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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Revelation 4

Verse 1

Rev 4:1. With this chapter we start into the symbolic part of this book. I urge the reader to turn back to the "General remarks" at the introduction of chapter 1, and carefully read through the paragraphs, especially for the purpose of being prepared to appreciate what will be said relative to the symbolic and literal features of the book. Bear in mind that literally .John is on the isle of Patmos and will be there all through the book. When the langauge seems to take him to some other place it is only figuratively so. When he speaks about going somewhere or of seeing something that we know is not actually out there on that isle, we must understand that he had a vision of such things and is only writing a description of what he sees. Door opened in heaven signifies that. John was to be admitted into the confidences of the Lord and be told things not known by other men. A voice like a trumpet indicates that it was strong and filled with the characteristic of authority. Things which must be hereafter has direct reference to events in the future. However, we should not forget the overall scope of his vision as stated in chapter 1:19. That passage says he was to write of things pertaining to the past, present and future. That explains why he here tells us of conditions then existing, which will be involved in many of the future events of the book. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Introduction. THE APOCALYPSE OF THE CONQUERING CHRIST (CHAPTERS 4 TO 11) With this section begins the Revelation proper, following the antecedent vision of Chapter 1 and the preliminary messages to the seven churches. This section surrounds Christ as conqueror, in conflict of his Cause with the secular powers and Jewish authorities. The developments are gathered around the divine promise of Rev 1:7 --"Behold he cometh," and Rev 22:7 --"Behold, I come quickly," coupled with and corresponding to the closing prayer "even so, come Lord Jesus." It signified the coming of the Lord in the immediate great events, which he would overrule to the triumph of his cause and the success of his kingdom-- Rev 11:15. The repetition of the promise to come must be interpreted in keeping with the non-literal character of the book; hence, not his personal coming, not the second coming advent, but in the various events, judgments and rewards-- Rev 1:7, Rev 22:12. The phrases "the coming of the Lord"; and "his coming"; and "son of man cometh"; have numerous connotations in the scriptures. (1) It is used in reference to the first advent of Christ -- Gen 49:10; Joh 6:14; Act 7:52; Mat 11:3; 2Pe 1:16. (2) It is further used in reference to his second advent-- Act 1:11; 1Co 11:26; 1Th 2:19; 1Th 3:13; 1Th 4:15; 1Th 5:23 and, hence in these passages to the end of time. (3) It refers to his presence in the apostles-- Joh 14:28; Joh 14:3; Mat 28:20, hence in these verses to inspiration, to his indwelling in them. (4) It indicates the presence of Christ in the Christian -- Joh 14:23; Rev 3:20. (5) It designates the destruction of Jerusalem-- Zec 14:1; Mat 24:3-30; Mat 26:64; Jas 5:7-8. (6) It denotes the appearance of his kingdom-- Mat 16:27-28; Mar 9:1-50 --his coming on Pentecost. (7) It is applied to the death of a Christian-- 1Co 1:7; 1Co 4:7. (8) It is descriptive of the judgment day-- Mat 15:31; 2Ti 4:1; 2Th 2:1; 1Pe 3:10; Jud 1:21. (9) It is connected with the fulfillment of promises-- Rom 9:9; Mal 3:2; Mal 4:5; Act 2:20; Act 15:16. (10) It symbolizes events of both retribution and reward in the imagery of Rev 1:7 Rev 2:5 Rev 2:25 Rev 3:11 Rev 3:20 Rev 22:7 Rev 22:20. From beginning to end the book abounds in imagery, full of puzzling enigmas, but notwithstanding the obscurities which give rise to conflicting interpretation, it nevertheless finds both application and fulfillment in the history of the first century period of persecution. Albert Barnes remarked that he was unable to apply the symbols of Revelation until he had read Gibbon's history of Rome. Philip Schaff said that the internal evidence is strongly in favor of the conclusion of many scholars who hold to the early date--between A.D. 60 to 70--before the destruction of Jerusalem, supporting the view that it was written under the Neroan period rather than the Domitian, being therefore descriptive of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, the downfall of Judaism and the dissolution of paganism and the heathen world by the expansion of Christianity. The imagery therefore surrounds the ancient city of Jerusalem, not Rome. The inclusion of the Roman Empire into the symbols was collateral to the persecutions, the Roman emperors representing the secular power with which the destinies of Jerusalem and Judaism were affiliated in the political history. The contents of the book confirm this conclusion of an impressive number of scholars, and the past historical exegesis rather than the prophetical and continuous-historical theory is the only satisfactory application of its majestic and magnificent imagery. It unrolls a sublime panorama of the victorious Christ, called the Lamb; and of his triumphant church, called the Bride--the Lamb's bride. As a light shining in darkness, it was a book of hope and comfort to a church on the threshold of persecution, for amidst the ominous signs of calamity was also the omen of victory. Convinced of and committed to this view, the author will follow this exegesis. Verse 1. THE THRONE IN HEAVEN The One on the throne--Rev 4:1-3. 1. "A door was opened in heaven"--Rev 4:1. The word heaven here signifies the source of all revelation, being the place of God's residence. (Dan 4:26; Joh 1:51; Joh 3:27; Rom 1:18; Gal 1:8; Heb 12:25; 1Pe 1:12; Mat 16:17) And from the heavenly throne proceeded these visions. It is the abode of God who is "the God of heaven." (1Ki 8:30; Dan 2:28; Mat 5:45) It is there that God has his throne. (Isa 66:1; Psa 103:19; Psa 11:4) It is the seat of sovereignty, the symbol of regal authority, from which justice and judgment are dispensed. (Psa 89:14) Being thus the sign of royalty, throne is applied to the center of all divine authority. (Mat 19:28) "Come up hither and I will show thee." The apocalypse in its complete composition proceeded from the one who sits on the throne. (Dan 2:47; Mat 11:27; Php 3:15; Joh 4:1)

Verse 2

Rev 4:2. In the spirit means the vision was opening up before him. The first thing he saw was a throne in heaven and the throne was not vacant; one sat on the throne. That indicated that heaven had an occupant who had authority to give rule over the earth as well as over other persons in heaven. Rev 4:3. These precious stones are used to indicate the worth and also the brilliance of the one on the throne. The rainbow refers to the arched halo that is generally pictured over the head of one occupying a place of authority. Like unto an emerald. This is another precious stone that is used to signify the glory about the head of the person occupying the throne. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 2-3. 2. "A throne was set in heaven"--Rev 4:2. The throne was not there for this vision only, it was set, established as the throne of heaven. (Psa 119:89) 3. "He that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone"--Rev 4:3. Here was the figure of intense splendor. Jasper was an opaque species of different colors, subject to high polish. The New Testament use of the term "jasper," here and elsewhere referred to a transparent gem, the diamond, or the translucent chalcedon. Sardine (or Sardius) was an ancient favorite of the engraver's art, discovered in Asia Minor, of lasting beauty of color; it was a brilliant fleshred. But no physical or material substance can be made comparable to God's person; at best it serves only as an emblem of the resplendent and exquisite grandeur and glory of his divine Being. 4. "A rainbow round about the throne"--Rev 4:3. The rainbow stands for a covenant-- Gen 9:13-17 -- and the emblem here is of the covenanted protection from the judgment of impending events; not escape from the suffering, but exemption from judgments, which would come upon the enemies of the church. 5. "In sight like an emerald"--Rev 4:3. The rainbow is a seven-color reflection. Its brilliance appears between the shining sun and the rain clouds. Here emerald in the bow is specified--a very precious gem, of deep green color-which is its real value, as the deepest colors were the prized. The word emerald had a root meaning of glowing. The emerald-green in the rainbow signified that through the grace of patience deliverance was vouchsafed.

Verse 4

Rev 4:4. God has had two organic systems of religion in the world, the Mosaic and the Christian. The former was arranged under twelve tribes (with their heads) and the latter is administered under twelve apostles (Mat 19:28). The four and twenty elders represent the two systems of religion. Clothed in. white raiment signfies a life of righteousness, because all men who live righteously before God, whether they were in the days of the Mosaic system or in those of the Christian, will be Permitted to surround the throne in heaven as victors over the world. These elders are in the vision to represent all the saved under the two systems. Rev 4:5. Lightnings and thunder-ings and voices symbolize authority issuing from the throne and it is coining from some being whose voice is as penetrating as ligthning and as impressive as a roll of thunder. Seven lamps denote complete illumination and the seven Spirits of God are explained at Rev 1:4. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 4-5. The four and twenty elders--Rev 4:4-5. 1. "Four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting"--Rev 4:4. The four and twenty signified the patriarchs and apostles- twelve each, twenty-four in number. It was the symbol of the totality of God's people in the New Testament church; the whole body of the redeemed. The twelve tribes and the twelve apostles represented the completeness of the church; the Old and the New were combined in the symbol represented in the chiefs: the patriarchs of the Old, and the apostles of the New. 2. "Lightnings . . . voices . . . thunderings"--Rev 4:5. These were signs of a procession of terrible and awful events and is an impressive representation of Omnipotence. (Exo 19:16) It was a symbol of the accompanying divine presence in the "seven lamps and the seven spirits" before the throne, signifying universal presence, with eyes to search whole world, and to bring all men to judgment.

Verse 6

Rev 4:6. A sea. is deep and crystal glass is clear and pure, symbolizing the beauty of the scene around the throne. Four beasts is an unfortunate translation, for we always think of a "beast" as an animal of the lower world, and hence not a fitting symbol of something enjoying the dignity of these in this verse; the proper rendering of the original word is, "living creatures." Full of eyes before and behind symbolizes the ability to look in a universal direction. Rev 4:7. In comparing one living creature with another it is intended only to consider one or two points of similarity, because there might be some characteristics common to all of them. A lion is bold and strong; a calf represents meekness; a man signifies more intelligence than other creatures; an eagle denotes exaltation and fleetness. The identity of these creatures and the reason why there were just four of them will be shown in the next chapter. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 6-7. The four living beasts (beings)--Rev 4:6-11. 1. The sea of glass--Rev 4:6. This denotes the great broad space. A throne chamber with crystal pavement as a figure of magnitude and grandeur was added to the scene. 2. The beings full of eyes--Rev 4:6. The eyes were before, behind, and all around, symbolizing superhuman intelligence. It was imagery of the divine providential rule and protection of an all-seeing God. 3. The four beasts--Rev 4:6-7. "In the midst of the throne and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind." The meaning of the word beasts here is beings, or creatures resembling the animals. It is necessary to distinguish these "beasts" or beings from the beasts that symbolized the persecutors. These beings were "in the midst . . . round about the throne"; hence, not beasts as in the persecutor symbol. The first beast was like a lion, symbolizing strength; the second beast was like a calf (ox), meaning endurance under yoke; the third beast was the face of a man, signifying intelligence, reason, and wisdom; the fourth beast was like an eagle, representing penetrating vision and swiftness in the execution of judgment. The four beasts (beings) had six wings each (Verse 8), and the wings were full of eyes, indicating the universal survey of an all-seeing Omniscience. And they rest not day and night--praising the One on the throne without surcease. There was no suspension of God's providence; no cessation in the honor ascribed; no interruption of the praise; no intermission in the various dispensations and acts of his providence and in the praise, glory, homage derived and received, and in the worship rendered to him who was declared to be eternal.

Verse 8

Rev 4:8. Had each of them six wings. Had it said that they had four wings even, it would have aroused our inquiry since a flying creature normally uses only two wings. We must conclude, therefore, that these wings were not all for the purpose of flying. A similar figure is given in Isa 6:2 where the creatures that stood near the throne had each six wings. We may obtain some suggestions for our verse by reading the use Isaiah said these creatures made of their six wings. Each one used two of his wings to cover his face (indicating humility in the presence of God); with two of them he cover his feet (indicating modesty before the throne); with two he did fly (denoting a readiness to go on any errand desired by the Lord). Full of eyes within denotes that they could make an intelligent application of the things they could see outwardly or around them. Rest not means they did not pause day or night in ascribing praise to the Lord. Was and is and is to come is commented upon at chapter 1:4. Rev 4:9. These beasts (living creatures) not only ascribed glory and honor to the Lord, but also gave thanks to Him who sat on the throne continuously. That for which they were thankful will be understood when we study the next chapter. Rev 4:10. The four and twenty elders are explained at verse 4. Cast their crowns is not a movement as if discarding the crowns for all the circumstances are against anything that unfavorable. It was a gesture of respect, recognizing the Lord as the one to whom they owed all the honor that was being enjoyed in possessing crowns. Rev 4:11. Thou art worthy is not an overture of flattery, for they immediately give their reasons for the expression of praise, namely, He was the Creator• of all things. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 8-11. 4. The doxology--Rev 4:8-11. Compare the seraphim of Isa 6:2; and the angelic guard of attendants, suited to a grand composite scene, it pictured a glorious epiphany. Acting in concert, the creature-- beings--say, "holy, holy, Lord God Almighty"; and the elders on the throne-seats fell before Him who sat on the throne and worshiped in unison, without discord; in unity of worship, and in unity of honor to one God; and they cast their crowns before Him as a sign of surrender to God's will, for they were as he willed and were created to do his pleasure.
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Revelation 4". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/znt/revelation-4.html. 1952.