Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Revelation Chapter Four - Part 1

As we continue our study of Revelation we now come to the second of five visions that were given to the apostle John and recorded for us here in this book. The first of these visions was covered in chapters one through three where John saw the risen and glorified Lord Jesus, and received the messages to the seven churches. This second vision begins with an invitation to come up to Heaven, and to witness “what must take place after these things.”

John is not the first person in the Bible to be given a vision of Heaven, Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lifted up (Isaiah 6), and Ezekiel had a vision of Heaven that, as we will see, is very similar to what is revealed here in Revelation chapter four. The apostle Paul also had a vision of Heaven, but he was not permitted to write of what he saw; all he tells us is this:
I know a man in Christ who was caught up into the third heaven 14 years ago. Whether he was in the body or out of the body, I don’t know; God knows. I know that this man whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into paradise. He heard inexpressible words, which a man is not allowed to speak.
2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (HCSB)
Unlike the apostle Paul; however, John was permitted to write down what he heard and saw, and what we have here, beginning in Revelation chapter four, is the record of that vision. The vision begins with John being called up to heaven, and it ends in chapter seven with the sealing of the 144,000 witnesses just prior to the Rapture of the church. We have been given the privilege of accompanying John as he is taken to Heaven, so let’s join him now and witness what is taking place in the very throne room of God.

Warren Wiersbe writes:
The key word in this chapter is throne; it is used fourteen times. In fact, this is a key word in the entire book, appearing forty-six times. No matter what may happen on earth, God is on His throne and is in complete control.1
With that in mind I am going to borrow Dr Wiersbe’s outline for chapter four, which is as follows:
The Summons from the Throne (4:1)
The Glory of the Throne (4:2–3)
The Elders Around the Throne (4:4)
The Judgments Out of the Throne (4:5a)
The Objects Before the Throne (4:5b–11)2
Before we gat started there is one more key word that we need to be aware of; it is the word like. This word, which is used eight times in this chapter, is translated from the Greek word hómoios. This word can also be translated as similar, to resemble, or as the ESV translates it, had the appearance of. John uses this word to let us know that what he is seeing is similar in appearance to things we know, but not exactly; he is trying to describe things in terms that we will understand, but because there are truly no words to convey what he was seeing he must use words that we can understand.

So now that we have had a little preview of what is to come, and a road map of where we are going, let’s get started.

1. The Summons from the throne (Verse 1)
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things."
Revelation 4:1(NASB)
Chapter four begins with the phrase after these things, which requires us to ask the question, after what things? Back in chapter one John was told to write the things he saw, the things that are, and the things that will take place after these things (Revelation 1:19). This verse, as we saw when we studied chapter one, is the broad outline for the book. As we move now into chapter four we have already covered the first two points of this outline, and the rest of the book will deal with the third point; the things that will take place after these things.

The Greek phrase here is metá toutó, and it could also be translated as after this. This phrase, which is used twice in verse one, is a transition marker that it is telling us two things:
  1. That there has been a change in time
  2. That there has been a change in location,
We can see this by the use of the phrase Come up here. While chapters one through three took place in the past or present for John, from chapter four on this is all prophecy. Also, chapters one through three took place on the earth and chapter four takes place in heaven.

So chapter four begins with a summons; John is invited to come up to heaven and to see the things that would take place after the conclusion of the first vision he had just witnessed. In this verse John tells us, After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.

The word behold here is the Greek word idoú, which is:
a marker used to liven up a Hebrew style narrative, to change a scene, to emphasize an idea, to call attention to a detail.” 3
This word could also be translated as look, suddenly, or now, and what John is doing here is pointing our attention to what he is seeing; he is directing our attention to the open door in heaven.

So let’s look at this door standing open in heaven. First note that John did not say he saw a door opening in heaven; the Greek construction here:
suggests that the door had been opened and left that way for John’s arrival. 4
John was not the first person to see a door open in heaven; this vision, as has already been noted, is very similar to the vision of Ezekiel:
Now it came about in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
Ezekiel 1:1 (NASB)
This is also reminiscent of the vision of Stephen in Acts chapter seven; as he was being stoned for his faith and witness he said:
Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.
Acts 7:56 (NASB)
J. Vernon McGee tells us that this is one of four doors that we encounter in the book of Revelation: the first is in Revelation 3:8 where the church of Philadelphia was given an open door for ministry, the second was seen in Revelation 3:20 where we saw Jesus standing at the door knocking, waiting for someone to open and let Him in, the third door is the one we have here in verse one of chapter four, and the fourth is found in chapter nineteen verse eleven which is the open door Jesus will come through at His second coming. Speaking of this door Dr. McGee goes on to say:
John did not see this door opening as the Authorized Version of verse one suggests. This door was open all the time. It is the door through which all believers have come to God for over nineteen hundred years. ‘Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh to the Father, but by me’ (John 14:6). He also said, ‘I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture’ (John 10:9). The open door to heaven is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is also the One who will come to the door of your heart – that is the wonder and glory of it all. 5
As John looked he saw this open door in heaven, and then he heard a voice; the text tells us that this was the “first voice” he heard, “like the sound of a trumpet.” This takes us once again back to chapter one; while standing on the Island of Patmos John tells us he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and he heard behind him “a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet” (Revelation 1:10). This voice turned out to be none other that the Lord Jesus Christ as we saw when we studied chapter one, and John is using the same imagery here again to make sure that we know that this is the same voice speaking to him here; the voice John hears is the voice of Jesus.

Next John tells us that the voice said to him “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things." We have now come to another point where there is some disagreement as to the meaning of the text: some see this invitation to “Come up here” as being the Rapture of the Church with John being a picture of the church. David Guzik, in his commentary on Revelation says:
The pattern is significant. Jesus is finished speaking and dealing with the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, and all churches are comprehended in the seven. Now after dealing with the church, Jesus calls John up to heaven, ‘catching him away’ with a voice that sounds like a trumpet. All this happens before the great wrath that will be described beginning at Revelation 6. As that great judgment on the earth unfolds, John – a representative of the church – is in heaven, looking down on earth. 6
Warren Wiersbe adds:
This is a vivid picture of the rapture of the church… The fact that John is “caught up” at this point is another evidence that the church will not go through the Tribulation. Note how his experience resembles the rapture: (1) heaven is opened to receive God’s child; (2) there is a voice like a trumpet, 1 Thes. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:52; (3) it is a sudden event; (4) it comes at the end of the “church age” (chaps. 2–3); (5) it introduces John to the throne room of heaven; (6) it signals the beginning of God’s judgment on the world. 7
There are others; however, who say that this has nothing to do with the Rapture of the church – including many who espouse the Pretribulational position – for example, John MacArthur writes:
Some see in this command a reference to the Rapture of the church. However, the verse does not describe the church ascending to heaven in resurrected glorification, but John going to heaven to receive revelation. 8
Jerome H. Smith writes, in his book The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge:
This phrase is taken by many to prove the pretribulation Rapture of the church. This text, however, cannot prove anything about the Rapture, for to apply this to the Rapture one must take John to be a type of the church, the call to “come up hither” a type of the shout-command at the Rapture, and the third heaven as the destination of believers at the Rapture, all of which are tenuous connections at best. One cannot base a doctrine on a type, and proof of the timing of the Rapture must rest upon the direct statements of Scripture elsewhere. 9
And Robert Van Kampen, in speaking of the claim that this passage teaches a pretribulation rapture of the church adds
There is no exegetical or scriptural basis for this claim.10
The Greek word here is anabaínō, which means to, call for a specific act with a note of urgency.11 So we can conclude from the Greek word used here that this is not a reference to the rapture of the church, but was a call for the apostle John to come up to heaven for a specific purpose – the witnessing of his next vision.

And, as we have already noted the phrase after these things refers back to the outline given in chapter one.

Next time we will look at what John saw in this vision.

1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 4:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (806). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
3 Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.) (GGK2627). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
4 Rogers, Cleon L. Jr., Rogers, Cleon L. III.(1998) The New Linguistic and Exegetical key to the Greek New Testament; (pg. 623). Grand Rapids MI.: Zondervan Publishing House
5 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.5 1 Corinthians–Revelation Pg.929. Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
6 Guzik, David. (c2001). Commentary on the book of Revelation (91). Simi Valley CA: Enduring Word Media.
7 Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (806). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
8MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (145). Chicago: Moody Press.
9 Smith, J. H. (1992; Published in electronic form, 1996). The new treasury of scripture knowledge: The most complete listing of cross references available anywhere- every verse, every theme, every important word (1510). Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson.
10 Van Kampen, Robert. Revelation Commentary Ch4 Pg1 (© www.revelationcommentry.org). Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
11 Rogers, Cleon L. Jr., Rogers, Cleon L. III. (1998) The New Linguistic and Exegetical key to the Greek New Testament; (pg. 623). Grand Rapids MI.: Zondervan Publishing House
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Anonymous said...


Eschatological enforcer Thomas Ice claims that someone named Dolcino taught a pretribulation rapture in 1304 A.D. What Ice doesn't like to reveal is that Dolcino's "proof" DOESN'T EVEN EXIST! So what does Ice's claim rest on? Well, LONG AFTER Dolcino's death an ANONYMOUS person wrote a SECONDHAND history of what Dolcino reportedly penned - a history that was CHANGED SEVERAL TIMES between the 1300s and the 1900s! If you're wondering about Thomas Ice's qualifications as a scholar, Google "America's Pretrib Rapture Traffickers," "Thomas Ice (Bloopers)" and "Thomas Ice (Hired Gun)." Many are unaware that after the Communists took over Russia and China, there were Christians in those countries who became violent with pastors who had constantly assured them that they would be raptured before anything resembling end-time horrors. Can Ice and other pretrib rapture merchandisers rest assured that if such scenarios occur in America and some other "rapturized" countries, Christians won't be just as violent towards them?

(Just web-viewed the above - Liz)

Chris said...

I personally hope that Thomas Ice and the other pretribbers are right, but I am going to prepare as if they are not (and for the record, I don't believe that they are right).