Caught Up To Heaven
We may be sure it was a whole day’s work for John to see this first wonderful vision of Jesus Christ in His glorified state and to write those seven letters. Remember, though, he was told that other things to be shown him were to be written down as well as things related to the future. All that follows after chapter 3 relates to those future times after the church has passed through various stages, and Christ stands at the very door knocking close to the time of His second coming.
John begins chapter 4 with, “After these things I saw, and behold a door opened in heaven . . .” (R.V.) These words seem to refer to a second vision he had. This time John is taken up into heaven through that open door where he sees things which will happen shortly before the Lord’s return. From what is said later on, we may safely state the earliest events as taking place within a few years of Christ’s coming. You will remember that He said of the precise time of His return, “Of that day and that hour knoweth no one, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” Also, He said, “When ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.” (Mark 13, 29, 32).
Because He was talking to His disciples, Christ was saying that they need not remain in total ignorance that He is just about to come. On this point, Paul says, “Yourselves know perfectly, that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. . . But ye, brethren, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief.” (I. Thessalonians 5:2, 4). Those who believe in the Lord, and are watching for the signs of His return, will know when the time is very near.” Many have pretended they saw the signs and have falsely heralded His speedy coming. Others have been excited and deluded and have preached He was coming right away when the signs did not warrant any such idea. Others imagine that if they believe in His second coming at all, they must believe and teach that He is coming right away, or else they will displease God. Those who have sounded these false alarms are not only wrong, but also they have brought contempt upon God’s Word which teaches Christ’s return. Such teaching is like the boy who cried, “Wolf, wolf,” so often that when the wolf really came, no one believed his cry. Likewise, no one will believe in the glad news that Christ is coming again unless religious leaders of this kind learn to be more careful about what they teach.
Christ is coming again, and He is coming suddenly and unexpectedly. If we are not living close to Him and studying His Word carefully, we shall not perceive His coming should it happen in our day. We must not listen to the scoffers who say, “Where is the promise of His coming?” You prove you did not read your Bibles correctly on this subject “. . . for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (II. Peter 3:4). Also, do not take your place with those who cry before the time, “He is coming right away!”
Some faulty Christians in Paul’s day were misrepresenting his teaching, causing him to write the Thessalonians very calmly not to be “troubled, neither by spirit (a false prophecy), nor by word, nor by letter from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand” (coming right away). Then, he goes on to tell some of the signs that must first occur before Christ’s coming (II. Thessalonians 2:1-10). To this day, men continue to misrepresent Paul and say he was mistaken because he taught that Christ was coming very soon. Yet, here in his very earliest epistle but one (I. Thessalonians), Paul warns against his being misrepresented on this point.
To return to John, he saw a door in the sky standing open; and a voice bade him come up through it. The Spirit bore his spirit upward until he saw God sitting on His throne in heaven. You can read for yourself the description of how things appeared in the fourth chapter. The one word we regret ever having been translated from the Greek in our English Bibles is the word, “beasts.” The word does not say beasts but “living creatures.” The Revised Version translates the word correctly. “Beast” is a different word which occurs in a later chapter, describing the Anti-Christ. Just what these four “living creatures” are described in verse 6, we do not know. They seem to be the same as the cherubim Ezekiel saw in a vision (Ezekiel 1) and mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.
Dean Alford thinks they mean, “the whole animated creation” since in the teaching of the Jewish rabbis, the lion was considered the chief of all the beasts of the field. The calf or ox in Ezekiel 1:10 is the chief of the domestic animals, and the eagle is the chief of both birds and fishes who were created on the same day (Genesis 1:20). If John was familiar with this teaching, then these four living creatures very naturally would represent all living things of the animal kingdom. This explanation is the best we know of the “living creatures.”
The “twenty-four elders” are evidently human beings who have been redeemed from sin and have gone to heaven, for they sing of themselves as “purchased unto God” with Christ’s blood “out of every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation.” (Revelation 5:8-9).(1) Another thing they sing about gives us a clue why just “twenty-four” are mentioned since they come out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation. The use of the word “elders” often means “representatives.” Paul uses the word in its verb form where he says, “We are ambassadors for Christ . . . We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” These are ambassadors in God’s court, who in our stead are representatives of all redeemed sinners, worshiping before God’s throne and praising Him for us.
In chapter 5, these elders say, “Thou . . . hast made us unto our God kings and priests (5:10). The priesthood was divided by king David into twenty-four courses or groups, and these groups of priests served in turn in the Temple (I. Chronicles 24:1-19); Luke 1:5). Since everything in the earthly Temple was a pattern of the heavenly (Hebrews 8:5; 9:23) and since all saints in heaven are “priests” (I. Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6), therefore, it seems quite natural that the entire body of redeemed saints—many millions—should be represented by “twenty-four elders.” They sit on “thrones” because they are more than priests. They are kings as well, and so will we all be who are redeemed by the blood of Christ, “kings and priests unto God.” To sum up, they are called “elders” because they are mere representatives of millions of redeemed saints. These elders number twenty-four because they represent priests. They sit on thrones because they represent kings as well.
Some Bible scholars think the presence of these “elders” in heaven proves what is called, “the rapture of the saints” (described in I. Thessalonians 4:16, 17) has already taken place in John’s vision. We do not believe it so because that event is described later on by John. You will remember when Christ rose from the dead, many holy, dead people came to life again and some entered Jerusalem and appeared to their friends (Matthew 27:52-53). Again, we are told in Ephesians 4:8 that when Christ ascended into heaven, He “led captivity captive,” which means Christ took this released band to heaven with Him. Though these holy, dead people had lived before Christ shed His blood, they must have been redeemed by that same blood since they never could have been actually redeemed in any other way according to the book of Hebrews. (10:1, 4). Also, the book of Acts shows they were redeemed by Christ. (13:39). Therefore, I believe the twenty-four elders were really Old Testament, Jewish saints, but true representatives of a large body of redeemed human beings both in heaven and on earth. We may rejoice, therefore, that we already have those who praise and honor God and the Lamb of God in our name and for us.
1. Originally, no warrant existed for changing the “us” and “we” of 5:9, 10 to “them” and “they” except an idea the “four living creatures” of 5:8 presented an obstacle to the former view. It is not necessary to interpret verse 8 so literally as to include them as singers of the song of redemption, but only as prostrating themselves in worship. Dr. Seiss should be read in defense of the A.V. at this place.