|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
4:1-8 After the Lord Jesus had instructed the apostle to write to the churches the things that are, there was another vision. The apostle saw a throne set in heaven, an emblem of the universal dominion of Jehovah. He saw a glorious One upon the throne, not described by human features, so as to be represented by a likeness or image, but only by his surpassing brightness. These seem emblems of the excellence of the Divine nature, and of God's awful justice. The rainbow is a fit emblem of that covenant of promise which God has made with Christ, as the Head of the church, and with all his people in him. The prevailing colour was a pleasant green, showing the reviving and refreshing nature of the new covenant. Four-and-twenty seats around the throne, were filled with four-and-twenty elders, representing, probably, the whole church of God. Their sitting denotes honour, rest, and satisfaction; their sitting about the throne signifies nearness to God, the sight and enjoyment they have of him. They were clothed in white raiment; the imputed righteousness of the saints and their holiness: they had on their heads crowns of gold, signifying the glory they have with him. Lightnings and voices came from the throne; the awful declarations God makes to his church, of his sovereign will and pleasure. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne; the gifts, graces, and operations of the Spirit of God in the churches of Christ, dispensed according to the will and pleasure of Him who sits upon the throne. In the gospel church, the laver for purification is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which cleanses from all sin. In this all must be washed, to be admitted into the gracious presence of God on earth, and his glorious presence in heaven. The apostle saw four living creatures, between the throne and the circle of the elders, standing between God and the people. These seem to signify the true ministers of the gospel, because of their place between God and the people. This also is shown by the description given, denoting wisdom, courage, diligence, and discretion, and the affections by which they mount up toward heaven.
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.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper,.... For the brightness, glory, and majesty of his countenance, and for his being light itself, clothed with it, and dwelling in it; see Revelation 21:11; and for the various perfections of his nature, as eternity, infinity, immutability, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, wisdom, power, goodness, truth, love, grace, and mercy; for the jasper, at least one sort of them, is of various colours, and spotted with divers spots; that which is most valued is the green, spotted with red or purple (h): hence this stone, which is the twelfth in the high priest's breastplate, and on which the name of "Benjamin" was written, is called, by the Chaldee paraphrase of Onkelos on Exodus 28:20, "Pantere", and of ben Uzziel, on the same place, "Apanturin", and on Sol 5:14, "Apantor", because some are variegated and spotted like panthers.
And a sardine stone; the same with the "Sardius": and so read here the Alexandrian copy, the Syriac and Arabic versions, as in Revelation 21:20, and in Exodus 28:17 on which Reuben's name was written; this is of a red, or blood colour as its name in Hebrew, shows, and the same that is called a cornelian; and is expressive of the fiery indignation of God whose fury is poured out like fire, and who nakedly and absolutely considered, is a consuming fire to the wicked, his enemies, and the enemies of his church and people. Some jaspers being white and sky coloured and the white colour being most agreeable to deity, as Cicero says (i), and the sardine being red, and a gem of the ruby kind make up the description of the church's beloved; Sol 5:10; and may denote in general his purity, glory, and excellency, and in particular good will to his people, and wrath to his enemies. And to the comfort of the former it is added,
and there was a rainbow round about the throne; which signifies the covenant of grace; see Genesis 9:12. The rainbow is a reverberation, or a reflection of the beams of the sun upon a thin watery cloud; and the covenant of grace is owing to Jesus Christ, the sun of righteousness; it is he that has formed it, and filled it with blessings and promises; he is the Mediator, surety, and messenger of it, and who in Revelation 10:1 is represented as clothed with a cloud, and a rainbow on his head: the rainbow is of, various colours and fitly expresses the various promises and blessings, in the covenant of grace, and the various providences, both prosperous and adverse, with respect to soul and body; and as the rainbow was an emblem of mercy, peace, and reconciliation in God to man, after he had destroyed the world by a flood, so the covenant is a covenant of grace and mercy; it springs from it, and is full of it, and provides for the peace and reconciliation of the people of God, by the blood of Christ; whence it is called a covenant of peace: and as the rainbow is a security to the world, and the inhabitants of it, from a destruction by a flood any more, so the covenant is a security to those who are interested in it, from eternal destruction, and wrath to come; herein lies all their salvation, and this is the security of it: to which may be added, that God calls it my bow, as he often calls the covenant of grace my covenant, in distinction from man's; see Genesis 9:12; and this being round about the throne of God, shows that the covenant of grace does, as it were, include and enclose God in his persons, and in his perfections; all the three divine Persons have a concern in it, and all the divine perfections are glorified by it; and it being around it, it is always in his view; he is ever mindful of it, and constantly remembers it for the good of his people, and faithfully keeps it; and it being in this form denotes, that in whatsoever way he comes forth unto his people, it is always in a covenant way, whether it be in things temporal or spiritual, in adversity or prosperity, with regard to the things of time and eternity; nor is there any coming to him with comfort, but as he is encompassed with the rainbow of the covenant; stripped of this, he is like the jasper and sardine stones, full of sparkling majesty, dread and terror, so that there is no coming nigh him; but being encircled with the rainbow, he may be approached as a covenant God, as the God of all grace, seated on a throne of grace, whither believers may come with boldness, freedom, and cheerfulness: and this rainbow was
in sight like unto an emerald; the stone on which Judah's name was written, in the high priest's breastplate; this is of a green colour, which colour is the prevailing one in the rainbow; it is of an exceeding fine green, very delightful to the eye, and gives pleasure to the mind to look upon it: and what a lovely and delightful sight is the covenant of grace to a believer! to see God as a covenant God, Christ as the Mediator of it, the exceeding great and precious promises and blessings, both of grace and glory, which are in it, yields an unspeakable pleasure to such persons; the covenant of grace, like the emerald, is ever green, it is always new; its promises and blessings are always fresh, and, like that, it is durable; it is sure, and cannot be broken, and is more immovable than rocks and mountains: the emerald is very bright, clear, and transparent; it is reported of Nero (k), that he could see in his emerald the combat of the gladiators in the theatre; in the covenant of grace, as in a glass, may be seen the glory of all the three Persons in the Godhead, for it is ordered in all things for the glory of each Person; as also all the perfections of the divine nature; here God appears abundant in goodness and truth; here mercy and truth meet together; and righteousness and peace kiss each other: to which may be added, that the emerald is said (l) to help and refresh the memory; now though God stands in no need of any thing to bring things to his remembrance, yet such is his condescension to men, that he sets the rainbow in the cloud, to look at, that he might remember his everlasting covenant; and so he allows his people to put him in remembrance, by making mention of the covenant of grace, and pleading the promises of it. The Alexandrian copy and the Ethiopic version, instead of "a rainbow", read "priests".
(h) Albert. Magn. de Reb. Metall. l. 2. c. 8. Ruaeus de Gemmis, l. 2. c. 1.((i) De Legibus, l. 2.((k) Ruaeus de Gemmis, l. 2. c. 4. (l) Ruaeus, ib. & Albert. Magn. de Reb. Metall. l. 2. c. 17.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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).
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