A cycle rolls and returns to where it started and then begins all over again. So Revelation 4-7, which I include below for your reading in the Common English Bible, which offers simple language to make the text seeringly clear.
Remember, this Book of Revelation is not a book of context-less speculation but a Book sent to seven churches in Western Asia Minor in the 1st Century, churches with whom John had a relationship. (The floor of the very large synagogue in Sardis is the image to the right.)
Craig Koester describes these four chapters in these terms:
The visions in Revelation 4-7 can be called a “cycle” because they begin and end with worship in the heavenly throne room. The four living creatures, the elders, and the angelic hosts that sing praises to God in chapter 4 see the Lamb receive a scroll that is sealed with seven seals in chapter 5. As the Lamb opens the first six seals in chapter 6, threatening visions relentlessly erode readers’ sense of security, pressing them to join with all who cry out, “Who is able to stand?” (6:17). As if in response, John tells readers about the redeemed who are able to stand in the heavenly throne room, where they join the four creatures, the elders, and the angelic hosts in offering songs of praise to God and the Lamb (7:10-12). Only then is the seventh seal opened, bringing reverent silence (8:1). The cycle begins in the presence of God and the Lamb and returns to the presence of God and the Lamb.
Big idea: if the beginning and end of this first major cycle is about worship of the Lamb, the Book of Revelation encourages us to see the End in Eschatology is worship of the Lamb. Justice and peace then are means so that God’s people can worship God in truth forever and ever.
Ian Paul offers some pastoral context for reading Rev 2-3 and then 4-7:
Yet in other ways the vision that unfolds is the answer to all the questions and issues raised up till now, and the picture of the power and majesty of God sets the wider context that all the followers of Jesus need to see as their own. Why worry about temporary opposition, whether from Jews or pagans, if God is truly enthroned and all-powerful? Why compromise with surrounding culture when the patterns of authority there are just a shadow of the reality of God’s authority? And why falter and stumble if this vision represents your inheritance and your destiny?
Rev. 4:1 After this I looked and there was a door that had been opened in heaven. The first voice that I had heard, which sounded like a trumpet, said to me, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in a Spirit-inspired trance and I saw a throne in heaven, and someone was seated on the throne. 3 The one seated there looked like jasper and carnelian, and surrounding the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. 4 Twenty-four thrones, with twenty-four elders seated upon them, surrounded the throne. The elders were dressed in white clothing and had gold crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came lightning, voices, and thunder. In front of the throne were seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God.
6 Something like a glass sea, like crystal, was in front of the throne.
In the center, by the throne, were four living creatures encircling the throne. These creatures were covered with eyes on the front and on the back.
7 The first living creature was like a lion. The second living creature was like an ox. The third living creature had a face like a human being. And the fourth living creature was like an eagle in flight.
Rev. 4:8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings, and each was covered all around and on the inside with eyes. They never rest day or night, but keep on saying,
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is coming.”
Rev. 4:9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the one seated on the throne, who lives forever and always, 10 the twenty-four elders fall before the one seated on the throne. They worship the one who lives forever and always. They throw down their crowns before the throne and say,
Rev. 4:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
because you created all things.
It is by your will that they existed and were created.”
Rev. 5:1 Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one seated on the throne. It had writing on the front and the back, and it was sealed with seven seals. 2 I saw a powerful angel, who proclaimed in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or look inside it. 4 So I began to weep and weep, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look inside it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Don’t weep. Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has emerged victorious so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Rev. 5:6 Then, in between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb, standing as if it had been slain. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are God’s seven spirits, sent out into the whole earth. 7 He came forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one seated on the throne. 8 When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each held a harp and gold bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Rev. 5:9 They took up a new song, saying,
“You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals,
because you were slain,
and by your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation.
10 You made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they will rule on earth.”
Rev. 5:11 Then I looked, and I heard the sound of many angels surrounding the throne, the living creatures, and the elders. They numbered in the millions—thousands upon thousands.
Rev. 5:12 They said in a loud voice,
“Worthy is the slaughtered Lamb
to receive power, wealth, wisdom, and might,
and honor, glory, and blessing.”
Rev. 5:13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea—I heard everything everywhere say,
“Blessing, honor, glory, and power belong
to the one seated on the throne
and to the Lamb
forever and always.”
Rev. 5:14 Then the four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Rev. 6:1 Then I looked on as the Lamb opened one of the seven seals. I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 So I looked, and there was a white horse. Its rider held a bow and was given a crown. And he went forth from victory to victory.
Rev. 6:3 When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Out came another horse, fiery red. Its rider was allowed to take peace from the earth so that people would kill each other. He was given a large sword.
Rev. 6:5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” So I looked, and there was a black horse. Its rider held a balance for weighing in his hand. 6 I heard what sounded like a voice from among the four living creatures. It said, “A quart of wheat for a denarion, and three quarts of barley for a denarion, but don’t damage the olive oil and the wine.”
Rev. 6:7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 So I looked, and there was a pale green horse. Its rider’s name was Death, and the Grave was following right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill by sword, famine, disease, and the wild animals of the earth.
Rev. 6:9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar those who had been slaughtered on account of the word of God and the witness they had given. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “Holy and true Master, how long will you wait before you pass judgment? How long before you require justice for our blood, which was shed by those who live on earth?” 11 Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to rest a little longer, until their fellow servants and brothers and sisters—who were about to be killed as they were—were finished.
Rev. 6:12 I looked on as he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became black as funeral clothing, and the entire moon turned red as blood. 13 The stars of the sky fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its fruit when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The sky disappeared like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth, the officials and the generals, the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in caves and in the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the Lamb’s wrath! 17 The great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
Rev. 7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. They held back the earth’s four winds so that no wind would blow against the earth, the sea, or any tree. 2 I saw another angel coming up from the east, holding the seal of the living God. He cried out with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given the power to damage the earth and sea. 3 He said, “Don’t damage the earth, the sea, or the trees until we have put a seal on the foreheads of those who serve our God.”
Rev. 7:4 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed from every tribe of the Israelites:
5 From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed;
from the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand;
6 from the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand;
7 from the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand;
8 from the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand;
from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
Rev. 7:9 After this I looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language. They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands.
Rev. 7:10 They cried out with a loud voice:
“Victory belongs to our God
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
Rev. 7:11 All the angels stood in a circle around the throne, and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell facedown before the throne and worshipped God,
Rev. 7:12 saying,
“Amen! Blessing and glory
and wisdom and thanksgiving
and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and always. Amen.”
Rev. 7:13 Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
Rev. 7:14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.”
Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood.
15 This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, 17 because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”