THE BOOK OF REVELATION
THE CHURCH'S TRIUMPH THROUGH CHRIST
Sermon #12 - The Church's Worship in the Sanctuary of God - Revelation 4:1-11
INTRODUCTION - The book of Revelation has been given to us in order to show us the church's great triumph through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In chapter one we were introduced to the book and were shown the grace and mercy which comes from the triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Chapter one also gives us a glorious picture of the Christ we worship, the ascended Christ, who is the great warrior/king in the midst of His church. Chapters two and three contain the seven letters to the churches, letters which still speak to the church today as she is judged, disciplined, and encouraged by her Lord. Now, as we come to chapter four, the scene will change to the throne room of God. Here we shall see the church in her worship and adoration. Here we are given a true picture of the church, despite all the struggles and persecutions she goes through in this world.
1) AN ENCOURAGING PICTURE FOR THE STRUGGLING FIRST CENTURY CHURCH - As we read through the letters of Revelation two and three, we can see that the early church could become quite discouraged by its state. Persecution was everywhere, some churches were full of doctrinal and moral compromise, poverty abounded among the people of God and heresies were everywhere. The church was a little group of struggling people. Looking at the outward circumstances, one might wonder how the church could survive. We might think the same thing of the church today. The troubles which plagued the early church are still ours today - doctrinal and moral compromise, shallowness, a dead orthodoxy, love growing cold or emotionalism taking over. How will the church ever triumph? Is there no hope for the body of Christ in our day? Are we to simply believe that the church will ultimately fail and fall into complete apostasy? If we looked solely at outward appearances, we might be tempted to think this, but John reveals to us the spiritual reality of the church, which gives us great encouragement to continue in the battle. Chapters four and five of Revelation will give us a true picture of the Church of Jesus Christ, despite all its problems and struggles. Here we are seen as a glorious people, seated on thrones before the throne of God, offering our worship and praise to the One who sits on the throne. Angels are gathered around us in our worship as we sing before our Lord and cast our crowns before our God. This is the true picture of the church and this is what John wanted the people of his day to see. This would give them both hope and encouragement to continue on in their earthly struggles.
Yet before we deal with our understanding of Revelation 4 and 5, we must deal with an interpretation which is extremely popular in our day, which is -
2) REVELATION 4:1 INTERPRETED AS THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH - Though the word "rapture" is never found in Scripture, it is the word used to describe the "taking away" of the church to heaven at the second coming of Christ. Not everyone agrees when this event will actually take place (whether before, during, or after a period of great tribulation), yet all agree that there will be a time when Christ returns and the church will be taken out of the world. According to some interpreters, Revelation 4:1 describes the rapture and, therefore, everything after Revelation 4:1 in the book of Revelation really has no application for the church of Jesus Christ (at least not until we reach the end of Revelation where the church appears again). There are basically three reasons why some people see the "rapture" taking place here. We would like to consider these reasons but also show how they do not support a rapture in Revelation 4:1. First, there is a voice like a trumpet, which is associated with the second coming of Christ. Yet are we to suppose that since there is a trumpet that this must signal the second coming? John has already heard a voice like a trumpet in Revelation 1:10. Are we to assume that this trumpet is also the second coming? Just because there is a trumpet does not mean that the second coming is taking place. Secondly, John is "taken up", like the church is taken up at the return of Christ. Yet we would therefore have to presume that John somehow represents the entire church, which we are not given warrant to do in this text. Why should we presume that John represents the church? John is simply being shown a spiritual vision, just like Isaiah, Ezekiel Daniel and Paul. This is a typical experience of men who are "in the Spirit" and who are about to be shown spiritual mysteries. Thirdly, the word "church" is no longer mentioned till the end of Revelation, therefore the church must have been "raptured out" here at Revelation 4:1. Yet the name "Jesus" is never mentioned again till Revelation 12. Does this mean that He is missing too? No, but we will see Him as a lion and a lamb, as we shall see the church being described in different ways in this book. No, Revelation 4:1 does not teach the rapture of the church. If it did, then we might as well close up the book of Revelation and leave it to the prophetic interpreters, for it has no further application for us as the church. Yet we do not believe that the rapture is taught here. Instead, we are going to be given a vision of "life from the throne of God." We will be shown the church in true perspective as it worships before the Lord's throne. It is a picture which will encourage and strengthen the church as she gathers for worship and praise. Chapters four and five are also pivotal for our understanding of the rest of Revelation. Everything to follow should be seen in relationship to the throne room of God. The Lord is on the throne and everything happens from this place. Everything is answerable to this place. This again is very encouraging to the small, struggling church in the world. We are to constantly see life from the vantage point of the throne room of God.
3) THE CALL TO VIEW TRUE WORSHIP AT THE THRONE OF GOD - Revelation 4:1 - John is invited to go to heaven to receive a vision of spiritual realities. Others have had such experiences in Scripture (Ezekiel 1:1; Isaiah 6:1; Daniel 7:9; II Corinthians 12), as they are given glimpses of heaven and spiritual reality in order to share this with the people of God on earth. John hears a voice like a trumpet, which is probably the same voice from Revelation 1:10, the voice of Christ, and the voice invites him to "come up" to view spiritual mysteries in heavenly realms. Yet, how are we to understand all that John is looking at? What are we to make of the throne, the elders, and the angels? Obviously, from what the angels and elders are doing, this is a picture of worship, and as we study the entire text, so we shall see it is a picture of the church at worship. Here is a spiritual picture of the way in which the church should see herself today. Just as we were given a spiritual picture of Christ in Revelation 1, and are told to see Him this way, so Revelation 4 gives us a true picture of the church and her worship before the throne of God.
Often, we think of our worship in only physical terms. We think of the church building, the pews, the sanctuary, the pulpit, the hymnals, the praying, singing, and preaching - all the physical aspects of our worship. Yet the Lord wants us to see the spiritual dimension and reality behind all of these things. Christian, how are we to view ourselves as we come to worship God? What is the true nature and position of the church today? In Revelation 1:6 we are described as "kings and priests." In Ephesians 2:6 we are pictured as seated in heavenly places with Christ. Hebrews 12:22-24 shows us that our true worship is at Mount Zion, in the heavenly city, with all the angels and saints, before God and His Son. Yet do we see ourselves this way when we worship? Seated in heavenly places? Part of God's great kingdom? Worshipping with all the angels and saints? This is the reality of our worship and though it is difficult to imagine when we are living in the world, this is the way we should view ourselves.
This is the point which John's vision is making. Though the church struggles in this world, the truth of her existence can be seen in spiritual realities. She is seated on thrones before the very throne of God. The people of God are dressed in white, wearing crowns of glory, and casting those crowns before the throne of God. When the church worships, all the saints and angels join together in her praise. Her songs, prayers, preaching, and adoration are all given at the throne of God. Now, if this is the spiritual truth behind the physical reality: doesn't this change the way we should view our church and worship? Doesn't this elevate our worship when we realize that we are seated before the very throne of God? How would this change our approach to God in this place and the things that we say and do? What should we see happening in the church of Jesus Christ to reflect what is happening here in Revelation 4? Here is the purpose of this entire vision - to show the church what she is really like before the throne of God and to encourage her to continue on with her mission, for she is kept safe before God's throne. The church will triumph because of her place before God, therefore, let us go forth into our world, knowing that we are actually seated in heavenly places, before the glorious throne of our Lord!