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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Revelation 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-11

THE FIRST verse of chapter 4 is, we judge, a very important one. It introduces the unveiling of “the things which must be hereafter;” that is, according to Revelation 1:19, the third section of the book. The vision now takes a fresh departure, and John sees a door opened in heaven and hears an authoritative call to come up into heavenly scenes. Being, as he tells us, “in the Spirit,” all that he experienced and saw had to him a vivid reality, and though a vision it conveys prophetic realities to us.

In the first place, then, John’s own position was changed. He left earthly scenes for heavenly, so that he might view thence the Divine dealings with the earth in judgment. This change has symbolic significance, we believe. Revelation 3:1-22 ends with, “the churches,” and these two words do not occur again until Revelation 22:16 is reached; that is, the churches do not appear right through the unfolding of “the things which must be hereafter.” The church as a whole is symbolized in Revelation 19:7, and again in Revelation 21:9, as “the Lamb’s wife,” but she is then manifestly in her heavenly seat. The catching up of John into heaven is symbolic of the rapture of the church, as detailed in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, and from this point begins the vision of things that take place on earth after the church is gone.

Next, we notice that before John is permitted to view the governmental judgments of God on the earth, he is shown the secret spring of all. In the coming day of the Lord, men cannot fail to see and feel the judgments, but they will be in the dark as to whence all proceeds. Now we are not to be ignorant of this, and so this chapter and the next are occupied with John’s vision of the heavenly scenes and of the One in whom all judgment is vested. The record of what he saw furnishes us with a picture of the heavenly world in solemn session, preparatory to judicial action on earth.

John’s attention was claimed first by the central throne and by Him that sat on it. He did not see heaven as “My Father’s house” (John 14:2), the eternal home of the saints, but as the seat of authority and rule, and the Divine glory appeared to him as the rays of precious stones. Such stones reflect the light—the glory of God, which in itself is a light too bright for mortal eyes. The throne of judgment was, however, encircled by a rainbow, showing that in judgment God remembers His promise of mercy, as in Genesis 9:13. Yet the rainbow was of a super-natural sort, of one colour, and that a tint not seen in the rainbows of our present world.

Then twenty-four lesser thrones encircled the central throne, and on these sat elders in the white raiment of priests, but crowned as kings. At once we perceive a resemblance to what Daniel saw some six centuries before, when he says, “I beheld till the thrones were cast down,” or rather, “were set, and the Ancient of days did sit” (Daniel 7:9), and then not only did One like the Son of Man have the dominion but, “the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom” (Daniel 7:18). So here there is a sight not only of God, the supreme Ruler, but of the complete kingdom of priests, who are to judge the world, according to 1 Corinthians 6:2. We identify the elders with the saints raised at the first resurrection, and their number corresponds with the 24 courses into which David divided the descendants of Aaron—the priestly family under the law. Twelve is the number of administration, and so 24 suits the priestly company, composed of both Old Testament and New Testament saints, now glorified together.

Verse Revelation 4:5 declares that the throne is characterized not by grace but by judgment, yet judgment which is to be executed in the full light of the Spirit of God. In chapters 2 and 3 the churches were each a “candlestick,” or “lampstand,” and the Lord was He who had the seven Spirits of God. Now the seven Spirits of God burn as lamps before the throne, illuminating the course of the Divine judgments. The “sea” is there, not filled with water for cleansing, as once in front of the Temple, but of glass, speaking of a state of fixed purity, and “in the midst” and “round about” the throne, as supporting it, were four “beasts,” or “living creatures.” There are strong similarities to the living creatures of Ezekiel 1:1-28, who later in that book are called cherubim. There are differences also: for instance, there only four wings are mentioned, whereas here there are six wings, agreeing rather with the seraphim of Isaiah 6:1-13.

The first mention of cherubim, in Genesis 3:24, certainly conveys the impression that they were some kind of angelic being. On the other hand Ezekiel 1:1-28 and Revelation 4:1-11 and Revelation 5:1-14 are records of visions granted to prophets, and the living creatures appear to be rather symbolic of God’s governmental actions in the sphere of creation. God’s ways have the strength of the lion, and endurance of the ox, the intelligence of a man, the swiftness and elevation of an eagle. The living creatures are also “full of eyes,” not only before and behind, but also within—they scrutinize all the future, and all the past, and the deep internal secrets of the ways of God. Hence they contribute to His praise, giving glory and honour and thanks to Him continually, declaring Him to be the thrice Holy, who lives for ever and ever. Thrice Holy, notice! Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.

As the living creatures give thanks the elders fall in worship, casting their crowns before the throne. They ascribed all glory, honour and power to the Lord on the ground of His creatorial work and supremacy, and thus very suitably they discrowned themselves. Since all things came into being for His pleasure, His judgments must now operate to rescue for His pleasure all that had been marred by sin. But something more than creating power and cleansing judgment is needed. That something chapter 5 brings before us, even the redeeming blood of Christ.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 4:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/revelation-4.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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