Behind the Scenes

The Great Bard once said that all the world was a stage and men and women merely players. And whilst the theology of Mr Shakespeare is generally appallingly wrong, Revelation 4 and 5 suggests that on this particular occasion he was remarkably close to the truth. In this essay we are going to look behind the scenes at one of the turning points in world history and see the nature and method by which the rights to the universe are obtained by its' rightful owner.

The word rendered 'heaven' in the AV is a translation of 5 different Hebrew words[1]:

  1. The usual Hebrew word for "heavens" is shamayim, a plural form meaning "heights," "elevations" (Ge 1:1; 2:1).
  2. The Hebrew word marom is also used (Ps 68:18; 93:4; 102:19, etc.) as equivalent to shamayim, "high places," "heights."
  3. Heb galgal, literally a "wheel," is rendered "heaven" in Ps 77:18.
  4. Heb shahak, rendered "sky" (De 33:26; Job 37:18; Ps 18:11), plural "clouds" (Job 35:5; 36:28; Ps 68:34, marg. "heavens"), means probably the firmament.
  5. Heb rakia is closely connected with 4), and is rendered "firmamentum" in the Vulgate, whence our "firmament" (Ge 1:6; De 33:26, etc.), regarded as a solid expanse.

We find that the word thus refers to three different places: the sky, space and the dwelling place of God. The latter is sometimes referred to as 'the highest heaven', 'the heaven of heavens' and 'the third heaven'[2].

If we are not given one of the more detailed terms then we have to derive the heaven referred to from the context of the reference; within Revelation 4 and 5 we are clearly looking into the dwelling place of God.

Having ascertained where the scene unfolds it is necessary to identify some of the participants. Oddly, one of the most contentious is the identity of the 24 elders. The expression 'elder' as used in the New Testament is really a carry over of the same expression in the Old[3]. The office was a political one although not clearly defined[4]. In the Old Testament economy there was even a governing council of 70 elders that managed the Hebrew affairs. We find that the same concept occurred within the Egyptians, Moabites, Midianites[5] and even modern day Arabs[6]. The question thus becomes: of which group is this body of 24 men the elders'?

I believe that these elders represent a resurrected church for the following reasons[7]:

  1. They have bodies. In Rev 4:4 we find the elders can sit and have heads. In verse 10 we find they are able to fall down and throw their crowns down. In Rev 5:8 they are capable of holding instruments and vials. This is in marked contrast to the souls under the alter in Rev 6:9-11 which are capable of speech but apparently not much else.
  2. They converse with John. In Rev 5:5 and again in Rev 7:13 the elders talk to John to explain things to him, this is very different from the behavior one would expect from a disembodied spirit.
  3. They are not (all) Jewish. In Rev 5:9 they specifically say they have been redeemed out of every kindred, tongue and people and nature. This is not the way that a group of Jews would describe themselves. Incidentally, even some pretribulationists consider these 24 elders to be the twelve heads of patriarchs and the twelve apostles: this verse shows this to be false.
  4. The elders are redeemed. This means they cannot be angels as angels to do need to be redeemed, as they didn't fall[8].
  5. These men are redeemed before the tribulation. Again in Rev 5:9 the elders state that the lamb is worthy to open the seals because he hast redeemed them. In fact the verse also puts the fact that he was slain before their redemption and the seals after, suggesting a group of redeemed people between Calvary and the tribulation.
  6. These men wear crowns[9]. These elders are seen to be wearing crowns. Christian elders are specifically promised a crown of glory for feeding the flock[10]. In addition to that crown Christians can get an incorruptible crown[11], a crown of life[12], a crown of righteousness[13] and a crown of rejoicing[14]. The fact that crowns characterize these elders would have suggested to a Christian audience members of their own and in a glorified state. In particular it would suggest the Bema[15] has already happened by this point.
  7. They are to be kings and priests[16]. The Israelites had been promised that they would be a kingdom of priests[17] but, to my knowledge, they were never told they would all be kings and priests. The promise of kingship and priesthood was made to the church in Rev 1:6. So again the hearers of Rev 4&5 would have assumed this expression related to Christians.

The other players in this scene are clearly supernatural; and as long as we are prepared to leave the definition at that I think there is no problem. I like Smith's definition of Angels best: -

"By the word "angels" (i.e. "messengers" of God) we ordinarily understand a race of spiritual beings of a nature exalted far above that of man, although infinitely removed from that of God--whose office is "to do him service in heaven, and by his appointment to succor and defend men on earth."

So having suggested that this passage shows a resurrected church and a hundred million plus angels all congregated around the throne in the heaven of heavens we are left with the question: what is happening?

The answer to that has to hinge on the identity of the sealed book[18]. There are two main candidates for what the book is. The first, and in some ways most natural is that it is the purposes of God. If we follow this thought then in this passage the resurrected lamb is found worthy to discover and enable the eternal purposes of God. However this is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons: -

  1. This unsealing takes place after the resurrection, surely God was enacting his purposes before then too.
  2. Why was the book sealed? God has been revealing these events through the Old Testament for many years.
  3. Why did it take Christ to reveal the purposes of God? God had been using man to do this for some time (see Heb 1:1)
  4. Why is there writing on the inside and the outside? The suggestion that an omnipotent deity had run out of paper and thus had to use both sides is ludicrous.

A more satisfactory identification comes if we look at the Hebrew method of land exchange as found in Jeremiah 32. We find that the title deeds to a piece of land were rolled into a scroll with the name of the owner written on the outside: the deed itself being on the inside. The scroll was then sealed. The Bible gives no indication of the number of seals required although Roman Law required seven seals to be made[19].

I suggest therefore that in this sealed book we see the title deeds to the universe. This explains why the lamb taking the book leads to a song of redemption from the assembled throng; it is the throng that is now being claimed by their rightful owner.

As Christ now takes possession of his property all that now remains is a little spring-cleaning; which is the subject of the coming chapters.


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