Revelation 4 is not just a description of a heavenly setting. It is also a prophecy. In Revelation 4:1, John is told that he is going to see what “must take place.” We have to approach Revelation 4-5 not just as a glimpse into what is happening in heaven, but also as a prophecy of things that must take place. This especially applies to how we understand what follows in Revelation 5.
1After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (Revelation 4:1 ESV)
In Revelation 4, John encounters the living creatures. These creatures look at the beauty of God on His throne and then respond in worship.
2At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne…8And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:2, 8 ESV)
Notice that these creatures are covered with eyes so that they can see God’s beauty. That fact that God gave these creatures so many eyes tells us that He wants His beauty to be made known. He does not want to hide it. One of the great lies in the earth is that God is detached and aloof. The reality is that He is intricately involved in creation. Sin has obscured our view of Him, but He longs to reveal Himself to creation.
Looking at something beautiful always releases pleasure. We enjoy looking at a beautiful picture, or beautiful scenery. God designed us so that when we see something beautiful it releases pleasure within us. God gave these creatures eyes so they could experience intense pleasure by gazing upon the most beautiful thing in the universe – the person of God.
Not only does God want creation to experience the pleasure of gazing on His beauty, He wants creation to also experience the pleasure of responding to that beauty. When we see something beautiful we cannot help but respond. We automatically gasp, shout, sing, speaking about, and respond to things that are majestic and beautiful. God wants to fill the earth with the response of creation to His beauty.
He particularly wants His beauty declared using words because words are one of the most powerful things in the earth. What we say has incredible power both on ourselves and on each other. God wants us to use that power and declare back to Him the glory of who He is.
The proclamations of the living creatures never cease day or night:
8And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8 ESV)
Day and night they encounter the beauty of God and day and night they cry out. John says the “never cease” to cry out because of the glory they see. We naturally respond to beauty so long as that beauty touches our souls. The response of the living creatures is strange to us because so much of what we see that is beautiful gives us a temporary thrill and then the thrill fades. However, the beauty of God is like an endless ocean. The living creatures are immersed into that ocean and cannot find the end of it. The revelation of endless beauty will provoke an endless response. Everywhere they turn they are surrounded by glory and beauty which is why they do not cease to cry out.
The unceasing nature of what happens in Revelation 4 reveals two things related to God’s plan to restore the earth:
First, we are made to be in constant communion with God and experience the pleasure of His glory. Because we live in a fallen world, it seems like God’s beauty is hidden and we experience it in brief glimpses. Revelation 4 tells us that we were created for something entirely different. We were designed to experience the pleasure of God day and night. The promise of the Bible is that a day is coming when that glory is going to fill creation and permeate the earth (Habakkuk 2:14).
Second, we are designed to cry out day and night about the beauty of God. The earth should be filled day and night with songs and proclamations of the beauty of God. Declaring the beauty of God is not something that belongs to Sunday morning alone. God’s beauty is to be declared both day and night – and it will be.
Revelation 4 is also a key chapter because of the prayer we refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer.” In Matthew 6, Jesus told us to pray that it would be on earth as it is in heaven. Because Jesus is teaching us how He would like us to pray, we could call the Lord’s prayer Jesus’ prayer list for the church. Right at the top of that list, is Jesus’ desire that the earth would become like heaven.
9Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9–10 ESV)
Jesus wants us to pray that the earth would become like heaven. If He wants the earth to become like heaven then that has to affect how we build the church. We want to build the church in such a way that it values what heaven values and becomes a picture on the earth of what is coming. Heaven is the place where God’s will is done without any opposition. It is the place where we see what He wants. Therefore, glimpses of heaven reveal to us what God wants on the earth. Revelation 4 tells us what it is like in heaven. It tells us what God is like. It tells us what He enjoys. It gives us insight into His plan and purpose for creation. It tells us what Jesus is thinking about when He asks us to pray that it would be on earth as it is in heaven.
From the very beginning in the book of Exodus, God told Moses to build according to a heavenly pattern (Hebrews 8:5). There is a pattern in heaven that God wants on the earth. That is why the Bible ends with the promise that a city is descending from heaven to the earth. Revelation 4 reveals that pattern. It tells us what is coming. We need to prepare the people for what is coming and also ask how this should influence the way we build the church.
The church is meant to be a witness of what is coming. It provides a prophetic witness of what God is bringing to the earth. The church is God’s imperfect prophetic picture of the future. It is a “down payment” of what is coming. This is why what is coming and what is in heaven must influence how we build the church. We could summarize the values of Revelation 4 this way:
- God wants His beauty to be revealed to all creation.
- God wants creation to respond to His beauty by declaring what it is that they see.
Revelation 4 provides the first glimpse at “must take place.” The first step to understanding what must take place is understanding the heavenly pattern that God wants on the earth. Revelation 4 summarizes that pattern, and Revelation 5 provides even more specific information about God’s plan. It reveals the specific role that man is called to play in that plan.