Most students of Scripture consider the judicial scene of Revelation 4 & 5 a spiritual event which was fulfilled at the Lord’s ascension in A.D. 30. What they fail to realize, however, is that the scene described therein takes place shortly before the Lord’s return, and is closely related to another piece of Apocalyptic imagery described in Revelation 20: 4. It depicts the setting up of a court of judgment prior to Jesus Christ’s parousia.
A look at the prophecies of Daniel will clarify this. In Daniel 7, the prophet envisions a setting up of thrones previous to the destruction of the fourth beast. “I was looking till the thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days did sit, Whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like the pure wool: His throne was like the fiery flame, and His wheels as burning fire” (Dan. 7: 9).
Compare with Revelation 4. Here is a fulfillment of Daniel’s vision. The thrones are set up not at the ascension, but immediately before the judgments break forth upon the whole earth, which will end with the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. The book with seven seals (Rev. 5: 1) contains these judgments, which are sealed up till the time of the end (Dan. 12: 4); the “end” being the last week of Daniel, which will occupy a duration of seven years. So, the thrones are evidently put in place at the commencement of Daniel’s seventieth week.
The prophet Daniel lends fresh confirmation to this view. In Dan. 7: 10, the “judgment is set, and the books are opened.” Once again, compare with Revelation 4 and 5, in which we see a judgment being set, and a scroll containing judgments being opened. In John’s Apocalypse, this is expressed as an event future in time from when the apostle wrote. It is an event to take place “hereafter” (Rev. 4: 1).
Daniel again describes the purpose for which the thrones are set up. It is for judgment. These thrones are the fulfillment of Christ’s promise in Matt. 19: 28, in which the apostles will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The temporal judgments contained in the seven-sealed scroll issue in the destruction of the fourth beast and the inauguration of the worldwide kingdom of Jesus Christ (Dan. 7: 11 ff). In the Apocaylpse, the Millennium commences after the beast and false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 19: 20, 20: 4).
Thus, it is evident that the thrones are prepared seven years before the Lord’s advent. But the judicial reign of the saints over all the earth will take place after the destruction of Antichrist and the false prophet, when Satan has been cast into the bottomless pit, and a seal placed over him, that he sould deceive the nations no more (Rev. 20: 1-2).
Now, these facts match the chronology of Daniel’s vision, in which Christ’s glorious kingdom commences once the beast is given to the burning flame (Dan. 7: 11 ff). Everyone knows that the “fourth beast” of Daniel is identical to the persecuting power described in Revelation 13. When the Lord destroys the beast, the saints will reign on earth with Him (Rev. 5: 10). The judicial scene depicted in Revelation 4 & 5 simply announces that the court of judgment is set, and the time of the end has come.
Incidentally, I should say that I agree with most preterists in that the Apocalyptic judgments occupy a brief duration–seven years, according to my understanding. It may also be true that the focal point of the events is the city of Jerusalem. This is intimated in several portions of the Apocalypse–most notably chapters 11 & 14.
However, it is equally obvious that the events are worldwide in nature, and so cannot have been fulfilled in A.D. 70. The tribulation is delineated as an “hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Rev. 3: 10). When the vials of wrath are poured out, the “cities of the nations” will fall (Rev. 16: 19). The “time of trouble” (travail) will issue in the first resurrection (Dan. 12: 1-2; Rev. 20: 5-6). Thus, any restriction of the Apocalypse to the events of the Jewish war in A.D. 67-70 qualifies as unsound exegesis.
Indeed, a closer study of the judicial scenes outlined in Daniel and Revelation will give us deeper insight into the Apocalyptic message, informing us what end-time phenemonena await fulfillment. Just remember that the thrones are set up shortly before the Great Tribulation, and that their judicial occupation will commence when the Lord returns to replace all secular world government with the “kingdom of God.” These truths may be used as keys to unlock the real meaning of other prophetic texts.