Revelation 4



This is the commencement of the second great division, which embraces

Revelation ch.4 – ch.22:5, that in which the revelation, properly so called, takes

place. Revelation 4. and 5. contain the first of the seven visions, which is

itself a prelude to the rest.


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.’ After this; or, after these things (μετὰ ταῦτα meta

tautaafter these things). There is no good ground for supposing, as some do, that,

after the events narrated in ch. 3., an interval occurred in the visions, during which

John possibly wrote down the matter contained in the first three chapters. Nor is

there any justification for assigning what follows to a time after this world.

It would be pressing ταῦτα  (these things) very far to make it apply to these present

things of the world; and μετὰ ταῦτα certainly need not mean “the things

after this world.” The expression is used here in its ordinary, natural sense:

“After having seen this, I saw,” etc.; introducing some new phase or

variety of spectacle. I looked; or, I saw (εῖδον - eidon). No fresh act of looking is

signified. I saw in the Spirit, as formerly (ch.1:10, 12). And, behold, a door; or,

and, behold, a door, and the first voice. Such is the construction of the Greek.

Was opened in heaven; or, an open door, in heaven. John did not see the action

of opening the door, but he saw a door which had been set open, through which

he might gaze, and observe what passed within. Contrast Ezekiel 1:1; Matthew 3:16;

Acts 7:56; 10:11, where “the heaven was opened;” and supposes that

the seer is transported through the open door into heaven, from which

position he sees heaven, and views all that happens on the earth. Victorinus

aptly compares the open door to the gospel. And the first voice which I

heard, as it were, of a trumpet talking with me. Omit the “was” which

follows, as well as the colon which precedes, and repeat “a voice,” as in the

Revised Version: And, behold, an open door in heaven, and the first voice

which 1 heard, the voice which was, as it were, of a trumpet. The voice

signified is not the first, but the former voice; viz. that already heard and

described in ch.1:10. The possessor of the voice is not indicated.  It seems

rather that of an angel, or at any rate not that of Christ, whose voice in

ch.1:15 is described as “of many waters,” not as “of a trumpet. ” Which said.

The voice (φωνή -  phonae) becomes masculine (λέγων - legon - saying).

Though whose voice is not stated, yet the vividness and reality of the vision

causes the writer to speak of the voice as the personal being whom it

signifies. Come up hither. That is in the Spirit — for the apostle

immediately was in the Spirit” (v. 2). He was to receive a yet higher

insight into spiritual things (compare II Corinthians 12:2, where Paul was

caught up into the third heaven”). And I will show thee. It is not

necessary to infer that these words are Christ’s. Though from Him all the revelation

comes, He may well use the ministry of angels through whom to signify His will.

Things which must be hereafter; or, the things which must happen hereafter. The

things which it is right should happen, and which, therefore, must needs happen

(δεῖ - dei - must). “Hereafter” (μετὰ ταῦτα); as before in v. 1, but in a somewhat

more general and less definite sense — at some time after this; but when

precisely is not stated. The full stop may possibly be better placed before

hereafter;” in which case “hereafter” would introduce the following

phrase, exactly as before in this verse. There is no  καὶ - kaiand -though in

the Textus Receptus, is omitted in the best manuscripts.



2 “And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in

heaven, and one sat on the throne. And immediately I was in the Spirit.

Omit “and” (see above), so that the passage may be rendered, After these things,

immediately, I was in the Spirit; a new scene was opened out, as before (in v. 1).

John was already in the Spirit; but now receives a fresh outpouring of grace,

enabling him to see yet more deeply into the mysteries of the kingdom of

God. And, behold, a throne was set in heaven; or, a throne was situated

(ἔκειτοekeito - laid, located). There is no action of placing or setting up.

Compare the vision of Ezekiel, “In the firmament that was above the head of

the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the

appearance of the likeness of a throne” (Ezekiel 10:1), where the throne appears

above the cherubim, in the position of the cloud of glory (compare also Isaiah

6:1-2, where the seraphim are above). And one sat on the throne.

Probably the Triune God, to whom the Trisagien in v. 8 is addressed.

Some have thought that the Father is indicated, in contradistinction to the

other Persons of the Holy Trinity, and that it is from Him that the Son takes

the book in ch. 5:8. But as Cornelius a Lapide remarks, “The Son as Man may

well be said, especially in a sublime vision like this, to come to God.” The Person

is not named, because:


  • the Name of God is incommunicable; it is the “new Name” (see

            on ch. 3:12); or

  • because the seer describes only what is seen; or
  • it is suppressed from a sense of reverence.


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.” And He that sat was to look upon like, etc.; or, He that sat like

in appearance (ὁράσει horaseito my vision). The word ὅρασις horasis -  

look - is found in this verse and in two other places only in the New Testament,

viz. in Acts 2:17 (where it is part of a quotation from Joel) and here, ch.9:17.

In the latter place the expression is ἐν τῇ ὁράσει – en tae horasei - and the

presence of the preposition, together with the article, seems to justify the

rendering “in the vision.” In the Septuagint ὅρασις is frequently used to

signify either “vision” or “appearance” (see I Samuel 3:1; Isaiah 1:1;

Lamentations 2:9; Ezekiel 7:13; Daniel 1:17 and 8:1; Obadiah 1:1; Nahum 1:1;

Habakkuk 2:2-3; and many others, where it is “vision.” Also Judges

13:6; Ezekiel 1:5, 13, 26-28; Daniel 8:15; Nahum 2:4; I  Samuel 16:12; and many

others, where it is “appearance”). In the classics, ὅραμα horama - signifies a “vision;”

ὅρασις, “sight,” the power of seeing. A jasper and a sardine stone. The jasper was

the last, and the sardius the first stone of the high priest’s breastplate (Exodus 28:17).

The jasper was the first, and the sardius the sixth of the foundations of the heavenly

Jerusalem (ch. 21:19-20). Much doubt is attached to the whole subject of the precious

stones of the Bible. The modern jasper is opaque, while it is evident that the jasper of

the Revelation is remarkable for its translucent character (see ch.21:11, “jasper stone,

clear as crystal;”  ch. 21:18, “The building of the wall of it was of jasper; and the city

was pure gold, like unto clear glass”). It is evident that the stone was

characterized by purity and brilliancy — features which seem to point it out

as the modern diamond. The varying color, which, according to some

authorities, the jasper possessed, is not inconsistent with this view. It is

curious, too, that in Exodus 28:18, the Hebrew יַהְלַם, which in the

Authorized Version is rendered “diamond,” is represented in the Septuagint

by ἴασπιςiaspisjasper -  while in v. 20, יָשְׂפֶה - the English “jasper,” is ὀνύχιον

onuchion. The sardius was the carnelian, always red, though somewhat varying in

shade. The name has been variously derived from;


  • the Persian sered, yellowish red;
  • Sardis, as the first place of its discovery;
  • while carnelian is connected with carneus, as being of the

            color of raw flesh. But

  • Skeat derives the word from cornu, a horn;


the term being thus an allusion to the semitransparent nature of the stone.

The pure jasper, together with the red sardius, may fitly typify God’s purity

and mercy together with His justice and judgment. And there was a

rainbow round about the throne. The Greek ϊριςiris - rainbow - which is used

here, is not found in the Septuagint? where τόξον toxonbow - is invariably

found, probably to avoid reference to a term which was so pre-eminently heathen.

The rainbow is here, as always (see Genesis 9:12-13), a token of God’s faithfulness in

keeping His promises. It is, therefore, a fit sign of comfort to those

persecuted Christians to whom, and for whose edification, this message

was sent. In sight like unto an emerald. The σμάραγδος smaragdosemerald –

is our modern green emerald. It was highly valued in Roman times. It was one of

the stones of the high priest’s breastplate, and the fourth foundation of the

heavenly Jerusalem (ch. 21:19). The description in this verse

recalls Ezekiel 1:28, “As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud

in the day of rain. so was the appearance of the brightness round about.”

Some have found a difficulty in the association of a rainbow with its varied

colors, and the single green hue of the emerald. But of course it is the

form only of the rainbow which is alluded to, not every quality which a

rainbow may possess. A circular green appearance was seen round the

throne, which perhaps may be described as a green halo. If the purity of the

jasper (see above) be allowed to symbolize God’s purity and spirituality,

and the sardine, man clothed with flesh, the green emerald may fitly

represent God’s goodness displayed in nature.


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.”

And round about the throne were four and twenty seats.

Throughout the vision no past tense is used. The vision represents the

worship of heaven (so far as it can be presented to human understanding)

AS IT CONTINUES ETERNALLY!   Thrones.. seats. Render both by the

same English word, as in the Revised Version. Some doubt is attached to the

case of the first θρόνου thronouthrone. Θρόνουςthronousthrones –

 is found in B, P; and this makes the construction nominative after ἰδού - idou

lo, behold -  compare v. 2); but א, A, 34, 35, read θρόνους, which causes εϊδον

eidonI saw; I perceived - to be understood. The point is immaterial, as the

meaning is the same. And upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting.

Omit “I saw” (see above). The number twenty-four, the double of twelve,

represents the Churches of both the old and the new covenants. The elders

are the heads or representatives of the body to which they belong (see

Exodus 19:7; 24:1, and many others; see also the list of elders in

Hebrews 11). In the Christian Church the same distinction exists (see

Acts 14:23, “ordained them elders;” Acts 20:17, Paul sent for

the elders of Ephesus; Acts. 21:18, “The elders were present”). So here

the elders represent the saints of both the Old and New Testaments. Thus

they offer “the prayers of the saints” (ch.5:8). Christ, moreover, promised twelve

thrones to His disciples (Luke 22:30) though not to the exclusion of the saints of old,

for both are conjoined in ch. 21:12, 14. In ch.15:2-3, the victorious ones sing

the song of Moses and of the Lamb.” Other interpretations which

have been advanced are:


  • that the twenty-four elders represent the great and minor prophets;
  • higher angels — the celestial priesthood, as denoted by their white

            garments and the number twenty-four, the number of courses of the

            Levitical priesthood;

  • simply angels;
  • the elders of the Church at Jerusalem;
  • the doubled twelve signifies the accession of the Gentiles;
  • the books of the Old Testament. then the Jewish Church, while the four

            living creatures denote the Gospels, that is, the Christian Church.


Clothed in white raiment; the natural garb of heaven, symbolical of purify.

And they had on their heads crowns of gold  (στεφάνουςstephanouscrowns;

wreathsnot διαδήματα diadaemata - diadems). The crown of victory, not

necessarily the kingly crown. Possibly a reference to the priestly crown (see on

ch.2:10). Some are of opinion that the crowns here denote the kingly condition

of the saints. But Christians are nowhere in the New Testament described as “kings.”

(see ch. 1:6)


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.”   The present tense (see on v. 4).

The whole symbolical of the power and majesty of God, as of old He manifested

His presence on Sinai. “There were thunders and lightnings and… the voice of the

 trumpet (Exodus 19:16). And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the

throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. The Holy Spirit, represented in

His sevenfold operation, by lamps, which illumine. The same idea is expressed

under another figure in ch.5:6, where the searching, enlightening power of the

Holy Spirit is typified by seven eyes.


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.’  And before the throne there was a sea of

glass like unto crystal. Sea of glass, or a glassy sea. The quality of “glassiness” may

refer to the pure appearance of the sea; or it may mean that the sea was in

consistency like unto glass; that is, solid and unyielding, so that there was nothing

strange in the fact that it supported weights. In either case, the notion is

repeated by parallelism in the next clause, “like unto crystal.” But the

glassy sea may mean “a glass laver,” and bear no reference to what is

usually called a sea. The brazen laver is described (I Kings 7:23) as a

molten sea.”  John may therefore mean that before the throne of God

was a laver of the purest material, just as the brazen laver was before the

temple. One difficulty here presents itself, viz. that there would be no use

for a laver in heaven, where all is pure, and the figure therefore appears a

little incongruous. But as it stood before the throne, where all who came

would have to pass by, it may fitly typify the waters of Baptism, passed by

all Christians; and the figure would be aptly suggested to John by the

furniture of the temple to which he has such constant allusions. And in the

midst of the throne, and round about the throne. This may mean either:


Ø      that, the throne being rectangular, the four living beings were in the

            middle of each side of the parallelogram; or

Ø      while one was in front of the throne, the other three formed a

            semicircle round it, one being directly behind, and two towards the ends.


Were four beasts; or, four living creatures (Revised Version); or, better

still, four living beings (ζῶα zoaliving ones). The “beast” (θηρίον thaerion)

of ch. 6:7; 11:7, etc., must not be confounded with the “living ones” of this passage.

The one quality connoted by the term here used is the possession of life.

The question of the precise meaning and interpretation of the vision of “the

living beings” is a difficult one, and much has been written concerning it.

The vision is evidently connected with the appearances described in Isaiah

6. and Ezekiel 1. and 10., and which are called in Isaiah “seraphim,” in

Ezekiel “cherubim.” We are led, therefore, to inquire what mental ideas

were pictured to the Jews under the symbolical forms of cherubim and

seraphim.  The name cherub is probably connected with kirubu, the winged ox god

of the Assyrians, and with kurubu, the vulture or eagle (compare the γρῦπες grupes

 the guardians of the treasures of the gods); and it is inferred that among heathen

nations the mythic cherubim denote the cloud-masses which appear to

guard the portals of the sky, and on which the sun-god issues at break of

day. With regard to the seraphim, compare the name of the fiery

serpents (s’rafim) of Numbers 21:6, and conclude that the term was

symbolical of the lightning, the weapon of the gods. Now, in Old

Testament passages the cherubim and seraphim are always pictured as the

attendants of God, and the workers of His purposes and judgments — an

idea which may readily have been assimilated by the Jews from the

conceptions of their heathen neighbors. Thus cherubim with the flaming

sword are placed at the entrance of the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24);

Jehovah rode upon a cherub, and did fly (II Samuel 22:11; Psalm 18:10);

He communes with His people from between the cherubim (Exodus 25:22); He is the

Shepherd of Israel, who dwells between the cherubim (Psalm 80:1); the temple in

Ezekiel 41:18 is adorned with cherubim, as being the dwelling-place of God; they

are the attendants of the glory of God in Ezekiel 1:22-28; and the seraphim fill an

analogous position (Isaiah 6:2). We may therefore infer that the appearance of the

living beings” implied the presence of some order of beings in attendance

upon God, the workers of His will, and the manifestation of His glory.

Again, the term used (ζῶα) and the characteristics of the appearance

naturally and almost irresistibly lead us to interpret the form as one

symbolical of life. The human face, the ox as the representative of

domestic, and the lion of wild animals, and the eagle among birds, appear

to be typical of the four most conspicuous orders of animal life. The

ceaseless movements described in v. 8 portray the same idea. The four

living beings draw attention to the woes heaped upon created life

(ch. 6:8). The eyes denote never-resting activity. We may

therefore believe that the living beings are symbolical of all creation

fulfilling its proper office — waiting upon God, fulfilling his will, and

setting forth his glory. It is noteworthy that the human face, as distinct

from the Church, which is represented by the four and twenty elders,

appears to indicate the power of God to use, for His purposes and His glory,

that part of mankind which has not been received into the Church — the

part which constitutes the “other sheep, not of this fold” (John 10:16).

These representatives of created life worship God, and give (v. 11), as a

reason for ascribing glory and honor to him, the circumstance that “thou

didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were

created.” The following are other interpretations:


  • The living beings represent the four Gospels. This view is held by many

            ancient writers, though there are many variations in assigning to each

            Gospel its own representative. Victorinus considers the man to be a type of

            Matthew, who sets forth prominently the human nature of our Lord; the

            kingly lion is referred to Mark; the sacrificial ox to Luke; the

            aspiring eagle to John. Amongst the supporters of this interpretation

            (though varying in the precise applicability) are St. Augustine, St. Jerome,

            St. Athanasius, St. Irenaeus, St. Gregory, St. Ambrose, Andreas,

            Primasius, Bede, I. Williams, Wordsworth (for a full exposition of this

            view, see Wordsworth, in loc.).


  • The four great apostles: Peter, the lion; James the brother of the

            Lord, the ox; Matthew, the man; Paul, the eagle (Grotius).


  • The Church of the New Testament; as the Church of the Old Testament

            was represented by the standards or four tribes (see Numbers 2.), on which

            these devices were emblazoned according to tradition (Mede).


  • The four patriarchal Churches: the man, Alexandria, famed for learning;

            the lion, Jerusalem, propter constantiam” (Acts 5:29); the ox,

            Antioch, as “parata obedire mandatis apostolorum;” the eagle,

            Constantinople, remarkable for men “per contemplationem elevati, ut

            Grog. Naz.” (De Lyra and a Lapide).


  • (The four cardinal virtues (Arethas).


  • The four elements (the ‘Catena,’ p. 246) — a view not materially

            differing from that first set forth above, bearing in mind the idea of the

            ancients that all creation was formed from the four elements.


  • The four motive powers of the human soul: reason, anger, desire,

            conscience (a Lapide, quoting Grog. Naz.).


  • The doctors of the Church (Vitringa).


  • Four attributes of our Lord: His humanity, sacrificial life, His kingly

            nature, His perfect and spiritual nature soaring beyond all other men

            (Arethas-Cramer, p. 245).


  • The four orders: pastoral, diaconal, doctoral, contemplative,



  • The four principal angels (a Lapide).


  • Four apostolic virtues (Alcasar).


  • The attributes of divinity: wisdom, power, omniscience, creation (Renan).


Full of eyes before and behind. From Isaiah 6:2-3 the idea of six

wings is borrowed, and also the “Holy, holy, holy” from Ezekiel 1:5-6;

the four figures and four faces (which are united in Ezekiel, but made

separate in the Revelation); and from Ezekiel 10:12 the body full of

eyes. The eyes denote unceasing activity. If the four living beings all faced

towards the throne while standing on each side of it, John would see

them in various positions, and observe the back as well as the front.


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.”  (Upon “beast” (ζῶον - - zoon – living one), see on v. 6. For

the signification, see also above on v. 6.) Whether there was any difference

in the forms as a whole, or whether the difference consisted chiefly or

solely in the face, cannot be certainly known. Each being is symbolical of

some class or some quality of which it is representative. (For the

application, see on v. 6.)


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.” And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him;

and they were full of eyes within. The stop should probably be after

wings: are full of eyes about and within. In Isaiah 6:2 we have “six

wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet,

and with twain he did fly.” These actions appear to indicate reverence,

humility, obedience. The eyes denote ceaseless activity. And they rest not

day and night, saying. In the Authorized Version “day and night” is

attached to “rest not.” but probably should be taken with “saying,” for, if

connected with the negative phrase, “nor” would be more likely to occur

than “and.”  But the point is practically immaterial, since the sense of the passage is

the same in both readings. These representatives of life display the

characteristics of life in its fullest energy. They have no part in anything

which savors of death — no stillness, rest, or sleep. Holy, holy, holy. The

thrice-repeated “holy” has very generally been held to indicate the Trinity

of the Godhead. Such is evidently the intention of the English Church in

ordering this passage to be read in the Epistle for Trinity Sunday. This

ascription of praise is often, though wrongly, spoken of as the

Trisagion.”  Lord God Almighty. “Almighty” is παντοκράτωρpanitokrator

the "All-Ruler," not παντοδύναμος pantodunamos -  the “All-Powerful.”

The former embraces the latter. Which was, and is, and is to come. This phrase

is no doubt intended to attribute to God the quality of eternal existence. But it

may also symbolize three aspects or departments of God’s dealings with mankind:


  • the creation, which has been effected by the Father;
  • the redemption, which is now occurring by the intercession of the Son; and
  • the final perfect sanctification by the Holy Ghost.


9 “And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to Him that

sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,”  And when those beasts give;

or, and as often as the living beings shall give. The expression has a frequentative

force, and also points to a continued repetition of the act in the future; perhaps a

contrast to the past, since before the redemption the Church, as being of the whole

world, could not join in the adoration. Glory and honor and thanks.

The Eucharistic hymn recognizes the glory and honor which are the

inseparable attributes of God, and renders the thanks due to Him from His

creation. To Him that sat on the throne, who liveth forever and ever; or, to

Him sitting on the throne. The Triune God (see on v. 2). “Who liveth

forever and ever” declares that attribute which was ascribed to God, in the

song of the living beings, by the words, “which was, and is, and is to

come (see on v. 8).


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,” The four and twenty elders fall down before

Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that liveth forever and ever. Shall fall,

etc. The tenses are all future except the present sittethand liveth.” The

four and twenty elders are the representatives of the universal Church (see

on v. 4). And cast their crowns before the throne, saying. Their

crowns of victory, στεφάνουςstephanouscrowns) (see on ch. 2:10 and here, v.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.”   Thou art worthy, O Lord; or, thou art worthy, our Lord and

our God. In 13, the Syriac, Andreas, Arethas, Theodore-Stud., Arm., and

many others, ἅγιοςhagios -  the holy one, is added. To receive glory and

honor and power (τήν δόξαν taen doxanthe glory - etc.). The presence of the

article either:


(1) denotes universality, and the expression is thus equivalent to “all

glory,” “all honor,” “all power; or


(2) refers to the glory and honor mentioned in v. 9. The former view

seems more probable (compare ch.1:6). The Church is represented as

ascribing to God all power (δύναμιν dunamin); that power which He exercises

in its fullness in heaven, and which, though partially abrogated on earth, He will

nevertheless again take up, as foretold in ch.11:17. For thou

hast created all things; or, for thou didst create all things (τὸ πάντα ta pantathe all)

- the universe. The representatives of creation thank God for their existence;

the Church sees in His creation reason to ascribe power to him. Thus the

reason for the doxology is given — “because thou didst create.” And for

thy pleasure; much better, as in the Revised Version, and because of thy

will (διὰ τὸ θέλμα dia to thelma ). When God willed it, the universe had no

existence; again, when He willed it, THE UNIVERSE CAME INTO BEING!

They are, and were created; or, they were, and were created (Revised Version).

There are three variations in the reading of this passage:


(1)   η΅σαν  - aesan(existent?)  is read in א al  - fere Vulgate, Coptic, Syriac,

      Arethas, Primasius (in another version), anon-Augustine, Haymo;


      (2) εἰσί - eisithey are -  is read in S, P, 1, 7, 35, 49, 79, 87, 91, et al.

           et Andreas;


      (3) οὐκ η΅σανouk aesanwere not existent -  is read in B, 14, 38, 51.

           “They were” signifies “they existed,” whereas before they were not in

            existence; “and were created” points to the manner of coming into

            existence and the Person to whom this existence was due. If εἰσί be read,

            the meaning is the same. οὐκ η΅σαν would simplify the sentence very much.

            It would then run: For thy pleasure, or, At thy will they were not existent,

            and again, at thy will they were created. But the weight of authority is

            against this reading.



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