones... Sing to Him a new song...

Ps. 40:1-3 I WAITED patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay; And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. And He put a new song in my mouth

The new song they sing is interesting (and not a little controversial). We'll deal with that when we get to chapter five.

Not Seen Previously In Heaven

Before the church existed, several men saw visions of heaven (Isa 6; Ezekiel 1,10; Dan 7). While the things they describe are very similar to what John saw, these 24 elders are not present or at least not mentioned by any of them.

The Church

Taking all of these Biblical facts together, I believe very strongly that these 24 elders represent the church. Having been raptured, they are now being priests unto God, surrounding His throne, clothed in white, wearing crowns, sitting on thrones, singing a new song.

4:5 Seven Lamps, Seven Spirits

We know from Isaiah 11:2 that the seven spirits are symbolic of the seven-fold Holy Spirit of God. We're going to be getting into some deep typology here, so tune in...

Back in the wilderness wanderings of the book of Exodus, God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle - a tent temple. In Hebrews 8, we read that in the heavens is "the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man." The writer says that the tabernacle that Moses was instructed to build was "a copy and shadow of the heavenly things." So the tabernacle was a picture of heaven. Inside the Holy Place was a seven branch lampstand.

Exod. 25:31,37 "Then you shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand and its base and its shaft are to be made of hammered work; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. ...You shall make its lamps seven in number; and they shall mount its lamps so as to shed light on the space in front of it

We know from Revelation 1 that this lampstand represents the church.

Rev. 1:20 "...the seven lampstands are the seven churches."

But the Holy Spirit is described here as seven lamps of fire. Here is the lampstand, the church, and the fire burning is the Holy Spirit. We see an even clearer picture of this in Acts chapter 2:

Acts 2:1-4 And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

So we are the ones who hold up the flame to light the world, but the Holy Spirit is the One who is truly shining.

4:6-7 A Sea Of Glass Like Crystal

Remember that the tabernacle is a model of heaven itself. In the tabernacle, there was a giant washbasin, the bronze laver. This is where the priests would wash their hands and feet, symbolizing how we too wash our walk and the work of our hands in the water of the Word of God. But now here in heaven we see that this laver of water is a sea of crystal. No longer are we going to be washed in the Word, but we are going to be standing on it! It is the foundation of heaven itself - the Word of God.

Four Creatures

These are some interesting creatures here: full of eyes in front and behind, each with a different face and six wings. Ezekiel tells us that these are the cherubim. Certainly not the fat little babies with wings that paganism has brought into the thinking of the church.

As with the seven flames, the crystal sea, the throne of God and the cherubim were also modeled in the tabernacle. On top of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies, there was a lid called the mercy seat. God gave Moses detailed instructions regarding this mercy seat:

Exod. 25:17-22 "And you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. And you shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. And the cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. And you shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I shall give to you. And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel."

So again, we see heaven modeled in the tabernacle, as the cherubim are facing the throne of God in worship.

4:8-11 Worshipping The Holy One

The mighty cherubim "day and night they do not cease to say, "holy, holy, holy is the Lord God." The church, represented by the 24 elders, fall down and worship Him, casting their crowns before the throne and saying, "Worthy."

This is worship in spirit and truth. Worship is not reading the words in the bulletin as the band plays. Worship is not singing along as the worship leader leads. Worship is a complete investment of your entire self. Worship is seeing God in His holiness, acknowledging that he is so far and above us, the One who created us, that it would be sin not to fall prostrate in reverence.

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