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Revelation Chapter 4

Before the Throne of God

      Verse 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 show thee things which must be hereafter.
      In the first three chapters, John presented the vision he had of the Son of man. He described His majestic person, and recorded the words which He uttered with a voice as the sound of many waters. A new scene and a new vision now open before us. The expression “after this” does not denote that what is recorded in Revelation 4 and onward was to take place after the fulfillment of everything recorded in the three preceding chapters. It means only that after the prophet 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. This expression reads literally in the Greek, “Behold, a door open in heaven.” It was not an opening of heaven itself before the mind of John, as in the case of Stephen (Acts 7:56), but some place in heaven was open before him, and he was permitted to behold what was taking place within. That what John saw open was the heavenly sanctuary, will plainly appear from other parts of the book.
      “Things Which Must Be Hereafter.” —Compare this with Revelation 1:1. The great object of the Revelation seems to be the presentation of future events which will inform, edify, and comfort the church.

      Verse 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
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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 the expression, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10), where it was taken to express the fact that John had a vision upon the Sabbath, or true Lord’s day. If it there expressed the state of being in vision, it would denote the same thing here. Consequently the first vision ended with Revelation 3, and a new one is here introduced. Nor is it any objection to this view that previous to this, as is learned from the first verse of this chapter, John was in such a spiritual state as to be able to look up and see a door open in heaven, and to hear a voice like the mighty sound of a trumpet calling him up to a nearer prospect of heavenly things. Stephen, also, full of the Holy Ghost, looked up and saw the heavens open, and the Son of man on the right hand of God. To be in the Spirit denotes a high state of spiritual elevation. On what day this vision was given, we are not informed.
      Being again in heavenly vision, John first beheld a throne set in heaven, and the Divine Being seated upon it. The description of the appearance of this personage, clothed in garments of mingled colors, is such as at once to suggest to the mind a monarch vested with his royal robes. About the throne there was a rainbow, which added grandeur to the scene, and reminds 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. —Who are these beings who surround the throne of glory? It will be observed that they are clothed in white raiment and have on their heads crowns of gold, which are tokens of both a conflict completed and a victory gained. From this we conclude that they were once participants in the Christian warfare, they once trod the earthly way with all saints; but they have been overcomers, and in
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advance of the great multitude of the redeemed, are wearing their victor crowns in the heavenly world. Indeed, they plainly tell us this in the song of praise which they ascribe to the Lamb: “They sung a new song, saying, Thou are 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.” Revelation 5:9. This song is sung before any of the events in the prophecy of the seven seals take place; 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 —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 sang 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 the resurrection of Christ, we read: “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 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 Jesus 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.
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      In this view we are not alone. John Wesley spoke 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.” [1]
      Particular attention must be given to the fact that the four and twenty elders are said to be seated on thrones. Our translation reads “seats;” but the Greek is {Greek- qrovnoi} thronoi, thrones, the same word as is used three times in verses 2 and 3 and once in verse 4 immediately preceding. Thus the Revised Version reads “Round about the throne were four and twenty thrones, and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting.” Consequently this passage throws light on the expressions 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 set. The figure is taken from the Eastern custom of placing mats or divans for distinguished guests to sit upon. These four and twenty elders (See comments on Revelation 5) are evidently assistants of Christ in His mediatorial work in the sanctuary on high. When the judgment scene described in Daniel 7:9 began in the most holy place, their thrones were placed there, according to the testimony of that passage.
      The Seven Lamps of Fire. —In these lamps of fire we have the 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.) Now when John tells us that a door was open in heaven, and in the apartment thus disclosed to view he sees the antitype of the candlestick
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the earthly sanctuary, it is good proof that he is looking into the first apartment of the sanctuary above.

      Verse 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 honor 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 honor 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— “glassy, i.e., transparent,” as James Strong says in his Greek Dictionary. This idea is further carried out by the likening of the sea 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 of the city itself. It is again brought to view in Revelation 15:2, as the place where the overcomers, in the ecstatic joy of final victory, will soon stand. There we shall praise Him who has given us the victory.
      The Four Living Creatures. —It is an unhappy translation which has given us the word “beasts” in this verse. The Greek word {Greek- zw=on} zoon, denotes properly “a living creature.” Bloomfield says in his comment,” ‘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 {Greek- qhrivon} [therion, wild beast], used to designate the prophetic beasts in the 13th and following chapters. (Scholefield.) It may be added, that Bulkeley adduces several examples of {Greek-} zw=on, to denote, not only creature, but
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even a human being, especially one from Origen, who uses it of our Lord Jesus.” [2]
      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 Revelation 5:8.)
      They Rest Not. —“O happy unrest!” beautifully exclaims John Wesley. 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. 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. (Revelation 21:23, 25.)
      We mortals are likely to tire of the repetition of the simple testimony we bear here to the goodness and mercy of God. 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
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to them monotonous, for with every utterance they gain a new view of the attributes of the Almighty. They reach a greater height of comprehension in their vision of His perfections; the horizon expands before them; their hearts enlarge; and the new emotions of adoration 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 words are often repeated concerning 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. We should all our lives be rising to new conceptions of the blessings embraced in these glorious themes.
      “Thou are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power.” How worthy, we never shall be able to realize until, 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. “For Thy pleasure [or through Thy will, {Greek- diaV toV qevlhmav son} dia to thelema sou], they are, and were created.” God willed, and all things came into existence; and by the same power they are preserved and sustained.

      [1] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, p. 695, comment on Revelation 4:4.
      [2] S. T. Bloomfield, The Greek Testament With English Notes, Vol. II, p. 574, comment on Revelation 4:6.

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