Revelation: Jesus The Conqueror
Revelation 4-7: A Heavenly Perspective
As we begin this next section of Revelation let’s begin by reviewing some of the things we have looked at already. We have covered the bulk of the first three chapters up until this point. In chapter one John wrote that this is a Revelation of Jesus Christ. Revelation is all about Jesus. Without Jesus this book has no meaning. Jesus is the tie that holds all things together in this book. We said the theme of Revelation is the victory of Jesus and His church over Satan and his helpers. Chapter one gave us a vision of Jesus that taught us that Jesus is the protector and purger of His church. He is walking in the midst of His church. He is closely associated with His church. We saw this intimate knowledge in chapters two and three when Jesus had a letter to the seven churches of Asia, which represent the church of all time. In these letters Jesus uses the words I know. He knew what was going on in these churches. He knew so much that He could commend them for what they had done, and condemn them for what they were not doing and give them a way to correct it. Each letter had a promise to the one who conquerors. The church on this earth is what we could call the Militant Church. The church is to be conquering the powers of darkness with the power of the gospel. It is an active church, the church can not conquer if it is not moving.
The promises to the conquerors lead us into the next section of Revelation. The goal for this sermon is to cover chapters 4-7. If you will recall in our first sermon we said that Revelation is broken up into seven different sections. In each sections things get fuller or more intense.1 In chapter four we have a scene change. The next scene in our picture emerges. Remember each section covers the same things but from a different angle.
Chapters 4-7 can be very confusing if we jump straight to chapter 6 and determine what the seven seals are. The vision John has must be taken as a whole. We must not get bogged down in the details. The vision only makes sense if we begin in chapter four and then proceed to five then six and then finally seven.
One final note of introduction and then we will dive into the text for this morning. What follows in this vision is horrifying at points. There is no doubt that wrath is coming when you read this section of Revelation. As Christians we must have a proper perspective of the things we are going to look at. Jesus knows what His people need. He knows that at times we are weak and feeble. We must have a biblical and a heavenly perspective in the things that are going on around us. For this reason John’s vision begins in Heaven and in Heaven John sees a throne.
A THRONE, CHAPTER FOUR
After writing the letters to the seven churches John looked and there was a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice he had heard speak which is the voice of Jesus calls John to come up to heaven and see the things that must take place after this, the things that will take place in the future. At once John was in the Spirit. And he sees a throne and one sitting upon the throne in heaven. The one who was sitting on the throne had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. Around the throne there was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. This throne is a glorious throne. It inspires majesty in the one who sees it. The one who sits upon it is majestic. John describes the surrounding of the throne. Around the throne there are twenty-four elders who are clothed in white garments with crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne their were seven torches, which are the seven spirits of God, which represent the Holy Spirit. Before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass like crystal.
The description around the throne keeps going. Around the throne on each side of the throne are four living creatures who are full of eyes in front and behind. The first living creature was like a lion and the second living creature was like an ox the third living creature had the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. Each of the living creatures have six wings.
When we see these four living creatures and the twenty-four elders we must not get caught up in WHO they are but WHAT they are doing. The four creatures day and night never cease to say “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” They are their to praise the one upon the throne. Then we shift back to the twenty-four elders. When the four living creatures give praise to the one upon the throne the twenty-four elders fall down before the one seated on the throne, they pay homage they give worship, and they cast their crowns before the throne and say: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Why start here? What would this have meant to the first century reader? What would the seven churches take from this. What would a believer, a church, think knowing that persecution and emperor worship were prevalent in their day?
First start where John does with a throne. What does a throne signify? It signifies power. It signifies control. It signifies sovereignty. The one who sits upon the throne is sovereign. This is the true throne. Caesars throne will end, and it did, but there is one throne that will never end and that is the throne of God.
Second look at the one who is upon the throne. How is He described in this vision? The one upon the throne is God Almighty. This is a majestic throne because the one who sits upon the throne is majestic. God is the one who is completely Holy. Contrasted with the current emperor God is Holy and there is no sin in Him. He is the Holy Lord God Almighty. The one upon the throne has all power. He has all might. God is the one who was and is and is to come. He is eternal. He existed in the past, He exists now, and He always will exist. God will always be. Caesar will end but God will remain. God is present even when these first century believers were facing persecution and death. The description continues when the twenty-four elders praise God. God is worthy to receive honor and power because He created all things. It was only through His will that anything is created or that anything even exists.
Thirdly the one upon the throne is worthy of worship. Caesar may force his subjects to worship him, but the worship of God is not forced. As we read this picture of Heaven the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders worship God there is nothing forced. You could even say it is spontaneous. Only God is worthy to be bowed before. The twenty-four elders cast down their crowns before Him. God is the only one who truly rules and reigns and is therefore the only one worthy of worship.
The picture of heaven, of a throne, and the one upon the throne is meant to bring comfort and reassurance. Times may get rough but look to heaven look to the one who is upon the throne. Look to the One who has always been, who is, and always will be. For the first century church and for us today this is how we must take this. If we do not what follows will bring us into utter dismay. We will be horrified and tempted to believe God is not there anymore.
THE LAMB, CHAPTER FIVE
The one upon the throne was holding a scroll in His right hand. Keep in mind this is symbolic. God is Spirit and He was not literally holding a scroll. Our second scene here continues, we are still heaven at this point. The scroll that was written within and on the back. Both side were full of writing. It would be like us today using the front and the back of a piece of paper. This was out of the ordinary a scroll was normally just written on within. The scroll is God’s plan for all of time. It is the history of this world, the plans which God, the sovereign one, has laid out. The scroll is sealed with seven seals. In order to see the inside and the plans which God has the seals must be broken.
At the sight of the scroll a mighty angel shouts forth who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seven seals? No one in heaven or in the earth or under the earth responded. There was not found one worthy to open the scroll. In fact no one was even found worthy to look into the scroll. John began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy. Imagine for a moment what John was thinking. He had this majestic vision. He sees God upon His throne. He sees the majesty of the throne. He sees the scroll which contain God’s plan for this world. No one is able to open it. John will not see the contents of the scroll.
One of the elders said to him to stop weeping because the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the root of David has conquered so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals. Between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders John sees a lamb. How ironic the elder just said the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and John sees a lamb. The lamb looks as though it had been slain. The lamb has seven horns, which signify great power, and it has seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth, which signify perfect knowledge. The Lamb is none other than Jesus. Jesus is the one who has conquered, literally He has won a victory. Jesus has great power and He has perfect knowledge.
The lamb walks and takes the scroll from the right hand of the one upon the throne. When He takes the scroll the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders burst forth into praise. What was once sealed now can be broken. The lamb is worthy to open the scroll and to look into it. May this serve as a reminder to us that apart from Jesus history has no meaning. They fall before the lamb each of them holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints.
They sing a new song. Jesus is worthy to open and look into the scroll because He was slain and through His blood He has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language, people, and nation. The atoning work of Jesus Christ is for all peoples. It is no longer a Jewish thing, but the Gentiles are included as well. Through this ransom the Lamb has made these people a kingdom, and priests to God and the will reign on the earth when this earth is made new.
As we keep reading the praise continues in verse 12, from the voice of many angels, numbering thousands of thousands, they proclaim that the Lamb is worthy to receive power and wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing. The praise continues and it expands once again. It started with the four living creature and the twenty-four elders then thousands and thousands of angels to every creature in heaven and one earth and under the earth and under the sea and all that is in the sea praise the one who sits upon the throne and to the lamb. To them be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever. At this sound the elders once again fall down and worship, which circles us back to the throne. The readers would now be firmly focused on what they need to be focused on. There is one upon the throne who has total control over all things. The Lamb is worthy to open the scroll and the seven seals and reveal the things that MUST take place. What we read is going to take place there is no doubt about it. Therefore we must stay focused on the one upon the throne and the Lamb, Jesus Christ or we will be lost in a sea of confusion as Jesus breaks the seven seals.
THE SEALS, CHAPTER SIX
With our focus firmly fixed on the one upon the throne, God Almighty, and on the Lamb Jesus Christ, the seals will now be broken. There are seven seals total. In this sermon we will deal with the first six, and do the seventh next week because the seventh seal is closely linked with the seven trumpets. With the breaking of the first four seals the scene changes to earth. Thus far in this vision everything has been taking place in heaven. The seals take us back to earth, specifically the first four seals.
THE FOUR HORSEMAN
The first four seals belong together. The first seal is broken and one of the living creatures calls out with a voice like thunder COME! This is directed to the first rider. As John looked he saw a white horse. The rider had a bow and a crown was given to him and this rider came conquering and to conquer. The first seal signifies conquest. In this life the powers that be always want to defeat others. This life many times is a never ending struggle for power and conquest. Some have equated this rider with Jesus. Later in Revelation we will see Jesus coming riding on a white horse, but it is not a must that we equate this rider with Jesus here. When we see Jesus He is given many diadems where as this rider is only given a crown. This first horse and rider are the Calvary leader, if you will, for the other three horse.
The first seal being conquest we come to the second seal. When the second seal is broken the second living creature says COME! Once again directed at the rider of the second horse. This time the horse is Red. The rider of this horse was permitted to take peace from the earth so that people should slay one another and he was given a great sword. Whenever conquest come peace goes with it. Peace was an odd concept in the first century. There was peace because the Romans ruled basically the whole world. But it was a forced peace. You kept peace with the Romans or else the Romans would kill you. As we look around today there is no peace on this earth. There is war and turmoil everywhere we look. The middle east alone is sufficient to prove this point. True peace will only come when Jesus is ruling His people in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
The first seal is conquest and the second seal takes peace from the earth. The third seal is now broken. The third living creature once again says COME! The third rider comes on a black horse. This rider has a pair of scales in his hand. From the midst of the four living creatures a voice declares “A quart of wheat for a denarius and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine.” The third seal brings with it pestilence. There would be a scarcity of the things people needed to live. In Asia where the seven churches are located wheat and barley were things that were imported to them. This was not a local crop. Oil and wine on the other hand were local. These would not need to be imported. When the voice declares a quart of wheat for a denarius we see that a mans whole earning were spent on one quart of wheat. A quart of wheat was the daily consumption of a person. So everything they made in a day was spent on their daily supply of wheat. The same can be said of the barley. With the coming of conquest not only is peace taken away but many times it brings a shortage in the very things we need to survive. It has a declining affect. Which brings us to the fourth seal.
With the breaking of the fourth seal the fourth living creature says COME! Out comes a rider on a pale horse. The name of the rider is Death and Hades followed after him. Death and Hades were given authority over the fourth of the earth to kill with sword and famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. Any way to kill a person they could do it to a fourth of the earth. As each of the first four seals are opened things get nothing but worse. Things are on a downward spiral. Finally comes death with conquest. First it takes peace, then it takes the things people need to live one and finally it brings death.
THE FIFTH SEAL
After the fourth seal we are once again taken back into heaven for the breaking of the fifth seal. When the fifth seal is open John sees the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne. These are those who were faithful to Jesus even though it resulted in their death. These souls cry out from under the altar. Remember this is not an actual altar in heaven this is symbolic. The altar is the altar of sacrifice. These souls cry out with a loud voice “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?” The language would suggest that their blood is crying out here. Not the actual martyrs. The cry is for vindication. When will God the Sovereign one upon the throne avenge their blood? These souls were given a white robe which signifies victory and they were told to rest a little while longer until the number of their fellow servants is complete who would be killed as they were.
THE SIXTH SEAL
The souls under the altar are crying out for God to avenge them and the sixth seal is where we see God beginning to answer their cry. When the sixth seal was opened there was a great earthquake the sun was turned black, the full moon became like blood, the stars fell to the earth as a fig tree sheds it winter fruit when shaken. That is not all though. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up. Every mountain and island was removed from its place. The sixth seal is a preview of the coming day of the wrath of the lamb this picture will get progressively bigger as we continue in the book. What we see here is what Jesus described in Matthew 24. Let’s turn there for a moment and look at verses 15-31. The things Jesus describes are the same things John is seeing in this vision. Much of this would have been unbelievable to the first century reader. For example we will take the idea of the sky being rolled up as a scroll. In the first century many people thought of the sky as being a hard object. So when the sky is rolled up as a scroll it is almost as if you are taking a seemingly never ending piece of steel and rolling it up like a scroll. All of these things point to the truth that the end is here.
The end affects all people. Look at what John says. The kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and powerful and everyone, slave and free hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. Things are so bad that ALL people are crying out to the rocks to fall on them and to hide them from the wrath of the one sitting upon the throne and the wrath of the Lamb. Think about this. These people are hiding from the wrath of the LAMB! When we think of a lamb we think of something that is gentle and loving and the last thing that comes to our mind is wrath. How terrible this will be. The sixth seal ends with a question from these people who are hiding they ask who can stand the great day of wrath of the one who sits upon the throne and the Lamb?
KEEPING THE RIGHT FOCUS, CHAPTER SEVEN
So we have seen six seals opened so far. With the first four we see conquest, the taking of peace, pestilence, and death all of which take place on earth. The fifth seal had the martyrs under the altar crying out to God for their blood to be avenged, and with the sixth seal we get a picture of the end. The great day of wrath of the One who sits upon the throne and of the Lamb. Chapter seven is an answer to the question that close chapter six. Who can stand?
In chapter seven we have two different groupings of people we will see, but the people are the same. The answer to the question who can stand are the ones who have been sealed with the seal of God. In verses 1-8 we see the 144,000 being sealed. There were 12,000 from Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin. So these are the ones who can stand the great day of wrath. Who are these people who have the seal of God placed on their foreheads.
As with all of Revelation this is a disputed item. Some believe this is a Jewish remnant that God seals and these are the ones who are saved during the seven year tribulation. They are also the ones we will see in verse 14 of this chapter who are coming out of the great tribulation. When you look at the context this does not seem likely. Through these chapters so far we have seen how the atonement is far reaching. The Lamb ransomed people from every tribe, language, people, and nation. Why all of the sudden would there be a shift here to the 144,000 just being Jewish people.
The biblical way to look at these who were sealed is that they are the church. In the context of where we are this makes sense because the people of God, those who Christ ransomed will be free from wrath because Jesus has already taken their wrath for them. The church in other places in scripture are called the true Israel, in Romans 4:11 Abraham is called the father of all those who believe. This is only possible if someone is a Jew. Galatians 3:7 says that those who are of faith are Abraham’s children. This truth is not unique to John then. We could even look at further passages to prove this point.
Secondly if we look at the list itself this should be evident. The tribe of Judah is listed first even though Reuben is the first born. Levi is mentioned as a tribe even though they were not listed as a tribe in the Old Testament. Joseph is also listed, but Joseph also was not a tribe, and this also means that Manasseh is mentioned twice, and Ephraim Joseph’s other son is not listed. Dan who was one of the twelve tribes is also left out.
The ones who are sealed is the church. The number is symbolic of the whole church, not that only 144,000 will be saved. Those who have come to faith to Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. These are the ones who can stand.
The sealing of the 144,000 is showing God’s protection of His people. Much like the Israelites in Egypt who were immune from the ten plagues so the Church will be immune from the great day of wrath.
The setting now shifts we move once again from earth back to heaven. John looks and sees a great multitude that no one could number from every nation and peoples and language. They are standing before the throne and before the Lamb clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. They are crying out in praise. SALVATION BELONGS TO OUR GOD WHO SITS ON THE THRONE AND TO THE LAMB! The angels and the four living creatures with the twenty-four elders fall on their faces and the worship.
One of the elders addresses John and asks who are these clothed in white and from where have they come. John’s response was Sir you know. The elder responds and answers these are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. These people are before the throne of God and they serve God day and night in His temple and He who sits on the throne shelters them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore. The sun will not strike them nor any scorching heat. The Lamb will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of water and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
The ones coming out of the great tribulation, what does John mean here? Some comments from Derek Thomas clear things up for us. “What John seems to depict here is the story of the church, emerging throughout history from one tribulation after another. It has always been so, and it ever will be until Jesus Christ brings it to a close by his coming.”2 The church always has and always will endure and face tribulation. At times it will be worse than at other times. But the church will conquer because the head is the Lamb. The church coming out of tribulation will be eternally in from on the One who sits upon the throne and before the Lamb in a never ending worship service to their protector and purger.
We said we want Revelation to have relevance for our lives today. Revelation is about the here and now as well as the future.
Be confident no matter what you are facing. Christians, the church, of all people have the most reason to be confident. Look to the Sovereign Lord who is sitting on the throne. Do not be worried about what may be coming down the pike. Do not over think and be worried about the possibility of facing tribulation. If you are a Christian you are one of the sealed. You will come out of the great tribulation and will be one who is worshiping God wearing a white robe that has been made white with the blood of the lamb.
Since we can be confident we can also embrace suffering. Not to be a pessimist but things will get worse. We will be here when things get worse. Suffering is always the path the church will be on. It is not an easy road but it is a road we can conquer because Jesus has conquered. We do not like suffering and to be honest here in America we really do not suffer like we think we do. There may come a time though when we face severe suffering. Some may lose their lives. But in light of this we are sealed. We will be a part of that heavenly host who will worship continually before the throne.
Once again focus on Jesus. I will keep saying this until we finish this book and until the day I die. Revelation is about Jesus. When we face suffering and we see desolation and the great day of wrath comes if we are not focused on Jesus then this will be complete and utter chaos for us. We will shrink back we will not be confident. We can not and must not let the circumstances of life take our eyes of Jesus. If we do we will be like Peter who paid more attention to the wave than Jesus and started to drown. As a church we must focus on Jesus while we are together when we are separate and at all times. Without Jesus our lives, as well as all of history are meaningless.
Read the fourth lesson in the series The Wrath of God