The Book of Revelation is basically divided into three sections plus an introduction and an epilogue. The introduction (1:1-11) tells how John received these revelations and greets seven churches in Asia Minor. The epilogue at the end of the book (22:6-21) contains closing words of warning to the seven churches. In the epilogue they are told to heed the earlier prophecies contained in chapters two and three, and if they did not they would soon face a visitation of judgment by Jesus Himself. His patience was coming to an end and if they did not repent He would bring a judgment similar to the one which fell on the Corinthian church for their loveless and blasphemous treatment of the Lords Supper (1Co 11:20-34). Its important to note that the warnings of the introduction and epilogue do not primarily refer to the Lords Second Coming. When He speaks of events which must soon take place (1:1; 22:6) and for the time is near (1:3, 22:10) and I am coming quickly (22:7, 12, 20) He is referring to a rapidly approaching season of discipline for five of the seven churches and persecution for two of them. That He is warning them of His discipline rather than His return is particularly clear when we look at what He threatens. He said if they didnt repent He would do such things as: remove the Spirits presence from the gatherings at Ephesus (2:5), bring physical sickness and even death by contagious disease to Thyatira (2:22, 23) and probably Pergamum (2:16), and the departure of His presence from the church in Laodicea (3:16, 20). These are not the type of judgments Hell bring at His Second Coming. Those are described in 20:11-15.
The three major sections of this book are defined by the Lord in 1:19. There He commands John to ...write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. The first section defined as the things which you have seen is the vision of the resurrected Christ which John records in 1:12-20. The second section defined as the things which are contains His letters to the seven churches (2:1-3:22) in which He exposes the spiritual state of those specific churches at that moment in time. And the third section defined as the things which will take place after these things (4:1-22:5) is a description of how God will fulfill the ancient prophecies of the last days. This section (4:1-22:5) though focusing on a distant future was intended to help the seven churches overcome by showing them Gods perspective of history and the spiritual battle in which they were engaged. Given this understanding of how all things would end, it would be foolish for them to choose the pleasures of this world or even personal safety over eternal life. The message was simple: this world will be utterly destroyed at the end of time and those who love its pleasures or their own life more than Christ will face a terrible eternity. But those who obey Him and remain loyal will be rewarded with a glorious existence beyond the ability of human words to describe.
The seven churches were given this perspective to strengthen their resolve in the face of temptation and persecution. Today as we read these prophecies the message they contain strengthens us as well. First, its just as important for us to remember the glory of our resurrected Lord as He stands among His churches (1:12-20). He is no longer a tender baby lying in a manger. He is no longer a teacher and healer walking the dusty roads of Israel. He is no longer our brutalized substitute dying on the cross. He who watches over us has now taken His position as triumphant Lord waiting only for the Fathers command to part the heavens and return. Second, we too need to realize there is a limit to the Lords patience and if we press Him too far He will discipline us (2:1-3:11). Also, if we face persecution bravely He will reward us. And third, we are now 2,000 years closer to the events of the last days. Some of the prophecies we read in this book have already appeared on the pages of our newspapers. So we, at least as much as they, need the perspective given in 4:1-22:5 to help us overcome in our generation.
Revelation 4:1, 2
Verse 4:1: After finishing these prophetic warnings for the seven churches, John sees a vision of an open door in heaven and hears Jesus call him to come up so he can be shown the events of the last days. Verse 2: As he did in 1:10 John describes himself as being in the Spirit. I would understand him to mean that the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit overwhelmed him to the point that his ordinary consciousness gave way until he could hear and see spiritual voices and visions. There are several New Testament example of this happening to people including Cornelius (Ac 10:1-8), Peter (Ac 10:9-16, 19; 11:5-10) and Paul (Ac 9:3-12; 16:9; 18:9; 22:17-21; 2Co 12:2-4). Daniels Old Testament example of such an event is revealing because he tells the physical side of his experience as well (Da 10:4-11, 15-18). In the Spirit John saw a vision of Gods throne in heaven. His description recorded here in chapter four is not a new revelation but merely a more detailed picture of the same vision Daniel saw in Daniel 7:9, 10. In the midst of a terrifying vision of earths final evil empire (Da 7:7, 8), Daniel saw the Ancient of Days take His seat as judge in a heavenly court. There, with the aid of a council (thrones were set up, v 9; the court will sit, v 26) God judged the antichrists king (little horn). He would then give complete dominion of the earth to another (Da 7:13, 14). This decision in heavens court marked the beginning of the end for this present age of earths history in which we live. As John was lifted up into heaven he was allowed to look into the future and see that moment when God the Father, sitting in His court, orders the prophecies of the end times to be fulfilled.
Revelation 4:3, 4
Verse 3: In 21:11 we learn that John considered jasper to be a crystal clear stone, so apparently he saw God glistening with a white light mixed with fiery red tones (sardius) and surrounded by an aura of soft green light radiating out from Him like a rainbow. Verse 4: There is no explanation of who the elders are who sit on the twenty-four thrones. They may be a council of angels, but in my opinion it is more likely they represent the Old and New Covenants. Twelve would represent the true believers of Israel and twelve would represent the faithful church. In this way the unity of Gods people is affirmed. Saved men and women from both covenants will be joined into one new family in heaven. This same truth is also expressed in 21:12-14: The New Jerusalem will have twelve gates named for the twelve tribes of Israel (21:12) and twelve foundation stones named for the twelve apostles of Christ (21:14).
Verse 4 (continued): All twenty-four elders were clothed with white garments indicating their sins had been completely cleansed away, and all had golden crowns on their heads indicating they were sharing in Christs governing authority (Da 7:14, 27; Mt 19:27, 28). Verse 5: The vision John saw of Gods throne was similar to Ezekiels vision. From this throne came lightening and thunder which may simply be symbols of His glory as in the radiant light, but as is in the case of Ezekiel (1:4) it may also indicate the coming storm of Gods judgment. The seven lamps of fire... which are the seven Spirits of God is a description of the Holy Spirit which likens Him to the Menorah in the Tabernacle (Ex 40: 24, 25). The Menorah stood in the Holy Place as a source of physical light, but more than that it stood as a promise of spiritual lightСGods wisdom and guidanceСto those who came to Him in prayer. Though there is the warning in this vision of His throne of coming judgment (lightening and thunder) there is also the promise of revelation (the seven-branched lampstand) to those who seek it (Jas 1:2-5).
Verse 6: Here and in 15:2 John sees Gods throne resting on something like a sheet of clear glass extending in all directions to the horizon. Ezekiel also saw the same glass-like surface (Eze 1:22, 26). Neither prophet gives any hint that it represents a spiritual truth, so its best to take it as a simple fact about the architecture of heaven, and look forward to the day when our own resurrected feet will stand on its beautiful surface. Verse 6 (continued): As his eyes scan the great panorama of heaven John focuses on Gods throne located at the center. He sees four living creatures surrounding it which Ezekiel called cherubim (cherub/singular) and whose appearance is startling. They are clearly the same creatures Ezekiel described (Eze 1:5-14, 22-25) but he reports them as having only four wings rather than six (Rev 4:8) and each being having four faces (man, lion, bull, eagle) rather than each having its own distinct form: one like a lion, one like a calf, one like a man, and one like an eagle.