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Bible Commentaries

Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT

Revelation 4

Verse 1

As if St. John had said, After my first vision was over, being desirous farther to understand and know the mind of God, I looked upwards to heaven, from whence divine revelations come, and it was represented to me as if a door were opened into the third heavens; and I apprehended, that I heard that former voice, which spake to me in the first chapter, now speaking to me again, namely, the voice of Christ, sounding like a trumpet in my ear, and saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee, or give thee a clear representation of, things that shall be hereafter.

Where note, 1. That such a soul as has tasted the sweetness of communion with Christ, does long for the farther and fuller enjoyment of him. After this I looked: it was a gracious vision he had of Christ in the first chapter, but it did only whet his desires after more communion with him, and clearer manifestations from him.

Note, 2. That the knowledge which advances and improves a man's understanding on earth, comes all from heaven, thither we must look up, and from thence seek, if we will know the things of God: I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven.

Verse 2

I was in the Spirit; that is, in an ecstasy in a trance, in a rapture of delight and joy, ravished in spirit. This vision was represented to his mind more lively than any corporeal objects could be to his outward senses, which were now all bound up.

Observe here, 1. The vision itself, a throne set in heaven; St. John's mind was not taken up with earthly matters: worldly crowns and sceptres were now poor things in his esteem, and will be so in the estimation of all others who have a prospect of a throne in heaven, as our apostle had.

Observe, 2. The person whom he saw sitting upon his throne: God the Father in royal majesty, whose power and glory was represented by the similitude of precious stones, particularly by the jasper and sardine stone; which stone, say some, being of a red and fiery colour, represented how terrible God is in judgment, clothed with omnipotent power inflexible justice; but to allay the terror of this vision, St. John saw a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald; this was very comforting, for the rainbow was of old a token of God's covenant, Genesis 9:12-17 that he would never more drown the world by water; here it denotes the covenant of grace, whereby the church is secured from the deluge of God's wrath by the blood of a mediator: and mark, this rainbow was round about the throne; let God look which way he will, here is that which reminds him of his covenant and promise; and the colour of this rainbow was like an emerald, that is, of a most pleasant and delightful greenness: signifying, That Almighty God, in mindfulness of his covenant, takes unspeakable delight and pleasure in the exercise of mercy towards his children, even then when he appears clothed with terror, to judge and sentence an impenitent world.

Blessed be God, that he that sitteth upon the throne of judgment has a rainbow about him, giving full assurance, that for his covenant-sake, the floods of his wrath shall not overwhelm his children, when his enemies are swept away with the deluge of destruction.

Verse 4

St. John having described Almighty God as sitting upon his throne in the former verse, here he declares whom he saw about the throne as assessors with him, namely, Four and twenty elders; by which some understand the patriarchs and apostles, as representatives of the Jewish and Christian church; others understand hereby the whole body of private Christians, a certain number being put for an uncertain, who are represented,

1. As round the throne, to denote their nearness unto God, and their communion with him.

2. As sitting, to signify their state of rest and ease, and to denote their settled and secure condition of happiness which they now enjoy.

3. As clothed in white raiment, to represent their priestly dignity, that they were all priests unto God; as also their celestial purity and glory.

4. As having on their heads crowns of gold; this kingly dignity implying, that as kings they do and shall reign with Christ for ever and ever, who having loved them and washed them from their sins, in his blood, has made them kings and priests unto God.

5. They are called elders, to signify their great wisdom and experience; such as with patriarchs and apostles have done the greatest services to God on earth, shall share with him in the highest dignity and honour in heaven, sitting nearer the throne than others: St. John saw the elders not only near the throne, but sitting round about it.

Verse 5

By the throne God is represented as a judge: by the thunderings, and lightnings, and voices, is represented the terribleness of God in judging sinners. As the law was delivered upon mount Sinai in lightning and thunder, so will there be the same, nay, far greater dread and terror, when God comes to judge and plead with sinners for their willful and repeated transgressions of that law.

By the seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, some understand the Holy Spirit of God in its manifold gifts and graces; enlightening, quickening, warming, comforting the church of God; others understand the holy angels, who are continually waiting upon this judge, and attending of this judicature, who are as his eyes and feet, that is, his ready instruments to execute his pleasure. God, in the judgment of the great day, will be attended by his saints as assessors, by his angels as assistants.

Verse 6

By this sea of glass there seems to be an allusion to that large vessel of water in the temple called the brazen sea, in which Aaron and his sons did wash themselves before they administered in holy things: signifying that purity which is required in all the worshippers, but especially in all the ministers of God: and because the use of this sea, in the temple, is made good in Christ, the laver of his blood might by signified by the sea of glass here represented, which is compared to crystal; denoting the spotless innocency of his person and sufferings, and the purity and clearness of his justified members.

Others, by this sea of glass, will have the world represented to St. John's visionary view; the world (say they) is compared to a sea for its instability, tempestuousness, and uncertain motion; to a sea of glass, for its slipperiness, and for its brittleness: glass yields no good footing to any that stand upon it, nor does the world to any that stay themselves upon it; and to a sea of glass like crystal, because of the clearness and transparency of it to God; he sees quite through it, all the counsels and actions of men being naked and open before God and the throne.

By the four beasts here understand the four evangelists in special, and all gospel ministers in general, who went forth to preach the word in all the quarters of the world: and here we have a most stately emblem of true gospel ministers; they have the courage of the lion, the strength of the ox, the loftiness of the eagle, the face, that is, the prudence and discretion of a man.

Farther, they are described as full of eyes; they have eyes looking before them to God for direction, looking behind them to the flocks they lead, and within them to their own hearts.

They have also six wings; with two they cover their faces, manifesting their deep reverence of God, with two they cover their feet, manifesting the humble sense of their infirmities, and with two they fly with cheerful expedition to the service of God.

Observe next, what was represented to St. John, as the perpetual employment and work of heaven; namely, incessantly to admire, love and praise, the holiness of God, which is the excellency of all his other excellences. They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.

Learn hence, That the celebrating of the praises of the most high and holy God, is the incessant work of glorified saints and angels in heaven, and a very great part of the work and duty of the faithful ministers of God here on earth.

Again learn, 2. From this example, how much it is the duty of the ministers of Christ to study and endeavour to make God known in all his glorious attributes, particularly in his holiness and his power; as also in his eternity and simplicity, as he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, without variation and shadow of changing.

Verse 9

Observe here, 1. How St. John saw both beasts and elders, representing ministers and people, unitedly joining together; and with one consent sounding forth the high praises of their God; intimating, how the whole body of sincere Christians ought heartily to join with their faithful ministers in that blessed work of praising and worshipping the eternal God.

Observe, 2. That as a farther act of homage and adoration, the four and twenty elders cast their crowns down to the ground; not in a way of contempt and disdain, as if they slighted the glory conferred upon them by God, but in a way of humble gratitude; attributing their victory and reward to God, and not to themselves of it, that they may put honour upon God; professing hereby, that all the goodness wrought in them, or done by them, does proceed from God's free grace and mercy, and that the glory of it is entirely due to him.

Observe, 3. The hymn of thanksgiving itself, which was jointly sung among them. Worthy art thou O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power. As if they had said, That God thou art, unto whom all the homage and adoration of thy creatures are justly and peculiarly due; for thou hast created all things by thy omnipotent power, and for thy pleasure and the manifestation of thy glory, they are still preserved as they were at first created.

Where remark, That every moment's preservation is virtually a new creation, and that the same omnipotent power is necessary every moment to preserve us, which was at first requisite to create us.

Therefore worthy art thou, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and everlasting praises, as thou art He who givest being to all creatures, and therefore givest it them, that they might love and laud, magnify and bless, glorify and serve, honour and obey, thee, their great creator and gracious preserver. Amen.

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Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Revelation 4". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. 1700-1703.