Revelation of John 4

CHAPTER IV.

John sees the throne of God in heaven surrounded by twenty-four

elders; and four living creatures, full of eyes; which all

join in giving glory to the Almighty, 1-11.

NOTES ON CHAP. IV.

Verse 1. A door was opened in heaven] This appears to have been

a visible aperture in the sky over his head.

Verse 2. I was in the Spirit] Rapt up in an ecstasy.

Verse 3. And he that sat] There is here no description of the

Divine Being, so as to point out any similitude, shape, or

dimensions. The description rather aims to point out the

surrounding glory and effulgence than the person of the almighty

King. See a similar description Nu 24:10, &c., and the notes

there.

Verse 4. Four and twenty elders] Perhaps this is in reference to

the smaller Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, which was composed of

twenty-three elders; or to the princes of the twenty-four courses

of the Jewish priests which ministered at the tabernacle and the

temple, at first appointed by David.

Clothed in white raiment] The garments of the priests.

On their heads crowns of gold.] An emblem of their dignity. The

Jewish writers represent human souls as being created first; and

before they enter the body, each is taken by an angel into

paradise, where it sees the righteous sitting in glory with crowns

upon their heads. Rab. Tanchum, fol. 39, 4.

Verse 5. Seven lamps of fire] Seven angels, the attendants and

ministers of the supreme King. See Re 1:4, and the note there.

Verse 6. Four beasts] τεσσαραζωα Four living creatures or

four animals. The word beast is very improperly used here and

elsewhere in this description. Wiclif first used it, and

translators in general have followed him in this uncouth

rendering. A beast before the throne of God in heaven sounds

oddly.

Verse 7. The first beast was like a lion] It is supposed that

there is a reference here to the four standards or ensigns of the

four divisions of the tribes in the Israelitish camp, as they

are described by Jewish writers.

The first living creature was like a lion; this was, say the

rabbins, the standard of JUDAH on the east, with the two tribes of

Issachar and Zabulon. The second, like a calf or ox, which

was the emblem of EPHRAIM who pitched on the west, with the two

tribes of Manasseh and Benjamin. The third, with the face of a

man, which, according to the rabbins, was the standard of REUBEN

who pitched on the south, with the two tribes of Simeon and

Gad.

The fourth which was like a flying (spread) eagle, was, according

to the same writers, the emblem on the ensign of DAN who pitched

on the north, with the two tribes of Asher and Naphtali. This

traditionary description agrees with the four faces of the cherub

in Ezekiel's vision. See my notes and diagrams on Num. 2.

Christian tradition has given these creatures as emblems of the

four evangelists. To John is attributed the EAGLE; to Luke the

OX, to Mark the LION, and to Matthew the MAN, or angel in human

form. As the former represented the whole Jewish Church or

congregation, so the latter is intended to represent the whole

Christian Church.

Verse 8. The four beasts had each of them six wings] I have

already observed, in the preface to this book, that the

phraseology is rabbinical; I might have added, and the imagery

also. We have almost a counterpart of this description in Pirkey

Elieser. chap. 4. I shall give the substance of this from

Schoettgen. "Four troops of ministering angels praise the holy

blessed God: the first is Michael, at the right hand; the next is

Gabriel, at the left; the third is Uriel, before; and the fourth

is Raphael, behind him. The shechinah of the holy, blessed God is

in the midst, and he himself sits upon a throne high and

elevated, hanging in the air; and his magnificence is as amber

, (chashmal,) in the midst of the fire, Eze 1:4, On his

head is placed a crown and a diadem, with the incommunicable name

( Yehovah) inscribed on the front of it. His eyes go

throughout the whole earth; a part of them is fire, and a part of

them hail. At his right hand stands Life, and at his left hand

Death; and he has a fiery sceptre in his hand. Before him is the

veil spread, that veil which is between the temple and the holy

of holies; and seven angels minister before him within that veil:

the veil and his footstool are like fire and lightning; and under

the throne of glory there is a shining like fire and sapphire, and

about his throne are justice and judgment.

"The place of the throne are the seven clouds of glory; and the

chariot wheels, and the cherub, and the living creatures which

give glory before his face. The throne is in similitude like

sapphire; and at the four feet of it are four living creatures,

each of which has four faces and four wings. When God speaks from

the east, then it is from between the two cherubim with the face

of a MAN; when he speaks from the south, then it is from between

the two cherubim with the face of a LION; when from the west, then

it is from between the two cherubim with the face of an OX; and

when from the north, then it is from between the two cherubim with

the face of an EAGLE.

"And the living creatures stand before the throne of glory; and

they stand in fear, in trembling, in horror, and in great

agitation; and from this agitation a stream of fire flows before

them. Of the two seraphim one stands at the right hand of the holy

blessed God, and one stands at the left; and each has six wings:

with two they cover their face lest they should see the face of

the shechina; with two they cover their feet lest they should find

out the footstool of the shechinah; and with two they fly, and

sanctify his great name. And they answer each other, saying Holy,

holy, holy, Lord God of hosts; the whole earth is full of his

glory. And the living creatures stand near his glory, yet they do

not know the place of his glory; but wheresoever his glory is,

they cry out and say, Blessed be the glory of the Lord in his

place."

In Shemoth Rabba, sec. 23, fol. 122, 4, Rabbi Abin says: "There

are four which have principality in this world: among intellectual

creatures, MAN; among birds, the EAGLE; among cattle, the OX; and

among wild beasts, the LION: each of these has a kingdom and a

certain magnificence, and they are placed under the throne of

glory, Eze 1:10, to show that no creature is to exalt itself in

this world, and that the kingdom of God is over all." These

creatures may be considered the representatives of the whole

creation.

Verse 10. Cast their crowns before the throne] Acknowledge the

infinite supremacy of God, and that they have derived their being

and their blessings from him alone. This is an allusion to the

custom of prostrations in the east, and to the homage of petty

kings acknowledging the supremacy of the emperor.

Verse 11. Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive] Thus all creation

acknowledges the supremacy of God; and we learn from this song

that he made all things for his pleasure; and through the same

motive he preserves. Hence it is most evident, that he hateth

nothing that he has made, and could have made no intelligent

creature with the design to make it eternally miserable. It is

strange that a contrary supposition has ever entered into the

heart of man; and it is high time that the benevolent nature of

the Supreme God should be fully vindicated from aspersions of this

kind.

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