Matthew Poole's 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.Revelation 4:1-3 John seeth the throne of God in heaven,
Revelation 4:4,5 encompassed with four and twenty elders,
Revelation 4:6,7 and four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
Revelation 4:8-11 The continual adoration and worship offered by the
beasts and elders before him that sat on the throne.
After this; after I had the first vision, mentioned Revelation 1:1-20, and had written what it was the pleasure of God I should write to the churches, in a book, perceiving the way God designed to reveal himself to me was by vision.
I looked; I looked again, hoping and being desirous to see something further as to the mind of God.
And, behold, a door was opened; I saw the heavens opened, as Matthew 3:16 Acts 7:56.
In heaven; he, doubtless, meaneth the third heavens. Such a vision, as to this particular, John had at Christ’s baptism, Matthew 3:1-17, and Stephen when he was stoned. He also heard the voice of one speaking aloud to him, like the voice he heard, Revelation 1:10;
which said, Come up hither, into heaven, the new Jerusalem which is above; as the old Jerusalem stood upon a hill, or rising ground, so as they who went thither are constantly said to go up, Isaiah 2:3 Acts 11:2 Galatians 1:17,18 2:1.
And I will show thee things which must be hereafter; not which have been, (for to what purpose had that been)? But which shall happen hereafter both to my church and to her enemies: from which it appears, that God did not here show his prophet the destruction of Jerusalem, for that was already past, in the time of Titus Vespasian the Roman emperor, about the year 69, or 70, after the incarnation; this (as all confess) was in Domitian’s time, about the 11th or 12th year of his reign, about twenty-six or twenty-seven years after that was past, which makes the notion of two late annotators very strange.
And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.In the Spirit; in an ecstasy, as Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:2, and Peter, Acts 10:10, and Ezekiel, Ezekiel 3:12, and himself was both before and after this, Revelation 1:10 17:3 21:10.
A throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne: God is constantly described, in the prophetical visions, as sitting upon a throne, to denote his power and dominion, that he is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. See Daniel 7:9, &c.
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.This is all but a description of the glory of God, as he appeared to John in this vision. The
jasper stone is famous for its transparency, and variety of colours it offereth to the eye, and may signify the various and infinite perfections of God. The
sardine stone is red, and of a bloody colour, which may signify the power, justice, and terror of God. The
rainbow was the sign of God’s covenant with Noah, signifying his being so far reconciled to the world, as that he would not again destroy it by water, Genesis 9:13. The
emerald is green, and pleasant to the eye. So as this vision of God represents God powerful, just, and good, and of various and infinite perfections.
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.Some think (and not improbably) that here is an allusion to the twenty-four courses of the priests and Levites, established by God for his service in the sanctuary and temple of old, 1 Chronicles 24:18 25:31; and that these twenty-four elders either typified the whole church under the New Testament, the number of the tribes of Israel (which made up the church under the Old Testament) being doubled to show the increase of the church’s territories under the gospel, or the heads of the church, either under the Old Testament or New, there being twelve patriarchs and twelve apostles. They are represented
sitting, to denote their state of rest and ease; and
clothed in white raiment, to denote their purity and holiness, or being clothed with Christ’s righteousness; and having
crowns of gold on their heads, to denote that state of dignity and glory to which God had advanced them.
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.And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: these words denote a very glorious and terrible appearance of God, denoting his majesty, and power over his enemies. There is, possibly, an allusion to God’s appearance at the giving of the law, Exodus 19:16; only we read there but of one voice, and that of a trumpet, inarticulate. The lamps of fire before the throne, have a correspondence with the seven lamps of the tabernacle, which gave light to the whole house of God, Exodus 27:20; and are here expounded to be
the seven Spirits of God, that is, the Holy Spirit in his seven-fold (that is, manifold) dispensations of grace, 1 Corinthians 12:4,5, by which he enlighteneth, quickeneth, healeth, and comforteth the several souls that are the true members of his church. See Poole on "Revelation 1:4".
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.And before the throne; the throne mentioned before, Revelation 4:2,3, upon which one sat, & c.
A sea of glass like unto crystal; another allusion to the tabernacle or temple, in which was a sea, that is, a large vessel full of water; it was for Aaron and his sons to wash their hands, and feet, and sacrifices in, Exodus 30:19 1 Kings 7:23; it was ten cubits broad, five cubits high, and thirty cubits about. Here it is said to have been of glass; this, probably, signified the blood of Christ, in which all those souls and services must be washed which are accepted of and acceptable unto God. Its being represented here as of glass, may signify the purity and spotlessness of him whose blood it was. Other guesses there are many at the significancy of this sea of glass, but this seems to me most probable, because the use of the sea in the temple is made good in Christ. John in this vision also saw
four beasts, which beasts are said:
1. To be in the midst of, and round about the throne.
2. To be full of eyes before and behind.
3. They are, Revelation 4:7, said to have resembled a lion, a calf, a man in the face, and a flying eagle; Revelation 4:8, each of them had six wings, and they were full of eyes within, and incessantly glorified God.
Question. Whom did these beasts signify?
Solution. There are various notions about them. Some judge them the four evangelists; but John himself was one of these, and yet alive. Some will have them four apostles that were mostly at Jerusalem; but I see no ground for that. Some will have them angels; others, glorified saints; but we shall afterwards find them distinguished from both these. Others will have them the whole church. But the most probable sense is, that they represented the ministers of the church, who are living creatures, whose place is between God and his church, as those beasts are placed between the throne and the elders; and who are but four to the twenty-four elders, being but few in comparison with the multitude of believers; and yet have eyes on all sides, being enough to see to the affairs of the whole church of Christ on the earth. In this sense I rest; only here remains a question, how these are said to be in the midst of the throne, and yet round about the throne? To which various answers are given; that which pleaseth me best is, en mesw, in the middle, is not to be strained to signify a place at equal distance from two extremes, but more largely and proverbially for near the throne, or near him who sat upon the throne. See the several notions about this phrase in Mr. Pool’s Latin Synopsis.
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.It is observed concerning these four living creatures, (for so they were, not beasts in a strict sense, as it is opposed to flying things, for the fourth was a fowl):
1. That they were the same mentioned in Ezekiel’s vision, Ezekiel 1:10; only each one there is said to have had the four faces of these creatures, here each one had a single face proper to it.
2. That these were the four creatures whose portraitures were in the four ensigns of the Israelites as they were marshalled into four companies, allotting the men of three tribes to each company.
Judah’s standard had a lion in its colours, according to Jacob’s prophecy of that tribe, Genesis 49:9, Ephraim had an ox, Reuben had a man, Dan an eagle. This the learned Mede proves from the Rabbins, who, though fabulous enough, yet in such a thing may be credited. It is also thought they answered the four cherubims in the temple.
Question. But what is signified by these four living creatures?
Solution. Some say the four evangelists; others, four apostles, &c. But certainly they judge best who say, that by them is signified the various gifts with which God blesseth his ministers, giving to some more courage and fortitude, that they are like lions; to others more mildness and meekness, that they are like oxen or calves; others have more wisdom and prudence, which most adorn a man; others a more piercing insight into the mysteries of God’s kingdom, rendering them like eagles.
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.And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him: the seraphims in Isaiah’s vision, Revelation 6:2, had so; there their use is declared, —with twain he covered his face, with twain his feet, and with twain he did fly. If we understand all the wings here for flight, they signify the readiness of God’s ministers to move every way that God will send them: if we understand them as interpreted by Isaiah 6:2, they signify their various graces, their fear, dread, and reverence of God; their humility and modesty; their agility, or readiness to obey all the commands of God.
And they were full of eyes within: this denotes that large measure of knowledge, and diligence, and watchfulness, which should be in a minister of Christ.
And they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty: this was the song of the seraphims, Isaiah 6:3, and shows how much it should be the care of ministers to make God known in all his attributes, his holiness especially, and his power.
Which was, and is, and is to come; and his eternity and simplicity, as he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, without variableness or shadow of change.
And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,And when those beasts, the living creatures before expressed, signifying the ministers of the gospel,
give glory, &c.; when they praise God who is eternal.
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,The whole church also paid an homage of reverence and adoration to the same God; acknowledging all the good done to them, or wrought in them, to proceed from God, and the glory of it to be due unto God alone. The ministers of the gospel are, by their preaching unto people their duty, an occasion, or instruments, of that homage and adoration which he hath from all his people.
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.All the praises, homages, and acknowledgments of all the creatures is thy due; as then art he who gavest the first being to all creatures, and therefore gavest it them, that they might praise, honour, serve, and obey thee.