Join us as we study through Revelation verse by verse. Our Bible study guides contain discussion questions, teaching points, and applications which can help you or your small group get the most out of this book as you grow in understanding and obedience.
Revelation 4 Bible Study Guide With Discussion Questions
Revelation 4 Video Bible Study
Revelation 4 Audio Bible Study
I. John is transported to heaven (1-2)
II. The heavenly scene (3-7)
III. Heavenly praise for the King (8-11)
I. John is transported to heaven (1-2)
- Who was speaking to John?
- What did John hear?
- For what purpose was he transported to heaven?
- What does it mean that John was “in the Spirit?”
2 Corinthians 12:2-4 – I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.
2 Kings 2:11 – And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
Genesis 5:24 – Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
Hebrews 4:16 – Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
1. I looked and behold a door standing open in heaven! – The door was a visible to sign to John that he could go up and see what was taking place there. Obviously this is unusual. With only the exceptions of Enoch and Elijah, people could only enter heaven after death. John had the amazing opportunity to visit heaven and report what he saw to all of us!
2. Come up here – John then received a personal invitation to “come up.” It is not clear if he physically went up into heaven transported by the Spirit or it was a vision that just felt real. Either way is the same result.
Some believe that this invitation is also symbolic of the rapture. As the letters to the churches concluded, this transition could indicate that the rapture then happens before the events of Revelation. In this view, John being transported to heaven is symbolic of the whole church being raptured.
3. I will show you what must soon take place after this – This statement reminds us of the theme in Revelation.
Revelation 1:19 – Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.
The purpose of the book of Revelation was for John to record these three things. The things he had seen were the visions of Jesus in chapter 1. The things that are is the church age in chapters 2-3. The things that are to take place after this is the rest of the book of Revelation, covering chapters 4-22. Thus chapters four and five are a transition between the age of the church as shown in the seven letters to the churches and the seven year tribulation, which would culminate in Jesus’ return.
4. A throne stood in heaven and one seated on the throne – The very first thing John sees is a throne and God on the throne. That is very important. It reminds him and the reader that God is sovereign. He is reigning as king of the universe. Everything that is going to happen in the rest of the book is allowed or orchestrated by Him.
And that is one of the key lessons of the book of Revelation. God is on His throne. He has a plan for history. He is bringing everything in the universe to His own perfect planned conclusion. The cosmos is not random chaos. But it is under His divine control.
Application: This is a comforting truth. Because we know God is on His throne, we should have faith in Him. Our security is not found in insurance, wealth, or health. It is in our relationship to the one on the throne. The most important thing for each of us is to have a relationship with Him through Christ.
II. The heavenly scene (3-7)
- What are your observations on the throne room scene in heaven?
- What did it look like?
- Who is there?
- What might the twenty four elders represent?
- What might the four living creatures in verses 6-7 represent?
- What does this heavenly scene teach us about God?
Isaiah 6:1 – In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
Psalm 103:19 – The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
Revelation 1:4 – John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne.
Zechariah 4:10 – For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. “These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.
Daniel 12:10 – Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.
1. Description of the One on the throne – John describes Him as having the appearance of jasper and carnelian. Both of these are bright red, shiny stones. John further describes the scene as an emerald-like rainbow around the throne. Emeralds are precious, green jewels.
So what does this tell us?
It was an amazing scene. John saw a shiny, bedazzling, bright, colorful manifestation of God’s glory.
Exodus 33:20 – But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
Was this actually God “in the flesh?” We must remember that God is a Spirit. He can appear as He wishes. No man can see God as He is in His full glory. Therefore we can conclude that this was how God chose to reveal Himself to John. The image portrayed His glory, holiness, power, and riches.
We should also note that John uses imprecise words saying that He “has the appearance of.” In other words, it looked something like that. Our vocabulary was invented to describe things within our realm of experience and sense. This was another realm altogether so our vocabulary is insufficient to perfectly represent it. And that is why John says His appearance was like those things, not His appearance was those things.
God is glorious. To use a theological term, He is transcendent. That means that He is very different from us and we can never fully understand Him as we are created by Him. At the same time, He is immanent. That means that He made Himself known to us, at least in part. He desires to be known by His creation. And that is a great privilege for us. One day, like John, we too will be in the presence of God and know Him in a much deeper and personal way than we do now.
2. Around the throne were twenty-four elders –
Reflect: Who are these elders and what are they doing there?
The number twenty-four
The number twenty-four is twelve doubled. It could represent the totality of leadership of the church (twelve apostles doubled). Or it could represent both the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. Since Israel is not yet redeemed at this point in Revelation, the first choice would seem to make more logical sense. There is a lot of speculation, but one cannot be dogmatic since the text is not clear.
What is clear, is that these were people (not angels). The term “elder” is never used in the Bible for angels.
The term “elder”
An “elder” is a term used in the Bible for someone who has a position of leadership over God’s people. It is used for the Jews in the Old Testament (Exodus 24, Numbers 11) and for shepherds over the church (1 Timothy 3).
Clothed in white
These elders represent the leaders of the church throughout history. We can conclude that they are leaders of the church rather than Old Testament leaders because they have white garments. White garments are often used in the New Testament to represent the atoning work of Christ in the sinner’s life, His righteousness imputed to us. Even in Revelation, these white clothes are often promised to believers in the church who overcome the world.
Revelation 3:5 – The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.
Another clue that these are church age leaders is the crown that they are wearing. Crowns were promised to believers who were faithful to obey the Lord while on earth.
Revelation 2:10 – Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
The term for “crown” here is “stefanos.” This was the word used for the victor’s wreath given to the victorious athlete in a competition.
One specific crown is promised to shepherds of the church who rule well.
1 Peter 5:4 – And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. It could be that this crown John sees on their heads is this very crown.
Sitting on thrones
Another thing that we see about these elders, is that they are sitting on thrones. That means that they are ruling with Christ, just as He promised to believers in the church. We can see just a few verses with that promise below.
Revelation 2:26-27 – The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.
Matthew 19:28 – Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
2 Timothy 2:12 – If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us.
Here we see a glimpse of God’s promises toward the church fulfilled. They are clothed in white, sitting on thrones, wearing their crown of rewards, in the very presence of God. Everything which God promised to us will be fulfilled.
Application: In a world that is often busy and filled with temptations and trials, it is helpful to keep a long-term perspective. Seeing the end motivates us to keep our eyes on Jesus and run the race He has set before us with endurance. Let this image of the throne room in heaven encourage you to press on for the Lord and not give up.
3. Does this scene indicate a pre-tribulation rapture? – Some scholars point out that in this scene in Revelation 4 the church (represented by the 24 elders) is in heaven already. Stephen Armstrong from Verse by Verse Ministries even commented that the fact they are wearing crowns shows us that they were already in their resurrected bodies (you can’t put a crown on a spirit) and that happens at the rapture.
There could be other explanations for the things we see in Revelation 4 and these are not definitive arguments, but they do make logical sense.
Application: Whenever the rapture is, we need to be ready. We should be ready simply by living for God each day. We read the Word. We pray. We teach our children to do the same. We share the good news. We live holy lives. That is what God calls us to do.
4. Flashes of lightning from the throne – It is an awesome scene. God’s very presence seems to super-charge the atmosphere so that it reacts to Him. Such displays only serve to further give glory to the one who sits on the throne.
5. Seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God – Like the other references to the “seven spirits of God” in Revelation this likely represents the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not something that can be divided into parts. Rather, the number seven indicates His wholeness, perfectness, or completeness. Thus when John saw this scene, the Holy Spirit manifested His divine presence there at that time.
The Holy Spirit also is not an actual torch of fire. He is a Spirit. He is unseen. But He manifested Himself in a way that John could understand and related to. Fire is a powerful, purifying force. It also enlightens. And that is the role of the Holy Spirit.
John 16:8 – And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.
John 16:13 – When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
As we see, key roles of the Holy Spirit include convicting (for the purpose of purifying and repentance) and illumination.
6. A sea of glass like crystal – John says that he saw “as it were a sea of glass.” Again, he does not say it was a sea of glass, but that it resembled it in some way. Finite human language could not clearly reflect what he saw there. He mentions the same sea of glass in Revelation 15:2 and there says that looked as though it was “mingled with fire.”
John does not say what this sea was for. One day we will be able to see it ourselves with glorified bodies and minds. For now, it is another reminder of how heaven is very different from the earth.
7. Four living creatures – These “four living creatures” are seen throughout the book of Revelation: 5:6-14, 6:1-8, 14:3, 15:7, and 19:4. These are real, actual beings. Most likely they are a type of angel, a special created order made God for a specific purpose.
Ezekiel and Isaiah also had heavenly visions and described a very similar scene of what was almost certainly the same beings.
Ezekiel 1:5-11 And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies.
Isaiah 6:2-3 – Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
We see that these are very unique beings.
Reflect: What purpose did these beings serve?
In almost every place in Scripture where we see these beings, we see that they are facilitating worship of God. They are declaring His holiness and worshiping Him. They bring attention to His attributes and loudly proclaim His glory and power.
God has clearly organized the angels into different groups, each with their own function. He does the same with believers in the church, gifting each one according to the role He wants them to fulfill. The fact that there is such a group of full-time worshipers reminds us how important it is worship God.
Reflect: What might their faces: lion, ox, eagle, man show us about them?
III. Heavenly praise for the King (8-11)
- What are the four living creatures doing?
- What are the elders doing?
- What crowns might the elders be casting before the throne? Why would they do that?
- What can you learn from this passage about worship?
- How can your life right now be an act of worship to God?
- What are some ways you can worship God more fully in the coming week?
John 4:23-24 – But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Psalm 95:6 – Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
Isaiah 6:3 – And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
Revelation 7:11-12 – And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
1. When the living creatures give glory to the one on the throne, the elders do the same – The four beings are leading the heavenly host to worship the Lord. When they worship Him, the elders follow.
2. They cast their crowns before the throne – Whatever honor, reward, and recognition is given to the saints, it is then returned to God who made all good things possible. God calls and saves believers. In turn, we are to obey Him faithfully. Those who do are rewarded with crowns. Then they give those crowns back to Him.
Everything good which we can accomplish is only made possible through Him. Of ourselves, our own good deeds are as filthy rags.
Application – God gives us opportunities, resources, and gifts, which He wants us to use for building His kingdom. We are to be good stewards of these gifts and use them for His glory and not for ourselves. What skills or spiritual gifts has God given you? Are you using these for Him?
Application #2 – God deserves all the glory, honor, and praise. Whatever reward we have will be turned back to praise in heaven. Therefore we should live the same way on earth now. Whenever we have any successes, we should turn these into testimonies of the Lord’s goodness. Whenever we receive recognition or praise on earth, we should deflect it back to Him who made it possible.
3. Worship – The focal point of the heavenly scene we see in this chapter is the throne and the One who is seated on the throne. In heaven where He rules He is being properly recognized for who He is.
Remember that chapter four brings us into the things that take place “after this.” In this chapter we see a glimpse of what the church will be doing after our time on earth. And that is worshiping God. Is that the only thing we will be doing? Most likely not. But it is what we need to know now that we will be doing.
Reflect: Why does God let us see our heavenly role as worshipers now?
I believe these scenes in heaven are meant to remind us that our primary role is to worship God. If that is our role in heaven, it is also our role now.
Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Application: How can you focus more on worshiping God in the next week?
More to Come Soon!
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