REVELATION - CHAPTER 4
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
4:1. “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.”
We come now to a new section of the Revelation, that part which reveals the events that will follow the removal of the Church. The chapter opens with the words, “After this....” a statement which prompts the question, After what? Since John, in the letters to the seven churches, had just been shown in symbol the complete history of the Church from its inception on the day of Pentecost, till the Rapture, the answer clearly is, After the completion of the Church age. Significantly therefore John, “... looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven.” That open door, the reference to a trumpet, the command to come up, his immediate translation from earth to heaven, and his enlightenment as to the future, have led many (correctly, I believe) to see in John’s experience a picture of the rapture of the Church. In connection with that event there will be also the sound of a trumpet, immediate translation of all the Church-age saints from earth to heaven, and an enlargement of their knowledge. The Rapture will occur, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump....” (1 Co 15:52). “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven (to resurrect, translate, and meet the Church-age saints in the air) ... with the trump of God ... then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up (to heaven)....” (1 Th 4:16-17). “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Co 13:12).
“And I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” Since John has just been shown the things that will transpire during the Church age, the things to follow, obviously refer to the events that will follow the Rapture of the Church.
4:2. “And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.”
Others have pointed out that what is rendered “spirit” in the KJ version should be “Spirit,” the reference being to the Holy Spirit. In other words, John as to his own spirit was caught up to heaven by the Holy Spirit, to receive the remainder of the revelation begun on the Isle of Patmos.
The first thing he saw was a throne set in heaven, a throne, which the context makes clear, was set for judgment.
4:3. “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.”
As the context also makes clear, the One sitting on the throne is God the Father, but the symbolic description assures us of the Son’s equality with the Father. The three precious stones mentioned are also listed among the twelve that were attached to the breastplate which constituted part of the uniform of Israel’s high priest, each stone being inscribed with one of the names of Israel’s twelve tribes. There is no reason to believe that the order in which those twelve stones are listed in Ex 28:17-20 doesn’t correspond to the birth order of Jacob’s twelve sons as recorded in Ge 29:32 - 30:34 and Ge 35:18, in which case the name on the jasper was that of Benjamin, and that on the sardine or sardius, Reuben. We note, however, that here in Revelation the order is reversed: the jasper, the last stone on the breastplate, and inscribed with the name of Jacob’s last-born son Benjamin, is mentioned first, while the sardine, the first of the breastplate stones, and inscribed with the name of Jacob’s firstborn, Reuben, is mentioned last. But Reuben and Benjamin are both figures of Christ: Reuben means See ye, a son, while Benjamin means Son of the right hand.
Only spiritual blindness will obscure the fact that these two stones, bearing the names of Jacob’s first and last sons, are a symbolic picture of Him Who has already declared to John, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending.... I am the first and the last” (Re 1:8,17). Since, then, these stones represent both God and Christ, there could be no clearer announc- ment of the Son’s equality with the Father.
“... and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” The rainbow, of course, is associated with the Noahic covenant recorded in Ge 9:8-17 “And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud ... and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.” The bow was the token that Divine judgment is designed, not for destruction, but blessing, for it is the penitence produced by judgment that enables God to bless. Before being shown “the cloud” (the terrible Tribulation judgments) yet to be brought over the earth, John was shown the rainbow that represents mercy. Inasmuch as green is the color of life, this emerald-hued rainbow is the symbolic reminder that the Tribulation judgments will be followed by an outpouring of blessing that will see man’s earthly life extended to a thousand years, and death a rare thing, visited only upon overt rebellion. And an earth which has yielded meagerly in response to much labor, will burgeon, so that “the plowman shall overtake the reaper” (Am 9:13).
It is significant also that the emerald was the breastplate stone engraved with the name of Judah, meaning He shall be praised. This third precious stone, no less than the jasper and the sardine, directs the eye to Christ. It is His death that has made it possible for God to be merciful to sinners. It is He Who will be praised in the Millennium as the mighty Lion of Judah, ruling with a rod of iron, that rule, which will brook no rebellion, making the Millennium the halcyon age so long sought by an earth whose permitted rebellion has prevented blessing for six thousand years.
4:4. “And round about the throne were four and twenty seats (thrones): and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.”
One school of interpretation asserts that these twenty-four elders represent both Old and New Testament saints resurrected and translated to heaven. The interpretation, however, that seems to be correct is that which takes them to be representative of NT believers only. It must not be forgotten that Church-age believers are described in Re 1:6 as “kings and priests,” or more accurately, “a royal race of priests -,” Knox, “a royal house, to serve as the priests of his God and Father,” NEB; “an holy priesthood” (1 Pe 2:5); “a royal priesthood” (1 Pe 2:9) - and from 1 Ch 24:18-19 we learn that the Aaronic priesthood was divided into twenty-four courses.
Another factor militating against their being representative of Old and New Testament saints is that a careful study of Scripture reveals that OT saints will not be resurrected until the end of the Tribulation: the vision described here is clearly at the beginning of that era.
Since sitting is the position indicative of rest, we learn that these elders represent the Church at rest, her pilgrimage, her warfare ended; and their white raiment assures us of their fitness for the divine presence, that raiment having been purchased at Calvary, and made theirs through their personal faith in Christ as Savior while they were on earth.
Relative to the golden crowns on their heads, it is to be noted that the word translated “crowns” is one which refers to the crown awarded to the victor or overcomer, rather than to the diadem of the ruler. These elders represent the believers of this present age. They are the overcomers mentioned in Re 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21 - passages the believer is urged to read again, for those rewards will be ours, those elders represent us. And what lack may be associated with the fact that the crowns are those of overcomers rather than rulers, is abundantly supplied in the seats they occupy, the more accurate translation of the original word being thrones. “If we suffer (endure), we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12).
4:5. “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.”
Lightnings, thunderings and voices, singly, or together, are almost invariably associated with the actions of God in relation to judgment. This scene in heaven is reminiscent of Sinai when the Lord came down to the mount and gave the law to Moses (Ex 19:16).
It is interesting to note that in connection with the giving of that law, which is described in 2 Co 3:7-9 as “the ministration of death,” there was seen also a pavement which appears similar to the sea of glass mentioned in Re 4:6, for in Ex 24:10 we read, “... and there was under His (God’s) feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.” The sapphire on the high priest’s breastplate, however, bore the name of Dan, which means judging: a judge. That law, which was a ministration of death, could bring only judgment. And John was about to be shown the details of that judgment soon to be poured out upon a world whose guilt is compounded: it has not only broken God’s law, it has rejected His Son Who died on the cross to deliver men from the consequences of their transgression. (We must remember that neither Israel nor the Gentiles were condemned for having crucified Christ, but for refusing to believe in Him as the One Whose death alone makes atonement for sin. Refusal to trust in Christ as Savior is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness).
Regarding the seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, and which are said to be the seven Spirits of God: as has been noted already in our study of Re 1:4, there is only one Holy Spirit, so that the reference is to the sevenfold fullness of that one Holy Spirit. These lamps of fire are different from the seven lamps of 1:12. The lampstands of 1:12 required oil; the light from these latter was inherent, independent of any outside source. Since seven is the number of perfection; a lamp, the source of light; and fire, a symbol of judgment, His being represented by seven lamps of fire tells us that the Tribulation judgments will be executed according to the perfect discernment of Him from Whose eyes nothing can be hid.
4:6. “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 (living creatures) full of eyes before and behind.”
Inasmuch as the literal sea is the symbol of the nations in their restless rebellion against God - “The wicked are like the troubled sea....” (Isa 57:20) - this placid “sea of glass like unto crystal” is the symbolic announcement that man’s rebellion may be permitted for a time, but ultimately everything will be compelled to yield obedience to God. That obedience will be manifested in the Millennium when the Prince of Peace reigns, and overt sin will bring death.
4:7. “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.”
4:8. “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.”
There is uncertainty both as to what these living creatures represent, and as to their exact position in relation to the throne. One suggestion is that since the lion is the greatest of the wild beasts; the ox, of the domesticated animals; the eagle, of fowls; and man, of all earthly creation, they represent the earthly creation. This view is untenable, however, since the multitudinous eyes “before and behind” are symbolic of omniscience, and only God is omniscient.
Some take them to be the cherubim, but this view is also untenable since the cherubim have four wings, while these have six; and the cherubim have four faces, these only one, though in aggregate they present the four faces of the cherubim. The presence of these same four faces on the cherubim embroidered on the Tabernacle vail and entrance curtains - the vail and curtains being themselves figures of Christ as the way into God’s presence - has led many competent expositors to see a link between these four living creatures and the four Gospels. The lion’s face links logically with Matthew in which Christ is presented as King; the ox, with Mark, in which He is presented as Servant; the man, with Luke, which presents Him as the perfect Man; and the eagle, with John, which presents Him as the heavenly One, God the Son.
They seem therefore to be representative of the attributes of the Lord Himself, His attributes being displayed in the activity of the angels who play a prominent part in dispensing the Tribulation judgments, so that the living creatures may be the symbolic representation of those angels, who as His ministers, represent Him and display His attributes.
In regard to their position “in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne,” it has been suggested that they are to be seen as standing in a circle, facing outward, and supporting the throne on their backs. Since Christ’s perfections and finished work furnish the very foundation of God’s throne (and these living creatures appear to symbolize the angels who are Christ’s representatives), this view may be correct. There is therefore nothing incongruous in their falling down to worship Him as they do in Re 5:8, for while from one perspective they portray Christ, from another they portray the angels who act as His agents.
Their being “full of eyes within” declares symbolically that as His agents they act according to His perfect discernment, which comprehends not only the past and the future, but which reads also “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12).
The thrice-repeated ascription of holiness to God reminds us that He Who sits upon the throne of heaven is He of Whom it is written, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab 1:13).
4:9. “And when these beasts give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
4:10. “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,
4:11. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
As these living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to God, they are joined by the elders who “cast their crowns before the throne,” an act which is the symbolic acknowledgement of the truth that the redeemed are indebted to God for the inestimable blessing of having a place in heaven for all eternity.
“... for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Inasmuch as other Scriptures assure us that Christ has created all things, this verse continues to emphasize the Son’s equality with the Father. They are One. It reminds us also that He is the Creator, we, His creatures. As such, He has absolute right to demand obedience, and we are responsible to yield that obedience.