In the Throne Room
The plan of salvation was explained to the Israelites, by ‘walking’ them through the earthly sanctuary and its services. In the same manner, John is being ‘walked’ through the heavenly sanctuary, in vision, step by step. In the earthly sanctuary the altar, in the courtyard, represented the cross. That part of the plan of salvation is completed. After the sacrifice was made in the earthly sanctuary, the blood was taken into the holy place. Therefore, the next phase of the plan of salvation unfolded in the holy place. John’s vision was given, after the sacrifice made on the cross, and since John has been told, that he is going to be shown things “hereafter” (Rev. 4:1), we should expect John, in vision, to be ushered into the holy place.
In the introduction to the seven churches, we saw that Jesus was walking among the seven candlesticks – the equivalent in the earthly sanctuary was the seven-headed candlestick. There are two more items in the holy place that we have not been introduced to yet – the table of showbread and the altar of incense. Since we are moving always closer to the most holy place, the next item we should be introduced to would be the table of showbread.
Jesus Ascends to Heaven
Many people in the Old Testament serve as types which prefigure the Messiah to come. One of these is David. Things that David experienced and the things that he wrote, serve as types which are fulfilled in the life of Jesus. Therefore, we can see that Psalm 22 prefigures the death of Jesus. Psalm 23 prefigures Jesus resting in the tomb. And Psalm 24 prefigures the ascension of Jesus to heaven. The ascension of Jesus to heaven and what happens after His ascension is the subject matter of Revelation chapters 4, 5 & 6. The scene, in the heavenly sanctuary, begins with John seeing the Father sitting on a throne, awaiting the arrival of Jesus. Ellen White gives us unique insight into the ascension, in which she extensively quotes from Psalm 24:
“Lift up your heads, O ye gates; And be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; And the King of glory shall come in.”
“Who is this King of glory?”
the waiting angels inquire.
“The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; Even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; And the King of glory shall come in.”
The Father on the Throne
When John, in vision, was taken through the open door, into heaven, he saw a throne room, with ‘One’ sitting on the throne. Who is on the throne – is it the Father or the Son? It must be the Father because later in the same scene Jesus is introduced separately as the Lamb. The ‘One’ on the throne is depicted holding a book, and the Lamb comes to the ‘One’ on the throne to take the book. Therefore the ‘One’ on the throne must be the Father. This is in keeping with Ellen Whites description of Jesus entering heaven: “Then the portals of the city of God are opened wide, and the angelic throng sweep through. There is the throne, and around it the rainbow of promise. There are seraphim and cherubim. The angels circle round Him, but Christ waves them back. He enters into the presence of His Father. 1SM 306.
We are told that the Father, “was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone” (Rev. 4:3). There is much symbolism depicted here. There were 12 stones on the high priest’s breastplate – each of these stones represented one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The sardine and the jasper stones, were the first and the last stones on the breastplate (see Ex. 28:17-20; 39:10-13). This is symbolically depicting the fact that, one of God’s titles is the ‘First and the Last’ also expressed as ‘Alpha and Omega’ and ‘the First and the Last’ (see Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:11, 17, 2:8, 21:6; 22:13). [These titles are shared by the Father and the Son].
The jasper stone occurs again, prominently, in Revelation chapter 21. Chapter 21 is the account of New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, the light of which, is of a jasper stone, and the walls are made of jasper, and the first foundation is made of jasper (see Rev. 21:11, 18, 19). These are symbolic references to the glory of God, His protection and the fact that He Himself is the first foundation.
What is the Throne?
Since these scenes in Revelation chapters 4 & 5 are taking place in the holy place, and we are told that God is sitting on a throne, this must mean that God has a throne in the holy place. This throne in the holy place can only be the table of show bread. The Bible is very clear that when Jesus ascended to heaven, He sat down on the Father’s right hand, on the throne. In the typical sanctuary there were two stacks of bread on the table of showbread. Obviously, the two stacks of bread symbolized the Father and the Son sitting on the throne. [For a full explanation see Appendix #2].
Each week the bread on the throne was to be replaced with fresh bread. The priests were to eat the bread removed from the throne. Jesus has told us that: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). This truth is symbolized by the priests eating the bread. Jesus also said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (Jn. 6:53). When Jesus spoke these words, He had just miraculously fed the 5000 with bread. Bread was on everyone’s mind, and they wanted to make Jesus their king. Jesus wanted to re-direct their thoughts to what bread really represented. He said to the people:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life… I am that bread of life… I am the living bread which came down from heaven… and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. Jn. 6:32-35, 48, 51.
When the priests ate the bread, that had been sitting on the throne, they were symbolically eating the flesh of Christ. They were imbibing the life of Christ, and every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. They were then supposed to take that life and take those words and teach the people. This is still the ideal that God wants His people to practice.
When Jesus was sent to this world, the bread of life left the table of showbread. When he was here on earth He said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven” (Jn. 6:51). When His work on earth was finished, He went back to heaven and resumed his position on the right hand of the Father, symbolised by the table of showbread on earth.
The Emerald Rainbow
Around the throne is a rainbow. The rainbow is symbolic, of the covenant, that God’s people make with Him. [See Appendix #3]. But the rainbow is not a normal rainbow. Rainbows are always multi-colored, but this one is green – the color of an emerald stone. We have already been introduced, to the significance, of the stones on the high priest’s breastplate. If we look for an emerald, we will find that it is the fourth stone on the breastplate and it symbolizes the tribe of Judah. Therefore, the rainbow and the color, represent a covenant that was made with the tribe of Judah. And more than a covenant, because it also functions as a prophecy – a prophecy that is fulfilled in the Book of Revelation in the events that took place in the throne room. [This covenant and its prophetic fulfillment will be elaborated on in the next chapter].
The Twenty-four Elders
We are told that seated around the throne are 24 elders (see Rev. 4:4). These elders are dressed in white raiment and have crowns of gold. We are provided with more information about these elders in the next chapter:
…for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. Rev. 5:9.
These elders must be from the earth, for the following reasons. They say they have been redeemed – only sinners need redemption. Therefore, the must be from the earth, because only the human race on earth, has fallen into sin. This conclusion is further reinforced, because they are praising the source of their redemption – the Lamb and the fact that He had been slain. They are wearing white raiment because all the resurrected saints from the earth wear the robe of righteousness provided by Jesus (see Rev. 3:5,18; 7:9; 19:8). And they have crowns on their heads because they have gained the victory over sin through Christ and have obtained the promised crowns – symbols of victory (see 1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4; Rev. 3:11).
If the 24 elders are redeemed sinners from the earth, then there should be a biblical account of them – and there is. On the resurrection morning, when the priests were performing the ceremony of the wave sheaf, in the temple, the fulfilment of that ceremony was taking place, as Jesus rose from the dead and many others rose with Him:
And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Matt. 27:52, 53.
What happened to these people who were resurrected with Christ? Since it is the destiny of all who are resurrected, in the first resurrection, to be taken to heaven, it would naturally follow, that these resurrected saints should also be taken to heaven. We are told that when Jesus ascended to heaven, He had company: “When he ascended up on high he led captivity captive…” (Eph. 4:8). The reference to captivity, in this verse, is a reference to the grave. But Jesus has entered the ‘strong man’s’ domain and ‘spoiled’ his goods (see Matt. 12:29). And he takes these tokens of his triumph with Him to heaven. When He enters heaven, He presents these resurrected saints, to His Father, as the fulfilment of the wave sheaf festival:
But why are there 24? We find the answer when Solomon set up the duties of the priests, after finishing the first temple. There was one high priest and 24 schedules of priests to assist the high priest. Every priest was required to report for duty at the temple for approximately two weeks every year. These duties where divided into 24 schedules (see 1 Chronicles chapters 24 & 25). Therefore, just as the type had a priesthood on earth divisible by 24, so too, does the anti-type and for the same reason – to assist the High Priest.
In the heavenly sanctuary, the 24 elders, appear to be assisting with the prayers of God’s people, on earth. We are told that they are: “…having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints” (Rev. 5:8). This would appear to be a reasonable ministry for them to perform, because having lived on the earth, they understand the earth and the people that live there. An interesting colorology to this ministry of the 24 elders is the fact that Satan has counterfeited these 24 elders with so called ‘saints’ which, in the Catholic system supposedly intercede on behalf of people.
One last interesting evidence, that the 24 elders are the resurrected saints, that went to heaven with Jesus, is because the prophet Ezekiel saw the same vision as John and recounted the same things as John, except for the fact, that Ezekiel never saw the 24 elders (see Eze. chapters 1 & 10). Therefore, the 24 elders must have been added at some point in the future, after the time of Ezekiel. That time was when Jesus ascended to heaven and “took captivity captive” as a guarantee – a first instalment of more to come.
The Four Living Creatures
The four living creatures (also translated as ‘beasts’), are depicted as being like a lion, like a calf, having the face of a man and like a flying eagle (see Rev. 4:7). These living creatures are anti-types of the types on earth.
When the 12 tribes where moving from one place to another, the marching order was organized and precise. There were four lead tribes and the other tribes would fall in behind each of the lead tribes. The lead tribes were Judah, Ephraim, Reuben and Dan (see Num. 10:12-28). When the tribes stopped and set up camp, the sanctuary was placed in the center of the camp and each tribe set up their tents around the sanctuary, tribe by tribe.
When they camped around the sanctuary, the lead tribes were specifically allocated the four compass directions. Judah to the east, Reuben to the south, Ephraim to the west, and Dan to the north (see Num. 2:1-34). Each tribe had a banner and each tribe set up their banner and camped behind it. Each of the banners had an insignia, by which they were identified. The insignia on the banner of Judah was a lion, Ephraim had a bull, Reuben had a man’s face (or head) and Dan had an eagle. The insignia on these banners is derived, in part, from the blessings that the patriarch Jacob gave to his 12 sons, before he died (see Gen. 49:1-27). Jacob said that Dan had the character of a snake, but the Danites did not like having a snake as their insignia, so they changed it to the snake killer, the eagle. It is generally considered that, the Reubenites chose a man’s head for their insignia, because Reuben was the first born. These 12 sons became the fathers of the 12 tribes.
It should be obvious, as to why the camping arrangements were so precise and orderly. The sanctuary, in the middle of the camp, obviously represented heaven and God’s throne. The lead tribes with their banners, obviously represented the four living creatures. The camp was a symbolic representation of the realities in heaven. There was no symbolic representation of the 24 elders, because they were not yet in heaven.
The four living creatures each have six wings, indicating speed and their alacrity to do the will of God. They also have a multitude of eyes indicating that they know everything and they record everything. These attributes of the four living creatures are probably mentioned here because, there is a book in the Father’s hand, waiting to be opened. The book contains records that are to be used in the judgment. The records taken by the four living creatures are written in the book with seven seals.
Praise and Adoration
The opening scene, in the throne room, is one of praise and adoration, for the Father on the throne. It is stated that, the Father deserves praise and adoration because, He “created all things” (Rev. 4:11). There is some confusion about the creation. Most Bible students are aware that the Bible clearly states that Jesus is the Creator (see Jn. 1:1-3, 14; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16, 17). However, the Bible also states that the Father created the world ‘through’ Jesus (see Eph. 3:9; Heb. 1:2). In other words, both the Father and the Son were involved and even the Holy Spirit too (see Gen. 1:2). What their different roles were, is not clearly defined, and perhaps it is meant to be that way. Therefore, there should be no confusion about who is sitting on the throne, it is the Father. Jesus will enter the scene in the next chapter.
It is also stated why God created man and the world. He created man because it gave Him pleasure. Just as earthly fathers and mothers take pleasure in the existence of their creations, so too, does God take pleasure in His creations. We exist because God wants us to exist. He takes pleasure in saving our souls, in nurturing our development and witnessing our progress (see Jer. 31.3; Eze. 16: 6-14; Phil. 2:13; etc.) In return we acknowledge God’s love, and freely worship Him. And the angels in heaven worship Him for the same reasons.
The Holy Place or the Most Holy Place?
Are all these events taking place in the holy place or the most holy place? It must be the holy place because we are told that “there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne” (Rev. 4:5). In the earthly sanctuary the seven lamps were in the holy place. In addition, to the lamps of fire, there was an altar of incense in the holy place. We are not introduced to the alter of incense until we continue our walk through the sanctuary and reach the seven trumpets (chapter 8 & 9). The holy place is the throne room. All the events recorded in chapter 4, take place in the holy place – this is confirmed by Ellen White:
We started our walk through the sanctuary, in the holy place, highlighted by the seven candlesticks. We are still in the holy place and we will not reach the most holy place until Revelation chapter 14. [For a more detailed study of the holy place, most holy place issue, see Appendix #2].
Revelation chapter 4 is a scene setter. It identifies the location. It introduces us to the main characters; the Father, the four living creatures and the 24 elders. And it is preparing the way for what come next; the Lion and the Lamb, the book with seven seals and the breaking of the seals.