In this episode we talk about the central message of Revelation – the call to be a faithful witness. Although the circumstances of the future are confusing and unclear, this call is central to the Christian life. Thus far in Revelation we have gone through what is and what has been. Now our focus turns to what is to come. We prepare for our future by learning from our past and being aware of our present. Only then can we be truly ready for anything the future may hold.
We finished part one of Revelation, what was and is. Now we’re going to do part two, the part most people think about when they think about Revelation: what is to come.
What is to come has not yet happened. And what was and what is, we’ve gone over that part—the churches, the seven churches in Asia. They existed. They were going on. They had a history. Jesus gave us information to learn from regarding those churches.
And he told us, this letter that I’m writing, this Revelation, I’m giving to my servants. What I want you to do is, I want you to read, hear or understand, and then do or keep. That’s the point of this.
What I’m going to do is I’m going to tell you what was and is, and we’re going to learn from that; and I’m going to tell you what is to come, and we’re going to learn from that. But, the point of all this is for you to learn to be a great witness.
We saw that. We saw that in the seven churches. We saw Ephesus, that told us truth is awesome, but without love it doesn’t really do what needs to be done.
We saw Smyrna, that told us we need to embrace death when there’s persecution, when there’s resistance—which there always is if we’re living in the world. Die to self. Die to the world. If we do, we get these amazing rewards.
We saw Pergamos, that told us the world’s system has a lot of things that are very attractive looking. But, if we don’t have those things of the world’s system—and like Balaam we say, man, I’d sure like to have some of that—and try to combine the two, it’s just a disaster. Don’t take that path. Reject the world. Follow Jesus.
We saw in Thyatira that there are false authorities. There are Jezebels in the world. And when we have the station to resist a false authority, that is our job to do so. If we do, we get tremendous rewards even though that’s a scary thing to do—to resist false authority.
We saw in Sardis that we have the potential to be considered righteous in this world—everybody says, wow, you’re really alive!—when actually we’re dead. Because if we live our life, our testimony, our martyreo, to be approved by men, it stands for nothing. What we want to be is approved by Jesus, the first and the last.
We saw in Philadelphia that if Jesus opens a door of opportunity, nobody can shut it because he is the king of the universe. He’s the root of David. If he opens something, no one can shut it. If we just walk through whatever opportunity we have, if we do little things, they turn into enormously big things.
Finally, we saw with Laodicea in the last episode that unlike Balaam who wanted things of the world, if we find ourselves in a position where we have things of the world, and we rely on those things, we end up in poverty. What we can do is say I’m going to go for true riches which is listening to the voice of Jesus and opening the door and letting him come in and dine with us.
So, we’ve seen this overview. We’ve seen this group of lessons from what was and what is.
The message doesn’t change
Now we’re going to what is to come. To begin with the end in mind, what I want to do is start in chapter 22. And the point I want to make is, the basic approach doesn’t change.
Chapter 22 is the last chapter. And what we’re going to see is, it’s a lot like the first chapter. I want to show that there isn’t a new message. It’s the same message.
Revelations 22:6 Then he said to me—the angel—“These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel—his messenger—to show—who?—His servants—
We haven’t changed audiences. We still are speaking to his servants. This whole message is to believers. We’re not trying to speak to the world in this thing. Although, the Bible is always a testimony to anyone who wants to hear.
But this is to his servants. And what are we going to do?
—the things which must shortly take place. This is imminent. Behold—Jesus says—I am coming quickly—Same root word as shortly. —Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
The point of this is not to speculate about what’s going to happen. The point of this is not to have the ability to predict what’s going to happen. The point of this is to change the way we live because of this message.
Now I, John saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship—
Skip down to verse 12.
Jesus says And behold, I am coming quickly—this is Jesus speaking. Same thing. Same idea. And my reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work.
Have we changed from a grace salvation to a works salvation? No, because who are we speaking to? His servants.
And what does he want his servants to do? Be faithful.
And what’s at stake? The consequences of our decisions. What he wants us to do is make great decisions. And you can’t do that if you don’t understand perspective about what a good decision is. So he’s helping us understand what a good decision is.
—to everyone according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.
He doesn’t change. Nothing’s changed all the way through this. If you see the world falling apart and you say, “Where is God?” Right where he’s been all along. If you see the wheels rolling off, and you say, “Has God lost control of it?” Nope. He’s still right there.
Verse 14. Blessed are those who do His Commandments—That’s the point of Revelation. Very, very simple book. God’s in charge. He wants us to be a good witness. If we obey his way, if we adopt his perspective, then good things will happen. That’s it. No matter how crazy the world gets.
—they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. See, this is a reward.
But outside—this is after the new earth has taken place—But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
We talked about this a little last episode. It seems we’re all together in one place. But there’s a drastic difference in life experience.
Then verse 16. I, Jesus, have sent My angel—my messenger—to testify—to martyreo. We’re still witnessing! I am a good witness, Jesus says. I want you to be a good witness. To martyreoto you these things—where? —in the churches. Why would you message in the churches? Because it’s a letter to his servants. And what’s the letter to his servants, the message to his servants? Obey my commands. Follow my way. It’s very simple.
We’re going to be speaking about how the world’s going to have the wheels roll off. But, let’s not forget the point. The point is not to speculate about how that’s going to happen. The point is no matter how crazy the world gets, what God wants us to do is not going to change.
The Game of Thrones
I—Jesus says—am the Root and the Offspring of David—I’m going to call this Revelation part two the Game of Thrones because we’re going to see over and over again the throne. Who reigns? Who’s the rightful king? Who’s in charge? Whoever’s in charge is going to reward, and whoever’s in charge is going to withhold rewards or punish. Who’s really in charge?
Root and offspring of David. That’s a claim of kingship. The bright and morning star. So we’ve got the root and offspring of David the King of Israel, the bright and morning star, the king of creation. We saw that I will give you the morning star was one of the rewards to the overcomers in the churches.
Again, share the reign. Share intimacy with Jesus. Share the depth of wisdom of being a part of that.
Verse 17. And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” This word come is a middle voice Greek verb, which means it acts on itself. You can see this verb when you see the magi, and they say, “We’ve come.” We got on our camels, and we came. We made a choice to come.
Revelation is an invitation
Revelation is an invitation. You’ve got the sovereign of the universe who’s in control of all things, and we’ll see how in control he is. He’s crazy in control. And what does he want to do? Invite. Could he impose? Yes, of course. Could he demand? Yes, of course. And that time will come. That time will come when he will demand.
But right now, it’s our choice. Our invitation. Come. Be a witness with me. Follow my way. And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take of the water of life freely.
That is the basic message. It’s not going to change. We’re going to end up in the same place that we started.
What is to come
Let’s start this part in chapter 4. Same basic simple message, but now we’re going to change to what is to come.
Chapter 4 verse 1. After these things I looked—John. This is Apostle John. And behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”
The imagery in Revelations
If you’re a fan of C. S. Lewis, and you’ve read the Narnia Chronicles, I invite you as we go through these Revelation chapters to speculate with me that C. S. Lewis got a lot of his stuff from the imagery we’re going to see in Revelation.
I don’t know if you remember, one of the books, I think it’s Prince Caspian, where one of the characters in Narnia, which is a different world, and there’s doors that go back and forth between these worlds. Someone blows a trumpet, and it calls the children back into Narnia where they are kings and queens forever. Once a king and queen of Narnia, always a king and queen of Narnia.
I speculate this is where he got this imagery from.
There’s another scene where there’s this door and the Telmarines have to decide, do I want to go back through this door into a different world?
That might help you visualize what John may have seen because C. S. Lewis’s imagination was incredible. And he saw a door in heaven, and he hears this voice like a trumpet, a real—“Hey, come up here!” It’s another invitation. Come! And I will show you the things which must take place after this.
We’ve just talked about the seven churches. This is what was and is. Now, come up here, and I’ll show you what will take place after this.
So John “comes up here.” And Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven—
The throne room of heaven
We’re going to spend a lot of time in the next few episodes in the throne room of heaven.
Why would God set this in the throne room of heaven? I propose that one of the main reasons this is set in the throne room of heaven is because one of the primary messages here is no matter how bad it gets, I’m still on the throne.
We will not see anything where anyone says, “Now, who’s going to get to sit on this throne?” That’s never in question. It’s really clear who’s on the throne all through this. What we’re going to see is the things that happen on earth start in heaven, and they’re really bad.
When we see bad things happen on earth, it’s typical for us to say, “Where’s God? Why did God let this happen?” He’s going to tell us why he’s letting this happen. And the hard lesson, the hard message is, this is a fantastic opportunity for us to be martyreos because that’s what he’s called us to do.
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne which are the seven Spirits of God.
It seems that John sees this throne in this throne room and is having trouble describing it.
This description doesn’t make much sense to me. But here’s the best I can take from it. It was overwhelmingly spectacular. And he was describing it in terms of things that are shiny and majestic and colorful.
Lamps of fire
So this is quite a place. You have a throne and then twenty four thrones with elders sitting on them, and the elders have crowns. And the seven lamps of fire burning before the throne are the seven Spirits of God.
Remember back in the church at Ephesus, in the first three chapters, we saw lamps, lampstands, and what were the lampstands? Do you remember? The churches. So the churches are the lampstands.
And what’s the fire? The Spirit. And doesn’t it make sense that what God wants is places where his Spirit can burn on the earth? He told Ephesus, if you can’t have love with truth I don’t need you as my lampstand. I’m going to take you out. Because what I’m looking for is places that will be martyreos for me, that I can burn my spirit through you into the world. And that Spirit is right there in the throne room.
When we, as a body, allow the Spirit to burn through us, the throne room is coming right through into the world through us. It’s kind of hard to keep that perspective on a daily basis, isn’t it? That’s what this message is here to do. It’s to give us a perspective of what’s really happening, a lot of which we can’t see.
The Living Creatures
Verse 6. Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:
“Holy, holy holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”
Was and is and is to come. Jesus was in the was and is, and Jesus is in the is to come. And Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Now once again, we’ve got living creatures here not like anything we’ve experienced on a daily basis. Well, what are these living creatures doing? They’re speaking. How many animals have you heard speak? Anybody? Anybody heard an animal speak?
Now, we have two dogs. They communicate very, very well. We very seldom don’t understand what they want at any point in time. Their menu of what all they want is not very long. It’s just three or four things that they really care about. When they want those things, it’s very clear. But they never speak.
But, here we’ve got these creatures speaking. Think about Narnia Chronicles again. Are we going to be in a place where the animals can talk? Yes! There’s no doubt about it! Here they are! These are living creatures!
The word creature here means creature. It means beast. It’s used in the Bible for the animals that are sacrificed. It’s clearly a non-human creature. Who are these creatures? And why are they saying this same thing over and over and over again? Isn’t that monotonous? Does this mean they’re dumb creatures? It’s just like squawking, or something like that.
Well, let’s look at Psalm 19. And what I want to show you is this is already happening. We just don’t have the ears to hear.
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David
The heavens—what? —declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters—what? —speech.
See, this is already happening. The stars, the clouds, they’re already speaking. We just can’t comprehend what they’re saying audibly. That day will change. We’re going to be able to audibly hear this music that’s taking place all the time.
Again, go back to Narnia Chronicles, there’s a song that Aslan speaks and the whole world comes up in this song, and everything has a part, and it’s this big orchestration that’s happening as he’s creating the world.
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There’s no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
This is already happening right now. Everything is saying “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty, who was and is and is to come.” Everything is declaring the glory of God. These creatures are just doing it in such a way that John can hear it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that this is all they’re doing.
In fact, if we go to Ezekiel, we can see these creatures from a different perspective. Let’s look at Ezekiel 1. Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze. The hands of a man were under their wings on each of their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings. Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies. And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire…
And then if we go to Ezekiel, we can see in 10:1 And I looked, and there in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubim, there appeared something like a sapphire stone, having the appearance of the likeness of a throne. Then He spoke to the man clothed with linen, and said, “Go in among the wheels—because what we find out, these creatures have wheels associated with them, and the Spirit’s in the wheels—under the cherub, fill your hands with coals of fire from among the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.” And he went in as I watched. Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the the temple—and we find out that the cherubs or the cherubim are the same things he saw by the River Chebar.
We’ve got in Ezekiel chapter 1 and chapter 10 cherubim. They sound a whole lot like these four creatures. And maybe they are, and maybe they aren’t.
I wondered why, if they are the same, why would they not call them cherubim in Revelation? Maybe it’s because Jesus knows that we took the word cherub and made it be a two-year-old naked baby with a bow and arrow and two wings (not six); and it just had kind of become trivialized. I don’t know why. And maybe these are very similar but not the same.
Perhaps these are creatures that look a lot like cherubim but they’re not. Cherubim are angels and these creatures are creatures. I don’t know.
But what I do know is things are going to be a little different when we get to heaven and the new earth. And we’re going to have some really cool creatures.
You know, have you been to zoos and seen creatures that you never knew existed before? And they’re strange in some way. And you say, wow, I never knew there was an animal like that!
Well, the reason they’re in the zoo is because that fascinates us. It fascinates us to see all these panoply of creatures that are out there, how they operate. I think this is giving us a little clue and a little hint that not only is that going to be the case, it’s going to be perhaps a significant part of our experience in the new earth.
Again, go back to Narnia Chronicles. Don’t you read the Narnia Chronicles and say, boy, wouldn’t that be cool if we had real centaurs, and we could interact with them and talk to the animals? I think that’s what we have in our future.
The 24 elders, crowns and harps
But go back to Revelation 4:9. Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne—
These elders who cast their crowns—and we’ll see them later. They have harps. This is the only place where crowns are cast and the only place where harps are mentioned. Just with respect to the 24 elders. That’s it.
It’s very fascinating how the notion of casting crowns and the notion of harps has kind of taken over the imagination of what heaven’s like. But what we have here is the 24 elders, when they cast their crown, it’s an experience of worship. What they’re doing is as a part of their worship, they’re saying our authority that we have, that we won, that you gave to us is totally subordinated to yours.
What they’re not saying is, hey, this crown you gave me I don’t care about it. I don’t need a crown. I’m self sufficient. I’m fine on my own. Here, you can have this back.