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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Revelation 4

 

 

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Verse 1

1. After this—Rather, after these things; that is, the revelations of the entire previous chapters. There has been a brief cessation of the state expressed by the phrase in the Spirit, Revelation 1:10; which state is now resumed in Revelation 4:2. In that interval the seer is merely susceptible to impressions from the spiritual world, but not receiving them until the door opened appears; the entering of which is becoming in the Spirit. This inspired visional state continues uninterrupted through Parts Second and Third.

Behold, a door was opened—Rather, there was an opened door. The door was already open when the seer’s eye first rested upon it. It was the symbolic entrance into the heaven of symbolic exhibition. For the scope of that heaven see note to Revelation 4:11. Dusterdieck denies that the door implies a temple, but rather God’s residential house. Our own view is, that the door implies that we in this physical world are outside, and that there is an inner, more real world, into which the spirit can be made to enter, where the limitations of sense and matter may be diminished and even fully removed, and the truths of eternity may be cognized. We attain this spiritual scene through the door of death: John entered it while in the body, yet being in the body he entered it only so far as to be capable of cognizance of truths through divinely-presented figures and sounds.

Dusterdieck thinks that there is a clear distinction made by St. John between the formula After these things I saw, and, And I saw; the former being the introduction of a new scene, the latter an additional phase or point of the same scene. The distinction, however, cannot be very broadly made. The former phrase is used in Revelation 7:1; Revelation 7:10, but at Revelation 4:10 there is certainly a continuance of same scene. Same phrase at Revelation 15:5; Revelation 18:1. And I saw, is used Revelation 5:1; Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:11; Revelation 6:1; Revelation 6:5; Revelation 6:8-9; Revelation 6:12; Revelation 8:2; Revelation 8:13; Revelation 9:1; Revelation 10:1; Revelation 13:11; Revelation 14:6; Revelation 14:14; Revelation 15:1-2; Revelation 17:6; Revelation 19:11; Revelation 19:17; Revelation 19:19; Revelation 20:1; Revelation 20:4; Revelation 20:11; Revelation 21:1. Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:3, introduce a new scene with, And I saw.

Behold… the first voice which I heard—Rather, Lo, the voice which I heard at first; namely, at Revelation 1:10. The same unknown voice that introduced St. John to the Christophany, introduces him now to the Theophany.

Come up hither—Ascend from the earth’s surface, at least in spiritual conception, and enter the scene of show.

Which must be—A compound necessity is implied in this must be. They must be, partly because there will be free agents who will bring them into existence, and this is a dependent necessity, dependent on the free will of the agent possessing power to do otherwise. They must be, also, because the free nature of the agent and his free act being foreknown and assumed, the divine will has determined its own infinitely wise action in reference thereto. There is no absolute predestination in all this, except that divine predetermination to act wisely in view of the freedom. See notes on Romans 9.

Hereafter—Literally, after these things; the these things differing from the these things in the first clause of the verse, and meaning the things of the present time.


Verses 1-11

PART SECOND.

THE THEOPHANIC APOCALYPSE.

The Theophany in divine royal state, Revelation 4:1-6.

The scene of the Apocalypse opens with a presentation of GOD enthroned, surrounded with his glorious Court of ministers, seated for the purpose of opening the predictive seals from which are presented the pictorial phases of the Messianic dispensation. He who as omnipresent fills all space, selects a point of manifestation, and puts on a semblance of finite personality in order to disclose a view of a special futurity. This is a throne, not of judgment but of REVELATION. Through the entire series of seals the dark side of future history is indeed symbolized; yet is this dark side gloriously contrasted with the bright side in chapter 7. So that the chapters of the seals and of the sealing—namely, the sixth and seventh—are to be read as one contrastive picture.


Verse 2

2. Immediately—On ascending and entering the door.

In the Spirit—If this means his own spirit, then the thought is, that his consciousness, withdrawing from all perceptions of the things of sense, concentrated itself into the higher realm of the spirit, and, entering into full sympathy with the divine Spirit, became fully perceptive of things in the supersensible world, and especially of a series of symbols presented by the divine Spirit to the eye of his spirit.

A throne was set—Literally, was tying; again the thing is there in the position before seen by the seer. Bengel says, the term lying is applied to the throne, from its breadth; to which Dusterdieck replies, that the same term is used in the Septuagint, Jeremiah 24:1, in John 2:6; John 19:29, and in the classics; and so is the ordinary term to express a throne’s position. Nevertheless, it may be, and probably is, we think, from the breadth of the ancient thrones, (upon which more than one could sit, Revelation 3:21,) that the term became ordinary.

One sat—Unnamed: not merely (as Alford and others) because the writer strictly narrates “only what he saw,” though that was measurably true. The one was doubtless both unseen and unnamed for the same reason, namely, as says Herder, finely, “the mind has no figure and the tongue no word by which to express him.” The seer beholds and describes only the colours of the dense glory that indicates his presence. It is true, as Dusterdieck objects, that the same withholding of name appears with regard to Christ in Revelation 1:13-20, and following two chapters, also, perhaps, in the angelophany of chapter 10, where see note. And that, we reply, is from a similar reverent mystery suited to Christ, who is designated with a whole cluster of glorious paraphrases, but never by his proper name. Here the symbolic mystery of reverence as suited to God is sublimely expressed by Herder’s words. Nor is its reality at all affected, as Dusterdieck supposes, by the fact that elsewhere the occupant of the throne is explicitly named; see Revelation 7:10; Revelation 7:15; Revelation 12:5; Revelation 19:4; Revelation 22:1. The symbolic purpose is none the less intended here because it is not preserved elsewhere. The purpose is here the same as it was in the Holy of Holies—namely, to symbolize the truth of divine Personality and specialty of Presence, yet to refuse all specific form, which would authenticate idolatry.

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Verse 3

3. Like a jasper—Not in solidity, but in picturesque hue. The jasper is a species of quartz, of various colours, and sometimes transparent as crystal, Revelation 21:11. Alford says, “It represents a watery crystalline brightness.” The sardine, or carnelian, is, says Epiphanius, “fire-red and blood-red.” Meyer, quoted by Hengstenberg, says: “The red colour is light in its intrinsic unfolding, light in warmth, light in love, or in its opposite, anger.” The crystalline jasper thus represents the purity of the divine nature; the red carnelian its sensibility—its wrath and its love exercised toward sin or holiness in responsible beings. The rainbow—symbol of the covenant—with its seven prismatic hues, yet with the soft green like unto an emerald predominant, represents the divine mercy.

Round about the throne—Horizontally, says Hengstenberg; vertically, says Alford. We think the former clearly right. Around the nebulae of jasper and carnelian hues there circled a horizontal halo of soft green, in which the seven streaks of the rainbow were visible, leaving the throne somewhat visible, but no form of its Occupant. Thus far we have picture of the divine Presence; now for the attendants.


Verse 4

4. Round about the throne—Forming a full circle, at such distance from the throne as to make an area in the midst.

SeatsThrones: the same Greek word as for the throne just mentioned. For these elders are kings, with both thrones and crowns of gold—royal elders, “kings and priests.” Their lesser thrones surround the greater throne, as in fealty to the great King.

Four and twenty—The twice twelve of the Old Testament and the New Testament Church, the patriarchal and apostolic twelve. See our note on symbolic numbers, at close of Luke 6. Says Bossuet, (quoted by Hengstenberg,) “It is the totality of the saints of the Old and New Testament Church who are here represented by their chiefs and elders. The same totality of saints is represented in the twelve gates of the holy city, on which were written the names of the twelve tribes, and in the foundation of that city, on which were written the names of the twelve apostles, Revelation 21:12; Revelation 21:14. In a word, one sees in these twenty-four elders the whole Church in its leaders.” And as throned and crowned, they represent the Church of all ages, both militant and triumphant. The delightful import of the symbol is, that the Church is very nigh and very dear to God in his administration of the governments of the world.

Crowns—The crown proper of the New Testament ( στεφανος, from στεφω, to wreathe or weave a garland or chaplet) was originally used for honour to a victor or ruler, and adopted as an ensign of royalty.

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Different was the diadem, (from δια, around, and δεω, to bind,) which was originally a tie around the heads of oriental monarchs, and, being far more imperial, was adopted by the Emperor Diocletian and his successor as matter of regal pride. The Greek for diadem is used in only three passages in the New Testament, namely, Revelation 12:3, of the dragon; Revelation 13:1, of the beast; and Revelation 19:12, of the Messiah.


Verse 5

5. Proceeded—Greek, in the present tense, go forth, as an ordinary or constant phenomenon. The lightnings, thunderings, and voices, (for such is the order of the words by the best reading,) are symbols of God’s omnipotence.

Seven lampsTorches.

Fire—The emblem of the searching, purifying power of the Spirit. Note Matthew 3:11. The Sitter on the throne, the seven Spirits, and the Lamb, present the three divine personalities.

Seven spirits—See note on Revelation 1:4.


Verse 6

6. There was (as it were) a sea of glass—The Old Testament passage to which this seems to be analogous is Exodus 24:10 : “And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire-stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.” The idea, then, is, that this apparent sea of glass like unto crystal, is the transparent basis of the throne. God’s throne should not stand on base earth, but upon a condensed ethereality. So the Rabbies say: “The place on which his throne stands is seven clouds of glory.” The Orientals are proud to this day of the splendour of their tessellated pavements. The Koran (Sur. 27:44) tells us that the queen of Sheba mistook Solomon’s pavement, in his audience hall, for a sea. (See Stuart.) To the idea that this sea is a basal pavement of the throne, Dusterdieck objects that it is described as before the throne. But the seer being in the far front describes the part he more distinctly sees, the part which more specially isolates the occupant from the attendants surrounding him. This clear, tranquil sea symbolizes the divine purity and serenity; and, indeed, derives its character from his divine, everlasting nature. Hence, it may be held as the primal fountain of the crystal stream of life in Revelation 22:1. And its sympathy with the divine Mind is symbolized by the wrathful “fire,” infused into the glass, in Revelation 15:2. So small a crystal surface might hardly be called a sea, but our thought from this small revealed spot necessarily extends its existence beyond all limits.

In the midst… round… the throne— Hengstenberg and Stuart represent the throne as upborne by the four beneath it. This is in clear contradiction to the words, ‘ εν μεσω, which mean in midst, namely, of the circular area, whose circumference was formed by the thrones of the twenty-four, and which belonged as basis to, and was held by the seer as part of, the throne itself. Within this area, at each of the four corners of the structure of the throne, stood one of the cherubim. But Dusterdieck understands by in the midst, that the cherubim stood one at each of the four sides, (at the mid-point between the two ends of the side,) so as to be round about the throne.

Four beasts—The word beasts presents one of the most unfortunate translations to be found in our English Bible. It is altogether a different word from the “beast,” θηριον, of chap. 13; being ζωον, from which comes our word zoology, and comprehends every thing finite possessed of intelligent life. It is thence by some rendered living creatures; but better, by Alford, living beings. The creational number four immediately suggests that these beings must represent all the living beings of our creation. This is confirmed by the fact that the most eminent species of the animal world are selected to afford the four. Of wild beasts the lion is king; of tame, the ox; of birds, the eagle; and of all earthly creatures, man. Hence, their anthem of thanks sung with the elders, is thanks for our creation. And of the three series of seven symbols—the seals, the trumpets, and the vials, to be hereafter presented— it will be found that each first four (in which the four living beings are specially interested) will be mainly connected with points on earth, and of a creational character; while each last three rises into a more elevated and fuller strain, for good or evil more spiritual, and suited to the elders, as the previous song was to the beasts.


Verse 7

The beasts, or cherubim; the four and twenty elders, Revelation 4:7-11.

7. Lion… calf… man… eagle—These four are the cherubim, the precedent of which will be found in the first chapter of Ezekiel. But the old prophet’s cherubim had each one the four faces and the four wings. This, and the fact that in Revelation 5:8, they “fell down before the Lamb,” suggests that these were human in form and animal only in face. They thus symbolize the living creation in its highest aspects and its relations to its Creator.

Cognate to this interpretation was the view of the early Church writers, that the cherubim represent the four Gospels. These Gospels are an earth-wide gospel; a gospel to be preached to every creature. They are to be spread to the “four corners of the earth.” That the four cherubim represent the four Gospels is an idea, as Wordsworth well remarks, coming from the school of John, being found in Irenaeus, the pupil of the pupil of John. It may be more than a coincidence that the Gospels are the creational number, four. But when writers have proceeded to assign either one of the four symbols to either one Gospel the want of individual resemblance has produced a variety of assignments. Irenaeus makes the lion, John; the steer, Luke; the man, Matthew: and the eagle, Mark. Augustine makes the lion, Matthew; the man, Mark; the ox, Luke; and the eagle, John. We suppose that most modern critics would concede the eagle to the soaring John; to Luke, the broad, Pauline, humanitarian friend of the Gentiles, if not himself a Gentile, most would concede the man; to the concise and vigorous Mark, the lion; and to plain, substantial, ultra-Jewish Matthew, both the sturdiness and the sacrificial character of the ox.


Verse 8

8. Six wings—Like the seraphim of Isaiah 6:2; which with two of their wings covered the face in reverence before Jehovah; with two, their feet, as a decorum; and with the intermediate two they flew. John, however, makes no such distinction; the six wings apparently symbolize intense activity in obeying the behests of the Creator.

About him—A period should be put after wings, closing the sentence. Him should be struck out, and the reading should be: around and within (the wings) they (the cherubim) were full of eyes. In Revelation 4:6, their bodies were described as full of eyes before and behind. Here they are described as to their wings; which wings were also full of eyes; both around, that is, on their outer side, and within, that is, on their inner side, coming in contact with the body when closed, and revealed to John’s eye when expanded. So are these cherubim most swift, as is symbolized by their six wings; and most divinely perceptive, both in their nature, as symbolized by their many-eyed bodies, and in their activities, as symbolized by their many-eyed wings. These living beings represent, not merely the animal kingdom, but also the very structure of the earth, and all things known under physical philosophy. This is shown by their number four, which refers to the cardinal points, and so to the physical system. The term ζωον implies that the whole mundane system is, as Hengstenberg terms it, “inspirited.” The Spirit of God is the soul of nature. The whole is impregnate with his all-wise power, and is thereby enabled to move by the law of its true development. Each and every particle of matter thereby sees, with divine eyes, which way to move to incorporate itself into an organism; and so physiology and generative races are possible. Each chemical element sees how to act to carry out God’s prescribed affinities, and with all its six wings hasten to be in exact time. And so it is that matter and motion, under rule of intelligence, form a systematic universe.

The living beings and the elders are here both present at the throne in this day of the divine levee, because the purpose of the day is to unfold the future of both the living world and the living Church. And to the eye and ear of faith, the creation and the Church are a perpetual choir, offering an endless anthem to the Creator.

They rest not—A faulty translation, as suggesting weariness in the truly tireless. The literal Greek is, they have no cessation—no pause in their movements, no silence of their hymn. Day and night creation moves in rhythmic measures, and day and night the universal Church rolls up its trisagion.

Saying—It may seem strange to some that it is not the Church, but creation, that first offers its praise to God. Not so thought the psalmist, (<19E510>Psalms 145:10,) “All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord; and thy saints shall bless thee.” There is a desperate pessimism at present infecting our age, which finds in creation no proof of the goodness of God. The blessed faith of our Bible teaches a more benign philosophy. It holds that this is, on the whole, the best possible system, and beholds the world rejoicing in its existence and blessing its Creator. The permission of moral evil, and the partial production of natural evil, are methods and means of producing a higher result than could have existed without them.

Holy, holy, holy—This trine ascription (called the trisagion, or thrice-holy) is based on Isaiah 6:3, but carried out to a New Testament and trinitarian completeness. The trinality is emphasized by the thrice-three of the entire verse. Stuart remarks that he would not “rest” or “risk” a leading doctrine on this verse. But there is no “risk” in corroborating the proof of the trinity derived from a whole body of texts, making three a number for the divine by this, which is perhaps a crowning instance.

The word holy, thrice uttered, cannot well be applied to the three persons severally, as is shown by the fact that the second and third three in the verse cannot. It is the repetition of intensity. The divine holiness, omnipotence, and eternity, are sublimely recognised by the creational representatives.


Verse 9

9. Glory and honour and thanks—A threefold divine ascription.


Verse 10

10. Fall down—It is remarkable that all the Greek verbs of this verse are in the future tense, and should have been so rendered. The seer tells what will be according to divine rule. The verse reads like a rubric to the celestial liturgy.

Cast… crowns before… throne—In token that they belonged to him who sat thereon, and are worn by themselves in fealty to him. This was the custom of petty kings toward their superior sovereigns. Thus, Tacitus tells us that Tiridates laid down his crown before the statue of Nero, in token that he held his throne in subjection to the emperor.


Verse 11

11. Hast created—As response to the creational representatives; it is the creation that the elders now celebrate.

For thy pleasure—A decidedly incorrect translation. The Greek signifies, on account of thy will. The creation is the consequence of the divine volition.

They are—They now exist.

Were created—Were brought into existence at first. This verse is quoted in Dr. Hodge’s Theology to prove that God’s end in creation was solely his own good pleasure and glory. But, whether that doctrine is true or not, it is not contained in these words. The text only traces the creation to the divine volition, without explicitly declaring what was the end or motive of the volition. But the thanks rendered certainly imply that a moving influence was the divine goodness, and a moving end was the happiness of the created.

SCENERY AND SCOPE OF THE APOCALYPTIC VISION.—For a clear understanding of the movements of the book, it is all important to keep in mind the following view of the visional world into which John now enters.

The door in heaven admits John into the symbolic heaven, or region and scene of Apocalyptic evolutions. The divine throne and state were on an ideal plain of vision from which a wide range on all sides can be seen.

Above is the firmament, or firmamental heaven, in which the dragon is first seen, Revelation 12:2; and from which the angel of chap. 10, and Christ in Revelation 19:11, descend; and a midheaven where the birds fly. See note Revelation 19:17; Revelation 8:13; Revelation 14:6. Above the firmament is the highest heaven, whence the New Jerusalem comes down, Revelation 21:2. Below, in more or less distant view, are the earth and sea, and even the crater of the bottomless pit, (Revelation 9:1; Revelation 20:3,) and lake of fire, Revelation 20:10. Near at hand are Mount Zion, Revelation 9:1, and the temple, Revelation 9:10, with its court, sanctuary, and altar, 11. This divine throne in regal state maintains its permanent position through the whole Apocalypse. Even when the old heaven and earth disappear, and the great white throne of judgment (Revelation 20:11) and the new earth appear, (Revelation 21:1,) this throne of Revelation remains in its moveless, ideal position. And St. John is supposed to stand permanently in its front, at due distance to command, with his observant eye, the whole scene. We imagine the throne to be in the Holy of Holies, yet so as to be usually unconcealed by curtain or wall from the seer’s eye. But once does our seer leave the presence of the Apocalyptic throne; namely, when he visits the wilderness of the harlot, 17. Perhaps, also, a second time, when he scales the top of a high mountain to survey the New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:10.

In the following passages John’s symbolic or scenic heaven is meant: Revelation 4:1-2; Revelation 8:1; Revelation 14:17; Revelation 15:5; Revelation 16:17.

In the following, the astronomic, firmamental, or atmospheric heaven: Revelation 5:3; Revelation 5:13; Revelation 6:13-14; Revelation 8:10; Revelation 9:1; Revelation 10:1; Revelation 10:4-6; Revelation 10:8; Revelation 11:6; Revelation 11:12-13; Revelation 11:15; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 12:1; Revelation 12:3-4; Revelation 12:7-8; Revelation 12:10; Revelation 12:12; Revelation 13:6; Revelation 13:13; Revelation 15:1; Revelation 16:11; Revelation 16:21; Revelation 18:1; Revelation 18:4-5; Revelation 18:20; Revelation 19:1; Revelation 19:11; Revelation 19:14; Revelation 19:17; Revelation 20:1; Revelation 20:9; Revelation 20:11; Revelation 21:1. On this heaven, as a place of superhuman beings, see Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 4:9-10. Highest heavens, God’s residence, Revelation 21:2-3; Revelation 21:10. God’s throne, Revelation 12:5.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 4:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/revelation-4.html. 1874-1909.

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