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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 4 - Verse 1

 

CHAPTER IV

 

ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER

THIS chapter properly commences the series of visions respecting future events, and introduces those remarkable symbolical descriptions which were designed to cheer the hearts of those to whom the book was first sent, in their trials, and the hearts of all believers in all ages, with the assurance of the final triumph of the gospel. See the Introduction.

In regard to the nature of these visions, or the state of mind of the writer, there have been different opinions. Some have supposed that all that is described was made only to pass before the mind, with no visible representation; others, that there were visible representations so made to him that he could copy them; others, that all that is said or seen was only the production of the author's imagination. The latter is the view principally entertained by German writers on the book. All that would seem to be apparent on the face of the book—and that is all that we can judge by—is, that the following things occurred:

(1.) The writer was in a devout frame of mind—a state of holy contemplation—when the scenes were represented to him, Re 1:1-10.

(2.) The representations were supernatural; that is, they were something which was disclosed to him, in that state of mind, beyond ally natural reach of his faculties.

(3.) These things were so made to pass before him that they had the aspect of reality, and he could copy and describe them as real. It is not necessary to suppose that there was any representation to the bodily eye; but they had, to his mind, such a reality that he could describe them as pictures or symbols—and his office was limited to that. He does not attempt to explain them—nor does he intimate that he understood them; but his office pertains to an accurate record—a fair transcript—of what passed before his mind. For anything that appears, he may have been as ignorant of their signification as any of his readers, and may have subsequently studied them with the same kind of attention which We now give to them, (See Barnes "1 Pe 1:11") See Barnes "1 Pe 1:12"

and may have, perhaps, remained ignorant of their signification to the day of his death. It is no more necessary to suppose that he understood all that was implied in these symbols, than it is that one who can describe a beautiful landscape understands all the laws of the plants and flowers in the landscape; or, that one who copies all the designs and devices of armorial bearings in heraldry should understand all that is meant by the symbols that are used; or, that one who should copy the cuneiform inscriptions of Persepolis, or the hieroglyphics of Thebes, should understand the meaning of the symbols. All that is demanded or expected, in such a case, is, that the copy should be accurately made; and, when made, this copy may be as much an object of study to him who made it as to any one else.

(4.) Yet there was a sense in which these symbols were real; that is, they were a real and proper delineation of future events. They were not the mere workings of the imagination. He who saw them in vision, though there may have been no representation to the eye, had before him what was a real and appropriate representation of coming events. If not, the visions are as worthless as dreams are.

The visions open (Re 4) with a Theophany, or a representation of God. John is permitted to look into heaven, and to have a view of the throne of God, and of the worship celebrated there. A door (yura or opening is made into heaven, so that he, as it were, looks through the concave above, and sees what is beyond, He sees the throne of God, and him who sits on the throne, and the worshippers there; he sees the lightnings play around the throne, and hears the thunder's roar; he sees the rainbow that encompasses the throne, and hears the songs of the worshippers. In reference to this vision, at the commencement of the series of symbols which he was about to describe, and the reason why this was vouchsafed to him, the following remarks may be suggested:

(1.) There is, in some respects, a striking resemblance between this and the visions of Isaiah (Isa 6 and Eze 1) As those prophets, when about to enter on their office, were solemnly inaugurated by being permitted to have a vision of the Almighty, so John was inaugurated to the office of making known future things—the last prophet of the world—by a similar vision. We shall see, indeed, that the representation made to John was not precisely the same as that which was made to Isaiah, or that which was made to Ezekiel; but the most striking symbols are retained, and that of John is as much adapted to impress the mind as either of the others. Each of them describes the throne, and the attending circumstances of sublimity and majesty; each of them speaks of one on the throne, but neither of them has attempted any description of the Almighty. There is no delineation of an image, or a figure representing God, but everything respecting him is veiled in such obscurity as to fill the mind with awe.

(2.) The representation is such as to produce deep solemnity on the mind of the writer and the reader. Nothing could have been better adapted to prepare the mind of John for the important communications which he was about to make than to be permitted to look, as it were, directly into heaven, and to see the throne of God. And nothing is better fitted to impress the mind of the reader than the view which is furnished, in the opening vision, of the majesty and glory of God. Brought, as it were, into his very presence; permitted to look upon his burning throne; seeing the reverent and profound worship of the inhabitants of heaven, we feel our minds awed, and our souls subdued, as we hear the God of heaven speak, and as we see seal after seal opened, and hear trumpet after trumpet utter its voice.

(3.) The form of the manifestation—the opening vision—is eminently fitted to show us that the communications in this book proceed from heaven. Looking into heaven, and seeing the vision of the Almighty, we are prepared to feel that what follows has a higher than any human origin; that it has come direct from the throne of God. And,

(4.) there was a propriety that the visions should open with a manifestation of the throne of God in heaven, or with a vision of heaven, because that also is the termination of the whole; it is that to which all the visions in the book tend. It begins in heaven, as seen by the exile in Patmos; it terminates in heaven, when all enemies of the church are subdued, and the redeemed reign triumphant in glory.

The substance of the introductory vision in this chapter can be stated in few words:

(a) A door is opened, and John is permitted to look into heaven, and to see what is passing there, Re 4:1,2.

(b) The first thing that strikes him is a throne, with one sitting on the throne, Re 4:2.

(c) The appearance of him who sits upon the throne is described, Re 4:3. He is "like a jasper and a sardine stone." There is no attempt to portray his form; there is no description from which an image could be formed that could become an object of idolatrous worship—for who would undertake to chisel anything so indefinite as that which is merely "like a jasper or a sardine stone?" And yet the description is distinct enough to fill the mind with emotions of awe and sublimity, and to leave the impression that he who sat on the throne was a pure and holy God.

(d) Round about the throne there was a bright rainbowen symbol of peace, Re 4:3.

(e) Around the throne are gathered the elders of the church, having on their heads crowns of gold: symbols of the ultimate triumph of the church, Re 4:4.

(f) Thunder and lightning, as at Sinai, announce the presence of God, and seven burning lamps before the throne represent the Spirit of God, in his diversified operations, as going forth through the world to enlighten, sanctify, and save, Re 4:5.

(g) Before the throne there is a pellucid pavement, as of crystal, spread out like a sea: emblem of calmness, majesty, peace, and wide dominion, Re 4:6.

(h) The throne is supported by four living creatures, full of eyes: emblems of the all-seeing power of Him that sits upon the throne, and of his ever-watchful providence, Re 4:6.

(i) To each one of these living creatures there is a peculiar symbolic face: respectively emblematic of the authority, the power, the wisdom of God, and of the rapidity with which the purposes of Providence are executed, Re 4:7. All are furnished with wings; emblematic of their readiness to do the will of God, (Re 4:8,) but each one individually with a peculiar form.

(j) All these creatures pay ceaseless homage to God, whose throne they are represented as supporting: emblematic of the fact that all the operations of the Divine government do, in fact, promote his glory, and, as it were, render him praise, Re 4:8,9.

(k) To this the eiders, the representatives of the church, respond: representing the fact that the church acquiesces in all the arrangements of Providence, and in the execution of all the Divine purposes, and finds in them all ground for adoration and thanksgiving, Re 4:10,11.

Verse 1. After this. Gr., "after these things;" that is, after what he had seen, and after what he had been directed to record in the preceding chapters, How long after these things this occurred, he does not say—whether on the same day, or at some subsequent time; and conjecture would be useless. The scene, however, is changed. Instead of seeing the Saviour standing before him, (chapter 1) the scene is transferred to heaven, and he is permitted to look in upon the throne of God, and upon the worshippers there.

I looked. Gr., I saweidon. Our word look would rather indicate purpose or intention, as if he had designedly directed his attention to heaven, to see what could be discovered there. The meaning, however, is simply that he saw a new vision, without intimating whether there was any design on his part, and without saying how his thoughts came to be directed to heaven.

A door was opened. That is, there was apparently an opening in the sky, like a door, so that he could look into heaven.

In heaven. Or, rather, in the expanse above—in the visible heavens as they appear to spread out over the earth. So Eze 1:1, "The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God." The Hebrews spoke of the sky above as a solid expanse; or as a curtain stretched out; or as an extended arch above the earth—describing it as it appears to the eye. In that expanse, or arch, the stars are set at gems, (See Barnes on "Isa 34:4") through apertures or windows in that expanse the rain comes down, Ge 7:11; and that is opened when a heavenly messenger comes down to the earth, Mt 3:16. Compare Lu 3:21; Ac 7:56; 10:11.

Of course, all this is figurative, but it is such language as all men naturally use. The simple meaning here is, that John had a vision of what is in heaven as if there had been such an opening made through the sky, and he had been permitted to look into the world above.

And the first voice which I heard. That is, the first sound which he heard was a command to come up and see the glories of that world. He afterwards heard other sounds—the sounds of praise; but the first notes that fell on his ear were a direction to come up there and to receive a revelation respecting future things. This does not seem to me to mean, as Professor Stuart, Lord, and others suppose, that he now recognised the voice which had first, or formerly spoken to him, (Re 1:10) but that this was the first in contradistinction from other voices which he afterwards heard. It resembled the former "voice" in this that it was "like the sound of a trumpet," but besides that there does not seem to have been anything that would suggest to him that it came from the same source. It is certainly possible that the Greek would admit of that interpretation, but it is not the most obvious or probable.

Was as it were of a trumpet. It resembled the sound of a trumpet, Re 1:10.

Talking with me. As of a trumpet that seemed to speak directly to me.

Which said. That is, the voice said.

Come up hither. To the place whence the voice seemed to proceed—heaven.

And I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. Gr., "after these things." The reference is to future events; and the meaning is, that there would be disclosed to him events that were to occur at some future period. There is no intimation here when they would occur, or what would be embraced in the period referred to. All that the words would properly convey would be, that there would be a disclosure of things that were to occur in some future time.

{a} "voice" Re 1:10 {b} "come up" Re 11:12

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