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(Revelation 4:4-11) True Sightings

(Revelation 4:4-11) True Sightings

Ref: Revelation 4:4–11

The vision of heaven that John gives us in Revelation 4 is nothing like those we see on television or even imagine in our minds. His poetic imagery is peculiar and almost fantastical at first sight. But as Stephen helps us envision this heavenly scene, our eyes will be opened to the incredible reality of it.

Additional messages from this series are available here: The First Hymns of Heaven


“True Sightings”

Revelation 4:4-11

Louis XIV was an avid persecutor of the Protestant Reformation in 16th century France.  Under his reign the believers, known as the Huguenots were bankrupted, if not killed, along with any protestant pastor living in the country. 

I found it interesting that this King, although he ruled longer than any other European monarch – some 70 years – actually decreed that the word “death” never be spoken in his court or in his presence.

Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Tyndale, 2004), p. xxi

The truth is, the attitude of most people toward life after death corresponds to whether or not they believe they have much hope after death.

Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, mankind has been infected with a terminal condition called mortality.

The last time any of us checked, ten people out of ten, die.

Whether or not you pass a law that no one can ever say the word, death, in your presence, you can’t get around it.

As strange as it might sound, death is a fact of life!

And by the way, worldwide statistics reveal that 3 people die every second.  That’s 180 people every minute. By the time we finish our worship service today, 13,000 people will die, somewhere in the world. 

Which then means, staggering though it is to consider, that every day more than 250,000 people experience life after death.


According to the Biblical record, they have either gone to Heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8) or they’ve gone to Hades where they await their final judgment and the eternal lake of fire we refer to as Hell. (Revelation 20:15)


For the believer, there is the assurance of our hope, fixed as an anchor in Christ.  The writer of the Book of Hebrews reminds us that by His death Jesus Christ has destroyed the power of death and has freed everyone . . . held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

We don’t fear death.  Certainly, we have anxious thoughts about the unknown and the passage of death – which is why we cling to the scriptures.

David talked about walking through the valley of the shadow of death. (Psalm 23:4)

You don’t pitch a tent there – you walk through it.  And it’s a shadow of death.  You can’t have a shadow unless there is a source of light.

Furthermore, no one has ever been hurt by a shadow – shadows can’t hold you . . . they can’t hurt you; even the shadow of death.

That’s why David can say, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil – why? – because Thou art with me – my Shepherd, my source of light is actually walking through it with me.”

So those who die are not far from God – they’ve never been closer – they have never been more secure. 

So then, regarding those who have died, we don’t lose them . . . we certainly are at a loss without them, but we don’t lose them . . . we lose contact with them – temporarily.

Now, because of the fact that they’ve passed on and since we all know intuitively that there is life after death – as we talked about in our last session; and because we’re curious people we really want to know more about where they are; our curiosity has opened the door to a lot of interesting viewpoints and even opened the opportunity for charlatans to peddle their books and tapes on their own experiences they supposedly had and the things they supposedly saw in Heaven.

I read of one man’s trip to Heaven who was transported there for 5 days.  He said he saw Jesus who happened to be in the middle of supervising the construction of mansions.

Somehow Christ created the universe and the animal kingdom along with Adam and Eve in 6 days, but he hasn’t been able to finish building our homes over the past 2,000 years – and He’s still working at them.

No, the Bible says Christ ascended and was seated (Hebrews 10:12).   He didn’t ascend to put on bib overalls and get out a hammer and nails.

John will see the city in his tour of Heaven, recorded nearly 2,000 years ago in this book of the Revelation, and the Heavenly city is already finished.  And you won’t hear John speak of scaffolding anywhere; Jesus isn’t going over blueprints. 

This individual also claimed that, and I quote, “that everything God created upon the earth is in Heaven – horses, cats and dogs.”

This was the point where I knew without a doubt that he was deceiving his audience.  I can understand horses and dogs in Heaven, but, cats?

That can’t be right.

Another man toured Heaven and has been on all the Christian talk shows – touted in Charisma Magazine and other charismatic publications.  He claimed to have been taken personally by Christ on a tour of Heaven and specifically taken through a gigantic building where he saw on one side of the building arms, fingers, legs and all sorts of body parts stocked inside this warehouse. 

There were shelves filled with neat little packages of eyes; green eyes, brown eyes, blue eyes.  This building (he explained) contained all the parts of the human body that people on earth need.  Jesus said to me, “These are the unclaimed blessings.  This building should not be full.  It should be emptied every single day.  You should come in here with faith and get the needed body parts for you and the people you [pray for].”

This man was even shown a medicine cabinet in Heaven stocked with pill bottles labeled ‘Peace’ and ‘Overdose of the Holy Ghost’.

He talked about riding the Holy Ghost elevator and wading into the River of Life where he and Jesus had a water fight.

Yet another celebrated author talked of being given a tour of Heaven where the Lord took him to the Record Room where every idle word was recorded and for which every believer will be judged – only afterward to see all their idle words emptied into the Sea of Forgetfulness.  He was taken to a Garment Room where he saw angels sewing our robes.

One more – this man was quoted and on Christian television talk shows explained that he was taken to Heaven in a near death experience – he explained that the primary nerve in God’s cranium is the sense of smell.  He learned that sacrificial system was designed to satisfy God’s cranial nerve.  All the while the talk show host was saying, ‘This is wonderful . . . this is meaty.”

This man went on to say that he picked some flowers and noticed there wasn’t any water in their stems because Jesus is the living water.

Above accounts related by John MacArthur in Charismatic Chaos (Zondervan, 1992), p. 24


These are just a few . . . not to mention other more recent versions of people who’ve gone to Heaven and everything focused on themselves.  Everyone was exactly as they remembered – even grandparents hadn’t changed – they looked exactly as he remembered them.

I hope not!

Why does this stuff sell?  Why do people buy it up?

Because we know there is something out there.  And we, as Christians, know it is Heaven and we are curious about our future home.

There’s nothing wrong with that!

Dr. Charles Ryle, a great expositor and English pastor from the 1800’s wrote these words, “The man who is about to sail for Australia as a settler, is naturally anxious to know something about his future home, its climate, its employments, its inhabitants, its ways and its customs.  All these are subjects of deep interest to him.  You are leaving the land of your nativity; you are going to spend the rest of your life in a new hemisphere.  It would be strange indeed if you did not desire information about your new abode.  So before we go to our eternal home we should try to become acquainted with it.

Alcorn, p. 5

Fortunately we’ve been given a wealth of information – most often neglected – in the revelation of John.

Let’s discover six sightings of Heaven that are authentic, true, realities of the throne of God.

Let’s pick up our study in Revelation chapter 4; beginning again at verse 1 to refresh our memory.  After this – that is, after the church age ends and is raptured to Heaven (remember, the church on earth was the focus in chapters 1-3 but now the scene shifts. God isn’t speaking to the church on earth, the church is about to sing to God in Heaven – throughout chapters 4 and 5).  So you could interpret this first phrase, “After the scene shifts from earth to Heaven”, 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.”  2.  At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in Heaven (so John is taken in spirit and given a tour of Heaven), with one seated on the throne.  3.  And he who sat there had the appearance of a jasper stone and a sardius stone, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.  (Now notice)  4.  Around the throne (that is of God) were twenty-four thrones, and seated on these thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.

  1. The first of John’s six sightings was the glory of God upon His throne. 

It was a dazzling light show we studied in our last session.

John will describe more of God’s throne in detail a little later.

  1. The second sighting, here in verse 4, is the presence of 24 thrones upon which sat 24 elders.

As we attempt to identify who these 24 elders are, it is helpful to know that the number 24 is used in scripture as a representative number – a number that represents a host of people. 

For instance, there were 24 officers of the sanctuary representing the 24 divisions of the Old Testament priests – a number that represented several thousand priests.  There were also 24 divisions of singers in the temple – representing several mass choirs.  (I Chronicles 25).

This has led some to believe that these 24 elders represent Israel. 

The major challenge with this view is that Israel is about to undergo national judgment and salvation which comes during the Tribulation – throughout Revelation chapters 6-19. 

These elders are victorious, crowned men and the events are yet to take place where Israel is yet to be redeemed.  Israel is yet to be rewarded.

Adapted from Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1992), p. 345

Others believe that they represent two groups of representatives; the 12 Apostles and the 12 sons of Israel.  It makes for nice mathematics, but this group appears, not as a combination of 2 groups, but a unified group of the same makeup. 

Furthermore, if they were the 12 Apostles, John would have seen himself on one of the thrones, yet he writes of this sighting with a detached view.

Others believe that these elders represent believers who are martyred during the tribulation – that these are tribulation saints.  The problem with that view is that when the tribulation saints do appear in chapter 7, the elders are already present.

Maybe you’re thinking, what does it matter who they are?  It matters, you’ll see, so just be patient.  You sat through 6 years of Romans you can wait 10 minutes for this.

Others say they are angels seated near the throne of God, designed to worship Him.

This is actually an attractive perspective, and not out of context with this sighting of Heaven. 

One of the problems however is that angels are never called elders – presbuteroi.

This is the term for the leader in the New Testament church, translated “elders”.

Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “Let the elders –the presbuteroi – who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”

This was a term in the New Testament for church leadership.

Here in Heaven’s court you have 24 presbuteroi sitting upon their thrones. 

By the way, the word presbuteroi (presbuteroi) gives us our English transliterated word, “Presbyterian.”

Reminds me of the little girl who came home from her Presbyterian church one Sunday afternoon.  On the way home, her mother asked her what she learned in Sunday school.  She said, “We studied Revelation and found out that only 24 Presbyterians made it to Heaven.”  That’s just a joke, we all know there won’t be that many Presbyterians in Heaven.

Steven Lawson, Heaven Help Us! (NavPress, 1995), p. 37

I suppose you could point out that there is no mention of Baptists anywhere – so at least 24 Presbyterians made it.  The Baptists are probably having a potluck nearby.

Now having offended both Presbyterians and Baptists, let’s continue?

Another difficulty of believing these elders are angels, is that angels are never shown wearing stephanos (stefanoV) – a victor’s crown.

A stephanos in the ancient Olympic Games was a crown given to the champion as a bestowal of honor to him and to his god. 

In fact, the victor’s hometown would hold a celebration upon his return home and at this festival the victorious athlete would present his crown in the temple to his patron god.

Adapted from Thomas, p. 349

Which only adds to my belief that these elders represent the church. 

The church, raptured prior to the Tribulation, now praising God in the court of Heaven and before the throne of God.

Notice in their lyrics in verse 11, they sing, “worthy are you, our Lord and God!

This is personal, possessive worship.

The promise of Christ to the church has come true.  He promised the church in His letters that they would be robed in white garments (3:15 and 18); that they would be rewarded with stephanouV – crowns upon their heads (3:11); furthermore they are seated on thrones, a picture of the victorious church promised in Revelation 3:21 and seen again in chapter 20:4 which reads,

And I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. 

The Apostle Paul left no doubt who that would be when he wrote, “Do you not know that the saints will one day judge the world?” (1 Corinthians 6:2)

These aren’t angels, they aren’t the 12 Apostles and the 12 sons of Israel, they aren’t the Tribulation saints; due to their garments and their crowns and the thrones – specifically promised during the church age to the redeemed – and due to their personal worship of their Lord and God, these represent the company of the redeemed – you and me – worshipping the Lord following the rapture of the church.

  1. Now, John shifts his focus back on this amazing throne and makes note of a 3rd sighting – phenomena surrounding the throne of God. 

Notice verse 5.  From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder.

-“From the throne” – ek tou thronou (ek tou qronou) – which literally informs us that these peals of thunder, and flashes of lightning and the sounds of rumblings are actually proceeding from God Himself.

Thomas, p. 349

These are the sights and sounds of judgment, not grace.  At this moment, these sounds resemble the sights and sounds, where, at Mount Sinai, where God gave the Law to Moses and Moses recorded that the mountain was covered by dark clouds and flashes of lightning and the whole earth shook with thundering rumbles. 

Adapted from Ray Stedman, God’s Final Word (Discover House, 1991), p. 119

At the end of human history, God’s throne becomes a weapon of war.

You can’t imagine the terror of this sovereign throne as God’s wrath is about to be unleashed upon the earth.

Don’t miss the fact that the redeemed are singing – we are not terrified of His wrath for they have been rescued by faith in Christ. 

So while the whole earth experiences the wrath of God in utter terror, where the unbelievers cry out to the mountains and the rocks to fall on them and hide them from the face of Him who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16), the church, in Heaven will be secure in their place and position, their reward and white robes, exulting in their worship of sovereign God.

  1. John makes note of a fourth sighting – that of the Holy Spirit.

Notice in verse 5b.  And before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God.

This is another reference to the Holy Spirit, mentioned in chapter 1 verse 4.

Seven is the number of perfection or completion.  A reference to the seven-fold ministry of the Holy Spirit we’ve studied in the past.  Isaiah references this seven-fold ministry of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, reverence and deity. (Isaiah 11:2)

John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1999), p. 151

The Spirit of God is to reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8).

Imagine the terror of this hour of testing – and the final judgment day at the Great White Throne of Revelation 20 – where the omniscient Holy Spirit serves as prosecuting Attorney. 

He knows every thought, word, deed of every man, woman and young person.

I’ve talked to people who talk of standing before God as no big thing. 

My blood chills to read in Winston Churchill’s biography when he was once asked if he was ready to meet God, he responded, “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

There is no human bravado before this Almighty Judge.

The Spirit of God knows every time, every place, every thought, every act, every motive, every the deed, every result, and every lasting influence of every sin for which the world of unbelievers will be judged.

John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Loizeaux Brothers, 1991), p. 84

Crimes against an eternal God which will bring eternal judgment!

Here in this Heavenly sighting, the Spirit of Perfection is pictured, not as the inspiring tongue of fire, or the warmth of an illuminating candle or the soft flutter of a dove. 

He is now the burning torch of fire – a symbol of war in Judges 7 and Nahum 2. 

He is ready to make war on sinful earth.

  1. John makes a fifth observation in this genuine tour of Heaven – the sea of glass.

Notice verse 6.  And before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

Another one of those places where vocabulary fails the Apostle John to describe the shimmering floor of this awesome courtroom.

He simply says it shone brilliantly like crystal.  Reflecting all the sights around the throne – the glory of God, the emerald rainbow, the golden thrones, the white robes, the fiery torches of the Spirit’s flames – all of it what looked like an expansive, vast sea of glass.

One author provoked my thinking when he reminded his readers that a good architect will often put a fountain or a pool of water in front of a building which immediately doubles the beauty of it by reflecting it during the day, and during the night time will again double the light that comes from it.

Stewart Custer, From Patmos to Paradise (BJU Press, 2004), p. 54

Imagine the added splendor that now, everything you see is doubled and more by way of reflection – it was an overwhelming sight and it leads the hosts of Heaven to sing!

It provoked songs.

We’re given our first taste of five hymns in Heaven.

They are heard by John for the first time and sung by the church in Heaven for the first time.

So John has now seen:

  • the glory of God,
  • the 24 elders, representing the redeemed and raptured church;
  • he’s is surrounded by the crashing brilliance of thunder rumbling and lightning flashing;
  • he sees the burning torches of the Spirit of God
  • And all of it reflected in the pavement of this palace court that looks like a sea of glass.
  1. Now notice John’s next sighting of strange angelic creatures.

Notice the middle part of verse 6.  And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind.

If you want to read of Ezekiel’s vision of these cherubim, they are described in chapter 1.  Similar to John’s vision, yet different; similar to Isaiah’s vision of seraphim in Isaiah 6, yet different.

More than likely, these are cherubim who can change their appearance at will – just as we observe angels taking on human appearances in the New Testament.

The cherubim are among the highest order of angelic beings. 

Most people picture cherubs as naked babies who fly around on tiny wings, shooting people with arrows that make them fall in love.

That may be good for Hallmark, but it isn’t true of Heaven.


The cherub or cherubim (plural), are majestic, awe-inspiring creatures. 

  • It was the cherubim with their swords of fire who made sure Adam and Eve couldn’t return to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). 
  • The angelic form of cherubim were sculpted out of solid gold with their wings touching over the ark of the covenant in the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:31)
  • With golden thread, the form of the cherubim were woven into the veil of the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:1);  
  • They were engraved on the wall of Solomon’s majestic temple (I Kings 6:23).
  • They stand ready for God’s personal orders, coming and going in as a flash of lightning (Ezekiel 1:14).

Their power of perception and alert diligence is described as being covered with eyes so that no matter where they were they saw clearly.

They are difficult to imagine, aren’t they? 

Listen, the trouble I have with everybody else’s vision of Heaven and write books about it and get interviewed on TV, as opposed to John’s vision and Ezekiel’s vision, is that I can understand everybody else’s vision.

But the true sightings of the glory of God and the creatures of Heaven leave John at a loss for words and the stretching of our imagination.

Let’s add to the mystery of these angelic creatures – notice verse 7. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like an eagle in flight. 8. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within…

Imagine this strange scene.

All John can say is, they looked like this and they looked like that.

I’ve uncovered more views on these creatures than you want to hear – including the view that they represent the four Gospels or the 4 points of the Zodiac. 

What we do know is that they are exalted angelic beings.  Though distinguished later on from other angels, it can be explained by their exalted state – we know there is a created hierarchy of angels – Lucifer once holding the highest position among them all (Isaiah 14).

We also know that they are deeply involved in announcing the coming judgments of the Tribulation.  In fact, they will call the four horsemen into action (6:1, 3, 5, 7

They are the ones who announce the verdict of God’s judgment – in fact, in chapter 15, they will give the seven angels their bowls to pour out on planet earth.

Why they look like they do we don’t know for sure, although most evangelical scholars believe they represent animate creation –

  • the lion represents wild creatures,
  • the calf/ox represents domestic animals;
  • the man representing the pinnacle of God’s creation. 
  • the eagle representing flying creatures and


Others see in these four a representation of God’s attributes:

  • in the nobility and majesty of the lion;
  • the servant strength of the ox;
  • the reason and will of mankind;
  • and the soaring swiftness of the eagle.

Whatever they are, John hears what they say, in verse 8b.and day and night they do not cease to say,




And this hymn provokes a hymn from the redeemed.

Notice verse 9. J And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10. The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who is seated on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever.  They cast their crowns before the throne.

Listen, the church has been rewarded as promised and just as Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, and here we see the church casting their crowns at His feet, for our good works were really His work through us and He deserves all the credit, praise and glory. 

And the first words in this hymn of the redeemed is, “Worthy are you, our Lord!

Axios (axioV) – worthy.  This was the word used of the Roman emperor when he marched back to the capital city in a triumphal procession.  People would cheer and songs would be sung of his worthiness. 

Adapted from MacArthur, p. 158

The church has been led to heaven in a triumphal procession and we likewise sing and shout – You, our Emperor and Lord, are worthy.


Two reasons sung of in this hymn:

  1. Because of who You are!

Notice verse 11.  You are our Lord and God, worthy of receiving glory and honor and power.

You are worthy, not only because of who You are, but:

  1. Because of what You’ve done!

11b. For You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.

-The glory of God is indescribable.

-The throne-room setting of God is unimaginable.

-The security and joy of the church is forever unchangeable.

Steven Lawson, in his book on Heaven recounts the story of a pastor friend who was traveling abroad and while traveling as given a guided tour of a large Buddhist temple.  As he walked through the religious shrine, he noticed the luxurious furnishings, the lavish fixtures, the costly materials that had all gone into making this ornate temple.  It was more opulent than any house of worship he had ever seen before.  He was overwhelmed. 

Turning to his tour guide, the pastor asked, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?  How much did it cost to build this temple?”

As if insulted, the Buddhist tour guide stopped in his tracks and replied, “Cost? What cost?  We don’t think of cost when it comes to Buddha.”  Then, leaning closer to the pastor, this Buddhist follower said, “Sir, you must understand, there is nothing too good for the Buddha.”

What an indictment on casual Christianity. 

Lawson, p. 44

We know the truth and we serve, not a dead man whose bones are dust in a coffin, but the living sovereign Lord who’s throne flashes light and sounds forth thunder. 

Where creatures encircle Him and sing His praises – and where we, the redeemed sing He is worthy of all glory and honor and praise.

I like that old gospel song that puts our living Lord above all others in this way:

It won’t be old Buddha who’s sittin’ on the throne;

And it won’t be old Mohammed that’s calling us home;

It won’t be Hare Krishna who plays that trumpet tune,

Cause we’re going to see the Son, not Reverend Moon.


Ladies and Gentlemen, in light of this scene which is in our future – in light of these 6 sightings of John the Apostle;

  • There is no sacrifice too great to offer Him;
  • There is no decision we should make without Him;
  • Nothing but our best should be given to Him;
  • No commitment is ever wasted on Him;
  • No service is ever forgotten by Him;
  • And no act of worship is ever lost on Him.

No wonder the saints, who fully understand it in that future day, cannot help but sing.

Close: The Doxology

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,

Praise Him all creatures here below;

Praise Him above ye heavenly host,

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Amen


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