Our passage this evening is both like and unlike The Wizard of Oz.[1] It is very much like Oz because just as Dorothy and Toto are taken from the black and white ho-hum world of Kansas into the technicolor and stunningly glorious world of Oz, so too John in 4:1 is taken by vision from the sinful world of the previous seven churches into the heavenly throne room itself. But our passage is unlike Oz is a dramatic manner. It was little Toto who pulled back the curtain to reveal an old man pressing buttons, pulling levers, and speaking into a microphone and we all learned of the fake and phony nature of this so-called Wizard of Oz. John experiences nothing of the sort. When he’s transported into the throne room he see’s a King who’s no fake or phony, but the real Lord of all who alone is worthy and who is alone worshiped by all peoples.

What a text before us! Let’s dive in.

These two chapters put four of the largest Biblical realities on display for us, that when taken together show us the rhythms of gospel grace.

Reality #1: The Holiness of God (4:1-11)

We learn from 4:1 that John is now having another vision, and in this vision he sees an open door in heaven, and hears a voice (the same voice he heard back in 1:10) speaking to him like a trumpet. The voice says, “Come up here and I will show what must take place after this.” Remember John is still on the island of Patmos at this point, he hasn’t been physically taken to heaven, but while on the island John receives a vision of heaven. v2 sets the stage, John immediately says he was ‘in the Spirit’ just as before in chapter 1, and behold John sees a throne standing in heaven with One seated on the throne. This is none other than the Lord, God Almighty seated on His throne in glory. Now, John has seen an earthly temple before, he was probably even familiar with the layout of Solomon’s temple, but now for the first time in his life John witnesses, not the earthly copy, but the heavenly original and what he sees in the throne room of heaven is stunning.

v3 says God’s appearance was like the precious gems jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was an emerald rainbow. These things hint at the reality of what’s occurring. Precious stones are in many places throughout Scripture spoken of as being in the new creation. Even more pointed is the rainbow. Just as the rainbow was the initial covenantal sign that God would never again destroy the world by flood in Noah’s time, here the presence of this rainbow indicates that what John is beholding is new creation based on new covenantal promises secured by and emerging from Christ and His redemptive work (which will be expanded on in chapter 5).[2] Further around the throne v4 says there were 24 thrones, on which sat 24 elders who were all clothed in white, with golden crowns on their heads. As to who these elders are there is much debate. Some say they’re the 24 priests and singers in Old Testament worship, others say they represent the twelve tribes of Israel as well as the twelve apostles, making 24 representatives of both the old and new covenants. Still others say they’re simply the heavenly court that ever surrounds the throne of God.[3] But if the four creatures we’ll soon see in v6ff are representative of all animal life on earth, than it would seem to imply these 24 elders are representatives of all those within the community of the redeemed from both the Old and New Covenant. This would then make the four living creatures representative of God’s general creation, and the 24 elders representative of God’s special creation.[4]

Further still John says in v5 that thunder, lightning, and absolute power are streaming out from the throne. These images make us think back to Ezekiel’s vision of God in Ezekiel 1 and even further back to Mt. Sinai where God revealed Himself to His people with powerful displays of His Kingly authority and sovereign rule.[5] You can imagine what John was feeling like at this point – he probably felt something like a terrified wonder entering his heart and exploding through all his senses. v5 continues describing the presence of the Holy Spirit saying it was like seven torches of fire burning and the seven spirits of God. John then sees a sea before the throne. Not a stormy or wild sea which was held to be a symbol of chaos, but a calm sea; a sea of glass, like crystal that appears to have no shore. Implying that the chaos of sin can’t stand before such a King as Christ.[6] As if John isn’t already overwhelmed, he see’s more still. v6b-8a mention living creatures around the throne, full of eyes around and within, the first like a lion, the second like an ox, the third like a man, and the fourth like an eagle in flight. Similar to Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 these creatures have six wings and day and night they never cease to proclaim: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” As I mentioned before, I believe these four creatures are representative of all within general creation. v9-11 states that each time these living creatures proclaim the holiness of God, giving glory and honor to Him who is seated on the throne who lives forever and ever, that the 24 elders fall down before God, cast their crowns down, and worship Him saying, “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.”

The vision John is beholding here is God, in His matchless holiness and Kingly authority, seated on His throne, while the whole host of heaven is around the throne worshipping Him with refrain after refrain, responding to one another in their worship and never ceasing in such delightfully fearful activity. This is all about God. It isn’t about anything else. God, simply based on who He is, demands such worship. This is the vision, and for John this must have been highly encouraging. I say this because in Revelation what happens before chapter 4? In 2-3 we have the letters to the churches, most of which are messed up and enormously sinful. What a contrast this is between the sin in the Church and the purity of worship happening around the throne. That the vision of the throne room in 4-5 is placed directly after the letters to the seven churches is meant to show us that chapters 4-5 serve as a correction or an antidote to the problems we see in chapters 2-3. More so, it would’ve encouraged the churches reading this because they’re all churches and being churches they’re all copies/previews of this heavenly reality. This would’ve reminded them of where they’re all heading towards, despite their various sins and struggles. We ended chapter 3 in v21 with a view of Christ on the throne, and we now see an expanded view of the same in chapter 4-5.[7]

Is this not also encouraging to us? In the midst of all the sin that happens within us and within the Church, where is God? Sitting on His throne, ruling with authority, dwelling in endless praise. Take heart, you who are suffering – take heart, you who struggle and fight with overwhelming sin – take heart, you who grieve over the condition of the world and those in it – God is on the His throne, He is still in control. His worship is ceaseless, it never ends. His worship is spoken, as God’s people praise God with lips stunned with His majesty and glory. And His worship is active, all these worshippers do is in reference to the God they adore, love, and praise.[8]

The question that comes into view next leads us to the next reality we see in these two chapters – how could we ever approach such a holy God? Enter Revelation 5 where we see the dilemma of worthiness, the work of Christ, and the worship of all peoples. Let’s take them as they come to us in the text.

Reality #2: The Dilemma of Worthiness (5:1-4)

The scene in chapter 4 continues uninterrupted in 5:1, where we see the One sitting on the throne who is worthy of all worship, holding a sealed scroll in His right hand.[9] Opinions abound as to what this scroll is or contains, some say it’s the Old Testament, others say its God’s providential agenda or will for all of history. I believe the scroll to be the God’s grand plan of redemption and judgment, and as we progress on into the book from chapters 6-22 we’ll see more of this come out in clarity.[10] In v2 we hear a mighty angel loudly ask the question, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” v3-4 introduces us to the dilemma. The scroll is not only sealed, no one comes forward in response to the angels question, there is only silence. Meaning there is seemingly no one present with the authority to break open the sealed scroll. That none of God’s creatures were found worthy to open the scroll and break its seals demonstrates their inability to execute the contents of the scroll. Sensing that his own hope and the hope of the entire Church now stands perilous, John recognizes the dilemma of unworthiness and starts to weep because, as v4 says, no one was found worthy. It is in this despairing moment that John feels, one commentator said, the heartbreaking façade of atheism, that there is no one or no God to right all the wrongs in life, or to make sense of all things, or to save us fully and finally.[11] If the scroll cannot be opened there will be no protection for God’s children in the hours of trial and temptation, no judgment on the wicked, no triumph for believers, no new heavens and no earth, and no future inheritance.[12] But that’s not the end of the story.

Reality #3: The Work of Christ (5:5-7)

One of the elder’s approaches John and calms his fear, answering the dilemma of the unworthiness of God’s creatures. The elder tells John in v5, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then John hoping against hope in his anxiety sees Him, “…between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.” This ‘Lion-Lamb’ John saw is Jesus Christ, who though slain in His crucifixion, is standing in His resurrected glory, and walking to His Father’s throne to take the scroll.

When the scroll first came into view no one was found worthy to break it seals and open it, and then we see that Christ is the only One found worthy to open it. Why is it that Christ is the only One worthy to open the scroll? The reasons are given in v5, because He is the Lion of Judah, the Root of David (imagery taken from Genesis 49, Exodus 12, 2 Samuel 7, Isaiah 11, Isaiah 53, and Daniel 7) who has what? Conquered! Conquered how? By being both the spotless Lamb of God slain for sinners and the resurrected Son of God standing in Lion-like victory. Conquered for what?  Notice it says “…the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that…” The work of this Lionhearted and Lamblike Christ is what makes Him the only One worthy to break the scroll open. And as John sees Jesus Christ he sees Him with seven horns (to indicate unmatched power), seven eyes or seven spirits of God (to indicate His search for and ability to save His people). 

What is the result of the angelic hosts of heaven when they see Christ, the Lion-Lamb, take the scroll? It is reality #4…

Reality #4: The Worship of All Peoples (5:8-14)

See how the rest of this chapter unfolds from v8-14. When Jesus took the scroll the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before Him, with their golden bowls of incense, and then what happened? They sang a new song with these words, “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every TRIBE and LANGUAGE and PEOPLE and NATION, and You have made them a kingdom of priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Later on after this all the hosts of heaven and earth sang two more songs singing these words in v12 and v13, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing…To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

These new songs the living creatures, the elders, the myriads of angels, and all those on and under the earth are singing is a song of praise to the Lion-Lamb Christ who acted in redemption, not just making redemption possible for anyone who would believe but actually purchasing people for God. What people? A universal Church made up of all peoples. Notice the new song being sung isn’t about the glory of North America, or English speaking peoples, rather it’s about the glory of Christ who has redeemed men and women from all peoples and all tribes and all languages and tongues. This is nothing less than the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise, that all people would be blessed.


Here are two takeaway’s and then I’ll take questions:

First, implied throughout chapters 1-3 in the letters to the seven churches is the idea that their lives as followers of Christ individually and corporately need to match the life of Christ their King, who is reigning over all things at this very moment. Jesus reminded them in the midst of persecution that their real home isn’t on earth but is in heaven with Him, and that all the faithful will receive their crowns there. More so, one of the purposes they were to gather regularly for in worship was to be reminded of their true heavenly existence, which gives them the model of their worship in the angels worshiping before the throne, vividly described here. I think this is why there’s so many scenes of worship before the throne throughout Revelation, to encourage those suffering here in this present evil age that yes we may already be in the Kingdom, but there is much more to come for those who endure.[13]

Second, there are moments that warrant new songs. For example, on the 25th anniversary of the Russian victory over Napoleon composer Peter Tchaikovsky was asked to write a new song to commemorate the great victory. The result was the 1812 Overture famous for its melody and booming cannons. Church, there is no moment more momentous than what we just saw in Revelation 4-5 as Jesus Christ ascended to be enthroned after He completed His saving work. This moment demanded a new song to be sung because there was now a new redemption to be enjoyed, a new kingdom of priests created, and a new creation coming.[14] We tire of songs we hear in this life. They might feel exciting and full of life vibrancy when we first hear them, but eventually they lose their sense of awe and wonder. The new song we join in with here and now and will one day sing before this very throne one will never grow dull. Instead, it will increase in its glory each time it’s sung for all eternity. Worthy indeed is the Lamb who was slain!

[1] Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, First Edition (Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Publishing, 2001), 95–96.

[2] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans, 2013), 321.

[3] Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, 100.

[4] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 322.

[5] Paul Gardner, Revelation: The Compassion and Protection of Christ, Reprint edition (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2008), 70, 72.

[6] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 328. But does the later vision of no more sea (21:1) mean this is a preview of the final eradication of sin forevermore? I think so.

[7] Beale, 311.

[8] Gardner, Revelation, 75.

[9] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 337.

[10] Gardner, Revelation, 80.

[11] Richard D. Phillips, Revelation (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2017), 186–87.

[12] Hendriksen, quoted in Phillips, 189.

[13] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 323.

[14] Phillips, Revelation, 196–97.

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