As it is my design to investigate the meaning of the Apocalyptical visions, it is requisite for me to treat, in the first place, of that celestial theatre to which John was called, in order to behold them, exhibited as on a stage, and afterwards of the prophecies in succession, examined by the Apocalyptical Key.
O Christ! the Wisdom of God! to whom "the Revelation was given by the Father, to show unto us his servants things which must come to pass," illuminate my mind with Thy bright beams, cleanse me from impurity by Thy blood. Grant me, with Thy assistance, and with the Spirit for my guide, to investigate these abstruse mysteries, and to explain them to others!
I give the name of Apocalyptical theatre to that august session of God and the Church, described in the fourth chapter, and exactly conformable to the type of the ancient encampment of Israel in the desert, which will be fully manifest on comparing the disposition of one with the other. Thus, in the midst of the camp of Israel, was placed the tabernacle. The Levites were stationed nearest the camp; and after the Levites, to the four quarters of the world, the rest of the assembly of Israel, marshalled under four standards, three tribes being disposed under one standard, and receiving its name from the first tribe of its cohort. Each standard exhibited a signal, which, though Moses only mentions in a general manner, and does not always express what figure was inscribed on each standard, yet the Hebrews, from the ancient traditions of their elders, (in this instance not rashly to be despised,) proceed to the description of the whole in the following manner: --
On the east was the standard of Judah, with his associate tribes, under the sign of a Lion.
On the west the standard of Ephraim, under the sign of an Ox.
On the south that of Reuben, under the sign of a Man.
On the north that of Dan, under the sign of an Eagle.
Aben Ezra observes on Numbers ii. 'tdr qkvnykr. Our ancestors have said, that there was the figure of a man on the standard of Reuben, on account of the mandrakes which he found, (but this is a foolish observation). On the standard of Judah the figure of a lion, because Jacob compared him to one. On the standard of Ephraim the figure of an ox, with reference to what is said, Deut. c. xxxiii. v.17. "The firstling of his bullock." And lastly, on the standard of Dan the figure of an eagle. Bar Nachman, and Chuzkuni in his third chapter, have the same observations on this subject.
If any one should be very curious to inquire on what account the figures of these animals were selected for this purpose, besides what may be deduced, not improperly, from the blessing of Judah and Ephraim, the writers on the Talmud seem to intimate a reason of this nature. There are four proud ones, (say they,) or those who bear pre-eminence in the world; the lion among the wild beasts, the ox among cattle, the eagle among birds, and man, upon whom God bestowed super-eminent beauty, that he might rule over all. Whatever the reason may be, this tradition of the Jews may be confirmed by the quadruple face of the cherubim, in Ezekiel, (for do not imagine there were so many heads,) by which was signified, that he who was carried by them was the Lord and King of the four cohorts, or camps of Israel. For as the chariots of princes are emblazoned with the ensigns of their lords, so are the cherubim with the signs of Jehovah, King of the Tetrarchs of Israel.
Nor would it be very difficult to collect, from the position of Ezekiel, and the cherubim in that vision, with respect to each other, to which quarter of the world each face of the cherubim was directed: For when Ezekiel, with his countenance turned to the north, saw the cherubim, as it were, coming forth to meet him, undoubtedly that which then appeared before him was the anterior and direct face of the cherubim, namely, that of a man, and consequently the face of the man looked towards the south: Whence it follows, that what is said to have been on the right hand of Ezekiel, the face of the lion, looked towards the east, that of the ox, which was on his left hand, looked towards the west; and lastly, that of the eagle towards the north.
And the same reason induces us to believe that those cherubim which overshadowed the ark of God, in the recess of the temple, were of a similar, that is, of a quadriform face, especially, since it may be proved, that this was the fact with regard to those which were engraven on the walls of the temple; because in the same prophet, c. xli. v.19, we read of half their sculpture, when two faces, as must have been the case in bas-relief of this kind, being buried in the plane of the wait, the two remaining ones, those of the man and the lion, are represented as having stood forward, in opposite directions, towards the palms embossed on each side. And permit me to ask, why should the cherubim have been sculptured in any other form than that in which they were exhibited? We may add, that some understand of the four animals, as so many ensigns of the cohorts of Israel, a passage of Psalm lxviii. v.10, which, indeed, Jerome, in that version which has its reputation from its conformity with the Hebrew verity, has thus translated: "Thy animals have dwelt therein;" that is to say, according to what precedes it, "in thy inheritance;" i. e. the camp of thy people, whom thou leddest through the wilderness. In like manner, the Septuagint, and the Vulgate, which is translated from it, have ta zoa sou, animalia tua; and, in truth, that this passage refers to that time, plainly appears from what is antecedent to this and the preceding verse. "O God! when thou wentest out before thy people; when thou wentest through the wilderness; the earth trembled and the heavens dropped at the presence of God," &c. And also what is subjoined of "the gracious rain," the rain of manna, if I am not mistaken, and therefore it may be rendered, "A gracious or liberal rain hast thou shed, O God! with which thou hast comforted thy labouring inheritance." Not to say, besides, that the beginning of this psalm is borrowed from that form of prayer which Moses used at the going out of the people of Israel, "Rise, O Jehovah! and let thy enemies be scattered!"
We have seen the Israelitish encampment of God: Now let us see how the Apocalyptic Assembly conforms to it in every respect. c. iv. v.2. "And I was (says John) in the Spirit, and behold a throne was set in heaven; and there was One sitting on the throne. And He that sat thereon was to look at like a jasper and a sardine stone, like the appearance of an emerald; and around the throne were four-and-twenty seats, and upon the seats I saw four-and-twenty elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and they had on their heads golden crowns. 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 before the throne was a sea of glass, like unto chrystal, and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four animals, full of eyes before and behind; and the first animal was like a lion, and the second animal like a calf, and the third animal had a lace as a man, and the fourth animal was like a flying eagle. And the four animals had each of them six wings round about him, and were full of eyes within, and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and which is, and which is to come! And when those animals give glory and honour and thanks to Him who is sitting on the throne, and who liveth for ever and ever, the four-and-twenty elders fall down before Him who sitteth on the throne, and worship Him who liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy art thou, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power, for thou hast created all things, and through thy will they are, and were created!"
Do not these particulars answer exactly to each other? First, as to the tabernacle: That the throne here placed in the midst, on which God was sitting, was no other than the temple, or tabernacle, (for it must be observed, that the description is applicable to the history of both,) appears both from the seven lamps burning before it, and from the glassy sea, like chrystal, of which the former represent the candlestick with its seven lights, likewise burning before the sacred place; the latter that immense laver in the Temple of Solomon, called the sea; but with this difference, that that of Solomon was brass, but ours of glassy or pellucid substance.
I know not, however, whether we may not be allowed to conjecture that an allusion is here made to that more ancient laver of the Mosaic tabernacle, since that also is reported to have been constructed of looking-glass, of I know not what substance; viz. of the looking-glasses of the women assembling at the door of the tabernacle. But you may see the temple remarkably described under the title of the throne of God. Is. vi.1. "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, lofty and elevated, and its skirts filled the temple." So also Jerem. xvii.12. "A throne of glory from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary." And Ezekiel, xliii.7. "The place of my throne, and the place of my footsteps, where I dwell in the midst of the sons of Israel for ever."
And that it was a throne of this kind, which John saw placed in the midst of the elders and living creatures, the Apocalypse has every where taken for granted. For where did he see the altar openly, "and under it the souls of those who were slain for the Word of God," except in the temple? How could the golden altar of incense be before the throne, unless that throne were a temple or a tabernacle? What else will "the four horns of the golden altar" imply, which is in the sight of God? What is meant by the temple, the courts of the temple, and the altar, as well those which were to be measured by the reed of the angel, as those which were to be left out? What the temple of God opened in heaven, and therein the ark of the testimony exposed to view? What the angels coming forth from the temple, and that also in heaven? What is meant by the harpers standing on the brink of the sea, or glassy laver, and singing the song of victory, and that likewise in heaven? What in the fifth verse of the same chapter, of the temple of the tabernacle of testimony opened in heaven? and of the same temple "filled with smoke from the glory of God?" But what places the matter beyond all chance of contradiction is, "And there came forth a great voice out of the temple of heaven from the throne."
Moreover, in this throne or temple, lest any doubt should remain, the place of God's seat, (or, as the Greek interpreters speak of the throne of Solomon,) a ho thronos tes kathedras, the throne of his resting-place, was that interior and most holy part of the temple, where the ark of the covenant was enclosed with the mercy-seat. For there God was said to dwell, and sit between the cherubim of glory: For which reason, indeed, both the seven lamps in this place, and the golden altar of incense afterwards, are said to have been "before the throne;" that is, before the inmost recess of the temple; for that is plainly said of both in so many words, 2 Chron. iv. and 1 Kings vi.20, in the former of which the Septuagint has, "tous luchnous kata to prosopon tou dabeir;" i. e. the lamps before the face of the Dabir  , (for so the inmost recess is called in Hebrew;) in the other place, "Thusiasterion kedrinon, kata prosopon tou dabeir," "the cedar altar of incense before the face of the Dabir;" nearly in the same sense as in the Apocalypse, "before the throne and before God." So the remaining parts, both of the temple and tabernacle, will consist partly of props, partly of steps, and partly of a footstool to the throne properly so called, of which kind that august throne of Solomon is said to have had parts or appendages. Thus far respecting the throne.
2. Four-and-twenty elders, in the next place, surround the throne, who represent the bishops and prelates of the churches, and answer in place and order to the Levites and priests in the camp of Israel, and their number twenty-four corresponds with the daily courses of the priests and Levites, or, what comes to the same result, with the chiefs of the daily courses. Whence beside that they are next to God, they have likewise their thrones there: Moreover, they wear crowns, which are marks of dignity and power bestowed by God.
3. At a proper distance behind the elders, where lines drawn through the middle of the throne bisect its sides on every part of the circumference, towards the four cardinal points of heaven, four living creatures were seen; the first in the figure of a lion, the second of an ox, (for moschos is an ox with the Hellenists,) the third in the likeness of a man, the fourth of a flying eagle, representing doubtless the Christian churches towards the four parts of the world, and answering to the four Israelitish camps, which bore standards of the same animals. For what is called in the Apocalyptic text, a little obscurely, "in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne," may be explained by the figure hen dia duoin; i. e. one through two; familiar to the Hebrews, as if it had been said, in the midst of the circuit or circumference of the throne; and in this sense, if you were to draw round the throne, as a square, a quadrangular parallel figure at a proper distance from the throne, and the elders surrounding it, in the midst, or at the middle of every one of the sides of the quadrangle, (for en meso, in the midst, is to be taken distributively,) the four animals exhibited themselves, namely, one in the middle of each side.
Figure of the Throne
Moreover, those animals are described as "full of eyes before and behind," having six wings around them, and those full of eyes within. So many eyes denote a multitude of very well-sighted persons, and full of the knowledge of the mysteries of God, of which kind there are many in the animals, that is, in the churches which the animals represent. The wings denote agility and alacrity in executing the commands of God. Wings with eyes denote zeal combined with knowledge and faith. Lastly, six wings around them, denote that they are ready to fly every way, that is, fully prepared to fulfil the commands of God universally and entirely. In addition we are told, lastly, what was the nature of their duty, as well that of the living creatures, as of the elders around the throne, namely, of this kind, that "as often as those animated beings were about to give glory, and honour, and thanks to Him that sat on the throne;" i. e. as often as the churches formed their holy congregations, so often "the four-and-twenty elders, in right of their office preceding the animated beings, are accustomed to "fall down before God," saying, "Worthy art Thou, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." This interpretation being admitted, the diction of John, which many pretend to be a solecism, as improperly using the futures, dosousi, pesountai, proskunesousi, instead of the preterites, will easily be defended; since, according to the Hebrews, (whose ideas the apostle every where adopts,) the future is used to denote an act of custom or duty, so that John is by no means to be supposed to relate what was there done in the vision, by the animated beings and elders, but what was to be done as occasion should arise, and what he himself saw clone by them afterwards, in the progress of the visions when an opportunity occurred of celebrating God.
And therefore (that I may at length come to a conclusion) I think I have clearly shown, that the throne in this august session answers to the tabernacle or temple; the elders answer to the Levites; the four animals to the four Israelitish camps; that is, that the whole assemblage is the image of that ancient castrametation in the wilderness. Which subject has indeed been more diffusively treated of by me, because I have observed that the reason of many types in the Apocalypse depends chiefly on the knowledge of this, which I doubt not but every one who has thoroughly investigated the matter, will perceive as well as myself.
The theatre being thus prepared, He who sat on the throne stretches forth a book in his right hand, written upon, both in the inside and the out, and fastened with seven seals, and an angel at the same time coming forth on the scene, proclaims, with a loud voice, that if to any one were given the power of opening it, so that the things which were written therein might be seen and read, he should take it into his hands and apply himself to the task; and in so doing, would perform an office very acceptable to all who were ardent in the study of mysteries.
And the book was in truth most worthy of the effort; in the unsealing of which, any one would exert all the powers of his understanding and industry, inasmuch as the volume was predictive of the counsels of God, in which was interwoven the series and order of events, to be transacted up to the second and glorious advent of Christ.
For, of this nature evidently appears to be the double prophecy of the future, which the volume contained. Which is the reason, unless I am mistaken, why John, when he was preparing to expound the visions, prefixed to the beginning of his history the descriptive outline of his glorious advent, as the boundary of the Apocalyptic course. "Behold (says he) he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also that pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth shall lament because of him." As much as to say, this is the scope, this the boundary of the visions which I shall relate.
But when "no one of those who were in heaven, or in the earth, or under the earth, was able to unseal the book," and the object seemed to be given up for lost, so that John, overcome with grief, burst into tears, lo, "a Lamb in appearance, as if it had been slain," that is, bearing the marks and wounds of one that had undergone death, arose in the midst of the elders and animated beings, and took the book, for the purpose of unsealing and opening it, as he alone had worthily obtained the power of doing it.
At the sight of this a chorus of the animated beings and elders, together with the surrounding angels, and all the creatures in the universe, filled with gratitude, immediately sing a hymn to the Lamb and to the Father. On which subject I desire only to remark at present, that they manifestly refer the power of unsealing the book as obtained by the merit of the passion of the Lamb. "Worthy art thou (they say) to open the book and its seals, for thou wert slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation." By which, perhaps, light may be thrown on that saying of our Saviour before he had suffered and been glorified: "But of that day and hour (alluding to his second coming, whether it would be sooner or later) knoweth no one, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only;" because the Apocalypse was not yet given to Christ by the Father, nor the order of events relating to his advent yet made known. I assert nothing rashly; let the reader weigh the matter with himself.
While the Lamb is thus unsealing the book at each of the seals, particular images of future things are exhibited, of which the system runs through the whole Apocalyptical course, and thus constitutes the first universal prophecy. The interpretation of which, by the favour of Him who sitteth on the throne and of the Lamb, we will now attempt.