John’s purpose in Revelation was to exhort the seven churches of Asia Minor, addressed in Revelation 2-3, to persevere in their witness so that they could inherit what had been promised. The purpose of Revelation 4-5 was to recall the churches to Christ’s endurance and reward—so that they would follow suit.
The literary flow of Revelation 4-5 parallels Dan 7:9-27. In Dan 7:1-8, the prophet recorded the vision of the four beasts, representing the coming world powers. Daniel learned that after these completed their appointed times of authority, the Ancient of Days would show His dominion and give all nations to one like a son of man who would rule forever. Daniel noted, “A river of fire was flowing, coming out from His presence. Thousands upon thousands served Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was convened, and the books were opened” (Dan 7:10). Daniel saw One like a son of man approach the Ancient of Days, and “He was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed” (Dan 7:14). The prophet was distressed by the terrifying militaristic and judicial themes of the visions (Dan 7:15) and asked for an interpretation of what he had seen. The angel told Daniel that despite the horrific scenes, God would vindicate His people. They would receive the kingdom and possess it forever and ever (Dan 7:18). Daniel saw the Ancient of Days come to the aid of God’s people and give them possession of the kingdom (Dan 7:21-22). The forces opposing God’s people would be taken away. Daniel was told, “The kingdom, dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be given to the people, the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will serve and obey Him” (Dan 7:27).
John’s visions in Revelation 4-5 reflect Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7:9-14. In addition to the shared language with Daniel 7, John’s description of the heavenly throne room in Revelation 4-5 includes imagery from Exodus, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. John saw these Old Testament passages telling a story of judgement and salvation that was fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
(1) In Rev 4:6, John saw four living creatures around God’s throne, echoing Ezek 1:5-28. The Lord gave Ezekiel a vision of four living creatures that had human and non-human features. Above these creatures, Ezekiel saw a throne with a human form seated on it. He wrote, “This was the appearance of the form of the LORD’s glory” (Ezek 1:28). In his vision, John saw living creatures around the heavenly throne, resembling the figures Ezekiel saw in his vision. The creatures in John’s vision were covered with eyes and never stopped speaking praises to the One seated on the throne.
(2) In Rev 4:8, John heard angelic figures proclaim praises to God using the language of Isa 6:3. Isaiah’s call experience recorded in Isaiah 6 began with the Lord revealing Himself to the prophet through a vision. In the year King Uzziah of Judah died, Isaiah saw the Lord high and exalted in heaven and the train of the Lord’s robe filled the temple with glory (Isa 6:1). Six-winged angels flew above the Lord’s throne and called out to one another, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth” (Isa 6:3). The four living creatures in John’s vision also had six wings and they never stopped proclaiming “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, the Almighty, who was, who is, and who is coming” (Rev 4:8).
(3) In Rev 5:1, John saw a scroll in the right hand of God, echoing Ezek 2:9-10. When the Lord called Ezekiel to be a prophet, He gave Ezekiel a scroll written on both sides and told the prophet to eat the words of lamentation, mourning, and woe recorded in the scroll. John saw in the hand of the One seated on the throne a scroll written on both sides, sealed with seven seals. The drama of Revelation 5 escalated when no one was found worthy to answer the angel’s request that someone open the scroll and break its seals so that the words could be read and understood (Rev 5:2). No one was found worthy to approach God and take the scroll; and John wept (Rev 5:3-4).
(4) In Rev 5:5, John described Jesus as a descendant of David, from the tribe of Judah, recalling Isa 11:1, 10. Isaiah prophesied that from Jesse, David’s father, a Spirit-anointed Ruler would arise and reign with wisdom and might (Isa 11:1). Jesse’s descendant would establish righteousness and protect God’s people—even the nations would seek Him (Isa 11:10). While John was weeping, because no one was found worthy to come and take the scroll from the hand of the One seated on the throne, one of the elders around the throne interrupted John’s crying. He said, “Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals” (Rev 5:5).
(5) In Rev 5:6, 9, John observed Jesus as one like a slaughtered lamb, reflecting Old Testament imagery of sacrifice and redemption. Moses instituted the Passover, commanding the Israelites to select an unblemished sheep or goat to be slaughtered and its blood put on the doorposts and lintel of the house where it was eaten (Exod 12:1-11). The Lord told His people, “The blood on the houses where you are staying will be a distinguishing mark for you; when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No plague will be among you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exod 12:13). Isaiah described the Lord’s servant as a slaughtered lamb who was pierced for the transgression of His people (Isa 53:5, 7). After the elder told John that the Lion from the tribe of Judah had overcome so as to take the scroll from the hand of the One seated on the throne, John turned and saw one like a slaughtered lamb (Rev 5:6). The elders and living creatures around the throne sang of Jesus, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).