By William R. Newell
Part One: Judgment
Revelation 4, 5
Revelation Four—The Throne Set in Heaven Read this chapter over and over, and also chapter five; for they introduce the whole prophetic part of The Revelation.
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Al- mighty, who was and who is and who is to come.
Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created.
To adjudicate is denned as “determining judicially conflicting claims”; and so we use the word here. Whether some creature, or whether Christ alone, shall take over the bringing back of judgment to righteousness is the question. When Christ stood before Pilate, righteousness was on His side, but judgment was in the hands of the Roman governor. Here the time has come to return judgment unto righteousness.
Consider that the Throne of God, which was not in sight in the first three chapters of The Revelation, now comes into view; and so prominently, and in such character, from chapter 4 onward, as to make The Revelation become, “the Book of The Throne.”
The Throne was not seen when God walked with His first man Adam, in the garden. But later we read, “Jehovah sat as king at the Flood” (Psalm 29:10). Here it was for judgment, not worship.
The Throne is not seen in the history of Abraham or the patriarchs, for they were walking by simple faith, and were the depositaries of promises. They were not connected with a manifested Throne, but built altars for worship.
When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He had a nation for His name, and dwelt among them in glory (although Himself in thick darkness), sitting above the cherubim of the ark of the covenant, which was a type of the Throne on high.
Isaiah saw Him thus in the temple,—the seraphim above Him, crying, “Holy, holy, holy,” and Ezekiel saw “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah” enthroned upon the cherubim.
It is quite astonishing in view of such holiness and glory to find written in I Chronicles 29:23, “Then Solomon sat on the throne of Jehovah as king, instead of David his father.” It will not be until our Lord returns to take that throne of David (as He will—Luke 1:32, 33) that it will again become “the throne of Jehovah.” Christ will inherit it, as Son of David, but it was to David that it was promised (2 Samuel 7:11-16). Our Lord will then reign as “a Priest upon his throne”—the full Melchizedek figure. This is “the tabernacle of David,” a phrase quoted in Acts 15:16, 17, from Amos 9:11, 12. It is the millennial time.
That men like David and Solomon and their successors, should sit upon “the throne of Jehovah” is not as wonderful as that “unto us a child is born” and His Name shall be called, “The Mighty God”! Also, as in all other revelations of God’s plan, men were to have the opportunity along all lines to undertake and to fail; and thus make room for Christ, in whom alone are all the real purposes and plans of God.
This is true from the beginning and through all dispensations. Generally speaking, His government has been hidden, in what is called “providence.” If you desire to trace how fully God rules behind the scenes, study, for example, the book of Proverbs, noting that God declares how each course of life will turn out: the wicked, the righteous, the slothful, the diligent, etc. Who makes things thus “turn out”?
Psalm 9:7, 8
It is this prepared Throne that comes into view in Daniel 7:9: “I beheld till thrones were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit”; as also in Revelation 4:2, “Behold, there was a throne set in heaven.” It will be a special arranging of the divine Throne of majesty, for dealing in manifested judgment, although God is not now so dealing.
Today God is on the throne of GRACE: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses.” The world’s sin having been dealt with by God at Calvary, and thus all God’s holy, righteous claims having been met, yea, and the world “reconciled” with His holy being, from God’s side, the One sinned against, God sends forth His messengers to beseech men from their side to be reconciled to God! Furthermore, the believer is invited to come with boldness (literally, freeness, freespokenness) to this “Throne of Grace” (Hebrews 4:16).
“The throne of God and of the Lamb,” the eternal manifestation of the divine Throne, as we shall note at the end of Revelation, is of unmeasured comfort: a Throne, certainly, necessarily, but—“they see his face, his name is on their foreheads”; and the Lamb, although Himself God, is forever Man,—“a Lamb as it had been slain,” and He sits thus on the Throne! “The throne of God and of the Lamb”—forever!
In Revelation, chapters 4 and 5, we find God’s Throne set in peculiar character before us. In fact, the scene of Revelation 4 precisely corresponds to that of Daniel 7:9: “I beheld till thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days did sit,” John’s words being, “And behold, there was a throne SET in heaven” (Revelation 4:2).
Let us note the particulars of this Throne, and the character of the worship:
1. The Throne of the Triune Eternal God “set” in heaven (as in Daniel 7) surrounded by a rainbow (Genesis 9).
2. The twenty-four elders48 crowned and on thrones about the Throne of God.
3. The “lightnings”—“voices”—“thunders”: these powers of nature made intelligent to man in judgment.
4. The “seven lamps of fire”—“the seven Spirits of God”; that is, complete active discernment of all matters and affairs in judgment,—the Holy Spirit: but in governmental administration, not as the “Comforter” of saints, and as Revealer of Christ to sinners, as now.
5. The glassy sea before the Throne: manifested eternal holiness and purity; (not, as now, the approach to the Throne of Grace!).
6. The “four living creatures”49 (or, living beings). The cherubim who support the divine Throne (as in Ezekiel) intelligent fully of His ways in majesty.
7. God’s creatorship declared by the living beings and the elders to be the basis of their worship (4:11).
We have seen in 1:19 the Lord’s commission to John to write “the things which thou sawest”—the vision of the glorious Christ among the churches; “and the things which are” (now existing—that is the seven churches covering prophetically the whole church age) “and the things which shall come to pass after these.”
It is very necessary that we grasp firmly this divine division of this great book of The Revelation, so we repeat it: Christ is speaking in Revelation 1:19, of the subjects of which John is to write. Literally, that verse reads, “Write therefore what you saw, and what are being, and what is about to become after these.” So, in The Revelation, first Christ is seen in His personal risen glory; then, we see the professing Church, which as His witness upon earth finally proves as false as Israel, and is “spewed out of his mouth”; and, third, we have the earth’s governmental history after the Church’s rejection by Christ, until His return to establish His kingdom. During this third period, the true Church is, of course, in heaven, though not in any sense manifested there until the marriage supper of the Lamb in chapter 19.
There are several reasons why chapter 4 succeeds in time chapters 2 and 3. Let us examine the opening verses:
1. After these things (Greek, meta tauta). This expression is most important, as we shall find throughout the book. It may mean merely a new vision, or a new phase of a vision, as in chapter 7:9. But in view of chapter 1:19, the use of the phrase in 4:1 is quite indicative of a change from the church matters of chapters 2 and 3 to an entirely different scene and subject.
2. A door was opened in heaven as if for entrance or egress (see 19:11). It is indeed for John’s entrance, and evidently, the whole Church is represented here! For “churches” are mentioned not once after chapter 3, till the apocalypse is over! 22:16.
3. The first voice which I heard. We know this is the voice that John heard in chapter 1, the Lord’s own voice. He now speaks again to John, not as Himself upon Patmos, but as from heaven.
4. As of a trumpet. Compare 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “The Lord himself … with an assembling shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God”; and also 1 Corinthians 15:52—“The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.”
5. Come up hither. John had heretofore spoken of those church things about which The Revelation concerned itself—namely, the state of the churches as witness-bearers on earth. He is now called up to heaven, as if the course of things of which he had been speaking was altogether over, and he was henceforth to look at future things from the heavenly side.
6. The Lord’s further words, I will show thee the things which must come to pass. After these things, surely indicate that the matters about to be revealed to the apostle succeed in time of occurrence those matters already considered in chapters 2 and 3.
7. Furthermore, upon examining the scenes following Revelation 4:1, we find as we say above, no mention of the “churches,” until The Revelation itself is over, and the Lord Jesus is setting His personal seal to it in chapter 22:16ff. There, of course, The Revelation having been sent to the assemblies, our Lord speaks to them.
But it is of primary importance that the student of The Revelation leave the earth with John (in spirit) in Revelation 4:2 and not return until the Lord returns, with His saints, in Revelation 19:11.
There is evidently in these chapters 4 and 5 a returning to the Throne of God, and a new beginning. Church things are fully over (chapters 2 and 3).
The Throne, then, of Revelation 4, will have peculiar features displayed befitting the event. It is not merely a description of divine majesty, but that revelation of it that belongs to the matter in hand. It will not, for example, be like the “Great White Throne” of Revelation 20:11-15—the last judgment scene. There, of course, Deity is unveiled in absolute finality of judicial holiness and brightness. There, the heaven and earth have fled away. Final eternal issues, and these only are there involved. But here in chapters 4 and 5, the question is, Who shall execute the “judgments written” regarding this earth, and vindicate God’s ways in its government?
But the Triune Eternal God—worshipped thus in 4:8, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come,” is first revealed. In chapter 4 He is worshipped as the Creator, by the living creatures and the twenty-four elders. His appear- ance, indeed, according to 4:3 “like a jasper stone and sardius … clear as crystal” (21:11) sets forth His holiness in essence rather than in action, (as on the Great White Throne). There are, indeed, “lightnings,” “voices” and “thunders” proceeding out of the Throne, indicating power and intelligence, acting in judgment.50
There was a rainbow round about the throne. This reminds us at once of God’s covenant with Noah and every living creature of Genesis 9. The emerald is the fourth of the stones of the foundation of the City, as seen in Revelation 21:19. We might say that even this number 4 is indicative, as being the earth number; but, be that as it may, the fact of the rainbow round about the throne here described, must indicate God’s calling the inhabitants of the earth to account for their “breaking of the everlasting covenant,” as described in Isaiah 24:5. The “everlasting covenant” is the particular name by which God designates that agreement with Noah and all terrestrial creation recorded in Genesis 9:8-17. In this remarkable passage the word “covenant” is repeated seven times, and in verse 12 it is declared by God to be made “between me and you and every living creature that is with you for perpetual generations”; while in verse 16, “I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and all flesh that is upon the earth.” The human conditions were: to be fruitful and multiply (9:1); to eat animal food as well as vegetable (9:3); to abstain from eating blood (9:4); and to shed the blood of murderers—that is, to continue capital punishment (9:6)—because to strike at man was to strike at the image of God in which he was made!
Now the Isaiah passage (24:1-13) which describes in a few verses the terrific visitations of judgment to come upon the earth prior to the coming of the Lord (for it is not the final burning up of the earth that is there pictured) gives as the reason for these terrible things: “The earth is polluted under the inhabitants thereof because they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.”
Now the “laws” may well refer to the laws of man’s own being, which we know from our Lord’s words concerning the Sodom-like days which will precede His return, will be universally transgressed. The days before the flood were days of lust and violence, as the days of Lot were times of unnatural departing from the very laws of human being. “The statutes” may include such fundamental and universally recognized relations as those of the family—as to husband and wife, brother, sister and parental authority, and also obedience to the powers that be. These things we find written into the constitution and conscience of all people, even those that have had no contact with God’s written Word. The “everlasting covenant” has been noted with its conditions, which every one knows are all openly ignored in our own days. Birth control in defiance of “be fruitful and multiply”; vegetarianism, despising God’s distinct command to eat flesh as well as herbs and fruit (for flesh-eating protects the human body from demoniacal control), and finally the awful rejection of that fundamental ordinance of human government, the death penalty to murderers:—these things indicate the trend toward that condition which will be brought about in the preliminary judgments of Revelation 6 to 18.
“Few men (shall be) left,” says Isaiah, “For thus shall it be in the midst of the earth among the peoples, as the shaking of an olive-tree, as the gleanings when the vintage is done.”
People conceive of the “millennium” as the time of great peace and plenty on earth, whereas it will be introduced by the most awful day this world has ever known—the great Day of Wrath of God, the Almighty, and that Day of Wrath will be preceded by years of visitations so terrible as to decimate the population of the earth.
The Millennium, or thousand years’ reign, will indeed be a time of peace, but it will be peace by an iron-rod rule in the hands of the Lord Himself and it will be preceded by catastrophic judgments after which “there shall be left therein gleanings, as the shaking of an olive-tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost branches of a fruitful tree, saith Jehovah, the God of Israel. In that day shall men look unto their Maker, and their eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel.”
We speak of these things merely to prepare our hearts to believe what we shall see in the coming chapters of Revelation. The voices of the prophets are one as to the “day which the Lord shall make.” Hear one more prophet—Zephaniah. “The great day of Jehovah is near, it is near and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of Jehovah; the mighty man crieth there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness … And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against Jehovah; and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as dung.”
The Slain Lamb Takes the Book of Judgment
(Read Revelation, Chapters 4 and 5, over and over. They are one passage. They contain the key to the rest of Revelation.)
Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they (shall) reign upon the earth.
Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing.
Unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever.
And the four living creatures said, Amen. And the elders fell down and worshipped.
Note these seven facts in chapter five:
1. The seven-sealed book: fully written, ready to be opened, close-sealed, indicating finality and privacy.
2. All creation’s utter inability even to look upon this book.
3. John’s overwhelming sorrow at apparent delay of God’s longed-for kingdom.
4. The Lion of Judah declared to have “overcome” and be ready to open the book.
5. The slain Lamb revealed in the midst of the throne, with seven horns of perfect power, and seven eyes, “the seven Spirits of God,” sent forth into earth’s affairs in utter discernment.
6. His formal coming and taking the book from the hand of God. This is that taking over of governmental power by the Mediator which is the burden of Old Testament prophecy, (and of all our hearts!) and all creation’s celebration thereof! (verses 7-14)
7. Worship now founded not merely upon creation, but upon redemption. “Worthy art thou … for thou wast slain” (verses 9, 12).
The second character in which our Lord is seen in the book of Revelation is that of the Slain Lamb, now invested and exalted, opening the seven-sealed book written with the divine order of events, by which Christ is put in actual possession and active exercise of the kingdom denied Him when He was on earth before.
These two chapters (4 and 5) naturally become the most majestic and overwhelming of any portion of Scripture up to this point. They reveal that tremendous event toward which God the Father has been bending all events of the history of creation—the investiture of Jesus (who obeyed Him even unto death, yea, the death of the cross), with that inheritance of glory, honor, dominion and power which brings “every created thing which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and on the sea, and all things that are in them” to acknowledge aloud His place and majesty (Revelation 5:13).
If we have followed the “spirit of prophecy” from the beginning of Scripture until this book of Revelation, and have found that Jesus is its constant testimony, we are prepared for the blessed scene of chapter 5. Because all creation has utterly failed to take over the business of carrying out the due judgment of God written in the sealed book, we hail with great delight this public (and that an absolutely universally public!) handing over of this book of judgment, to our Lord as the Lamb that was slain.
“A Lamb … as though it had been slain.” Do we wonder that the One who was so devoted to the will of God as to die in obedience to it,—so committed to holiness and righteousness as to be slain rather than submit to sin, should now be deemed worthy to take this book of judgment and open its seals? This thought of the wounds of Christ, blessed comfort to His own, (John 20:20) will strike stark terror to His enemies! For the slain Lamb cannot compromise with the iniquity they love!
Why are harps and bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (5:8), connected with the Lamb’s taking the book of the inheritance? Did the prayers of the saints bring about this scene? Would our Lord have commanded His disciples to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth,” if (a) God had not meant to bring this to pass, and (b) if the prayers of the saints were not a vital factor in bringing about this glorious result? Follow through the book of Revelation whatever is said about the prayers of the saints. Some day it will be found that every soul that has been saved, every blessing any saint has received, every thwarting of Satan, every victory for God, as well as this final consummation of our Lord’s taking over the book of the kingdom—all have been brought about through the saints’ prayers, inspired of God, as essential elements in His great, all-comprehensive purpose.
How, in verse 9, is the worth of the Lamb brought out by His having been slain? We ask this again. Just why should our Lord’s obeying the Father even unto death make Him the One to take over from the hand of His God and Father all judgment? Please study this. Do not pass it lightly.
John “wept much” when no one was found worthy even to look on this book.51
It was as if sin and Satan were to go on forever in the usurped control of affairs in this world. It was as if it must still be written:
Right forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.
The apostle was broken-hearted about this. The Greek indicates that he burst into tears of sorrow. The same word is used of our Lord in His weeping over Jerusalem. It would be well if we had the intense longing of the apostle John that the kingdom of God should come, that His will should be done on earth as it is in heaven; it would be well if even the thought of the continuation of evil should give us deepest anguish!
It is to be feared that oft our knowledge that our Lord is to return to earth to “straighten things out” has been the occasion of the temptation to a kind of spiritual patience with iniquity, that is hardening and deadening. We need to “vex our righteous souls” as Lot did, as we see their “lawless deeds.” And we need to long and pray for the great denouement of Revelation 5!
It should be noted that the four living beings and the four and twenty elders have each a harp (verse 8) which indicates glad celebration of victory; and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. That is, it is the prayers of the saints of all ages that have brought about this taking over of the kingdom at last by God. “Thy kingdom come” has been the heart cry of every believer since Abel the righteous. Our Lord taught the disciples to pray this prayer with the express desire that His Father’s will should be done on this earth as it is in heaven. It is the prayers of the saints which in divine providence bring about this “returning of judgment to righteousness.”
Another fact, in verse 9: they sing this new kingdom song to the Lamb: “For thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth.” Notice that these beings are not in ecstasy over their own salvation (the word “us” in verse 9, in the old version, should not be there) but their rejoicing is that redeemed men have been made a kingdom and priests and are to reign upon the earth. It is not the escape to heaven by redemption that is being rejoiced over here, but the near-at-hand establishment upon earth of a reign of God by means of these redeemed ones, that gives joy before the throne of God. We should keep this in mind throughout The Revelation. God is at last setting His hand to interfere with the earthly sinful order of things to the extent of completely setting aside earthly authority, after overturning it by dire judgments: then causing certain saints to reign with Christ on earth with a divine absolutism for a thousand years (Revelation 20), and then bringing in final judgment and the disappearance from the scene of the present heavens and earth. The objective of God is the new heavens and new earth wherein righteousness will be at home (Greek of 2 Peter 3:13). This should be our objective in thought, hope and prayer.
At last the angels are admitted into the circle (where the Church has ever been) of worshippers and celebrators of the Lamb that had been slain! What were the angels hitherto? (Hebrews 1:14). In Revelation 5:11, 12 we find Hebrews 1:6 fulfilled: “When he again bringeth in the firstborn into the world he saith, let all the angels of God worship him.” This glorious advancement should be rejoiced in by us, for the angels have evermore been giving glad service in our behalf; and they have ever “desired to look into” the blessed things of grace connected with the gospel (1 Peter 1:12).
The number of the angels is stated as one hundred millions, to begin with, and then millions and millions! When they see the Lamb that they saw slain, (knowing that He was the Eternal Son of God) now take over the book of the kingdom, do you wonder that they say with a great voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain”? Have you spoken thus about the Lamb of God? No other theme is really worth shouting over!
When every created thing in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea and all things that are in them say, “Unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion, unto the ages of the ages,” all infidels will be included, and all “modernist” preacher-infidels, all rejectors of Christ, all your family—saved or unsaved, all your loved ones—saved or lost alike! No creature will be left out. This great universal confession will not be for salvation, but it will be the fulfilling of Philippians 2:9-ll: “Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name, which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”52
Why was the book sealed? Why was it written within and on the back? Remember, it requires lawful authority to break a seal. You seal a private communication to your friend when you have written it and are ready to deliver it.
Each seal as it is broken by the Lamb will have a revelation from God therein; a revelation of His divine purpose toward Christ and through Christ. It certainly will be a blessed day when one after another we see Him break the seals of the written book and bring to pass what is written under each seal.
48 See Appendix II on the twenty-four elders.
49 The old rendering “beasts” is not a happy translation of this wonderful Greek expression zoa. Such a translation doubtless arose from a cumbersome attention to the described forms or appearances of these four living beings. God’s designation of them gives only the number four and the fact that they are (as their four generic forms reveal) the very embodiment of created life. Their name zoa cannot be duplicated by any single word in our language. It indicates that they are real, literal beings, and that they are vibrant with life in every direction and degree. The fact that they are “full of eyes before and behind round about and within” and that they have “no rest day and night” (and need none) proves this. They celebrate constantly the being of the Lord God the Almighty, the Eternal, Thrice Holy One; seeming in this celebration and worship to join with the twenty-four elders constantly in adoration.
This is their eternal occupation (4:9-11).
50 How significant is the occurrence of the word voices between the lightnings and thunders which we now know in nature! Compare 8:5; 11:19; 16:18. Compare these verses with Exodus 19:16—God’s appearance upon the top of Sinai. Also note that in Revelation 8:5: “There followed thunders, and voices, and lightnings” as if God had said, “You who rely on your knowledge of scientific facts, hearken while the thunders precede the lightnings and between the two are solemn voices showing the intelligent power that really produces all these things.” How blind is human science which leaves out God!
51 Note that the preposition in the first verse is “upon” (epi) and not in, the right hand. The book was not grasped by God, but offered for any one to take who could.
52 Contrast this passage carefully with that glorious prospect of the new creation recorded in Colossians 1:20, where “the things under the earth” are significantly omitted!