This is the commencement of the second great division, which embraces Revelation 4-22:5, that in which the revelation, properly so called, takes place. Revelation 4:1-11. and 5. contain the first of the seven visions, which is itself a prelude to the rest.
After this; or, after these things ( μετὰ ταῦτα). There is no good ground for supposing, as some do, that, after the events narrated in Revelation 3:1-22., an interval occurred in the visions, during which St. 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 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 ( εἷδον). No fresh act of looking is signified. I saw in the Spirit, as formerly (Revelation 1:10, Revelation 1:12). 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. St. 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. Alford contrasts Ezekiel 1:1; Matthew 3:16; Acts 7:56; Acts 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 Revelation 1:10. The possessor of the voice is not indicated. Stier ('Reden Jesu') attributes the voice to Christ; but it seems rather that of an angel, or at any rate not that of Christ, whose voice in Revelation 1:15 is described as "of many waters, "not as" of a trumpet." Which said. The voice ( φωνή) becomes masculine ( λέγων). 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" (Revelation 1:2). He was to receive a yet higher insight into spiritual things (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2, where St. Paul was "caught up into the third heaven"). And I will show thee. It is not necessary, with Stier (see above on Revelation 1:1), 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). "Hereafter" ( μετὰ ταῦτα); as before in Revelation 1:1, 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 "and;" καὶ, though in the Textus Receptus, is omitted in the best manuscripts.
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 Revelation 4:1). St. 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 ( ἔκειτο). 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 (cf. also Isaiah 6:1, Isaiah 6:2, where the seraphim are above). And one sat on the throne. Probably the Triune God, to whom the Trisagien in verse 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 Revelation 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
And he that sat was to look upon like, etc.; or, he that sat like in appearance ( δράσει). The word ὅρασις 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 in Revelation 9:17. In the latter place the expression is ἐν τῇ ὁράσει, 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 1 Samuel 3:1; Isaiah 1:1; Lamentations 2:9; Ezekiel 7:13; Daniel 1:17 and Daniel 8:1; Obadiah 1:1; Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 2:2; and many others, where it is "vision." Also 13:6; Ezekiel 1:5, Ezekiel 1:13, Ezekiel 1:26-28; Daniel 8:15; Nahum 2:4; 1 Samuel 16:12; and many others, where it is "appearance"). In the classics, ὅραμα 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 (Revelation 21:19, Revelation 21:20). 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 Revelation 21:11, "jasper stone. clear as crystal;" Revelation 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 colour, 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 מלַהְיַ, which in the Authorized Version is rendered "diamond," is represented in the LXX . by ἴασπις; while in Exodus 28:20, הפֶשְׂיָ the English "jasper," is ὀνύχιον. The sardius was the carnelian, always red, though somewhat varying in shade. The name has been variously derived from
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 ἶρις, which is used here, is not found in the LXX.? where τόξον 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, Genesis 9:13), 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 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 (Revelation 21:19). The description in this verse recalls Ezekiel 1:23, "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 colours, 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.
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 θρόνοι. θρόνοι, is found in B, P and this makes the construction nominative after ἰδού (cf. Revelation 4:2); but א, A, 34, 35, read θρόνους , which causes εἶδον 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; Exodus 24:1, and many others; see also the list of elders in Hebrews 11:1-40.). In the Christian Church the same distinction exists (see Acts 14:23, "ordained them elders;" Acts 20:17, St. Paul sent for the elders of Ephesus; Acts 21:18, "The elders were present"). So hero the elders represent the saints of both the Old and New Testaments. Thus they offer "the prayers of the saints" (Revelation 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 Revelation 21:12, Revelation 21:14. In Revelation 15:2, Revelation 15:3, the victorious ones sing "the song of Moses and of the Lamb." Other interpretations which have been advanced are
And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thundering and voices. The present tense (see on Revelation 4:4). 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 Revelation 5:6, where the searching, enlightening power of the Holy Spirit is typified by seven eyes.
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 (1 Kings 7:23) as a "molten sea." St. 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 St. 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
(8) The doctors of the Church (Vitringa).
(10) The four orders: pastoral, diaconal, doctoral, contemplative, (Joachim).
(11) The four principal angels (a Lapide).
(12) Four apostolic virtues (Alcasar).
(13) The attributes of divinity: wisdom, power, omniscience, creation (Renan).
Full of eyes before and behind. From Isaiah 6:2, Isaiah 6:3 the idea of six wings is borrowed, and also the "Holy, holy, holy" from Ezekiel 1:5, Ezekiel 1:6; the four figures and four faces; 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, St. John would see them in various positions, and observe the back as well as the front.
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), see on Revelation 4:6. For the signification, see also above on Revelation 4:6.) Whether there was any difference in the forms as a whole, or whether the difference consisted chiefly or solely in the thee, cannot be certainly known. Each being is symbolical of some class or some quality of which it is representative. (For the application, see on Revelation 4:6.)
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 savours 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 παντοκράτωρ, the "All-Ruler," not παντοδύναμος, the "All-Powerful." The former, as Bishop Pearson says, 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.
And when those beasts give; or, and as often as the living belongs 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 honour and thanks. The Eucharistic hymn recognizes the glory and honour 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 Revelation 4:2). "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 Revelation 4:8).
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 "sitteth" and "liveth." The four and twenty elders are the representatives of the universal Church (see on Revelation 4:4). And cast their crowns before the throne, saying. Their crowns of victory, στεφάνους (see on Revelation 2:10 and Revelation 4:4).
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, ἅγιος, "the holy one," is added. To receive glory and honour and power ( τήν δόξαν, etc.). The presence of the article either
Things which must be hereafter.
However nearly expositors may approximate in their interpretation of the Book of Revelation up to the close of the third chapter, yet, when the "things which must be hereafter" begin to be unfolded, they part company, and diverge into so many different paths and bypaths, that it will not be possible for us to trace out all of them. Nor is it desirable. Our purpose is a purely homiletic one, viz. to unfold the principles of the Divine method and government, so as to help those who minister to the instruction and building up of the people of God. In this section of the Commentary we do not intend to turn aside to discourse on individual texts, however attractive and beautiful they may be, but to open up the plan of God as it is laid down in the Apocalypse; yet not so as to minister to an idle and peering curiosity, but so as to inform the understanding, establish the faith, and animate the hope of believers. It has been our conviction now for twenty years (a conviction deepened by each successive study of this wondrous book) that if men will but note its silence as well as its speech—what it withholds as well as what it unfolds—if they will refrain from filling in chasms that the book leaves, and will aim at seizing the principles involved, rather than at fixing details and dates of events, there is no book in the Word of God that will be found richer in spiritual food, or clearer in its heavenly light! There are several leading schemes of interpretation of the book. There is:
1. The preteritist; which regards the book as indicating events which have passed long ago; which closed with the destruction of the Jewish city, temple, and polity, and with the setting up of the Christian Church—it being "the holy city new Jerusalem."
2. The extreme futurist. Whereas according to the first everything has happened which is here recorded, according to the second nothing has yet occurred. Even the seven Churches are seven Churches of Jews to be formed alter the first resurrection, and all that is in the rest of the book is to follow on from thence. Between these two extremes there are, however, three others; the greater number of interpreters belonging, in fact, to one or other of these three.
3. Some regard the book as virtually a progressive history, dating from the imprisonment of St. John in Patmos under the Emperor Domitian. In their view the seven seals, vials, and trumpets indicate a triple series of events which may be either consecutive or simultaneous. In both cases, however, the interpretation is adopted of "a day for a year."
4. Others, again, regard the book as including a symbolic representation of things occurring on earth at the time of the apostle; and in addition thereto, a symbolic representation of events extending over twelve hundred and sixty days, which will usher in the coming of our Lord.
5. A fifth and rapidly increasing school of expositors adopt what is called (and rightly) the spiritual interpretation of the book; i.e. instead of fixing this or that earthquake, pestilence, or famine as the one specially referred to, they hold £ "that this book of sublimity contains a pictorial representation of events which commenced at the Christian era, and will run on to the end of the world." So also Godet remarks, concerning the six seals, that they represent, each of them, not a particular event, but "the categories of the principal judgments by which God supports, throughout all time, the preaching of the gospel." £ The spiritual interpretation is that to which for many years past we have felt ourselves shut up, and we are glad to find it adopted by Dr. Lee in his exposition. He says, "The imagery of the book describes, in accordance with the whole spirit of prophecy, the various conditions of the kingdom of God on earth, during its successive struggles with the prince of this world;" and again, "The 'spiritual' application is never exhausted, but merely receives additional illustrations as time rolls on, while the 'historical' system assumes that single events, as they come to pass in succession, exhibit the full accomplishment of the different predictions of the Apocalypse." £ Hence, at this stage of our unfolding of the plan of the book, we would lay it down as the basis of our exposition that, without attempting (for reasons yet to be given) to indicate anything like an estimate of the time over which our dispensation has to run, we shall find in this book, from beginning to end, such a disclosure of the principles and methods of God's working, in bringing about the second coming of the Lord, as may well fill us with holy awe, while we are contemplating the character of the scenes through which God's Church must pass on her way to her destined glory! It will spare us much useless labour if we note what God has not said in this book, as well as what he has said; e.g.
I. THERE IS IN THE ROOK A CLEAR GENERAL PLAN. Its keynote is, "Behold, I come quickly." Its disclosures end with the inbringing of the new heavens and the new earth. Its historic starting point is the exile of the beloved apostle. Its conception is that all forces in nature, incidents in history, and movements of providence, are preparing the way of the Lord. The standpoint of the apostle is not earth, nor is it heaven. He is caught up in the Spirit. Looking down, he sees earth in trouble and storm; looking up, he sees heaven in glory and rest. And if we look behind the symbolic drapery of the book, we shall find in each paragraph or section some principle indicated which will give us a clue to the higher spiritual meaning of the whole. Historic incident is among things "seen and temporal;" principles are among things "unseen and eternal." If we can seize hold of these, and thereby get some clearer view of the methods of God's working, we shall look with a far more intelligent gaze on "the ways of God towards man."
II. THE UNFOLDINGS OF THE BOOK AS TO THE CONFLICTS OF EARTH ARE A GREAT STAY TO OUR FAITH. Suppose we were without the Apocalypse: when we look over all the desolations of earth, and think of the slow progress Christianity makes, should we not be often ready to despair? But when the conflict in all its fierceness and wildness is set forth here, we can refer to our chart, and say, "We were told of it beforehand." We understand the Master's words, "Now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe." Without this book "the events of Christian history would be to us shortsighted creatures a very serious and painful obstacle to faith; but by the help of this book these very events confirm our faith." £
III. THE ISSUE OF THE WHOLE IN THE GLORY OF THE NEW JERUSALEM IS A STIMULUS TO OUR HOPE. However dark the passage, the end of it is light and glory. The King shall yet reveal himself as King of kings and Lord of lords. This is emphatically "the blessed hope." It revives our courage by the way.
IV. CERTAINTY AS TO ISSUE, BUT UNCERTAINTY AS TO TIME, IS THE ONLY CONDITION OF OUR LIFE WHICH IS CONSISTENT WITH THE DUE PERFORMANCE OF EVERYDAY DUTY. To know the moment when the stop should be put on all things would paralyze human exertion. Not to know that "all is working for good" would be the death blow to our joy in the Lord. The blended certainty and uncertainty are the very best conditions for us, the most calculated to lead us to watch and pray that we may "be ready," and may not be ashamed before Christ at his coming.
Verse 1-Rev 5:14
The opening vision: heaven; its throne; its inhabitants; its songs.
The fourth and fifth chapters of this book should be read together. They form a fitting introduction to the disclosures which follow. Before we have presented to us the series of visions which unfold to us the struggles of earth through which the Church must pass on her way to the end of the age, we have a glimpse of the heavenly world, its occupants, its songs, together with a sight of" him who is in the midst of the throne." Ere the last great inspired prophecy is to be unrolled, the Apostle John has a glimpse of the seat of power in heaven. Ere he sees those scenes of mingled awe and terror which his pen will have to record, he is permitted to peer within the sacred courts above. He sees their glory, learns their thoughts, and hears their songs, as, from heights far, far above us, they survey the majesty of the great Three in One, and send up their songs of praise to their God, for what he is in the glory of his nature, and for the grandeur of his works in creation and redemption. Among the many noble sculptures of Thorwaldsen at Copenhagen, there is one of the Apostle John. His countenance is suffused with heavenly serenity. He is looking up to heaven. His tablet is before him. His pen is in his hand, but it is not touching the tablet, nor will the apostle venture on a word till it is given him from above. Exquisitely indeed has the sculptor caught the spirit of the beloved apostle as he awaits the revelation from on high. Let us, in arranging our homiletic exposition, follow the leadings of the narrative. We have—
I. A GLIMPSE INTO THE UPPER WORLD. "A door was opened £ in heaven." We need not look on this as if it were bare literalism. Yet, beyond all question, there are objective realities far greater than those which John beheld. From beginning to end of these visions we see heavenly objects set forth in earthly language, that we may be "raised from our dead selves to higher things," and yet may not be bewildered and overwhelmed at the representation of a glory so far above us. Nor should we forget that, although this is the only book of the New Testament in which the heavenly world is set forth with anything of detail, yet the existence of that world is assumed by our Lord and his apostles throughout their teaching. This earth is not the only realm in which holy souls dwell, nor is the continuity of blessed life broken off as, one by one, they "go home." There are, moreover, "angels, principalities, and powers;" and over the two spheres of being, angels and men, our Lord is the Preeminent One. Thus, though the Apostle John gives us some fresh detail, he by no means takes us into an unknown land. It is "the Father's home." A voice is heard. Read, not "the first voice which I heard," but "I heard the first voice" (cf. Dean Alford, in loc.; Revelation 1:10); i.e. the voice of him who is the Alpha and the Omega. From him the word comes, "Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter." To this call the apostle responded. He rose in the Spirit's might, and, with piercing spiritual gaze, looked into heaven. £ In order for a vision to be intelligible, it is necessary that there should be one spot on which the eye can fasten, as a point of repose. Without this its glances would wander in painful unrest. There is a law corresponding to this in the mental constitution. In the study of any science whatever, minor matters have to be set in relation to some leading truth. It is so in theology. If religious truth is looked at as all detail, without anything like a centre, or like a vertebral column from which and to which the varied branchlets of truth diverge and converge, nothing will be rightly understood. So with the spiritual life. It requires its centre-point, which is Christ. If, moreover, in the vision before us, there were only a series of unconnected items, it would distract us. But it is not so. There is a centre. There is a throne, the seat of power and authority, from which all orders proceed, before which all creatures bow. A throne is set in heaven. Under this familiar symbol our God vouchsafes to set before us the truth that there is a point around which the universe revolves. A throne. Isaiah saw it; Ezekiel saw it; John sees it; and, with what is grouped around it, it gives us a glimpse of the glories of the heavenly world and of the dwellers there, and forms the background of the scenes of mingled mercy and judgment which are to be witnessed on earth.
1. There is One upon the throne—the eternal Father, glorious in his majesty.
2. Encircling the throne there is a rainbow—the symbol and sign of a covenant of peace. Majesty and mercy are met together. While in this low region of cloud things often look so dark and lowering that we are tempted to think earth's chariot wheels are running wildly, could we but see things from that higher standpoint that saints and angels take above, we should see that the everlasting throne remained firm and true, and that the rainbow of peace was encircling it around!
3. Round about the throne there are four and twenty minor thrones. On these are four and twenty crowned elders; and from what is said of them in the ninth verse of the fifth chapter, we gather that they are representatives of God's redeemed Church. Why twenty-four? No suggestion so much approves itself to us as the one that they represent the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament and the twelve apostles of the New. The two Churches of the two economies are one in Christ. "They without us could not be made perfect." These elders are seen clothed in white, in token of their purity; crowned with gold, to indicate their triumph.
4. Out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices. What can these symbolize but the outgoings of Jehovah's power, whereby from his throne forces go forth which cause the earth to tremble; that while before the throne there was the symbol of perpetual calm, yet from thence should come mighty powers that should shake terribly a sinful world. Here we have also seven lamps of fire. These are interpreted for us. "The seven Spirits of God" sent forth into all the earth. Here is the Holy Ghost set forth in all the sublime majesty of his sevenfold energy.
5. Before the throne. What is there? "A sea of glass like unto crystal." All calmness there. "No mighty waves of turbulent roar." "Jehovah sitteth above the waterfloods;" the tossing, angry waves of earthly revolutions affect not the perfect calm of the heavenly world! All is "ethereal purity and majestic repose."
II. THE INHABITANTS OF HEAVEN ARE SEEN.
1. Angels are there (Revelation 5:2, Revelation 5:11).
2. The four and twenty elders are there (Revelation 4:4; Revelation 5:8, Revelation 5:11).
3. Four living ones are there, in the midst of the scene, between the throne and the crystal sea: one like a lion; the second like a calf; the third having the face of a man; the fourth like a flying eagle.
In Ezekiel's vision each one had four faces; here: each has one face, each one has six wings about him. So in Isaiah's vision, with twain they covered their face, in holy awe; with twain they covered their feet, in token of humility; and with twain they flew, in token of obedience. Each one, moreover, is full of eyes before and behind—the symbol of the keen penetration of perfected intelligence. Surely we have, in these unusual forms, representations of the highest advance of creaturely existence; in which the several features of knowledge, excellence, and strength, which here are severed, are there joined in one. They worship before the throne. Worship and work mark the highest orders of created being as well as the lower.
4. Nor are these all. There is an innumerable host: "myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands," representing the vast company in the realm of life, where "they cannot die any more."
5. We have yet to behold One around whom all the heavenly hosts gather in worship; but he comes in view as the Object of adoring song. He is "the Lamb as it had been slain." His glory we shall view as we proceed to study—
III. THE FIVE SONGS. Too seldom is the grand progression of song noticed, as recorded for us by the apostle.
1. First, the Trisagion, or song of praise to the thrice-holy God (verse 8). This song is sung by the four living ones. The higher orders of created existence, with their vast powers of spiritual discernment—" full of eyes "—see infinitely more glory in the great eternal God than we can with our feeble powers and in this land of shadow and of care. They adore him for what he is; the perfection of his holiness is the delight of their souls. A diseased eye dreads the light in which a healthy one rejoices. Sinful men dread God's holiness; perfect beings find in it the inspiration of their praise.
2. Secondly, the song of creation. (Verses 10, 11.) It is not only what God is that fills holy beings with rapture, but also what God does. The work of his hands in creation fills them with delight. And the higher beings rise in the scale, the more delight will they have in aught that reveals God. An angel could see more of God in a blade of grass than an uncultured soul could do in a blazing star. "Thou createdst all things." Whether they know what were the Divine methods of creation, we cannot say. The fact that God did all is that in which they glory; and also the fact that he did all by his own will, and for his own good pleasure. But the grand unfolding of heaven's song is far from complete as yet. The theme is continued in the fifth chapter.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The high court of heaven.
If the portions of this book hitherto considered have had their difficulties, those on which we now enter are far more beset therewith. But the solemn sanctions given to the reading and study of this book send us, in spite of its difficulties, to the earnest examination of its sayings, certain that in them, even in the most mysterious of them, there lies a message from God to our souls. May he be pleased to make that message clear to us. This fourth chapter gives us the first part of the vision of what we have ventured to call "the high court of heaven." The next chapter reveals more. But in this part note—
I. THE VISION ITSELF. St. John begins his account of it with a "Behold." And well may he do so. He repeats this when he sees the "throne" and him that sat upon it. Again in Revelation 5:5, when he sees Jesus, the "Lamb as it had been slain." And if in like manner this vision come to us, we shall be filled, as he was, with wonder, with adoration, and awe. St. John saw:
1. A door set open in heaven. The sky was parted asunder, and in the space between, as through a door, he witnessed what follows.
2. The throne and its Occupant. He could see no form or similitude, any more than Israel could when God came down on Mount Sinai (cf. this vision and that, Exodus 19:1-25.). All that St. John saw was one "like unto a jasper stone and a sardius." The pure, perfect, flashing whiteness, as of a diamond, but with the carnelian redness, the fiery gleams of the sardius (cf. the "sea of glass mingled with fire," Revelation 15:2). Such was the Being who sat upon the throne—that throne, probably, as that which Isaiah saw (Isaiah 6:1-13.), being "high and lifted up," some stately structure befitting so august a court.
3. The rainbow, overarching the throne, the mild and beautiful green, emerald-like rays predominating amid its seven-hued splendour. Then:
4. The assessors of him that sat upon the throne. On either hand of the throne were twelve lesser thrones—twenty-four in all; and upon them were seated twenty-four elders, clad in white robes, and with crowns of gold on their heads.
5. Then in the space before the throne were seen seven burning torches. Not lamps, like those that symbolized the seven Churches, and which were after the manner of the seven-branched lamp which stood in the holy place in the ancient temple; but these were torches rather than lamps, destined to stand the rude blasts of the outer air rather than to gleam in the sheltered seclusion of some sacred edifice.
6. Then further off, beyond that central space, was the "sea of glass," like crystal. Clear, bright, reflecting the lights that shone upon it, but not tempest-tossed and agitated, unstable and ever restless, like that sea which day by day the exile in Patmos beheld barring his intercourse with those he loved, but calm and strong, firm and restful,—such was this sea. Then, also in the central space, or probably hovering, one in front, one on either side, and another at the rear of the throne, were:
7. The four living ones. The "four beasts," as, by the most melancholy of all mistranslations, the Authorized Version renders St. John's words, appear here to occupy the same relation to the throne as did the cherubim which were upon the ark of God in the Jewish temple. Strange, mysterious, unrepresentable, and indescribable forms. As were the cherubim, so are these; their faces, their eyes—with which it is said they "teem," so full of them are they—and their six wings, are all that we are told of; for the lion and ox-like aspect, the human and the eagle, tell of their faces rather than their forms, and do but, little to enable us to gain any true conception of what they were. Such were the mysterious beings whom St. John saw in immediate attendance on him who sat upon the throne; and as such, standing or moving around or hovering over the throne, we cannot certainly say which. And all the while there were heard, as "in Sinai in the holy place," voices, thunderings, and lightnings, proceeding from the throne. Such was that part of the vision with which this chapter is occupied. As we proceed we find the scene is enlarged, and more Divine transactions take place thereon. But now note—
II. THE MEANING OF THIS VISION. And:
1. The door set open in heaven. This tells, as did the vision of the ladder Jacob saw, of a way of communication opened up between earth and heaven.
2. The throne and its occupant. "The whole description is that of a council in the very act of being held. It is not to be taken as a description of the ordinary heavenly state, but of a special assembly gathered for a definite purpose" (cf. 1 Kings 22:19). And this symbol, which mingles reservation with revelation, and conceals as much as it declares, bids us think of God in his majesty, glory, supremacy, and as incomprehensible. "Who by searching can find out God?" It is a vision of the great God—we know that; but of his nature, substance, form, and image it, tells us nothing, nor was it intended that it should. But many precious and important truths concerning him it does tell. Of his awful glory, of his unsullied purity and spotless holiness, of the terror of his vengeance, of his interest in our concerns, of the worship and adoration of which he is worthy, and which he ever receives; of the character, condition, and service of those who dwell in his presence; of the ministers he employs; and much, more.
3. The fail,bow overarching the throne. This is the emblem (cf. Genesis 9:12-16) of God's gracious covenant which he hath established forevermore. And it told to St. John and to Christ's Church everywhere that, awful, glorious, and terrible as our God is, all that he does, of whatsoever kind, is embraced within the mighty span of his all-o'erarching grace. The Church of Christ was to pass through some dreadful experiences, to endure fearful trials, and they are not ceased yet; but she was to look up and see that all God's ways, works, and will were within not without, beneath not beyond, because and not in spite of, his all-embracing love. All were to find shelter, expanse, and explanation there. It was a blessed vision, and, unlike the ordinary rainbow, may it ever be seen by us, and its teaching believed.
4. The four and twenty elder's. These represent the whole Church of the Firstborn, the blessed and holy ones whom God hath made kings and priests unto himself. Their white robes tell of their purity, their victory, their joy, as white robes ever do; and their golden crowns (cf. Exodus 39:30), the peculiar possession of the priest of God, tell of their high and holy functions in the presence of God. The priest's office was to intercede with God for man and with man for God, to he—as was he, the great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ—in sympathy alike with man and God, seeking to unite man to God, even as God was willing to unite himself with man. But seeing them there, associated with God, does it not tell that the holiest and most blessed of the saints know and approve of all he does? This is why the saint's are so blessed, because they do so know God. They understand what he does, and why; and hence those dark facts of human life which so bewilder and distress us cause no distress to them; for they, whilst in deep love and sympathy with us who are left sorrowing here below, have come to know, as here they could not, and as we cannot, the loving and holy wisdom and the omnipotent grace which are working in and through all these things. If, then, those who know are of one mind with God in regard to them, surely we may learn therefrom to "trust and not be afraid."
5. The torches of fire. These are said to be "the seven Spirits of God"—the holy and perfect Spirit of God in the varied diversity of his operations (1 Corinthians 12:4). The witness of the Spirit as well as of the Church to the ways of God is shown. He too, as well as they, testify that God is holy in all his ways and righteous in all his works.
6. The sea of glass. If it were merely the sea that was seen here, we should regard it, as many do, as the symbol of the depth and extent of the judgments of God (cf. Psalms 77:19). But it is a sea of glass, like crystal, and its clear calmness, its firm strength, its perfect stillness—for we are told (Revelation 15:2) that the redeemed "stand upon" it—all this reminds us of the results of God's holy rule. "Thou rulest the raging of the sea, the noise of their waves, and the tumults of the people" (Psalms 89:9; Psalms 65:7). Here, then, is another witness for God and his ways—the progress of peace on earth, concord amongst men; the orderly, quiet, and undisturbed life; the security and peace which are amongst the marked results of the progress of the kingdom of God in the world. Let the results of missionary enterprise amid savage peoples now civilized and at peace attest this.
7. The four living ones. The meaning of this part of the vision is not clear or certain. All manner of opinions have been held. We regard them as answering to the cherubim of the Old Testament, and they are apparently the representatives of those who stand nearest to God, and by whom he mainly carries on his work. Hence the chief ministers of the Church of God—prophets, priests, evangelists, and apostles. The ancient Church very generally regarded these "four living ones" as the representatives of the four evangelists, and in many a picture, poem, and sculpture this idea is portrayed. But we prefer to regard them as part of the symbol, and not the whole. And the different creatures which are selected for these four are the chiefs of their several kinds: the lion amongst beasts, the ox amongst cattle, the eagle amongst birds, and man amongst all. And these several creatures tell of the main qualifications for the ministry of God: courage and strength, as of the lion; patient perseverance in toil, as of the ox; soaring aspiration, "to mount up on wings as eagles," heavenly mindedness; and intelligence and sympathy, as of the man. Ministers so qualified God chiefly uses in his great work. Their wings tell of incessant activity; their being "full of eyes," of their continual vigilance and eager outlook on all sides, their careful watch and ward in the Divine service. Such are his ministers. It is said they represent the whole sentient creation of God. But we find them told of here as leaders of worship, as singing the song of the redeemed (Revelation 5:9), with harps and golden censers "full of odours, which are the prayers of saints." They say, "Thou hast made us kings and priests," etc. Surely all this belongs more to human, redeemed ministries than to vague abstractions, such as "representatives of creation." And if so, then such being the ministers of God is a further reason for the trust, the confidence, and the assured hope of the Church of God in all ages. And titan all are heard as well as seen, and that which we have is the Trisagion, the Ter-Sanctus, the "Holy, holy, holy," which Isaiah heard when in the temple. He also saw the vision of the Lord of hosts. And the uplifting of this holy song serves as the signal for the yet fuller outburst of praise which the twenty-four elders, rising from their seats and reverently placing their crowns of gold at the Lord Jehovah's feet, and prostrating themselves before his throne, render unto him that sitteth upon the throne, saying, "Worthy art thou," etc. (verse 11). The vision is all of a piece. It strikes terror into the hearts of God's adversaries, as—to compare great things with small—do the pomp and paraphernalia of an earthly tribunal strike terror into the heart of the criminal who is brought up to be tried, and probably condemned, at its bar; but fills with holy confidence the hearts of all God's faithful people by the assurance of the holiness, the wisdom, the love, and might of him that ruleth over all, and in whose hands they and all things are.
III. ITS GENERAL INTENT AND PURPOSE. Beyond the immediate needs of the Church of St. John's day, surely it is designed to teach us all:
1. The reality of the heavenly world. The seen and the temporal do not a little dim and often shut out altogether the sight of the unseen and eternal. It is difficult to realize. Hence whatever tends to bring to bear upon us "the powers of the world to come" cannot but be good. And this is one purpose of this vision.
2. Another is to awaken inquiry as to our own relation to the judgment of God. How shall we stand there, abashed and ashamed, or bold through the atoning sacrifice of Christ which we have believed and relied upon? How shall it be?
3. To excite desire and aspiration after participation in its blessedness. Hence the door is set open in heaven, that we may long to enter there, and resolve through Christ that we will. "What must it be to be there?"—that is the aspiration which such a vision as this is intended to awaken, as God grant it may.—S.C.