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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 4

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Revelation 4:0 AND 5


The Heavenly WorshipThe Throne Room of HeavenVisions of the Glory of God and of the LambWorship in HeavenGod Entrusts the Future of the World to the Lamb
Revelation 4:1-6aRevelation 4:1-11Revelation 4:1-6aRevelation 4:1-6aRevelation 4:1-11
Revelation 4:6-11 Revelation 4:6-11Revelation 4:6-8
Revelation 4:9-11
The Scroll and the LambThe Lamb Takes the Scroll The Scroll and the Lamb
Revelation 5:1-14Revelation 5:1-7Revelation 5:1-5Revelation 5:1-5Revelation 5:1-5
Worthy is the LambRevelation 5:6-10Revelation 5:6-10Revelation 5:6-10
Revelation 5:8-14
Revelation 5:11-14Revelation 5:11-14Revelation 5:11-14

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. These two chapters form a literary unit; chapter 4 shows God as Creator (the connotation of Elohim, God as creator, provider, and sustainer of all life, cf. Psalms 104:0) and chapter 5 shows God's Lamb (Jesus) as Redeemer (the connotation of YHWH, God as Savior, Redeemer, and covenant-making God, cf. Psalms 103:0). The larger literary context continues through the opening of the seven seals. However, the seals themselves begin in chapter 6 and continue through Revelation 8:1.

B. Chapter 4 forms a central theme (the secure glory and rule of YHWH) of the book of the Revelation. This heavenly throne scene is similar to the heavenly tabernacle of Hebrews 8:0 and 9. This motif (God's heavenly glory) forms the central goal of early Jewish mysticism.

C. The book of the Revelation is not primarily the how and when of the Second Coming; it is primarily the sovereignty of God in human history. These two chapters are essential in understanding the remainder of the book and its purpose!

D. It is obvious from these two chapters that John was using apocalyptic language to describe spiritual truth. John used imagery from OT apocalyptic passages, particularly Ezekiel, chapters 1 and 10; also Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:10; Daniel 4:0; Daniel 7:13-14 and also innumerable references to Jewish intertestamental apocalyptic writings, such as I Enoch. If this is true then it is extremely inappropriate to force Revelation into a literal, totally historical interpretive grid, especially when we force the events of our day, our culture, our geographical setting into the details of an ancient apocalyptic book. This is not to imply in any sense that Revelation is not true. It was not meant to be interpreted like historical narrative; a better hermeneutical model may be the parables of Jesus (see Fee and Stuart, How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth, p. 256)!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How do chapters 4 and 5 fit into the overall purpose of the book?

2. What is the literary genre of chapters 4 and 5?

3. From what sources does John pull his imagery?

4. Who are the elders?

5. Are the creatures described in Revelation 4:7-10 cherubim or seraphim?

6. List the OT titles of the Messiah which are found in chapter 5.

7. List the fivefold description of the Messiah's worthiness found in Revelation 5:9 and 10.

Verses 1-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 4:1-11 1After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things." 2Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 3And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. 4Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. 5Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; 6and before the throne there was, something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. 7The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. 8And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come." 9And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11"Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created."

Revelation 4:1

NASB, NKJV"after these things I looked" NRSV"after this I looked" TEV"at this point I had another vision and saw" NJB"then, in my vision, I saw"

This grammatical formula, with a slight variation, is also found in Revelation 7:1, Revelation 7:9; Revelation 15:5; Revelation 18:1 and possibly Revelation 19:1. These is a series of visions. Most OT prophetic visions were covenantally conditioned, emphasizing the "if. . .then" of God's covenant with Israel. Israel's current faith determined her future fate. This is also true of John's visions in the Revelation.

1. Jesus' words to the seven churches are conditional. Their response to His warning determined their future.

2. The judgments of the seals and trumpets are also conditional. God wants unbelievers to repent and turn to Him.

As in the OT, God's universal redemptive plan (cf. Genesis 3:15; Genesis 15:12; Genesis 17:1-8, also note Acts 2:23; Acts 3:18; Acts 4:28; Acts 13:29) is unconditional based on His promises but also conditional (cf. Genesis 12:1; Revelation 2-3) on human covenantal response . This universal redemptive plan is revealed in the heavenly scenes of chapters 4 and 5.


"a door standing open in heaven" This is a perfect passive participle, meaning that the door was opened by deity (passive voice) and remained open (perfect tense). This is another way of expressing God's revelation of Himself to mankind. It is very similar to Revelation 19:11; Ezekiel 1:1; Matthew 3:16; John 1:51 and Acts 7:55-56. See Special Topic at Revelation 3:7.

The word "heaven" is used more than 50 times in John's writings and always in the singular except for one time in Revelation 12:12. The exact meaning of this change, from the singular to the plural, is theologically uncertain. The rabbis discussed whether there were three or seven heavens (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2). John focuses on one heaven, wherein God dwells; He chooses to let us see into His realm. Though there is chaos on earth, there will be none in heaven.


"and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet" A voice like a trumpet was mentioned in Revelation 1:10 (see note). At first this implies Jesus speaking, but because chapters 4 & 5 are a literary unit and Jesus is not introduced until Revelation 5:5, Revelation 5:9-10, Revelation 5:12, Revelation 5:13, this probably refers to a revealing angel (very characteristic of apocalyptic literature). An angel's voice and a trumpet blast are related in Paul's description of the Second Coming (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

"come up here" Dispensationalists have assumed that this is the secret rapture of the Church because of their presuppositional understanding of the book of the Revelation (all OT prophecies must be literally fulfilled; the church and Israel are totally separate; the church will be secretly raptured to heaven so that OT prophecies can be fulfilled to an earthly Israel). Often this interpretation is supported by an argument from silence, since the word "church" does not appear in Revelation after chapter 3 (except in Revelation 22:10). However, there is nothing in the text to imply that anyone but John was called up to heaven.

Because of the "lightning" and "thunder" of Revelation 4:5, this may be an allusion to Moses being called up (cf. Exodus 19:20, Exodus 19:24) on Mt. Sinai to receive God's revelation (cf. Exodus 19-20, esp. Revelation 19:16, Revelation 19:19).

Also notice the mention of God's voice like a loud trumpet in Exodus 19:19 (see Special Topic: Horns Used in Israel at Revelation 1:10).

"what must take place after these things" This phrase may be an allusion to Daniel 2:29, Daniel 2:45. If so, it refers to historical events in a series, not future events. Revelation is not things in the first century and things in a far distant future century, but events that:

1. recur in every age (cf. Matthew 24:4-14)

2. reflect the whole period between Christ's first coming and His second coming (the seven literary units of the book)

This phrase is similar to Revelation 1:1. God's word and will must (dei) come to pass. Here the time element (i.e., shortly) is left out, but the certainty remains. God will accomplish His redemptive plan!

Revelation 4:2 "Immediately I was in the Spirit" John is described as being in the Spirit in Revelation 1:10; Revelation 4:3 and 21:10. This may be similar to what happened to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 8:1-4; Ezekiel 11:1, to Jesus in Matthew 4:8; to Philip in Acts 8:39-40, and to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-2. Whether this is a spiritual trance or a physical transportation is uncertain.

"a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne" The term "throne" (thronos) is used over 47 times in this book. God's reign is the central motif of this heavenly vision (chapters 4 & 5). The throne is a symbolic, apocalyptic way of showing that YHWH is in control of all history. God is a spiritual, eternal, personal spirit; He does not sit on a throne (see Special Topic at Revelation 2:1)!

One purpose of the genres of prophecy and apocalyptic is God's knowledge and control of future events. All history is known and purposeful (telos, cf. Matthew 24:14; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

The throne is described as "was standing." This imperfect tense can have two meanings: (1) it has always stood or (2) it was just set up. This may be an allusion to Daniel 7:9, "thrones were set up."

Revelation 4:3 "He who was sitting was like" John is not going to describe the appearance of God because in Jewish thought, this was extremely inappropriate (cf. Exodus 33:17-23; Isaiah 6:5). But he will describe the glory of God in the colors of three precious gems. Gems are also used in Ezekiel 28:13 to describe heavenly (Garden of God) imagery.

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV"jasper" NJB"diamond"

The exact color and name of gems is very uncertain in ancient literature. The names of gems and colors were changed from country to country and period to period. The jasper was the first stone found in the breastplate of the High Priest which is mentioned in Exodus 28:17-21. This stone seems to be a clear stone. It will be connected with the "sea of glass" (cf. Revelation 4:6; Revelation 15:2; Revelation 21:11, Revelation 21:18, Revelation 21:21). It may refer to our diamond.

NASB, NKJV"sardius" NRSV, TEV"carnelian" NJB"ruby"

The sardius was a blood red stone. It was the last stone on the breastplate of the High Priest. This may be an allusion to God as being the First and the Last with the emphasis on the Messianic tribe of Judah (the emerald rainbow). These two stones are listed in ancient writings as a summary of all jewels.

"and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance" The emerald is the stone for Judah on the breastplate of the High Priest. The emphasis of the rainbow has been greatly conjectured but there are two main theories.

1. Some see it as an allusion to Genesis 9:16, where the rainbow is a symbol of God's covenant protection and a sign that the storm is over; in the midst of judgment there was promise and mercy.

2. Others relate it to Ezekiel 1:28, a symbol of the glory of YHWH.

Whether the rainbow is a sign of judgment or of covenant is uncertain, but it obviously was an unusual rainbow because it was green in color and not simply a refraction of normal light.

Revelation 4:4 "Around the throne were twenty-four thrones" The reason for twenty-four thrones has been disputed.

1. some see it as connected with the orders of the Aaronic priesthood set up by David in 1 Chronicles 24:7-19

2. others see it as an allusion to the heavenly council which is mentioned in 1 Kings 22:19; Isaiah 24:23; Daniel 7:9-10, Daniel 7:26

3. still others see it as a combination of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles, which symbolizes the complete people of God (cf. Revelation 21:12, Revelation 21:14)

It is surprising that this number does not occur in Jewish intertestamental apocalyptic literature.

"twenty-four elders sitting" There has also been much debate about the identity of these elders. There are two major theories

1. They represent believers:

a. pictured as being clothed in white (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4)

b. angels are never said to wear crowns and sit on thrones (cf. Revelation 4:4, Revelation 4:10)

c. they are in lists which specifically include angels (cf. Revelation 5:11)

d. Revelation 5:9-10 in the Vulgate, Peshitta, and later the Textus Receptus includes the elders in the songs of redemption

2. They represent angels:

a. angels do wear white garments (cf. Matthew 28:3; John 20:12; Mark 16:5; Acts 1:10; Revelation 15:6 and Daniel 10:5, Daniel 10:6)

b. these elders are always identified with the living creatures as in Revelation 5:11, Revelation 5:14, which seem to list three different orders of angels

c. one of the elders acts as a revealing angel (cf. Revelation 5:5)

d. in Isaiah 24:23 the angels of God's heavenly council are called "elders"

e. the textual evidence of Revelation 5:10 implies that the elder does not include himself in the song of redeemed humanity


"golden crowns" Nowhere in Scripture are angels said to wear crowns (even the powerful angel in Daniel 10:0). The demonic hordes from the abyss are described as wearing something similar to golden crowns in Revelation 9:7.

Revelation 4:5 "from the throne proceed flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder" This is similar to Exodus 19:16-19, which describes physical phenomena that surround the presence of God on Mt. Sinai. These phrases indicate God's presence (cf. Revelation 11:19) or His judgments (cf. Revelation 8:5; Revelation 16:18).

"seven lamps of fire" These appear to be seven separate lamps (torches), not one bowl with seven wicks (cf. Exodus 25:37; Zechariah 4:2). They function in a way similar to all the other "sevens," referring to the very presence of God.

"which are the seven spirits of God" This same phrase is used in Revelation 1:4; Revelation 4:1 and 5:6. It is often interpreted as a reference to the Holy Spirit based on Revelation 1:4, but none of the other references confirm that interpretation. This phrase seems to be equated with the churches (seven stars, Revelation 3:1; seven lamps, Revelation 4:5) or with the omnipotence and omniscience of the Lamb (Revelation 5:6). See Special Topic: The Seven Spirits at Revelation 1:4.

Revelation 4:6 "a sea of glass like crystal" There have been numerous theories about this phrase:

1. it refers to the laver in the Temple (cf. 1 Kings 7:23; 2 Chronicles 4:2-6)

2. it is related to the concept of the crystal sea found in Exodus 24:9-10

3. it is part of the portable throne chariot of God in Ezekiel 1:22, Ezekiel 1:26; Ezekiel 10:1

4. it is a symbol of separation from the holiness of God (cf. Revelation 15:2).

This sea is removed in Revelation 21:1, showing the curse (cf. Genesis 3:0) of mankind's sin and separation has been removed. See note at Revelation 21:1.

"four living creatures" These living creatures are described in Revelation 4:6-8. They are a combination of the cherubim of Ezekiel 1:5-10 and 10:1-17 and the seraphim of Isaiah 6:2, Isaiah 6:3. The numbers of wings and faces vary, but it is a composite picture of these human/animal/angels which surround the throne of God (cf. Revelation 4:6, Revelation 4:8, Revelation 4:9; Revelation 5:6, Revelation 5:8, Revelation 5:11, Revelation 5:14; Revelation 6:1, Revelation 6:3, Revelation 6:5, Revelation 6:7; Revelation 7:11; Revelation 14:3; Revelation 15:7; Revelation 19:4).


"full of eyes in front and behind" This may refer to the eyes of each of the four faces or it may be a biblical metaphor of God's omniscience (cf. Revelation 4:8; Ezekiel 1:18; Ezekiel 10:12).

Revelation 4:7 "lion. . .calf. . .man. . .eagle" This is an obvious allusion to Ezekiel 1:6, Ezekiel 1:10. In rabbinic literature these are listed as the strongest of the different orders of God's creation. Irenaeus (A.D. 120-202) used these four different faces to describe the four Gospel writers (church tradition finally settled on John, eagle; Luke, human; Mark, ox; Matthew, lion) but this is too speculative and allegorical. These composite creatures are symbolic, not literal. Knowing the OT emphasis on maintaining God's orders of creation, a composite human and animal creature would be Levitically unclean. This is not historical narrative of actual things and events, but a highly symbolic genre seeking to describe ultimate, spiritual truths; in this case God as the ever living One (vv. Revelation 4:8, Revelation 4:9), the Holy One (v. Revelation 4:8), and the creator of all things (v. Revelation 4:11).

Revelation 4:8 "holy, holy, holy" These living creatures are repeating the song of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2, Isaiah 6:3. This is the first of many hymns that are found in the book of the Revelation (cf. Revelation 4:8, Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:9-10, Revelation 5:12, Revelation 5:13; Revelation 7:12; Revelation 11:17-18; Revelation 12:10-12; Revelation 15:3-4; Revelation 16:5-7; Revelation 18:2-8; Revelation 19:1-3, Revelation 19:6-7). Often the hymns are a means of interpreting the visions. Another symbol, like the sea of glass, it functions as a Hebrew superlative of the ultimate holiness of God.

"the Lord God, the Almighty" These were three of the OT titles for God (cf. Revelation 1:8):

1. Lord = YHWH (cf. Exodus 3:14; Psalms 103:0)

2. God = Elohim (cf. Psalms 104:0)

3. the Almighty = El Shaddai, the patriarchal name for God (cf. Exodus 6:3)


"who was and who is and who is to come" This phrase is a recurrent title (cf. Revelation 1:4; Revelation 4:8; see full note at Revelation 1:4). This is a play on God's covenant name, YHWH, which comes from the verb "to be." This same theme is repeated in Revelation 4:9 and 10 in the phrase "to Him who lives forever and ever" (cf. Revelation 10:6; Revelation 15:7).

Revelation 4:9-11 This is one sentence in Greek, which shows that ultimate worship is due Him who sits on the throne and lives forever (cf. Psalms 47:0; Daniel 4:34; Daniel 12:7). This may be an allusion to the angelic attendants called the heavenly council (cf. 1 Kings 22:19; Job 1:6; Daniel 7:10) or the Jewish "angels of presence" (i.e., Tobit Revelation 12:15).

Revelation 4:9 "the living creatures" These angelic beings are mentioned often in the book (cf. Revelation 5:6, Revelation 5:8, Revelation 5:14; Revelation 6:1; Revelation 7:11; Revelation 14:3; Revelation 15:7; Revelation 19:4).

Revelation 4:10 "will cast their crowns before the throne" This is a symbol of their acknowledgment that God deserves all the praise and honor! Whatever was the reason for their having crowns, they recognized that the power was from God!

Revelation 4:11 "You created all things" The elders and living creatures praise God as the Creator, Sustainer and Provider of all things. This is the theological emphasis of the name Elohim (cf. Genesis 1:0; Job 38-41; Psalms 104:0). This chapter uses the theological meaning of the two most used names for God to describe His actions. The progressive revelation of the NT makes it clear that Jesus was the Father's agent of creation (cf. John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16 and Hebrews 1:2).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Revelation 4". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/revelation-4.html. 2021.
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