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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Revelation 4

Verse 1

THE VISION OF HEAVEN

‘Come up hither.’

Revelation 4:1

This is the first of a series of visions which St. John had in Patmos—the vision of the temple in heaven, the vision of the throne of God and the Lamb, the vision of the seven angels with the trumpets, the vision of the seven vials, of the last things, of the New Jerusalem coming from God out of heaven, St. John is here called to a view of the hierarchy of heaven watching over the Church below.

I. St. John summoned to a vision of heaven.

( a) The summons was given by Christ, Who alone has the keys of death and of Hades. This was an apocalyptic vision; soon Christ called His servant to the never-ending vision of heaven’s glory. How soon may it be said to us, ‘Come up hither!’ Therefore should we look upon earth and earthly things from heaven as a ‘coigne of vantage,’ ascending thither in the Spirit.

( b) The vision was seen by St. John in the Spirit. There was thus a higher condition of spiritual exaltation. In the Spirit we may see visions of heaven by the eye of faith that shall purify our life and fill it with meaning.

( c) The purpose of this vision was that St. John might know ‘the things that should be hereafter.’ It was not knowledge of his own personal future, but of the future of God’s kingdom, and events in the world bearing on it. God alone knows all this, but we may know that all that happens on earth is most surely settled in heaven. All is ordered by a Sovereign Intelligence.

II. St. John’s vision of heaven.

( a) The sights he saw. There was a throne; there was the Enthroned One, and around this Enthroned One His accessors, the twenty-four elders; and the four living creatures. The lightnings come from the throne, and symbolise the justice of God in His law; the rainbow encircled the Enthroned One, and is an emblem of the mercy of God; the sea of glass was in front of ‘Him that sat on the throne,’ symbolic of the undisturbed repose of the great Jehovah. ‘He sitteth above the waterfloods; He sitteth King for ever.’

( b) The songs he heard. There was the song of the four living beings, who cried, ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ like the seraphim in the temple of Isaiah (6). What a song is this! To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost—holy, holy, holy—a song ever repeated in the Christian Church on earth in the trisagion of the Holy Communion Office. There was also the song of the four and twenty elders.

Verse 2

THE TRIUNE GOD IN HEAVEN

‘Immediately I was in the Spirit, and, behold, a throne was set in heaven.’

Revelation 4:2

Other Feasts of the Christian year show our Lord God in the works and wonders which He has done; the Feast of Trinity declares to us what God is in Himself, in His divine Being. Here we see the Triune God in heaven. The whole chapter is appointed as the Epistle for Trinity Sunday. Let us consider its teachings:

I. The enthroned Jehovah.—St. John was permitted ‘in the Spirit’ to pass the bounds of mortals, and as Moses (Exodus 24), as Isaiah (6), as Daniel (8), to behold the eternal Father—

( a) In His ineffable majesty; ‘like a jasper and a sardine stone’ ( Revelation 21:11). These describe His majesty, and are taken to represent symbolically that God is holy and just.

( b) In His glory as a covenant God. He is surrounded (like the vision of Ezekiel, chap. 1) with the rainbow of promise ( cf. Genesis 9:12-17). The emerald is of a lovely green colour.

( c) In His glory as a lawgiver to man. The lightnings and thunders call to mind God on Mount Sinai whom Moses saw.

( d) In unruffled and eternal calm. A tempestuous sea best represents the life of troubled mortals. A sea of glass, like the molten sea in the Temple, like the sapphire pavement seen by Moses in the Mount, is a true emblem of the immovable calm of the Judge of all the earth.

( e) As the dispenser of spiritual light and life to man by His Spirit. The seven lamps of fire were the seven Spirits of God.

II. The adoring Church surrounding the enthroned Jehovah.—These were ‘four and twenty seated elders’ and ‘four living creatures.’ The latter have been taken to symbolise ( a) the four evangelists, ( b) the ministers of God (it is observed that they lead the devotions), ( c) cherubim ( cf. Isaiah 6), ( d) representatives of animated nature. Adopting the latter suggestion, we have here—

( a) The Old and New Testament Church—twelve tribes and twelve apostles. The Church is one.

( b) The adoration of the universal Church and the creation of God. ‘O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord’; the song is one of redeemed spirits from a redeemed earth. (i) Creation praises the Triune God, ‘Holy, holy, holy.’ (ii) The redeemed praise the Triune God.

III. The Bestower of the vision of the enthroned Jehovah.

( a) It is He that opens the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

( b) It is He alone that can say, ‘Come up hither.’

( c) It is He alone that fills us with the Spirit.

Verse 3

LESSONS FROM THE RAINBOW

‘And there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.’

Revelation 4:3

A storm is an awful phenomenon whenever it rages, because it is a convulsion of nature. But it has its meet set-off. If it happen in the daytime, when the rain is falling and the sun is shining, it is relieved by the bow, which is an object of supreme beauty.

Just as the rainbow appears and vanishes in the natural world, so it does in that of the inspired. It spans the sky in the first book of the Bible, and reappears round the throne in the last. It is a token of good both on earth and in heaven.

I. As the rainbow owes its all to the natural sun, so the Divine covenant owes its all to the Sun of Righteousness.

II. As the rainbow contains a variety of perfect colours, so the Divine covenant contains a variety of perfect blessings.

III. As the rainbow is fixed round about the throne, so the Divine covenant is established for ever with man.

IV. As the rainbow adorns the throne, so the Divine covenant glorifies its Maker.

Verse 8

THE SUPER-SUPERLATIVE SONG

‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, Which was, and Which is, and Which is to come.’

Revelation 4:8

Hebrew grammarians call this Trisagion, the super-superlative. It is an ascription of praise to the Triune God.

I. The Thrice Holy in the Temple of Heaven.

( a) It is the heavenly song of praise to the God of all ages.

( b) It is the heavenly song of the Seraphim before the Throne in which saints and angels join.

II. The Thrice Holy in the Temple at Jerusalem (Isaiah 6).

III. The Thrice Holy in the Temple of the Christian Church.—So for the Church now it is:—

( a) A song of (i) praise; (ii) confession; (iii) devotion.

( b) A song to the Holy Trinity, to God the Father, the Eternal Creator; to God the Son, the Eternal Redeemer; to God the Holy Ghost, the Divine Illuminator.

Thus heaven and earth join in hymning His praise.

Verse 10

CASTING THEIR CROWNS

‘The four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne.’

Revelation 4:10

The twenty-four elders with crowns on their heads—what are they intended to represent? Not the natural forces, but human life, human life as it ought to be, as it may be, as one day it will be.

What do these crowned beings say to us? They remind us of true human greatness. They were not slaves, the insignificant or small people of the earth. They wear crowns. What a marvellous symbol is the crown! Next to the Cross, I suppose, there is none more rich in meaning than the crown, which speaks of honour, and power, and yet the responsibility that must always go along with power. But beyond all other ideas it represents most of all the idea of completeness. Like a circle it represents that which is absolutely and entirely finished. It represents the best, the completest experience of life.

What are you doing with your crown? There is only one answer that will satisfy God, or that will really satisfy ourselves. It is to know that we have cast our crowns. ‘They cast their crowns.’

I. The secret of their greatness.—They were never so great, those crowned ones in the picture, as when they cast their crowns. It is always so. The man who takes what God has given him or what through God’s help he has made for himself, and then looks up into God’s face and says, ‘It is not my own, though it looks as if it were mine. All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee’—that moment when he seems to be parting with his crown, he is himself most crowned, that moment when he is abasing himself, and cutting himself off it seems to be from chances of worldly success, he is being swept up into the fellowship of all consecrated life. The grandest and greatest moment for him is when he forgets himself. The one who casts his crown is joined on to all who in every age have remembered others and forgotten themselves, who, like the glorious company in the vision of St. John, have cast their crowns.

II.—The attitude of human life in the presence of God.—It is the attitude of reverence. They do not only cast their crowns, but they fall down before Him. You do not always find these two things together. Very energetic people, very self-sacrificing people, are not of necessity very reverent people always. These elders were both. They cast their crowns, there is the secret of their greatness; they fell down before Him, there is the reverence that goes along with it. It is because they are so great that they are so reverent; it is because they are kings that they recognise God’s Kingship. It is because they wear crowns themselves that they recognise that there is another crown more glorious and more splendid than their own. It is a great truth that as men grow more great they grow more reverent. The more crowned they are, the more ready they are to cast their crowns, and to fall down before God.

III. The secret of the inspiration of life.—They fall down before Him, they cast their crowns. Yes, but what is the secret of it all? What was behind that prostration of themselves, what was behind that casting of their crowns? He that sat upon the Throne was the inspiration of the whole thing, for Whose sake the whole thing was done. It is the personal element entering in and inspiring all their worship, and their work. And it is always so. The secret of all unselfishness, of all surrender, of all service, of all true worship, is the Personal Christ Who sits upon the Throne. When once you have got that impulse you have got the inspiration of your life.

—Bishop F. E. Ridgeway.

Verse 11

THE REASON OF CREATION

‘Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.’

Revelation 4:11

Beyond this the highest reason of man cannot go. As proof of this, observe that all the manifold speculations of ancient and modern philosophy are compelled to acknowledge the mystery at the root of things. The most advanced modern science, when it has said its last word, goes no farther, and tells but little more than the gropings in the dark of some ancient Grecian sage. Christian faith finds God where fathomless mystery begins.

I. The productive cause of creation is God.—‘Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God.’ Take the telescope and sweep the worlds above; take the microscope and explore the unseen world around us. Man is His work. ‘He has made us, and not we ourselves.’

II. The ultimate reason of creation is God’s will.—‘Because of Thy will they were [i.e. come into being], and were created’ (R.V.). Cf. Colossians 1:16.

( a) The earth as a theatre of His redeeming plans.

( b) The visible universe to impress us with His majesty.

( c) Man as the object of His love and redeeming grace.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Revelation 4". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/revelation-4.html. 1876.