REVELATION 4 - A New Vision (The Heavenly Sanctuary)
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.
IN the first three chapters, John presents the vision he had of the Son of man, comprising a description of his majestic person, and a record of the words, which, with a voice as the sound of many waters, he was heard to utter. A new scene and a new vision now open before us; and the expression “after this” does not denote that what is recorded in chapter 4 and onward was to take place after the fulfillment of everything recorded in the three preceding chapters, but only that after he had seen and heard what is there recorded, he had the new view which he now introduces.
A Door Was Opened in Heaven. — Let it be noticed that John says, “A door was opened in heaven,” not into heaven. It was not an opening of heaven itself before the mind of John, as in the case of Stephen (Acts 7:56); but someplace, or apartment, in heaven was opened before him, and he was permitted to behold what was transpiring within. That this apartment which John saw open was the heavenly sanctuary, will plainly appear from other portions of the book.
Things Which Must Be Hereafter. — Compare with this chapter 1:1. The great object of the Revelation seems to be the presentation of future events, for the purpose of informing, edifying, and comforting the church.
2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and [one] sat on the throne.
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.
4 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.
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.
In the Spirit. — Once before in this book we have had this expression; namely, in chapter 1:10, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,” where it was taken to express the fact that John had a vision upon the Sabbath, or Lord’s day. If it there expressed the state of being in vision, it would denote the same thing here; and consequently the first vision ended with chapter 3, and a new one is here introduced. Nor is it any objection to this view that John, previous to this, as is learned from the first verse of this chapter, was in such a spiritual state as to be able to look up and see a door opened in heaven, and to hear a voice, like the mighty sound of a trumpet, calling him up to a nearer prospect of heavenly things. It is evident that there may be such states of ecstasy independent of vision, just as Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost, could look up and see the heavens opened, and the Son of man on the right hand of God. To be in the Spirit denotes a still higher state of spiritual elevation. On what day this vision was given, we are not informed.
Being again fully wrapped in heavenly vision, the first object which he beholds is a throne set in heaven, and the Divine Being seated thereon. The description of the appearance of this personage, clothed in the mingled colors of the jasper, frequently a purple, and the blood-red sardine stone, is such as at once to suggest to the mind a monarch vested with his royal robes. And round about the throne there was a rainbow, both adding to the grandeur of the scene, and reminding us that though he who sits upon the throne is an almighty and absolute ruler, he is nevertheless the covenant-keeping God.
The Four and Twenty Elders. — The question once proposed to John concerning a certain company, has frequently arisen concerning these four and twenty elders: “Who are these? and whence came they?” It will be observed that they are clothed in white raiment, and have on their heads crowns of gold, which are tokens both of a conflict completed and a victory gained. From this we conclude that they were once participants in the Christian warfare, once trod, in common with all saints, this earthly pilgrimage, but have overcome; and for some good purpose, in advance of the great multitude of the redeemed, are wearing their victor crowns in the heavenly world. Indeed, they plainly tell us as much as this in the song of praise which they, in connection with the four living beings, ascribe to the Lamb, in the 9th verse of the following chapter: “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” This song is sung before any of the events in the prophecy of the seven seals transpire; for it is sung to set forth the worthiness of the Lamb to take the book and to open the seals, on the ground of what he had already accomplished, which was their redemption. It is not, therefore, thrown in here by anticipation, having its application in the future; but it expresses an absolute and finished fact in the history of those who sung it. These, then, were a class of redeemed persons, — redeemed from this earth, redeemed as all others must be redeemed, by the precious blood of Christ.
Do we in any other place read of such a class of redeemed ones? — We think Paul refers to the same company when he writes to the Ephesians thus: “Wherefore he saith, When he [Christ] ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” The marginal reading is, he led a “multitude of captives.” Ephesians 4:8. Going back to the events that occurred in connection with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, we read, “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” Matthew 27:52, 53. Thus the answer to our question comes back, gathered unmistakably from the sacred page. These are some of those who came out of their graves at the resurrection of Christ, and who were numbered with the illustrious multitude which he led up from the captivity of Death’s dark domain when he ascended in triumph on high. Matthew records their resurrection, Paul their ascension, and John beholds them in heaven, performing the sacred duties which they were raised up to accomplish.
In this view we are not alone. Wesley speaks as follows concerning the four and twenty elders: “Clothed in white raiment.] This, and their golden crowns, show that they had already finished their course, and taken their places among the citizens of heaven. They are never termed souls, and hence it is probable that they had glorified bodies already. Compare Matthew 27:52.”
The particular attention of the reader is asked to the fact that the four and twenty elders are said to be seated on thrones. Our translation, it is true, reads “seats;” but the Greek is θρόνοι, “thrones;” and so the Revised Version reads: “And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones, and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting.” This passage, consequently, throws light on the expression found in Daniel 7:9, “I beheld till the thrones were cast down.” These are the same thrones; and, as has been shown in comments upon that passage, the meaning is not that the thrones were overturned, or cast down, in the ordinary sense of that expression, but placed, or established; and the figure is taken from the Eastern custom of casting down, or placing, mats or divans for distinguished guests to sit upon. These four and twenty elders (see on chapter 5) are supposed to be assistants of Christ in his mediatorial work in the sanctuary on high; and when the judgment scene described in Daniel 7:9 commenced in the most holy place, their seats, or thrones, would be set, or placed, there, according to the testimony of that passage.
The Seven Lamps of Fire. — In these lamps of fire we have an appropriate antitype of the golden candlestick of the typical sanctuary, with its seven ever-burning lamps. This candlestick was placed, by divine direction, in the first apartment of the earthly sanctuary. Exodus 25:31, 32, 37; 26:35; 27:20; etc. And now when John tells us that a door was opened in heaven, and in the apartment thus disclosed to view he sees the antitype of the candlestick of the earthly sanctuary, it is good proof that he is looking into the first apartment of the sanctuary above.
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 full of eyes before and behind.
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.
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.
9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
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,
11 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.
The Sea of Glass. — Not composed of glass, but a broad expanse resembling glass; that is, says Greenfield, transparent, brilliant. This idea is further carried out by its being likened to crystal, which is defined to mean “anything concrete and pellucid, like ice or glass.” The position of this sea is such as to show that it bears no analogy to the laver of the ancient typical service.
It may extend under, and be the foundation of, the throne, and even further, of the city itself. It is again brought to view in chapter 15:2, as the place where the overcomers, in the ecstatic joy of final victory, will soon stand.
The Four Beasts. — It is a very unhappy translation which has given us the word beasts in this verse. The Greek word ζῷον denotes properly a living creature. Bloomfield says, “‘Four living creatures’ (not beasts). So Heinr. renders it. ... The propriety of this correction is now, I believe, generally agreed upon by commentators. The word is very different from θηρίον, used to designate the prophetic beasts in the 13th and following chapters. (Scholefield.) It may be added that Bulkeley adduces several examples of to denote, not only creature, but even a human being, especially one from Origen, who uses it of our Lord Jesus.”
Similar imagery is used in the first chapter of Ezekiel. The qualities which would seem to be signified by the emblems are strength, perseverance, reason, and swiftness, — strength of affection, perseverance in carrying out the requirements of duty, reason in comprehending the divine will, and swiftness in obeying. These living beings are even more intimately connected with the throne than are the four and twenty elders, being represented as in the midst of it, and round about it. Like the elders, these, in their song to the Lamb, ascribe to him praise for having redeemed them from the earth. They therefore belong to the same company, and represent a part of the great multitude, who, as already described (see remarks on verse 4), have been led up on high from the captivity of death. Concerning the object of their redemption, see remarks on chapter 5:8.
They Rest Not. — “Oh! happy unrest!” beautifully exclaims John Wesley; and the theme of their constant worship is, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” No sublimer strain ever issued from created lips. And they repeat it “day and night,” or continually, these terms only denoting the manner in which time is reckoned here; for there can be no night where the throne of God is.
We mortals are apt to tire of the repetition of the simple testimony we bear here to the goodness and mercy of God; and we are sometimes tempted to say nothing, because we cannot continually say something new. But may we not learn a profitable lesson from the course of these holy beings above, who never grow weary of the ceaseless repetition of these words, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty;” and to whom these words never grow old, because their hearts ever glow with a sense of his holiness, goodness, and love? Praise does not become to them monotonous; for with every utterance they gain a new view of the attributes of the Almighty; they reach a greater hight of comprehension in their vision of his perfections; the horizon expands before them; their hearts enlarge; and the new emotions of adoration, from their new standpoint, draw from them a fresh utterance of their holy salutation, new even to themselves, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!”
So, even with us here, though remarks are often, repeated in reference to the goodness, the mercy, and the love of God, the value of his truth, and the attractions of the world to come, these should not grow stale upon the ear; for we should all our lives be rising to new conceptions of the blessings embraced in these glorious themes.
Concerning the expression, “which was, and is, and is to come,” see remarks on chapter 1:4.
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power.” How worthy, we never shall be able to realize till, like the holy beings who utter this language, changed to immortality, we are presented faultless before the presence of his glory. Jude 24.
Thou Hast Created All Things. — The works of creation furnish the foundation for the honor, glory, and power ascribed to God. “And for thy pleasure,” or through thy will, διὰ τὸ θέλημά σου, they are, and were created. God willed, and all things came into existence; and by the same power they are preserved and sustained.