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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 4

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

Heaven opened Chap. 4:1 9

1. I looked ] Better, I beheld, and lo! as 5:6, 11 &c.; Daniel 7:6 , Daniel 7:11 &c. The purport of the word is rather that he continued looking at what he had seen before, than that he looked in another direction. There is a transition: henceforth he goes to another point of view, and sees no more the Son of Man in the midst of the seven candlesticks: but the transition is not indicated in this word.

[ was ] opened ] The participle is used without any verb: he saw the door standing open, he did not see the fact of its opening.

[ was ] as it were ] Here the insertion of the verb is even more misleading. The true construction and sense is, “Behold a door set open in Heaven, and [behold] the first voice which I had heard, as of a trumpet [1:10] saying.…”

which said ] The participle does not agree with the substantive “voice,” and perhaps we ought to render “one saying.”

hereafter ] Lit., after these things , as in 1:19: i.e. after the state of things described in the Epistles to the Seven Churches. See note l.c.

2. I was in the spirit ] As 1:10 q.v. It is implied that he was caught up through the open door into Heaven, and saw what was going on above.

was set ] i.e. was there already not that he saw it put in its place. There is a description of the Throne of God in the apocryphal Book of Enoch, 14:17 23, very like this: probably St John had read it (cf. Jude 1:15 ), and his language shews quotations of it, as well as of the canonical passages in Ezekiel 1:0 and Daniel 7:0 .

and one sat on the throne ] God the Father, not the Trinity: the presence of the other Persons being otherwise indicated, v. 5, and v. 6. It is intimated, though with an intentional vagueness, that the Divine Presence was symbolised by a human Form, as in Isaiah 6:1 , Isaiah 6:5 ; Ezekiel 1:26 sq.; Daniel 7:9 : contrast Deuteronomy 4:12 , but compare Exodus 24:10 , Exodus 24:11 , 33:23. Apparently God revealed Himself by such symbols to men whom He had educated to such a point that they should not imagine them to be more than symbols. Therefore perhaps to attempt to include representations of the Father in the range of Christian art is rather of dangerous boldness than ipso facto illegitimate: see on this question Ruskin’s Modern Painters , Part III. Sec. ii. Chap. v. § 7.

3. a jasper and a sardine stone ] Our jasper, a stone the colour of which varies between red, green and yellow, does not seem very appropriate to the image here, nor to answer to the description in 21:11, as it is not sparkling nor transparent. But it seems proved that the jasper of the ancients (the word is substantially the same in Hebrew, in Greek and Latin, and in modern languages) was the translucent stone now known as Chalcedony especially the green variety. The sardius (so we should read) is certainly the choicest kind of red carnelian, translucent and fiery in colour, but not exactly sparkling.

round about the throne ] i.e. forming an arch over it.

in sight ] The word is the same as “to look upon” just before, though the construction is somewhat varied.

like unto an emerald ] Here there is no doubt what stone is meant: we have only the question whether the rainbow was all green, or only produced the same effect on the eye as an emerald brilliant yet not dazzling. The ancients felt very strongly the relief given to the eye by looking at it. The rainbow in any case no doubt represents God’s revelation by a covenant of grace, Genesis 9:13 sqq.

4. four and twenty seats ] Better, thrones; it is the same word that is used of the throne. Cf. Daniel 7:9 .

four and twenty elders ] There are two views as to the significance of these, both leading to substantially the same result: (i) that they are the twelve Patriarchs, the heads of the Tribes of Israel, together with the twelve Apostles, the heads of the new People of God: (ii) that they answer to the heads of the 24 courses of the Priests, 1 Chronicles 24:0 . The title of those assessors to the divine Throne is already found in Isaiah 24:23 : and the conception of the twelve Apostles answering to the twelve Tribes appears in Matthew 19:28 ; Luke 22:30 , as well as in this Book, 21:12, 14. The resemblance between this passage and those in the O. T. and Gospels is not complete in the account of the Judgement, 20:11, the Elders are not mentioned: still on the whole they support the former interpretation. But perhaps the second is not inconsistent with it, for the Elders have certainly a priestly character. They are not called Priests in 5:10 according to the true text, and their white robes, though suitable, are not peculiar to priests: but they act as priests in 5:8: and we may add, their title is the ordinary Scriptural one for the Christian priesthood. Either way of explaining their number points to the same explanation of their office: they are the glorified embodiment and representatives of the people of God. It seems not necessary to read “ the 24 elders,” which would imply that their meaning, and perhaps their number, was known: if it be right, the chief reference is probably to Isaiah 24:23 .

crowns of gold ] The word used does not necessarily imply royal crowns we have a different one e.g. in 19:12: but probably we are to understand that the elders are kings as well as priests. Cf. Zechariah 6:11-13 .

5. seven ] Typified by the seven lamps of the candlestick in the Tabernacle, and represented by the “seven golden candlesticks” of the Church on earth: see on 1:20. The significance of the seven-branched candlestick in relation especially to the Spirit is suggested in Zechariah 4:0 .

seven Spirits ] See the last note on 1:4.

6. a sea of glass ] As there was a brazen “sea” in front of Solomon’s Temple, 1 Kings 7:23 &c. We find from 11:19, 15:5, &c. that St John was now in front of the heavenly Temple whether the Throne was inside it seems doubtful: 16:17 looks as if it were, 11:19 as if it were not. That Temple had a real sea in front of it sea-like in extent, no doubt, but a glassy sea, calm and transparent, and apparently solid, 15:2: its earthly representative (see Ecclus. 50:3, and note on 2:17 above) was hardly more than a tank, though richly ornamented.

like unto crystal ] Ancient glass being not so clear as ours, a further term of comparison seemed necessary. The word may mean “ice,” but 21:11 confirms the A. V.

in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne ] It is not quite clear how they are placed whether with their bodies partly under the Throne, or only so far “in the midst” of it, that each of the four was in (or opposite to) the middle of one of its four sides. In Ezekiel 1:22 we see that the Cherubim support the Throne of God, which points to the first view.

four beasts ] Should be rendered living creatures, as Ezekiel 1:5 &c.: the word for the “beasts” of ch. 13 &c. is quite different: and that used here, like the Hebrew one in Ezekiel, is cognate with the word for “life.”

7. The description of these living creatures does not exactly agree with any of the O. T. parallels: in Ezekiel 1:0 , which is the nearest, the four Cherubim, as they are called, have human figures, calves’ feet, and each has four faces, of the same four animals as these: also they have each four wings, while these have six, like the Seraphim of Isaiah 6:2 . Probably the meaning is, that these four represent the Cherubim and Seraphim who “continually do cry ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth’.” We have no reason to suppose that the Angels, or these super-angelic Beings, have proper bodies or invariable forms: they appear in such forms as may please God, or may be appropriate to the purpose for which He bids them appear. For further discussion as to their meaning, see Excursus I.

8. And the four beasts &c.] Render, And the four living creatures, having each of them six wings, are full of eyes round about and within:” i.e. the statement of v. 6, that they are “full of eyes before and behind,” is extended to tell us that they are covered with eyes, not only on the parts ordinarily visible, but when they spread their wings (and the Eagle at least was in the attitude of flight) it is seen that the inside of the wings, and the parts beneath it, are full of eyes too.

they rest not ] Lit. have no rest. The order of words in the original makes it doubtful whether “day and night” should be connected with these words or with “saying:” but 14:11 (where the same words occur in a very different sense) proves that the A. V. is right. There is some resemblance between this place and Enoch xxxix. 11, where Isaiah 6:3 is referred to, much as here: it is hardly likely that St John had the passage from Enoch in his mind.

Holy, holy, holy ] Isaiah 6:3 . It will be observed that “Almighty” represents the Hebrew [God] “of Hosts:” see on 1:8.

which was , &c.] 1:4.

9, 10. And when those beasts , &c.] Read And when the living creatures shall give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sitteth upon the Throne, to Him that liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders shall fall down before Him that sitteth …, and shall worship Him …, and shall cast.…” The meaning of the futures is doubtful: some take it as “implying eternal repetition of the act.” Or the meaning may be (if one may say so reverently) a sort of stage direction: “during the future course of the vision, these (who never leave the scene) are to be understood to be thus employed.” But it is always a question in this Book whether the use of tenses be not accommodated to the rules of Hebrew rather than Greek grammar: the sense may after all be merely frequentative.

cast their crowns ] Alford compares Tac. Ann. XV. xxix. 3, 6, where Tiridates lays down his crown before the image of Nero, as a token of homage for his kingdom.

11. Thou art worthy , &c.] Here we have the praise of God the Creator by His Creatures as such: in the next ch. we have the praise of the Redeemer.

for thy pleasure ] Better, because of Thy will.

they are ] Read they were : not exactly “they came into being,” but “they had their being,” as the simple verb substantive is very well translated in Acts 17:28 .

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Revelation 4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/revelation-4.html. 1896.
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