corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies
Revelation 4



Other Authors
Verse 1

After this ( μετὰ ταῦτα )

Rev., literally, after these things. Not indicating a break in the ecstatic state of the seer, but only a succession of separate visions.

I looked ( εἶδον )

Rev., better, I saw. Not of the directing of attention, but of the simple reception of the vision.

A door was opened ( θύρα ἀνεῳγμένη )

Rev., rightly, omits was. A door set open. The A.V. implies that the seer witnessed the opening of the door.

In Heaven

Compare Ezekiel 1:1; Matthew 3:16; Acts 7:56; Acts 10:11. In all these heaven itself is opened.


Omit. Render, as Rev., “a voice as of a trumpet.”

A trumpet ( σάλπιγγος )

See on Matthew 24:31. Properly a war-trumpet, though the word was also used of a sacred trumpet, with the epithet ἱερά sacredSpeaking - saying ( λαλούσης - λέγουσα )

See on Matthew 28:18. The former verb indicates the breaking of the silence, the latter the matter of the address.

Hereafter ( μετὰ ταῦτα )

Some editors connect these words with the succeeding verse, substituting them for καὶ andat the beginning of that verse, and rendering, “I will show thee the things which must come to pass. After these things straightway I was,” etc.

Verse 2

I was in the Spirit ( ἐγενόμην ἐν πνεύματι )

Strictly, I became: I found myself in. Appropriate to the sudden and unconscious transportation of the seer into the ecstatic state. Thus Dante describes his unconscious rapture into Paradise:

“And suddenly it seemed that day to day

Was added, as if He who had the power

Had with another sun the heaven adorned.”

Beatrice, noticing his amazement, says:

“Thou makest thyself so dull

With false imagining, that thou seest not

What thou wouldst see if thou hadst shaken it off.

Thou art not upon earth as thou believest;

But lightning, fleeing its appropriate site,

Ne'er ran as thou, who thitherward returnest.”

Paradiso,” i., 60-93.

A throne

See Ezekiel 1:26-28.

Was set ( ἔκειτο )

Denoting merely position, not that the seer saw the placing of the throne. Compare John 2:6.

One sitting

He is called henceforward throughout the book He that sitteth on the throne, and is distinguished from the Son in Revelation 6:16; Revelation 7:10, and from the Holy Spirit in Revelation 4:5. He is commonly understood to be God the Father; but some understand the triune God.

Verse 3

Jasper stone

The last of the twelve stones in the High Priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:20; Exodus 39:13), and the first of the twelve enumerated in the foundation of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19). Also the stone employed in the superstructure of the wall of the Heavenly City (Revelation 21:18). The stone itself was of different colors, the best being purple. According to Revelation 21:11, it represents a crystalline brightness.


Rev., Sardius. The sixth foundation-stone of the Heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21:20. A red stone, supposed to answer to our cornelian. Pliny derives its name from Sardis where it was discovered. Others from the Persian sered, yellowish red. The exact meaning of the symbolism must remain uncertain, owing to our ignorance of the precise meaning of “jasper,” a name which seems to have covered a variety of stones now known under other classifications. Some interpreters, assuming the jasper to be sparkling white, find in it a representation of the holiness of God, and in the fiery sardius a representation of His wrath.

Rainbow ( ἶρις )

Only here and Revelation 10:1. The word is identical, and seems to have had some original connection with Iris, the deity known as the messenger-goddess of Olympus. In Homer the word is used in both senses.

“And if thou wishest now to ask of me,

No dream I am, but lovely and divine:

Whereof let this be unto thee a sign,

That when thou wak'st, the many-colored bow

Across the world the morning sun shall throw.

But me indeed thine eyes shall not behold.

Then he, awaking in the morning cold,

A sprinkle of fine rain felt on his face,

And leaping to his feet, in that wild place,

Looked round, and saw the morning sunlight throw

Across the world the many-colored bow;

And trembling knew that the high gods indeed

Had sent the messenger unto their need.”

William Morris, “Jason,” xi., 190-200.

In classical Greek the word is used of any bright halo surrounding another body; of the circle round the eyes of a peacock's tail, and of the iris of the eye.

“And I beheld the flamelets onward go,

Leaving behind themselves the air depicted,

And they of trailing pennons had the semblance,

So that it overhead remained distinct

With sevenfold lists, all of them of the colors

Whence the sun's bow is made, and Delia's girdle.”

Dante, “Purgatorio,” xxix, 73-78.

“Within the deep and luminous subsistence

Of the High Light appeared to me three circles,

Of threefold color and of one dimension,

And by the second seemed the first reflected

As Iris is by Iris, and the third

Seemed fire that equally from both is breathed.”

Paradiso,” xxxiii., 115-120.

On this passage, which belongs to the description of Dante's vision of the Eternal Trinity, Dean Plumptre remarks: “One notes, not without satisfaction, that Dante shrinks from the anthropomorphism of Byzantine and early Western art, in which the Ancient of Days was represented in the form of venerable age. For him, as for the more primitive artists, the rainbow reflecting rainbow is the only adequate symbol of the “God of God, Light of Light” of the Nicene Creed, while the fire of love that breathes from both is that of the Holy Spirit, “proceeding from the Father and the Son.”

Round about the throne

Compare Ezekiel 1:26, Ezekiel 1:28.

Emerald ( σμαραγδίνῳ )

The stone is first mentioned by Herodotus, who describes a temple of Hercules which he visited at Tyre. He says: “I found it richly adorned with a number of offerings, among which were two pillars, one of pure gold, the other of emerald ( σμαράγδου λίθου ), shining with great brilliancy at night” (ii., 44). Also in his story of Polycrates of Samos, the signet-ring which Polycrates cast into the sea, was an emerald set in gold (iii., 41). It is claimed, however, that the real emerald was unknown to the ancients. Rawlinson thinks that the pillar in the Tyrian temple was of glass. The bow was not wanting in the other colors, but the emerald was predominant.

Verse 4

Throne ( θρόνου )

A seat or chair. In Homer, an armchair with high back and footstool. Cushions were laid upon the seat, and over both seat and back carpets were spread. A royal throne. Used of the oracular seat of the priestess of Apollo. Apollo, in the “Eumenides” of Aeschylus, says: “Never, when I sat in the diviner's seat ( μαντικοῖσιν ἐν θρόνοις ) did I speak aught else than Zeus the father of the Olympians bade me” (616-618). Plato uses it of a teacher's seat. “I saw Hippias the Elean sitting in the opposite portico in a chair ( ἐν θρόνῳ ). Others were seated round him on benches ( ἐπὶ βάθρων ),” questioning him, “and he ex cathedreâ ( ἐν θρόνῳ καθήμενος , lit., sitting in the chair ) was determining their several questions to them, and discoursing of them” (“Protagoras,” 315). Also used of a judge's bench, and a bishop's seat.

Seats ( θρόνοι )

Rev., rightly, thrones. The word is the same as the last.

I saw


Elders ( πρεσβυτέρους )

See on Acts 14:23. The twenty-four elders are usually taken to represent the one Church of Christ, as at once the Church of the old and of the new Covenant, figured by the twelve patriarchs and the twelve apostles.

“Then saw I people, as behind their leaders,

Coming behind them, garmented in white,

And such a whiteness never was on earth

… ..

Under so fair a heaven as I describe

The four and twenty-elders, two by two,

Came on incoronate with flower-de-luce.”

Dante, “Purgatorio,” xxix., 64-84.

Clothed ( περιβεβλημένους )

Rev., arrayed. Better, as indicating a more solemn investiture. See on Revelation 3:5.

They had


Crowns ( στεφάνους )

See on 1 Peter 5:4; see on James 1:12. Στέφανος with the epithet golden is found only in Revelation. Compare Revelation 9:7; Revelation 14:14. The natural inference from this epithet and from the fact that the symbolism of Revelation is Hebrew, and that the Jews had the greatest detestation of the Greek games, would be that στέφανος is here used of the royal crown, especially since the Church is here represented as triumphant- a kingdom and priests. On the other hand, in the three passages of Revelation where John evidently refers to the kingly crown, he uses διάδημα (Revelation 12:3; Revelation 13:1; compare Revelation 17:9, Revelation 17:10; Revelation 19:12). Trench (“Synonyms of the New Testament”) claims that the crown in this passage is the crown, not of kinghood, but of glory and immortality. The golden crown ( στέφανος ) of the Son of Man (Revelation 14:14) is the conqueror's crown.

It must be frankly admitted, however, that the somewhat doubtful meaning here, and such passages of the Septuagint as 2 Samuel 12:30; 1 Chronicles 20:2; Psalm 20:3; Ezekiel 21:26; Zechariah 6:11, Zechariah 6:14, give some warrant for the remark of Professor Thayer (“New Testament Lexicon”) that it is doubtful whether the distinction between στέφανος and διάδημα (the victor's wreath and the kingly crown ) was strictly observed in Hellenistic Greek. The crown of thorns ( στέφανος ) placed on our Lord's head, was indeed woven, but it was the caricature of a royal crown.

Verse 5

Proceeded ( ἐκπορεύονται )

Rev., proceed. The tense is graphically changed to the present.

Lightnings and thunderings and voices

Compare Exodus 19:16. Variously interpreted of God's might, His judgment, His power over nature, and His indignation against the wicked.

Lamps ( λαμπάδες )

The origin of our lamp, but, properly, a torch; the word for lamp being λύχνος , a hand-lamp filled with oil (Matthew 5:15; Luke 8:16; John 5:35). See on Matthew 25:1. Trench says: “The true Hindoo way of lighting up, is by torches, held by men who feed the flame with oil from a sort of bottle constructed for the purpose.”

Seven Spirits of God

See on Revelation 1:4.

Verse 6

Of glass ( ὑαλίνη )

Rev., glassy, which describes the appearance not the material. The adjective, and the kindred noun ὕαλος glassoccur only in Revelation. The etymology is uncertain; some maintaining an Egyptian origin, and others referring it to the Greek ὕω torain, with the original signification of rain-drop. Originally, some kind of clear, transparent stone. Herodotus says that the Ethiopians place their dead bodies “in a crystal pillar which has been hollowed out to receive them, crystal being dug up in great abundance in their country, and of a kind very easy to work. You may see the corpse through the pillar within which it lies; and it neither gives out any unpleasant odor, nor is it in any respect unseemly: yet there is no part that is not as plainly visible as if the body were bare” (iii., 24). Glass is known to have been made in Egypt at least 3,800 years ago. The monuments show that the same glass bottles were used then as in later times; and glass blowing is represented in the paintings in the tombs. The Egyptians possessed the art of coloring it, and of introducing gold between two layers of glass. The ruins of glass-furnaces are still to be seen at the Natron Lakes. The glass of Egypt was long famous. It was much used at Rome for ornamental purposes, and a glass window has been discovered at Pompeii: Pliny speaks of glass being malleable.


Compare Ezekiel 1:22; Job 37:18; Exodus 24:10. The word is used in classical Greek for ice. Thucydides, describing the attempt of the Plataeans to break out from their city when besieged by the Peloponnesians and Boeotians, relates their climbing over the wall and crossing the ditch, but only after a hard struggle; “for the ice ( κρύσταλλος ) in it was not frozen hard enough to bear” (iii., 23). Crystal, regarded as a mineral, was originally held to be only pure water congealed, by great length of time, into ice harder than common. Hence it was believed that it could be produced only in regions of perpetual ice.

In the midst of - round about

Commonly explained as one in the midst of each of the four sides of the throne. “At the extremities of two diameters passing through the center of the round throne” (Milligan).

Beasts ( ζῶα )

Rev., living creatures. Alford aptly remarks that beasts is the most unfortunate word that could be imagined. Beast is θηρίον . Ζῶον emphasizes the vital element, θηρίον thebestial.

Full of eyes before and behind

The four living beings are mainly identical with the cherubim of Ezekiel 1:5-10; 10:5-20; Isaiah 6:2, Isaiah 6:3; though with some differences of detail. For instance, Ezekiel's cherubim have four wings, while the six described here belong to the seraphim of Isaiah. So also the Trisagion (thrice holy ) is from Isaiah. In Ezekiel's vision each living being has all four faces, whereas here, each of the four has one.

“There came close after them four animals,

Incoronate each one with verdant leaf,

Plumed with six wings was every one of them,

The plumage full of eyes; the eyes of Argus

If they were living would be such as these.

Reader I to trace their forms no more I waste

My rhymes; for other spendings press me so,

That I in this cannot be prodigal.

But read Ezekiel who depicteth them

As he beheld them from the region cold

Coming with cloud, with whirlwind, and with fire;

And such as thou shalt find them in his pages,

Such were they here; saving that in their plumage

John is with me, and differeth from him.”

Dante, “Purgatorio,” xxix., 92-105.

Verse 7

Lion, calf, man, eagle

From this passage is derived the familiar symbolism of the four Evangelists; Mark seated on a lion, Luke on a steer, Matthew on a man, and John on an eagle. These are varied however. Irenaeus attributes the lion to John, and the eagle to Mark. Augustine the lion to Matthew, the man to Mark.


See on 1 Peter 5:8.

Calf ( μόσχῳ )

Compare Luke 15:23. In the Septuagint for an ox or steer. Exodus 22:1; Ezekiel 1:10.

Eagle ( ἀετῷ )

See on Matthew 24:28.

Verse 8

Had ( εἶχον )

The best texts read ἔχων havingthe participle in the singular number agreeing with each one.

Each of them ( ἕν καθ ' ἑαυτὸ )

Lit., one by himself. The best texts read ἕν καθ ' ἕν oneby one or every one. Compare Mark 14:19.

Six wings

Compare Isaiah 6:2. Dante pictures his Lucifer, who is the incarnation of demoniac animalism, with three heads and six wings.

“Underneath each came forth two mighty wrings,

Such as befitting were so great a bird;

Sails of the sea I never saw so large.

No feathers had they, but as of a bat

Their fashion was; and he was waving them,

So that three winds proceeded forth therefrom.

Thereby Cocytus wholly was congealed.”

Inferno,” xxxiv., 46-52.

Dean Plumptre remarks that the six wings seem the only survival of the higher than angelic state from which Lucifer had fallen.

About him ( κυκλόθεν )

The best texts place the comma after ἕξ sixinstead of after κυκλόθεν aroundand connect κυκλόθεν with the succeeding clause, rendering, are full of eyes round about and within. So Rev.

They were full ( γέμοντα )

Read γέμουσιν arefull.

Round about and within

Around and inside each wing, and on the part of the body beneath it.

They rest not ( ἀνάπαυσιν οὐκ ἔχουσιν )

Lit., they have no rest. So Rev. See on give rest, Matthew 11:28; and see on resteth, 1 Peter 4:14.

Holy, etc.

Compare Isaiah 6:3, which is the original of the formula known as the Trisagion (thrice holy ), used in the ancient liturgies. In the Apostolic Constitutions it runs: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Hosts! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory, who art blessed forever, Amen.” Afterwards it was sung in the form “Holy God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, have mercy upon us.” So in the Alexandrian liturgy, or liturgy of St. Mark. Priest. “To Thee we send up glory and giving of thanks, and the hymn of the Trisagion, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, now and ever and to ages of ages. People. Amen! Holy God, holy Mighty, Holy and Immortal, have mercy upon us.” In the liturgy of Chrysostom the choir sing the Trisagion five times, and in the meantime the priest says secretly the prayer of the Trisagion. “God which art holy and restest in the holies, who art hymned with the voice of the Trisagion by the Seraphim, and glorified by the Cherubim, and adored by all the heavenly powers! Thou who didst from nothing call all things into being; who didst make man after Thine image and likeness, and didst adorn him with all Thy graces; who givest to him that seeketh wisdom and understanding, and passest not by the sinner, but dost give repentance unto salvation; who has vouchsafed that we, Thy humble and unworthy servants, should stand, even at this time, before the glory of Thy holy altar, and should pay to Thee the worship and praise that is meet; - receive, Lord, out of the mouth of sinners, the hymn of the Trisagion, and visit us in Thy goodness. Forgive us every offense, voluntary and involuntary. Sanctify our souls and bodies, and grant that we may serve Thee in holiness all the days of our life; through the intercession of the holy Mother of God, and all the saints who have pleased Thee since the beginning of the world. (Aloud.) For holy art Thou, one God and to Thee.”

According to an unreliable tradition this formula was received during an earthquake at Constantinople, in the reign of Theodosius II., through a boy who was caught up into the sky and heard it from the angels. The earliest testimonies to the existence of, the Trisagion date from the fifth century or the latter part of the fourth. Later, the words were added, “that was crucified for us,” in order to oppose the heresy of the Theopaschites ( Θεός God πάσχω tosuffer ) who held that God had suffered and been crucified. To this was added later the words “Christ our king:” the whole reading, “Holy God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, Christ our king that was crucified for us, have mercy on us.” The formula thus entered into the controversy with the Monophysites, who claimed that Christ had but one composite nature. Dante introduces it into his “Paradiso.”

“The One and Two and Three who ever liveth

And reigneth ever in Three and Two and One,

Not circumscribed and all things circumscribing,

Three several times was chanted by each one

Among those spirits, with such melody

That for all merit it were just reward.”

Paradiso,” xiv., 28-33.

“When I was silent, sweetest song did flow

Through all the heaven, and my lady too

With them cried holy, holy, holy! “

Paradiso,” xxvi., 67-69.

The interpretations of the symbols of the four living creatures are, of course, numerous and varied. Some of them are: the four Evangelists or Gospels; the four elements; the four cardinal virtues; the four faculties or powers of the human soul; the Lord in the fourfold great events of redemption; the four patriarchal churches; the four great apostles, the doctors of the Church; the four principal angels, etc. The best modern interpreters explain the four forms as representing animated nature - “man with his train of dependent beings brought near to God, and made partakers of redemption, thus fulfilling the language of St. Paul, that 'the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God'” (Romans 8:21; Milligan). Düsterdieck says: “The essential idea which is symbolized in the figures of the four living creatures may be expressed in such words as those of Psalm 103:22.” Full of eyes, they are ever on the alert to perceive the manifestations of divine glory. Covering their faces and feet with their wings (Isaiah 6:2), they manifest their reverence and humility. Flying, they are prompt for ministry. “We thus have the throne of God surrounded by His Church and His animated world; the former represented by the twenty-four elders, the latter by the four living beings” (Alford).

Which is to come ( ὁ ἐρχόμενος )

Lit., which cometh or is coming.

Verse 9

When ( ὅταν )

Whensoever, implying, with the future tense, the eternal repetition of the act of praise.

Give ( δώσουσιν )

Lit., as Rev., shall give.

Verse 10

Cast ( βάλλουσιν )

Read βαλοῦσιν shallcast. The casting of the crowns is an act of submission and homage. Cicero relates that when Tigranes the king of the Armenians was brought to Pompey's camp as a captive, prostrating himself abjectly, Pompey “raised him up, and replaced on his head the diadem which he had thrown down” (Oration “Pro Sestio,” xxvii.). Tacitus gives an account of the public homage paid by the Parthian Tiridates to the statue of Nero. “A tribunal placed in the center, supported a chair of state on which the statue of Nero rested. Tiridates approached, and having immolated the victims in due form, he lifted the diadem from his head and laid it at the feet of the statue, while every heart throbbed with intense emotion” (“Annals,” xv., 29).

Verse 11

O Lord ( κύριε )

Read ὁ κύριος καὶ ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν ourLord and our God. So Rev. See on Matthew 21:3.

To receive ( λαβεῖν )

Or perhaps, better, to take, since the glory, honor, and power are the absolute possession of the Almighty. See on John 3:32.


Instead of the thanks in the ascription of the living creatures. In the excess of gratitude, self is forgotten. Their thanksgiving is a tribute to the creative power which called them into being. Note the articles, “the glory,” etc. (so Rev.), expressing the absoluteness and universality of these attributes. See on Revelation 1:6.

All things ( τὰ πάντα )

With the article signifying the universe.

For thy pleasure ( διὰ τὸ θέλημα σου )

Lit., because of thy will. So Rev. Alford justly remarks: “For thy pleasure of the A.V. introduces An element entirely strange to the context, and, however true in fact, most inappropriate here, where the ὅτι forrenders a reason for the worthiness to take honor and glory and power.”

They are ( εἰσὶν )

Read ἦσαν theywere. One of the great MSS., B, reads οὐκ ἦσαν theywere not; i.e., they were created out of nothing. The were is not came into being, but simply they existed. See on John 1:3; see on John 7:34; see on John 8:58. Some explain, they existed in contrast with their previous non-existence; in which case it would seem that the order of the two clauses should have been reversed; besides which it is not John's habit to apply this verb to temporary and passing objects. Professor Milligan refers it to the eternal type existing in the divine mind before anything was created, and in conformity with which it was made when the moment of creation arrived. Compare Hebrews 8:5. “Was the heaven then or the world, whether called by this or any other more acceptable name - assuming the name, I am asking a question which has to be asked at the beginning of every inquiry - was the world, I say, always in existence and without beginning, or created and having a beginning? Created, I reply, being visible and tangible and having a body, and therefore sensible; and all sensible things which are apprehended by opinion and sense are in a process of creation and created. Now that which is created must of necessity be created by a cause. But how can we find out the father and maker of all this universe? And when we have found him, to speak of his nature to all men is impossible. Yet one more question has to be asked about him, which of the patterns had the artificer in view when he made the world? - the pattern which is unchangeable, or that which is created? If the world be indeed fair and the artificer good, then, as is plain, he must have looked to that which is eternal. But if what cannot be said without blasphemy is true, then he looked to the created pattern. Every one will see that he must have looked to the eternal, for the world is the fairest of creations and he is the best of causes” (Plato, “Timaeus,” 28,29).


Copyright Statement
The text of this work is public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 4:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology