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Bible Commentaries

William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation
Revelation 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-11

Chapter 3: The Things after Church Things

The professing Church having failed, and been judged and rejected as God's house, must now be superseded by the Coming and Kingdom of the Lord Himself. So we enter upon what our Lord calls "the things that shall come to pass after the present (or Church) things." (See Revelation 1:19.)

We must, however, be transferred to heaven to view the great scene of our Lord's receiving the Kingdom at the hands of His Father and by the energy of the Spirit.

Daniel, the prophet, saw the same glorious sight (Daniel 7:1-28): the Ancient of Days enthroned, and "One like unto a son of man brought near before him" and given "dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, and languages should serve him." Daniel was not invited to heaven, but saw all in "night-visions." There was no "Come up hither." Daniel was not of the Church, but of God's earthly people, Israel; and while he saw heavenly visions, was not taken to heaven to see them. John, when church things ended with Laodicea, hears (as will all the true Church), the Lord's words, "Come up hither, and I will show thee"-the next things, those that come after these (Church) things. Thus we come now to Revelation 4:1-11; Revelation 5:1-14, the Second Section of the book, and the first directly prophetic part.

Revelation Four-The Throne Set in Heaven Read this chapter over and over, and also chapter five; for they introduce the whole prophetic part of The Revelation.

The Throne of Adjudication in Heaven

After these things I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice that I heard, a voice as of a trumpet speaking with me, one saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must come to pass after these things. Straightway I was in the Spirit: and behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne; and he that sat was to look upon like a jasper stone and a sardius: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, like an emerald to look upon. And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones: and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting, arrayed in white garments; and on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceed lightnings and voices and thunders. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne, as it were a sea of glass like unto crystal; and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, four living creatures full of eyes before and behind. And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face as of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, having each one of them six wings, are full of eyes round about and within: and they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.And when the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanks to him that sitteth on the throne, to him that liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders shall fall down before him that sitteth on the throne, and shall worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and shall cast their crowns before the throne, saying,Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created.

To adjudicate is denned as "determining judicially conflicting claims"; and so we use the word here. Whether some creature, or whether Christ alone, shall take over the bringing back of judgment to righteousness is the question. When Christ stood before Pilate, righteousness was on His side, but judgment was in the hands of the Roman governor. Here the time has come to return judgment unto righteousness.

Consider that the Throne of God, which was not in sight in the first three chapters of The Revelation, now comes into view; and so prominently, and in such character, from chapter 4 onward, as to make The Revelation become, "the Book of The Throne."

The Throne was not seen when God walked with His first man Adam, in the garden. But later we read, "Jehovah sat as king at the Flood" (Psalms 29:10). Here it was for judgment, not worship.

The Throne is not seen in the history of Abraham or the patriarchs, for they were walking by simple faith, and were the depositaries of promises. They were not connected with a manifested Throne, but built altars for worship.

When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He had a nation for His name, and dwelt among them in glory (although Himself in thick darkness), sitting above the cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant, which was a type of the Throne on high.

Isaiah saw Him thus in the temple,-the seraphim above Him, crying, "Holy, holy, holy," and Ezekiel saw "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah" enthroned upon the cherubim.

It is quite astonishing in view of such holiness and glory to find written in 1 Chronicles 29:23, "Then Solomon sat on the throne of Jehovah as king, instead of David his father." It will not be until our Lord returns to take that throne of David (as He will- Luke 1:32-33) that it will again become "the throne of Jehovah." Christ will inherit it, as Son of David, but it was to David that it was promised (2 Samuel 7:11-16). Our Lord will then reign as "a Priest upon his throne"-the full Melchizedek figure. This is "the tabernacle of David," a phrase quoted in Acts 15:16-17, from Amos 9:11-12. It is the millennial time.

That men like David and Solomon and their successors, should sit upon "the throne of Jehovah" is not as wonderful as that "unto us a child is born" and His Name shall be called, "The Mighty God"! Also, as in all other revelations of God's plan, men were to have the opportunity along all lines to undertake and to fail; and thus make room for Christ, in whom alone are all the real purposes and plans of God.

"Jehovah hath established his throne in the heavens; And his kingdom ruleth over all." Psalms 103:19

This is true from the beginning and through all dispensations. Generally speaking, His government has been hidden, in what is called "providence." If you desire to trace how fully God rules behind the scenes, study, for example, the book of Proverbs, noting that God declares how each course of life will turn out: the wicked, the righteous, the slothful, the diligent, etc. Who makes things thus "turn out"?

"Jehovah sitteth as king forever: He hath prepared his throne for judgment; And he will judge the world in righteousness, He will minister judgment to the peoples in uprightness." Psalms 9:7-8

It is this prepared Throne that comes into view in Daniel 7:9 : "I beheld till thrones were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit"; as also in Revelation 4:2, "Behold, there was a throne set in heaven." It will be a special arranging of the divine Throne of majesty, for dealing in manifested judgment, although God is not now so dealing.

Today God is on the throne of GRACE: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses." The world's sin having been dealt with by God at Calvary, and thus all God's holy, righteous claims having been met, yea, and the world "reconciled" with His holy being, from God's side, the One sinned against, God sends forth His messengers to beseech men from their side to be reconciled to God! Furthermore, the believer is invited to come with boldness (literally, freeness, freespokenness) to this "Throne of Grace" (Hebrews 4:16).

"The throne of God and of the Lamb," the eternal manifestation of the divine Throne, as we shall note at the end of Revelation, is of unmeasured comfort: a Throne, certainly, necessarily, but-"they see his face, his name is on their foreheads"; and the Lamb, although Himself God, is forever Man,-"a Lamb as it had been slain," and He sits thus on the Throne! "The throne of God and of the Lamb"-forever!

In Revelation, chapters 4 and 5, we find God's Throne set in peculiar character before us. In fact, the scene of Revelation 4:1-11 precisely corresponds to that of Daniel 7:9 : "I beheld till thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days did sit," John's words being, "And behold, there was a throne SET in heaven" (Revelation 4:2).

Let us note the particulars of this Throne, and the character of the worship:

1. The Throne of the Triune Eternal God "set" in heaven (as in Daniel 7:1-28) surrounded by a rainbow (Genesis 9:1-29).

2. The twenty-four elders [See Appendix II on the twenty-four elders.] crowned and on thrones about the Throne of God.

3. The "lightnings"-"voices"-"thunders": these powers of nature made intelligent to man in judgment.

4. The "seven lamps of fire"-"the seven Spirits of God"; that is, complete active discernment of all matters and affairs in judgment,-the Holy Spirit: but in governmental administration, not as the "Comforter" of saints, and as Revealer of Christ to sinners, as now.

5. The glassy sea before the Throne: manifested eternal holiness and purity; (not, as now, the approach to the Throne of Grace!).

6. The "four living creatures" [The old rendering "beasts" is not a happy translation of this wonderful Greek expression zoa. Such a translation doubtless arose from a cumbersome attention to the described forms or appearances of these four living beings. God's designation of them gives only the number four and the fact that they are (as their four generic forms reveal) the very embodiment of created life. Their name zoa cannot be duplicated by any single word in our language. It indicates that they are real, literal beings, and that they are vibrant with life in every direction and degree. The fact that they are "full of eyes before and behind round about and within" and that they have "no rest day and night" (and need none) proves this. They celebrate constantly the being of the Lord God the Almighty, the Eternal, Thrice Holy One; seeming in this celebration and worship to join with the twenty-four elders constantly in adoration.This is their eternal occupation (Revelation 4:9-11).] (or, living beings). The cherubim who support the divine Throne (as in Ezekiel) intelligent fully of His ways in majesty.

7. God's creatorship declared by the living beings and the elders to be the basis of their worship (Revelation 4:11).

We have seen in Revelation 1:19 the Lord's commission to John to write "the things which thou sawest"-the vision of the glorious Christ among the churches; "and the things which are" (now existing-that is the seven churches covering prophetically the whole church age) "and the things which shall come to pass after these."

It is very necessary that we grasp firmly this divine division of this great book of The Revelation, so we repeat it: Christ is speaking in Revelation 1:19, of the subjects of which John is to write. Literally, that verse reads, "Write therefore what you saw, and what are being, and what is about to become after these." So, in The Revelation, first Christ is seen in His personal risen glory; then, we see the professing Church, which as His witness upon earth finally proves as false as Israel, and is "spewed out of his mouth"; and, third, we have the earth's governmental history after the Church's rejection by Christ, until His return to establish His kingdom. During this third period, the true Church is, of course, in heaven, though not in any sense manifested there until the marriage supper of the Lamb in chapter 19.

There are several reasons why chapter 4 succeeds in time chapters 2 and 3. Let us examine the opening verses:

1. After these things (Greek, meta tauta). This expression is most important, as we shall find throughout the book. It may mean merely a new vision, or a new phase of a vision, as in Revelation 7:9. But in view of Revelation 1:19, the use of the phrase in Revelation 4:1 is quite indicative of a change from the church matters of chapters 2 and 3 to an entirely different scene and subject.

2. A door was opened in heaven as if for entrance or egress (see Revelation 19:11). It is indeed for John's entrance, and evidently, the whole Church is represented here! For "churches" are mentioned not once after chapter 3, till the apocalypse is over! Revelation 22:16.

3. The first voice which I heard. We know this is the voice that John heard in chapter 1, the Lord's own voice. He now speaks again to John, not as Himself upon Patmos, but as from heaven.

4. As of a trumpet. Compare 1 Thessalonians 4:16, "The Lord himself … with an assembling shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God"; and also 1 Corinthians 15:52 -"The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible."

5. Come up hither. John had heretofore spoken of those church things about which The Revelation concerned itself-namely, the state of the churches as witness-bearers on earth. He is now called up to heaven, as if the course of things of which he had been speaking was altogether over, and he was henceforth to look at future things from the heavenly side.

6. The Lord's further words, I will show thee the things which must come to pass. After these things, surely indicate that the matters about to be revealed to the apostle succeed in time of occurrence those matters already considered in chapters 2 and 3.

7. Furthermore, upon examining the scenes following Revelation 4:1, we find as we say above, no mention of the "churches," until The Revelation itself is over, and the Lord Jesus is setting His personal seal to it in Revelation 22:16 ff. There, of course, The Revelation having been sent to the assemblies, our Lord speaks to them.

But it is of primary importance that the student of The Revelation leave the earth with John (in spirit) in Revelation 4:2 and not return until the Lord returns, with His saints, in Revelation 19:11.

There is evidently in these chapters 4 and 5 a returning to the Throne of God, and a new beginning. Church things are fully over (chapters 2 and 3).

The Throne, then, of Revelation 4:1-11, will have peculiar features displayed befitting the event. It is not merely a description of divine majesty, but that revelation of it that belongs to the matter in hand. It will not, for example, be like the "Great White Throne" of Revelation 20:11-15 -the last judgment scene. There, of course, Deity is unveiled in absolute finality of judicial holiness and brightness. There, the heaven and earth have fled away. Final eternal issues, and these only are there involved. But here in chapters 4 and 5, the question is, Who shall execute the "judgments written" regarding this earth, and vindicate God's ways in its government?

But the Triune Eternal God-worshipped thus in Revelation 4:8, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come," is first revealed. In chapter 4 He is worshipped as the Creator, by the living creatures and the twenty-four elders. His appearance, indeed, according to Revelation 4:3 "like a jasper stone and sardius … clear as crystal" (Revelation 21:11) sets forth His holiness in essence rather than in action, (as on the Great White Throne). There are, indeed, "lightnings," "voices" and "thunders" proceeding out of the Throne, indicating power and intelligence, acting in judgment. [How significant is the occurrence of the word voices between the lightnings and thunders which we now know in nature! Compare Revelation 8:5; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:18. Compare these verses with Exodus 19:16 -God's appearance upon the top of Sinai. Also note that in Revelation 8:5 : "There followed thunders, and voices, and lightnings" as if God had said, "You who rely on your knowledge of scientific facts, hearken while the thunders precede the lightnings and between the two are solemn voices showing the intelligent power that really produces all these things." How blind is human science which leaves out God!]

There was a rainbow round about the throne. This reminds us at once of God's covenant with Noah and every living creature of Genesis 9:1-29. The emerald is the fourth of the stones of the foundation of the City, as seen in Revelation 21:19. We might say that even this number 4 is indicative, as being the earth number; but, be that as it may, the fact of the rainbow round about the throne here described, must indicate God's calling the inhabitants of the earth to account for their "breaking of the everlasting covenant," as described in Isaiah 24:5. The "everlasting covenant" is the particular name by which God designates that agreement with Noah and all terrestrial creation recorded in Genesis 9:8-17. In this remarkable passage the word "covenant" is repeated seven times, and in verse 12 it is declared by God to be made "between me and you and every living creature that is with you for perpetual generations"; while in verse 16, "I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and all flesh that is upon the earth." The human conditions were: to be fruitful and multiply (Revelation 9:1); to eat animal food as well as vegetable (Revelation 9:3); to abstain from eating blood (Revelation 9:4); and to shed the blood of murderers-that is, to continue capital punishment (Revelation 9:6)-because to strike at man was to strike at the image of God in which he was made!

Now the Isaiah passage (Isaiah 24:1-13) which describes in a few verses the terrific visitations of judgment to come upon the earth prior to the coming of the Lord (for it is not the final burning up of the earth that is there pictured) gives as the reason for these terrible things: "The earth is polluted under the inhabitants thereof because they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant."

Now the "laws" may well refer to the laws of man's own being, which we know from our Lord's words concerning the Sodom-like days which will precede His return, will be universally transgressed. The days before the flood were days of lust and violence, as the days of Lot were times of unnatural departing from the very laws of human being. "The statutes" may include such fundamental and universally recognized relations as those of the family-as to husband and wife, brother, sister and parental authority, and also obedience to the powers that be. These things we find written into the constitution and conscience of all people, even those that have had no contact with God's written Word. The "everlasting covenant" has been noted with its conditions, which every one knows are all openly ignored in our own days. Birth control in defiance of "be fruitful and multiply"; vegetarianism, despising God's distinct command to eat flesh as well as herbs and fruit (for flesh-eating protects the human body from demoniacal control), and finally the awful rejection of that fundamental ordinance of human government, the death penalty to murderers:-these things indicate the trend toward that condition which will be brought about in the preliminary judgments of Revelation 6:1-17; Revelation 7:1-17; Revelation 8:1-13; Revelation 9:1-21; Revelation 10:1-11; Revelation 11:1-19; Revelation 12:1-17; Revelation 13:1-18; Revelation 14:1-20; Revelation 15:1-8; Revelation 16:1-21; Revelation 17:1-18; Revelation 18:1-24.

"Few men (shall be) left," says Isaiah, "For thus shall it be in the midst of the earth among the peoples, as the shaking of an olive-tree, as the gleanings when the vintage is done."

People conceive of the "millennium" as the time of great peace and plenty on earth, whereas it will be introduced by the most awful day this world has ever known-the great Day of Wrath of God, the Almighty, and that Day of Wrath will be preceded by years of visitations so terrible as to decimate the population of the earth.

The Millennium, or thousand years' reign, will indeed be a time of peace, but it will be peace by an iron-rod rule in the hands of the Lord Himself and it will be preceded by catastrophic judgments after which "there shall be left therein gleanings, as the shaking of an olive-tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost branches of a fruitful tree, saith Jehovah, the God of Israel. In that day shall men look unto their Maker, and their eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel."

We speak of these things merely to prepare our hearts to believe what we shall see in the coming chapters of Revelation. The voices of the prophets are one as to the "day which the Lord shall make." Hear one more prophet-Zephaniah. "The great day of Jehovah is near, it is near and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of Jehovah; the mighty man crieth there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness … And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against Jehovah; and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as dung."

 


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Bibliography Information
Newell, William. "Commentary on Revelation 4:4". William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wnc/revelation-4.html. 1938.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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