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Revelation 4

Gann's Commentary on the BibleGann on the Bible

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Verse 1

Revelation 4:1

Section 2: The Heavenly Apocalypse (chapters 4-11)

4:1–11 Verses 1–11 introduce the throne-room vision of chs. 4 and 5. These chapters form one scene in which John is invited to behold future events which must shortly take place, for the time was at hand (Revelation 1:1).

He depends heavily on Moses, Ezekiel, and Daniel to describe the wonders he witnessed. The vision in these chapters includes the introduction of the Lamb and leads to the seal judgments in ch. 6.

It builds on the visions of Isaiah 6:1-4, Ezekiel 1:4-28, and Daniel 7:9-10, where God is seen enthroned in power and majesty. God’s throne dominates Revelation, and the worship in the rest of the book flows from this scene.

Chapter 4 - The Old Testament Throne Scene

John’s Visionary Posture, Revelation 4:1-2 a

The Throne, Revelation 4:2-7

Heavenly Praise, Revelation 4:8-11

Chapter 5 - The New Testament Throne Scene

The Search for One Worthy to Open the Book, Revelation 5:1-5

The Lamb At the Right Hand of God, Revelation 5:6-7

The Subjection of Heaven and Earth To the Lamb, Revelation 5:8-14

- - - - - - - -

Revelation 4:1 The Eternal Throne. God as Creator, Revelation 4:11. The throne is in Heaven.

- - - - - - - -

After these things . . Refers to the reception of the letters to the seven churches. The phrase used here indicates that John received this vision after the previous one.

I looked . . Better, I beheld, and lo! as Revelation 5:6, Revelation 5:11 &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. - CBSC

opened--"standing open"; not as though John saw it in the act of being opened. Similar to other biblical visions (Ezekiel 1:1; Matthew 3:16; John 1:51; Acts 10:11) ; Cf. Revelation 19:11 (“heaven standing open”).

This is another way of expressing God’s revelation of Himself to mankind.

and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet . . At first this implied Jesus speaking, but because chapters 4 & 5 are a literary unit and Jesus is not introduced until Revelation 5:5, Revelation 5:9-10, 12, 13, this may refers to a revealing angel.

An angel and a trumpet blast are related in Paul’s description of the Second Coming (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

Come up hither--through the "open door." A summons to behold the visions (compare Ezekiel 3:12; Ezekiel 11:1).

things which must take place after this . . According to Revelation 1:1, Revelation 1:3; Revelation 22:6, Revelation 22:10, things which must shortly come to pass, for the time was at hand.

Verse 2

Revelation 4:2

Imediately . . ευθεως immediately G2112 ADV at once, straightway.

I was in the spirit . . See note on Revelation 1:10 (Revelation 17:3; Revelation 21:10) cf. Ezekiel 11:1;

This may be similar to what happened to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 8:1-4; Ezekiel 11:1, to Philip in Acts 8:39-40, and to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-2. Whether this is a spiritual trance or a physical transportation is uncertain. - Utley

It is implied that he was caught up through the open door into Heaven, and saw what was going on above. - CBSC

behold -- ιδου behold G2400 V-2AAM-2S lo,

a throne set in heaven . . Reflects aspects of Ezekiel’s and Isaiah’s visions of God (Ezekiel 1; Iaiah 6).

Not so much a piece of furniture, but a symbol of sovereign rule and authority (Revelation 7:15; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:17-18; cf. Isaiah 6:1). It is the focus of chap. 4, occurring 13 times, 11 times referring to God’s throne. - MSB

One sat on the throne . . the Lord God Almighty, (Revelation 4:8; Revelation 4:11). cf. Isaiah 6:1-5; Ezekiel 1:26-28.

throne . . The term “throne” (thronos) is used over 47 times in this book. God’s reign is the central motif of this heavenly vision (chapters 4 & 5).

The throne is a symbolic, apocalyptic way of showing that YHWH is in control of all history. God is a spiritual, eternal, personal spirit; He does not sit on a throne! One purpose of the genres of prophecy and apocalyptic is God’s knowledge and control of future events. All history is known and purposeful (telos, cf. Matthew 24:14; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). The throne is described as “was standing.” This IMPERFECT TENSE can have two meanings: (1) it has always stood; or (2) it was just set up. This may be an allusion to Daniel 7:9, “thrones were set up.” - Utley

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. - CBSC

Verse 3

Revelation 4:3

"Jasper" ..clear like crystal (Revelation 21:11) Probably referring to a diamond reflecting all the colors of the spectrum in wondrous brilliance. MSB

"Sardine" -- red. A fiery bright ruby stone named for the city near which it was found. - MSB

"Emerald" -- green. A cool, emerald-green hue dominates the multi-colored rainbow surrounding God’s throne (cf. Ezekiel 1:28). - MSB

John suggests precious stones of luminous colors to describe God’s glory and radiance (Revelation 21:11, Revelation 21:18-20).

But John avoids precise description of the Almighty’s visible features, perhaps because he knew no language to describe what he saw.

The jewels of this book (cf. Revelation 21:19-20) are not meant to be interpreted individually but together signify the splendor and majesty of God. - ESVSB

Ezekiel describes Yahweh in a similar way (Ezekiel 1:26-28). In Exodus 24:10, Moses also describes the divine presence of Yahweh using precious stones. Like Ezekiel and Isaiah, John does not attempt to give a precise description of God. Instead, he describes the overall effect of His glorious presence. - FSB

rainbow . . (Genesis 9:8-17; Ezekiel 1:28) to suggest God’s qualities. The rainbow speaks of God’s grace his protection, and the assurances of His promises as it recalls God’s covenant with Noah.

Verse 4

Revelation 4:4

24 elders = May symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles, together representing the whole people of God. If true, this would fit with the context of Rev 2–3 of shared rulership for believers (see note on 2:7). - FSB

The twenty-four elders on their thrones probably represent all of God’s people. They might correlate to the twelve tribes of the old covenant and the twelve apostles of the new (see Revelation 21:12-14), although some have identified them with the twenty-four divisions of the Israelite priesthood (1 Chronicles 24:1-19). In the drama, they act as an antiphonal chorus (alternating groups of speakers or singers). - NLTSB

twenty-four elders . . May designate the whole company of God’s people in heaven but most likely refers to an exalted order or to angels who continually worship and serve God around his throne (Revelation 4:10-11; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 11:16; Revelation 19:4). Their number probably reflects Israel’s 12 tribes together with the 12 apostles (cf. Revelation 21:12; Matthew 19:28), though it also parallels the orders of OT priests who served God in the temple (1 Chronicles 24:4-19) - NIVZSB

Their joint rule with Christ, their white garments (Revelation 19:7-8), and their golden crowns (Revelation 2:10) all seem to indicate that these 24 represent the redeemed (Revelation 4:9-11; Revelation 5:5-14; Revelation 7:11-17; Revelation 11:16-18; Revelation 14:3; Revelation 19:4). - MSB

Some interpreters believe that these elders are angels, and that therefore they do not include themselves among the redeemed in Revelation 5:8-10. - ESVSB [See Utley’s arguments against them being angels.]

white garments . . Symbolizes purity and holiness (see note on Revelation 3:5).

crowns of gold . . στεφανους crowns G4735 N-APM Represents a victorious or royal status; (cf. Revelation 4:10.)

Verse 5

Revelation 4:5

lightenings . . thunder . . This seems to be God’s call to attention (see Revelation 8:5; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:18).

A display of the terrifying splendor of God’s glory and judgment as displayed at Mount Sinai. Exodus 19:16; Exodus 20:18.

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 Revelation 1:20. The significance of the seven-branched candlestick in relation especially to the Spirit is suggested in Zech. 4. (Zechariah 4:1-3 ff ) - CBSC

seven lamps . . Alludes to Ezekiel 1:13 signifying God’s presence.

Seven lamps of fire . . These bright light-giving lamps symbolize the Holy Spirit in the fulness of its manifestation, - PNT

seven spirits of God . . See the extensive notes on Revelation 1:4

Verse 6

Revelation 4:6

sea of glass . . (Psalms 104:3; Ezekiel 1:22, Ezekiel 1:26; Ezekiel 10:1); cf. Revelation 15:2.

There is no sea in heaven (Revelation 21:1), but the crystal pavement that serves as the floor of God’s throne stretches out like a great, glistening sea (cf. Exodus 24:10; Ezekiel 1:22). - MSB

clear as crystal . . Ancient glass was semi-opaque; this heavenly sea perfectly reflects and radiates God’s perfect holiness. Cf. Revelation 21:1; Ezekiel 1:22.

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. - CBSB

four living creatures . .[Zoa, “living forms.” ] Possibly an allusion to the cherubim described in Ezek 1 and 10, or the seraphim of Isaiah 6:2-3. The number four often represents the entire created order (e.g., Revelation 7:1; Jeremiah 49:36). Thus, these creatures may represent all living things worshiping God. - FSB

four living creatures . . Heavenly angels nearest the throne who lead in worship ( Revelation 4:8; Revelation 5:14) and initiate God’s judgment (Revelation 6:1). These beings represent all created life and ever live to worship and glorify God, who “lives” forever (vv. 9–10). John’s depiction combines allusions to Isaiah 6:2-3; Ezekiel 1:5-14 - NIVZSB

Four living creatures exhibit features of cherubim (full of eyes; lion; ox; man; eagle) and seraphim (six wings; “Holy, holy, holy”) glimpsed by previous prophets (Isaiah 6:2-3; Ezekiel 1:10, Ezekiel 1:18). - ESVSB

four living creatures. Lit. “four living ones or beings.” These are the cherubim (sing., cherub), those angels frequently referred to in the OT in connection with God’s presence, power, and holiness. Although John’s description is not identical to Ezekiel’s, they are obviously both referring to the same supernatural and indescribable beings (Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1; see notes on Ezekiel 1:4-25; Ezekiel 10:15). - MSB

full of eyes . . covered with eyes . . This phrase probably indicates that they had knowledge or understanding. In the ancient world, figures were covered with a particular feature to emphasize that quality (e.g., statues of Artemis were covered with breasts to emphasize fertility). Cp. Ezekiel 1:18. - NLTSB

full of eyes . . Although not omniscient—an attribute reserved for God alone—these angels have a comprehensive knowledge and perception. Nothing escapes their scrutiny (cf. v. 8). - MSB

[See Utley for a summary of this verse.]

Verse 7

Revelation 4:7

living creature was similar to a lion . . While John and Ezekiel both describe four living creatures in their visions, the descriptions vary. In Ezekiel 1 (Ezekiel 1:5 ff.) all four creatures are identical.

In Revelation, each has only one face and resembles a different creature: A lion, an ox, a human, and a flying eagle.

Ezekiel’s creatures have four wings, but John’s have six, like the seraphim in Isa 6:2.

John’s creatures are full of eyes, but the eyes in Ezekiel are on the wheels that move the creatures. - FSB [Comparable to CBSC]

These four creatures symbolize four types of beings: a lion represents wild animals, an ox represents domesticated animals, a human represents humanity, and an eagle represents the birds (cp. Ezek 1:10). These four figures are drawn from Ezek 1 (cherubim) and Isa 6 (seraphim). - NLTSB

lion … ox … man … eagle . . Represent the noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest created beings. - NIVZSB

first … like a lion . . In what is obviously intended as symbolic language, John compares these 4 beings with 4 of God’s earthly creations. Ezekiel indicates that every cherub has these 4 attributes. The likeness to a lion symbolizes strength and power. second … like a calf. The image of a calf demonstrates that these beings render humble service to God. third … face like a man. Their likeness to man shows they are rational beings. fourth … like a flying eagle. The cherubim fulfill their service to God with the swiftness of eagles’ wings. - MSB

lion … calf … eagle” In rabbinic literature these animals are listed as the strongest of the different orders of God’s creation. Irenaeus in the early in the Church used these four different faces to describe the four Gospel writers (church tradition finally settled on John, eagle; Luke, human; Mark, ox; Matthew, lion) but this is too speculative and allegorical. These composite creatures are symbolic, not literal. Knowing the OT emphasis on maintaining God’s orders of creation, a composite human and animal creature would be Levitically unclean. This is not historical narrative of actual things and events, but a highly symbolic genre seeking to describe ultimate, spiritual truths; in this case God as the ever living One (vv. 8, 9) the Holy One (v. 8), and the creator of all things (v. 11). - Utley

The first creature was like a lion. It looked like a lion, but was not a lion. It had other characteristics. Like a calf. Had a body similar to that of the ox. Had the face of a man. Otherwise its structure differed from that of men. Like a flying eagle. It will be seen that four departments of animated nature are represented. That of the wild beasts of prey; that of domestic animals, the human species, and the fowls of the air. Each is represented by what, in the eyes of a Hebrew, would be regarded as its highest type. - PNT

Verse 8

Revelation 4:8

six wings . . Used by the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2 to cover their eyes and feet and to fly. - NIVZSB

And the four living creatures, having each of them six wings, 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 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. - CBSC

eyes all around . . Represent alertness and knowledge (cf. Ezekiel 1:18; Ezekiel 10:12). - NIVZSB

[cf. "no rest day or night" Revelation 14:11]

day and night . . The four beings ceaselessly praised God’s basic characteristics: his holiness, his power (the Almighty), and his eternity (see note on 1:4). - NLTSB

Holy, holy, holy . . This echoes the song of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2-3, and is the highest worship affirmation in Scripture. To double something makes it emphatic; to triple it makes it ultimate. -NLTSB

holy, holy, holy . . The living creatures are repeating the song of the seraphim in Isa. 6:2, 3. This is the first of many hymns that are found in the book of the Revelation (cf. Revelation 4:8, Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:9-10, Revelation 5:12, Revelation 5:13; Revelation 7:12; Revelation 11:17-18; Revelation 12:10-12; Revelation 15:3-4; Revelation 16:5-7; Revelation 18:2-8; Revelation 19:1-3, Revelation 19:6-7).

Often the hymns area means of interpreting the visions. Another symbol like the sea of glass, it functions as a Hebrew superlative of the ultimate holiness of God. - Utley

the Lord God, the Almighty . . These were OT titles for God (cf. Revelation 1:8): (1) Lord = YHWH (cf. Exodus 3:14; Psalms 103:1); (2) God = Elohim (cf. Psalms 104:1); and (3) the Almighty = El Shaddai, the patriarchal name for God (cf. Exodus 6:3). - Utley

was … is … is to come . -- Recalls God’s self-disclosure as “I am” in Exodus 3:14; cf. Revelation 1:8; Revelation 4:8; Revelation 11:17. This speaks of God’s eternal presence who is not limited by time. (Psalms 90:2)

Verse 9

Revelation 4:9

4:9–11 This is one sentence in Greek, which shows that ultimate worship is due Him who sits on the throne and lives forever. - Utley

when . (whenever) . .

And when the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanks to him that sitteth on the throne. Shall utter such praises as are given in verse 8 . Then the twenty-four elders also join in swelling the anthems. It will be noted that these two classes, whatever they signify, are both about the throne, and both engaged in harmonious praise of the Almighty. - PNT

the One sitting on the throne . . is typical Jewish indirection to avoid speaking God’s name. - NLTSB

Verse 10

Revelation 4:10

9, 10. 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. - CBSC

cast down -- lay ... The phrase describes submission.

Aware that God alone is responsible for the rewards they have received, they divest themselves of all honor and cast it at the feet of their King. - MSB

There are four elements in this worship: (1) They fall down; (2) they adore; (3) they cast their crowns before the throne, an act of homage which gives Him who sitteth there all the glory of their crowns; (4) they offer ascriptions of praise. - PNT

twenty-four elders fall down ... cast their crowns before the throne . . offering worship and expressing submission to God’s authority. - ESVSB

Verse 11

Revelation 4:11

Lord . . In Revelation, Lord creation affirms that God is in sovereign control of the world (see Revelation 3:14; Revelation 10:6; Revelation 14:7; Revelation 21:1). - NLTSB

[Pushing the late date, the FSB comments:

our Lord and God Domitian (who ruled from ad 81–96), who may have been the Roman emperor during John’s exile on Patmos, demanded that his subjects call him “our lord and god.” John sets up a clear contrast between the true king and the one whose rule will eventually be done away with. - FSB]

for . . Introduces a reason to praise God: he is the all-powerful Creator (cf. Revelation 10:6; Psalms 148:5; Romans 1:25). - NIVSB

You created all things . . The elders and living creatures praise God as the Creator, Sustainer and Provider of all things. This is the theological emphasis of the name Elohim (cf. Job. 38–41; Ps. 104). This chapter uses the theological meaning of the two most used names for God to describe His actions. The progressive revelation of the NT makes it clear that Jesus was the Father’s agent of creation (cf. John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16 and Hebrews 1:2). - Utley

for thy pleasure . . KJV; Perhaps better, because of Thy will. - CBSC [See MSS evidence]

they exist because you created what you pleased . . God had a purpose for everything that he created. - NLTSB

they are and were . . [they exist, NKJV] “they had their being,”—as the simple verb substantive is very well translated in Acts 17:28. - CBSC

Bibliographical Information
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on Revelation 4". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gbc/revelation-4.html. 2021.
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