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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 4

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-11

It is proper here to assist the reader with a key to the sublime visions about to open, which has been furnished by the profound study and observation of learned men in the churches of France, Germany, and England. The events of providence, in a succession of ages, have given holy men superior light in those studies, beyond what the fathers of the primitive church could possibly attain.

After consulting those authorities, many of whose names have already been mentioned in the introduction to this prophetic book, the following, with some variations, may be considered as an outline or syllabus of what they have suggested, in order to a clearer view of the several parts of which the vision and the prophecy consist.

1. The scenery of the vision is the temple of God opened in heaven. The book with seven seals contains the seven trumpets, developed on opening the seventh seal; and the seventh trumpet contains the seven vials.

2. The second vision is the throne of God, the Lamb, the sealed book, and the opening of the seven seals, from the fourth to the eighth chapter.

3. The third vision is that of seven angels with trumpets, the sound of which was followed with great changes in the church, and in the government of the world.

4. The fourth vision is appended to the third, and presents us with an angel, holding a long reed in his hand to measure the temple of God and its courts, and fixing the prophetic period, as to how long the courts should be trodden down of the gentiles. Daniel 12:5-13. The Mahomedan desolations, and the witnesses prophesying in sackcloth, are also foretold in chapter nine to eleven.

5. The fifth vision is very comprehensive; it is the war of the Lamb with the great red dragon, mentioned in the twelfth chapter. The beasts of the first and second order are represented in chapter thirteen and fourteen. This vision comprises the seven vials, and the judgment on the harlot church, followed with songs of victory, which will require several subdivisions, from chapter sixteen to eighteen. 6. The sixth vision comprises the binding of Satan, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment, as will appear in the twentieth chapter.

7. The seventh vision is that of the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, which closes the two last chapters of this mysterious book.

Revelation 4:1 . A door was opened in heaven, by Christ, who has the keys of his kingdom, and the keys of death and of hell. The voice of a speaking trumpet called John to take his stand in the celestial kingdom, and see the hierarchy of heaven, watching over the church below.

Revelation 4:3 . He that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone, which mystically designates the perfections of deity. A rainbow was round about the throne. All the colours of the iris are understood, but the green, as in the emerald, alone is named, the easiest colour for the eye to behold. This bow is a memorial of his covenant, as in Genesis 9:13; and a revelation of God clothed in aspects of grace and love, as was presignified by his throne of glory, the mercyseat in the Hebrew tabernacle.

Revelation 4:4 . I saw four and twenty elders sitting. These represent, as many say, the twenty four courses of the priests, each of which had some one as their head; but these were not princes. The grand council of the Hebrews consisted of seventy elders; and as these in the order of nature were often aged and sick, the council of twenty three, with the highpriest at their head, made the twenty four elders. Such was the council before which the Lord of glory was arraigned.

Revelation 4:5 . Out of the throne proceeded lightnings, and thunderings, and voices, designating the conflicts which the gospel should excite, fighting against the rulers of the darkness of this world. And seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God, or the manifold operations of the Holy Spirit in the illumination and adornings of the church. These Spirits being the eyes of the Lamb, cannot be seven created angels, as in Revelation 5:6.

Revelation 4:6 . A sea of glass, which the molten sea in the temple, containing three thousand baths, designated. This sea of glass, like the pavement of sapphire, the azure gem seen by Moses on the mount, refracted the uncreated glory. And round about the throne were four beasts. Fie, fie! oh Jerome, to call a seraph bestia, a beast. It should be, as in Ezekiel 1:0., “living creatures.”

Revelation 4:8 . Full of eyes within. Ezekiel says, the colour of a beryl, approaching that of burning coals. The word of Isaiah is “seraphim,” or burning ones, crying, Holy, holy, holy. The Hebrew grammarians call this song the super- superlative; the thrice holy Jehovah, the fountain of deity, Father, Son, and Spirit. We find five other songs in this book adapted to revelations of grace and justice in the government of the church: Revelation 5:8; Revelation 7:11-12; Revelation 11:16-18; Revelation 12:10-12; Revelation 15:2-4.

Revelation 4:9-11 . When those four living creatures give glory to him that sits on the throne, the four and twenty elders fall down, and give glory, honour, and power to him who has not only made the heavens and the earth, but who created all this righteousness. The word “holy,” thrice repeated, is the same in the Spanish copies as in ours, and designates the adorable Trinity which fills the eternal throne.


Here opens at once the sublimest vision ever presented to the human mind, the throne, the Lamb, the seraphim, the elders, the sealed book. May we tread the hallowed scenes with sanctifying awe, and adore the wisdom of God, as providence shall unseal its counsel. John was in the Spirit. He was in a state of abstraction, and the passive organ of the Holy Ghost. The holy apostle during a sabbath was for the good of the church permitted to pass the bounds of mortals. He saw a throne, as Moses, as Isaiah, and as Daniel had seen before; but him that sat upon it he cannot describe. It was the Triune God of ineffable majesty.

The colour of the stones refracted the rays of Godhead, if I may so speak, as the highpriest’s breastplate was understood to refract the shekinah. The green jasper is named the first. Daniel saw thrones, and men sitting on them, but John saw the number of the elders twenty four, a number of perfection, to mark that Christ’s faithful servants shall share in his glory. The lightnings and thunderings betoken the preaching of the gospel, and the roaring of Christ’s judgments. The sea of glass was a most ineffable scene, reflecting back the uncreated glory on the high Olympiad of heaven; and the saints being washed by regeneration, must be pure as this sea, and the brightest ornament of heaven.

The four living creatures seem to fly with the chariot of the Lord through the heavens, and in the church; and the cherubim have ever accompanied the Messiah. Ezekiel 1:10. Their attributes are represented by four of the most noble animals, but we have not sufficient evidence to refer these to the four evangelists. The beasts or cherubim, and the elders worshipping God in responses, as in Psalms 24:7-10, and Isaiah 6:0., show that angels and saints are one in heaven, and that every new discovery of God is followed by new songs of applause and worship. Oh melody transporting! Oh worship unspeakable! The supreme of felicity, and surpassing all conception. And if this preparation for revelation be so sublime, what may we not expect, when the ultimate glory of the church shall be displayed?

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Revelation 4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/revelation-4.html. 1835.
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