ANTICIPATIONS OF THE CHURCH’S VICTORY.
Revelation 4:1-11; Revelation 5:1-14.
WE have seen in considering the first chapter of the Apocalypse that the book as a whole is to be occupied with the Church’s struggle in the world; and in the second and third chapters the Church herself has been placed before us as she occupies her position upon the field of history. But the struggle has not yet begun, nor will it begin until we reach the sixth chapter. Rev. 4 and 5 are therefore still to be regarded as in a certain measure introductory. They form a separate - the third - section of the book; and the first questions that meet us in connection with them are, What is their relation to the main purpose of the author? What is their leading conception? and Why are they placed where they are?
In answering these questions, we are aided by the strictly parallel structure of the fourth Gospel. The Prologue of that book, contained in John 1:1-18, suggests the object which the writer has in view. The next section - John 1:19-20, John 2:1-11 - places before us the Redeemer whose glory he is to describe. The struggle of the Son of God with the world does not begin till we come to chap. 5. Between chap. 2:12 and chap. 4:54 there is thus a considerable interval, in which we have the cleansing of the Temple and the victory of Jesus over the unbelief of the Jew Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and the king’s officer of Galilee, who was probably a Gentile. In this intervening space the leading thought seems to be that of victory, not indeed of victory in the struggle, but of victory which prepares us for it, and fills the mind with hope before it begins. In like manner the two chapters upon which we are about to enter are occupied with songs of victory. Catching their spirit, we shall boldly accompany the Church into the struggle which follows, and shall be animated by a joyful confidence that, whatever her outward fortunes, He that is with her is more than they that be with her enemies.* (*Comp. 2 Chronicles 32:7-8)
While such is the general conception of the third and fourth chapters viewed as one, we have further to ask whether, subordinate to their united purpose, there is not a difference between them. Such a difference there appears to be; and words of our Lord in the fourth Gospel, spoken upon an occasion which had deeply impressed itself upon the mind of the Evangelist, may help us to determine what it is. In the fourteenth chapter of that Gospel Jesus encourages His Apostles as He sends them forth to fight His battle in the world. "Let not," He says, "your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in Me." The section of the Apocalypse upon which we are about to enter embraces a similar thought in both its parts. Chap. 4. conveys to the Church the assurance that He who is the ultimate source of all existence is on her side; chap. 5, that she may depend upon Christ and His redeeming work. The two chapters taken together are a cry to the Church from her glorified Head, before she enters; into the tribulation that awaits her, "Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in Me."
"After these things I saw and, behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice which I heard, a voice as of a trumpet speaking with me, one saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must come to pass hereafter. Straightway I was in the Spirit: and, behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and One sitting upon the throne; and He that sat was to look upon like a jasper stone and a sardius; and there was a rainbow round about the throne, like an emerald to look upon. And round about the throne were four-and-twenty thrones: and upon the thrones I saw four-and-twenty elders sitting, arrayed in white garments, and on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceed lightnings and voices and thunders. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God (Revelation 4:1-5)."
The first voice here spoken of is the voice of Revelation 1:10 : "And I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet;" and it is well to remember that that voice introduced the vision of a Son of man who, while both King and Priest, was King and Priest in judgment. It is impossible to doubt that the sound of the same voice is intended to indicate the same thing here, and that the King whom we are about to behold is One who has "prepared His throne for judgment."* (*, Psalms 9:7)
The Seer is introduced to a scene which we first recognize as the glorious audience-chamber of a great King. Everything as yet speaks of royalty, and of royal majesty, power, and judgment The jasper stone as we learn from a later passage of this book, in which it is said to be "clear as crystal,"1 was of a bright, sparkling whiteness; and it fitly represents the holiness of Him of whom the seraphim in Isaiah cry one to another, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts,"2 and who in this very chapter is celebrated by the unresting cherubim with the words, " Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord, God, the Almighty, which was and which is and which is to come." The sardius, again, was of a fiery red colour, and can denote nothing but the terror of the Almighty’s wrath. Out of the throne also - not merely out of the atmosphere surrounding it, but out of the throne itself - proceed lightnings and voices and thunders, always throughout the Apocalypse emblems of judgment; while the use of the word burn in other parts of the same book, and the fact that what the Seer beheld was not so much lamps as torches, leads to the belief that these torches as they burned before the throne sent out a blazing and fierce rather than a calm and soft light. It is true that the rainbow round about the throne points to the Divine covenant of grace and promise, and that its emerald greenness, absorbing, or at least throwing into the shade, its other and varied hues, tells with peculiar force of something on which the eye loves, and does not fear, to rest. But the mercy of God does not extinguish His righteousness and judgment. Different as such qualities may seem to be, they are combined in Him with whom the Church and the world have to do. In the New Testament not less than in the Old the Almighty reveals Himself in the awakening terrors of His wrath as well as in the winning gentleness of His love. St. Peter speaks of our Lord as not only the chief corner-stone laid in Zion, elect, precious, so that he that believeth on Him shall not be put to shame, but as a stone of stumbling and rock of offence;3 and when the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews gives us his loftiest description of the privileges of the Christian Church, he closes it with the words, "Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe: for our God is a consuming fire."4 So also here. Would we conceive of God aright, even after we have been brought into the full enjoyment of all the riches of His grace and love, we must think of Him as represented by the jasper and the sardius as well as by the emerald. (1, Revelation 21:11; 2, Isaiah 6:3; 3, 1 Peter 2:6-8; 4, Hebrews 12:28-29)
The four-and-twenty elders occupying thrones (not seats) around the throne are to be regarded as representatives of the glorified Church; and the number, twice twelve, seems to be obtained by combining the number of the patriarchs of the Old Testament with that of the Apostles of the New.
The description of the heavenly scene is now continued:
"And before the throne, as it were a glassy sea like onto crystal and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, four living creatures full of eyes before and behind. And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face as of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, having each one of them six wings, are full of eyes roundabout and within; and they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord, God, the Almighty, which was and which is and which is to come (Revelation 4:6-8)."
Up to this point we have been beholding a royal court; in the words now quoted the priestly element comes in. The glassy sea naturally leads the thoughts to the great brazen laver known as the brazen sea which stood in the court of Solomon’s temple between the altar and the sanctuary, and at which the priests cleansed themselves before entering upon the discharge of their duties within the precincts of God’s holy house. The resemblance is not indeed exact; and were it not for what follows, there might be little upon which to rest this supposition. We know, however, from many examples, that the Seer uses the figures of the Old Testament with great freedom; and as the Temple source of the living creatures next introduced to us cannot be mistaken, it becomes the more probable that the brazen sea of the same building, whatever be the actual meaning of the figure - a point that will meet us afterwards - suggests the "glassy sea."
When we turn to the "living creatures," there can be no doubt whatever that we are in the midst of Temple imagery. These, are the cherubim, two of which, fashioned in gold, were placed above the mercy-seat in the holy of holies, so that, inasmuch as that mercy-seat was regarded as peculiarly the throne of God, Israel was invited to think of its King as "sitting between the cherubim."1 These figures, however, were not confined to that particular spot, nor were they fashioned only in that particular way, for the curtain and the veil which formed the sides of the Most Holy Place were wrought with cherubim of cunning work,2 so that one entering that sacred spot was surrounded by them. In the midst of the cherubim spoken of in these verses we are thus in the midst of Temple figures and of priestly thoughts. It is impossible here to trace the history of the cherubim throughout the Bible; and we must be content with referring to two points connected with them, of importance for the interpretation of this book: the representative nature of the figures and the aspect under which we are to see them.3 (1, Psalms 99:1; 2, Exodus 26:1; 3Comp. Bible Educator, vol. iii., p. 290, where the writer has discussed this subject at some length.)
As to the first of these, the human element in the cherubim is at once intelligible. It can be nothing but man; while the fact that they occupy so large a position in the most sacred division of the Tabernacle is sufficient to prove that man, so represented, is thought of as redeemed and brought to the highest stage of spiritual perfection. The other elements referred to certainly do not indicate either new qualities added to humanity, or an intensification of those already possessed by it, as if we might cherish the prospect of a time when the physical qualities of man shall equal in their strength those of the animals around him, when he shall possess the might of the lion, the power of the ox, and the swiftness of the eagle. They represent rather the different departments of nature as these are distributed into the animate and inanimate creation. Taking the "living creatures" together in all their parts, they are thus an emblem of man, associated on the one hand with the material creation, on the other with the various tribes of animals by which it is inhabited, but all redeemed, transfigured, perfected, delivered from the bondage of corruption, and brought into "the liberty of the glory of the children of God."* They have a still wider and more comprehensive meaning than the "twenty-four elders," the latter setting before us only the Church, but the former all creation, glorified. (*, Romans 8:21)
The second point above mentioned - the aspect worn by the living creatures demands also a few remarks, for the view commonly entertained upon it seems to be erroneous. Misled by the mention of the calf, which is supposed to be the ox, and not the bull-calf, interpreters have allowed the mode in which they understood this particular to rule their interpretation of the others. It has been regarded as the emblem of endurance and of patient labour rather than of power and rage; while, following the same line of thought, the eagle has been treated as the king of birds soaring in the blue vault of heaven rather than as hastening (like the vulture) to his prey.1 The whole conception of the cherubim has thus been modified and shaped in the minds of men under a form altogether different from that in which it is really presented to us in Scripture. The cherubim of the Old Testament and the "living creatures" of the New are supposed to represent "majesty and peerless strength," "patient and productive industry," and "soaring energy and nimbleness of action." In reality they rather represent qualities that strike terror into the hearts of men and suggest the idea of an irresistibly destructive force. With this view all that is elsewhere said of them corresponds. They are not simply spoken of as partakers of the favor of God. They are instruments in the execution of His wrath. When our first parents were driven from the garden of Eden, they were placed "at the east of the garden," along with "a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."2 When we are introduced to them in Ezekiel, it is said that "their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning."3 Similar associations are connected with them throughout the Apocalypse. The opening of each of the first four seals, the four that deal with judgments upon the earth, is immediately followed by a voice, "as it were the noise of thunder," from one of the four living creatures, saying, Come.4 One of them gives to the seven angels "seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God."5 And after the destruction of Babylon, when her smoke is ascending up forever and ever, and the voice of much people in heaven calls for praise to Him who hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand, they "fall down and worship God that sitteth on the throne, saying, Amen; Hallelujah."6 There can be little doubt, then, as to the meaning of these four living creatures. They are sharers of the Almighty’s holiness, and of that holiness in its more awful form, as a holiness that cannot look on sin but with abhorrence. They are the vicegerents of His kingdom. They are assessors by His side. Their aspect is not that of the sweetness associated with the word "cherub," but that of sternness, indignant power, and judgment. Thus also it is that in the Tabernacle they looked toward the mercy-seat.7 By what they saw there they were restrained from executing wrath upon the guilty. That mercy-seat, sprinkled with the blood of atonement, told them of pardon and of a new life for the sinner. Their sternness was softened; mercy rejoiced over judgment; and the storm-wind upon which God flew swiftly, when "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly,"8 sank into a calm. (1, Job 9:26; 2, Genesis 3:24; 3, Ezekiel 1:13-14; 4, Revelation 6:1; Revelation 6:3; Revelation 6:5; Revelation 6:7; 5, Revelation 15:7; 6, Revelation 19:4; 7, Exodus 25:20; 8, Psalms 18:10)
The Seer has beheld the audience-chamber of the Godhead in itself. He has seen also the Divine Being who is there clothed with majesty, and those who wait upon Him. He next passes to another thought:
"And when the living creatures shall give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sitteth on the throne, to Him that liveth forever and ever, the four-and-twenty elders shall fall down before Him that sitteth on the throne; and shall worship Him that liveth forever and ever, and shall cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honour and the power: for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they were, and were created (Revelation 4:9-11)."
In his beautiful comments upon the Revelation Isaac Williams says, "The four living creatures, or the Church of the redeemed, give thanksgiving to God for their redemption; and then the twenty-four elders fall down and attribute all glory to God alone, inasmuch as prophets, Apostles, and all the ministering priesthood, rejoicing in the salvation of the elect, attribute it not to their own instrumentality, but to God." (The Apocalypse, with Notes and Reflections, p. 69). In thus interpreting the passage, however, that commentator can hardly be regarded as correct. It is true that the living creatures are the representatives of redeemed creation, and the twenty-four elders representatives of the glorified Church. But in the song of praise here put into their mouths they have not yet advanced to the thought of salvation. That is reserved for the next chapter. Here they think of creation, with all its wonders; of the heavens which declare God’s glory, and the firmament which shows forth His handiwork; of sun, and moon, and stars in their manifold and resplendent glories; of the mountains and the valleys; of the rivers and the fountains of waters; of the rich exuberance of vegetable life, which covers the earth with a gorgeous carpet of every hue; and of all those animals upon its surface which "run races in their mirth: "and for them they praise. To God all creatures owe their origin. In Him they live, and move, and have their being. Because of His will they were let the reading be considered and remembered: "were," not "are" because of His will they were in His idea from eternity; and when the appointed moment came, they were created. Where fore let them praise. We are reminded of the Psalms of the Old Testament, though it is ours to put into their words a still deeper and richer meaning than they possessed when first uttered by the Psalmist: -
Praise ye the Lord.
Praise ye the Lord from the heavens:
Praise Him in the heights.
Praise ye Him, all His angels:
Praise ye Him, all His host.
Praise ye Him, sun and moon
Praise Him, all ye stars of light.
Praise Him, ye heavens of heavens,
And ye waters that be above the heavens.
Let them praise the name of the Lord:
For He commanded, and they were created
He hath also established them forever and ever:
He hath made a decree which shall not pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
Ye dragons, and all deeps:
Fire, and hail; snow, and vapour;
Stormy wind fulfilling His word:
Mountains, and all hills;
Fruitful trees, and all cedars:
Beasts, and all cattle;
Creeping things, and flying fowl:
Kings of the earth, and all peoples;
Princes, and all judges of the earth:
Both young men, and maidens;
Old men, and children:
Let them praise the name of the Lord:
For His name alone is exalted;
His glory is above the earth and heaven.*
(*, Psalms 148:1-13)
Such then in Rev. 4. is the call addressed by the Seer to the Church before she enters upon her struggle. a call similar to that of Jesus to His disciples, "Believe in God."
The fifth chapter continues the same general subject, but with a reference to Christ the Redeemer rather than God the Creator:
"And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a roll of a book written within and on the back, close sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a great voice, Who is worthy to open the roll, and to loose the seals thereof? And no one in the heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the roll, or to look thereon. And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open the roll, or to look thereon. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath overcome to open the roll, and the seven seals thereof (Revelation 5:1-5)."
We can easily form to ourselves a correct idea of the outward form of the symbol resorted to in these words. The same symbol is used by the prophet Ezekiel, and in circumstances in some respects precisely analogous to those of the Seer. Ezekiel had just beheld his first vision of the cherubim. "And when I looked," he says, "behold, an hand was put forth unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; and He spread it before me; and it was written within and without."* In both cases it is not a "book," but a roll, like the sacred rolls of the synagogue, that is presented to the prophet’s eye, the difference being that in the Apocalypse we read of the roll being close sealed with seven seals. This addition is due to the higher, more sublime, and more momentous nature of the mysteries contained in it. That it is written within and on the back, so that there is no space for further writing, shows that it contains the whole counsel of God with regard to the subject of which it treats. It is the word of Him who is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last; and the seven seals are so fastened to the roll that one of them may be broken at a time, and no more of the contents disclosed than belonged to that particular seal. What also the contents of the roll are we learn from the contents of the seals as they are successively disclosed in the following chapters. As yet the Seer does not know them. He knows only that they are of the deepest interest and importance; and he looks anxiously around to see if anyone can be found who may break the seals and unfold their mysteries. No such person can be discovered either in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth. No one will even dare to look upon the roll; and the sorrow of the Seer was so deepened by this circumstance that he wept much. (*, Ezekiel 2:9-10)
At that moment one of the elders, the representatives of the glorified Church, advanced to cheer him with the tidings that what he so much desired shall be accomplished. One who had had a battle to fight and a victory to win had overcome, not only to look upon the roll, but to open it and to loose the seven seals thereof, so as to make its contents known. This was the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. The description is taken partly from the law and partly from the prophets, for is not this "He of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write"?l; the former in the blessings pronounced by the dying patriarch Jacob upon his son Judah: "Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who shall rouse him up?"2; the latter in such words as those of Isaiah, "And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a Branch out of his roots shall bear fruit;"3 while, in the language alike of the prophet and of the Seer, the words set forth the Messiah, not as the root out of which David sprang, but as a shoot which, springing from him, was to grow up into a strong and stately tree. In Him the conquering might of David, the man of war, and of Judah, "chosen to be the ruler,"4 comes forth with all the freshness of a new youth. He is "the mystery which hath been hid from all ages and generations, but now hath been manifested to the saints."5 In Him "the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shineth."6 "After two days will He revive us: on the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live before Him. And let us know, let us follow on to know, the Lord: His going forth is sure as the morning; and He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter rain that watereth the earth."7 Thus then was it now. Like Daniel of old, the Seer had wept in order that he might understand the vision; and the elder said to him, Weep not. (1, John 1:45; 2, Genesis 49:9; 3, Isaiah 11:1; 4, 1 Chronicles 28:4 5, Colossians 1:26; 6, 1 John 2:8; 7, Hosea 6:2-3)
The eagerly desired explanation follows:
"And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing as though it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And He came, and He hath taken it out of the right hand of Him that sat on the throne (Revelation 5:6-7)."
A strange and unlooked-for spectacle is presented to the Seer. He had been told of a lion; and he beholds a lamb, nay not only a lamb, the emblem of patience and of innocence, but, as we learn from the use of the word slaughtered (not "slain," as in both the Authorized and Revised Versions), a lamb for sacrifice, and that had been sacrificed. Nor can we doubt for a moment, when we call to mind the Gospel of St. John and its many points of analogy with the Apocalypse, what particular lamb it was. It was the Paschal Lamb, the Lamb beheld in our Lord by the Baptist when, pointing to Jesus as He walked, he said to his disciples, "Be hold the Lamb of God,"1 and again beheld by the writer of the fourth Gospel on the Cross, when in the fact that the soldiers broke not the legs of Jesus, as they broke those of the malefactors hanging on either side of Him, he traced the fulfillment of the Scripture, "A bone of Him shall not be broken."2 This therefore was the true Lamb "that taketh away the sin of the world," the Lamb that gives us His flesh to eat, so that in Him we may have eternal life.3 (1, John 1:36; 2, John 19:36; 3The point now spoken of has been doubted. A full discussion of it by the present writer will be found in The Expositor for July and August, 1877)
The Lamb has seven horns, the emblem of perfected strength, and seven eyes, which are explained to be the Spirit of God, sent forth in all His penetrating and searching power, so that none even in the very ends of the earth can escape His knowledge. Further the Lamb is standing as though it had been slaughtered, and there never has been a moment’s hesitation as to the interpretation of the figure. The words "as though" do not mean that the slaughtering had been only in appearance. It had been real. The Saviour, pierced with cruel wounds, "bowed His head" on Calvary, "and gave up His spirit."1 "The first and the last and the Living One became dead,"2 and had been laid in the tomb in the garden. But He had risen from that tomb on the third morning; and, "behold, He is alive for evermore."3 He had ascended to the right hand of the Majesty on high; and there He "stands," living and acting in all the plenitude of endless and incorruptible life. (1, John 19:30; 2, Revelation 1:18; 3, Revelation 1:18)
One thing more has to be noticed: that this Lamb is the central figure of the scene before us, in the midst of the throne and of the living creatures, and of the elders. To Him all the works of God, both in creation and redemption, turn. To Him the old covenant led; and the prophets who were raised up under it searched "what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them."1 From Him the new covenant flowed, and those who under it are called to the know ledge of the truth recognize in Him their "all and in all."2 The Lamb slaughtered, raised from the grave, ascended, being the impersonation of that Divine love which is the essence of the Divine nature, is the visible centre of the universe. He is "the image of the invisible God, the First-born of all creation: for in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things have been created through Him, and unto Him: and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist And He is the Head of the Body, the Church: who is the Beginning, the First-born from the dead; that in all things He might have the pre-eminence. For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in Him should all the fullness dwell; and through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens."3 (1, 1 Peter 1:11; 2, Colossians 3:11; 3, Colossians 1:15-20)
Such is the Lamb; and He now comes, and hath taken the roll out of the right hand of Him that sat on the throne. Let us note the words "hath taken." It is not "took." St. John sees the Lamb not only take the roll, but keep it. It is His, His as the Son, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; His by right of the victory He has won; His as the First-born of all creation and the Head of the Church. It is His to keep, and to unfold, and to execute, "who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen."* (*, Romans 9:5)
Therefore is He worthy of all praise, and to Him all praise is given: -
"And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the four-and-twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with Thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation; and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests: and they reign over the earth (Revelation 5:8-10)."
It is not necessary to dwell upon the figures that are here employed, the harp, as connected with the Temple service, being the natural emblem of praise, and the bowls full of incense the emblem of prayer. But it is of importance to observe the universality of the praises and the prayers referred to, for as the language used here of these men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, when they are said to have been made a kingdom and priests unto our God, is the same as that of Revelation 1:6, we seem entitled to conclude that, even from its very earliest verses, the Apocalypse has the universal Church in view.
The song sung by this great multitude, including even the representatives of nature, now "delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God,"* is wholly different from that of chap. 4. It is a new song, for it is the song of the "new creation;" and its burden, it will be observed, is not creation, but redemption by the blood of the Lamb, a redemption through which all partaking of it are raised to a higher glory and a fairer beauty than that enjoyed and exhibited before sin had as yet entered into the world, and when God saw that all that He had made was good. (*, Romans 8:21)
The song was sung, but no sooner was it sung than it awoke a responsive strain from multitudes of which we have not yet heard: -
"And I saw, and I heard a voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders: and the number was ten thousands of ten thousands, and thousands of thousands; saying with a great voice, Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honour, and glory, and blessing (Revelation 5:11-12)."
These are the angels, who are not within the throne, but round about the throne and the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders. Their place is not so near the throne, so near the Lamb. "For not unto angels did He subject the inhabited earth to come, whereof we speak."1 He subjected it to man, to Him first of all who, having taken upon Him our human nature, and in that nature conquered, was "crowned with glory and honour," but then also to the members of His Body, who shall in due time be exalted to a similar dignity and shall reign over the earth. Yet angels rejoice with man and with creation redeemed and purified. They "desire to look into"2 these things: "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."3 He who was God manifested in flesh "appeared" after His resurrection "to angels;"4 and, although they have not been purchased with the blood of the slaughtered Lamb, their hearts are filled with livelier ecstasy and their voices swell out into louder praise while the "manifold wisdom of God is made known" to them in their heavenly places.5 (1, Hebrews 2:5; 2, 1 Peter 1:12; 3, Luke 15:10; 4, 1 Timothy 3:16; 5, Ephesians 3:10)
Even this is not all. There is a third stage in the ascending scale, a third circle formed for the widening song:
"And everything which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and on the sea, and all things that are in them, heard I saying, Unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honour, and the glory, and the dominion, forever and ever (Revelation 5:13)."
What a sublime conception have we here before us! The whole universe, from its remotest star to the things around us and beneath our feet, is one, one in feeling, in emotion, in expression; one in heart and voice. Nothing is said of evil. Nor is it thought of. It is in the hands of God, who will work out His sovereign purposes in His own good time and way. We have only to listen to the universal harmony, and to see that it move us to corresponding praise. It did so now: -
"And the four living creatures said, Amen. And the elders fell down and worshipped (Revelation 5:14)."
The redeemed creation is once more singled out for special mention. At Revelation 4:8; Revelation 4:10, they began the song; now we return to them that they may close it. All creation, man included, cries, Amen. The glorified Church has her heart too full to speak. She can only fall down and worship.
The distinction between chap. 4 and chap. 5 must now be obvious, even while it is allowed that the same general thought is at the bottom of both chapters. In the one the Church when about to enter on her struggle has the call addressed to her: "Believe in God." In the other that call is followed up by the glorified Redeemer: "Believe also in Me."
Having listened to the call, there is no enemy that she need fear, and no trial from which she need shrink. She is already more than conqueror through Him that loved her. As we enter into the spirit of these chapters we cry, -
"God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change,
And though the mountains be moved in the heart of the seat;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.
There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge."* (*, Psalms 46:1-7)
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Revelation 4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany