“The mystery which hath been hidden from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints!” (Colossians 1:26-27).
by Shawn Ledwinka
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Revelation, Chapters 4 and 5, is a glimpse into the mind of God and His plan of salvation which He has been orchestrating since before the creation of mankind. To the Apostle John, Jesus is revealing the “mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God” (Ephesians 3:9). What a privilege for the Apostle John to see this revelation and write it down for us!
Before the measurement of time as we know it, God was all alone in the universe. The wise man in Proverbs 8:23-30 tells us that the Logos (God’s first creative act) was the beginning of His family circle and indeed God’s daily delight. In Revelation 4:11 the 24 elders tell us that God created all things for His own pleasure. It is evident that God created the Logos, the angels, and mankind because He wanted a family.
Mankind’s history in the Bible begins with perfection but quickly moves to the tragedy of sin. However, our Heavenly Father provided a roadmap for the human family back to Him; first to Abraham with the opportunity to become a friend of God, then to Israel through obedience to the Law, and then to all mankind through faith in the blood of His only begotten Son.
Just as the Logos proved faithful to God in all that he was asked to do, God opened up a wider opportunity to the world of mankind through faith in His Son. God developed specific conditions through which a people called out for His name could be raised to the same divine nature as Jesus and God himself.
John saw an open door into heaven and wanted to walk through it to see what was on the other side. John entered that door in spirit and heard Jesus invite him to see the future. John was then introduced to a view of the Gospel Age from a heavenly perspective.
John saw God sitting on His throne with 24 elders clothed in white with golden crowns on their heads, sitting around God on thrones. The 24 thrones represent the authority given to the 24 prophets by God. The white garments represent the pure message from God and the Golden crowns represent their divinely inspired thoughts. Peter affirms the importance of the Old Testament prophesies in 1 Peter 1:12 and 2 Peter 1:21, stating that we have been given to know a secret message from God that even the angels desire to know.
Other options for the meaning of the 24 elders include:
(1) They may represent the class of the Ancient Worthies. Some of them, such as Noah, Abraham, and Moses, are mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11. The number of Ancient Worthies were many more than 24, but the 24 may represent a specific class. The Ancient Worthies are typified by the 24 musicians in 1 Chronicles 25. All of the Ancient Worthies prophesied Jesus, his ransom sacrifice, and his future Bride, the Church.
(2) They may represent the 24 Books which comprise the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible was originally canonized into 22 books. This was the same Hebrew Bible the Apostle John would have used when he recorded Revelation in approximately 70 AD. The Hebrew Bible was divided into 24 books somewhere in the early 2nd century. At about this same time the New Testament was being canonized into 27 books. The Jewish authority at that time (still rejecting Jesus and his message along with the apostles), noticed that these 2 numbers added up to the biblically appropriate number of 49. To discredit the New Testament, they divided a couple of the books in the Hebrew Scriptures in two, thus creating an insignificant total of 51. In this scenario, perhaps Jesus foresaw this eventuality but still asked John to note it in the book of Revelation. It is curious to note that today’s Holy Bible is divided into 66 books,
represented nicely in the Tabernacle’s table of showbread with two stacks of six cakes.
Regardless of whether the 24 elders represent a class of Ancient Worthies or the Hebrew Bible of 24 books, the message from both is the same: they prophesy “the lion of the tribe of Judah.”
The seven lamps, which are the seven spirits of God, are the introduction to the next few chapters of Revelation which explain how the Gospel Age would unfold over the next two thousand years. The purpose of Revelation 4-5 is to show the transition from the Jewish Age to the Gospel Age from a spiritual standpoint. These two chapters end with all creation giving glory to the Almighty Creator (Revelation 5:13).
Focusing on God’s throne, John begins to describe the four Living Ones in the midst of and around the throne. The Four Living Ones resemble a lion, a calf, the face of a man, and a flying eagle. Ezekiel had a similar vision of God in Ezekiel 1:10. The Four Living Ones depict four main character attributes of God:
(1) The lion represents the exceeding greatness of His power (Ephesians 1:19-20).
(2) The calf represents His justice which was satisfied in the ransom.
(3) The face of a man represents God’s love which He expressed for mankind by giving His only begotten Son (John 3:16).
(4) The flying eagle represents His panoramic wisdom in all things.
This is the same sequence as the attributes mentioned in Psalms 89:14.
After the Four Living Ones begin to glorify God in Revelation 4:8-9, the 24 elders fall down and also give honor to God. This sequence prophesies that God’s creation will only understand the prophecies of the Old Testament when they see His righteous character revealed in His four main attributes.
Something must trigger the four Living Ones to glorify God, something yet to be fulfilled. The events of Revelation 4 are not the whole story but they set the stage for the next chapter. John sets the scene in our minds as if he “pressed pause” at the beginning of the most dramatic movie ever created.
At the beginning of Revelation 5, John has “pressed play” and begins to describe the movie playing before him. John describes a book which is sealed with seven seals, in God’s right hand while He is sitting on His throne. The sealed book is the plan of God written down, but still, a mystery because it is sealed; waiting for a worthy “director” to carry out His plan. The sealed book depicts the righteous plan of God which has been hidden since the world began (Romans 16:25-26).
As John observes the unraveling of this drama, he is eager to know what is written in this book. He senses its majestic importance and he dearly wants to understand it. John begins weeping, depicting his bitter sorrow of not knowing.
One of the 24 elders provides a clue which comforts John and which provides the trigger for the four Living Ones to glorify God. One of the elders tells John “Do not weep. Behold, the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5 NKJV). This is most likely a reference to Jacob’s prophecy to his son Judah right before Jacob died (Genesis 49:8-11). Notice the similar words used to describe the individual spoken of in both places: Judah is as a “lion,” and “the scepter shall not depart from Judah.”
Jacob provides another clue in Genesis 49:11 (NKJV), “binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine.” John was surely comforted with the inclusion of this event since it was a touchstone he was familiar with, as well as the scores of prophecies which pointed to Jesus in the Old Testament (Isaiah 11:1-5, 19:18-22, 53:1-12, Daniel 9:25-27, Psalms 22:1-31, 141:2, Exodus 12:1-28, Zechariah 9:9-13, Micah 5:2).
Once John made the connection to Jesus as the lion of the tribe of Judah, he looked at God’s throne and noticed a “lamb as though it had been slain.” Have you ever seen a dead lamb standing? This must be Jesus! After all, John witnessed John the Baptist announce Jesus as “the lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Apostle John now realized that Jesus is depicted in the slain lamb who now takes the scroll from God’s right hand of approval.
Finally, a savior is revealed who is worthy to direct the next age in the plan of God; the good news or Gospel Age. John can finally rest in the assurance of Jesus, and so can we. God’s righteous and loving plan for the angels and all of mankind is now unfolding before our eyes. God’s plan ends with a beautiful celebration of worship when “every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them” give praise, honor, and glory to God forever and ever (Revelation 5:13).
What we now see with clear spiritual vision, the world is still waiting for in ignorance, “the manifestation [Greek, apokalupsis] of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). Let us praise our heavenly father for these insights into God’s powerful, just, loving, and wise plan for His whole creation. Amen.
An application is the most important part of knowledge. By digging deeper into scripture, seeking to know and to understand God’s plan, and what “must take place after this,” we are given a greater portion of the peace of God that passes all fleshly understanding (Revelation 4:1 ESV, Philippians 4:7).
With this peace, we are able to apply what we have learned from the scriptures to do the inner work of the gospel; the crystallization of our characters. Our ultimate success in this important work will help to deliver what our Heavenly Father seeks; the completion of his larger family circle, which now includes a glorious Bride for His Son. Together as God’s spiritual family, Jesus Christ and the glorified Bride of Christ will execute God’s master plan.