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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Revelation 4

Verse 1

After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.

Here begins Revelation proper; first, Revelation 4:1-11 and Revelation 5:1-14 set forth the heavenly scenery of the succeeding visions, and God on His throne, the covenant God of His Church, revealing them to His apostle through Christ. The first great portion comprises the opening of the seals and the sounding of the trumpets, (Revelation 4:1-11; Revelation 5:1-14; Revelation 6:1-17; Revelation 7:1-17; Revelation 8:1-13; Revelation 9:1-21; Revelation 10:1-11; Revelation 11:1-19.) As the communication respecting the seven churches opened with a suitable vision of the Lord Jesus as Head of the Church, so this part opens with a vision suitable to the matter to be revealed. The scene passes from earth to heaven.

After this - `After these things,' marking the next vision in the succession: the transition from "the things which are" (Revelation 1:19) in John's time, the existing state of the seven churches (type of the church in general), to "the things which shall be hereafter," in relation to the time when John wrote.

I looked, [ eidon (G1492)] - 'I saw' in vision: not, I directed my look that way.

Was - not in the Greek. Opened - `standing open:' not that John saw it being opened. Compare Ezekiel 1:1; Matthew 3:16; Acts 7:56; Acts 10:11. But, in those visions, the heavens opened, disclosing visions to those below. Here heaven, the temple of God, remains closed to those on earth; but John is transported in vision through an open door up into heaven whence he can see things passing on earth or in heaven, according as the several visions require.

The first voice which I heard - the voice which I heard at first (Revelation 1:10).

Was as it were. Omit was.

Come up hither - through the 'open door.'

Be - come to pass.

Hereafter - `after these things:' after the present time (Revelation 1:19).

Verse 2

And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.

And. Omitted in 'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate, Syriac.

I was - `I became in the Spirit' (note, Revelation 1:10); rapt in vision into the heavenly world.

Was set - not was placed, but was situated [ ekeito (G2749)].

One sat on the throne - the Eternal Father: the Creator (Revelation 4:11: cf. Revelation 5:8, with Revelation 1:4): the Father, 'which is, and was, and is to come.' When the Son, "the Lamb," is introduced (Revelation 5:5-9), a new song is sung which distinguishes the Sitter on the throne from the Lamb; and Rev. 4:13 , "Unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." So in Daniel 7:13, the Son of man brought before the Ancient of days is distinguished from Him. The Father in essence is invisible, but at times is represented assuming a visible form.

Verse 3

And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.

Was. So Vulgate Coptic; omitted in 'Aleph (')AB Was. So Vulgate, Coptic; omitted in 'Aleph (') A B.

To look upon - `in sight.'

Jasper. From Revelation 21:11, where it is called most precious, which the jasper was not, Ebrard infers it was a diamond. Ordinarily, the jasper is a stone of various wavy colours, somewhat transparent. In Revelation 21:11 it represents crystalline brightness. The sardine, our cornelian, or else a fiery red. As the brightness represents God's holiness, so the fiery red His just wrath. The same union of white brightness and fiery redness appears in Ezekiel 1:4; Ezekiel 8:2; Daniel 7:9; Revelation 1:14; Revelation 10:1.

Rainbow round about the throne - a complete circle (type of God's perfection and eternity: not a half-circle, as the earthly rainbow) surrounding the throne vertically. Its various colours, which combined form one pure ray, symbolize the various aspects of God's providences uniting in one harmonious whole. Here, however, predominant among the prismatic colours is green, the most refreshing to look upon, symbolizing God's consolatory promises in Christ to His people amidst judgments on His foes. The rainbow was the token of God's covenant with all flesh, and His people in particular. Hereby God renewed the grant originally made to the first man. As the rainbow was reflected on the waters of the world's ruin, and is seen only when a cloud is over the earth, so another deluge, of fire, shall precede the 'new heavens and earth' granted to redeemed man, as the earth after the flood was restored to Noah. The Lord on His throne, whence (Revelation 4:5) proceed "lightnings and thunderings," shall issue the commission to rid the earth of its oppressors; but amidst judgment, when other men's hearts fail for fear, the believer shall be reassured by the rainbow, the covenant token, round the throne (DeBurgh). The heavenly bow speaks of the shipwreck of the world through sin; also of calm sunshine after the storm. The cloud is the token of God's presence-in the tabernacle Holiest Place; on mount Sinai at the giving of the law; at the ascension (Acts 1:9); at His coming again (Revelation 1:7).

Verse 4

And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.

Seats - rather, 'thrones;' of course lower than the grand central throne. So Revelation 16:10, 'the throne of the beast,' in hellish parody of God's throne.

Four and twenty elders. B, 'the (well-known) twenty and four (or, 'Aleph (') A, "twenty-four") elders' (Alford). But Tregelles, 'upon the 24 thrones (I saw: omitted in A B, Vulgate) elders sitting:' more probable, as the 24 elders were not mentioned before, whereas the 24 thrones were. Not angels, for they have white robes and crowns of victory, implying a conflict and endurance - "Thou hast redeemed us" (Revelation 5:9); but the Heads of the Old and New Testament churches-the Twelve Patriarchs (cf. Revelation 7:5-8), not in their personal, but their representative character, and Twelve Apostles. So Revelation 15:3, "the song of Moses and of the Lamb:" the double constituents of the Church, the Old and the New Testament. "Elders" is the term for the ministry, both of the Old and New Testament, the Jewish and the universal Church. The tabernacle was a "pattern" of the heavenly antitype (Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:24); the Holy Place a figure of HEAVEN. Yahweh's throne is represented by the mercy-seat with the Shechinah cloud over it. 'The seven lamps of fire before the throne' (Revelation 4:5) are antitypical to the seven-branched candlestick before the Holiest Place-emblem of the manifold Spirit of God. 'The sea of glass' (Revelation 4:6) corresponds to the molten sea before the sanctuary, wherein the priests washed before entering on holy service: so here in connection with the redeemed "priests unto God" (note, Revelation 15:2). The 'four living creatures' (Revelation 4:6-7) answer to the cherubim over the mercy-seat. So the 24 throned and crowned elders are typified by the chiefs of the 24 courses of priests, 'governors of the sanctuary, and governors of God' (1 Chronicles 24:5; 1 Chronicles 25:31).

Verse 5

And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.

Proceeded - `proceed.'

Thunderings and voices. 'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate, transpose, 'voices and thunderings.' Compare, at the giving of the law, Exodus 19:16. 'The thunderings express God's threats against the ungodly; there are voices in them (Revelation 10:3): i:e., not only does He, threaten generally, but predicts special judgments' (Grotius).

Seven lamps ... seven Spirits - the Holy Spirit in His sevenfold operation, as the light-and-life-giver (cf. Revelation 1:4; Revelation 5:6, seven eyes ... the seven Spirits of God; 21:23; 119:105) and fiery purifier of the godly, and consumer of the ungodly (Matthew 3:11).

Verse 6

And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.

'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate, Coptic, Syriac, read, 'As it were a sea of glass.'

Like unto crystal - not imperfectly transparent as the ancient glass, but like rock crystal. Contrast the turbid "many waters" on which the harlot "sitteth," (Revelation 17:1-18.) Compare Job 37:18. Primarily, the pure ether which separates God's throne from all things before it, symbolizing the 'purity, calmness, and majesty of God's rule' (Alford). But see the analogue in the temple, the molten sea before the sanctuary (note, Revelation 4:4). There is in it depth and transparency, but not the fluidity and instability of the natural sea (cf. Revelation 21:1). It stands solid and clear. God's judgments are "a great deep" (Psalms 36:6). In Revelation 15:2, it is a "sea of glass mingled with fire." There is symbolized the purificatory baptism with water and the Spirit, of all made "kings and priests unto God." In Revelation 15:2, the baptism with trial is meant. Through both all the king-priests have to pass in coming to God. His judgments, which overwhelm the ungodly, they stand firmly upon, able, like Christ, to walk on the sea as if solid glass.

Round about the throne - one in the midst of each side of the throne.

Four beasts rather 'living creatures' [ zooa (G2226)]: "beasts " Revelation 13:1; Revelation 13:11 is different [ theerion Four beasts - rather, 'living creatures' [ zooa (G2226)]: "beasts," Revelation 13:1; Revelation 13:11, is different [ theerion (G2342)]: symbol of the carnal man, who, by rebellion, loses his true glory, as lord, under God, of the lower creatures: degraded to the level of the beast.

Verse 7

And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.

Calf - `a steer' (Alford). [The Septuagint often use moschos for an ox, (Exodus 22:1; Exodus 29:10, etc.)]

As a man. A, Vulgate, Coptic, have: 'as of a man;' 'Aleph (') manuscript has: 'as like a man.'

Verse 8

And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

About him, [ kuklothen (G2943)] - 'round about him.' Alford connects with the following: 'All round and within (their wings) they are [so A B 'Aleph ('), Vulgate, gemousin (G1073) for gemonta (G1073)] full of eyes.' John shows, the six wings in each did not interfere with what he before declared-namely, that they were "full of eyes before and behind." The eyes were round the outside of each wing, and up the inside of each when half expanded, and of the part of body in that inward recess.

Rest not - `have no rest.' How awfully different the reason why the worshippers of the beast 'have no rest day nor night:' 'their torment forever and ever' (Revelation 14:11).

Holy, holy, holy - the three holies ( tris (G5151) hagion (G39)) of the Greek liturgies. Isaiah 6:3; also Psalms 99:3; Psalms 99:5; Psalms 99:9: He is praised as "holy":

(1) for His majesty (Revelation 4:1), about to display itself;

(2) His justice (Revelation 4:4) now displaying itself;

(3) His mercy (Revelation 4:6-8) displayed in time past.

So here, "holy," as He "who was;" "holy," as He "who is;" "holy," as He "who is to come." He showed Himself an object of holy worship in the past creation of all things: more fully He shows Himself so in governing all: He will, in the highest degree, show Himself so in the consummation of all things. 'Of (from) Him, through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen' (Romans 11:36). In Isaiah 6:3 there is added, "the whole EARTH is full of His glory". But in Revelation this is deferred until the glory of THE LORD fills the earth, His enemies having been destroyed (Bengel).

Almighty - corresponding to "Lord of hosts" (Sabaoth, tsaba'owt (H6635)). The cherubim here have six wings, like the seraphim in Isaiah 6:1-13; whereas the cherubim in Ezekiel 1:6 had four each. They have the same name-`living creatures.' Whereas in Ezekiel each living creature has all four faces, here the four are distributed, one to each (note, Ezekiel 1:6). The four living creatures answer by contrast to the four world-powers, represented by four beast. The fathers identify them with the four gospels-Matthew, the lion; Mark, the ox; Luke, the man; John, the eagle. The symbols express not the personal character of the evangelists, but the manifold aspect of Christ, presented by them respectively, in relation to the world (four signifying worldwide extension, e.g., the four quarters of the world): the lion, royalty, as Matthew gives prominence to this; the ox, laborious endurance, Christ's a characteristic in Mark; man, brotherly sympathy with our whole race, Christ's feature in Luke; the eagle, soaring majesty, prominent in John's description of Christ as the Divine Word.

Here the context best accords with the four living creatures representing the redeemed election-Church ministering as king-priests to God; and media of blessing to the redeemed earth, with its nations and animal creation, in which man stands at the head; the lion at the head of wild beasts; the ox, of tame beasts; the eagle, of birds and of creatures of the waters. Compare Revelation 5:8-10; Revelation 20:4, the partakers with Christ of the first resurrection, who with Him reign over the redeemed nations which are in the flesh. Compare as to the happy subjection of the animal world, Isaiah 11:6-8; Isaiah 65:25; Ezekiel 34:25; Hosea 2:18. Jewish tradition says, the 'four standards' under which Israel encamped in the wilderness-to the east Judah, to the north Dan, to the west Ephraim, to the south Reuben--were respectively a lion, eagle, ox, and a man; in the midst was the tabernacle containing the Shechinah symbol of the divine presence: 'the picture of that blessed period when-the earth being fitted for being the kingdom of the Father-the court of heaven will be transferred here, the "tabernacle of God shall be with men" (Revelation 21:3), and the whole world be subject to a never-ending theocracy' (cf. De Burgh, 'Revelation'). Christ is the perfect realization of the ideal of man: Christ is presented in His fourfold aspect in the four gospels. The redeemed election-church, realizing in and through Christ (with whom she shall reign) the ideal of man, shall combine similarly human perfections, having a fourfold aspect:

(1) Kingly righteousness with hatred of evil, answering to the 'lion springing terribly on the victim;'

(2) laborious diligence in duty, the 'ox bound to the soil;'

(3) human sympathy, the 'man;'

(4) contemplation of heavenly truth, the 'eagle.'

As high-soaring intelligence forms the contrasted complement to practical labour, so holy judgment against evil forms the contrasted complement to human sympathy. In Isaiah 6:2 we read, "Each had six wings: with twain he covered his face (in reverence, not presuming to look up, Luke 18:13), with twain his feet (in humility, as not worthy to stand before God), and with twain he did fly (ready to do instantly God's command).

Verse 9

And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,

The ground of praise is God's eternity, power, and glory manifested in creating all things for His pleasure. Creation is the foundation of all God's other acts of power, wisdom, love, and therefore forms the first theme of thanksgivings. The four living creatures take the lead of the 24 elders, both in this anthem and that new song which follows, on the ground of their redemption (Revelation 5:8-10).

When - i:e., whensoever. A simultaneous giving of glory by the living creatures and the elders.

Give. 'Shall give' in A; but B 'Aleph (') [ doosousin (G1325)], 'shall have given.'

Forever and ever - Greek, 'unto the ages of the ages.'

Verse 10

The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

Fall - immediately. 'Shall fall down:' this ascription of praise shall be repeated onward to eternity. So 'shall worship ... shall cast their crowns,' in acknowledgment that they owe their crowns (not kingly diadems, but crowns of conquerors) wholly to Him.

Verse 11

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

O Lord. A B 'Aleph ('), Vulgate, Syriac, add, 'and our God.' 'Our' by creation, especially by redemption. B, Syriac, insert, 'the Holy One.'

Glory ... - `the glory, the honour, the power.'

Thou - emphatic: 'it is THOU who didst create.'

All things - `the all things:' the universe. For, [ dia (G1223) to (G3588) theleema (G2307)] - 'on account of:' 'for the sake of thy pleasure.' It was because of thy will, that 'they were' (so A, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic, instead of "are." B, 'they were not, and were created,' out of nothing) - i:e., were existing, contrasted with their previous non-existence. With God, to will is to effect. So in Genesis 1:3, "Let there be light, and there was light" [ yªhiy (H1961) 'owr (H215) wayªhiy (H1961) 'owr (H215)], expressive tautology, the same word, tense, and letters for "let there be" and "there was:" simultaneity and identity of the will and the effect. D. Longinus ('On the Sublime,' sec. 9), pagan, praises this description of God's power, by 'the lawgiver of the Jews, no ordinary man,' as one worthy of the theme.

Were created - aorist: by thy definite act at a definite time.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Revelation 4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.