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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Revelation 4

 

 

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Verse 1

Revelation 4:1. The former vision which John saw, contained in the foregoing chapters, represented the state of the church at the time when the vision was given, or the things that then were, (Revelation 1:19,) and gave suitable directions to the churches, with their pastors, to encourage their faith and patience, and excite them to constancy and perseverance. Now the apostle records a second vision, in which the things were revealed to him that should be afterward, namely, to the end of time: or the things which were to come to pass, in successive order, from the time of the vision till the mystery of God should be finished. In order to raise the greater attention of the church, and to represent the certainty and great importance of the things revealed, both to the glory of God and the salvation of mankind, God himself is represented as seated on his heavenly throne, in the midst of his saints, and the whole general assembly of his church, and the glorious majesty and infinite perfections of God are set forth by very lively, expressive, and beautiful images, together with the high regard which the churches ought always to have for the counsels, designs, and dispensations of divine providence, declared and published in so solemn a manner.

After this — That is, after I had seen the foregoing vision, and had written as I was directed, the seven letters to the seven churches, from the mouth of Christ; I looked — Being directed so to do; and, behold, a door was opened in heaven — So it appeared to me, and hereby I understood that other heavenly discoveries, such as had not been made before, were about to be communicated to me, and that I should obtain a further insight into the divine counsels. Other openings like that here spoken of are successively mentioned. Here a door is opened; afterward, the temple of God in heaven, Revelation 11:19; Revelation 15:5; and, at last, heaven itself is opened, Revelation 19:11. By each of these openings, St. John gains a new and more extended prospect. He saw and heard, and then, it seems, immediately wrote down one part after another. By the particle and the several parts of the prophecy are usually connected: by the expression after these things, they are distinguished from each other, Revelation 7:9; Revelation 19:1; and by that expression, And after these things, they are both distinguished and connected, Revelation 7:1; Revelation 15:5; Revelation 18:1. And the first voice which I heard — Namely, that of Christ, (afterward he heard the voices of many others,) was as it were of a trumpet talking with me — There may probably be an allusion here to the custom of the Jewish Church, in which, upon opening the gates of the temple, the priests sounded their trumpets to call the Levites and priests to attend to their several offices; which said, Come up hither — Not in body, but in spirit, which was instantly done; and I will show thee things which must be hereafter — To such things, then future, the whole subsequent prophecy refers.


Verse 2

Revelation 4:2. Immediately I was in the Spirit — Even in a higher degree than before. “This phrase,” says Doddridge, “signifies to be under a strong and supernatural impulse, caused by the miraculous operation of the Spirit of God acting on the imagination, in such a manner as to open extraordinary scenes, which had not any exact external archetype. And it is much illustrated by the view presented to Ezekiel, when he sat in his house among the elders of the people, (Ezekiel 8:1,) who probably saw nothing but the prophet himself, as one who was in a trance or ecstasy, or whose thoughts were so attentively fixed as to be insensible of what passed around him. We are not therefore to imagine that the person sitting on the throne, or the four animals, or the four and twenty elders, were real beings existing in nature, though they represented, in a figurative manner, things that did really exist. And, though it is possible that aerial scenes might, by divine or angelic power, have been formed, I think it much more probable that all that passed was purely in the imagination of St. John. This will keep us, in our interpretation, clear of a thousand difficulties, not to say absurdities, which would follow from a contrary supposition, namely, that there is in heaven an animal in the form of a lamb, to represent Christ, and that there are such living creatures as here described; and that God himself appears in a human form,” &c.

Behold, a throne was set in heaven — Representing that of the blessed God; and one sat on the throne — Of a majestic form and appearance, and arrayed in robes of glory as a king, governor, and judge. Here is described God, the Almighty, the Father of heaven, in his majesty, glory, and dominion.


Verse 3

Revelation 4:3. He that sat was to look upon like a jasper — Shone with a visible lustre, like that of sparkling precious stones, such as those which were of old on the high-priest’s breast-plate, and those placed as the foundations of the New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:19-20. If there be any thing emblematical in the colours of these stones, possibly the jasper (one species, at least, of which, according to Pliny, is milky white, and according to Daubuz, of a white and bright shining colour) might be a symbol of God’s purity, with various other perfections which shine in all his dispensations. The sardine-stone, of a blood-red colour, or with white and red strata, may be an emblem of his justice, and of the vengeance he was about to execute on his enemies. An emerald, being green, may betoken favour to the penitent and pious; and the rainbow, of an emerald colour, was undoubtedly intended to express the everlasting covenant of grace and peace, of which the rainbow was to Noah an appointed token. And this rainbow, being round about the whole breadth of the throne, fixed the distance of those who stood or sat round it.


Verse 4-5

Revelation 4:4-5. And round about the throne — In a circle; four and twenty seats — Greek, θρονοι, thrones; and upon the thrones four and twenty elders — Signifying, perhaps, the most wise, holy, and useful of all the former ages, whether of the patriarchal, Jewish, or Christian Church, Isaiah 24:23; Hebrews 12:1. In the number, there seems to be an allusion to that of the patriarchs and apostles, and they may be called elders, because the presidency of elders was common among the Jews. Or, as Bishop Newton thinks, the allusion is to the princes of the four and twenty courses of the Jewish priests: and if so, these four and twenty elders must be considered as representing the Jewish Church. Indeed, their harps, and golden vials full of odours, (Revelation 5:8,) seem to intimate their connection with the ancient tabernacle service, in which such things were wont to be used. Sitting — In general; but falling down when they worshipped; clothed in white raiment — A habit resembling that of the Jewish priests, and emblematical of their purity; and on their heads crowns of gold — In token of their being made kings as well as priests unto God. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, voices — The usual concomitants of the divine presence, representing the awful majesty of the one true God, the King of Israel; and also emblematical of the revelations about to be given, and of the commotions and convulsions about to take place in the world and in the church. See on Revelation 8:5; Revelation 11:19. And there were seven lamps of fire, &c., which are the seven spirits — That is, which represent the various gifts and operations of God’s Holy Spirit. See on Revelation 1:4.


Verse 6-7

Revelation 4:6-7. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal — Wide and deep, pure and clear, transparent and still. Both the seven lamps of fire and this sea are before the throne, and both may mean the seven Spirits of God, the Holy Ghost; whose powers and operations are frequently represented both under the emblem of fire and water. We read again, Revelation 15:2, of a sea as of glass, where there is no mention of the seven lamps of fire; but, on the contrary, the sea itself is mingled with fire. We read also, Revelation 22:1, of a stream of water of life, clear as crystal. Now, the sea which is before the throne, and the stream which goes out of the throne, may both mean the same, namely, the Spirit of God. And in the midst of the throne — With respect to its height; and round about the throne — That is, toward the four quarters, east, west, north, and south; were four beasts — Or rather living creatures, as ζωα means, (not beasts, certainly, any more than birds.) “It was a most unhappy mistake,” says Doddridge, “in our translators to render the word beasts, as it certainly signifies any other kind of animals; that is, of creatures which have animal life, as well as beasts. The word beasts not only degrades the signification, but the animals here mentioned have parts and appearances which beasts have not, and are represented in the highest sense rational.” It has been observed on Revelation 4:4, that the four and twenty elders may represent the Jewish Church. If so, these living creatures may represent the Christian Church. Their number, also, is symbolical of universality, and agrees with the dispensation of the gospel, which extends to all nations under heaven. And the new song, which they all sing, saying, Thou hast redeemed us out of every kindred: and tongue, and people, and nation, (Revelation 5:9,) could not possibly suit the Jewish without the Christian Church; nor is it, in any respect, applicable to angels. The first living creature was like a lion — To signify undaunted courage; the second like a calf — Or ox, (Ezekiel 1:10,) to signify unwearied patience: the third with the face of a man — To signify prudence and compassion; the fourth like a flying eagle — To signify activity and vigour; full of eyes — To betoken wisdom and knowledge; before — To see the face of him that sitteth on the throne; and behind — To see what is done among the creatures. Two things may be observed here; 1st, That the four qualities, thus emblematically set forth in these four living creatures, namely, undaunted courage, unwearied patience under sufferings, prudence, and compassion, and vigorous activity, are found, more or less, in the true members of Christ’s church in every age and nation. 2d, That it may possibly be here intimated, that these qualities would especially prevail in succeeding ages of the church, in the order in which they are here placed; that is, that in the first age, true Christians would be eminent for the courage, fortitude, and success wherewith they should spread the gospel; that in the next age they would manifest remarkable patience in bearing persecution, when they should be killed all the day, like calves or sheep appointed for the slaughter: that in the subsequent age or ages, when the storms of persecution were blown over, and Christianity generally spread through the whole Roman empire, knowledge and wisdom, piety and virtue should increase, the church should wear the face of a man; and excel in prudence, humanity, love, and good works: and that in ages still later, being reformed from various corruptions in doctrine and practice, and full of vigour and activity, it should carry the gospel as upon the wings of a flying eagle, to the remotest nations under heaven; to every kindred, and tongue, and people.


Verse 8

Revelation 4:8. And the four living creatures — With an allusion to the seraphim represented in Isaiah’s vision; had each of them six wings about him — Which they used in part to express their reverence and humility, and in part to show readiness and expedition in performing the orders and commands of God. See on Isaiah 6:2-3. And they were full of eyes within — Bengelius reads κυκλοθεν και εσωθεν γεμουσιν οφθαλμων, round about and within they are full of eyes: round about signifying their attention to and knowledge of the state of the world and church in general; or rather, perhaps, their vigilance and circumspection, their attention to their duty to God and man, and their watchful observance of the designs, wiles, devices, and various motions and snares of their spiritual enemies; and they are said to be full of eyes within, to signify their self-knowledge, their diligent attention to the state of their own hearts, and the various workings of their passions and appetites, their affections and thoughts. And they rest not — O happy unrest! day and night — They are incessant in the spiritual worship, adoration, and praise of him who is a Spirit; and at all proper opportunities they unite in acts of solemn and external worship; saying — With their lips, as well as in their hearts; Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which ever was, and now is, and is still to come — Or, for ever will be; the one true God, the everlasting Lord, the Supreme Governor of all beings.

There are two words in the original very different from each other, both which we translate holy. The one, οσιος, means properly, merciful: but the other, αγιος, which occurs here, implies much more. “This holiness is the sum of all the praise which is given to the Almighty Creator, for all that he does and reveals concerning himself, till the new song brings with it new matter of glory. This word properly signifies separated. And when God is termed holy, it denotes that excellence which is altogether peculiar to himself; and the glory flowing from all his attributes conjoined, shining forth from all his works, and darkening all things besides itself, whereby he is, and eternally remains, in an incomprehensible manner, separate, and at a distance, not only from all that is impure, but likewise from all that is created. God is separate from all things. He is, and works from himself, out of himself, in himself, through himself, for himself. Therefore he is the First and the Last, the only One, and the Eternal; living and happy, endless and unchangeable, almighty, omniscient, wise and true, just and faithful, gracious and merciful. When God is spoken of, he is often named, The Holy One. And as God swears by his name, so he does also by his holiness, that is, by himself. This holiness is often styled glory; often his holiness and glory are celebrated together, Leviticus 10:3; Isaiah 6:4. For holiness is covered glory, and glory is uncovered holiness. The Scripture speaks abundantly of the holiness and glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And hereby is the mystery of the Holy Trinity eminently confirmed. That is also termed holy, which is consecrated to him, and for that end separated from other things. And so is that wherein we may be like God, or united to him. In the hymn resembling this, recorded by Isaiah, (Revelation 6:3,) is added, The whole earth is full of his glory. But this is deferred in the Revelation, till the glory of the Lord (his enemies being destroyed) fills the earth.” — Wesley.


Verses 9-11

Revelation 4:9-11. And when those living creatures give glory, &c., the elders fall down — That is, as often as the living creatures begin their song of adoration and praise, the elders immediately fall down. The expression implies that they did so at the same instant, and that they both did this frequently. The living creatures do not say directly, Holy, holy, holy art thou; but only bend a little, out of deep reverence, and say, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord. But the elders, when they are fallen down, say, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory — This he receives, not only when he is thus praised, but also when he destroys his enemies, and glorifies himself anew; glory, &c. — In the Greek, (which has the article with each noun,) it is, the glory, and the honour, and the power; answering the thrice holy of the living creatures, Revelation 4:9. For thou hast created all things — By thine almighty energy. Creation is the ground of all the works of God. Therefore for this, as well as for all his other works, he must and will be praised to all eternity. And for thy pleasure δια το θελημα σου, on account of thy will; they are — They exist; and were at first created — Their first production and continued existence are owing to the riches of thy free goodness; and therefore they are all under the strongest obligations, according to their respective natures, to subserve the purposes of thy glory.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Revelation 4:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/revelation-4.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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