Revelation 4 and 5: A Door to Heaven (Part 1) – by Gary Stearman –
In Greek, it is called Apocalypsis Ioannou, or "Revelation of John." Its title bears the word that comes down to us in the English as "apocalypse," meaning "exposure," "disclosure," or "unveiling." Of course, it also means "revelation," the common title of the Bible’s final book. John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 21:20), received an extraordinary view of the climax of human history.
It prominently features a door between heaven and earth. It opens, allowing John to enter the dimensions of heaven, and to observe a series of decisive events. It is possible that this open door provides us with some important clues about prophetic timing.
Many have attempted to place this book into the context of history past, history present and history future. Or as Jesus put it in his instruction to John, "Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter" (Rev. 1:19).
From that day to this, the faithful have pondered its details in the hope of placing its vast prospect into the understandable scope of human perception. John’s use of phrases such as "after these things," "after this," and "I saw," beg an interpretation that follows the time line to which we are accustomed as human beings … past, present and future. Or as the wag once put it, "The present is the future you worried about in the past." Because of the limitations of our present reality, we are forced to view eternity as a long line with a beginning and an end. But as God declared to the prophet Isaiah, His view includes all that there was, is, or ever will be. Furthermore, His stance allows a view from any perspective.
"Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
"Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Isa. 46:9,10).
Probably the closest we can come to an understanding of what the Lord calls beginning and end, is to envision a hologram. Held in one’s hands, it is a flat picture. But when tilted one way or another, it reveals many perspectives. To God, history is probably something like this, or like a polygon, containing an infinite number of perspectives. To Him, past, present and future are always visible.
The Apostle John was privileged to view history from this platform, then to write about it. Led by the Holy Spirit of God, he condensed the era of the church, the Tribulation and the New Heavens and Earth from its multi-dimensional reality into the language of three dimensions that flow along a line that we call "time."
Following this flow, Revelation can be read with ease as an unfolding account of future history. But anyone who has studied it deeply has had the puzzling experience of seeing two or more events seemingly merge into the same crucial time slot. The trumpet judgments and the vial judgments appear in some cases to describe the very same events. But how can this be, seeing that the trumpet judgments "come first," to be followed by the vial judgments?
The "months," and "days" of Revelation often defy placement on a firm time line. Many of its chapters are parenthetical descriptions of the judgment process. Others, with varying degrees of difficulty, may be assigned to the first half, or the second half of the Tribulation. But on timing, there is disagreement among sincere scholars.
Having stated the general difficulty of viewing the infinite through a finite lens, it must also be said that there are portions of John’s Revelation that present an understandable flow, even though we can’t assign them a precise time slot.
Between Heaven and Earth
The Revelation begins on the Isle of Patmos on the Lord’s Day, when suddenly, the voice of the Lord announced that John was to receive a vision of the church and the world. The second and third chapters record the vision of the seven churches, in type, symbol, history and destination. Taken as a whole, they represent the life cycle of the body of Christ in the context of a world controlled by Satan.
The church comes to an end in worldly wealth – Laodicea – although it is viewed by the Lord as poor, blind and naked. But the end is really a beginning. In portraiture, poetry and prose, the loving Savior offers another chance even to those who have rejected Him in favor of the world:
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev. 3:19-22).
Here is one of the most powerful images in the entire Bible. It is the evangelist’s finest motivator, with Christ knocking at the door of the heart. Anyone who answers will receive the gift of fellowship with the Savior, not just for an evening, but for an eternity.
Yet this door is far more than the entrance to an earthly residence. It is literally a door between heaven and earth. Jesus is offering the opportunity to overcome the world, and to enter into the perfection of heaven.
It is of paramount importance that this be understood, since such doorways are seen elsewhere in the New Testament, though they are not always called "doors." Two noteworthy examples appear close to each other in Scripture, in a most unlikely juxtaposition. The first occurs in the account of the stoning of Stephen. At his death, the barrier between heaven and earth became thin for a moment, allowing Stephen to see beyond this dimension:
"But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
"And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
"Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
"And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul" (Acts 7:55-58).
Saul of Tarsus, watching over the outer garments of Stephen’s executioners, seems to be acting as the overseer of this horrendous act. There is no doubt that he heard Stephen’s exultant cry. Most probably, he scoffed, considering Stephen to be in a state of delirium.
Little did Saul know that he would soon have his own visionary experience, as an opening between heaven and earth exposed him to the pure light of the Lord. During a trip to Damascus to take legal action against Jewish believers in the resurrected Christ, heaven opened in a most dramatic way:
"And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
"And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
"And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
"And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
"And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
"And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do" (Acts 9:1-6).
Saul, a rabbi and student of the illustrious Gamaliel, was no doubt familiar with the doctrines having to do with God’s primeval light … the shechinah glory. As heaven opened, he probably knew with certainty that he was seeing heaven’s light. How shocked he must have been to recall Stephen’s proclamation that he had seen the "Son of Man" standing at God’s right hand. Now, he too saw Jesus and realized in a split second that Stephen had been right, and that he, Saul, had been dead wrong.
For God’s light to shine down upon him, some sort of aperture was opened between heaven and earth. From the human point of view, it would probably be most descriptive to call it a door, though this sort of rift in time-space would be of a much more complex nature.
A Real Door
Taking these examples at face value, when Jesus knocks on that metaphoric door in Revelation, saying, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock," He may be speaking in much plainer terms than we usually think, for only three verses later, John experiences the literal opening of a doorway into heaven:
"After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
"And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
"And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
"And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
"And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
"And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
"And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
"And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
"And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
"The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
"Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created" (Rev. 4:1-11).
John is ushered into another world, where his eyes fall upon sights and scenes that are so unimaginably unearthly that he can only approximate their appearance. He describes the indescribable in terms that leave us guessing. In other words, his impressions are those of a man who experienced the strange sights of a foreign land and reported on what he saw.
The context of John’s Revelation tells us that he didn’t just watch heaven from a distance. He actually "went through the door," as we might think of it. There, he viewed the throne of God and the twenty-four elders who most likely represent the church in heaven. The eminent occasion was the appearance of the Lamb, and his indictment of the world system. John was taken there specifically to witness the judgment of the world’s evil system of despotic power.
The Indictment
John begins by relating a particular event. Twenty-four elders are gathered to witness the formal charges and qualifications necessary to prosecute judgment upon the world. Logically, this is an activity that would take place immediately following the rapture.
The activities he relates are precise and detailed, with reference to the Tribulation judgments. His experience takes place after the church age and before the opening of the seals:
"And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
"And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
"And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
"And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
"And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
"And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.
"And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.
"And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: 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.
"And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
"Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
"And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
"And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever" (Rev. 5:1-14).
It has been pointed out that these elders are most likely representatives of the church, which at this point, has risen to heaven. Their number matches the twenty-four courses of the priesthood, traditional in the Old Testament era. Or perhaps they represent two sets of twelve representatives, one for the church and the other for the redeemed saints of the Old Testament. Whatever the case may be, they are present to witness the initiation of judgment, of war, famine, pestilence and economic disaster. The world system is devastated:
"And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
"And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
"And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.
"And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
"And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.
"And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
"And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.
"And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth" (Rev. 6:1-8).
The door has opened. John has passed through it. The witnesses are present. The legal document has begun to be opened. Now, the events of judgment, witnessed by the redeemed, begin to unfold.