This magnificent section of Revelation gives us the picture of God on His throne. John is called to witness the revelation as it unfolds (Rev. 4:1). He sees God in His majesty.
The sovereignty of God is displayed by Him sitting on His throne (Rev. 4:2). He is in a position of power. He rules the universe and none has or will dethrone Him.
The stones described in verse 3 tell us somewhat about God’s character. The whiteness of the jasper gives the idea of holiness. The sardius, red in color, coveys the righteousness and justice of God. Emerald stones are green and in this passage evidences God’s mercy.
In the next verse we learn about the subjects of God, the twenty-four elders. These may represent the 12 tribes and 12 apostles. God’s power is displayed in 4:5 and His transcendent nature in 4:6, with the sea of glass separating Him from others.
God is praised by His creatures and subjects in 4:6-11. The four living creatures are amazing beings. They can see all; watch on God’s behalf. The lion represents nobility, the calf strength, the man wisdom, and the eagle swiftness. The elders worship God and acknowledge His role in salvation and His exceeding greatness.
In chapter five we are told about the victorious Lamb. God held a scroll in His right hand, the hand of power, that was covered in writing. This gives the idea of completeness, there is nothing lacking on the scroll. It is securely sealed and is, in fact, the plan of salvation (cf. Eph. 3:1-12; 1 Pet. 1:10-12). Someone was needed to execute it.
The only one worthy of bringing the plan into effect was the Lamb of God. No created being was worthy (5:2, 3). Rather, the Lion of the tribe of Judah was singularly qualified. He was the root of David (Isa. 11:1). He was the perfect sacrifice (Jn. 1:29). He had the power, as represented in the seven horns (Matt. 28:18). He had the seven eyes, a reference to the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 16:7; Eph. 2:17; cf. Rev. 1:4). As such, the Lion & Lamb was worthy of praise (Rev. 5:8-14).
One thing worthy of note at this point is the mention of the harp in 5:8. Some have seen this as authority to use instrumental music in the worship of the church. However, there are some difficulties with this. First, this is a book of signs and symbols (Rev. 1:1). They harps are a representation of something, not to be taken literally. Second, these things take place in heaven, not on earth. Third, the Lamb is not literal, nor are the golden bowls of incense. If we take the harp as literal and, therefore, as authorized for use in our worship today, then we must also use incense.
Next we see the opening of the first six seals. They are not all that difficult to understand, in spite of what some modern teachers may claim as they confuse many people.
The first seal represents Christ conquering in the gospel; the white horse of victory (Rev. 6:1, 2). He was resurrected and gave the truth to the apostles and prophets. They spread the gospel on His behalf and had a huge impact on the world.
The second seal shows the backlash that came as a result of the gospel being preached; the red horse of bloody persecution (Rev. 6:3, 4; cf. Matt. 10:34-39). Christians were persecuted by various groups at different times. They first experienced the hatred of the Jews. Secondly, and more devastatingly, they came under the wrath of the Roman Empire, namely Nero and later Domitian.
The third seal represents the grief and suffering of poor Christians in the persecution; the black horse of mourning (Rev. 6:5, 6). Basic commodities were attacked, while the luxury items were left alone.
The fourth seal is the judgment for the rejection of the gospel; the pale horse of death (Rev. 6:7, 8). This shows the consequences of turning from the overtures of the Lord.
The fifth seal tells us of the cry for justice from the martyrs (Rev. 6:9-11). They are at the place of sacrifice, the altar. Their deaths were the result of their loyalty to the Lord. A plea goes up to God for justice.
The sixth seal represents God’s judgment on the persecutors of the saints (Rev. 6:12-17). The mention of the earthquake, sun, moon, and stars is nothing more than prophetic language describing great world powers being overthrown (cf. Isa. 13:1, 10-13). This judgment would affect every class of men (Rev. 6:15). Later in the book we will identify the defeated world-power as Rome, the great persecutor of the saints.
To prepare for the judgment to come, God has the faithful marked (Rev. 7:1-8). We are shown that God controls the judgment, using His angles (Rev. 7:1-3). The relationship to His saints during this time remains unaffected.
The 144,000 represent all the redeemed on earth. The numbers are symbolic of the complete “house of God,” all of spiritual Israel (cf. Gal. 3:26-29; 6:16; Rom. 2:28, 29). Dan and Ephraim are likely not mentioned due to their connection with idolatry in the Old Testament (Judges 18; 1 Kings 12).
The victorious multitude stand before God (Rev. 7:9-17). They are many, as God promised, and from among all nations (Gen. 15:5; Mk. 16:15). The palm branches were a symbol of festive victory.
The victorious came out of the “great tribulation,” the persecution enacted by the Romans. Their victory was possible because of the blood of the Lamb (cf. 1 Jn. 1:7-9). God will now grant them rest and peace (Rev. 7:16, 17).
Steven F. Deaton