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Revelation 4:1. After this I saw, and behold a door was opened in heaven; and the first voice, which I had heard speaking with me as a trumpet, saying, come up hither, and I will shew thee what must be done after these things. After this, Bengel, “After I had written the seven epistles from the Lord’s mouth.” The result of the call to go up to heaven through the open door, is that John, Revelation 4:2, is in the Spirit; so that the command: Go up, is as much as, Be in the Spirit. The original passage is Ezekiel 1:1, “And it came to pass in the (in my, comp. Numbers 4:23-30) thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day, as I was among the captives by the river Chebar, that the heaven was opened, and I saw visions of God.” What is said there in Ezekiel 1:3, “The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel . . and the hand of the Lord was there upon him,” is parallel. The words point to the misery of our natural condition, to which we are here born, and in which the heavens have no door open for us. Since the Messiah’s time, the heaven has been opened ( Matthew 3:16, and especially John 1:52); and the power also has been given to his servants of ascending into heaven, and learning there the secrets of God. The words pre-suppose, that between this vision and the preceding one there was an interval, during which John was not in heaven or in the Spirit. For, in the last verse of the apocalyptic epistles the Spirit still speaks through him to the churches; so that he must then have been in the Spirit (comp. Revelation 1:10), or in heaven. That John here, before he received the revelation of the future, saw a door opened in heaven, furnishes Vitringa with the just conclusion, “that no one can easily attain to the understanding of these sacred emblems, excepting such as, freed from earthly cares and fleshly desires, have their mind loosed as it were from their body, and give themselves wholly up to heavenly things.” And Bengel remarks, “It is not in our own will and power to handle divine things as we would; the measure, the nature, and the time, together with the thing itself, is entirely in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ What is shut to man, he cannot of himself discover; but where we find anything opened to us, we must there make use of our eyes. To seek to ascend by one’s own might, is the part of Lucifer; but when one has a call and a pull, as John had here, when the word was addressed to him ‘come up hither,’ then it is right to proceed. O may our minds be filled with such holy admiration, that we shall indeed withdraw ourselves from what is earthly and holds us in bondage, and shall direct our thoughts heavenwards to apprehend that, which Thou shewedst to thy servant, so that we may truly be improved and edified by it. Amen!” The words: the first voice, which I had heard speak with me as a trumpet, refer to ch. Revelation 1:10, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice as of a trumpet.” The voice there, and therefore also here, belonged to Christ, who alone has power to raise above the earthly, to introduce into heaven, and especially to disclose the future in such an elevated state of mind. Bossuet: “Let it be observed, that it is always Jesus Christ who unfolds everything to the prophets, so that it is always the revelation and prophecy of Jesus Christ himself, as was said at the beginning.” John is to be shewn what is to be done after these things. Accordingly, we are to expect even in Revelation 4:2, ss., not a description of what perpetually is, but a symbolical shadowing forth of the future.
Revelation 4:2. And immediately I was in the Spirit, and behold a throne lay in heaven, and upon the throne one sat. The expression: I was in the Spirit, is purposely a literal agreement with ch. Revelation 1:10, in order to intimate, that here the second vision begins. Bengel: “He was at once lifted above all that is natural and placed amid divine things, had his whole soul filled, illuminated, and occupied by these.” By his being in the Spirit, is marked his complete entrance upon the state of ecstacy. Without some previous partial experience of this state, John could not have seen the door that was opened in heaven. Züllig’s exposition: “And presently I was [there, in heaven] in a sort of ecstacy, my spirit was snatched up thither, while my body remained upon earth,” deserves no refutation. Bengel improperly remarks on being in the Spirit, “this extends to all the seals, trumpets, and vials.” This vision does not extend beyond the seven seals. A quite new series begins with ch. Revelation 8:2.
We have here not a representation of the usual heavenly state, but an assembly of counsel and judgment, in which a decision is come to regarding the ungodly world. To this view we are led by ch. 5, according to which all turns on the opening of the book with the seven seals, which has respect to the punishment of the world, for its enmity to God. To the same conclusion points also the representation given in this chapter of the scene itself; all the traits have at once a threatening and a consolatory character, are adapted to frighten the persecutors, to raise the persecuted to a joyful hope; they perfectly accord with the humour of John, as one who was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ, and of the companions in tribulation for whom he wrote. Representations of similar councils of judgment are to be found in 1 Kings 22:19, Isaiah 6, Daniel 7:9, ss., where the thrones were first set. It is not said elsewhere: a throne lay in heaven. The throne did not stand upon the earth, but it rested on the cherubim, which, according to Revelation 4:6, were in the midst of the throne. [Note: That to lay is used here simply for standing, cannot be proved from Jeremiah 24:1, LXX., John 2:6; John 19:29. For what holds of baskets and vessels does not hold of a throne with feet.] On the words: upon the throne one sat, Bengel remarks, “That it is the Father, whose majesty here shines forth on the throne, is sufficiently clear from this consideration, that here as elsewhere, he is distinguished from the Lamb, and from the seven Spirits, as we read in Revelation 4:5 of this chapter, and in ch. Revelation 5:13. The kingdom is originally the Father’s, and remains his. For, Christ sits on the Father’s throne, ch. Revelation 3:21, on the right hand of the Almighty Father.” it is otherwise in Ezekiel. There one sat upon the throne, who resembled the Son of man. He does not distinguish between the Father and the Son, or the Father makes himself known in the Son. But Daniel 7:13 is similar, as there one like the Son of man comes to the Ancient of days in the clouds of heaven. That the name of the person sitting is not given, is not to be explained with Herder, from his glory being such as to transcend all description (“the soul has no image to name him, language no word”), but simply because here only what was seen is described. In Ezekiel too, in Ezekiel 1:4-27, for a like reason no name is given. Both hearer and reader must supply it.
Revelation 4:3. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and sardius stone; and a rainbow was round about the throne in sight like to an emerald. It is God’s infinite glory that is here displayed, his grace toward the church, his punitive righteousness; all properties, which at the present stage come forth into action, and are fitted to inspire with courage the fainting souls of believers. The punitive righteousness presages destruction to the enemies of the church; the compassionate grace promises deliverance to the church; the holiness takes from those who stand under grace, all despondency, all hope from those who stand under wrath. As in the rainbow the colour of the precious stone was doubtless indicated, so is it also in respect to the jasper and the sardius. And according to the fundamental and parallel passages, afterwards to be noticed, which have this also in common with the one before us, that they describe an appearing of the Lord for judgment, we may reasonably expect that the two precious stones represent two different properties of God. Now the jasper is of diverse colours. But what sort the seer had in view is plain from the addition, “clear as crystal” in the later passage, ch. Revelation 21:11. According to Revelation 21:23 of that chapter, the light of the city, which by Revelation 21:11 was like a crystal-clear jasper, “the most precious stone,” (the first foundation stone in Revelation 21:19 is a jasper), is the glory of the Lord, his essential nature, the kernel of his personality, which, according to ch. Revelation 4:8, is his holiness, not in the doctrinal, but the scriptural sense. Comp. also ch. Revelation 22:5. It is this which is represented here by the jasper. By σαρδιό?ς LXX. render the Heb. אדם , the etymology of which already points to the red colour. The sardius, or carnelian, is “red, as red flesh, dark-red, tile-red, clay-red.” Orpheus, de lapid. xvi. 5, speaks of the “blood-coloured sardius;” and Epiphanius says, “it is of a fiery red appearance and blood-like,” (ἐ?στι δὲ? πυρωπὸ?ς τῶ?ͅ? εἰ?δει καὶ? αἱ?ματοειδή?ς ). That the sardius is here employed to represent the punitive righteousness of God, his anger, cannot be doubted when we look at the fundamental and parallel passages. The red colour, according to Meyer in his Hesperides, is “the light in its internal expansion, light in warmth, light in love or its opposite, anger. It must be stimulated by an object in order to appear so, and its appearance is its conquering.” One might take the red here as the colour of blood, in the shedding of which the punitive righteousness of God manifests its energy, comp. Revelation 6:4, Revelation 12:3, Revelation 17:3, Isaiah 63:1-2. But it is better to take it as the colour of fire. For the fire of the divine anger suits admirably to the radiating light of the divine holiness; and then fire is quite a standing image in Scripture of the divine anger, and as such is employed particularly in the original passages of Ezekiel and the parallel passages of the Pentateuch. These passages we must come to consider more closely. In Ezekiel 1:4 it is said, in the description there given of the threatening and judgment-looking appearance of the Lord: “And I looked, and behold a whirlwind came from the north, a great cloud, and complicated fire and brightness to it (the cloud) round about (from the fire shining through), and out of the midst of it to look upon as chasmal, out of the midst of the fire.” The chasmal denotes here the kernel of the personality, the holiness. That it betokens something of the brightest splendour there can be no doubt from the זבר , light-lustre, which is put by the prophet as parallel to it in Ezekiel 8:2. The LXX. render it by electrum, a metal distinguished by its brightness, and composed of gold mixed with a fifth part of silver. [Note: This Chasmal is different from Nehoschet Kalal. The three times it is used it is applied to the person who was throned upon the cherubim. It is on no account to be supposed that the feet of the beasts were so exhibited as if they were an immediate image of the person who was enthroned on the cherubim.] In Ezekiel 1:27 it is said: “And I beheld, and it was as chasmal, as the look of fire, that was enclosed round about (comp. Genesis 15:17, like devouring fire); from the loins upwards (he was like chasmal) and from the loins downwards I saw as the appearance of fire.” At Ezekiel 8:2, “And I beheld, and lo! there was the appearance as fire, from his loins downwards he was of the appearance of fire, and from his loins upwards he was to look upon as light-splendour, as the look of chasmal.” The meaning of the last passage is excellently given by Züllig, “Below, toward the earth, the person on the throne appeared to me in the glowing ire of his function as judge and avenger, above in the pure splendour of his calm, untroubled, heavenly majesty.” The fire is placed in the front of the description, because the main object was to present an image of God’s anger toward Jerusalem; comp. Deuteronomy 4:24,”For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, a jealous God,” Deuteronomy 9:3, and the remarks on fire as a symbol of the anger of God on Psalms 50:3. In Daniel 7:9-10, the garments of the Ancient of days were white as snow, and the hair of his head as pure wool; his throne was a flame of fire, and his wheels burning fire, a stream of fire went forth from him. The majesty and holiness there indicated hy the clear brightness is not less appalling to the guilty than fire. It takes from the enemies of the church all hope of escaping the fire. In the Revelation 1:14 we find the head and hair white as white wool, as snow, but the eyes like flames of fire, and the feet like burning metal. In Revelation 10:1 the countenance is like the sun, the feet like pillars of fire. From these original and parallel passages it is also to be supposed that the colours of the two precious stones did not intermingle with each other through the whole appearance, but that they respectively belonged to different parts of it. The rainbow round about the throne—in respect to which Bengel says, “Not the head merely of him who sat upon the throne, but the throne itself, in its whole height and breadth, was surrounded by it—indicates that the judgment was to be an act of grace for the church. The “round about the throne” is not said without meaning in respect to the rainbow and the seats of the four and twenty elders. These, the symbol of the church, are to be understood as enclosed in the circle, so that the church is represented as the object of the tender grace of God. The fundamental passage for this here and ch. Revelation 10:1, where the rainbow appears on the head of the angel, is Ezekiel 1:27-28. There, around about the manifestation, which was radiant with the glowing brightness of fire, was a splendour; “as the appearance of the rainbow which is in the cloud in the day of rain, so is the appearance of the brightness round about.” The truth symbolized is given thus by Grotius, “However strict the divine judgment may be, it still will not destroy the remembrance of the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Isaiah 54:10 may serve as a commentary, “For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” But the rainbow is not the symbol of grace generally; it is the symbol of grace returning after wrath. This is indicated in Ezekiel by the cloud; comp. the “great cloud” in Ezekiel 1:4 and Revelation 10:1. Lange, in his Vermischten Schr. i. p. 5, says excellently, “The rainbow is the coloured reflection of the sun breaking forth upon the dark cloud as it withdraws, the triumph of the sun over the floods; the brightness of the sun, of fire, of light, imprinted, as it were, on the cloud itself in token of its subjection.” Accordingly, we are to suppose that the colour of the emerald, the green, is here named, not as the only one, but as that which predominated. This is even self-evident. For a simply green rainbow would be no rainbow at all. Bengel remarks, “Green is of all colours the most agreeable. If other things have made the eyes weak and tender, we find them refreshed by turning them on the green. The colours of white and red affect the vision much more, and if we hold long before us anything of a fiery red or a shining white, the sight is soon injured; but the green colour is intermediate between the two, and of a chaster description. When God represents himself as the jasper and sardius, he exhibits himself in his holiness and glory, in which respect he is frightful to men. But the green rainbow is a mark of the divine condescension, placability, and forbearance, which prevent us from being injured or consumed by those attributes of God, which are terrible to men. . . . We are not able to fix our eyes on the divine majesty and holiness, they frighten us away; but the friendliness of God allures us and inspires us with an assured confidence. We must present God to our view, not only as he shews himself in some one aspect, but in all that he makes known to us; there will still remain much behind of his infinite perfection. The testimonies which he has disclosed to us respecting himself, we must carefully put together, that we may attain to a complete knowledge, adoration, and service. If we look, for example, to grace alone, we shall soon obtain confidence; but this confidence may speedily in hearts like ours break forth into impiety. But if we have respect also to the majesty and holiness of God, we shall continue in a profound reverence, and our confidence in grace itself shall thereby be increased.” Excellent observations in themselves, but too much overlooking the concrete reference of the vision; not taking into account the circumstance, that everything in it is directed to revive the church’s confidence after having been deluged by the world. To him, for whom the rainbow is adapted, the jasper and sardius are also consolatory; but, on the other hand, the emerald also is terrible to him, for whom it is not
Züllig is inclined to explain “the image of a single-coloured green rainbow as an unnatural one. There should at least have been also yellow and red. For, green, yellow, and red, these are the fundamental colours, out of which are formed the seven well-known shades of the rainbow. But observe, it is precisely these two other colours that we have already found in the jasper and the sardius of the main figure. There can be no doubt, also, that these colours are combined together, and form with each other a composite arch, in such a manner that the green is not to be thought of as divided by a certain space from the main figure, but only as its outermost radiation.” The whole image, then, must consist of a rainbow! The two inner colours give to the seer his image of Jehovah, the outer one the lustrous glory connected with it. But that we are not to think of a one-coloured green rainbow, that only the chief colour is rendered prominent, while the others are still supposed to exist, we have remarked already. But a singular image the rainbow, of him who sits upon the throne! The person sitting there is manifest, and according also to the fundamental passages in Ezekiel and Daniel, he is a person, from whom there issues so bright a splendour, white and red, that only this splendour can be seen. The significance of the rainbow is also overlooked by such a view; it can never be a lustrous glory. Since Genesis 9 it has been unalterably consecrated as a symbol of grace returning after wrath.
Revelation 4:4. And round about the throne four and twenty thrones; and sitting on the thrones four and twenty elders, clothed with white garments, and on their heads golden crowns. Bengel: “Here now we have a description of those who are about the Lord. We must here represent to ourselves not a half, but an entirely circular ring. Beside the chief throne, then, four and twenty other thrones with so many elders are appropriately added; but elsewhere the four beasts are nearer than the four and twenty elders, and both nearer than the many angels, ch. Revelation 5:11.” The elders sit round about the throne, within the span of the rainbow. They are mentioned before the fuller description of the throne and of the cherubim, to indicate that the whole assembly has respect to the affairs of the church. Where the representatives of this sit in judgment with God, there only a favourable decision for them can be expected. The beasts are inseparable from the throne itself, which rests upon them; they are not merely round the throne, but also under the throne, according to ch. 6.
That the elders are representatives of the church, there can be no question; is quite plain from ch. Revelation 5:8-10, where they hold in their hands golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of saints, and sing a new song and say, “Thou art worthy to take the book and to open its seals, for thou wert slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of all kindreds and tongues and peoples and nations”—a passage which shews that we cannot think of angels. That the four and twenty come into consideration as the double twelve, is rendered probable alone by ch. Revelation 7:4, ss., where the twelve appears as the signature of the church generally, and according to which the twelve tribes of Israel are perpetuated in the church of the New Testament. Now, if we should seek for each of these tribes a double head, in accordance with the two oeconomies, there will very naturally present themselves the twelve patriarchs and the twelve apostles. The same four and twenty we find again in ch. 21. At the gates of the New Jerusalem there stand, according to Revelation 21:12, twelve angels, to which it is added, “and names written, which are the twelve tribes of the children of Israel,” the ideal representatives of the twelve tribes, the shadowy forms, as it were, of the twelve patriarchs. On the twelve foundations of the walls are the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. We meet with the first twelve also in ch. Revelation 12:1: the woman, the church, has before the birth of Christ a crown of twelve rulers. The second twelve, the twelve apostles, who were manifestly chosen by Christ as the New Testament counterpart to the twelve patriarchs, we obtain from the undeniable reference of Christ to the declaration of our Lord in Matthew, Matthew 19:28, comp. Luke 22:30, “Then shall ye also sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel;” and from Revelation 20:4, where a still more manifest reference to these passages is found, “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them.” The right view was given by Bossuet, “It is the totality of the saints of the Old and the New Testament, who are here represented by their chiefs and their leaders. Those of the Old appeared in the twelve patriarchs, and those of the new in the twelve apostles. The same totality of saints is represented afterwards in the twelve gates of the holy city, on which were written the names of the twelve tribes; and in the twelve foundations of that city, on which were written the names of the twelve apostles, Revelation 21:12; Revelation 21:14. In a word, one sees in these twenty-four elders the whole church represented in its leaders.” If the apostles formed the one-half of the heavenly senate of the church, the Apocalypse can only have been composed at the close of the apostolic age. According to the common supposition, the number four and twenty here must allude to the four and twenty classes of priests formed by David: the elders must be as it were the family-heads of the heavenly priesthood. But in addition to the separation this would make of the passage from ch. Revelation 12:1, and Revelation 21:12; Revelation 21:14, and the want of any other point of connection in the book, there are strong reasons against the supposition. It is in itself not probable, that the author of the Apocalypse would refer to that purely human arrangement, which never received any special divine sanction. The remark of Züllig, that “the book hardly ever alludes to anything not biblical,” has a wide application. Farther, although the elders were also priests, yet, appearing as they do here in a judicial scene, in the introduction to the seven seals, which God, in fellowship with his high council, suspends over the world for the good of his church, they are not employed in their proper character, but in a kingly capacity. To this latter points also the sitting on thrones, the bearing of golden crowns, and, as is clear from subsequent statements, the being clothed with white garments, which have been falsely regarded as a mark of the priestly character. In this connection also, where a sitting in judgment is the matter in question, the name elder designates only the governing character, the civic dignity; the elders correspond to the princes, who stood nearest to the throne of the earthly king in Israel, comp. Ezekiel 8:11. Another conjecture, that the twelve number was doubled with respect to the admission of the heathen, must be wrong even on this account, that without any sure foundation it has proceeded from a doubtful suggestion, and runs counter, besides, to a fundamental view of the New Testament, and in particular of the Apocalypse, according to which believers from heathenism do not constitute a second party to those from Israel, but that there is only one Israel, which perpetuates itself in the Christian church, and into which believing heathens were inserted—comp. on ch. Revelation 7:4. Here, therefore, a modern representation has been violently pressed on Scripture.
There are two original passages in the Old Testament for the form of representation here adopted. First, Isaiah 24:23, “And the sun blushes and the moon is ashamed, for the Lord reigns, the Lord of hosts, upon Mount Zion, and at Jerusalem, and before his elders (to whom he will impart of his own glory) is honour.” The elders appear there as the ideal representatives of the church in the time of salvation. The difference which Ewald was the first to suggest, that in Isaiah the elders appear on earth, here in heaven, is of little moment. For here also the abode of the elders is only provisionally in heaven. Then, Daniel 7:9-10. There, around the throne of the Ancient of days thrones are placed, the judgment sits, and the books are opened. Commonly it is the angels, who are thought of as being there the assessors of the divine judgment. So still Hävernick, “The great throne of God is surrounded by a multitude of elevated seats for the higher servants of God, the hosts of the elect ones that are round about him, Isaiah 6, Job 1, Revelation 4.” But everywhere else the angels appear as servants in accordance with their name, and their designation as” ministering spirits sent forth to minister,” in Hebrews 1:14; but never as judges. The passages, Daniel 4:10, Daniel 4:14, to which Maldanat has referred, must not be compared, for they belong to the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, who intermingled his heathenish modes of thought with what was given of God. In Daniel’s explanation nothing is said of the angels. [Note: Ode, de angelis, c 735: Hunc errorem correxisse videtur, Daniel 5:21, ubi illud non vocatur decrctum vigilum, sed Excelsi, sc. Eei.] The right view, that the representatives of the covenant people, as assessors in the judgment held upon the ungodly world, is the idea represented, was recognised even by the ancient Jews. [Note: Tanchumma, fol. 52: Rabbini nostri dicunt: quid hoc est: sellae positae sum? Res pondetur: tempore futuro Deus S. B. sedebit, et angeli dabunt sellas magnatibus Israelis, et illi sedent. Et Deus S. B. sedet cum senioribus tanquam אב בית דין , priuceps senatus, et judicabunt gentiles.] That the crowns are crowns of kings, is plain, especially from Revelation 4:10, where they cast their crowns before the throne—the kings humble themselves before the King of kings—and also from the connection with the thrones; comp. Matthew 19:28, where the apostles sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. So also as an insigne of royal dignity the crowns occur in ch. Revelation 6:2, Revelation 9:7, Revelation 14:14; comp. Matthew 27:29, John 19:12. White in the Revelation, as in Scripture generally, is the colour of bright splendour, the symbolical shadow of glory. One might Say with perfect truth: white is like holy, but holy only in the sense of Scripture, not that of the current doctrinal theology. We are not to think of simple white, but of a glittering white—the white of light and snow; comp. Matthew 17:2, “And he was transfigured before them, and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light;” Mark 9:3, “And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them;” Luke 9:29, “And as he prayed the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistening,” λευκὸ?ς ἐ?ξαστράπτων . Besides, Matthew 28:3, Luke 24:4, Acts 1:10, comp. with Acts 10:30. In the Apocalypse, see ch. Revelation 1:14, “His head and his hair were white as white wool, as snow,” and the interchange between white and glittering in ch. Revelation 19:8, and Revelation 15:6, comp. with Revelation 19:14. As the symbolical representation of glory, white is the predominant colour in the manifestation of Christ, Revelation 1:14, Revelation 6:2, Revelation 19:11, the colour of the throne of God, Revelation 20:11, of the angels as the holy ones in the scriptural sense, the exalted and the glorious. We must further take into account the colour of the righteous, especially of the perfect, who shine forth in the splendour of their virtues, Revelation 3:18, Revelation 19:8, Revelation 7:14, and of the glory of God imparted to them, in imitation of that which was imaged forth at the glorification of Christ, and in fulfilment of the saying of Christ, “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of the Father,” comp. Revelation 3:4-5. In the passage before us, it is best to regard both as united, as also in Revelation 7:9. The connection, however, with the thrones and crowns shews that at all events the latter, which are ascribed only to the perfectly righteous, and do not at all belong to persons in this life, decidedly predominates. As the colour of innocence white is never used in Scripture. The purified high-priest receives, in Zechariah 3, instead of his filthy garments, not white but clean ones. In ch. Revelation 7:14 of this book a distinction is made between washing and making white. The four and twenty elders appear also in ch. Revelation 11:16, as co-regents with God: “the four and twenty elders who sit before God on their thrones.” ‘But they are invested with this dignity as the representatives and the highest concentration of the whole church of believers. For of this, as a whole, it is said in ch. Revelation 3:21, “He that overcomes will I give to sit with me in my throne, as I have overcome, and have sitten down with my Father in his throne.” And in ch. Revelation 2:26, “He that overcomes and keeps my works to the end, to him will I give power over the heathen, . . as I have received of my Father.” Where there has come to be a hearty concurrence of will with that of the Sovereign Ruler, there one is received into the partnership of his government of the world, his judgments, his victories. It is the precious privilege of the Christian, that nothing comes to pass which he does not will, every thing that he does will—that he triumphs in God over all hostile powers, and with him rides upon the high places of the earth, and sees the whole world lying under his feet.
Revelation 4:5. And from the throne proceed lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and seven torches of fire burn before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. The lightnings, voices, and thunders are pre-intimations of judgment. That this is to be exercised for the good of the church, is clear from the connection with Revelation 4:3-4. Bengel: “To the saints on earth light and protection are thereby imparted, but to the enemies terror and destruction. The king’s children should not be afraid of what he has in his arsenal.” They are still not the judgment itself, but the matter-of-fact or symbolical announcement of it; as in Exodus 19:16, voices, and lightnings, and thunders were seen and heard on the mount, as an indication beforehand of the awful judgment of God that was sure to overtake the transgressors of the law, insomuch that the people trembled in the camp. So also, in Psalms 97:2-3, before the scene of judgment itself begins, clouds and darkness are round about the Lord, and glowing fire issues from before him; and in Psalms 50:3, a fire devours before him, and all is tempestuous round about him (comp. also Psalms 18:8, and my commentary on these passages). The seven seals are the embodiment of the judgments prefigured here and exhibited to view. In the same annunciatory character are lightnings mentioned in ch. Revelation 8:5; and in ch. Revelation 11:19, Revelation 16:18, they serve as a designation of the judgments actually inflicted. But the lightnings, etc., are everywhere the precursors of the divine judgment, or this itself; never is” the praise of the Almighty in heaven” sounded by them, as Bengel supposes. Nor will the Old Testament fundamental passages suffer us to think of such a meaning. There thunders and lightnings are the standing symbol of God’s manifestations of anger. The voices are constantly put in immediate connection with the thunders, and so indeed as to precede the other. In John 6:1, John 14:2, mention is made of the voice of thunder, and here in ch. Revelation 10:3 the seven thunders utter their voices. All this, together with the Old Testament usage, shews that we must not separate the voices from the thunders, and that we are not with Züllig to understand by them the inarticulate thunder-claps as contrasted with the audible sounds from heaven. It is best to regard the thunders as the kind, and the voices as the species, which here come more particularly into view. Bengel remarks excellently, “Whoever gives attention to what precedes in the weather, he knows, that thunder sometimes spreads itself far in the clouds, and continues for a considerable time (like the hollow roar of the sea), while sometimes there is a quick, sharp crack, which may more especially be considered as a voice, that merely peals on the ear. Thunder, however, in the proper sense is accompanied also with a shaking. These things are of a frightful nature, and yet at the same time agreeable. Frightful in respect to enemies, agreeable for such as are at one with God, and stand in his grace.” John 12:28-30 may be compared.
That the seven torches of fire, which are the seven Spirits of God, are connected as to the things indicated with the lightnings, voices, and thunders, might be inferred alone from the circumstance that the seven in them with the three of the latter together make up ten. They do not mean the Spirit of God in himself. Against that is, not only the plural, but also the expression “before the throne,” here and in Revelation 1:4, where the Seer wishes grace and peace to the church from him who is, and who was, and who comes, and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne. The statement also in ch. Revelation 5:6, that “they are sent upon the whole earth,” is against the view in question. What we are to understand are the operations of God’s Spirit, which is at the same time the Spirit of Christ (ch. Revelation 5:6), and which is united to the Father by essential oneness of being; his operations ad extra, and here indeed more especially as bringing chastisement and destruction. This is indicated by the πύ?ρος , shewing that the discourse is of torches of fire, and fire being in the Apocalypse the standing symbol of God’s anger and judgment, comp. for example Revelation 1:14, Revelation 2:18, Revelation 19:12, Revelation 10:1, Revelation 20:10, Revelation 21:8, Revelation 14:10. In the Old Testament also torches of fire are only mentioned where respect is had to consuming and burning, Zechariah 12:6; Judges 15:4-5; Daniel 10:6. Comp. Revelation 8:10, where mention is made of a great star burning like a torch. This is confirmed by the juxtaposition with lightning and thunder, and the context generally, where every thing bears a frightful character to the world, and hence a consolatory one to the church of God. Thoughts like the following, “They mark the multifariousness of the gifts which are bestowed on the church of the New Testament,” (Vitringa); or, “They stand before the throne, that at the nod of their Master they may communicate themselves to any human spirit,” (Züllig); or, “God himself makes all clear about him through his Spirit,” (Hoffmann), do not at all suit the connection What follows also leads to the same result. The sea of glass, according to ch. Revelation 15:2, mixed with fire, is the product as it were of the seven burning torches of fire, which are the seven Spirits of God. Even Isaiah in Isaiah 4:4, speaks of the Spirit of judgment and of burning, of the Spirit of God which judges and burns—comp. Malachi 3:3.
Revelation 4:6. And before the throne as a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne and roundabout the throne four beasts, full of eyes before and behind. Bengel says, “Mention is made of the seven lamps of fire and of the sea together; and it is said, as respecting that, so also respecting this, very emphatically, before the throne.
Afterwards, at ch. Revelation 15:2, there is again the appearance as of a sea of glass; and instead of the seven torches of fire being brought into connection with it, the sea itself is mingled with fire.” We have already remarked that the distinct connection of the torches of fire and the sea together is to be explained from the latter being the product of the former. God by his Spirit brings about the execution of what is right. The import of the sea we apprehend from the song, which in ch. 15 was sung by those who stood on it, and which forms a commentary on the symbol, after the manner of Scripture generally, in which sign and word go together. Accordingly, it denotes the great and wonderful works of God, his righteous and holy ways, his just deeds become manifest. The sea of glass appears there as an antitype to the Red Sea, in which the Seer beheld an image of the great judgment of God. The original passage for the one before us, and for ch. Revelation 15:2, is Psalms 36:7, “Thy judgments are a great flood.” The judgments there are the judicial acts through which God destroys the wicked and aids his people. The comparison with the sea denotes, according to the connection, measurelessness. Against the flood of human wickedness stands the great flood, the broad ocean of the divine judgment ( Genesis 7:11, the only other passage where the expression great flood, דבה תהום , occurs). The great flood has reference to the deluge, in which the judgment of God appears as in reality a great flood. Twice had the sea served as an embodiment of God’s judgments, which are here described as immeasurable under its image,—at the deluge, to which the fundamental passage refers, and when the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, to which reference is made in ch. 15. The words, “before the throne,” rest on Psalms 89:15, Psalms 97:2, “righteousness and judgment are the foundation of thy throne,” that is, God’s dominion maintains itself on the territory of what is just and righteous. These two passages in the Psalms again, rest on Exodus 24:10, “And they beheld the God of Israel, and under his feet there was like the work of white (clear glittering, comp. on Revelation 4:4) sapphire, and like the heaven itself in purity.” They give an explanation of the symbol there. Upon the fundamental passage and the two passages in the Psalms again rests, Ezekiel 1:22, “And there was on the heads of the beasts something like a cloud, like the look of crystal, terrible (Michaelis: the splendour of which is so great that it blinded the eyes of the spectator), expanded over their heads above.” Above this cloud stands the throne of God, according to Ezekiel 1:26, From this passage we see the import of the crystal here in Ezekiel. It signifies the terribleness (comp. Habakkuk 3:2, “Lord, I heard thy doing, I was afraid”), the awe-inspiring greatness and glory of the divine executions of judgment. Also according to ch. Revelation 22:1, “And he shewed me a stream of water of life, clear as crystal,” it is not the transparency, but the shining clearness of crystal that is brought into consideration (comp. Revelation 21:11). The glass is different from the crystal. That designates the rectitude and purity of the divine judgments—comp. ch. Revelation 21:21, “as transparent glass,” and ch. Revelation 21:18, “like pure glass.” In Exodus 24:10 too there is found a double point, the clear splendour and its purity. To the purity of glass, as indicative of righteousness and truth, corresponds in ch. Revelation 15:3 the righteous and true are thy ways, thou king of saints.” And to the clear and blinding glitter of crystal, as indicative of the frightfulness and glory of the divine acts of judgment, corresponds the “Great and wonderful are thy works, Lord God Almighty. Who would not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name!” It is this also to which respect is had in the present symbol: the measureless character of the divine judgments, their absolute rectitude, their terrible glory—a view, if dreadful to the world, most consolatory to the church, which cannot look enough into this glorious mirror, and in the depths of this sea should lose all its cares, and sorrow, and pain—whole eye should be delivered from its tears, the moment the cloud vanishes which conceals this sea from its view—and whose highest problem it is to keep the eye shut in regard to the sea of the nations, and have it open for this holy sea before the throne of God. (Bossuet: “The sea commonly signifies in Scripture agitation and trouble; but here the idea is changed, and changed by the transparence and the likeness of crystal.”)
In the midst of the throne, that is, under it, and round about the throne—since the throne does not quite cover them, and their heads appear from below it [Note: That the Cherubim here do not, us Züllig supposes, stand merely beside the throne, is clear, not only from the ἐ?ν μέ?σῳ? which is violently rendered by him, but also from the ἐ?́?κειτο in Revelation 4:2.]—the Seer perceives four beasts; or, more exactly, living creatures, full of eyes behind and before. [Note: Bengel: “Ζῶ?ον and θηρί?ον essentially differ, φύ?σεις ζώ?ων και θυμοὺ?ς θηρί?ων , Sap. vii. 20.”] These are the Cherubim, which meet us in the Old Testament, especially in the symbolical forms of the law and in Ezekiel. The signification of this symbol discovers itself from the name here given to the Cherubim. They are called ζῶ?α , living beings, corresponding to the חיות of Ezekiel. Consequently they are the representation of living beings, of all that is living on the earth. God appears as enthroned above the Cherubim, in order to impress on the minds of those, who stand in awe of him, his absolute supremacy over all that is earthly. When the earthly creature of the church of the Old Covenant became alarmed, it had only to direct its eye to him, who sat enthroned on the Cherubim, and its fear vanished. To this representation of God corresponds the epithet, God of Hosts, Zebaoth, pointing quite as exclusively to the dominion of God over the heavenly powers, as the other to his dominion over the earthly. The God—exclaims here to the Seer and to the church the sight of the Cherubim under the throne—who is preparing to judge the world, is the God of the whole earth, whom all that lives and moves on it obeys, and who can turn all it contains into weapons of vengeance against the apostate. Woe to him, who has this God for his enemy, happy he who has him for his friend! The same object is served in the main by the appearance of God above the Cherubim in Ezekiel, Eze and Ezekiel 10, where God comes to execute judgment on apostate Israel. There, beside the living beings, which are more immediately denoted by the Cherubim, the powers of nature are also symbolized by the wheels beside the Churubim, the import of which is partly explained by Ezekiel 10:13, “the wheels, they were called the whirlwind in my ears,” (comp. Psalms 18:10, where the wind is connected with the cherub, “He rode upon the cherub and did fly, and floated on the wings of the wind,” God comes in the full glory of his being, as the Lord of the beings and powers of nature); and partly also from Ezekiel 10:6, where the fire that was to burn the wicked city Jerusalem, is taken from the midst of the wheels. To the wheels in Ezekiel corresponds in Psalms 148:8, “Fire and hail, snow and vapour, stormy wind, that fulfils his word.” For the refutation of those, who would understand by the Cherubim superior angels, what was advanced by Vitringa is quite sufficient: “These four creatures are throughout this vision connected with the assembly of elders, and are distinguished, not only from the angels, but also from all angels, as is done in ch. Revelation 7:11. In ch. 5 the whole heavenly assembly that was before the throne, is divided into two choruses or classes. The beasts and the elders formed the one chorus, Revelation 4:8, and the angels the other, Revelation 4:11.” Everywhere we find the territory of the Cherubim put in marked separation from that of the angels. The Cherubim never do the service of the malakim or messengers, never do the part of ministering spirits sent forth to minister. Their business is only that of being, first, under the throne of God (of a material supporting we are not to think either here or in Ezekiel), then of symbolizing the truth, that God is the God of the whole earth, the God of the spirits of all flesh, or of praising and glorifying God. This was done, not only here, but also in Ezekiel, when the prophet, Ezekiel 3:12, heard a loud voice saying, “Praised be the glory of the Lord (who now rises up) from his place.” For their existence was a matter-of-fact celebration of God’s praise (comp. the call made on all in heaven and earth to praise God, as bearing on it the marks of God’s glory, in Psalms 148, and the poetical change from the matter-of-fact praise into a verbal one in Psalms 19:2, Psalms 103:21), and he was farther entitled to it for the benefits conferred by him on his creatures upon earth. Finally, in addition to these two functions of the cherubim, they have a part to do in prefiguring the judgments, which are to fall upon the earth, as at the opening of the seals in ch. Revelation 6:1, ss., they call out to the Seer, “Come and see,” and in ch. Revelation 15:7, they stretch out the seven vials to the seven, angels. They come forth here as representatives of the earth, which is to be affected by the divine judgments. That the Cherubim are merely symbolical figures, is manifest from their whole bearing. They have always but a few words to utter. From these functions of the Cherubim, and especially from the circumstance of their being under the throne of God, the God who sits enthroned upon the Cherubim, all such notions are exploded, as that they are the four evangelists, the most eminent teachers of the church (so Vitringa, who labours in vain to dispose of the troublesome fact, that the beasts are nearer the throne than the elders), the office-bearers of the church, etc. These notions, besides being untenable in themselves, are quite unsuitable here, where the object was to impart consolation in the presence of a seemingly omnipotent world, and pledge the certainty of a victory being gained over it; and equally so in Ezekiel, where the object is to dispel the illusions of those, who dreamt they could escape the vengeance of an angry God. So that it were entirely out of date to attempt any revival of them now.
That the Cherubim were four, arises from four being the signature of the earth. Bengel already remarks, “Scripture often describes visible nature by the four quarters of the world, Psalms 89:13, and in Revelation also mention is frequently made of the four corners of the earth, ch. Revelation 7:1, Revelation 21:13.” In Psalms 148, of those who must praise the Lord on the land, there are four times four, and four in particular of living creatures, because four is the signature of the earth. We find the same four of living creatures in Genesis 7:21, Genesis 7:23. In Ezekiel the number four has still greater play: the four beasts have each four faces and four wings, Ezekiel 1:6. The beasts are full of eyes before and behind. In the first description of the Cherubim, Ezekiel merely says in Ezekiel 1:18, that the felloes of the wheels connected with the cherub were full of eyes, while in the second description, Ezekiel 10:12, he says in perfect unison with John, “And their whole flesh, and their backs, and their hands and their wings, were full of eyes round about.” The meaning of the eyes we learn from Revelation 5:6, according to which the Lamb has seven eyes, “which are the seven Spirits of God that are sent forth upon the whole earth”—comp. Zechariah 4:10, where the operations of the Lord’s Spirit are set forth tinder the image of the seven eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro in the whole earth. The eye is the organ, and, as such, the corporeal image of the Spirit. The Cherubim being full of eyes indicates, that the whole living creation is inspirited. According to the doctrine of Scripture, all life, not merely the intellectual and spiritual, but the physical also, is of God, the source of life, the God of the spirits of all flesh, Numbers 16:22, Numbers 27:16; Hebrews 12:9; comp. Genesis 1:2, Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 12:7, “The spirit returns to God who gave it;” Psalms 104:29, “When thou hidest thy face, they are frightened, when thou gatherest their breath, they vanish and return to their dust.” The eyes of the Cherubim, considered as symbolical of the powers of God working in creation, contribute to the matter in hand; they serve as an encouragement to the pious, as a source of terror to the wicked. So understood, we can also understand how in Revelation 4:8 there should be a repeated allusion to the eyes in connection with the song of praise by the Cherubim: this song forms a commentary on their being full of eyes, round about and within. The exposition of Bengel and others, by which the eyes denote wisdom and knowledge, is quite erroneous.
Revelation 4:7. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast was like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth least was like a flying eagle. It is certainly not accidental that the lion and the eagle should begin and close the series, the less so as the order here is different from what we find in Ezekiel. These are the most warlike among the four beasts, therefore the strongest matter-of-fact prophecies of that destruction which was impending over the world; the fittest representatives of that power of God, which here especially comes into view. He who made the lion and the eagle, will also unfold his power of judgment, and rebuke in his dispensations towards his people—comp. in regard to the lion Isaiah 21:8-9, in regard to the eagle here ch. Revelation 8:13.
It is worthy of remark, that in the second place, it is not the ox that is mentioned, but the calf, as was the case also in Ezekiel 1:7. [Note: That the μό?σχος here denotes the calf, is clear alone from the fundamental passage of Ezekiel, where, עגל is the corresponding word. Comp. Psalms 68:30, where the bulls of the princes are set against the calves of the people.] This shows, that where the ox is mentioned in the descriptions of the Cherubim, it is employed only as a representative of cattle generally. Hence the old Jewish saying (Schoettgen, p. 1108), “There are four which take the first place in this world: man among the creatures, the eagle among birds, the ox among cattle, and the lion among wild beasts;” and Bengel’s homologous remark, “The lion is the first among wild beasts, among those that are tame the ox, among all creatures that have a living body man, and the eagle among birds.” Right against those, who instead of considering the individual living beings as representatives merely of their several classes, take them as symbols of the particular manifestations of the fulness of life that is in God (as the ox, for example, according to Bähr in his Symbolik, I. p. 343, the symbol of creative, or productive power). In that case the calf or young ox could not possibly have been used instead of the ox. This shows, that in the other places also where the ox is put, we are not to think of its productive power. Such a view, besides, loses itself in the territory of mere opinion, while it admits of no doubt that the lion holds the first place in the forest, the eagle among birds (comp. Job 39:27, ss.), the ox or calf among tame animals. To this result we are also led by the designation of “flying” being attached to the eagle. This must refer not to the act of flying, but only to the power of flight, and shows that the eagle appears here as the representative of all winged creatures.—“In the third beast,” says Bengel, “a peculiar mode of expression is used: it had the face as of a man; whence we may infer, that this beast had the resemblance of a man, not throughout, but only in the face.” But the fact is plainly not given correctly here; the right conclusion, as Vitringa perceived, is, that the other beasts were not throughout, but only in the visage, unlike man. Each of the beasts had his peculiar visage, and the third that of a man’s countenance; but the human form belonged to them all. This is implied in its being said of the third, not that it was like a man, but that it had the face as of a man. The likeness of a lion, an eagle, and a calf, in the others, is confined by this to the face. In Ezekiel 1:5 it is expressly said, “And this is their appearance, they have the form of a man.” They have there a man’s erect gait and his hands. In Revelation 5:8; Revelation 19:4, the beasts fall down with the elders before the Lamb and worship, which had been incongruous, if two of them had been quadrupeds. From the whole position, which was given to man in the Mosaic history of the creation among the living creatures, there could not be a simple co-ordination of his form along with the forms of the other and inferior parts of the animal creation. The human type must predominate in the personification of all living, and the rest be content with a representation in the countenance alone.
In regard to the point, in what does the description given of the Cherubim in the Revelation really differ from that in Ezekiel (as distinguished from the false differences in Züllig), we simply quote the just remarks of Vitringa, “The Cherubim of Ezekiel have each the four faces of these beasts. But this as to the substance is not of essential moment. For these beasts, most intimately connected together, form, as it were, one beast-existence, which Ezekiel calls החוה , the living ( Ezekiel 1:20-22), and it is a matter of indifference, whether all the properties are represented as belonging to each of the four, or singly in each.”
Revelation 4:8. And each of the four beasts has six wings, and round about and within they are full of eyes, and have no rest day and night, and they say: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was, and who is, and who comes. The Cherubim here have not four wings, like those in Ezekiel, but six, like the Seraphim in Isaiah, Isaiah 6. The wings also in this connection must serve for the glorification of God, as a terror to those who are enemies to him, a consolation to those who are friends; and this is confirmed by a comparison of the fundamental passages, from which the wings are borrowed, and from which, since this borrowing cannot possibly be without meaning, we must also adopt what is there said regarding their import and design. Bengel remarks briefly, “The chief virtues are thereby indicated, in the exercise of which the heavenly watchers give honour to the divine holiness, namely, fear or respect, since they do not look boldly, humility, since they veil themselves before that splendour, and alacrity in obeying the divine commands.” And again more particularly: “By the three pairs of wings and their diverse use, is indicated the chief excellences in a holy creature, which has either not erred through sin, or has been again purified from it, and becomingly serves the great God. These excellences are respect, humility, and the spirit of obedience. The Seraphim cover their faces, so that they may not boldly look upon the divine Majesty, but with the profoundest reverence; as they also do not say, holy art thou, but speaking one to another of the divine Majesty, holy is he. They cover their feet, that they may in some measure be concealed from God’s sight, though free from all sin, yet still in a feeling of proper creaturely abasement. They fly and move about in full activity, praising the Lord and executing his will.” But all this serves not for the glorifying of the Seraphim and the Cherubim, but of God. How glorious must he be, how rich in supplies of help for his people, how mighty for the destruction of his enemies, before whom the concentration of created life so profoundly humbles itself, and with deepest reverence obeys! Thus understood, the wings of the Cherubim are found to be on the same line with their eyes, and their thrice exclamation of “holy.” The clause “they are full of eyes round about (in front) and within (in the back parts),” would be a needless repetition, if it did not stand in close connection with what follows; and because they are wholly penetrated by the powers of God, therefore, etc. The words, “they have no rest day and night, saying,” alludes to Psalms 19:3, “Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge.” The simple thought is, that the heavens with their starry host unceasingly show forth God’s glory; while by day the sun shines, by night there are the moon and the stars. As the heavens without ceasing declare the glory of God, the God of hosts, so also do the Cherubim or the creatures upon earth. The “holy, holy, holy,” which is taken from Isaiah 6, and is found also in Psalms 99, is at the same time a threefold woe to the world which has this God for its enemy (comp. Revelation 8:13), and a threefold “Lift up your heads” to the church, which stands under his protection. Holy, holy, holy, according to his glory as manifesting itself in our state of being. That we must supply thus, is clear from the connection with the words: they are round about and within full of eyes; and also from what follows in Revelation 4:9, according to which the beasts not only give honour and glory to God, but also thanks, which they could only do if they celebrated God’s holiness on the ground of their own existence. That holiness is not merely the highest purity in God, that it rather denotes the infinite exaltation of God above all that is created and finite (see what is said in my Comm. on Psalms 22:3), is clear alone from the reference the Cherubim make to their own existence, and also from the epithet, the Almighty,” which has respect to holiness as its ground: holy, because all-ruling and almighty. The right view was given by Bengel. Among other things he says, “Holy, in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, is as much as separated; and when God is called Holy, his quite separate, his peculiar excellence is thereby indicated—that, namely, which is composed of his divine properties, throwing by their splendour everything else into the shade, since he is incomparably and indescribably removed, not only from all that is impure, but also from all that is creaturely. God stands apart from all: he is, and he works by himself, from himself, in himself, through himself, for himself. See 1 Timothy 6:15-16. Therefore he is the first and the last, the one and eternal, living and blessed, infinite and unchangeable, almighty, all-seeing, wise and true, righteous and faithful, gracious and compassionate. Hence it comes to pass that holy and holiness are of much the same import as God and Godhead; and as one says of a king: his Majesty, so the Scripture says of God: his Holiness, Hebrews 13:10. The Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit. The holy is often used as a name, when God is spoken of, Isaiah 40:25; 1 Samuel 2:2; Exodus 15:11. And as God swears by his name and by his soul, so he also swears by his holiness, that is by himself. He is sanctified when he is known and worshipped as the true God. This holiness is often named the glory; often are his holiness and glory celebrated together, Leviticus 10:3; Isaiah 6:3.” Bengel further remarks on “the Almighty,” &c., “This is the description of him to whom the epithet, Holy, was applied, and at the same time the reason why it was applied. The beasts say: God the Almighty, for which the elders say: our God, Revelation 4:11. The Almighty! he is very often so named in the Revelation, because he there peculiarly shows himself in his power over all—in his glory over all that is visible and invisible.” The expression: who comes, refers, according to the parallel passages (see in ch. Revelation 1:4), to the future developments and triumphs of the kingdom of God, who, as he has shown in the past and present what he was and is by displays of his glory and almightiness, so he will also come to introduce the kingdom over the whole earth—comp. ch. Revelation 11:17, “We thank thee, Lord God Almighty, that thou hast taken thy great power and reignest.” On the ground of the declaration, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God the Almighty,” prophecy may be said to be based. He that has preserved his holiness will also come, without any one being able to prevent his arrival.” His work can no one hinder, his work will no one neglect, if he will do what is for the good of his children.” So that all that is in the verse, the wings of the Cherubim, their eyes, their ceaseless holy, holy, holy, serves the purpose of reviving the languishing spirits of the church, in the presence of a persecuting and apparently omnipotent world, and to lay a foundation for what is announced in detail, in the following vision of the seven seals. Whoever has for his support Him who sits upon the Cherubim, can find nothing in a whole world of opposition which should make the giant shrink into a dwarf.
Revelation 4:9. And when the beasts give [Note: The future denotes here, after the Hebrew usage, that which repeats itself, continued action, that which regularly and continuously exists—comp. the ζή?εται in Matthew 4:4, the δικαιώ?σει in Romans 3:30, and ἀ?δυνατή?σει in Luke 1:37.] glory and honour and thanks to him, who sits on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, Revelation 4:10, the four and twenty elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, and say, Revelation 4:11, Lord, thou art worthy to receive the glory and the honour and the might; for thou hast made all things, and through thy mill they were and are created. In the Old Testament style, glory, strength, greatness, &c., are given to the Lord, in the sense of being ascribed to him—comp. Deuteronomy 32:3, “Give greatness to our God;” Psalms 29:1, “Give to the Lord, ye sons of God, give to the Lord glory and power;” Psalms 96:7. So, here glory and honour are given in the acknowledgment of God and ascription of thanks to him, as they are also received in Revelation 4:11. [Note: On the λαβεῖ?ν there, we are not to compare ch. 11:17, but ch. 5:12. This is evident from the article alone.] According to this usage, glory and honour, which refer to what is peculiarly God’s, might properly be joined with the thanks, which proceed from the Cherubim; the former are given in the acknowledgment of God, the latter in the offering of praise. In the elders’ song of praise, likewise, power might be put in the room of thanks. The Cherubim, in whose formation divine power has unfolded itself, give thanks for this unfolding, the elders satisfy themselves with a simple ascription of praise on account of it.
In regard to the words, “they cast their crowns before the throne,” Vitringa remarks, “This refers to the Oriental custom. For eastern monarchs, as they love to rule over kings, and to be styled kings of kings, doubtless did not admit these to testify their homage, and hold intercourse with them, unless they laid aside their crowns. This is in itself probable, and the Roman emperors also desired such honour to be given to them. [Note: “An example is given in Tiridates, king of the Parthians in Tacitus, Annal. 1. xiv. c. 29: Progresus ille ad sedem, quae effigiem Neronis susstinebat, caesis ex more victimis, sublatam capite diadema imagini ubjecti. Another is given by Josephus in Herod, when going to supplicate Augustus, Ant. 1. xv. c. 10: Κά?πειδὴ? κατέ?πλευσεν εἰ?ς τὴ?ν πό?λιν ἀ?φή?ρητο μὲ?ν διά?δημα κ .τ .λ .”]
But it is not to be overlooked, that here it is not said, the elders laid aside their crowns, but that they cast them down; shewing, that it was in a manner heavy and burdensome for them to wear their crowns in the presence of God. So lively was the feeling in them of their own littleness and unworthiness; so profound their reverence toward the divine Majesty.
It is peculiar to all, who truly reign with God and Christ in the church, that, conscious of their own unworthiness, they venerate with the deepest reverence the majesty of God and Christ; and wish to arrogate no glory or honour to themselves in the church.” Bengel remarks, “The four beasts do not precisely say, thou art holy, etc., but they turn away a little out of profound reverence, and say: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.’ But when the four and twenty elders fall down, they venture to exclaim: ‘Worthy art thou.’”
The adoration of the Cherubim turns on God’s almighty power as manifested in creation; and so does that also of the elders. That the doxology of the elders has respect to the same fact as that of the Cherubim is indicated by the article, the glory, etc., shewing that they simply respond to the doxology of the Cherubim. There is also a reference in the background to the glorious completion of his kingdom, which God must as certainly bring about as he made the world. The adoration is given to him as sitting on the throne, and addressing himself to the execution of the world’s judgment. In a like respect has the creation already been mentioned in the New Testament, being “the foundation and basis of all other displays of goodness, which are in a manner the continuation of it,” (Vitringa). So in Psalms 104 the celebration of God’s praise from the works of creation is intended to awaken confidence in the church in regard to the final victory of the righteous over the wicked, of the church over the world, which had the ascendancy at the time the Psalm was composed. In Jeremiah 10:11 it is said, “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, these shall perish from the earth and from under heaven.” Comp. also Isaiah 43:1; Acts 4:24. In the Revelation itself, the creation appears as a pledge for the completion of the kingdom of God, in ch. Revelation 10:6, “And he swore by him that lives for ever and ever, who made the heavens and what is therein, and the earth, and what is therein, that henceforth there should be no more delay;” and ch. Revelation 14:7, “Fear God, and give him the glory, for the time of his judgment is come, and worship him who made heaven, and earth, and sea, and the rivers of water.” The Creator must necessarily be the Redeemer of his people, and the judge of the apostate. If any one holds fast by the article of the creation, he will be assailed by no doubts regarding the completion of God’s kingdom.
The expression: Thou hast made, marks the creative energy of God. As this was accomplished by a mere word, it was quite appropriate to bring out the result by the express words, which have been found a difficulty by many expositors, “They were and are created.” In Genesis 1:7 also it is said, “And God made the firmament, and divided between the waters under the firmament and above the firmament, and it was done so.” See besides, Psalms 119:90, “Thou hast established the earth, and it stood;” Psalms 33:9.
The general predominance of the number three in Revelation 4:8-11 is noticeable: Holy, holy, holy; the Lord, God, Almighty; who was, who is, and who comes; glory, honour, thanks; they fall down, they worship, they cast; thou hast created, they were, and are created. We quote Bengel’s remarks at the close of his exposition of this chapter: “Such is the prophet’s description of the divine holiness and glory, and the manner in which these are celebrated by those who are so near him, and yet look upon us as their companions. Now, if we only consider in what a filthy world we are situated, what an abyss of sin, what a bog and pool it is, how can we avoid feeling the greatest disgust? [Note: That the ἠ?͂?σαν and ἐ?τικσθησαν refer to the preservation (Bengel), is opposed by the fundamental passage, Psalms 148:5, “He commanded, and they were made.” Ewald’s predilection for the ill-supported reading οὐ?κ ἠ?́?σαν , cum non erant creaia sunt, destroys the three number.]
Isaias exclaimed in such circumstances, Woe is me, I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips. But on this very account we must strive after the true purification, and keep ourselves unspotted from the world. The representation there given of God’s holiness would be a frightful thing to us, if we had to do with him alone, without a mediator. We should have to say, who among us can dwell with a consuming fire? who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings? But the Son of God has provided a way of access for us. Still, before so great a God we must maintain a becoming reverence and respect, and his holiness and glory ought to make a profound impression on us, so that his word may lead to such blessed fruits in our experience as it yields in obedient spirits. With many, indeed, there is the want of any right knowledge of God. Could we lay open souls, as we do a corpse or a fruit-tree, oh! what a sad state should we often have disclosed to us! Had people such thoughts of divine things as accorded with the truth, they would not so readily lose themselves in the concerns of time, be swallowed up of the flesh, and be so regardless of salvation. One cannot properly express how meanly many conceive of the great God. They imagine to themselves a mighty Lord in heaven, whom they must regard on account of their bodily nourishment, so that he may send to them good weather and the like, and who deem it matter of praise if they say a good word for him from time to time, and sometimes keep themselves pious and retired. For the rest, there is no need of being so exact, he will be satisfied with what has been done. Then they think that, when they can no longer remain upon the earth, they shall still have time to lay hold of his grace, as he will not deal with them in severity. Ah! it is another thing to meet God aright! He is a holy God with whom we have to do. If the beings who dwell so near about his throne act so reverentially toward him, how much more humbly does it behove us to conduct ourselves who dwell in cottages of clay! Were our hearts but penetrated with a just dread of him, we should also come to possess an assurance of his favour, confidence in him, desire after him, delight in him, and a more zealous endeavour to do what is pleasing in his sight.”
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 4". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany