What is Happening in Heaven Before the Tribulation?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

There is so much talk and discussion these days about the antichrist, the Second Coming, the mark of the beast, and so many other end times subjects. I’ve never read or heard anyone talk about what’s going on in Heaven before the beginning of the Great Tribulation. Can you help me here?

Sincerely, Susie

Dear Susie,

When thoughts about Heaven flood your mind, what do you think of?

Most of us imagine that Heaven is someplace even more comfortable than Earth. We think that if we have $1000 here, we’ll have $10 million there. If our pillow is soft here, it will be really fluffy up there. If the music is soul-stirring here, it will be unimaginably beautiful there.

We are so earth-bound that without realizing it, we think that everything in Heaven must somehow be compared to the way we have it now—except that heaven will just be a whole lot better.

When Julie and I were in Hawaii, we’d say, “Is this Heaven? It doesn’t get any better than this.” But Hawaii is nothing like Heaven.

When Julie and I were in Switzerland, we’d say, “Is this Heaven? It doesn’t get any better than this.” But Switzerland is nothing like Heaven.

We could spend our lives dreaming about Heaven, but we would be wasting our time.

Why? Because moving from the realm of the seen to the unseen—moving from the creature comforts and tangible benefits we have on this earth—it is impossible for us to grasp a world without 24-hour cycles of day and night. No gravity. No sun. No moon. No stars. No night.

Nothing that we call the familiar will be in that unfamiliar, resplendent, glorious place. So with that truth in mind, let’s try to get a feel for what’s going on in heaven right now, even before the Great Tribulation takes place on earth.

Join me to look at Revelation 4:1-11, verse by verse.

Suddenly, the apostle John—who is isolated in a penal colony on the Mediterranean island of Patmos—is transported to a glorious non-Earth setting where he is told to write about things revealed to him. We can only imagine his frustration as he tried to put into words the indescribable scenes that unfolded before him.

Revelation 4:1

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

You’re thinking of a door, aren’t you?

Everyone has doors in their houses. But this is not a normal door with a knob and keys and hinges. It’s a moving entrance from earth to Heaven. The only way John can describe it is with a term we’re familiar with; a door. This entrance is available for those times when spiritual creatures, like angels, need to move up and down from earth to heaven.

In chapter one of Revelation, we learn that the One who speaks like a trumpet is the Lord Jesus Christ. That means the beginning of chapter four may well describe the Rapture described in First Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise first.”

So, the Lord Jesus Christ is serving as an escort throughout Heaven to show John into the portals beyond.

No one knows what Jesus will shout at the Rapture. Personally, I think that he will shout something like “Come up here!”

Revelation 4:2

At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.

Stop! You’re thinking of a piece of furniture. I understand. Because the only throne we have ever seen is a big, elegant seat—an enormous golden chair with stuff all over it and people sitting on it with stuff all over them. And it’s all about stuff.

But this is not about stuff. This is about the ethereal, invisible, ineffable world of the unseen where the Living God is enthroned. John is trying desperately to describe the awesome majesty of our God.

Revelation 4:3

And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.

Jasper is a diamond; Carnelian is a red stone. Rainbow “like” an emerald – green – halo extended over all that he saw.

Notice that John makes no attempt to give us clear-cut anthropomorphic details.

God is often described as Light (Psalm 104:2). John sees Him as light; brilliant light shining from an awesome, nearly indescribable presence here in the throne room of Heaven.

Revelation 4:4

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.

The metaphor, “dressed in white” is used throughout Scripture as a picture of Christ’s righteousness and forgiveness of sins.

Next, there are two types of crowns mentioned in the original Greek.

The first is a “diadema.” This is the crown of the king, encrusted with a multitude of precious stones.

“Stephanos” is the laurel wreath crown that comes from accomplishment, victory, and reward. It is usually made of plated leaves and ivy—you’ve seen pictures of them on coins. It is usually given out at athletic events, like the ancient Olympics.

These elders wear “stephanos” crowns.

Immediately, then, the question is, “Who are they?”

Frankly, no one knows. Pages of commentaries have been written, but everyone’s just guessing.

Some say they are the twelve apostles and twelve tribes of Israel. Others say they are the Old Testament Jews as well as the New Testament believers. Perhaps these 24 represent rewarded believers, chosen by the Almighty to reign alongside of Him in positions of authority.

If this is true, they could include any of us.

Revelation 4:5

From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.

Thunder and lightning can be scary! Think about a mom and dad as they put their five-year-old to bed. Later that evening, a ferocious thunderstorm begins. They thought their child would be terrified with all the light and sound.

But when they ran to her bedroom, they found their daughter standing on the windowsill, arms stretched out, smiling into the face of the storm. “Look,” she said, God is taking my picture!”

Perhaps the lightning and thunder described all of Heaven announcing God’s presence!

Revelation 4:6a

Also, before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

This sea is often pictured as glass, or crystals, or ice, or water.

This is one of my favorite passages in all the Bible because it reminds me of God’s deep love and concern for us.

In Psalm 56:8, David describes how God puts all of our tears into His bottle. I picture the sea surrounding God’s throne as the bottle which contains all the tears that we have shed throughout our lifetime.

Revelation 4:6b-7

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.

The gospel, the story of the life of Christ, is a singular message—yet we have four records of it from four different points of view, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The animals John describes here are highly symbolic. They typify a decidedly different aspect of the character of Jesus Christ as delineated in each gospel.

Matthew presents Jesus as a king. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Mark is portrayed as an ox because Mark presents Jesus as a slave.

Luke pictures Jesus as a man, portraying the human side of Jesus.

John presents Jesus as an eagle because eagle stands for deity.

Revelation 4:8

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night, they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

What’s going on in heaven?

The four living creatures never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

This is describing an antiphonal sound. Have you ever sung in a large choir? Sometimes one side sings a part and the other answers. Then they sing together. That “ask and answer” is antiphonal voice.

Think of the contrast. They pray ceaselessly while we fiddle around on earth worried about our plans and our disappointments and our future and our money and our homes and our dreams.

Do you think that John right now is worried about supper on Patmos? Is he asking, “Did I close the door to my cave when I left, or did I leave it open?”

None of that matters!

It’s all about the heavenly Almighty! And the elders seated beside Him! And the angels shouting and praising in antiphonal voice! All are giving glory and thanks and honor to Him who sits on the throne.

Revelation 4:9-10

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

There is a lot of activity in heaven!

Some are speaking ceaselessly. Some are kneeling. But when this sound comes, they’re caught up in it. They fall down before our awesome God, and they cast their stephanos crowns before the throne.

And best of all, everyone in heaven will realize that this is “not about me.”

What a magnificent moment it will be, as we who may be rewarded with a crown or two realize, this is not about me. This is not remembering my work. This is all about my God who gave me breath in my lungs, and a voice to speak, and thoughts to think and a direction to go. It’s all about my God.

And we all join in the praising.

Revelation 4:11

[The elders say] “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

Amen! That’s exactly the way it is.

It’s all for His glory, for His purpose. That’s why we were created. That’s why we’ve been made. That’s why we live. That’s why we exist at this very moment. That is all part of His plan. It is all for Him—our birth and death, our disappointments and achievements, our marriages, our failures, our every moment of life.

It is all about the One who is worthy to receive glory and honor and praise.

So, Susie, you may be asking, “What does this mean to me?”

I’ve often found that when we get hold of prophetic truth, it’s amazing how our everyday worries become less significant. Life looks very different from the perspective of the throne room.

Love, Roger

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