Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 4
Chapter 4 begins the "things to come" section of Revelation. From here to the conclusion, Revelation takes a prophetic form. Some of the prophecies may have already been fulfilled, some are clearly in the future, and some are double: They have been fulfilled in one sense and will be fulfilled again later. Chapters 4 and 5 also serve to establish Christ's right and authority to act as judge of the earth and its inhabitants.
John's Vision of the Throne of God
- 1After 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 show you things which must be hereafter.”
Commentary: Chapter four begins with the phrase, "After this," points to a transition in literary styles as well as a shift in John's vision. In Chapters two and three, John individually addresses seven churches in Asia; however, Chapter four does not seem to have a specific audience like the two previous chapters. The door and "come up hither" symbolize the change in scene for John. John was now able to see some of the mysteries of God and able to report them back to us. John also did not open the door himself, God opened this door for him which reveals how one enters Heaven. It is by God's will not our own. However, it is interesting to note that John is clearly separating these sections of the book, but he is employing the same image of the door that he employed while addressing the churches. John further signal to the reader that he is shifting back into a description of his heavenly vision by referring back to, "The first voice which I heard," which he recognizes as Jesus. Additionally, John once again shifts into description through simile, which he then employs throughout the rest of Chapter four.
- 2And immediately I was in the spirit and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
Commentary: The immediacy of the transport is to be noted. John's statement is harmonious with Paul's in I Cor. 15:51-52: "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (KJV).
"In the spirit" means totally immersed in a vision. John was not physically there, that is in body, but his spirit experienced that which believers currently await: the rapture. John sees a throne, and the following verses show that the figure sitting on the throne is God the Father.
The throne is a central symbol of this work. This was an image familiar in the minds of the initial readers representing power, justice, and the established authority structure. In this and following chapters, John will offer an alternative authority structure in which God’s majesty and justice will prevail. This would have been immensely comforting to Christians who were being treated unjustly by their government. Today it might serve as a warning to modern Western Christians who often benefit from the current authority structures. Believers still ought to hold the model given in this chapter as the standard against which to measure their own governments.
- 3And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardius stone, and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like an emerald.
Commentary: The gems and rainbow ( a reminder of God's faithfulness and promise to Noah after the great flood in Genesis 9:13) are John's way of describing intense glory, a beautiful sight.
These stones are also mentioned, along with other stones, in Exodus 28:17-20. In Exodus, the stones are found with 7 others on the breastplate of a high priest. Sardius is a blood-red stone that symbolizes the sacrifice of blood (the first-coming of Christ and his death on the cross). Jasper is a white stone that symbolizes total power. In the verses in Exodus, the first stone is Sardius and symbolizes the first-coming of Christ and Jasper is the last stone, symbolizing the second-coming of Christ. Since the order is reversed in this passage from Revelation, we can interpret the meaning in a reflective way: John, receiving a vision of the world after the second-coming sees the Jasper most recently and the Sardius (the crucifixion) further back in time.
- 4And round about 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 crowns of gold.
Commentary: The number four-and-twenty could go back to King David's division of the Levitical priesthood into 24 sections (I Chronicles 24:7-19) or it could refer to twelve plus twelve, symbolizing the tribes of Israel plus the disciples. Other suggestions for the meaning of the twenty four elders include that they are angelic figures on a heavenly council, they represent saints in heaven, or that they are representatives of the church in heaven. An elder is a person that is chosen by God to represent Him and minister to the saints. The 24 elders, then, represent a much larger number of saints in heaven. They are a representation of all the righteousness in Heaven. They have "seats" of authority and "crowns" of reward. The white garments signify righteousness which has now been judged and purified. Note that the Old Testament saints are not present. They will be resurrected and rewarded after the Tribulation (Daniel 12:1-3). The white robes symbolize purity. This image is depicting heavenly worship. When the priests later take off their crowns and bow, it is showing their revrence. This verse is also depicting heavenly worship.
- 5And 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.
Commentary: Throughout the Bible, the divine supremcy and the power of God has been demonstrated by comparisons with lightening, thunder, other powerful natural disasters(Matthew 28:2). This also shows that God is present but not physically visible, parallel to th rest of scripture. The term "before the throne" is John's moving the scene of the vision to before the throne. Before the throne, there are seven lamps or seven spirits. However, it is debated whether or not the seven spirits are the Holy Spirt or angels. An argument that these seven spirits may be angels come from passages such as Luke 9:26 and 1 Timothy 5:21 as angelic beings are placed in the position of glory and honor equal to God the Father and God the Son. In addition, throughout the New Testament the term spirit is used in reference to angels. Revelation also does speak of angels very frequently. But another argument posed could be that the seven lamps or seven spirits symbolize the completeness of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is said to be the light, but all three parts of the Divine Trinity are present within the lamp, or spirit. There is only one spirit of God, but there are multiple manifestations of Him. Fire and it's burning characteristics have been a symbol of God throughout the Bible to show God's powerful consumption. The flashes and sounds are John's attempt to convey a sense of majesty, holiness, and supernatural activity beyond his understanding.
The Four Creatures Around the Throne
- 6And before the throne there was a sea of glass like crystal, and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four creatures full of eyes in front and behind.
Commentary:There has been a discrepancy among theologians on what exactly the "sea of glass" symbolizes. Some believe it is not merely a body of water or actual clear class, but rather is a representation of mass amount of humanity (whose numbers are expansive like that of a vast sea). The crystal may be interpreted to symbolize the very purity, flawlessness or righteousness of the people. Other scholars and theologians believe the "sea of glass" is the floor, which is likened to a sea because it continues into the distance. If you take it to be a body of water, it could symbolish how you must be clean and purified to get close to God. The "creatures" are the special angels (Ezekiel 10:15-22) who guard the Throne of God. The eyes symbolize wisdom and all-seeing vigilance. The animals are like a lion and a calf. But, all these different creatures represent humans. Some say that the four creatures zepict the four signs of the zodiac. This is interesting because many people say that Revelation has a lot of reference to cosmology. Thus, this keeps with the theme of cosmology and mysticism in the book.
- 7And the first creature was like a lion, and the second like a calf, and the third had a face like a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle.
Commentary: The four living creatures may be heavenly beings representing humankind and all animals. The lion could represent strength (Psalms 103:20), the calf service (Hebrews 1:14), the face of a man intelligence (Luke 2:52), and the eagle swiftness (Daniel 9:21). The whole vision has a strong allusion to Ezekiel 1:4-14 with possible connections to the imagery used in Isa. 6. Some speculate that the animals may be that of the zodiac. The sign for Aquarius, however, would be replaced by an eagle. And yet others argue that the animals represent the creation of God ceaselessly praising. The eagle would represent the animals of the sky, the cow represents the domestic animals, the lion represents the wild animals, and that with a face like man represents humanity.
- 8And the four creatures each had six wings about them, and they were full of eyes within, and they rested not day and night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”
Commentary: The wings show ability to move quickly. These creatures are perfect guardians, seeing everything, missing nothing, and never resting. No one would be able to approach God's throne without being seen by one of these creatures.The eyes of the creatures were also able to see everything that happened in Heaven and on Earth. The praise they give here and the elders' response is for John's benefit, to establish the authority stated in the next verse. Worshiping the Lord is initiated by these four creatures, as evidenced in the next verse, displaying the order in worship.
This verse has strong allusions to Isaiah 6. As stated in verses 2-3, "Seraphs were in attendance above him, each had six wings... And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."
- 9And when those creatures gave glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the four and twenty elders fell down before him that sat on the throne, and worshiped him that lives for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for you have created all things, and by your will they are and were created.”
Commentary: God has the sovereign authority to rule and to judge all things because He is both holy and the creator of all things. Even Satan is God's creation, and God has also the authority to judge him. Satan and his minions are allowed free reign only until they have completed their divine purpose, after which they cannot escape judgment. Where the verse says, "cast their crowns before the thrown..." this could be interrupted literately as if they were sacrificing there crowns to God, just as the Wise Men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus at his birth. This can also be seen as a metaphor for the kings and rulers of the Earth (evident by their crowns which normally signify leadership) giving up their rule over mankind to God in a gesture that states that they are not worthy to rule which can be shown by their act of bowing before him. When they state "you are worthy," this is also clarifying that they do not believe that they are worthy to have such power since the Bible states that all men are equal in the eyes of God. Therefore, only he, being a superior and divine being, would have such authority.
- Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge Univeristy Press, 2003.