Teaching series from Revelation

Why Does God Have the Right to Rule?

Revelation 4, 5

Teaching t09177


We are studying the book of Revelation, and today we will look at chapters 4 and 5. Before we do that, we need to remember where these chapters fit into the whole book.

1:19 provides us with a simple outline of Revelation (read). “The things you have seen” refers to the vision of the glorified Jesus in 1:12-18 that we studied on week #1. “The things that are” refers to the seven letters of Revelation 2,3 that we studied on week #2. “The things which shall take place after these things” refers therefore to the visions of the rest of the book. In other words, the rest of the book is a prophecy of events that were yet future to John—specifically, the end of this age and the establishment of God's kingdom on earth. That's why chapter 4 begins by repeating this phrase (read 4:1).

But instead of immediately receiving visions of the end of the age, John sees scenes of worship service in heaven—complete with an increasingly large crowd singing praises to God (4 >> 24 >> 28 >> billions >> everything in the universe). Why is this the opening scene of the future?

The visions of chapters 6-19 are awesome and terrible. They are pictures of God forcibly invading human history, primarily in judgment. These judgments involve God's direct punishment of unrepentant rebels, but they also involve God removing his restraint of evil so that “all hell breaks loose” from his enemies (warfare, demonic attack, antichrist, etc.). It will also involve terrible damage to nature. Like all invasions, there will be terrible destruction and many casualties—and the trial and execution of his enemies as God takes control of human affairs.

This raises an obvious question: Does God have the right to interrupt and invade and impose his will on humanity? Why does God have the right to rule?

The world is asking a similar question right now over President Bush's threat to invade Iraq and remove Hussein and establish a different government. Such a decision will unleash all kinds of evil and destruction (GULF WAR EXAMPLES). Does Bush have the right to do this? Well, I am still formulating my own opinion concerning this complex issue—as are many of you. But because of the issues at stake, the question is a valid and important one.

How much more valid and important is this question! Does God have the right to impose his will on humanity? And if he does have this right, why?

Some (POMO) say that no one has this right—not even God. Others (ISLAM) say that God has this right—and it is impertinent to ask why.

The Bible, of course, says God does have this right. But it also anticipates our desire for an explanation, and it provides many of the reasons for this. This is precisely why before God gave John these visions of his judgment, he first gave him this vision of why he is worthy to judge and impose his rule. The key question that is asked in the pivotal point of this passage is, “Who is worthy (to do this)?” And the key answer that is given about God is, “You are worthy (to rule)”—along with 3 reasons why this is so. Let's take a look at this vision which breaks into two parts—the vision of God on his throne, and the vision of the Lion and the scroll.

God on his Throne

Read 4:2-7. The scene is God's throne-room. Notice the emphasis on God's throne (8 times). “Throne” signifies authority to rule. This vision concerns God's authority to rule.

John does not see a physical body because God the Father has no physical body. The phenomena surrounding the throne (brilliant colored stones in 4:3; lightening and thunder in 4:5; sea of glass in 4:6) all describe the unique majesty of God. The Roman Emperor Domitian (who exiled John) sat in a resplendent throne-room and was dressed in impressive clothing. He commanded his herald to announce his presence with the words, “You are worthy, our Lord and our God.”1 But what John sees makes the Emperor look like a street urchin in the city dump!

The 24 elders probably represent all believers (white garments—see 3:5, 18)—both before (12 nations of Israel) and after (12 apostles) Christ's first coming. The living creatures probably represent unfallen angels (see Ezek. 1).

What follows are two expressions of worship to God which give us two important reasons why God has the right to rule.

Read 4:8. Yes, God has the right to “come” (to judge and rule) because he is supremely powerful (“Lord;” “Almighty”). But the emphasis in their praise is on God's holiness (front of sentence; 3 times as superlative—“the holiest of all”). “Holy” means “different”—and it refers here primarily to God's moral difference from (superiority over) us. God has the right to impose his rule on the earth because he is the only morally perfect Being in the universe.

The God of the Bible is not simply a God of raw power, unbridled by moral character. That's what the 20th century's tyrants were (HITLER; STALIN; MAO)—and that's what made their rules so hellish. The God of the Bible exercises his infinite power in perfect righteousness. His understanding of good and evil are perfect, his discernment of human hearts is perfect, his aversion to evil and his love of good is perfect, his respect of human freedom and his judgment on when that freedom must be curtailed are perfect, etc.

In fact, in view of how holy God is and how much evil and injustice there is in human history, the “problem” is why God hasn't intervened already (6:10). But God has good reasons for waiting, as we will see (more on this later).

Read 4:9-11. Here is the second reason why God is has the right to impose his dominion (“You are worthy . . . to receive power”)—because he is the Creator of the entire world. Certainly it makes sense that the Creator has a right over his creation (ANALOGY?). The Bible applies this reason in two ways.

God has the right to intervene in judgment in order to save his creation from destruction. Evidently, many of the terrible ecological disasters of the end of the age are perpetrated not by God, but by his enemies. 11:18 says that God will come to “destroy those who destroy the earth.” We'll look at this more closely next week . . . 

God has the right to depose nations when they corrupt themselves. God illustrates this in Jeremiah 18, when he takes Jeremiah to the potter's studio.

Read Jeremiah 18:2-4. Who has the right to alter a clay vase before it dries—or even break it and dispose of it? Only the sculptor, the creator of the vase.

But this is not just an art appreciation lesson for Jeremiah—this is an object lesson about God's right to impose his rule on nations. Read Jeremiah 18:6-10. God defends his right to intervene, but also says he does this only when nations corrupt themselves. And when a human ruler completely corrupts and perverts the purpose of his rule (ANTICHRIST), God has the right to intervene and depose all him.

The Lion and the Scroll

Now something happens that introduces another character and provides another reason why God has the right to rule.

Read 5:1-4. The scroll signifies the events that happen in the rest of Revelation: the Great Tribulation at the end of the age, the coming of God's King to defeat his enemies, and the establishment of God's eternal kingdom. It is God's plan for the consummation of human history. John weeps because it appears that no one is worthy (has the right) to implement God's plan—and therefore human history will have no righteous conclusion.

Read 5:5. “The Lion from Judah” and the “Root of David” are both Old Testament terms for God's Messiah who would one day establish God's righteous rulership over the world (read Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 11:1,4,9b). This Lion has already won a great victory that qualifies him to rule the earth.

But when John looks to see the victorious Lion, he sees someone very different from a Lion (read 5:6-7). This Lamb, of course, is Jesus—whom Isaiah predicted would come to lay his perfect life down to pay for the sins of humanity (quote Isaiah 53:7,8), and the name by which John the Baptist introduced Jesus in John 1:29 (quote).

The point is that Jesus has the right to open the scroll (initiate the events culminating in God's rule) because he was willing to first come and die for our sins. The Lion has the right to rule because he has first come as the Lamb who was slain.

Here is the third reason why God has the right to impose his rule on humanity: because he has already paid the ultimate price to save humanity. This proves God's love (John 3:16,17)! 5:8-14 further explains this and exalts Jesus for it (read).

Briefly point the deity of Jesus through 4:10, 5:8, 12 and 5:13.

Jesus is worthy to bring human history to God's conclusion because he died to pay for all of humanity's sins—and because people from all of humanity have actually received this payment. Only after Jesus paid for this gift, only after news of it goes out to the whole world, and only after some from every ethnic group have actually received this gift will the Lamb who was slain return as the Lion who will rule. (This is why God has waited so long to end the world.)

As we begin NEXT WEEK to study the end of the age—and many of the disturbing and terrible events that are part of it—keep coming back to chapters 4 and 5 to remember why God has the right . . . 


Before we conclude this morning, we need to switch from the wide-angle lens to the telephoto—from God's relationship with humanity to God's relationship with each of us individually. Will you embrace God's rule over your life? 

God alone has the right to rule your life. The same reasons Revelation 4 and 5 give why God has the right to rule humanity apply to why God has the right to rule your life.

As your Creator, he alone knows the purpose for which you were made. And only by submitting to his rule can you discover and experience that purpose.

As the Holy God, only his treatment and guidance of you is morally perfect.

And above all, as the Lamb, only he has proven that he loves you enough to pay the ultimate price. If you were the only one who sinned, God still would have sent Jesus to die for you. And since he loves you enough to lay down his life for you, certainly he can be trusted to rule your life.

After Jesus returns, everyone will submit to his rule. Even those who rejected his rule in this life will be forced to do so in judgment. But you have the opportunity to embrace his rule in this life—and only those who do this benefit from his rule. How can you embrace God's rule? The Bible says it involves two distinct decisions—and the order is crucial.

First, choose to receive his gift of forgiveness. The book of Revelation describes people whose filthy clothes (symbolic of their sins) have been washed white by the blood of the Lamb (7:10). Will you admit to God that your clothes are filthy? Will you ask Jesus to cleanse you of the guilt of your sins through his death? Or will you (by default) refuse his gift as unnecessary?

Then, give your whole life for his service. Read 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20. When Jesus paid for your sins, he also laid claim to your whole life. Will you take God's forgiveness as a mere fire insurance policy and live the rest of this life for yourself? Or will you entrust your whole life (PLANS; POSSESSIONS; RELATIONSHIPS; etc.) to him and live to influence others for him? Is your relationship with Jesus something that you use to help you pursue your agenda for your life? Or something that transforms you to let him set the agenda? If you want to do this, get involved with others who want to do the same thing (HOME GROUPS).


1 See The Life Application Bible, Revelation, p. 58.

Copyright 2002 Gary DeLashmutt