Revelation 4
Pulpit 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.
Verse 1. - After this; or, after these things (μετὰ ταῦτα). There is no good ground for supposing, as some do, that, after the events narrated in Revelation 3, an interval occurred in the visions, during which St. John possibly wrote down the matter contained in the first three chapters. Nor is there any justification for assigning what follows to a time after this world. It would be pressing ταῦτα very far to make it apply to these present things of the world; and μετὰ ταῦτα certainly need not mean "the things after this world." The expression is used here in its ordinary, natural sense: "After having seen this, I saw," etc.; introducing some new phase or variety of spectacle. I looked; or, I saw (εῖδον). No fresh act of looking is signified. I saw in the Spirit, as formerly (Revelation 1:10, 12). And, behold, a door; or, and, behold, a door, and the first voice. Such is the construction of the Greek. Was opened in heaven; or, an open door, in heaven. St. John did not see the action of opening the door, but he saw a door which had been set open, through which he might gaze, and observe what passed within. Alford contrasts Ezekiel 1:1; Matthew 3:16; Acts 7:56; Acts 10:11, where "the heaven was opened;" and supposes that the seer is transported through the open door into heaven, from which position he sees heaven, and views all that happens on the earth. Victorinus aptly compares the open door to the gospel. And the first voice which I heard, as it were, of a trumpet talking with me. Omit the "was" which follows, as well as the colon which precedes, and repeat "a voice," as in the Revised Version: And, behold, an open door in heaven, and the first voice which 1 heard, the voice which was, as it were, of a trumpet. The voice signified is not the first, but the former voice; viz. that already heard and described in Revelation 1:10. The possessor of the voice is not indicated. Stier ('Reden Jesu') attributes the voice to Christ; but it seems rather that of an angel, or at any rate not that of Christ, whose voice in Revelation 1:15 is described as "of many waters, "not as" of a trumpet." Which said. The voice (φωνή) becomes masculine (λέγων). Though whose voice is not stated, yet the vividness and reality of the vision causes the writer to speak of the voice as the personal being whom it signifies. Come up hither. That is in the Spirit - for the apostle "immediately was in the Spirit" (ver. 2). He was to receive a yet higher insight into spiritual things (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2, where St. Paul was "caught up into the third heaven"). And I will show thee. It is not necessary, with Stier (see above on ver. 1), to infer that these words are Christ's. Though from him all the revelation comes, he may well use the ministry of angels through whom to signify his will. Things which must be hereafter; or, the things which must happen hereafter. The things which it is right should happen, and which, therefore, must needs happen (δεῖ). "Hereafter" (μετὰ ταῦτα); as before in ver. 1, but in a somewhat more general and less definite sense - at some time after this; but when precisely is not stated. The full stop may possibly be better placed before "hereafter;" in which case "hereafter" would introduce the following phrase, exactly as before in this verse. There is no "and;" καὶ, though in the Textus Receptus, is omitted in the best manuscripts.
And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
Verse 2. - And immediately I was in the Spirit. Omit "and" (see above), so that the passage may be rendered, After these things, immediately, I was in the Spirit; a new scene was opened out, as before (in ver. 1). St. John was already in the Spirit; but now receives a fresh outpouring of grace, enabling him to see yet more deeply into the mysteries of the kingdom of God. And, behold, a throne was set in heaven; or, a throne was situated (ἔκειτο). There is no action of placing or setting up. Compare the vision of Ezekiel, "In the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne" (Ezekiel 10:1), where the throne appears above the cherubim, in the position of the cloud of glory (cf. also Isaiah 6:1, 2, where the seraphim are above). And one sat on the throne. Probably the Triune God, to whom the Trisagien in ver. 8 is addressed. Some have thought that the Father is indicated, in contradistinction to the other Persons of the Holy Trinity, and that it is from him that the Son takes the book in Revelation 5:8. But as Cornelius a Lapide remarks, "The Son as Man may well be said, especially in a sublime vision like this, to come to God." The Person is not named, because

(1) the Name of God is incommunicable; it is the "new Name" (see on Revelation 3:12); or

(2) because the seer describes only what is seen; or

(3) it is suppressed from a sense of reverence.
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.
Verse 3. - And he that sat was to look upon like, etc.; or, he that sat like in appearance (δράσει). The word ὅρασις is found in this verse and in two other places only in the New Testament, viz. in Acts 2:17 (where it is part of a quotation from Joel) and in Revelation 9:17. In the latter place the expression is ἐν τῇ ὁράσει, and the presence of the preposition, together with the article, seems to justify the rendering "in the vision." In the Septuagint ὅρασις is frequently used to signify either "vision" or "appearance" (see 1 Samuel 3:1; Isaiah 1:1; Lamentations 2:9; Ezekiel 7:13; Daniel 1:17 and Daniel 8:1; Obadiah 1:1; Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 2:2; and many others, where it is "vision." Also Judges 13:6; Ezekiel 1:5, 13, 26-28; Daniel 8:15; Nahum 2:4; 1 Samuel 16:12; and many others, where it is "appearance"). In the classics, ὅραμα signifies a "vision;" ὅρασις, "sight," the power of seeing. A jasper and a sardine stone. The jasper was the last, and the sardius the first stone of the high priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:17). The jasper was the first, and the sardius the sixth of the foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19, 20). Much doubt is attached to the whole subject of the precious stones of the Bible. The modern jasper is opaque, while it is evident that the jasper of the Revelation is remarkable for its translucent character (see Revelation 21:11, "jasper stone. clear as crystal;" 21:18, "The building of the wall of it was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass"). It is evident that the stone was characterized by purity and brilliancy - features which seem to point it out as the modern diamond. The varying colour, which, according to some authorities, the jasper possessed, is not inconsistent with this view. It is curious, too, that in Exodus 28:18, the Hebrew יַהְלַם, which in the Authorized Version is rendered "diamond," is represented in the LXX. by ἴασπις; while in ver. 20, יָשְׂפֶה the English "jasper," is ὀνύχιον. The sardius was the carnelian, always red, though somewhat varying in shade. The name has been variously derived from

(1) the Persian sered, yellowish red;

(2) Sardis, as the first place of its discovery;

(3) while carnelian is connected with carneus, as being of the colour of raw flesh. But

(4) Skeat derives the word from cornu, a horn;

the term being thus an allusion to the semitransparent nature of the stone. The pure jasper, together with the red sardius, may fitly typify God's purity and mercy together with his justice and judgment. And there was a rainbow round about the throne. The Greek ϊρις, which is used here, is not found in the LXX.? where τόξον is invariably found, probably to avoid reference to a term which was so pre-eminently heathen. The rainbow is here, as always (see Genesis 9:12, 13), a token of God's faithfulness in keeping his promises. It is, therefore, a fit sign of comfort to those persecuted Christians to whom, and for whose edification, this message was sent. In sight like unto an emerald. The σμάραγδος is our modern green emerald. It was highly valued in Roman times. It was one of the stones of the high priest's breastplate, and the fourth foundation of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19). The description in this verse recalls Ezekiel 1:23, "As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain. so was the appearance of the brightness round about." Some have found a difficulty in the association of a rainbow with its varied colours, and the single green hue of the emerald. But of course it is the form only of the rainbow which is alluded to, not every quality which a rainbow may possess. A circular green appearance was seen round the throne, which perhaps may be described as a green halo. If the purity of the jasper (see above) be allowed to symbolize God's purity and spirituality, and the sardine, man clothed with flesh, the green emerald may fitly represent God's goodness displayed in nature.
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.
Verse 4. - And round about the throne were four and twenty seats. Throughout the vision no past tense is used. The vision represents the worship of heaven (so far as it can be presented to human understanding) as it continues eternally. Thrones.. seats. Render both by the same English word, as in the Revised Version. Some doubt is attached to the case of the first θρόνοι. Θρόνοι, is found in B, P; and this makes the construction nominative after ἰδού (cf. ver. 2); but א, A, 34, 35, read θρόνους, which causes εϊδον to be understood. The point is immaterial, as the meaning is the same. And upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting. Omit "I saw" (see above). The number twenty-four, the double of twelve, represents the Churches of both the old and the new covenants. The elders are the heads or representatives of the body to which they belong (see Exodus 19:7; Exodus 24:1, and many others; see also the list of elders in Hebrews 11.). In the Christian Church the same distinction exists (see Acts 14:23, "ordained them elders;" Acts 20:17, St. Paul sent for the elders of Ephesus; Acts 21:18, "The elders were present"). So here the elders represent the saints of both the Old and New Testaments. Thus they offer "the prayers of the saints" (Revelation 5:8). Christ, moreover, promised twelve thrones to his disciples (Luke 22:30) though not to the exclusion of the saints of old, for both are conjoined in Revelation 21:12, 14. In Revelation 15:2, 3, the victorious ones sing "the song of Moses and of the Lamb." Other interpretations which have been advanced are

(1) that the twenty-four elders represent the great and minor prophets (St. Hippolytus);

(2) higher angels - the celestial priesthood, as denoted by their white garments and the number twenty-four, the number of courses of the Levitical priesthood (Reuss);

(3) simply angels (Hoffmann);

(4) the elders of the Church at Jerusalem (Grotius);

(5) the doubled twelve signifies the accession of the Gentiles (Bleek, De Wette);

(6) the books of the Old Testament. then the Jewish Church, while the four living creatures denote the Gospels, that is, the Christian Church (Wordsworth). (For this last view, for which there is much to be said, see Wordsworth, in loc.) Clothed in white raiment; the natural garb of heaven, symbolical of purify. And they had on their heads crowns of gold (στεφάνους, not διαδήματα). The crown of victory, not necessarily the kingly crown. Possibly a reference to the priestly crown (see on Revelation 2:10). Trench and Vaughan, however, are of opinion that the crowns here denote the kingly condition of the saints. But Christians are nowhere in the New Testament described as "kings."
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.
Verse 5. - And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thundering and voices. The present tense (see on ver. 4). The whole symbolical of the power and majesty of God, as of old he manifested his presence on Sinai. "There were thunders and lightnings and... the voice of the trumpet" (Exodus 19:16). And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. The Holy Spirit, represented in his sevenfold operation, by lamps, which illumine. The same idea is expressed under another figure in Revelation 5:6, where the searching, enlightening power of the Holy Spirit is typified by seven eyes.
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.
Verse 6. - And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal. Sea of glass, or a glassy sea. The quality of "glassiness" may refer to the pure appearance of the sea; or it may mean that the sea was in consistency like unto glass; that is, solid and unyielding, so that there was nothing strange in the fact that it supported weights. In either case, the notion is repeated by parallelism in the next clause, "like unto crystal." But the glassy sea may mean "a glass laver," and bear no reference to what is usually called a sea. The brazen laver is described (1 Kings 7:23) as a "molten sea." St. John may therefore mean that before the throne of God was a laver of the purest material, just as the brazen laver was before the temple. One difficulty here presents itself, viz. that there would be no use for a laver in heaven, where all is pure, and the figure therefore appears a little incongruous. But as it stood before the throne, where all who came would have to pass by, it may fitly typify the waters of Baptism, passed by all Christians; and the figure would be aptly suggested to St. John by the furniture of the temple to which he has such constant allusions. And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne. This may mean either

(1) that, the throne being rectangular, the four living beings were in the middle of each side of the parallelogram; or

(2) while one was in front of the throne, the other three formed a semicircle round it, one being directly behind, and two towards the ends. Were four beasts; or, four living creatures (Revised Version); or, better still, four living beings (ζῶα). The "beast" (θηρίον) of Revelation 6:7; Revelation 11:7, etc., must not be confounded with the "living ones" of this passage. The one quality connoted by the term here used is the possession of life. The question of the precise meaning and interpretation of the vision of "the living beings" is a difficult one, and much has been written concerning it. The vision is evidently connected with the appearances described in Isaiah 6. and Ezekiel 1. and 10, and which are called in Isaiah "seraphim," in Ezekiel "cherubim." We are led, therefore, to inquire what mental ideas were pictured to the Jews under the symbolical forms of cherubim and seraphim. Cheyne shows ('Prophecies of Isaiah,' vol. 2. p. 272) that the name cherub is probably connected with kirubu, the winged ox god of the Assyrians, and with kurubu, the vulture or eagle (cf. the γρῦπες, the guardians of the treasures of the gods); and he infers that among heathen nations the mythic cherubim denote the cloud-masses which appear to guard the portals of the sky, and on which the sun-god issues at break of day. With regard to the seraphim, he compares the name of the fiery serpents(s'rafim) of Numbers 21:6, and concludes that the term was symbolical of the lightning, the weapon of the gods. Now, in Old Testament passages the cherubim and seraphim are always pictured as the attendants of God, and the workers of his purposes and judgments - an idea which may readily have been assimilated by the Jews from the conceptions of their heathen neighbours. Thus cherubim with the flaming sword are placed at the entrance of the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24); Jehovah rode upon a cherub, and did fly (2 Samuel 22:11; Psalm 18:10); he communes with his people from between the cherubim (Exodus 25:22); he is the Shepherd of Israel, who dwells between the cherubim (Psalm 80:1); the temple in Ezekiel 41:18 is adorned with cherubim, as being the dwelling-place of God; they are the attendants of the glory of God in Ezekiel 1:22-28; and the seraphim fill an analogous position (Isaiah 6:2). We may therefore infer that the appearance of the "living beings" implied the presence of some order of beings in attendance upon God, the workers of his will, and the manifestation of his glory. Again, the term used (ζῶα) and the characteristics of the appearance naturally and almost irresistibly lead us to interpret the form as one symbolical of life. The human face, the ox as the representative of domestic, and the lion of wild animals, and the eagle among birds, appear to be typical of the four most conspicuous orders of animal life. The ceaseless movements described in ver. 8 portray the same idea. The four living beings draw attention to the woes heaped upon created life (Revelation 6:8). The eyes denote never-resting activity. We may therefore believe that the living beings are symbolical of all creation fulfilling its proper office - waiting upon God, fulfilling his will, and setting forth his glory. It is noteworthy that the human face, as distinct from the Church, which is represented by the four and twenty elders, appears to indicate the power of God to use, for his purposes and his glory, that part of mankind which has not been received into the Church - the part which constitutes the "other sheep, not of this fold" (John 10:16). These representatives of created life worship God, and give (ver. 11), as a reason for ascribing glory and honour to him, the circumstance that "thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created." The following are other interpretations:

(1) The living beings represent the four Gospels. This view is held by many ancient writers, though there are many variations in assigning to each Gospel its own representative. Victorinus considers the man to be a type of St. Matthew, who sets forth prominently the human nature of our Lord; the kingly lion is referred to St. Mark; the sacrificial ox to St. Luke; the aspiring eagle to St. John. Amongst the supporters of this interpretation (though varying in the precise applicability) are St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Athanasius, St. Irenaeus, St. Gregory, St. Ambrose, Andreas, Primasius, Bede, I. Williams, Wordsworth (for a lull exposition of this view, see Wordsworth, in loc.).

(2) The four great apostles: St. Peter, the lion; James the brother of the Lord, the ox; St. Matthew, the man; St. Paul, the eagle (Grotius).

(3) The Church of the New Testament; as the Church of the Old Testament was represented by the standards or four tribes (see Numbers 2.), on which these devices were emblazoned according to tradition (Mede).

(4) The four patriarchal Churches: the man, Alexandria, famed for learning; the lion, Jerusalem, "propter constantiam" (Acts 5:29); the ox, Antioch, as "parata obedire mandatis apostolorum;" the eagle, Constantinople, remarkable for men "per contemplationem elevati, ut Grog. Naz." (De Lyra and a Lapide).

(5) The four cardinal virtues (Arethas).

(6) The four elements (the 'Catena,' p. 246) - a view not materially differing from that first set forth above, bearing in mind the idea of the ancients that all creation was formed from the four elements.

(7) The four motive powers of the human soul: reason, anger, desire, conscience (a Lapide, quoting Grog. Naz.).

(8) The doctors of the Church (Vitringa).

(9) Four attributes of our Lord: his humanity, sacrificial life, his kingly nature, his perfect and spiritual nature soaring beyond all other men (Arethas-Cramer, p. 245).

(10) The four orders: pastoral, diaconal, doctoral, contemplative, (Joachim).

(11) The four principal angels (a Lapide).

(12) Four apostolic virtues (Alcasar).

(13) The attributes of divinity: wisdom, power, omniscience, creation (Renan). Full of eyes before and behind. From Isaiah 6:2, 3 the idea of six wings is borrowed, and also the "Holy, holy, holy" from Ezekiel 1:5, 6; the four figures and four faces (which are united in Ezekiel, but made separate in the Revelation); and from Ezekiel 10:12 the body full of eyes. The eyes denote unceasing activity. If the four living beings all faced towards the throne while standing on each side of it, St. John would see them in various positions, and observe the back as well as the front.
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.
Verse 7. - 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. (Upon "beast" (ζῶον), see on ver. 6. For the signification, see also above on ver. 6.) Whether there was any difference in the forms as a whole, or whether the difference consisted chiefly or solely in the thee, cannot be certainly known. Each being is symbolical of some class or some quality of which it is representative. (For the application, see on ver. 6.)
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.
Verse 8. - And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within. The stop should probably be after wings: are full of eyes about and within. In Isaiah 6:2 we have "six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly." These actions appear to indicate reverence, humility, obedience. The eyes denote ceaseless activity. And they rest not day and night, saying. In the Authorized Version "day and night" is attached to "rest not." but probably should be taken with "saying," for, if connected with the negative phrase, "nor" would be more likely to occur than "and." But the point is practically immaterial, since the sense of the passage is the same in both readings. These representatives of life display the characteristics of life in its fullest energy. They have no part in anything which savours of death - no stillness, rest, or sleep. Holy, holy, holy. The thrice-repeated "holy" has very generally been held to indicate the Trinity of the Godhead. Such is evidently the intention of the English Church in ordering this passage to be read in the Epistle for Trinity Sunday. This ascription of praise is often, though wrongly, spoken of as the "Trisagion." Lord God Almighty. "Almighty" is παντοκράτωρ, the "All-Ruler," not παντοδύναμος, the "All-Powerful." The former, as Bishop Pearson says, embraces the latter. Which was, and is, and is to come. This phrase is no doubt intended to attribute to God the quality of eternal existence. But it may also symbolize three aspects or departments of God's dealings with mankind: the creation, which has been effected by the Father; the redemption, which is now occurring by the intercession of the Son; and the final perfect sanctification by the Holy Ghost.
And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
Verse 9. - And when those beasts give; or, and as often as the living belongs shall give. The expression has a frequentative force, and also points to a continued repetition of the act in the future; perhaps a contrast to the past, since before the redemption the Church, as being of the whole world, could not join in the adoration. Glory and honour and thanks. The Eucharistic hymn recognizes the glory and honour which are the inseparable attributes of God, and renders the thanks due to him from his creation. To him that sat on the throne, who liveth forever and ever; or, to him sitting on the throne. The Triune God (see on ver. 2). "Who liveth forever and ever" declares that attribute which was ascribed to God, in the song of the living beings, by the words, "which was, and is, and is to come" (see on ver. 8).
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,
Verse 10. - The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth forever and ever. Shall fall, etc. The tenses are all future except the present "sitteth" and "liveth." The four and twenty elders are the representatives of the universal Church (see on ver. 4). And cast their crowns before the throne, saying. Their crowns of victory, στεφάνους (see on Revelation 2:10 and Revelation 4:4).
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.
Verse 11. - Thou art worthy, O Lord; or, thou art worthy, our Lord and our God. In 13, the Syriac, Andreas, Arethas, Theodore-Stud., Arm., and many others, ἅγιος, "the holy one," is added. To receive glory and honour and power (τήν δόξαν, etc.). The presence of the article either

(1) denotes universality, and the expression is thus equivalent to "all glory," "all honour," "all power; or

(2) refers to the glory and honour mentioned in ver. 9. The former view seems more probable (cf. Revelation 1:6). The Church is represented as ascribing to God all power (δύναμιν); that power which he exercises in its fulness in heaven, and which, though partially abrogated on earth, he will nevertheless again take up, as foretold in Revelation 11:17. For thou hast created all things; or, for thou didst create all things (τὸ πάντα) - the universe. The representatives of creation thank God for their existence; the Church sees in his creation reason to ascribe power to him. Thus the reason for the doxology is given - "because thou didst create." And for thy pleasure; much better, as in the Revised Version, and because of thy will (διὰ τὸ θέλμα). When God willed it, the universe had no existence; again, when he willed it, the universe came into being. They are, and were created; or, they were, and were created (Revised Version). There are three variations in the reading of this passage:

(1) η΅σαν is read in א al40 fere Vulgate, Coptic, Syriac, Arethas, Primasius (in another version), anon-Augustine, Haymo;

(2) εἰσί is read in S, P, 1, 7, 35, 49, 79, 87, 91, et al. et Andreas;

(3) οὐκ η΅σαν is read in B, 14, 38, 51. "They were" signifies "they existed," whereas before they were not in existence; "and were created" points to the manner of coming into existence and the Person to whom this existence was due. If εἰσί be read, the meaning is the same. Οὐκ η΅σαν would simplify the sentence very much. It would then run: For thy pleasure, or, At thy will they were not existent, and again, at thy will they were created. But the weight of authority is against this reading.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

Bible Hub
Revelation 3
Top of Page
Top of Page