Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
Re 4:1-11. Vision of God's Throne in Heaven; the Four and Twenty Elders; the Four Living Creatures.
Here begins the Revelation proper; and first, the fourth and fifth chapters set before us the heavenly scenery of the succeeding visions, and God on His throne, as the covenant God of His Church, the Revealer of them to His apostle through Jesus Christ. The first great portion comprises the opening of the seals and the sounding of the trumpets (fourth to eleventh chapters). As the communication respecting the seven churches opened with a suitable vision of the Lord Jesus as Head of the Church, so the second part opens with a vision suitable to the matter to be revealed. The scene is changed from earth to heaven.
1. After this—Greek, "After these things," marking the opening of the next vision in the succession. Here is the transition from "the things which are" (Re 1:19), the existing state of the seven churches, as a type of the Church in general, in John's time, to "the things which shall be hereafter," namely, in relation to the time when John wrote.
I looked—rather as Greek, "I saw" in vision; not as English Version means, I directed my look that way.
was—Omit, as not being in the Greek.
opened—"standing open"; not as though John saw it in the act of being opened. Compare Eze 1:1; Mt 3:16; Ac 7:56; 10:11. But in those visions the heavens opened, disclosing the visions to those below on earth. Whereas here, heaven, the temple of God, remains closed to those on earth, but John is transported in vision through an open door up into heaven, whence he can see things passing on earth or in heaven, according as the scenes of the several visions require.
the first voice which I heard—the voice which I heard at first, namely, in Re 1:10; the former voice.
was as it were—Omit was, it not being in the Greek. "Behold" governs in sense both "a door," &c., and "the first voice," &c.
Come up hither—through the "open door."
be—come to pass.
hereafter—Greek, "after these things": after the present time (Re 1:19).
And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
2. And—omitted in the two oldest manuscripts, Vulgate, Syriac.
I was, &c.—Greek, "I became in the Spirit" (see on Re 1:10): I was completely rapt in vision into the heavenly world.
was set—not was placed, but was situated, literally, "lay."
one sat on the throne—the Eternal Father: the Creator (Re 4:11): also compare Re 4:8 with Re 1:4, where also the Father is designated, "which is, and was, and is to come." When the Son, "the Lamb," is introduced, Re 5:5-9, a new song is sung which distinguishes the Sitter on the throne from the Lamb, "Thou hast redeemed us to God," and Re 5:13, "Unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." So also in Re 5:7, as in Da 7:13, the Son of man brought before the Ancient of days is distinguished from Him. The Father in essence is invisible, but in Scripture at times is represented as assuming a visible form.
And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
3. was—omitted in the two oldest manuscripts but supported by Vulgate and Coptic.
to look upon—Greek, "in sight," or "appearance."
jasper—From Re 21:11, where it is called most precious, which the jasper was not, Ebrard infers it was a diamond. Ordinarily, the jasper is a stone of various wavy colors, somewhat transparent: in Re 21:11 it represents watery crystalline brightness. The sardine, our cornelian, or else a fiery red. As the watery brightness represents God's holiness, so the fiery red His justice executing fiery wrath. The same union of white or watery brightness and fiery redness appears in Re 1:14; 10:1; Eze 1:4; 8:2; Da 7:9.
rainbow round about the throne—forming a complete circle (type of God's perfection and eternity: not a half circle as the earthly rainbow) surrounding the throne vertically. Its various colors, which combined form one pure solar ray, symbolize the varied aspects of God's providential dealings uniting in one harmonious whole. Here, however, the predominating color among the prismatic colors is green, the most refreshing of colors to look upon, and so symbolizing God's consolatory promises in Christ to His people amidst judgments on His foes. Moreover, the rainbow was the appointed token of God's covenant with all flesh, and His people in particular. Hereby God in type renewed to man the grant originally made to the first Adam. The antitype will be the "new heavens and the new earth" restored to redeemed man, just as the earth, after the destruction by the flood, was restored to Noah. As the rainbow was first reflected on the waters of the world's ruin, and continues to be seen only when a cloud is brought over the earth, so another deluge, namely, of fire, shall precede the new heavens and earth: the Lord, as here, on His throne, whence (Re 4:5) proceed "lightnings and thunderings," shall issue the commission to rid the earth of its oppressors: but then, amidst judgment, when other men's hearts fail them for fear, the believer shall be reassured by the rainbow, the covenant token, round the throne (compare De Burgh, Exposition of Revelation). The heavenly bow speaks of the shipwreck of the world through sin: it speaks also of calm and sunshine after the storm. The cloud is the regular token of God's and Christ's presence, for example, in the tabernacle's holiest place; on Mount Sinai at the giving of the law; at the ascension (Ac 1:9); at His coming again (Re 4:7).
And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
4. seats—rather as the Greek is translated in this very verse, "thrones," of course lower and smaller than the grand central throne. So Re 16:10, "the seat (rather, throne) of the beasts," in hellish parody of God's throne.
four and twenty elders—Greek, "the four and twenty (or as one oldest manuscript, 'twenty-four') elders": the well-known elders [Alford]. But Tregelles translates, "Upon the twenty-four thrones (I saw: omitted in two oldest manuscripts) elders sitting": which is more probable, as the twenty-four elders were not mentioned before, whereas the twenty-four thrones were. They are not angels, for they have white robes and crowns of victory, implying a conflict and endurance, "Thou hast redeemed us": they represent the Heads of the Old and New Testament churches respectively, the Twelve Patriarchs (compare Re 7:5-8, not in their personal, but in their representative character), and Twelve Apostles. So in Re 15:3, "the song of Moses, and of the Lamb," the double constituents of the Church are implied, the Old Testament and the New Testament. "Elders" is the very term for the ministry both of the Old and New Testament, the Jewish and the catholic Gentile Church. The tabernacle was a "pattern" of the heavenly antitype; the holy place, a figure of HEAVEN ITSELF. Thus Jehovah's throne is represented by the mercy seat in the holiest, the Shekinah-cloud over it. "The seven lamps of fire before the throne" (Re 4:5) are antitypical to the seven-branched candlestick also in the holiest, emblem of the manifold Spirit of God: "the sea of glass" (Re 4:6) corresponds to the molten sea before the sanctuary, wherein the priests washed themselves before entering on their holy service; so introduced here in connection with the redeemed "priests unto God" (compare Note, see on Re 15:2). The "four living creatures" (Re 4:6, 7) answer to the cherubim over the mercy seat. So the twenty-four throned and crowned elders are typified by the twenty-four chiefs of the twenty-four courses of priests, "Governors of the sanctuary, and governors of God" (1Ch 24:5; 25:1-31).
And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
5. proceeded—Greek, "proceed."
thunderings and voices—The two oldest manuscripts transpose, "voices and thunderings." Compare at the giving of the law on Sinai, Ex 19:16. "The thunderings express God's threats against the ungodly: there are voices in the thunders (Re 10:3), that is, not only does He threaten generally, but also predicts special judgments" [Grotius].
seven lamps … seven Spirits—The Holy Spirit in His sevenfold operation, as the light-and-life Giver (compare Re 5:6, seven eyes … the seven Spirits of God; Re 1:4; 21:23; Ps 119:105) and fiery purifier of the godly, and consumer of the ungodly (Mt 3:11).
And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
6. Two oldest manuscripts, A, B, Vulgate, Coptic, and Syriac read, "As it were a sea of glass."
like … crystal—not imperfectly transparent as the ancient common glass, but like rock crystal. Contrast the turbid "many waters" on which the harlot "sitteth" (Re 17:1, 15). Compare Job 37:18, "the sky … as a molten looking-glass." Thus, primarily, the pure ether which separates God's throne from John, and from all things before it, may be meant, symbolizing the "purity, calmness, and majesty of God's rule" [Alford]. But see the analogue in the temple, the molten sea before the sanctuary (see on Re 4:4, above). There is in this sea depth and transparency, but not the fluidity and instability of the natural sea (compare Re 21:1). It stands solid, calm, and clear, God's judgments are called "a great deep" (Ps 36:6). In Re 15:2 it is a "sea of glass mingled with fire." Thus there is symbolized here the purificatory baptism of water and the Spirit of all who are made "kings and priests unto God." In Re 15:2 the baptism with the fire of trial is meant. Through both all the king-priests have to pass in coming to God: His judgments, which overwhelm the ungodly, they stand firmly upon, as on a solid sea of glass; able like Christ to walk on the sea, as though it were solid.
round about the throne—one in the midst of each side of the throne.
four beasts—The Greek for "beasts," Re 13:1, 11, is different, therion, the symbol for the carnal man by opposition to God losing his true glory, as lord, under Him, of the lower creatures, and degraded to the level of the beast. Here it is zoon, "living creatures"; not beast.
And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
7. calf—"a steer" [Alford]. The Septuagint often uses the Greek term here for an ox (Ex 22:1; 29:10, &c.).
as a man—The oldest manuscripts have "as of a man."
And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
8. about him—Greek, "round about him." Alford connects this with the following sentence: "All round and within (their wings) they are (so two oldest manuscripts, A, B, and Vulgate read) full of eyes." John's object is to show that the six wings in each did not interfere with that which he had before declared, namely, that they were "full of eyes before and behind." The eyes were round the outside of each wing, and up the inside of each when half expanded, and of the part of body in that inward recess.
rest not—literally, "have no rest." How awfully different the reason why the worshippers of the beast "have no rest day nor night," namely, "their torment for ever and ever."
Holy, holy, holy—The "tris-hagion" of the Greek liturgies. In Isa 6:3, as here, it occurs; also Ps 99:3, 5, 9, where He is praised as "holy," (1) on account of His majesty (Re 4:1) about to display itself; (2) His justice (Re 4:4) already displaying itself; (3) His mercy (Re 4:6-8) which displayed itself in times past. So here "Holy," as He "who was"; "Holy," as He "who is": "Holy," as He "who is to come." He showed Himself an object of holy worship in the past creation of all things: more fully He shows Himself so in governing all things: He will, in the highest degree, show Himself so in the consummation of all things. "Of (from) Him, through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen." In Isa 6:3 there is added, "the whole EARTH is full of His glory." But in Revelation this is deferred until the glory of THE Lord fills the earth, His enemies having been destroyed [Bengel].
Almighty—answering to "Lord of hosts" (Sabaoth), Isa 6:3.
The cherubim here have six wings, like the seraphim in Isa 6:2; whereas the cherubim in Eze 1:6 had four wings each. They are called by the same name, "living creatures." But whereas in Ezekiel each living creature has all four faces, here the four belong severally one to each. See on Eze 1:6. The four living creatures answer by contrast to the four world powers represented by four beasts. The Fathers identified them with the four Gospels, Matthew the lion, Mark the ox, Luke the man, John the eagle: these symbols, thus viewed, express not the personal character of the Evangelists, but the manifold aspect of Christ in relation to the world (four being the number significant of world-wide extension, for example, the four quarters of the world) presented by them severally: the lion expressing royalty, as Matthew gives prominence to this feature of Christ; the ox, laborious endurance, Christ's prominent characteristic in Mark; man, brotherly sympathy with the whole race of man, Christ's prominent feature in Luke; the eagle, soaring majesty, prominent in John's description of Christ as the Divine Word. But here the context best suits the view which regards the four living creatures as representing the redeemed election-Church in its relation of ministering king-priests to God, and ministers of blessing to the redeemed earth, and the nations on it, and the animal creation, in which man stands at the head of all, the lion at the head of wild beasts, the ox at the head of tame beasts, the eagle at the head of birds and of the creatures of the waters. Compare Re 5:8-10, "Thou hast redeemed us by Thy blood out of every kindred … and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth"; and Re 20:4, the partakers with Christ of the first resurrection, who conjointly with Him reign over the redeemed nations that are in the flesh. Compare as to the happy and willing subjection of the lower animal world, Isa 11:6-8; 65:25; Eze 34:25; Ho 2:18. Jewish tradition says the "four standards" under which Israel encamped in the wilderness, to the east, Judah, to the north, Dan, to the west, Ephraim, to the south, Reuben, were respectively a lion, an eagle, an ox, and a man, while in the midst was the tabernacle containing the Shekinah symbol of the Divine Presence. Thus we have "the picture of that blessed period when—the earth having been fitted for being the kingdom of the Father—the court of heaven will be transferred to earth, and the 'tabernacle of God shall be with men' (Re 21:3), and the whole world will be subject to a never-ending theocracy" (compare De Burgh, Exposition of Revelation). The point of union between the two views given above is: Christ is the perfect realization of the ideal of man; Christ is presented in His fourfold aspect in the four Gospels respectively. The redeemed election-Church similarly, when in and through Christ (with whom she shall reign) she realizes the ideal of man, shall combine in herself human perfections having a fourfold aspect: (1) kingly righteousness with hatred of evil and judicial equity, answering to the "lion"; (2) laborious diligence in every duty, the "ox"; (3) human sympathy, the "man"; (4) the contemplation of heavenly truth, the "eagle." As the high-soaring intelligence, the eagle, forms the contrasted complement to practical labor, the ox bound to the soil; so holy judicial vengeance against evil, the lion springing suddenly and terribly on the doomed, forms the contrasted complement to human sympathy, the man. In Isa 6:2 we read, "Each had six wings: with twain he covered his face (in reverence, as not presuming to lift up his face to God), with twain he covered his feet (in humility, as not worthy to stand in God's holy presence), and with twain he did fly [in obedient readiness to do instantly God's command]."
And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
9-11. The ground of praise here is God's eternity, and God's power and glory manifested in the creation of all things for His pleasure. Creation is the foundation of all God's other acts of power, wisdom, and love, and therefore forms the first theme of His creatures' thanksgivings. The four living creatures take the lead of the twenty-four elders, both in this anthem, and in that new song which follows on the ground of their redemption (Re 5:8-10).
when—that is, whensoever: as often as. A simultaneous giving of glory on the part of the beasts, and on the part of the elders.
give—"shall give" in one oldest manuscript.
for ever and ever—Greek, "unto the ages of the ages."
The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
10. fall—immediately. Greek, "shall fall down": implying that this ascription of praise shall be repeated onward to eternity. So also, "shall worship … shall cast their crowns," namely, in acknowledgment that all the merit of their crowns (not kingly diadems, but the crowns of conquerors) is due to Him.
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
11. O Lord—The two oldest manuscripts, A, B, Vulgate, and Syriac add, "and our God." "Our" by virtue of creation, and especially redemption. One oldest manuscript, B, and Syriac insert "the Holy One." But another, A, Vulgate, and Coptic omit this, as English Version does.
glory, &c.—"the glory … the honour … the power."
thou—emphatic in the Greek: "It is THOU who didst create."
all things—Greek, "the all things": the universe.
for, &c.—Greek, "on account of"; "for the sake of Thy pleasure," or "will." English Version is good Greek. Though the context better suits, it was because of Thy will, that "they were" (so one oldest manuscript, A, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic read, instead of English Version "are": another oldest manuscript, B, reads, "They were not, and were created," were created out of nothing), that is, were existing, as contrasted with their previous non-existence. With God to will is to effect: to determine is to perform. So in Ge 1:3, "Let there be light, and there was light": in Hebrew an expressive tautology, the same word and tense and letters being used for "let there be," and "there was," marking the simultaneity and identity of the will and the effect. D. Longinus [On the Sublime, 9], a heathen, praises this description of God's power by "the lawgiver of the Jews, no ordinary man," as one worthy of the theme.
were created—by Thy definite act of creation at a definite time.