Revelation 4:7-11 – 2024 Apr 18

I will begin this evening with a quote from Matthew Henry on Revelation 4:9-11.  He states, “All true believers wholly ascribe their redemption and conversion, their present privileges and future hopes, to the eternal and most holy God. Thus rise the forever harmonious, thankful songs of the redeemed in heaven. Would we on earth do like them, let our praises be constant, not interrupted; united, not divided; thankful, not cold and formal; humble, not self-confident.”  As we began to see last week, John is in the court of heaven, describing as best he can what he sees and hears there.  What we extracted from last week in a few words is that God Almighty wears the colours of not only the Old Testament people of God, Israel, but that of the tribe of Judah, from which came our Lord Jesus Christ, and who is at the very center of the universe, ruling over all creation in His great love that redeemed fallen man to Himself in the great sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Himself and subsequent resurrection.  This is the very love that drives the universe and should drive all creation to worship Him in response to His great love.  Reformer and Puritan Matthew Henry reflects that perfectly with his prose in that quote.

We do well to remember here that the Greek word for “Revelation” is the Greek word apokalupsis, and it means  “an uncovering of something covered or hidden from view.”  This book titled Revelation is really the uncovering of the person of Jesus Christ and how He will return to earth, and some of the things that will be fulfilled.  In our text this evening, John is describing a scene in heaven that is immediately prior to the events of the seven-year period leading up to His return.  Some scholars refer to this as the 70th week of Daniel, which weeks were weeks of years, hence the “7 years” reference.  Others have called it the “time of Jacob’s trouble or The Great Tribulation.”  As everything John reports from His vantage point is in heaven, we will keep ourselves open to what he will tell us in the text.  For now, He is reporting on a scene of worship, and if you will consider it, a heavenly cantata of sorts that covers creation and redemption in five hymns over chapters 4 and 5. The first two complete Chapter 4.  We will comment on this as we go.

I broke the text down into thought units as follows.

KV9:  A Cantata of Heaven in Five Parts

9:  And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever…

7:  The Worship Leaders of Heaven:  Life Personified

8:  The First Hymn: Praise to the Creator for who He is

9-11:  The Second Hymn:  Praise to the Creator for what He has done

I once heard it said that music is a universal language.  It is used in heaven here, and by the end of this Cantata, as I have called it, all of God’s creation will be involved in it.  This is noticeable from the very beginning of our study this evening all the way through the end of Chapter 5.  Two of those hymns of worship are in our text this time, and we will look at everything as we normally attempt, sometimes with less success than others.  With that said, let us begin.

KV9:  A Cantata of Heaven in Five Parts

9:  And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever…

As I read through the text, I could hear the music of certain songs and choruses that I have heard over the years that reflect the things the singers are singing.  I will try to give them a little detail as we go because as we saw a moment or two ago, all of heaven is engaged in this act of worship, and by the end of this, all creation is involved.  Talk about a groundswell of praise.  If you’ve been in a choir, you may have been privileged to present your audience with a figurative cantata.  The meaning of “cantata” is a composition for one or more voices usually comprising solos, duets, recitatives, and choruses and sung to an instrumental accompaniment.  It comes from the Italian for “sung,” and is the singular feminine participle of cantare, or “to sing.”  The word “sung” is correct here.  Is it literally sung?  If I’m reading this properly, it is, otherwise it will sound like responsive reading on Sunday, and that’s not bad, I just think it will have a cadence and sound that is pleasing to all ears that hear it. 

Every Choir has soloists (usually several, in all of the different parts from soprano to bass), and this choir is no different.  In fact, this one has four principals that start the whole thing off.  Picture if you will, the ULTIMATE Barbershop Quartet.  (Just don’t ask me to sing anything other than second tenor anymore.). Let us get into the text.

7:  The Worship Leaders of Heaven:  Life Personified

This actually began last time, in the last half of the last verse, so I will back up a partial verse for the context to be complete.

[6b]-7:  [around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.] The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.

  • We spoke in brief of these four living creatures [zōa] because of the mention in the last half of verse 6.  These four beings were identified by the prophet Ezekiel as kerubim or what we would call cherubim, perhaps the most powerful class of angel and quite possibly also called seraphim, as seen in Isaiah 6.  Let’s look at Ezekiel 1 to see if we can gain more information on these zōa.  Ezekiel 1:4-12 says, “As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire. Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them, their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each had two touching another being, and two covering their bodies. And each went straight forward; wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go, without turning as they went.”  Did anybody else notice a discrepancy?  Only four wings.  These had six.  What can account for this?  Another class of angels?  Perhaps, but I tend to think about where Ezekiel was standing and what he could see versus where John was standing and what He could see.  This also reveals that EACH of these creatures had all four faces, one of a man, one of a bovine, one of a lion, and one of an eagle.  That is missing from John.  Ezekiel saw them approaching from a distance and in the sky.  John was standing with a head-on view and was closer.  Isaiah must have been on the same plane as John when He saw them, he saw 6 wings.  Isaiah called them Seraphim, and his view of their faces was obscured by a pair of wings.  Maybe the wings that Ezekiel did not see.  Each of these men saw what Yahweh wanted them to see exactly.  By comparing these points of view and observations, the vast majority of people arrive at the same conclusion.  All three of these men had a vision of the same scene; God was on His throne and surrounded by these four.  John saw all four heads on, and therefore only saw one face of each, but each one could still have four faces.  Enough angelology already. 
  • Each creature is representative of one of the four realms of life that God placed on the earth, at least according to the Talmud.  It may have its own problems (the Talmud), but for what it’s worth, the lion represented the wild animals, the calf (bovine) represented all the domesticated animals, the eagle represented all of the flying creatures, and the face of the man represented all humans.  (Where are the fish?  With the Lion.  There may be reasons for this, I’m not solid on this, so we will leave that alone.). Interestingly, each of the Gospels has one of these faces associated with it.  Matthew is the lion because the book shows His royal lineage from David.  Mark is the bull ox because it represents the servant.  Luke is the human face because it shows our Lord Jesus as the Son of Man, the Lord’s favourite way of identifying Himself while he was here.  John is represented by the eagle because it is meant to show His divinity, though it also may represent speed, or possibly both.
  • Why are we going into such detail?  Beloved, they are the biblical Gospel Quartet that leads off the worship in our figurative heavenly cantata.  They begin our first Hymn of Praise to Almighty God in our next paragraph.

8:  The First Hymn: Praise to the Creator for who He is

As they begin their song, John drops this little piece of information:  They do not stop night or day.  It is their eternal duty to cover the Throne of God.  They fly around the throne like lightning, with eyes all around and within.  Let’s jump into the text and see what that means.

8:  And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.”

  • Here John mentions the six wings as Isaiah.  Isaiah’s description comes from Isa. 6:1-3 and reads, “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.'”  The six wings all have purposes.  One pair covers their face because not even such an angelic majesty can look directly at God the Father and not be consumed by His holiness.  A second pair covered their feet because they also stood on holy ground.  A third pair allowed them to take flight, and that has multiple purposes, including speed, motion, travel, and grace, all in the performance of the commands of God for them. 
  • John informs that they are full of eyes around and within.  I like the way John MacArthur puts this.  He explains that the eyes are “symbolizing their awareness, alertness, and comprehensive knowledge.  Though they are not omniscient, nothing pertaining to their duties escapes their scrutiny.”  That’s it, and I will add that these zōa are self-aware, if you will note the eyes pointed within.  As a part of their duties before God, they are also self-aware and self-examining, or at least that is what I think John is implying.
  • As I mentioned, they do not stop day or night, nor apparently do they grow tired, in saying what John repeats for us.  They are saying, “hagios, hagios, hagios, kurios ho Theos ho pantokratōr, ho me, kai ho ōn, kai ho erchomenos” in Greek.  Literally, that is “Holy, holy, holy, Lord [the] God [the] Almighty [or “Ruler of all”], who was and is and is to come.”  This is a slight difference from what they were saying in Isaiah’s day, but the theme is along the same lines.  The “who was/is/is to come” is a reference to earlier in Rev. 1:4, which reads, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.”  This is a reference to God, in any expression of Him you may wish (though the Spirit is mentioned specifically as the seven Spirits before His throne).
  • When I hear that, I hear a song that goes like this:  Holy Holy Holy // Is the Lord God Almighty // Who was and is and is to come // With all creation I sing // Praise to the King of Kings // You are my everything // and I will adore You.  Yes, it is a song from a questionable source, but in this case they got it right, and you will see that as we go through the rest of our cantata.

9-11:  The Second Hymn:  Praise to the Creator for what He has done

There is a bit of what baseball fans would call a changeup pitch here.  We start with a bit of a transition from the last paragraph to this one, and my artificial division of the text makes it a bit sloppy, but you’ll see the point of this heavenly presentation in part and as we continue, this is where you will see the first part of audience participation.

9:  And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever,

  • This verse is a little sideways because of the way I saw the text and could make a coherent outline.  This verse is what I would call an event change point.  When this event completes, another event begins in the figurative movement of songs in heaven.  WHEN the living creatures give glory (like they just did) and honour and thanks to Him who sits on the Throne, God the Father in this case, to Him who lives forever and ever (as if there would be any doubt as to His identity).  For those that know that the Greek word for “forever” is aionas, good!  The Phrase here is “aiōnas tōn aiōnōn.”  To the ages of the ages, which for God roll on endlessly.  Now think about what “eternal life” means.  It is life as God has life, and Beloved, He is giving that to all those who are His.  Are you His yet?
  • Remember, this verse is an event change point.  The next verse contains the new event.  Stand by, it is nearly audience participation time.

10:  the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

  • We met these 24 elders last time.  Whether this number is literal, figurative, or both at the same time in some way we cannot now understand, we concluded that these 24 elders represented the rescued church in heaven.  They are around the throne of God, we know they rule something because of the crowns and thrones, and we don’t think they are angels because whenever we meet an angel they are not sitting because their work is not finished.  I personally think this rescue is the harpazo event Paul speaks of in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 which reads, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”  It is my studied opinion that these are the overcomers that the Lord Jesus directly addressed in the seven letters we took some time to examine in detail.  What happened to them?  He said it to Philadelphia, but it is for all of His faithful saints in all cities in Rev 3:10 which reads, “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”  You will recall that we looked at the Greek text there and determined that it tells us that He will keep us from THE hour of THE testing.  Hear what the Spirit says to the CHURCHES.  Plural.  All of them.  Be faithful (keep the word of His perseverance) and He will keep us from the hour of the testing of the Great Tribulation.  So if you are His in reality, then You are at least represented by these 24 elders.  And what do they do?
  • Maybe I should phrase that “What will we do?”  It tells us that we will fall down on our faces and worship the One who sits on the throne.  We will worship Him who lives unto the ages of the ages.  We will cast our crowns at His feet because we didn’t do anything to earn them, in reality, they belong to Christ who gave them to us, and the Father gave us to Him.  We are not our own, we have been bought with a price, Beloved.  We did nothing to earn the rewards He so freely gives to us.  This will be our acknowledgement of that in worship.  Here is the crown you won for me.  Take it, I didn’t earn it, you did.  Amen, let it be so.  Let us not look at the reward but instead at the hand of the One who gives it.  May his grace and mercy be multiplied to you.

11:  “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

  • This is the song of the 24 elders, the recognition of who He is and what He has done for all of creation.  This interestingly has no Old Testament counterpart that summarizes it or originates it.  Oh, the concepts are there, but in fragments all over the place.  This is uniquely in the New Testament text from this point on.  The next song they sing will be about who is worthy to open the Scroll that appears, but I don’t want to get in front of myself, I will trip and that’s never pretty, right?  There are people here who know what I mean, and I am right there with you all.
  • So what is their song?  Well, we read the verse, but when I read it I recognized another chorus we sing sometimes on Sundays.  Sing it with me if you know it.

Thou art worthy –

Thou art worthy –

Thou art worthy, Oh Lord…

To receive glory –

Glory and honour –

Glory, honour, and power!

For Thou hast created,

Hast all things created –

Though hast created all things!

And for Thy glory

Were all things created –

Thou art worthy, Oh Lord!

  • The phrase “because of Your will they existed and were created” reminds me of another passage.  John 1:1-3, 14, 18 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”  At the origin of things, there was only a pre-existent being, already a Trinity, an eternal being, having no beginning and no end.  He was the Word, He was with God, and He was God Himself.  That Word is also called God the Son.  He made the universe and everything in it according to verse 3.  And according to verse 14, that God became a man, and we saw His glory, as the only begotten of His Father.  He was full of grace and truth.  Psalm 85:10 tells us that in Him, “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”  He is the great mediator between God and man.  He is both God and man at the same time.  Theologians call this the hypostatic union.  He had to be to satisfy the justice and wrath of God and to benefit any person who would turn to Him.  And in him, according to verse 18, although nobody has seen God the Father face to face, He explained Him.  The word is exēgēsato, meaning “to lead out,” used as “to make known, to rehearse, to declare.”  We get our transliterated English word “exegesis” from it, and it means the same thing, and usually in great detail.  This is Christ our God and King.  Yahweh Yeshuah.  We worship God because of God who redeemed us and made us (or at present is in the process) like Christ, who is the exact representation of His nature.  We haven’t arrived there, but He is trying us like gold in the fire through our many trials and toils over hard and rough terrain.  But that rescue is coming, Beloved, and then on that day John is describing, we will be able to sing this song for Him.

In a larger sense, from the context of chapters 4 and 5, we must remember that this is a pre-war setting.  This worship is inspired by the coming return of Christ, whom we have yet to meet in this heavenly picture.  He comes in the next chapter, though not the next study.  This coming war is God declaring war on everything evil in the world.  It is the thought of premillennial theologians that it is the time of Jacob’s trouble and His reclaiming His chosen Old Testament people Israel that will prove and redeem them to Himself also through His Christ, Yeshuah Ha’Meshiach, Jesus the Messiah, Yahweh Yeshuah Himself.  If we bear in mind that judgement is always to return those who will follow Him back to Himself, this will make more sense in a plain reading of the text.

The war is about to heat up, folks.  Buckle up tight, this is going to be capital W, capital I, capital L, capital D, WILD.  It has in fact already begun at the beginning of Revelation 4.  John is just giving details, all of it rich with meaning and tied closely to the Old Testament for the most part.

That’s what I saw in the text this time!

We will look at verses 1 through 4 next time, and then 5 through 10 and then 11 through 14.  Those were the best spots I could break it up. 

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