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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Revelation 4


John seeth the throne of God in heaven. The four and twenty elders. The four beasts full of eyes before and behind. The elders lay down their crowns, and worship him that sat on the throne.

Anno Domini 96.

Verse 1

Revelation 4:1. After this I looked, &c.— After these things I saw and beheld a door opened in heaven. Doddridge. After the vision in the former chapters, relating to the things which are, other visions succeed of the things which must be here-after. The scene is laid in heaven, and the scenery is drawn in allusion to the encampment of the children of Israel in the wilderness, Numbers 1:2 : The sounding of the trumpet probably alludes to the custom of the Jewish church, where, upon opening the gates of the temple, the priests sounded the trumpets, to call the Levites and stationary men to their attendance. God is represented (Revelation 4:2-3.) sitting on his throne, as in the tabernacle or temple, much in the same manner as the prophet Ezekiel has described him, ch. Ezekiel 1:26-28. Next to the tabernacle encamped the Priests and Levites; and next to the throne (Revelation 4:4.) were four and twenty elders sitting, answering to the princes of the four and twenty courses of the Jewish priests; cloathed in white raiment, as emblems of their purity and sanctity; and having on their heads crowns of gold; for Christ hath made them kings and priests unto God, ch. Revelation 5:10. 1 Peter 2:9. Out of the throne proceeded lightnings, &c. Rev 4:5 the usual concomitants of the divine presence; and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, answering to the golden candlestick with seven lamps, which was before the most holy place in the tabernacle. There was also before the throne, Revelation 4:6 a sea of glass like unto crystal, answering to the great molten sea or laver in the temple of Solomon; and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, that is, before and behind the throne, and on each side of the throne, were four beasts, or rather four living creatures, (ζοα ) representing the heads of the whole congregation in the four quarters of the world, and resembling the cherubim and seraphim in Ezekiel's and Isaiah's visions, (Ezekiel 1:10; Ezekiel 10:14.Isaiah 6:2-3; Isaiah 6:2-3.) or rather resembling the four standards or ensigns of the four divisions of tribes in the camp of Israel, according to the traditionary description of them bythe Jewish writers. The first living creature was like a lion, Rev 4:7 which was the standard of Judah, with the two other tribes in the eastern division. The second like a calf or ox, which was the standard of Ephraim, with the two other tribes in the western division. The third had a face as a man, which was the standard of Reuben, with the two other tribes in the southern division. And the fourth was like a flying eagle, which was the standard of Dan, with the two other tribes in the northern division. And this traditionarydescription agrees also with the four faces of the cherub, in Ezekiel's vision. Of these living creatures, and of the elders, the constant employment is to celebrate, in hymns of praise and thanksgiving, the great and wonderful works of creation, grace, and providence, Revelation 4:8-11.

Verse 2

Revelation 4:2. Immediately I was in the spirit: This phrase signifies to be under a strong and supernatural impulse, caused by the miraculous operation of the Spirit of God, acting on the imagination in such a manner as to open extraordinary scenes, which had not any exact, external archetype; and it is much illustrated by the view presented to Ezekiel, when he sat in his house among the elders of the people, who probably saw nothing but the prophet himself, as one in a trance or extacy, or whose thoughts were so attentively fixed as to be insensible of what passed around him. We are not therefore to imagine, that the Person sitting on the throne, or the four living creatures, or the four and twenty elders, were real beings existing in nature, though they represented, in a figurative manner, things which did really exist. And though it is possible that aerial scenes might, by divine or angelic power, have been formed, it seems much more probable that all which passed, was purely in the imagination of St John. This will keep us, in our interpretation, clear of a thousand difficulties, not to say absurdities, which would follow from a contrary supposition; namely, that there is in heaven an animal in the form of a lamb to represent Christ; that there are such living creatures as are here described, &c. This observation is made once for all, and may be applied as occasions present. The representation of the throne of God in this verse, is very agreeable to several descriptions of the ancient prophets, as Isaiah 6:1-3.Ezekiel 1:26; Ezekiel 1:26; Ezekiel 10:1.Daniel 7:9; Daniel 7:9.

Verse 3

Revelation 4:3. And he that sat was to look upon, &c.— Many interpreters have observed a mystical meaning in the colours and properties of the precious stones here mentioned. Thus, in the jasper, which Grotius supposes a diamond, he finds an emblem of the invincible power of God. Daubuz, who considers it only as a stone of a white and bright shining colour, looks upon it as a symbol of good-will and favour. Thus again, the Sardine stone, which is of a red colour, with some, signifies the active power of God; with others, it is a symbol of anger and displeasure in God, and therefore of destruction; to teach men, that if they obey his oracle, he will shew them the brightness of his countenance; but if they despise it, he will at last shew them the redness of it, or his fiery anger: and thus the beautiful green of the emerald is supposed to signify great good-will and favour. But the application of these mystical meanings seems, to say the least of it, extremely uncertain. We may observe, concerning the prophetical stile of scripture, what L'Abbe Fleury has justly remarked concerning the poetical: "We are not to imagine that each circumstance has a particular application; the whole figure generally tends to one point only, or directly means but one thing; the rest is added, not to make a part of the comparison, but to point, in a more lively manner, the thing whence the comparison is taken."We have sufficient reason, however, with the whole body of commentators, to consider the rainbow here as a representation of God's faithfulness to his covenant and promise; God himself having appointed it as a standing and perpetual token of his covenant with man. See Genesis 9:13-15.

Verse 4

Revelation 4:4. Seats: Thrones: and so wherever it occurs. The four and twenty elders may be considered as representatives of the church, paying homage at the throne in the name of the rest.

Verse 5

Revelation 4:5. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings There is an observable difference in the several descriptions of the throne of God in the prophets: The glory, or Shechinah, in the temple, is represented as under the wings of the cherubim, 1 Kings 8:6-7. In Isaiah's vision, the glory of the Lord is represented as sitting on a throne, and above it stood the seraphim, (Isaiah 1:2.) that is, "above the place on which the throne was set, as attending ministers to him who sat upon the throne." In Eze 1:22 there is the likeness of a firmament over the heads of the living creatures, whom the prophet elsewhere calls the cherubim; that is, the cherubim were represented as bearing up a crystal vault or seat, on which the throne of Jehovah was placed, over their heads, and which they supported with their wings. This different description will be explained by an easy observation, that the Shechinah, or glory of the God of Israel, is represented in the temple as the presence of a king in his palace; his throne is supposed seated in an apartment of state, and the cherubim are so placed as to form a canopy of state, under which he sits. In the vision of Isaiah, Jehovah is represented as sitting on his throne or bed of justice, held in open court, in the porch, or at the gate of his palace; then the cherubim appear as attending ministers of the court, to receive and execute the orders of it. In the vision of Ezekiel, Jehovah is represented as going forth in solemn procession, and having his throne or chair of state borne up on the wings of cherubim, as the great kings of the East were used to be borne on the shoulders of their servants. See on Revelation 4:1.

Verses 6-7

Revelation 4:6-7. Before the throne—a sea of glass, &c.— Several interpreters understand this crystal sea to be an emblem of the known rite of receiving converts into the Christian church bybaptism; of the purity which that sacrament signifies, and of the blood of Christ, by which theyare washed and cleansed from their sins. Doubtless it has an allusion to that purity, which is required in all persons who have the honour and happiness of a near approach to the presence and throne of God. The four living creatures are said to be in the middle of the throne, and round about the throne; that is, (according to Daubuz,) their bodies being under the throne to support it, seemed to be in the midst of the throne, and their heads without, seemed to be round about the throne. Some suppose, that the four living creatures represent all the Christian ministers. In the Note on the first verse, we have given Bishop Newton's and Mr. Mede's idea of these living creatures; and in the former Notes, where the cherubim are mentioned, have expressed our own sentiments respecting them. Lowman observes, that "these living creatures seem taken from the cherubim in the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel, and in the most holy place, which are plainly designed for a representation of the angels, who ever are described in scripture as attendants on the glory of God, Psalms 68:17. The great use of angels in this vision, and their great number, ch. Rev 5:11 make it probable, that as the four and twenty elders are placed about the throne, as representatives of the Jewish and Christian churches, now united into one; so the four living creatures or cherubim are alike representatives of the angels who are round the throne of God, and minister to him; and so (according to a great author) the form of the cherubim expresses the great understanding and power of the angels." Spencer, de Leg. Heb. lib. 3: cap. 5. This will also serve to shew how proper this representation was of the cherubim in the holy place, to signify that they are to be considered only as the servants and ministers of the one true God. Dr. Doddridge observes, that these four animals, of a veryextraordinary form, seem to have been intended as hieroglyphical representations of the angelic nature; for it is well known, that the ancients dealt much in hieroglyphics, bywhich natural and moral truths were expressed. There can, I think, be no doubt (continues the Dr.) that the living creatures of St. John are the cherubim described by Ezekiel 1:0 which therefore should be carefully compared with this representation. To consider this appearance as an emblem of Deity, which is the scheme of Mr. Hutchison and his followers, appears to me a very great absurdity. But upon this head we refer to Dr. Sharpe's learned Dissertation on the cherubim.

Verse 8

Revelation 4:8. They were full of eyes within: To signify their quick discernment of every object around them; as their wings were to express their readiness to execute the divine commands; quick to discern, and prompt to perform. The anthem which they sung is that which Isaiah tells us he heard the seraphim sing, ch. Rev 6:3 and it is observable, that many other hymns recorded in this book are borrowed from the old Testament.

Verse 10

Revelation 4:10. Fall down,—and cast their crowns before the throne, By both actions testifying their high reverence, and paying their duty to the King of kings.

Verse 11

Revelation 4:11. Thou art worthy, O Lord, &c.— Some read and point the verse thus: Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive the glory, and the honour, and the power: For thou hast created all things; and for thy pleasure they are, and were created. The last might be rendered, For thou hast created all things, and through thy will they were,—[that is, "were brought into existence,"] and were formed; 1:e. had their several shapes and qualities assigned to them. And thus God is declared to be the author of the existence of matter, as well as of the form, or outward appearance, of all things in the world. See Isaiah 66:2.

Inferences.—And should not we likewise fall down with the glorified spirits, and pay some homage to the Sovereign Majesty of heaven, though we may not equal theirs? For ever adored be the divine grace, that a door is opened in heaven, in consequence of which, even before we enter, we are allowed to look in; and thus to confirm our faith and to animate our devotion, which, alas! after all, is too ready to decline and languish. That it may be greatly invigorated, let us look up to the throne, and to him that sitteth thereupon; and rejoice to see that peaceful emblem with which the seat of his glory is surrounded, the rainbow of vivid and pleasant green; signifying, that the majestic Being who fills it, is the covenant-God of all his believing and obedient people.

Let us contemplate the blessed angels, the ministers of God, who do his pleasure, represented here under hieroglyphical characters, as possessed of amazing strength and courage, resolution and patience; of the sublimest reason, and the most deep and penetrating sagacity, active and pure as flames of fire; and with these lofty ideas in our minds, let us ardently pray that the will of God may be so done on earth, as it is done in heaven. Let us also remember the elders here mentioned, the representatives of the church, seated on glorious thrones, clothed in that white raiment which is the righteousness of the saints, and adorned with crowns of glory. And let us especially consider, how the angels and the saints are employed; they rest not day nor night from breathing out the most ardent devotions; they feel nothing of that weariness and languor with which we are too frequently invaded in this state of mortality; but they cry continually, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who art, and wast, and art to come; they give glory, and honour, and thanksgiving to him that sitteth on the throne. And infinitely worthy is he to receive it: he who is the Almighty Creator, he who is the ever-present, and ever-gracious Supporter of all! Thou art worthy, O Lord, thou alone art worthy; and though thou withholdest from us the face of thy throne, while we dwell in these tabernacles of clay, yet as we are thy creatures, thy rational creatures, we partake of thy protection and bounty; and, feeble as our faculties are, and dark as the world is in which we dwell, we are able to discover thee as our almighty Creator, our constant Preserver, our never-failing Benefactor. And, as such, may we daily worship and adore thee with our feeble voices in this state of mortality; that when we are duly prepared, we may begin a nobler song, and join in the sublimer anthems and hallelujahs above. Amen.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, St. John being prepared for further discoveries by what he had already seen, a door is opened to him in heaven; and the voice of Jesus, which he had heard before, solemn as the trumpet which was heard of old from Sinai's top, calls him to come up thither, that he might be informed of the great events of Providence relative to the church. Instantly the sacred rapture seized his spirit, and the glorious vision presents itself to his view.

1. He saw a throne of majesty and judgment, compassed with a rainbow beautiful as the emerald, an emblem of that propitiousness and kindness, and of that covenant-relation to his believing people, which the blessed God is pleased to acknowledge in the midst of his transcendent glory.
2. Upon the throne sat the eternal Jehovah, the Antient of days, the Creator, Governor, and Judge of all; shining like the jasper and sardine stone, with brightness infinitely surpassing those precious stones which glittered on the high-priest's breast-plate, inexpressibly glorious in holiness, and every divine perfection.
3. Around the throne were four-and-twenty elders seated, clothed with white raiment, and on their heads they had crowns of gold; the representatives of the whole body of the faithful saints, now consummately perfected in holiness, admitted to their eternal rest, brought into God's immediate presence, enjoying that beatific vision, and crowned with glory, honour, and immortality.
4. Out of the throne proceeded lightnings, and thunderings, and voices, signifying the mighty and powerful energy of the gospel-word, which spread like lightning through the world, or of those tremendous judgments which he executes on the earth.
5. There were seven lamps burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God, the emblem of the variety and perfection of the gifts and graces which the Holy Ghost bestows.

6. Before the throne was a sea of glass, like unto crystal, in allusion, as is supposed, to the molten sea, where the priests washed (Exodus 30:18-21.); the figure of Christ's blood, which cleanseth from all sin.

7. In the midst of the throne, and round about it, were four living creatures, full of eyes before and behind; the first like a lion, the second like an ox, the third with the face of a man, and the fourth like a flying eagle; and these seem to represent the angelic hosts. See the Annotations. However, others consider them as representing all the ministers of the gospel; but the reader must be left to judge for himself.

2nd, The four living creatures, like the seraphim, (Isaiah 6:2.) had six wings, and they were full of eyes within, deep read in the knowledge of God and of themselves, and quick to penetrate, discern, and judge: and with ceaseless adorations they worship the eternal, unchangeable, holy, and triune Jehovah.

When these angelic hosts or ministers led the song of heaven, the elders who represented the church triumphant, joined in their adorations, casting their crowns before the throne, and, humbly prostrate, ascribed eternal glory, honour, and power to the ever-living Jehovah, the Creator and Ruler of all, by whose sovereign pleasure every creature exists, and is designed to shew forth his praise. Note; (1.) All things are of God, and for God: his own glory is the end of all his works, and should be the design of ours. (2.) God's saints on earth are called upon to join the services of heaven, and to unite in the same sacred ascriptions of praise to him that liveth for ever and ever. (3.) The highest are the humblest beings: they who approach nearer to the throne, are most deeply sensible, that to grace alone they owe their unutterable bliss, and therefore cast down their golden crowns before their Lord, and say, Thou, and thou alone, art worthy to receive the glory.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Revelation 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.