God Is Not Destroying His World

In Revelation 1-3, we received almost everything we need to interpret the remaining chapters well. John has already provided the meanings for many of his symbols and has set the direction for the rest of the letter, including his own basic eschatology—God is renewing the world, not destroying it, and Christians will inherit the earth as time progresses, not be transported away to avoid tribulation.

John has been describing the local churches on the earth. Now, his vision moves from earth to heaven. He begins to describe things that are taking place in heaven, the very symbols most often misinterpreted and misappropriated by popular religion. We will, as best we can, use the Bible to interpret the Bible and see what truths John is describing for the good of Christ’s church. 

Revelation 4:1-4

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.”

Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.

The ascent (v. 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.”

After John hears from Christ about the judgment of the seven local churches, he sees a door open in heaven and hears Christ’s voice again. John’s Revelation is composed of four visions. We have finished looking at the first vision (1:9-3:22) in our current study and are beginning the second vision (4:1-16:21). The second vision is divided into three symbolic sequences (seals, trumpets, and bowls) and three interludes between the symbolic sequences within this vision. The scene in heaven is the prelude of the second vision. John is (1) taken through an open door to Heaven, (2) hears someone speaking, (3) is invited to hear what must take place, and (4) and is given a timeframe reference as to when the things will take place. Let’s consider these components individually.

(1) What is the open door? In Chapter 3, verses 7-8, Jesus claims to be the only one who can open doors and no one can shut the doors He opens. His statement was a claim to absolute authority over the Father’s creation. Jesus is the one sustaining creation and history. He is the one with unrestricted access, and He grants some access to His true church. This open door represents access provided by Jesus Christ to John. He is inviting John into the heavenly place to observe divine truths. We learn, here, that the second vision is of heavenly symbols and not particular or literal events on the earth. John is is having a vision in which he sees symbols presented in Heaven—a detail that cannot be ignored if we desire to interpret John’s revelation correctly. Heaven is the context, and context is key.

(2) Who is speaking? Not only is Christ the particular person who has the explicit authority to open doors no one can shut, but the trumpet imagery—like in chapter 1, verse 10—presents Christ’s decree to and through His people. Jesus Christ is the one speaking to John, here, and inviting him into the heavenly vision.

(3) What must take place? Christ instructs John to come up with Him to heaven. At this point, John’s vision shifts its perspective away from earthly decrees to heavenly decrees. Many interpreters read Revelation as if it describes literal events on the earth throughout. John indicates otherwise. Whatever must take place, which John will reveal throughout this vision, takes place in Heaven; It must take place with regard to the tribulation the church is enduring on the earth, which John describes in chapters 1-3 to set the foundation for the rest of his Revelation. Jesus has disciplined His local church for her good and because He loves her; Now, he will indict the world, not the church, for her injustices.

(4) After what things must it take place? Put simply, Jesus Christ indicts the world for her injustices after He disciplines His church for her good. He might do this perpetually through time concerning different worldly kingdoms or will in the future—a specific timeframe is not given here even though many read their futurism, historicism, or preterism into the text. All we know is that Christ’s discipline of His church for her good logically precedes His indictment against the world. As we continue through Revelation, it will be made clearer whether we should read this as future, current, perpetual, or already fulfilled. Again, the fact that the symbols represent things that must take place “after” John hears from Christ concerning the judgment and sanctification of the seven churches, or the whole church, does not help us form a chronology of end-times events. At this point, we remember that Revelation is a picture, not a puzzle. We should wait before making any chronological end-times claims because we don’t want to be put to shame later in John’s Revelation.

The Father’s throne (v. 2-4)

Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.

John reports being immediately in the Spirit. Like in chapter 1, verse 10, John indicates his next symbolic vision by reporting to be in the Spirit. The phrase clues us in to the fact that John is not about to describe literal events, but a symbolic vision—John is not looking at the world with the eyes of his flesh but with the spiritual third-eye. We still do not know whether John is dreaming, in a trans, or imaginatively and prayerfully reflecting on divine truths. We do know he is in the Spirit, not in the flesh. In Heaven, he sees a throne upon which someone is seated. The throne is a symbol of power and dominion. 

The one symbolically sitting on the throne is God the Father. The Father is literally omnipresent, His entire being is present in every part of space-time (Cf. 2 Chronicles 2:6; Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:23-24), and doesn’t have a physical body, He does not have spatial or temporal dimensions (Cf. 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1-2; John 4:24; Acts 7:48; 2 Corinthians 3:17). God the Father is neither a spatial nor temporal being—the Son was not until the incarnation (Cf. John 1), though He did present Himself in preincarnate forms through the Old Testament narrative. If spacetime began to exist (Genesis 1:1), God cannot be spatial or temporal. Thus, according to Scripture, God cannot have a literal throne in a literal Heaven. This is not to say that Heaven is not a literal place; It is to say that Heaven cannot contain the Father because the Father is not a spatial or temporal being—He is eternal and omnipresent. I am also not claiming that the Father is outside of space-time; To use the term “outside” is to use a spatial term to describe a being who is non-spatial. In the same way, it is nonsensical to claim that the Father preexisted time, or “existed before” time; To use the prefix “pre” or term “before” is to affix a temporal description to a non-temporal being. We otherwise hear the question, “If God created everything, who created God,” or “Did anything exist before God?” This is one of the question that almost made me an atheist. The question assumes a spatiotemporal being with the attribute of preexistence. God did not preexist His creation, He simply exists. Scripture never claims that God existed before His creation or outside of time. He is the I Am (Cf. Exodus 3:14). The Bible’s claim is more logically consistent than the way most people try to describe God—the Father exists without reference to time or space. If the Father is eternal, timeless, and omnipresent, He can’t have been created because He does not exist on the plane of creation—spacetime. The Father transcends any hypothesized form of spacetime (imaginary, real, continuous, or discrete), meaning He is not bound by it and does not share attributes with it (speaking of the Father particularly, but also the Son; Cf. John 8:58).

Those literalists who, then, try to argue that Revelation is a book of literal descriptions (1) have not recognized the symbolic nature of the book and (2) have not cared to know the attributes of God. When Scripture states that God’s dwelling place is in Heaven or refers to His throne in Heaven, it refers to His transcendence and authority over creation. If we claim God’s throne in Heaven to be literal rather than symbolic, we have made a god in the image of people—who are bound by spacetime and who must dwell in a physical location. We have created a god to be sought after by measuring natural law and history, but God cannot be measured by our senses, sensibilities, or sciences.

Symbolically, the Father is like a jasper stone and a sardius, two precious stones representing God’s brilliance and awe-inspiring nature—yes, His transcendent holiness. Symbolically, there is a rainbow around the Father’s throne, the same bow He placed in the clouds as a symbol to Himself concerning His promise to Noah (Genesis 9:12-17). He will no longer destroy the earth with water. As we saw in chapters 1-3, God is renewing the earth and not destroying it. The one seated on the throne is faithful to His own word.

Around the Father’s throne, symbolically, there are 24 thrones and elders. There were twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles to the Jews (one to the Gentiles). Twelve is the symbolic number meaning God’s complete people. Twice twelve indicates two complete people of God represented by the twenty-four elders—two complete churches, Jewish and Gentile together. These symbolic elders are symbolically clothed in white and represent Christ’s imputed righteousness to His church (Cf. 3:5). Their eldership represents Christ’s sanctifying work—bringing His people to maturity through the church’s tribulation as described in the disciplinary rhetoric of chapters 2-3. They wear golden crowns, the symbol of eternal life (Cf. 2:10). Recall, Jesus has opened the door to Heaven. Jesus invited john to observe the Father’s throne. Jesus is the one who provides access to the church. Jesus is the door; Without His granting us access to the Father’s throne, we have no way to know the Father or His work because He is transcendent and, therefore, unsearchable (Cf. Job 5:9; 36:26; Isaiah 40:28; Psalm 92:5; 145:3; Romans 11:33-36; 1 John 4:12). 

All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (Matthew 11:27; Cf. John 1:18; 10:30; 14:6).

In chapters 2-3, Christ revealed that His true church is being sanctified through the current tribulation, is coming to inherit the earth along with Him, and will reign with Him forever on the earth as His representative rulers. In Heaven, this symbolic structure represents the work God has set in place and the structure of His government on the earth as His kingdom comes from heaven to earth through redemptive history (Cf. 3:12). That is why we pray, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven” (Cf. Matthew 6:10). The remainder of this vision and Revelation concerns how God is bringing what He has already set in Heaven to the earth through redemptive history, beginning with Genesis 1:1, culminating with Christ’s crucifixion, and coming to fruition in the current church age. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. May we seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and pray for God’s kingdom to come through us as He currently brings His kingdom down. May the two-fold church, Jew and Gentile, have her spiritual eyes transfixed upon the Father of glory and worship around His symbolic throne as we live, breath, and follow hard after Him. Soli Deo Gloria.

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