Chapter four begins with the third phrase from 1:19 – “after these things.” There are some who believe that 4:1 refers to the Rapture of the Church. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Paul wrote that the Rapture will take place “with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” In Revelation 1:10 and 4:1, John described Jesus’ voice to be like a trumpet, commanding, “Come up here.” Although we cannot be definitive that this does reference the Rapture, it is worth noting that the Church is not mentioned again after chapter three until Jesus returns in chapter 19. This is just one support for the dispensational teaching that the Church is completely absent from Earth before and during the entire Tribulation period.
What John saw in heaven can be described in three parts. First, he saw God himself, as much as an unglorified human can. He saw God’s throne emanating with light (vs. 3). Second, in front of and around the throne, John saw three groups of beings – the 24 elders, the seven spirits, and the four living creatures (vs. 4-8). Third, John saw these beings in continuous worship of God.
Much has been written about each of these groups as scholars have tried to explain and identify them. Unfortunately, opinions are widely varied resulting in little agreement. The four living creatures seem the most obvious. Their description has great similarities to the cherubim described in Ezekiel 1 and 10, but they seem to say the same thing as the seraphim in Isaiah 6. It seems the beings in Revelation 4 could be either, although they are more like Ezekiel’s cherubim.
John had already mentioned the seven spirits in 1:4. In his address to Sardis, Jesus described himself as “the one who holds the seven spirits of God” (3:1). They appear once more in 5:6, being described as seven eyes that are “sent out into all the earth.” Although this is not enough information to allow us to be definitive, most conservative scholars see these spirits to be symbolic a reference to the Holy Spirit himself. Another theory is based on Isaiah 11:1-2, that the seven spirits are seven characteristics of the Holy Spirit.
The twenty-four elders are said to be sitting on thrones around God’s throne. A common understanding is that these elders refer to the Church, who will reign with Jesus during his kingdom. The common teaching that believers will offer their rewards back to Jesus seems to come from 4:10. The trouble with this is where the number “24” comes from. Another theory is that they represent both Israel and the Church. Since the New Jerusalem will contain the names of the 12 Jewish tribal families and the 12 apostles (21:12-14), it may be that together they are the twenty-four elders.