Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadPreviously on Decoding the Apocalypse
In the book of Revelation, there are four visions. We have overviewed Vision One. We discovered that there were two parts to the vision. In part one, we saw John present a word picture of Jesus as one full of wisdom, sovereign over his church, strong and stable, and one who was powerful. All these characteristics, and others, were helpful to the first readers who were living under the direct threat of Domitian. They needed to be reassured about their leader Jesus in the face of their own persecution.
In part two of Vision One, John shares seven messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor and we suggested that while there were seven physical locations for these churches that the message was indeed for the whole church and that the commendations and condemnations were meant for a wider audience. As the Revelation was passed around to the seven churches, they would see what Jesus was saying to them and to their sister churches on the Asian mail run. Each read their own mail and read the mail of the other churches. From “losing their first love” to “complete ineffectiveness,” Jesus had words for each of the churches. These words provided in Revelation may still apply to churches that we participate with today. An inventory from time to time that is based on these seven letters is often useful. After all, we don’t want to lose our “candlestick” for lack of knowledge about where we are in the eyes of Jesus.
After the first vision of Christ caring and protecting his churches, the revelation of “What must take place after this…” or the coming consummation of the kingdom of God begins.
Thus, we begin our discourse about Vision Two. As you can see, it comprises a big chunk of text (Rev. 4.1-16.21).
The Second Vision Revelation 4.1-16.21
The Heavenly Throne Revelation 4.1-11
Whatever else we may say about these verses, we must conclude from them that the main business of heaven is worship. Chapter Four is filled with word pictures, which the worldview of John’s day would certainly understand.
John is called to come up here in verse one. The Dispensational view, thus the Left Behind Series view, suggests that the rapture of John stands for the rapture of the church.
This is a phrase used by the pretribulationalist to refer to the church being united with Jesus at his Second Coming. It comes from a Latin word rapio which means caught up. The Scriptural support comes from 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17. The major divisions of interpretation of Paul’s words center on the relationship of the time of the rapture to the tribulation period, which marks the end of this present evil age. The introduction and interpretations concerning the rapture of the church have introduced a divisive element into Evangelicalism. On the surface, it would seem that this is a struggle over a minor point, but on a deeper level, it is a rather basic argument. The pretribulation rapture is one of the major doctrines of Dispensational Theology. It often leads the believer of this view to adopt a miraculous view of social ethics as well as a negative attitude toward culture. Often those who hold the view have a narrow outlook toward the church and its mission, culture, education, justice, and current events. Their version of Jesus against culture has imparted to twentieth century Evangelicals a spirit of withdrawal and suspicion toward others who do not hold to their belief.
The Left Behind Series, beginning in 1996, is the latest best-selling set of books that propagates this same eschatological theme. The genre of the books may have changed from Lindsey to LaHaye, but the theological message is the same and leads to the same views as those produced by the previous generation raised on the written works of Lindsey. The first book in the series is about the rapture, and the formation of an underground group of fellow-left-behinders to fight the antichrist.
Some of these writers hold that because the word church does not occur after chapter three, we should conclude that the church has been raptured. However, we must conclude from the text itself that 4.1 is addressed only to John and refers only to his reception of the vision at hand. John says that “at once he was in the Spirit.” This may suggest that he received the first vision while in a Spirit trance and now is called into another Spirit trance to receive the second vision. We must not presume that all four of the visions were received by John at one time just because they are presented in writing to us in a group of visions. They may have been received on different occasions on Patmos.
In chapter four, John sees the throne. On the throne, God is seated. John described God in terms of the brilliance of precious stones. There is no anthropomorphism here. That is to say that the picture of God here is not seen in human terms, i.e., hands, feet, eyes, mouth, etc. The one who was sitting on the throne had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. Jasper was a stone that was transparent while the carnelian was a fiery red stone. The rainbow was not the usual rainbow of different prism colors but was green. While some have struggled to find meaning for each color, it may be more prudent to understand that different issues of light represented the presence of God in the story of Scripture. This may have been an echo for the readers of the pillar of fire at night or the Shekinah of glory in the Holy of Holies. It seems fair to understand that John had a problem that follows him throughout his writing. He was being asked to explain something beyond his present “earthly experience” into the present “earthly terms.” He chooses the best language at hand to describe the indescribable. The rainbow was a prevalent part of the story of God and stood for his mercy. Thus, the possible inference here is to see the one sitting on the throne as one who will have mercy and patience on humankind awaiting the end of the age. We cannot in any way assert for sure, however, that this was John’s intended meaning.
Around the throne, there are twenty-four elders. Dispensational writers see the elders as the raptured church [ref]Hal Lindsey. There’s a New World Coming. 85)[/ref]. Other writers have seen the twenty-four as twelve patriarchs and the twelve apostles, the church of the Old Testament and the church of the New as one. Most likely they are a special group of angelic beings, which help with the government of the universe. The four living creatures may simply be a representation of the totality of God’s creation. Not just humankind, but all the creation is seen as worshiping God. This possible interpretation might fly in the face of the individualism of the Western Christian who thinks basically in terms of human beings worshiping God and even further reduced to worshiping in a building and even more reduced to worship as only occurring in the songs that are being sung.
In the text, the worship is directed toward God. In some places, what we have come to call worship music is much more about us, what we want, what we need. This may be because we think with an Enlightened mind where the world revolves around us. While worship is a “whole life” experience, our expression in music may need a check-up. Listen to what you are singing next time you are in a “worship service.” Are the lyrics about you or about God? It is surely important that we are aware of what we say in worship. For if we say something often enough, we begin to believe it. Bad theology derived from worship songs is a cruel taskmaster. You might want to visit Maggi Dawn’s blog. Maggi is an Anglican priest and writes here about Trinity and worship.
It is apparent then from this picture in chapter four, that one of the main businesses in heaven is the worship of God. It puzzles me that men and women who do not worship here can say that someday they hope to go to heaven. Won’t they be out of place? When we come together to worship God in his majesty and holiness, we are preparing ourselves for our heavenly destiny. As we live our daily lives as worship to God, we are preparing ourselves for our life on the new earth. Wouldn’t it be prudent to be intentional about “watching” what we say and how we live?
Let me conclude this section with a word from the Late George Ladd’s commentary on Revelation. It sets the stage for what must follow. Remember, the first hearers/readers were being persecuted by a human tyrant, Domitian. Their lives were at risk. Dr. Ladd said:
This Revelation will include the destruction of the powers of evil, of Satan, and of death; But before these evil powers are destroyed, they will break forth in a final desperate effort to frustrate the purposes of God by destroying the people of God. However, the terrible conflict that takes place on earth between the Church and the demonic powers embodied in an apostate civilization—Rome in the first century and Antichrist at the end—are in reality expressions in the historical form of a fearful conflict in the spiritual world between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. Therefore, the Revelation proper begins with the ultimate eternal fact of God enthroned and ruling in his universe. However fearful or uncontrolled the forces of evil on earth may seem to be, they cannot annul or eclipse the greater fact that behind the scenes God is on his throne governing the universe.” [ref]Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John. p. 70.[/ref]
The Seven Seals 5.1-8.1
The next part of the vision is recorded from Revelation 5.1-8.1. History is going somewhere in spite of what we often may hear. For the most part, we do not know where history is going. This should not be a surprise to believers. Revelation 5 sees the whole of human history resting in the hands of God (Rev. 5.1). The events that occur next in the vision are the events that accompany the end of the age but are not the end of the age itself. They are the events leading to the end. The contents of the scroll contain both redemptive and judicial events, which will accompany the end of the world and the introduction of the world to come. The book is seen as completely sealed (seven seals). For them, there were no books as we visualize them today. So picture a scroll, rolled up, and on the outside were seven seals to keep it completely closed. The breaking of each seal then is not the opening of the book but is precursory to the opening of the book. You might, for visual purposes, roll up a piece of paper and put seven pieces of tape, or seven small post-it notes from one end to the other. As you take off one post-it notes at a time, you have not opened the document, but you are working toward opening the document. This is the picture you must hold when reading the opening of the scroll in Revelation 5.
The Sealed Book 5.1-14
Chapter Five centers its attention on the sealed book of destiny, which is in the hand of God. It stresses a truth that is central to Revelation: only the Lamb by virtue of his sacrificial death is qualified to break the seals and open the book. The Lamb has won a victory! He can break the seals and open the scroll. In the death of Jesus, he not only procured our salvation, the process of becoming truly human, he also won the victory that would eventually allow him to open the scroll of history and bring history to its divine conclusion.
The opening of the book is about the consummation of the kingdom. Remember, that the kingdom of God is the rule of God. We cannot advance, build, or create it. We can, however, enter it. That is to say. We can place our lives under God’s rule and care. In Jesus, the kingdom of God came, but not yet in its fullness. The kingdom of God is a biblical motif that is found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Mosaic Covenant for Israel was an expression of the kingdom. It was a “Lord–Servant treaty,” the Lord being the ruler of the servant. Jesus came preaching that the kingdom was present in him. He brought the kingdom in a way it had not been expressed before him. His life was a kingdom life. His resurrection was a promise of a kingdom life yet to be realized by humankind. We now live in between the time of the coming and the consummation of the kingdom. Beginning with Revelation 5, we will see some glimpses of the consummation of the kingdom.
The Six Seals Revelation 6.1-17
Chapter Six begins the breaking of the seals and, we may assume, the opening of the book. Remember, the breaking of the seals is not the actual opening of the book. It is only preliminary to its actual opening. The book contains two ideas that compliment each other:
- The establishment of the kingdom of God by the gathering of the saints.
- The judgment of God on the evil demonic powers which have opposed his people.
One of the questions that we all ask often is, why? Why did this happen to me? Why did we lose our child? Why was my child born defective? Why did I lose that job? Why aren’t my relatives turning to Jesus? Why am I so broken in my life? Why? There are no easy answers to these questions and hundreds like them if there are answers at all.
Meditate on this: We can know that we have chosen to follow one who has defeated the controller of this present evil age and has brought us the presence of the future into the present of our lives. We, like the readers and hearers of the Revelation for centuries, can rest assured that the slain Lamb will one day stand in the presence of God, holding the book of history in his hand, ready to open it, and reveal the end of history and bring us to himself at his coming. Then, and only then, will all of our whys be answered.
The First Seal Revelation 6.1-2
The White Horse. Dispensationalism sees this figure as the Antichrist. Hal Lindsey believes that there are two Antichrists: one European, one Jewish. For Lindsey, the white horse is the European Antichrist and he believes that this person is alive somewhere in the world at the time when he was writing his book. [ref]Lindsey. There’s a New World Coming. 103).[/ref]
However, in the book of Revelation when white appears, it is always related to something which is associated with God or salvation (Rev. 1.14; 2.17; 3.4, 5, 18; 4.4; 6.11; 7.9-13; 14.14; 19.11, 19.14; 20.11). One must be impressed with this array of evidence from within Revelation and interpret this use of the word white with the consistency of the other interpretations of white. To understand what this white horse represents, we must examine the teaching of Jesus during his own life and ministry.
Remember, I am attempting to interpret Revelation within the framework of what the first readers/listeners could have understood. Even though the Gospels had been written, it is not clear that John or his hearers had them at hand. What is clear is that the oral tradition about Jesus was widespread and may have been the privy of these listeners. The activities mentioned in the written record of Matthew 24.1-51 were oral tradition before they were written tradition. These activities in this age that were spoken about by Jesus do not suggest that the end of time was imminent, but that they are signs that the end is not yet. They are the signs that will take place while the end is delayed. In short, the course of the age will not be easy. It will be marked by trouble, confusion, and chaotic times. But, the good news is that, while the marks of this present evil age are chaotic, the gospel of the kingdom, which is the only gospel that Jesus suggested his followers share, will be continually preached. The white horse pictures the progress and advancement of the gospel in the world.
The rider was sent out with a bow, a symbol of a divine weapon (an echo of Habakkuk 9.13). The rider was sent out to conquer. God has given the church a divine gospel to proclaim. When we proclaim it, we are to expect it to be effective. During the darkness of this present evil age, the gospel will be winning its victories. It will change the hearts and lives of men and women, and they, in turn, can change their spiritual and physical environment.
There has been a form of belief that still pervades some Evangelical thought today that suggests that it is the business of the church to build the kingdom of God in the world. The kingdom will only come as the church preaches the gospel in the world. It believes that it is the business of the church not only to preach salvation for the lost but also to save the whole of society, to transform political structures. It suggests that by the preaching of the gospel, that all evil, power politics, graft, and the like, will be eliminated. Economic struggles will be solved. Strife between management and labor and conflict between the nations will all occur as the church establishes the kingdom of God on earth. Some of this may happen in time and space as the gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed. The white horse seen as the spreading of the gospel best fits the context in which John is producing a message of comfort.
The Second Seal Revelation 6.3-4
The Red Horse. Rider loosed warfare and bloodshed on the earth. This horse represents war. War is one of the characteristics that will mark the age down to the end. The present war(s) that are occurring while you are listening/reading this are not signs that the end is close at hand. No! They are signs that the end is not yet. As long as there are wars in this present evil age, those who follow Jesus should never be deceived by a “false Christ” who promises that they are the Messiah. As long as there are wars and rumors of wars, the end of the age is not yet.
The Third Seal Revelation 6.5-6
The Black Horse. A quart of wheat was enough for one man’s daily food. Barley was the poor man’s wheat. All that a man could earn in a day would only keep him alive. Oil and wine were also everyday staples (Deut. 7.13). This is a view of scarcity. Economic distress will mark the course of the age.
The Fourth Seal Revelation 6.7-8
The Pale Horse. All kinds of violence and death will mark the course of this present evil age.
The Fifth Seal Revelation 6.9-11
The prayers are those of the martyrs in heaven who cry for divine vindication. In the Western world, it does not cost us to be a part of the church. It costs us very little of our time, little to none of our money, and none of our blood. Martyrdom, for these people in these seven churches under the persecution of Domitian, was at the heart of their Christian discipleship.
The Sixth Seal Revelation 6.12-17
Cosmic catastrophes are the results of divine judgment. This is the response of God’s holiness to wickedness. He vindicates the martyrs and causes all classes of men to flee, but there is no place to hide. Metaphors like “the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth” are symbols in Scripture that suggest the judgment of God.
So we may conclude that the sixth seal brings us to the threshold of the end. The breaking of the seventh seal will allow the book to be opened and the story of the events of the end time can be seen. But, as we will see, John rather tells the story of the end in greater detail, which is the substance of the remainder of Revelation.
So John takes the scroll firmly in his hand to open the seventh seal, which will open the book to reveal the end. He begins to tear away the seal…
To be continued…
Questions for Discussion
- What do you think about the idea that “we say something often enough, we begin to believe it,” or if we hear something often enough, we begin to believe it?
- How does the idea that God is on his throne quiet your fears about your life in this world, or does it?
- Share your thoughts about the opening of the seals not being the opening of the scroll, but only the preliminary events leading to the opening of the scroll, which is supposed to tell us about the end of this present evil age and the consummation of the kingdom of God.
- Share your thoughts about the white horse being the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom.
Winn Griffin has functioned as a publisher, Bible teacher, pastor, and writer for over forty years. He has taught in the church, college, and university systems during that time. He is the Founder and President of Seeing the Bible Live Ministries and the Publisher at HarmonPress.
He loves spending time with his family, collecting baseball cards, watching movies, eating banana sandwiches, traveling, reading mystery stories as pBooks and eBooks on his Kindle, and watching sports. He has been awarded a Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts and two Doctor of Ministry degrees. His first doctorate was in Biblical Studies while his second doctoral program was at George Fox University, Portland, OR, in Leadership in the Emerging Culture. He is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Society of Vineyard Scholars.
He is happily married to Donna Faith and they have three adult children: son and daughter-in-law and one daughter and live in Washington State.
- George Eldon Ladd. A Commentary on the Revelation of John
- Leon Morris. The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
- Robert H. Mounce. The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)
- Robert H. Gundry. Church and the Tribulation: A Biblical Examination of Posttribulationism
- Gordon D. Fee. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series)
- Marvin Pate, et al. Four Views on the Book of Revelation (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) Part of Counterpoints: Bible and Theology (31 Books) | by Zondervan.