Rev. 4:1-2 presents the rapture in the book of Revelation. Verse 1 speaks of "things which MUST be hereafter." After chapter 5 the book presents a lot of judgment, death and destruction, according to 4:1 these things MUST occur, and this at the direction of our God, who IS love. Why is this so? Because sin cannot continue indefinitely. God is holy - he will not put up with man's rebellion for eternity - it will be judged and finished. But God is also fair (in scriptural terminology: just) - he does not condemn man without giving him an opportunity and a reason for repentance.
The judgments that we see in the book of Revelation MUST happen because God will confront man with his sinful condition and call man to accountability. As we see in Rev. 6:12-17, for the most part, man will continue to rebel, even though they clearly know the source of the wrath that is falling upon them, which implies they also know the reason.
But today’s true church will not experience this wrath because we will be caught up to heaven prior to its beginning, and the apostle John was given a preview of what is ahead for us.
In Revelation 4:1 John found himself immediately in the spirit, in the throne room of heaven, looking at the Father God. This is where Jesus will take us at the rapture. I love that John was not given a tour of the city, he was not taken to see the mansions or the river of life or the streets of gold, he did not stop off to have a visit with deceased family members or saints of old. He was taken to see the most important person who exists – God himself. He was taken, as an observer, directly to the throne room of God.
Verse 3 provides a brief description of God in which he is compared to precious stones, and we recognize that the living God begins with more value than the most valuable created thing. We also learn that there is an emerald green rainbow around the throne, reminding us of the everlasting covenant that God made with Noah that he would not again destroy all flesh with a flood, and he won't – the next destruction will be by fire (II Pet. 3:10). That green rainbow also reminds us of new life for those who accept God’s covenant, but it also brings to mind God’s jealousy for those who will not. Scripture teaches (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deu. 4:24) that God is a jealous God and (Isa. 42:8; 48:11) he will not share his glory with another. When we see a rainbow it is a token of the covenant, but it is also a reminder that the unrepentant will be judged and destroyed.
In verse 4 we learn that round about the throne twenty-four elders are sitting on twenty-four seats (also thrones in the Greek), leading me to think the throne room is circular and, somehow, God is able to face the seated elders even when they are behind him.
There has been lots of discussion over the years about the identity of these twenty-four elders, and quite simply, I believe they represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of Jesus. They are the saved of all time (up to that point). In Gen. 22:16-17, immediately following his obedience to offer his only son to God, God promised Abraham that he would multiply his seed as the sand of the seashore (Jewish people) and as the stars of heaven (Christian people). In Num. 10 Moses was instructed to make two trumpets of a single piece of silver which were to be used for the calling of the assembly (the Jewish people home to Israel in 1948?) and the journeying of the camps (the believers home to heaven at the rapture?). In Lev 23:17 two wave loaves, each baked with leaven, were to be offered on Pentecost.
I believe these things represent all the people of God, Old Testament and New Testament righteous, all of them saved by the same thing - the shed blood of Jesus. We see them again in chapter 5 where they are praising God for his mighty works in our salvation. All are equally redeemed either by looking forward to or back to the cross. All the saved up to this point are seen here in heaven represented by the twenty-four elders. They are all present in the throne room of heaven because very important events are about to occur and they have been removed from it but they will be witnesses.
The verse speaks of elders, which reflects maturity and wisdom, not necessarily age. These elders are the resurrected, raptured believers up to that point. Although people will continue to be saved on earth (in exactly the same way that began at the death and resurrection of Jesus), these twenty-four are elder members of the body of Christ because they are the first group to be resurrected, but that first group has two parts: part A at the rapture, and part B the resurrection of the tribulation martyrs at the second advent of Jesus. Rev. 20:6 says, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years."
Notice the twenty-four elders are seated. People on earth stand: Eph. 6:13-14 against wicked spirits (having done all to stand, stand therefore...); Mark 11:25 in prayer (and when ye stand praying...). These elders are seated because their work is done.
They are clothed in white raiment, which is the robe of righteousness. Isa. 64:6 tells us our personal righteousness is as filthy rags; Isa. 61:10 (millennial passage) speaks of the robe of righteousness provided by Jesus; and in Rev. 3:18 the Laodiceans were counseled to buy of Jesus white raiment to cover their nakedness. The elders are wearing the robes of righteousness because they have been washed in the blood of the lamb. This robe of righteousness is THE garment which is worn in heaven, but it is put on before we get there. According to Rom 10:9-10 righteousness is imputed to those who believe in the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. The elders are visibly wearing the robes because, like Jesus, they have been resurrected .
Each of the twenty-four is wearing a crown of gold. It should be noticed that the elders are already wearing these crowns the first time we see them. In Rev. 3:18, speaking to humans on earth, Jesus counseled the Laodiceans to buy of him gold tried in the fire. Crowns are worn by rulers and kings, in Rev. 5:10 the elders say they will reign on the earth, and Rev. 20:6 states that those who have part in the first resurrection will reign with him.Click here for more information on how, when and why these crowns are awarded.
The sights and sounds of a storm, lightenings and thunderings, are proceeding out of the throne. Throughout the Bible God speaks and appears in a number of ways, and here finally is the source.
There are seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are identified as the seven spirits of God (Isa. 11:2), and before the throne there is a sea of glass like unto crystal, which I like to think might be the windows of heaven.
In the middle and around the throne John sees four amazing creatures who offer praise and worship to God continually. They are similar in appearance, and may actually be, the creatures seen by Ezekiel in chapters 1 and 9, and by Isaiah in chapter 6.
Verse 9 tells us, "And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth forever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever and cast their crowns before the throne..."
And here we see the first worship ‘service’ following our arrival in heaven. A study of the word ‘glory’ will show that when it is used in scripture there is usually something visual occurring. This scene occurs following the arrival of the resurrected saints in heaven which occurs following the judgment of our works. (If you did not read the page linked here it would be good to do that.) These crowns are those that are given to the Christians at the judgment seat, or bema, of Christ, and they are the material, visual evidence of the reward that is given. Here, we see the elders casting their crowns before the throne of God, and in the doing of it, they quite literally give the glory for their good works, their lives, their salvation to God, who alone is worthy.
This does not mean the elders lose their rewards because the actual reward is ruling authority with the Lord Jesus during the millennium (Rev.5:10). The crown is evidence to others of a person who has ruling authority, and the removal of the crown has no more effect on that ruling authority than what happens when the Queen of England takes off her crown to go to bed at night. She is still the Queen, and the elders will still rule and reign with Jesus. They are simply giving the glory, honor and praise, the beautiful things, to the Lord.
In verse 11 the elders sing a song of worship acknowledging that God alone is worthy to receive glory and honor and power because he is the one who created everything and the creator is greater than his creation. The song tells us that all things, including us, were created for his pleasure.
And there is the primary reason for our existence: to bring pleasure to God. At this point we need to ask ourselves if our lives and actions and attitudes and reactions are bringing pleasure to God, because all things that don't, including our works, will be judged and destroyed, and we will receive a reward based only on what remains.
Scripture tells us rewards are given for receiving a prophet or righteous man or giving a cup of water in the name of a disciple (Matt. 10:41-42); assisting the brethren in Jesus' name (Mar. 9:41); enduring persecution (Luke 6:22-23); loving our enemies, doing good, lending without expectation of repayment, or giving (Luke 6:35); doing all things heartily as unto the Lord and not unto men (Col. 3:23-24).
Heb. 11:26 tells us that Moses had respect unto the recompense of the reward: he turned his back on the things that he might have rightly expected - including the expectation of ruling authority in Egypt - to follow the will of God. II John 8 says, "Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward." According to the apostle John these rewards are important and can be lost.
There is a difference between a reward and wages. Wages are paid for work performed while a reward is given for voluntary acts. The reward giver is not obligated to give the reward - he does it because he wants to. Think of the lost wallet: if the person who returns it takes some of the money for himself he has taken payment for his performance, but if the same person returns it with nothing missing, the owner may give something to reward the voluntary act. So we see that a reward is based on the generosity of the giver on his own terms, not the worthiness of the receiver.
For Christians, the reward is given for response to God’s instructions for living and to his calling, and is based on having a willing attitude (read I Cor. 9:16-17). The person who does not respond will be judged, and the person who unwillingly responds is only performing his expected duties. But the person who responds out of a willing heart is truly serving God because he WANTS to. This is what God is looking for and this is what he will reward.
God is using us as a great object lesson for Satan (which truly delights me - lol). In Isaiah 14:13-14, the record of Lucifer's fall, five times in his heart he said 'I will usurp the position of God'. God is pleased with men who say in their hearts "I will serve God."
I believe that all Christians have a calling and none of us will be given a greater or lesser reward based on man's perception of the importance of the calling: the person who intercedes in private prayer may actually receive a greater reward than the person who preaches to filled stadiums. The calling on the individual is important to the kingdom or God wouldn't have given the calling, but the response of the heart is even more important to God. Responding to the calling of God alone is not grounds for reward: it is merely our expected and reasonable service: he gave his life for us, we owe him our lives.
The perceived ability to perform God's calling should not be a matter of concern: God gives the ability as he sees fit, gives the calling to match the ability and empowers both by the Holy Spirit, so, like Jesus, we say 'the Father that dwelleth within me, he doeth the works'. The glory goes to God because we have no ability at all other than what he gives. The last couple lines of Don Francisco’s song Balaam say it well: "So when the Lord starts using you don’t you pay it any mind, He could have used the dog next door if he’d been so inclined."
Further, Rom. 11:29 tells us the gifts and callings of God are without repentance - he doesn't change his mind, and Matt. 22:14 tells us many are called but few chosen. Use of the gifts and callings is God's choice, and I think it depends on a correct heart attitude - it must be a person who will glorify God instead of himself. The person who is not being used by God, in whatever calling, should check his heart, take his pulse, to find out why.
Judas and Paul were both called to be apostles. Paul was willing and we know what he did: he spent time with God preparing and then he was used to write most of the New Testament. Judas was not willing - he wanted to do things his own way, and as a result he is referred to as 'the son of perdition' (ruin, loss), and he lost his reward and any hope of eternal life. The willingness is a condition of the heart but it will be demonstrated by preparation and performance.
In Matthew 6 Jesus spoke of rewards. He said rewards would be given for doing alms in secret, they would be given for private prayer, and they would be given for private fasting. In essence, Jesus taught that God is not impressed with public displays of righteousness, but that rewards would be given to those who have an intimate, personal relationship with God and that this relationship would consist of private, personal fellowship with him, not for reward, but out of a desire of the heart. The person who lives like this is not concerned about his works, he is concerned with fellowship with his God. This person is the one who will receive the reward because his works will be good because he lives in right relationship with God. This is an attitude of the heart and it produces the fruit of the Spirit which will manifest openly in our relationships with others, beginning with those who are closest to us and moving outward from there.
P.S. Please notice that ALL twenty-four elders are wearing crowns.