Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 4:8–11

Revelation 4:8–11
Each one of the four living creatures had six wings and was full of eyes all around and inside. They never rest day or night, saying: “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God, the All-Powerful, Who was and who is, and who is still to come!”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne, saying: 11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, since you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created!”
(NET Bible)

The difficulty of heavenly visions

If you have ever gone camping overnight, then you know how refreshing it can be to walk into a fire-lighted area from the surrounding darkness. The closer you get to the fire, the brighter the light becomes. Also, if you want to warm cold hands, you must move closer to the campfire. Often, someone will say, “That fire is terrific!”

The same principles hold true when we draw closer to God. The closer we come to God, the greater will be the compulsion to cry out with praise. Our worship tells a lot about how close we are to God. Where does that standard put you?

Revelation 4:6b–7 is as good a place as any to admit that we do not understand every verse in the Bible with an equal amount of clarity. The interpretation of today’s biblical text requires more speculation than usual.

It appears that the four earthly creatures (lion, ox, man, eagle) were chosen to focus on certain qualities being ascribed to the “four living creatures” (4:6b–7) beside God’s throne. Osborne adds, “In essence, all we can know for certain is that [the four living creatures] represent the highest order of celestial beings, perhaps angels, and lead in worship and judgment.”[1]

 The Bible places great emphasis on the unceasing worship by the four living creatures (4:8). Their worship is continuous, day and night (4:8), and we will soon see that the twenty-four elders join this worship. The conclusion is inescapable: those closest to God worship him with the greatest frequency and intensity.

Concerning the cry “Holy holy holy” (4:8), Osborne says: “The ‘holiness’ of God here points to his separation from the created order. He is ‘Wholly Other,’ standing above the world and soon to judge it.”[2] Keener looks at the totality of what is said about God in 4:8 when he says, “Worship is not the invention of nice things to say about God; it is the recognition of who God already is (4:8), as well as what he has already done or promised to do (4:11; 5:9–12), and how worthy he is of our praise (4:11; 5:12–14).”[3]

The worship offered by the four living creatures triggers corresponding worship by the twenty-four elders (4:9). Note that they “offer their crowns before his throne” (4:10). Keener[4] explains that a common sign of allegiance from an inferior to a great king was a taking off of the crown by the conquered ruler and placing that crown at the feet of the conqueror. The twenty-four elders have ruling authority, but they carry out that authority in complete submission to God.

What does all this have to do with our worship as a church? Beale says: “One of the purposes of the church meeting on earth in its weekly gatherings (as in 1:3, 9) is to be reminded of its heavenly existence and identity by modeling its worship and liturgy on the angels’ and the heavenly church’s worship of the exalted lamb, as vividly portrayed in chapters 4–5.”[5] Earthly worship imitates heavenly worship.

So, you want to be close to God . . .

The first key principle I have drawn from this passage of Scripture is that those closest to God worship him with the greatest frequency and intensity. Of course, such worship need not always occur in a group setting or with song and liturgy.

The second key principle is that earthly worship imitates heavenly worship. This seems particularly true of corporate worship.

Jesus said, “A time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers” (John 4:23). Make every effort to be part of that worship!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 235.

[2] Osborne, Revelation, 237.

[3] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 181.

[4] Keener, Revelation, 179–180, quoting Gregory Stevenson.

[5] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 323.


Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!