According to Revelation 4:1-2, this vision takes place at the heavenly throne and reveals coming events that were still in the future in John’s day. It addresses all of the churches together, and primarily focuses on the future as a great struggle between the forces of good and evil. This vision was designed to encourage John’s original audience to remain faithful throughout their struggles against sin and Satan, because God’s future victory was certain.
The vision of the seven seals consists of two main parts, beginning with a description of God’s heavenly throne room in Revelation chapters 4 and 5. This section shows us an important scroll with seven seals, and sets the stage for the opening of those seals in chapters 6 through 8.
Revelation 4 verses 1-11 describes a scene in God’s heavenly throne room, and resembles similar visions in Ezekiel chapter 1, Isaiah chapter 6, and other Old Testament passages. God was sitting on his throne, and was being worshiped by heavenly creatures — including four that John described in some detail. Each of the four was covered with eyes and had six wings. But they had different overall appearances: one resembled a lion, another an ox, another a man, and another an eagle. They probably represented all the creatures of the earth giving praise to God.
John’s vision also showed 24 elders surrounding God’s throne, probably numbered according to the twelve tribes of Old Testament Israel and the twelve New Testament apostles. These elders symbolized the people of God throughout history. Whenever the four creatures praised God, the elders bowed down, acknowledging his majesty and authority, and promised him their submission, obedience, and reverence. Beyond the elders was a myriad of angels that extended the praise of God outward, and also praised the Lamb of God.
This scene also contains many images from the Old Testament descriptions of the tabernacle and temple: lamps were blazing before the throne; incense depicted the prayers of God’s people; there was a glass sea, more perfect than the bronze one in the Old Testament; and there were songs of praise like those offered by Levitical singers. This symbolism indicated that John was given a view of God’s heavenly throne room, from which he rules over the entire universe and renders his judgments. And this told John’s readers that the vision dealt with matters of great importance.
The heavenly vision continued in Revelation 5:1-14. God held a scroll in his right hand, representing his plan for the destiny of the world. But none of the members of his court could open the scroll. In other words, none of them could accomplish his plan. Then one of the elders told John that the Lion of the tribe of Judah would open the seven seals and read the scroll.
The reference to the lion of the tribe of Judah is drawn from Genesis 49:9-10, where we read these words:
You are a lion’s cub, O Judah … The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
This prophecy indicated that Judah would rule over the tribes of Israel, and eventually produce a king that would rule the entire world.
But when John looked, he was surprised to find that the lion of Judah was actually a lamb, looking as if it had been slain. Of course, the lamb was Christ. He is the descendant of Judah, the king of Israel. And he became the Passover lamb who gave himself as an atoning sacrifice, just as we read in John 1:29. Jesus’ ability to open the scroll indicated that he was the one through whom God would accomplish all his plans for the world.
Bible Reading: Revelation 4:1-11, 5:1-14