Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 21:15–19a

Revelation 21:15–19a
The angel who spoke to me had a golden measuring rod with which to measure the city and its foundation stones and wall. 16 Now the city is laid out as a square, its length and width the same. He measured the city with the measuring rod at fourteen hundred miles (its length and width and height are equal). 17 He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits according to human measurement, which is also the angel’s. 18 The city’s wall is made of jasper and the city is pure gold, like transparent glass. 19 The foundations of the city’s wall are decorated with every kind of precious stone.
(NET Bible)

A city like no other

Suppose I told you that you could have anything you want. What would you put on the list? Now —  would you trade those things for the things God is going to provide you freely in his eternal city?

The information given about the New Jerusalem is not comprehensive, but it suffices to demonstrate that the city of God is a real place that we will call home. No clouds, no harps, no fuzzy, out-of-focus scenes to make it seem like a storage bin for cotton balls.

The first thing John emphasizes about the specifics is the cubic shape of the city (21:16). Grant Osborne explains the significance when he says, “The cube shape matches the shape of the Holy of Holies (20 cubits each direction, 1 Kings 6:20; 2 Chron. 3:8–9).”[1] No barrier exists between sacred and secular. NT scholar Ben Witherington says, “The whole city is a holy temple, for God is with his people throughout the city and they are his temple.”[2]

The city is immense by any current measure, but our calculation of its size depends on the measure assumed for the Greek word stadion, which the standard lexicon defines as: “a measure of distance of about 192 meters.”[3] Using that value, I calculate a cube with dimensions of 1432 miles. The use of different values for this measure — the ancient world was not big on universal standardization — explains how NET says “fourteen hundred miles” (21:16) while the New American Standard Bible says “fifteen hundred miles.” Your mileage may vary.  :)

As you can imagine, a city whose dimensions are approximately the distance from Dallas to San Francisco can hold a vast number of redeemed people in an environment that defies description. But commentators are not comfortable with such a size, and most suggest the numbers are symbolic. Perhaps they are, but no one seems to think the number of gates or foundations is symbolic, so there has to be some subjectivity involved in these pronouncements of what is symbolic. I see no reason to discount the vast size of the holy city.

That the wall is so tiny compared to the city (21:17) demonstrates that it is merely decorative, not functional. The city in which the All-Powerful dwells does not even bother to shut its gates (21:25).

Who needs Camelot?

God’s promises are never empty! Abraham received promises from God and yet he remained a wandering sojourner, living in a tent all his life. The author of Hebrews says of Abraham: “For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Since Abraham will also live in the New Jerusalem, will not his expectation be more than satisfied?

We find it so easy to have cynical, earth-bound thoughts. But Jesus said, “This is impossible for mere humans, but not for God; all things are possible for God” (Mark 10:27). When God is creating our reward, there is no limit to what it may be!

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) 753.

[2] Ben Witherington III, Revelation, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 268.

[3] BDAG-3, stadion, (a measure of distance of about 192 meters), q.v.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 21:1–4

Revelation 21:1–4
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. 2 And I saw the holy city — the new Jerusalem —  descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more — or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.”
(NET Bible)

The new heaven and the new earth

Some ideas die hard. In the early 20th century, many people believed an idea from Émile Coué, a French psychologist, who said, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” Many thought the world was on the same track. But after World War I killed 16 million people and the influenza pandemic of 1918 killed at least 50 million people, such opinions soured.

Yet in 2007 a serious book was published with the title The Improving State of the World, again advancing the world-is-getting-better-and-better idea. Will humanity create heaven on earth?

Revelation 21:1-6 offers a summary of everything that will follow, and then verses 7-8 tell us how we must live in light of these things. The summary will “then be expanded in two directions, first viewing the Holy City as an eternal Holy of Holies (21:9–27) and then as a new Eden (22:1–5).”[1]

Here is a fact that some people do not accept easily: the new heaven and new earth are brought to us by God (21:2), not by humanity! The idea that humanity will save itself and transform the world into paradise is a lie! The beast took over the concept and presented his rule as the key.

The next development is a dramatic announcement from the throne of God (21:3–4) — “Look!” (21:3). The news deserving of such fanfare is that God will once again dwell among his people, but with some major differences compared to his past sojourns: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (21:4, ESV). Recall that the first time God lived among his people (Exodus & Numbers) an entire, unbelieving, rebellious generation, except for Joshua and Caleb, died in the wilderness without seeing the Promised Land. Yet, even in the midst of national sin during the later years of the Israelite kingdom, God promised a new heaven and new earth: “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isa. 65:17, NIV 2011).

The second time God lived among his people was when Jesus came to live among us. John 1:14 uses the same verb for “took up residence among us” that we find in Rev. 21:3 “will live among them”; this verb is only found in John’s Gospel and Revelation. Jesus and his disciples experienced great opposition, suffering and even death.

Of course, it is not accurate to say that God did not continue to dwell with his people after Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9). Jesus revealed to his disciples that after leaving them he would send the Holy Spirit to reside with them and live within them forever (John 14:15–17). The presence of the Spirit was unseen yet absolutely real.

But the dwelling of God with his people in the New Jerusalem will be personal, lasting and free from the suffering and opposition that characterized the first heaven and earth. The quality of life will be so far beyond our experience as to be quite beyond our conception. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9, ESV).

Your forever-home!

Lots of people attempt to prepare for retirement, but it is costly. The only retirement worth having requires you to give your life to Jesus in return for eternity in splendor with God.

Jesus made promises to those who love him. One of the greatest is this one: “There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too.” (John 14:2-3). Nothing beats that!

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) 727.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 19:1–4

Revelation 19:1–4
After these things I heard what sounded like the loud voice of a vast throng in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 because his judgments are true and just. For he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her sexual immorality, and has avenged the blood of his servants poured out by her own hands!”
3 Then a second time the crowd shouted, “Hallelujah!” The smoke rises from her forever and ever. 4 The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures threw themselves to the ground and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne, saying: Amen! Hallelujah!”
(NET Bible)

God’s judgment stands — an eternal memorial

Many of us do not choose to attend sad movies; others screen out blood and horror. We do not go into the rough part of town, and we would not watch what police have to do — except for the sanitized version on TV.

When you think about it, we are absolute masters at shutting out what we do not want to know! Perhaps that is why we have reflected little on the judgment God will carry out. Is that wise?

“Hallelujah” means praise the Lord.[1] So, when you repeat “Hallelujah” — also spelled alleluia — in song lyrics, you are saying “Praise the Lord!” several times. That is a great thing to say, but it is wise to know what you are saying to God! He does not tend to favor idle words (Matt. 6:7).

Sometimes we find curious differences between the practices of American churches and those in the New Testament. Even though alleluia is often heard in our churches, the corresponding Greek word occurs just four times in the NT (19:1, 3, 4, 6). Perhaps more significant is that the praise is offered because God has unleashed his judgment against the sexual immorality, seductive materialism of Babylon (19:2) and the murder of the saints. Our use of alleluia is never about judgment; perhaps we do not want to think about it!

Keener makes some critical points about God’s judgment:

His compassion is one reason God delays judgment and enacts it sparingly, but in the broader scope of history the judgments are necessary for repentance of some and vindication of others. . . . In this world God does not settle all scores in the short run, but his justice is always satisfied in the end. Even repentance does not allow sins to escape justice — for the scores of the repentant were settled in advance on the cross.[2]

Justice will be done

Popular media sometimes take the form of a charade. Since it has become unfashionable to talk about God in the public square, TV programming often portrays those who want justice but despair of ever getting any. To make this dramatic tension work, it is necessary to completely ignore the fact that every person will face God’s judgment. The fact that Babylon will be obliterated sends a message to those who take part in it.

Peter tells us: “It is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God. And if it starts with us, what will be the fate of those who are disobedient to the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

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



[1] W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d ed. Revised and edited by F. W. Danker, translated by W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000) hall?luyah, praise Yahweh, q.v. The Greek word hall?luyah is a transliteration — not a translation — of the Hebrew phrase halelu yah; both mean “praise Yahweh.” Hall?lujah is an alternate spelling.

[2] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 459.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 12:3–9

Revelation 12:3–9
Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon that had seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadem crowns. 4 Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.
5 So the woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who is going to rule over all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was suddenly caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and she fled into the wilderness where a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 days.
Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But the dragon was not strong enough to prevail, so there was no longer any place left in heaven for him and his angels. 9 So that huge dragon — the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world — was thrown down to the earth, and his angels along with him.
(NET Bible)

War in heaven!

As a boy I learned my stellar constellations early. My favorites were Orion in winter — because of its bright supergiants named Rigel and Betelgeuse —  and the summer constellation Sagittarius, which looks like a teapot and contains the galactic core of the Milky Way with its vast black hole.

I was also familiar with another constellation near the Big Dipper. It winds sinuously and dimly between the Big and Little Dippers and bears the name Draco, Latin for Dragon. In our brightly lit urban skies, you can hardly see it, but its namesake is our ancient enemy, the Dragon. He is more commonly called Satan.

Greg Beale[1] explains that chapter 12 is the start of most of Revelation’s remaining visions. It reveals that Satan is the driving force behind the persecution of the saints as well as being the one behind the beast, the false prophet and the whore named Babylon.

By now you know that no group of symbol-interpretations meets with universal acceptance, and most of the dispute falls on the identity of the woman (12:1–2). Craig Keener says: “The woman represents Israel or the faithful remnant of Israel. . . . Scholars have found here hints of the story of Eve. God had promised that this woman’s ‘seed’ [Jesus, the Messiah] would ultimately crush the serpent (Gen. 3:15), a promise surely echoed in Revelation 12:9, 17.”[2] That identification seems correct to me.

We need not guess the identity of the dragon because John expressly identifies him in 12:9 as “the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan.” Grant Osborne[3] explains that the dragon was a familiar symbol in every ancient culture; indeed, the dragon was a symbol closely associated with demonic powers throughout the ancient world.

Osborne[4] also interprets the “seven heads and ten horns” (12:3) by using the ancient idea that horns symbolized strength, especially military strength. He connects this section with 17:12–14 where the ten horns are explicitly identified as ten kings who give their authority to the beast.

Before trying to destroy the newborn Christ, Satan first led a revolt in heaven, described symbolically in 12:4. Keener says: “Jewish people recognized that Satan’s revolt had long ago led to the fall of many angels (often associated with Gen. 6:2), a view supported by 1 Peter 3:19–22, 2 Peter 2:4.”[5] The rebel Satan and his angelic allies attempt to destroy Jesus at birth (12:4). This may refer to King Herod’s attempt to find and kill the infant Messiah (Matt. 2) by using the wise men to locate him.

In an apparent reference to Jesus’ resurrection, John speaks of Jesus being “caught up to God and to his throne” (12:5) by using the forceful Greek verb harpaz? (“snatch away”).[6]

Rev. 12:6 informs us that a remnant of Israel — others say it is the church — will be preserved in some fashion for the 1260 days (42 months). This would appear to be the same period of time identified for the two witnesses (11:3) to speak out.

By any measure, Rev. 12:7 is one of the more astonishing statements in the Bible: “Then war broke out in heaven.” While the prior verses dealt largely with events on the earth, next we have an expansion of the idea broached in 12:4: “Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth.” Keener[7] informs us that in Revelation stars usually symbolize angels. When Satan rebelled, he took allies down with him.

A more literal translation of 12:8 would be: “No longer was any place found for them [i.e., the dragon and his angels] in heaven.” This is a divine passive! God found no place for Satan and his angels in heaven. The NLT aptly paraphrases, “And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven” (12:8, NLT).

Keener points out: “Satan’s being hurled to the earth ends his position of privilege in God’s court. Ironically, Satan’s loss of ‘place’ ([Greek] topos, 12:8) contrasts starkly with the ‘place’ (topos) of refuge God provides his own people persecuted by Satan (12:6, 14).”[8]

How goes the war?

No, I am not talking about Afghanistan or Iraq; nor do I speak of the dozens of smaller wars now occurring world-wide. Satan has waged total war against God, his people, and you personally from the beginning. Jesus said this about Satan: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44).

Remember what Jesus said for our benefit: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage — I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33).

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



[1] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 622–623.

[2] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 314–315.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 458.

[4] Osborne, Revelation, 460.

[5] Keener, Revelation, 317-318.

[6] This same verb is used in 1 Thess. 4:17 to refer to the believers who will “be suddenly caught up together with them [the dead in Christ, who rise first] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

[7] Keener, Revelation, 317.

[8] Keener, Revelation, 321.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 11:3–7

Revelation 11:3–7
And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth. 4 (These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.) 5 If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes out of their mouths and completely consumes their enemies. If anyone wants to harm them, they must be killed this way. 6 These two have the power to close up the sky so that it does not rain during the time they are prophesying. They have power to turn the waters to blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague whenever they want. 7 When they have completed their testimony, the beast that comes up from the abyss will make war on them and conquer them and kill them.
(NET Bible)

Revelation 10–11: The interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets

Some things in life are hard, but they have to be done. Did you ever hold your small child while they squirmed in fear before getting a vaccination? How many times have you struggled through a comprehensive final exam? When have you been forced to be brave through awful conditions and wished for an alternative?

Jesus knew what lay ahead for him; but he went to Jerusalem anyway. Are we following him?

Robert Mounce explains how Revelation 10–11 function within Revelation as a whole:

With the close of chapter 9 six of the seven trumpets have sounded. Once again we encounter an interlude of two related visions — the angel with the little book (10:1–11) and the two witnesses (11:1–13). These interludes are not so much pauses in a sequence of events as they are literary devices by which the church is instructed concerning its role and destiny during the final period of world history.[1]

Grant Osborne[2] points out that in the prior biblical context (9:20–21) the judgments failed to bring about repentance. As a result, the scroll (10:2) will provide a more effective strategy for achieving the conversion of the nations.

Revelation 10 opens (10:1–7) with the appearance of the most awesome of all the angels described in the book of Revelation. Though part of his mighty announcement is sealed (10:4), he gives John a “little scroll” (10:2), which John is to internalize before revealing it to us (10:9–11). Concerning the scroll, Osborne says, “It too tells the divine plan for the end of the age, and now John is to be shown how that plan relates to the saints that are still on the earth.”[3] This plan will include both witness to the wicked world (the sweet taste of 10:10) and martyrdom (the bitter taste of 10:10).

Craig Keener describes Revelation 11 by saying, “This section is perhaps the most difficult passage to interpret in the entire book of Revelation.”[4] While I will offer some possible interpretations, it is reasonable to think that we do not better understand chapter 11 because the words spoken by the seven thunders (10:4) were sealed up and not written down. Keener shows insight when he says, “The concealment of the meaning of the seven thunders reminds us that God knows far more about the future than he tells us.”[5] God’s selective concealment of many details also suggests that trying to construct a precise timeline of future events is not the intended use of Revelation’s visions.

Clearing the fog of Revelation 11, Mounce[6] wisely counsels us that its figurative language does not make the underlying prophetic events any less real. Symbolism is not the enemy of facts. With this underlying reality in mind, we next consider the metaphors of 11:1–13.

To understand the metaphor of measuring the temple (11:1–2), it is necessary to realize that the image draws on Ezek. 40–42 and Zech. 2:1–5, which involve God’s ownership and protection for his people. We should expect the same themes to guide our interpretation of Rev. 11:1–2.

However, that understanding does not deliver us from deciding whether the temple (11:1) is literal or figurative. Since no temple presently stands in Jerusalem, a literal temple would require that a temple be rebuilt on Temple Mount after the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine, was torn down. Those objections to an earthly temple are not insurmountable, but they are problems.

The Greek noun naos is used for temple in 11:1. Throughout the book of Revelation naos refers to the heavenly temple rather than either the earthly temple built by Solomon or the one built by Herod. It is hard to credit that 11:1 would prove an exception.

Note carefully that John is also commanded to measure “the ones who worship there” (11:1). So, these people belong to God and are under his protection in some form. But who are they?

Keener says: “In early Christian literature . . . the temple regularly symbolizes Christians, both Jewish and Gentile (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:18–22; 1 Pet. 2:5). This is also what the temple symbolizes elsewhere in Revelation (Rev. 3:12; 13:6); not surprisingly, this is the more common scholarly interpretation of this temple today.”[7]

The triumph of the Lamb will also be the triumph of his followers, just as 11:15–19 relate.

Protection within opposition

Standing up for Christ has never been a cost-free proposition, and it will be life-threatening during the period just before Christ’s return. Whether we will face those choices is disputed, but certainly some Christians will do so. Are you committed to be an overcomer?

When I took the mortal risk of heart bypass surgery, it was the first time I had to weigh my life against the needed benefits. Many casual Christians do not realize that their commitment to Christ is a life-or-death choice with risks. Unlike Jesus, we may not face certain death due to our witness, but there is no guarantee. What is certain is that Christ will reward us for overcoming!

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



[1] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 199.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 391.

[3] Osborne, Revelation, 395.

[4] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 287.

[5] Keener, Revelation, 281.

[6] Mounce, Revelation, 212.

[7] Keener, Revelation, 288.

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.


Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 4:1–5

Revelation 4:1–5
After these things I looked, and there was a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said: “Come up here so that I can show you what must happen after these things.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit, and a throne was standing in heaven with someone seated on it! 3 And the one seated on it was like jasper and carnelian in appearance, and a rainbow looking like it was made of emerald encircled the throne. 4 In a circle around the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on those thrones were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white clothing and had golden crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came out flashes of lightning and roaring and crashes of thunder. Seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God, were burning in front of the throne.
 (NET Bible)

The One on the throne

Many people want to believe they are in control of their own affairs. To follow that idea to its logical conclusion, they must assume either that there is no God in heaven or that they will somehow resist whatever god may exist.

Those ideas might sound plausible except for one thing: someone has already ascended to heaven and looked!

Revelation chapters 4–5 form a single unit. Grant Osborne has the right idea when he says: “The unifying theme of these chapters is certainly the ‘throne.’. . . The throne room scene [chapter 4] is a kaleidoscope of OT images, with no single one dominant.”[1] Of course, it is logical that there would be common elements to these visions of God on his throne.

In relation to the frequent use of throne, Greg Beale explains: “Although God’s realm is separated from the earthly, he is nevertheless in control over earth’s affairs. Regardless of how rampant evil seems to run and to cause God’s people to suffer, they can know that his hand superintends everything for their good and his glory.”[2]

In a book such as Revelation, time markers are very important to the literary structure. We immediately encounter two such markers in 4:1. The first such signaling device is the clause “after these things I looked” (4:1; 7:1, 9; 15:5; 18:1). In a book filled with visions, the act of looking introduces new visions.

The second marker in 4:1 is the phrase “after these things,” which serves to place blocks of material in a relative chronological sequence. (See 1:19; 4:1 [twice]; 7:9; 9:12; 15:5; 18:1; 19:1; 20.3.). “After these things” occurs at the beginning and end of 4:1. The final use of the phrase at the end of 4:1 strongly implies that the further visions in chapters 4–22 cover events which occur after what has already been revealed in chapters 1–3.

The first thing John sees is an open door in heaven (4:1). A voice summons him to ascend and be shown “what must happen after these things” (4:1b, emphasis added). The word must translates the Greek dei, a verb expressing necessity. Prophecy is not about maybe but about certainty!

John’s first impression of heaven is a throne and “someone sitting on it” (4:2, NLT). The Greek form expressing “someone sitting” normally means continuous action in present time; Someone is sitting on this the heavenly throne — by design not happenstance — because he rules!

Note carefully that the great throne stands at the center of the assembled company, who form a circle about it (4:4). Beale rightly says: “All heavenly beings find significance only in their various placements around the central throne. And all earth’s inhabitants are appraised on the basis of their attitude to God’s claim to rule over them from this heavenly throne (cf. 6:16–17; 20:11–12).”[3] It is heaven that defines our measure; we are not the center of things!

Who are the 24 elders (4:4)? Some say angels and others say men; still others suggest that the elders are angels who represent both OT and NT believers. The last option appears the most likely, but the answer really does not matter in this context. What does matter is that the elders have seats of honor, service and worship in relation to the One on the throne. We should not get distracted interpreting details of the vision.

In support of the lesser importance of the elders, 4:5 immediately returns attention to the central throne. The “flashes of lightning and roaring and crashes of thunder” also occur in 8:5, 11:19, and 16:18; all are contexts of judgment. The appearance of these intense elements in 4:5 informs us that God’s throne is their source; when judgment later falls, it comes from the One on the throne! Osborne concludes: “The awesome God is the basis of both worship and judgment.”[4] That we are expressly told about the presence of the Spirit of God before the throne (4:5) lets us know the Spirit has a central role in the judgment to come.

Heaven’s occupied throne

The central throne in heaven is not vacant! No one needs to put themselves forward as a candidate for it. And the One who sits on that throne has declared his firm intention to reward and to judge.

The prophet Isaiah said: “In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the sovereign master seated on a high, elevated throne. The hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs stood over him; each one had six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and they used the remaining two to fly. 3 They called out to one another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord who commands armies! His majestic splendor fills the entire earth!’” (Isa. 6:1–3). Sovereign! Master! Holy!

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) 220.

[2] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 320.

[3] Beale, Revelation, 320.

[4] Osborne, Revelation, 230.