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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary
Revelation 4

 

 

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Verse 1

1.] After these things ( μετὰ ταῦτα (or τοῦτο) is a formula frequently occurring in this book, and no where indicating a break in the ecstatic state of the Seer, but only the succession of separate visions. Those are mistaken, e. g. Bengel, Hengstb., who imagine an interval, here and in the other places, during which the Seer wrote down that which had been previously revealed to him. The whole is conceived as imparted in one continuous revelation consisting of many parts. See below on Revelation 4:2) I saw (not with the bodily eye, but with the eye of ecstatic vision, as throughout the book. He is throughout ἐν πνεύματι. It is not I looked, as in E. V.: not the directing of the Seer’s attention which discovers the door to him, but the simple reception of the vision which is recorded), and behold, a door set open (not, was opened ( ἠνοίχθη) as E. V., which gives the idea that the Seer witnessed the act of opening. For the same reason the word “opened” is objectionable, as it may be mistaken for the aor. neuter) in heaven (notice the difference between this vision and that in Ezekiel 1:1; Matthew 3:16; Acts 7:56; Acts 10:11. In those, the heaven itself parts asunder, and discloses the vision to those below on earth: here the heaven, the house or palace of God (Psalms 11:4; Psalms 18:6; Psalms 29:9), remains firmly shut to those on earth, but a door is opened, and the Seer is rapt in the Spirit through it. Henceforth usually he looks from the heaven down on the earth, seeing however both alike, and being present in either, as the localities of his various visions require), and the former voice (much confusion has been introduced here by rendering, as E. V., “the first voice which,” &c., giving the idea that ἡ πρώτη means, first after the door was seen set open; whereas ἡ φωνὴ ἡ πρώτη is the voice which I heard at first, viz. in ch. Revelation 1:10) which I heard (aor. at the beginning) as of a trumpet speaking with me (viz. ch. Revelation 1:10. ὡς σάλπ. κ. τ. λ., is not predicative, “was as …” as E. V. and Treg. The construction simply is—“behold, a door … and the voice …,” both θύρα and φωνή dependent on ἰδού.

The voice is not that of Christ (as Stier, Reden Jesu viii. 93, 207 ff.: Reden der Engel, p. 242,—and al.), but of some undefined heavenly being or angel. As Düsterd. observes, all we can say of it is that it is the same voice as that in ch. Revelation 1:10, which there, Revelation 1:17, is followed by that of our Lord, not ὡς σάλπιγγος, but ὡς ὑδάτων πολλῶν, as stated by anticipation in Revelation 1:15), saying (Heb. לֵאמֹר. The gender is placed, regardless of the ordinary concord, with reference to the thing signified: so in reff., and even sometimes in the classics; cf. Xen. Cyr. i. 2. 12, αἱ πόλειςὡς παύσοντες. See more examples in Winer), Come up hither (viz. through the opened door), and I will shew thee (it is surprising how Stier can allege the δείξω as a proof that the Lord Himself only can be speaking: cf. ch. Revelation 21:9-10, Revelation 22:8-9, which latter place is decisive against him) the things which must (of prophetic necessity: see reff.) take place after these things ( ταῦτα, the things now present: as in ch. Revelation 1:19, but the ταῦτα not being the same in the two cases. So that μετὰ ταῦτα has very much the general meaning given by the “hereafter” of the E. V.).


Verses 1-11

1–11.] THE VISION OF GOD’S PRESENCE IN HEAVEN. “Decrees respecting the fortunes of the future rest with God, and from Him comes the revelation of them through Jesus Christ. Hence the Revelation begins with the imparting to the Apostle, through Christ, of the vision of God’s presence.” De Wette.


Verse 2

2.] Immediately I was (became) in the Spirit (i. e. I experienced a new accession of the Spirit’s powerful influence, which transported me thither: qu. d. “I was in a trance or ecstasy:” see on ch. Revelation 1:10. It is hardly credible that any scholar should have proposed to understand ἐκεῖ after ἐγενόμην, “immediately I was there in the Spirit:” but this was done by Züllig, and has found an advocate in England in Dr. Maitland: cf. Todd on the Apoc., Note B, p. 297): and behold, a throne stood (the E.V. “was set,” gives too much the idea that the placing of the throne formed part of the vision: “lay” would be our best word, but we do not use it of any thing so lofty as a throne. ἔκειτο is wrongly taken by Bengel as importing breadth; and by Hengstb. as representing the resting on the cherubim. But it is St. John’s word for mere local position: see reff.) in heaven, and upon the throne (the accus. is perhaps not to be pressed; it may be loosely used as equivalent to the gen. or dat. The variations of the case in this expression throughout the book are remarkable, and hardly to be accounted for. Thus we have the gen. in Revelation 4:10, ch. Revelation 5:1; Revelation 5:7 (Revelation 5:13?), Revelation 7:15, Revelation 9:17, Revelation 14:15-16, Revelation 17:1; Revelation 17:9, Revelation 19:18-19; Revelation 19:21; the dat. in Revelation 4:9, ch. (Revelation 5:13?), Revelation 6:16, Revelation 7:10, Revelation 19:4, Revelation 21:5; the accus. in Revelation 4:4, ch. Revelation 6:2; Revelation 6:4-5, Revelation 11:16, Revelation 14:14, Revelation 17:3, Revelation 19:11, Revelation 20:4; Revelation 20:11. The only rule that seems to be at all observed is, that always at the first mention of the fact of sitting, the accus. seems to be used, e. g. here, and Revelation 4:4, ch. Revelation 6:2; Revelation 6:4-5, Revelation 14:14, Revelation 17:3, Revelation 19:11, Revelation 20:4 (11 seems hardly a case in point), thus bearing a trace of its proper import, that of motion towards, of which the first mention partakes. But the accus. is not confined to the first mention, witness ch. Revelation 11:16, and no rule at all seems to prevail as regards the gen. and dat.) one sitting (called henceforward throughout the book, ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τ. θρ.: and being the Eternal Father (not as Lyra, “Deus trinus et unus,”—so also Corn.-a-lap., Calov.; for He that sitteth on the throne is distinguished in ch. Revelation 6:16, Revelation 7:10 from the Son, and in Revelation 4:5 from the Holy Spirit): see ch. Revelation 7:10, Revelation 19:4, where we read expressly, τῷ θεῷ τῷ καθηένῳ ἐπὶ τ. θρ. So that it is not for the reasons sometimes suggested, that the Name is not expressed: e. g. that by Eich. and Ewald, on account of the Jewish unwillingness to express the sacred Name: that by Herder (see also De W. al.], that the mind has no figure and the tongue no word by which to express it: still less that of Heinr., “Nonnisi ex negligentia scribendi videtur omissum.” The simple reason seems to be, as assigned by Hengstb. and Düsterd., that St. John would describe simply that which he saw, as he saw it. For the same reason he does not name Christ expressly in the first vision, ch. Revelation 1:13): and he that sat (no need to supply “was,” as ἦν in rec.: the nominatives are all correlative after ἰδού) like in appearance (lit., “in vision,” “in sight,” as E. V. in the next clause: dat. of form or manner, cf. Winer, edn. 6, § 31. 6, and see 1 Corinthians 14:20; Philippians 2:8; Philippians 3:5) to a jasper and sardine stone (Epiphanius, in his treatise on the twelve stones in Aaron’s breastplate says, λίθος ἴασπις, οὗτός ἐστι τῷ εἴδει σμαραγδίζων (see below). παρὰ δὲ τὰ χείλη τοῦ θερμώδοντος ποταμοῦ εὑρίσκεταιἀλλʼ ἔστι γένος πολὺ καλούμενον ἀμαθούσιον, τὸ εἶδος δὲ τοιόνδε ἐστὶ τοῦ λίθου· κατὰ τὴν σμάραγδόν ἐστι χλωρίζουσα, ἀλλὰ ἀμβλυτέρα καὶ ἀμαυροτέρα. καὶ ἔνδοθεν χλωρὸν ἔχει τὸ σῶμα, ἐοικυῖα ἰῷ χαλκοῦ, ἔχουσα φλέβας τετραστίχους κ. τ. λ. He then describes several other kinds, a purple, a yellow, &c. One kind appears to be that meant in our ch. Revelation 21:11, where we have the glory of God like ὡς λίθῳ ἰάσπιδι κρυσταλλίζοντι: for he describes it as ἄλλη κρυστάλλου ὕδατι ὁμοία. It is true that Epiphanius may have put in this species merely to satisfy ch. Revelation 21:11. From this latter passage, where it is described as τιμιώτατος,—which jasper, as commonly known, never was,—Ebrard argues that by ἴασπις the diamond. is meant. ἴασπις, Heb. יָשְׁפָה, a beautiful stone of various wavy colours, semi-opaque, granulous in texture, used in ancient times for gems and ornaments, but in more modern ones on a larger scale for pavements and tables. Even Pliny wrote, xxxvii. (8.) 37, “viret, et sæpe translucet iaspis, etiamsi victa a multis, antiquitatis tamen gloriam retinens.” The altar in Canterbury Cathedral stands on a platform of yellow Sicilian jasper pavement, 30 feet by 14 feet.

σάρδιος, Heb. אֹדֶם, is, as this name shews, a red stone, commonly supposed to answer to our cornelian. But Epiphanius, in his treatise on the twelve stones in Aaron’s breastplate, says of it, λίθος σάρδιος ὁ βαβυλώνιος, οὕτω καλούμενος. ἔστι δὲ πυρωπὸς τῷ εἴδει καὶ αἱματοειδής, σαρδίῳ τῷ ἰχθΰι τε ταριχευμένῳ ἐοικώς. διὸ καὶ σάρδιος λέγεται, ἀπὸ τοῦ εἴδους λαβὼν τὸ ἐπώνυμον. ἐν βαβύλωνι δὲ τῇ πρὸς ἀσσυρίαν γίνεται. ἔστι δὲ διαυγὴς ὁ λίθος.

Several of the Commentators, e. g. Victorin(75), Areth(76), Lyra, Ansbert, Joachim, &c., Bengel, Hengst., Düsterd., have said much on the symbolic significance of these stones as representing the glory of God. Thus much only seems, in the great uncertainty and variety of views, to stand firm for us: that if ἴασπις is to be taken as in ch. Revelation 21:11, as, by the reference there to τὴν δόξαν τοῦ θεοῦ, it certainly seems it must, then it represents a watery crystalline brightness, whereas σάρδιος is on all hands acknowledged to be fiery red. Thus we shall have ample material for symbolic meaning: whether, as Victorinus, Tichon., Primas(77), Bed(78), al., of the one great judgment by water (or of baptism) and the other by fire,—as Andr(79), Areth(80), Lyra, al., of the goodness of God in nature ( ἴασπις being green) and His severity in judgment,—as Ansbert, of the divinity and humanity (“quia nimirum humanitas ejus tempore passionis sanguine coloratur”), &c., or as the moderns mostly, e. g. Bengel, Stern, Hengstb., of the holiness of God and His justice. This last seems to me the more probable, especially as the same mixture of white light with fire seems to pervade the Old Testament and Apocalyptic visions of the divine majesty. Cf. Ezekiel 1:4; Ezekiel 8:2; Daniel 7:9; and our ch. Revelation 1:14, Revelation 10:1. But nothing can be confidently asserted, in our ignorance of the precise import of ἴασπις), and a rainbow (cf. Genesis 9:12-17; Ezekiel 1:28) round about the throne (i. e. in all probability surrounding the throne vertically, as a nimbus; not, as Beng. and Hengstb., horizontally) like to the appearance ( ὅμοιος is here an adj. with two terminations, as those in - ιος frequently in Attic Greek: see Winer (reff.): the construction of ὁράσει is not as above, but the dat. is here after ὅμοιος) of an emerald (on σμάραγδος (- δινος is the possess. adj. of two terminations) all seem agreed, that it represents the stone so well known among us as the emerald, of a lovely green colour:—Pliny says of it, ut supra, “quin et ab intentione alia obscurata aspectu smaragdi recreatur acies, scalpentibusque gemmas non alia gratior oculorum refectio est; ita viridi lenitate lassitudinem mulcent.” Almost all the Commentators think of the gracious and federal character of the bow of God, Genesis 9:12-17. Nor is it any objection to this (as Ebrard) that the bow or glory here is green, instead of prismatic: the form is that of the covenant bow, the colour even more refreshing and more directly symbolizing grace and mercy. “Deus in judiciis semper fœderis sui meminit:” Grot. So far at least we may be sure of as to the symbolism of this appearance of Him that sitteth on the throne: that the brightness of His glory and fire of His judgment is ever girded by, and found within, the refreshment and surety of His mercy and goodness. So that, as Düsterd. says well, “This fundamental vision contains all that may serve for terror to the enemies, and consolation to the friends, of Him that sitteth on the throne …”).


Verse 4

4.] The assessors of the enthroned One. The construction with ἰδού, partly in the nom., partly in the accus., still continues. And round the throne twenty-four thrones (i. e. evidently smaller thrones, and probably lower than ὁ θρόνος), and upon the twenty-four thrones elders sitting (the accus., either after εἶδον understood, or more likely loosely placed with the nominatives after ἰδού), clothed in white garments, and on their heads golden crowns (these 24 elders are not angels, as maintained by Rinck and Hofmann (Weiss. u. Erfüll. p. 325 f.), as is shewn (not by ch. Revelation 5:9, as generally argued,—even by Elliott, vol. i. p. 81 f.: see text there: but) by their white robes and crowns, the rewards of endurance, ch. Revelation 3:5, Revelation 2:10,—but representatives of the Church, as generally understood. But if so, what sort of representatives, and why 24 in number? This has been variously answered. The usual understanding has been that of our earliest Commentator, Victorinus; who says, “Sunt autem viginti quatuor, patres: duodecim Apostoli, totidem Patriarchæ.” And this is in all probability right in the main: the key to the interpretation being the analogy with the sayings of our Lord to the Apostles, Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30. That those sayings do not regard the same session as this, is no argument against the inference from analogy. Joachim brings against this view that the twelve patriarchs were not personally holy men, and never are held up as distinguished in the Old Testament. But this obviously is no valid objection. It is not the personal characters, but the symbolical, that are here in question. It might be said with equal justice that the number of the actual Apostles is not definitely twelve. It is no small confirmation of the view, that in ch. Revelation 15:3, we find the double idea of the church, as made up of Old Testament and New Testament saints, plainly revealed to St. John; for he heard the victorious saints sing the song of Moses, and the song of the Lamb. See also ch. Revelation 21:12; Revelation 21:14, where the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes, and its twelve foundations with those of the twelve Apostles. Various other interpretations have been: that of Lyra, “designantur universæ cathedrales ecclesiæ: quæ licet sint multæ, tamen sub tali numero designantur propter concordantiam novi Testamenti ad vetus, in quo legitur, 1 Paralip. xxv., quod sanctus David volens augmentare cultum divinum, statuit viginti quatuor sacerdotes templo per hebdomadas successive ministrantes, in sacra enim scriptura frequenter ponitur determinatus numerus pro indeterminato:” that of Alcas., Calov., Vitringa, Zeger, Ewald, al., who explain the number similarly by the 24 courses of priests and their heads,—the objection to which is, that these elders are not priests, their occupation in ch. Revelation 5:8 being simply connected with their representative character:—that of Grot., that the number is that of the presiding elders of the Jerusalem church (a pure assumption): that of Joachim, Heinrichs, Bleek, De Wette, that the number 12, that of the tribes of Israel, is doubled, to signify the accession of the Gentiles to the church: that of Primasius and Ansbert, that the doubling is “propter geminum Testamentum, quin et in veteri et in novo eadem formatur Ecclesia.” Besides these, there have been many fanciful reasons, deduced from numerical considerations: as e. g. that of Arethas in Catena, that 21 is 3 × 7, the combination of the number of perfection with that of the Holy Trinity, and then 3 is added; &c. &c.).


Verse 5

5.] And out of the throne go forth (the tense is changed, and the narrative assumes the direct form, which, however, is immediately dropped again, and the accumulation of details resumed) lightnings and voices and thunders (the imagery seems to be in analogy with that in the Old Testament, where God’s presence to give His law was thus accompanied: cf. Exodus 19:16; where ἀστραπαί and φωναί occur in juxtaposition as here. If this idea be correct, then we have here represented the sovereignty and almightiness of God. And nearly so Vitr., Hengstb., Düsterd., al. De Wette and Ebrard understand God’s power over nature, De W. uniting it with what follows: see below. Grot. says, “Fulgura et tonitrua significant minas Dei contra impios: voces sunt in ipsis tonitrubus, infra x. 3, i. e. non generaliter tantum minatur, sed et speciales pœnas prædicit.” But there seems no ground for this): and seven lamps (the former construction is resumed) of fire burning before the throne [itself] (or, before his throne, viz. the throne of the καθήμενος), which are the seven spirits of God (see notes on ch. Revelation 1:4, Revelation 5:6. These seem to represent the Holy Spirit in his sevenfold working: in his enlightening and cheering as well as his purifying and consuming agency. So most Commentators. De W. and Ebrard regard the representation as that of the Holy Spirit, the principle of physical and spiritual life, which appears only wrong by being too limited. Hengstenb. is quite beside the mark in confidently (as usual) confining the interpretation of the lamps of fire to the consuming power of the Spirit in judgment. The fact of the parallel ch. Revelation 5:6 speaking of ἑπτὰ ὀφθαλμοί, and such texts as ch. Revelation 21:23; Psalms 119:105, should have kept him from this mistake. The whole of this glorious vision is of a composite and twofold nature: comfort is mingled with terror, the fire of love with the fire of judgment): and before the throne as it were a sea (the ὡς belongs to θάλ. ὑαλ., not to ὑαλ. alone as Bengel: so also in the parallel place, ch. Revelation 15:2) of glass (not, “glassy,” as rendered by Elliott: ὑαλίνη describes not the appearance, but the material, of the sea: it appeared like a sea of glass—so clear, and so calm) like to crystal (and that not common glass, which among the ancients was as we see from its remains, cloudy and semi-opaque, but like rock crystal for transparency and beauty, as Victorinus, “aquam mundam, stabilem, non vento agitatam.” Compare by way of contrast, ἡ καθημένη ἐπὶ [ τῶν] ὑδάτων [ τῶν] πολλῶν, the multitudinous and turbulent waters, ch. Revelation 17:1.

In seeking the explanation of this, we must first track the image from its O. T. earlier usage. There, in Exodus 24:10, we have καὶ εἶδον τὸν τόπον οὗ εἱστήκει ὁ θεὸς τοῦ ἰσραήλ· καὶ τὰ ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ ὡσεὶ ἔργον πλίνθου σαπφείρου, καὶ ὥσπερ εἶδος στερεώματος τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τῇ καθαριότητι. Compare with this Ezekiel 1:22, καὶ ὁμοίωμα ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς αὐτῶν[ αὐτοῖς α] τῶν ζώων ὡσεὶ στερέωμα, ὡς ὅρασις κρυστάλλου, ἐκτεταμένον ἐπὶ τῶν πτερύγων αὐτῶν ἐπάνωθεν. In Job 37:18 also, where the LXX appear to have gone quite astray, the sky is said to be “as a molten looking-glass.” If we are to follow these indices, the primary reference will be to the clear ether in which the throne of God is upborne: and the intent of setting this space in front of the throne will be, to betoken its separation and insulation from the place where the Seer stood, and indeed from all else around it. The material and appearance of this pavement of the throne seem chosen to indicate majestic repose and ethereal purity.

All kinds of symbolic interpretations, more or less fanciful, have been given. Such are those of Victorinus (“donum baptismi”), Tichonius, Primas(81), Bed(82), Lyra, Calov., al.,—of Joachim (“in mari vitreo sacrum designatur scripturarum volumen”),—of Alcas. (repentance), of Ribera (“ego mare vitreum dici arbitror multitudinem hominum in terra viventium”), Paræus, al.,—of Vitringa (“id, quo clare intelligimus regnum Dei in Christo Jesu niti et fundari: id vero est α) certa et constans Dei voluntas, qua constituit regnum gratiæ habere inter homines.… β) jus certum et liquidum ejusmodi regnum gratiæ inter homines erigendi …”), Herder, al.,—of Bengel and Hengstb., that the sea of glass, on account of its being described as mixed with fire in ch. Revelation 15:2, is “das Product der sieben Feuerlampen,” and (Psalms 36:6, “Thy judgments are a great deep”) betokens the great and wonderful works of God, His righteous and holy ways. But as Düsterd. remarks, the parallel place, ch. Revelation 5:6, where the seven lamps are seven eyes, precludes this:—of Aretius, Grot., and Ebrard, who, because the sea, in its stormy and agitated state, represents (ch. Revelation 17:15) the nations of the earth in their godless state, therefore the pure and calm sea represents (Ebr.) the creatures in their proper relation to their Creator, or (Aret.) “cœtum ecclesiæ triumphantis,” or as Grot. strangely, and as De W. remarks, most unfelicitously, “summa puritas plebis Hierosolymitanæ ejus quæ Christo nomen dederat: quæ puritas describitur Act. ii. et iv.” Düsterd. connects it, and in fact identifies it, with the river of the water of life, λαμπρ. ὡς κρύσταλλον, which, ch. Revelation 22:1, proceeded out of the throne of God and the Lamb. But the whole vision there is quite distinct from this, and each one has its own propriety in detail. To identify the two, is to confound them: nor does ch. Revelation 15:2 at all justify this interpretation. There, as here, it is the purity, calmness, and majesty of God’s rule which are signified by the figure). And in the midst of the throne (not, as Hengstb., under the throne: their movements are free, cf. ch. Revelation 15:7. See below), and round about the throne (i. e. so that in the Apostle’s view they partly hid the throne, partly overlapped the throne, being symmetrically arranged with regard to it, i. e. as the number necessitates, one in the midst of each side), four living-beings (the E. V., “beasts,” is the most unfortunate word that could be imagined. A far better one is that now generally adopted, “living creatures:” the only objection to it being that when we come to Revelation 4:9; Revelation 4:11, we give the idea, in conjoining “living-creatures” and “created” ( ἔκτισας), of a close relation which is not found in the Greek. I have therefore preferred living-beings) full of eyes before and behind (this, from their respective positions, could be seen by St. John: their faces being naturally towards the throne. On the symbolism, see below). And the first living-being like to a lion, and the second living-being like to a steer ( μόσχος is not necessarily to be pressed to its proper primary meaning, as indicating the young calf in distinction from the grown bullock: the LXX use it for an ox generally, in Exodus 22:1; Leviticus 22:23; also Exodus 29:10, and Genesis 12:16), and the third living-being having its face as of a man (or, the face of a man), and the fourth living-being like to a flying eagle. And the four living-beings, each (reff.) of them having ( ἔχων, the gender being conformed to that of the thing signified, see on φωνὴλέγων, Revelation 4:1) six wings apiece (for the distributive ἀνά, see reff.). All round and within (I prefer much putting a period at ἕξ, to carrying on the construction; as more in accord with the general style of this description.

Understand, after both κυκλόθεν, and ἔσωθεν,— τῶν πτερύγων: the object of St. John being to shew, that the six wings in each case did not interfere with that which he had before declared, viz. that they were full of eyes before and behind. Round the outside of each wing, and up the inside of each (half-expanded) wing, and of the part of the body also which was in that inside recess) they are full of eyes: and they have no rest by day and by night ( ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτός may belong either to ἀνάπ. οὐκ ἔλ., or to λέγοντες. Partly on account of the καί, partly as a matter of the mere judgment of the ear, I prefer joining it with the latter) saying (the gender, see as above), Holy Holy Holy Lord God Almighty (so far is identical with the seraphim’s ascription of praise in Isaiah 6:3; παντοκράτωρ answering usually in the LXX to צְבָאוֹת, though not in that place. See Bengel’s remarks in note on Romans 9:29), which was, and which is, and which is to come (see on reff.).

These four living-beings are in the main identical with the cherubim of the O. T. (compare Ezekiel 1:5-10; Ezekiel 10:20), which are called by the same name of living creatures ( חַיּוֹת), and are similarly described. We may trace however some differences. In Ezekiel’s vision, each living-being has all four faces, Ezekiel 1:6, whereas here the four belong severally, one to each. Again in Ezekiel’s vision, it is apparently the wheels which are full of eyes, Ezekiel 1:18; though in Ezekiel 10:12, it would appear as if the animals also were included. Again, the having six wings apiece is not found in the cherubim of Ezekiel, which have four, Ezekiel 1:6,—but belongs to the seraphim described in Isaiah 6:2, to whom also (see above) belongs the ascription of praise here given. So that these are forms compounded out of the most significant particulars of more than one O. T. vision.

In enquiring after their symbolic import, we are met by the most remarkable diversity of interpretation. 1) Our earliest Commentator, Victorinus, may serve as the type of those who have understood them to symbolize the Four Evangelists, or rather, Gospels:—“Simile leoni animal, Evangelium secundum Marcum, in quo vox leonis in eremo rugientis auditur, vox clamantis in deserto, Parate viam Domini. Hominis autem figura Matthæus enititur enunciare nobis genus Mariæ unde carnem accepit Christus. Ergo dum enumerat ab Abraham usque ad David et usque ad Joseph, tanquam de homine locutus est. Ideo prædicatio ejus hominis effigiem ostendit. Lucas sacerdotium Zachariæ offerentis hostiam pro populo, et apparentem sibi angelum dum enarrat, propter sacerdotium, et hostiæ conscriptionem, vituli imaginationem tenet. Joannes Evangelista aquilæ similis, assumptis pennis ad altiora festinans, de verbo Dei disputat.” I have cited this comment at length, to shew on what fanciful and untenable ground it rests. For with perhaps the one exception of the last of the four, not one of the Evangelists has any inner or substantial accordance with the character thus assigned. Consequently these characteristics are found varied, and that in the earliest writer in whom the view can be traced, viz. Irenæus, who (iii. 11. 8, p. 190) makes the lion to be the gospel of St. John, which τὴν ἀπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς ἡγεμονικὴν αὐτοῦ.… καὶ ἔνδοξον γενεὰν διηγεῖται: the steer that of St. Luke, as above: the man, that of St. Matthew: the eagle, that of St. Mark, who ἀπὸ τοῦ προφητικοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ ἐξ ὕψους ἐπιόντος τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐποιήσατο. So also Andreas in Catena. But again Augustine, de cons. evv. i. 6, vol. iii. p. 1046, attributes the lion to St. Matthew, the man to St. Mark, the steer to St. Luke, and the eagle to St. John. These notices may again serve to shew with what uncertainty the whole view is beset. It has nevertheless been adopted by Jerome (Prolog. ad ev. Matth., vol. vii. p. 5, 6), Primas(83), Bed(84), and many others of old, and among the moderns by Williams (on the Study of the Gospels, pp. 1–92), Scott (Interpretation of the Apocalypse, p. 132, but making, as Aug(85) above, the lion = St. Matthew, the man = St. Mark, the ox = St. Luke, and the eagle = St. John), Wordsworth (Lectures on the Apoc. p. 116, see also his note here, who, as in his statements on the other details, so here, ascribes unanimity (but see below) to the ancients: “in them the ancient church beheld a figure of the four gospels”), &c. The principal of the other interpretations have been: 2) the 4 elements; so some mentioned in the Catena; 3) the 4 cardinal virtues: so Arethas, as cited by Corn.-a-lap., and generally: but not in the Catena: 4) the 4 faculties and powers of the human soul; “homo est vis rationalis, leo irascibilis, bos concupiscibilis, aquila est conscientia, sive spiritus;”—so Corn.-a-lap. refers to Sixtus Senensis as citing Greg. Naz(86) from Orig(87) Hom. 1 on Ezekiel, vol. iii. p. 361 f.: 5) Our Lord in the fourfold great events of Redemption: so a conjecture in the Catena ( ἴσως δὲ καὶ διὰ τούτων ἡ οἰκονομία χριστοῦ δηλοῦται· διὰ τοῦ λέοντος, ὡς βασιλεύς· διὰ δὲ τοῦ μόσχου, ὡς ἱερεύς, μᾶλλον δὲ καὶ ἱερεῖον· διὰ δὲ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ὡς διʼ ἡμᾶς ἀνδρωθείς· διὰ τοῦ ἀετοῦ, ὡς χορηγὸς τοῦ ζωοποίου πνεύματος καὶ ἐπὶ πάντας καταπτάντος), Aretius, Ansbert (inter alia: for he tries to combine all possible interpretations which can relate to Christ and the Church); 6) the 4 patriarchal-churches: so Lyra, explaining the lion = Jerusalem, “propter constantiam ibi existentium,” citing Acts 5:29; the ox = Antioch, “quia fuit parata obedire mandatis Apostolorum in Judæa existentium, et quia (?) primo in ea vocati sunt discipuli Christiani:” the man = Alexandria, “nam in ea a principio fuerunt doctores docti non solum in literis divinis sed etiam humanis:” the eagle = Constantinople, “nam in ea fuerunt viri per contemplationem elevati, ut Gregorius Naz(88) et plures alii.” This is referred to by Corn.-a-lap., who ends characteristically, “Hæ quatuor sunt in circuitu throni Dei, id est, Cathedræ Romanæ, in qua sedet vicarius Dei:” 7) the 4 great Apostles, Peter, “fervens animo et in hoc leoni similis:” James the Lord’s brother, because “bos patientiam significat:” Matthew, “bonitate homo antecedit animantia cætera. Puto designari Matthæum qui diu dicitur mansisse in Judæa” (?): Paul, because the eagle “celeritatem ministerii significat, quod certe Paulo proprium qui sæpius Hierosolymis fuit. Et bene πετομένῳ, quia semper erat in cursu:” so Grotius: 8) all the doctors of the church: so Vitringa, al.: 9) “in quatuor animalibus istis quatuor speciales ordines designati sunt, quorum primus pastorum est, secundus diaconorum, tertius doctorum, quartus contemplantium,” Joachim: 10) the 4 representatives of the N. T. church, as the four standards of the tribes Reuben, Judah, Ephraim, and Dan, which are traditionally thus reported (see also Numbers 2), were of the O. T. church. So Mede and many others: 11) the 4 virtues of the Apostles, “magnanimitas, beneficentia, æquitas sapientia,”—Alcasar (in De W.): 12) the 4 principal angels, Corn.-a-lap., Laun., al.: 13) the angelic, or is-angelic, state of the glorified church: so Elliott, vol. i. p. 87. But thus we have no account given of the peculiar symbolism of these living-beings, nor of the part which they perform in the act of praise below. There are many other interpretations and ramifications of interpretation, hardly worth recounting. But the one which above all these seems to me to require our notice is that which is indicated in the rabbinical sentence cited by Schöttgen here: “Quatuor sunt qui principatum in hoc mundo tenent. Inter creaturas homo, inter aves aquila, inter pecora bos, inter bestias leo.” The four cherubic forms are the representatives of animated nature—of God’s sentient creation. In Ezekiel, each form is compounded of the four. Here, the four forms are distinct. There (Ezekiel 28:12), where the prince of Tyrus is compared to one of them, it is called the impression of similitude, and the crown of beauty: in Isaiah 6, where the seraphim, which enter into the composition of these living beings, ascribe holiness to Jehovah, they cry, “His glory is the fulness of the whole earth.” With this view, every thing that follows is in accordance. For when these, and the 24 elders, in Revelation 4:9-11, fall down before the throne, the part which these living-beings bear in the great chorus of praise is sufficiently indicated by the reason which is given for their ἄξιος εἶ, viz. ὅτι σὺ ἔκτισας τὰ πάντα, καὶ διὰ τὸ θέλημά σου ἦσαν καὶ ἐκτίσθησαν. The objection brought against this view by Ebrard, viz. that Behemoth, the king of the waters, is not here represented, is mere trifling. He forgets that in the record of creation, the noblest of the creatures sprung from the waters are not fishes, but birds; and that the eagle represents both. It is in strict accordance also with this view, that these living-beings are full of eyes, ever wakeful, ever declaring the glory of God: that they have each six wings, which doubtless are to be taken as in Isaiah 6 from which the figure comes—“with twain he covered his face (reverence, in not venturing to look on the divine majesty), and with twain he covered his feet (humility, hiding his own created form from the glory of the Creator), and with twain he did fly (obedience, readiness to perform the divine commands). This view is taken by the best of the modern Commentators: by Herder, De Wette, Rinck, Hengstb., Düsterd. Ebrard differs only in this, that he regards them as symbolic not of creation itself, but of the creative power of God. Stern, whose commentary on this whole passage is very able and beautiful, inclines rather to take them as representing the power of divine grace within the church of God: but in his usual interpretation (see in p. 209, on ὅταν δώσουσιν, κ. τ. λ.) treats them as “alles creaturliche Leben der Natur.” See also my Hulsean Lectures for 1841, vol. i. Lecture ii.

We have thus the throne of God surrounded by His Church and His animated world: the former represented by the 24 elders, the latter by the four living-beings.


Verses 9-11

9–11.] The everlasting song of praise of creation, in which the church joins. It is well observed by Düsterd., that the ground of this ascription of praise is not redemption, which first comes in ch. Revelation 5:9 ff.,—but the power and glory of God as manifested in Creation; so that the words of the elders are in beautiful harmony with the praise of the four living-beings, and with the signification of the whole vision. And whensoever the living-beings shall give (the future δώσουσι must not be pressed quite so strongly as is done by De Wette (so also Stern), “from henceforth for all the time to come: see ch. Revelation 7:15 ff.: beforetime it was not so, seeing that the 24 elders have only assumed their place since Christ’s work of Redemption has been proceeding and His victory developing.” Still, it is more than a mere frequentative put for the regular subjunctive, as Düsterd., after Vitr., Beng., Hengstb., and Ebr. It has a distinct pointing onward towards the future, implying eternal repetition of the act, which the subjunctive would not carry) glory and honour (i. e., recognition of His glory and honour) and thanksgiving (i. e. actual giving of thanks: the 3 accusatives are not strictly co-ordinate in meaning) to Him that sitteth upon the throne, to Him that liveth to the ages of the ages, the twenty-four elders shall fall down before Him that sitteth upon the throne, and shall worship Him that liveth to the ages of the ages (cf. ch. Revelation 5:8, Revelation 19:4), and shall cast down their crowns (to disclaim all honour and dignity of their own, and acknowledge that all belongs to Him. See instances of casting down crowns cited in Wetstein. Cf. especially Tacit. Ann. xv. 29: “ad quam (effigiem Neronis) progressus Tiridates … sublatum capiti diadema imagini subjecit”) before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord and our (Düsterd. remarks that the ἡμῶν has a force here peculiarly belonging to the 24 elders, as representing the redeemed, and thus standing in a covenant relation to God nearer than that of the 4 living-beings. But we must not forget, that Creation is only a part of Redemption, Colossians 1:20) God, to receive the glory ( τὴν δ. &c., as alluding to the δόξα &c., Revelation 4:9, ascribed by the living-beings. The articles are improperly omitted in E. V.) and the honour and the might (observe that τὴν δύναμιν in the mouth of the 24 elders represents εὐχαριστίαν in that of the 4 living-beings. The elders, though themselves belonging to creation, in this ascription of praise look on creation from without, and that thanksgiving, which creation renders for its being, becomes in their view a tribute to Him who called them into being, and thus a testimony to His creative power. And thus the reason follows): because Thou didst create all things ( τὰ πάντα, “this universal whole,” the universe), and on account of Thy will (i. e. because Thou didst will it: “propter voluntatem tuam,” as Vulg.: not durch Deinen Willen, as Luther, which represents διὰ with a gen. “For thy pleasure,” of the E. V., introduces an element entirely strange to the context, and however true in fact, most inappropriate here, where the ὅτι renders a reason for the ἀξιότης of ἡ δόξα, ἡ τιμή, and ἡ δύναμις) they were ( ἦσαν, not = ἐγενήθησαν, came into being, as De W., al.: for this it cannot signify: nor again, though thus the requirement of ἦσαν would be satisfied, as Lyra, “in dispositione tua ab æterno, antequam crearentur:” nor, as Grot., “erant jam homines quia tu volueras, et conditi sunt, id est, iterum conditi, per Christum:” nor again as Bengel, “all things were, from the creation down to the time of this ascription of praise and henceforward.” The best explanation is that of Düsterd., they existed, as in contrast to their previous non-existence: whereby not their coming into being, but the simple fact of their being, is asserted.

The remarkable reading οὐκ ἦσαν is worth notice: “by reason of Thy will they were not, and were created:” i. e. “they were created out of nothing.” But besides the preponderance of authority the other way, there is the double chance, that οὐκ may have arisen from the preceding ου, and that it may have been an escape from the difficulty of ἦσαν) and were created (they both had their being,— ἦσαν; and received it from Thee by a definite act of Thine,— ἐκτίσθησαν).

 


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Bibliography Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Revelation 4:4". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/revelation-4.html. 1863-1878.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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