The magnificent splendor of heaven is on full display in Revelation 4 and 5. Beyond that, these chapters take us smack into the climactic heart of the heavenly plan of redemption. We’re in God’s throne room itself, where Jesus has returned from a human odyssey that found the weight of human destiny falling upon His weary shoulders. We stand in wonder as we witness the breathless citizens of heaven as they, too, observe the astonishing final events surrounding heaven’s rescue plan. We see beasts, a glass-like sea, a heart-stopping rainbow, and many other headspinning symbols of God’s character, creation, and salvation activities.
Why only Jesus?
Where Have I Seen This Before? (Heb. 4:14–16)
Jesus was hardly a prodigal son, but His return to heaven following His (successful) earthly odyssey was marked with great ceremony. After all, this was the beginning of His heavenly ministry, in which He became our direct connection to all of heaven’s bounties and redeeming grace (Heb. 4:14–16). No longer would a lamb be slain in humanity’s behalf. The Lamb of God had been sacrificed once for all!
The setting for Revelation 4 and 5 is ground zero for our ultimate redemption— God’s throne room itself. The featured scenes are replete with sanctuary imagery. Specifically, these chapters bear the marks of Solomon’s temple inauguration (1 Kings 8:62–66). Another clear allusion to the earthly sanctuary system is found in Revelation 4:6–8. The four living creatures mentioned there find their counterpart in 1 Kings 6:23–28. As for the 24 elders? Some believe they represent those resurrected with Jesus (cf. Matt. 27:52, 53; Eph. 4:8). But there is another possibility. It turns out there were 24 courses of priests back in sanctuary times (1 Chron. 24:1–19). Those 24 heavenly elders take a definitive action in Revelation 4:9–11. Here we see them fall to their knees, cast their crowns at Jesus’ feet, and sing a powerful praise song to the ultimate High Priest! We would do well to follow their lead as we have opportunity.
It’s hard to escape beasts in Revelation 4:6–9, where we see four creatures that bring to mind the beasts found in Ezekiel 1:5–26. As for their six wings, check out Isaiah 6:2. In Bible symbolism, wings typically indicate “the speed with which God’s heavenly creatures execute their errands.”1 By the way, some commentators view the “eyes” of these beasts as referring to a Hebrew idiom for brightness, which can also mean intelligence.
The preceding scenes are just a few of the striking similarities to the sanctuary services and Old Testament writings. The more you read, the more it becomes clear that this whole thing was by divine design.
What About That Scroll? (Rev. 5:1–8)
Have you ever had a jar of something that you could not open without a great deal of effort? The factory had sealed that thing up tight! Well, imagine trying to open something that had been sealed by divine hands! That’s what happened with the scroll mentioned in Revelation 5:1–8. Nobody could open its seven seals—until the victorious and worthy Lamb, Jesus, took His place in heaven’s throne room. Why only Jesus? Why? Because He was the only Person with the credentials needed to save humanity!
Back to our inauguration theme and sanctuary symbolism. “In ancient Israel, whenever a new king took the throne, he was given the scroll of the covenant.”2 In other words, like so much else in these chapters of Revelation, the scroll scene is also sanctuary based. The scroll here to be opened represents the entirety of salvation history, as will be clearly seen in the next couple chapters of Revelation.3 It is as though the breaking of each seal on the scroll christens a new stage on which different breathtaking scenes are portrayed.
The drama associated with this section of Revelation is hard to overstate. John, the book’s author, is in tears (Revelation 4). So just why is he crying? Because his entire adult life has been spent serving His Savior and furthering His mission. Now, if there were ever any doubt about whether it was worth the cost, John knows it is all true. From the bloody cross to the crystal sea, he has seen it all, and it takes his breath away. Perhaps it will do the same for you.
1. Why are chapters 4 and 5 essential to understanding Revelation?
2. What would you say to someone who believes the Old Testament is largely irrelevant to “New Testament Christians”?
3. What do you think are a couple of highly effective ways to share the sometimes complex message of Revelation?
1. Francis D. Nichol, ed., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, rev. ed. (Washington, DC: Review and Herald®, 1980), p. 768.
2. Seth J. Pierce, What We Believe: Prophecies of Revelation for Teens (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press®, 2013), p. 92.
3. Additional resource used: Jon Paulien, The Deep Things of God (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald®, 2004).