(4: 1) “After this I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was at it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.”
After John received the messages to the assemblies, he was given miraculous visions which relate to the last days of the present economy. He looks and sees a door opened in heaven. Then Jesus Christ, Whose voice sounded as a trumpet in chap. 1: 10, calls Him up to heaven where he receives revelations through the Spirit.
His trance or “ecstasy” must have been similar to that of Paul, when he was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12: 2) and heard unspeakable words, which it is unlawful for man to utter (2 Cor. 12: 4).
The things which John saw and heard were (with the exception of the “seven thunders”) to be written down and sent to the seven assemblies. Christ called John upward to show him those things which must needs come to pass. As we’ll find, these visions involve events relating to and issuing from the seven-year Dispensation of Judgment.
(4: 2) “And immediately I was in the Spirit: and behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.”
John sees a vision similar to that seen by Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. In all three instances, the visions were prophetic of a coming judgment. This one is no exception. The One sitting on the throne can be none other than God the Father. Compare with Isaiah 6: 1 and Daniel 7: 9. As what John sees in heaven is gradually unfolded to our view, we find ourselves looking into the temple of the New Jerusalem, even that heavenly sanctuary which will come down to earth during the Millennium, and comprise the central point of Ezekiel’s “holy oblation.” A glance at Isaiah’s vision will suffice to show that it is the heavenly temple here pictured.
(4: 3) “And He that sat was to look upon as a jasper and sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne in sight like unto an emerald.”
Unlike modern stones, the jasper was clear as crystal. See Rev. 21: 11. According to Victorinus, it was the color of water; whereas the sardius or “sardine stone” was the color of fire. Coupled with the emerald rainbow about the throne, we have a depiction of universal judgment about to take place.
The world was once deluged with water, the Lord afterward placing His bow in the cloud as a token that no more would all flesh be destroyed by a flood (Gen. 9: 11-17). At the second coming of Christ the world will be deluged by fire; and this will cleanse the world of the curse which has so long rested upon it. To complete the work of redemption, all things must be purged with fire and water. See Numbers 31: 23. Hence we have two baptisms: one by water, the other by fire. Read 1 Cor. 3: 13-15, and compare with 2 Peter 3: 7.
(4: 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.”
The identity of these twenty-four elders is a matter of dispute. Bullinger writes: “These are evidently heavenly beings, a ‘pattern’ after which David arranged his twenty-four courses of the sons of Aaron (1 Chron. 24: 3-5).” Frankly, I find this a bit far-fetched. A better interpretation is one that views the elders as an ideal representation of the church in glory. This is the opinion to which I myself lean.
The elders (twelve patriarchs and twelve apostles) stand for the “general assembly and church of the firstborn,” that is, the whole company of redeemed saints, who are in heaven at the time of John’s vision, waiting to receive their resurrection bodies.
Read Hebrews 12: 22-23 very carefully, as it contains an interpretation of the imagery used in Revelation 4 and 5. The white linen reveals the elders as having been redeemed by the Lamb’s blood. The crowns they are wearing shows that they are overcomers. The fact that they are about the throne, before which stands a “glassy sea” (v. 6, see below) informs us that they are the “spirits of just men made perfect,” who have now been received up to heaven at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week. See my article The Thrones of Revelation and Daniel for more information.
(4: 6) “And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.”
The glassy sea recalls to mind the brazen laver which stood between the altar and the Mosaic tabernacle (Exodus 30: 18). It was a perpetutal statute for Aaron and his sons to wash at this laver before approaching the altar or going into the tabernacle (Exodus 30: 19-21). As the brazen altar represents the Cross (Heb. 13: 10), so the laver represents the work of sanctification, effected through regeneration of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3: 5).
The twenty-four elders are now seated about the throne, showing that they have been cleansed by the blood and sanctified in the Spirit, whereby they have attained entrance into the sanctuary. This accounts for their white raiment and crowns.
The four beasts about the throne are the cherubims (cf. Ezekiel 10: 20), of whom we read little in Scripture, but enough to know that they are representative of the creation (ktisis). When Ezekiel saw them, they were four in number (Ezek. 1: 5, 10). So here also. The number four always denotes creative works, having reference to the material creation and things “under the sun.”
We’ll recall that upon Adam’s exile from Eden, the cherubims were placed at the threshhold of the garden and made custodians of the Tree of Life (Gen. 3: 24), hereby showing that restoration of Edenic privileges is bound up with the redemption of the creation. The association of the cherubims with the twenty-four elders reveals that creation-redemption is bound up with that of the people of God. See Romans 8: 20-21.
(4: 7) “And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast was like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.”
Ezekiel’s vision of the Cherubim, which he received by the river Chebar, is nearly identical (read Ezekiel 1, whole chapter). This vision was preparatory to the prophet’s reception of the word of God concerning coming judgments (Ezek. 2: 3-10). In the similar vision recorded in Isaiah, the prophet saw the Lord of Hosts sitting in His temple amidst the seraphims (Isaiah 6: 1-2) and this too was preparatory to predictions of judgment.
There is probably some significance in the fourfold nature of the cherubims. Representing as they do the terrestrial creation, they are expressive of animate life in its totality. The appearance of the third cherubim is like unto a man, for the Gentiles (nations) are included in God’s redemptive plan (see Rev. 21: 24).
(4: 8) “And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”
Here we find some differences between Ezekiel’s and John’s respective visions. In Ezekiel’s vision, the wings of the cherubims were four in number, and they each had four faces (Ezek. 1: 6; 10: 21). But the seraphims seen by Isaiah had six wings a piece (Isaiah 6: 2). We have then, in John’s vision, what appears to be a composite picture of the holy attendants that minister before God’s throne.
In this chapter (Rev. 4) the cherubims and elders sing the Song of Creation; whereas in the next chapter (Rev. 5) they sing the Song of Redemption. In Isaiah the seraphims sang, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6: 2). In the Apocalypse, the cherubims ascribe praise to the Lord for His eternal glory and the coming judgments which will issue in the redemption of the creation.
(4: 9) “And when those beasts give glory, and honor, and thanks to Him that sat on the throne, Who liveth for ever and ever,
(4: 10) “The four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
(4: 11) “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honor, and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
In the Song of Creation the four cherubims sing first, and the elders respond. The elders cast their crowns before the throne, for it is by Jesus Christ alone that have become overcomers. Thus all that we possess in glory will belong to Him. He is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12: 2). We can boast nothing of ourselves, but owe all to Him and to His redeeming grace.
In this verse we are given a reason why the creation must ultimately be redeemed. For all things were created for God’s pleasure. As God can have no fellowship with sin, so His pleasure will not be fulfilled until all creation is released from the vanity to which it was made subject (Romans 8: 20-21). The crown of thorns placed upon Christ’s head previous to His crucifixion reveals that His blood purchased the entire creation, and not just mankind.
Hence we believe that when He returns, He will free creation from the bondage of sin, and remove the curse. Of course, the curse will not be completely removed until after the final judgment and creation of the “new heavens and earth” (Rev. 21: 4). Yet there will be such a renewal of the world at Christ’s coming that the beasts of the field, and the trees of the wood, and even the hills and valleys, shall shout for joy. It is this renewal of the creation that takes up the theme of the present song.