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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Revelation 4

Verse 1

1. μετὰ ταῦτα. This seems to be a new vision rather than a continuation of what goes before. From Revelation 1:13 onwards the Seer has been in spirit in the Heavenly Tabernacle listening to the Heavenly High Priest: now he is for a moment on earth again with heaven far above him.

εἶδον καὶ ἰδού. “I beheld, and lo!” as Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:11 &c.; Daniel 7:6; Daniel 7:11 &c. It is not, of course, implied that he changed the direction of his gaze.

ἠνεῳγμένη. The participle is used without any verb; he saw the door standing open, he did not see it opened.

ἡ φωνὴ ἡ πρώτη ἥν ἤκουσα ὡς σάλπιγγος λαλούσης μετ ̓ ἐμοῦ. See Revelation 1:10 n. The true construction and sense is, “Lo a door set open in heaven, and [lo] the first voice which I had heard as of a trumpet talking with me.”

λέγων. The participle does not agree with the substantive “voice,” and perhaps we ought to render “one saying.” See Revelation 1:10 n.

μετὰ ταῦτα. Lit., “After these things,” as in Revelation 1:19 : i.e. perhaps after the state of things described in the Letters to the Seven Churches. See note l.c.

Verses 1-9

Revelation 4:1-9. HEAVEN OPENED

Verse 2

2. ἐγενόμην ἐν πνεύματι. As Revelation 1:10 q.v. Up till now, though seeing a supernatural sight, and hearing a supernatural voice, he had not felt himself brought into a supernatural state.

ἔκειτο, 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 xiv. 17–23, very like this: probably St John had read it (cf. Judges 1:15), and his language shews quotations of it, as well as of the canonical passages in Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7.

ἐπὶ τὸν θρόνον καθήμενος. God the Father, not the Trinity: the manifestation of the other Persons being otherwise indicated, Revelation 4:5; Revelation 5:6. 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 24:10-11; Exodus 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.

Verse 3

3. λίθῳ ἰάσπιδι καὶ σαρδίῳ. Though jasper is the same word in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and modern languages, it appears to have changed its application. The most precious jasper was a quite transparent dark green chalcedony. Our opaque jasper, pure red, pure green and black, were all used for engraving, and a rare combination of our opaque red jasper, and the transparent green was known as iasponyx. Apparently our jaspers, including the common sort, with flakes of red, green, and yellow, were all classed as agates: later on that name was limited to transparent moss agates and extended to the ribbon agates known to Theophrastus as ὀνύχιον. The sard is called from the Persian name of its colour, and was certainly the choicest kind of red carnelian, translucent and fiery in colour, but not exactly sparkling. Is the vision, like that in Exodus 24:9-14, suggested in any measure by what is seen in gazing up into the depths of an eastern sky? If so, one is taken from the intense light of noon, the other from the suffused glow of evening.

κυκλόθεν τοῦ θρόνου, i.e. forming an arch over it.

ὅμοιος ὁράσει σμαραγδίνῳ. As λίθῳ is not repeated, possibly σμαραγδίνῳ agrees with ὁράσει: so Prim. and Vulgate; the latter translates as if there were genitives in the previous clause. 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, and valued it the more because it was the only really precious stone of which they were able to bring out the full lustre. The rainbow in any case represents God’s revelation by a covenant of grace, Genesis 9:13 sqq.

Verse 4

4. θρόνους εἴκοσι τέσσαρας. “Twenty-four thrones.” Cf. Revelation 2:13 n.; Daniel 7:9. If θρόνους is right it must depend on εἶδον.

εἴκοσι τέσσαρας πρεσβυτέρους. If we read τοὺς before εἴκοσι it would still be uncertain whether the writer meant ‘upon the thrones to wit the twenty-four,’ or ‘the twenty-four elders,’ assuming this number to be known like that of the seven thunders, Revelation 10:3. If so, the reference is to Isaiah 24:23 ἐνώπιον τῶν πρεσβυτέρων δοξασθήσεται. If not, we have the choice between two views, both leading to substantially the same result: (i) that the Elders 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 twenty-four courses of the Priests, 1 Chronicles 24.: these probably suggested the twenty-four representatives of Israel who daily recited the eighteen benedictions in the second Temple (Smith’s Dictionary of Christian Biography, II. 606 b). 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, Revelation 21:12; Revelation 21:14. The resemblance between this passage and those in the O. T. and Gospels is not complete—in the account of the Judgement, Revelation 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 Revelation 5:10 according to the true text, and their white robes, though suitable, are not peculiar to priests: but they act as priests in Revelation 5:8. 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.

στεφάνους χρυσοῦς. Probably depends like πρεσβυτέρους on εἶδον in Revelation 4:1; unless we are to supply something like “wearing” from περιβεβλημένους. Στεφάνους does not necessarily imply royal crowns. We have διαδήματα in Revelation 19:12; but probably we are to infer that the elders are kings as well as priests, cf. Zechariah 6:11-13.

Verse 5

5. ἑπτὰ λαμπάδες. 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 Revelation 1:20. The significance of the seven-branched candlestick in relation especially to the Spirit is suggested in Zechariah 4.

ἑπτὰ πνεύματα. See the last note but one on Revelation 1:4.

Verse 6

6. θάλασσα ὑαλίνη. As there was a brazen “sea” in front of Solomon’s Temple, 1 Kings 7:23 &c. We find from Revelation 11:19, Revelation 15:5, &c. that St John was now in front of the heavenly Temple—whether the Throne was inside it seems doubtful: Revelation 16:17 looks as if it were; Revelation 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, Revelation 15:2 : its earthly representative (see Sirach 50:3, aud note on Revelation 2:17 above) was hardly more than a tank, though richly ornamented.

ὁμοία κρυστάλλῳ. “Like unto crystal.” Ancient glass being not so clear as ours, a further term of comparison seemed necessary. The word may mean “ice,” but Revelation 21:11 confirms the A. V[177]

ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ κύκλῳ τοῦ θρόνου. 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.

τέσσερα ζῷα. Vg[178] quattuor animalia: “Animal” was not fully naturalized when our version was made, and was commonly supposed to be a synonym of “beast,” see New English Dictionary, sub voce, so that there would have been no gain for popular intelligence. In Ezekiel 1:5, (where it was impossible to translate “beasts,” and the Hebrew word is cognate to life,) A. V[179] has “living creatures” as R. V[180] has here. Possibly the translators of this book in A. V[181] intended to mark the difference between the preterhuman appearance of the throne-bearers in this vision, and their human appearance in Ezekiel at the price of obliterating the distinction between θηρίον in 13. sqq. and ζῷα.

Verse 7

7. The description of these living creatures does not exactly agree with any of the O.T. parallels: in Ezekiel 1, which is the nearest, the four Cherubim, as they are called, have human figures and 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.

ἔχων. Is as likely to be a misspelling resting on mispronunciation as a false concord. Pausanias of Cæsarea in Cappadocia and a famous pupil of Herodes Atticus habitually confounded long and short letters, a common Syrian fault.

Verse 8

8. καὶ τὸ τέσσερα ζῷα.… Render, “And the four living creatures, having each of them six wings apiece, are full of eyes round about and within”; i. e. the statement of Revelation 4:6, 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 that 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, are full of eyes too.

ἀνάπαυσιν οὐκ ἔχουσιν. The order of words makes it doubtful whether ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς should be connected with these words or with λέγοντες: but Revelation 14:11 (where the same words occur in a very different sense) proves that the former view 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.

ἅγιος ἅγιος ἄγιος. Isaiah 6:3. It will be observed that “Almighty” represents the Heb. “[God] of Hosts”: see on Revelation 1:8.

ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὤν κ.τ.λ. Cf. Revelation 1:4.

Verse 9

9. καὶ ὅταν δώσουσιν τὰ ζῷα.… The meaning of the futures is doubtful: some take them 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.

Verses 9-11


Verse 10

10. βαλοῦσιν. 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.

Verse 11

11. ἄξιος εἶ. 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.

λαβεῖν. Generally explained in the sense that by ascribing these things to God His creatures render Him what is His due: it would be possible also to explain it in the sense of εἴληφας, Revelation 11:17; God has a right to take to Himself all manner of preeminence in the world He has made.

διὰ τὸ θέλημά σου. “Because it pleased Thee”: “for Thy pleasure” in A. V[182] does not necessarily mean “that Thou mightest delight Thyself in them”; “pleasure” = “good pleasure.”

ἦσαν. Not “they came into being,” but “they had their being” as the simple verb substantive is very well translated in Acts 17:28.

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"Commentary on Revelation 4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.