The Book of Revelation – Lesson 3
3 - Chapters 4 & 5
(God is still on the Throne / Worthy is the Lamb)
John sees God’s throne (royal seat) in heaven. Christ has authority to open the 7 seals (objects that hold a book closed).
Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65]
After these things - As if he had said, After I had written these letters from the mouth of the Lord. By the particle and, the several parts of this prophecy are usually connected: by the expression, after these things, they are distinguished from each other, Rev 7:9; Rev 19:1. By that expression, and after these things, they are distinguished, and yet connected, Rev 7:1; Rev 15:5; Rev 18:1. St. John always saw and heard, and then immediately wrote down one part after another: and one part is constantly divided from another by some one of these expressions. I saw - Here begins the relation of the main vision, which is connected throughout; as it appears from "the throne, and him that sitteth thereon;" "the Lamb;" (who hitherto has appeared in the form of a man;) " the four living creatures;" and " the four and twenty elders," represented from this place to the end. From this place, it is absolutely necessary to keep in mind the genuine order of the texts, as it stands in the preceding table. A door opened in heaven - Several of these openings are successively mentioned. Here a door is opened; afterward, "the temple of God in heaven," Rev 11:19; Rev 15:5; and, at last, "heaven" itself, Rev 19:11. By each of these St. John gains a new and more extended prospect. And the first voice which I had heard - Namely, that of Christ: afterward, he heard the voices of many others. Said, Come up hither - Not in body, but in spirit; which was immediately done.
And immediately I was in the spirit - Even in an higher degree than before, Rev 1:10. And, behold, a throne was set in heaven - St. John is to write "things which shall be;" and, in order thereto, he is here shown, after an heavenly manner, how whatever "shall be," whether good or bad, flows out of invisible fountains; and how, after it is done on the visible theatre of the world and the church, it flows back again into the invisible world, as its proper and final scope. Here commentators divide: some proceed theologically; others, historically; whereas the right way is, to join both together.
The court of heaven is here laid open; and the throne of God is, as it were, the centre from which everything in the visible world goes forth, and to which everything returns. Here, also, the kingdom of Satan is disclosed; and hence we may extract the most important things out of the most comprehensive and, at the same time, most secret history of the kingdom of hell and heaven. But herein we must be content to know only what is expressly revealed in this book. This describes, not barely what good or evil is successively transacted on earth, but how each springs from the kingdom of light or darkness, and continually tends to the source whence it sprung: So that no man can explain all that is contained therein, from the history of the church militant only.
And yet the histories of past ages have their use, as this book is properly prophetical. The more, therefore, we observe the accomplishment of it, so much the more may we praise God, in his truth, wisdom, justice, and almighty power, and learn to suit ourselves to the time, according to the remarkable directions contained in the prophecy. And one sat on the throne - As a king, governor, and judge. Here is described God, the Almighty, the Father of heaven, in his majesty, glory, and dominion.
And he that sat was in appearance - Shone with a visible lustre, like that of sparkling precious stones, such as those which were of old on the high priest's breastplate, and those placed as the foundations of the new Jerusalem, Rev 21:19-20. If there is anything emblematical in the colours of these stones, possibly the jasper, which is transparent and of a glittering white, with an intermixture of beautiful colours, may be a symbol of God's purity, with various other perfections, which shine in all his dispensations. The sardine stone, of a blood - red colour, may be an emblem of his justice, and the vengeance he was about to execute on his enemies. An emerald, being green, may betoken favour to the good; a rainbow, the everlasting covenant. See Gen 9:9. And this being round about the whole breadth of the throne, fixed the distance of those who stood or sat round it.
And round about the throne - In a circle, are four and twenty thrones, and on the thrones four and twenty elders - The most holy of all the former ages, Isa 24:23; Heb 12:1; representing the whole body of the saints. Sitting - In general; but falling down when they worship. Clothed in white raiment - This and their golden crowns show, that they had already finished their course and taken their place among the citizens of heaven. They are never termed souls, and hence it is probable that they had glorified bodies already. Compare Mat 27:52.
And out of the throne go forth lightnings - Which affect the sight. Voices - Which affect the hearing. Thunderings - Which cause the whole body to tremble. Weak men account all this terrible; but to the inhabitants of heaven it is a mere source of joy and pleasure, mixed with reverence to the Divine Majesty. Even to the saints on earth these convey light and protection; but to their enemies, terror and destruction.
And before the throne is a sea as of glass, like crystal - Wide and deep, pure and clear, transparent and still. Both the "seven lamps of fire" and this sea are before the throne; and both may mean "the seven spirits of God," the Holy Ghost; whose powers and operations are frequently represented both under the emblem of fire and of water. We read again, Rev 15:2, of "a sea as of glass," where there is no mention of "the seven lamps of fire;" but, on the contrary, the sea itself is "mingled with fire." We read also, Rev 22:1, of "a stream of water of life, clear as crystal." Now, the sea which is before the throne, and the stream which goes out of the throne, may both mean the same; namely, the Spirit of God. And in the midst of the throne - With respect to its height. Round about the throne - That is, toward the four quarters, east, west, north, and south. Were four living creatures - Not beasts, no more than birds. These seem to be taken from the cherubim in the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel, and in the holy of holies. They are doubtless some of the principal powers of heaven; but of what order, it is not easy to determine. It is very probable that the twenty - four elders may represent the Jewish church: their harps seem to intimate their having belonged to the ancient tabernacle service, where they were wont to be used. If so, the living creatures may represent the Christian church. Their number, also, is symbolical of universality, and agrees with the dispensation of the gospel, which extended to all nations under heaven. And the "new song" which they all sing, saying, "Thou hast redeemed us out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation," Rev 5:9, could not possibly suit the Jewish without the Christian church. The first living creature was like a lion - To signify undaunted courage. The second, like a calf - Or ox, Eze 1:10, to signify unwearied patience. The third, with the face of a man - To signify prudence and compassion. The fourth, like an eagle - To signify activity and vigour. Full of eyes - To betoken wisdom and knowledge. Before - To see the face of him that sitteth on the throne. And behind - To see what is done among the creatures.
And the first - Just such were the four cherubim in Ezekiel, who supported the moving throne of God; whereas each of those that overshadowed the mercy - seat in the holy of holies had all these four faces: whence a late great man supposes them to have been emblematic of the Trinity, and the incarnation of the second Person. A flying eagle - That is, with wings expanded.
Each of them hath six wings - As had each of the seraphim in Isaiah's vision. "Two covered his face," in token of humility and reverence: "two his feet," perhaps in token of readiness and diligence for executing divine commissions. Round about and within they are full of eyes. Round about - To see everything which is farther off from the throne than they are themselves. And within - On the inner part of the circle which they make with one another. First, they look from the centre to the circumference, then from the circumference to the centre. And they rest not - O happy unrest! Day and night - As we speak on earth. But there is no night in heaven. And say, Holy, holy, holy - Is the Three - One God.
There are two words in the original, very different from each other; both which we translate holy. The one means properly merciful; but the other, which occurs here, implies much more. This holiness is the sum of all praise, which is given to the almighty Creator, for all that he does and reveals concerning himself, till the new song brings with it new matter of glory.
This word properly signifies separated, both in Hebrew and other languages. And when God is termed holy, it denotes that excellence which is altogether peculiar to himself; and the glory flowing from all his attributes conjoined, shining forth from all his works, and darkening all things besides itself, whereby he is, and eternally remains, in an incomprehensible manner separate and at a distance, not only from all that is impure, but likewise from all that is created. God is separate from all things. He is, and works from himself, out of himself, in himself, through himself, for himself. Therefore, he is the first and the last, the only one and the Eternal, living and happy, endless and unchangeable, almighty, omniscient, wise and true, just and faithful, gracious and merciful.
Hence it is, that holy and holiness mean the same as God and Godhead: and as we say of a king, "His Majesty;" so the scripture says of God, "His Holiness," Heb 12:10. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. When God is spoken of, he is often named "the Holy One:" and as God swears by his name, so he does also by his holiness; that is, by himself.
This holiness is often styled glory: often his holiness and glory are celebrated together, Lev 10:3; Isa 6:3. For holiness is covered glory, and glory is uncovered holiness. The scripture speaks abundantly of the holiness and glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And hereby is the mystery of the Holy Trinity eminently confirmed.
That is also termed holy which is consecrated to him, and for that end separated from other things: and so is that wherein we may be like God, or united to him.
In the hymn resembling this, recorded by Isaiah, Isa 6:3, is added, "The whole earth is full of his glory." But this is deferred in the Revelation, till the glory of the Lord (his enemies being destroyed) fills the earth.
And when the living creatures give glory - the elders fall down - That is, as often as the living creatures give glory, immediately the elders fall down. The expression implies, that they did so at the same instant, and that they both did this frequently. The living creatures do not say directly, "Holy, holy, holy art thou;" but only bend a little, out of deep reverence, and say, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord." But the elders, when they are fallen down, may say, "Worthy art thou, O Lord our God."
Worthy art thou to receive - This he receives not only when he is thus praised, but also when he destroys his enemies and glorifies himself anew. The glory and the honour and the power - Answering the thrice - holy of the living creatures, Rev 4:9. For thou hast created all things - Creation is the ground of all the works of God: therefore, for this, as well as for his other works, will he be praised to all eternity. And through thy will they were - They began to be. It is to the free, gracious and powerfully - working will of Him who cannot possibly need anything that all things owe their first existence. And are created - That is, continue in being ever since they were created.
And I saw - This is a continuation of the same narrative. In the right hand - The emblem of his all - ruling power. He held it openly, in order to give it to him that was worthy. It is scarce needful to observe, that there is not in heaven any real book of parchment or paper or that Christ does not really stand there, in the shape of a lion or of a lamb. Neither is there on earth any monstrous beast with seven heads and ten horns. But as there is upon earth something which, in its kind, answers such a representation; so there are in heaven divine counsels and transactions answerable to these figurative expressions. All this was represented to St. John at Patmos, in one day, by way of vision. But the accomplishment of it extends from that time throughout all ages. Writings serve to inform us of distant and of future things. And hence things which are yet to come are figuratively said to be "written in God's book;" so were at that time the contents of this weighty prophecy. But the book was sealed. Now comes the opening and accomplishing also of the great things that are, as it were, the letters of it. A book written within and without - That is, no part of it blank, full of matter. Sealed with seven seals - According to the seven principal parts contained in it, one on the outside of each. The usual books of the ancients were not like ours, but were volumes or long pieces of parchment, rolled upon a long stick, as we frequently roll silks. Such was this represented, which was sealed with seven seals. Not as if the apostle saw all the seals at once; for there were seven volumes wrapped up one within another, each of which was sealed: so that upon opening and unrolling the first, the second appeared to be sealed up till that was opened, and so on to the seventh. The book and its seals represent all power in heaven and earth given to Christ. A copy of this book is contained in the following chapters. By "the trumpets," contained under the seventh seal, the kingdom of the world is shaken, that it may at length become the kingdom of Christ. By "the vials," under the seventh trumpet, the power of the beast, and whatsoever is connected with it, is broken. This sum of all we should have continually before our eyes: so the whole Revelation flows in its natural order.
And I saw a strong angel - This proclamation to every creature was too great for a man to make, and yet not becoming the Lamb himself. It was therefore made by an angel, and one of uncommon eminence.
And none - No creature; no, not Mary herself. In heaven, or in earth, neither under the earth - That is, none in the universe. For these are the three great regions into which the whole creation is divided. Was able to open the book - To declare the counsels of God. Nor to look thereon - So as to understand any part of it.
And I wept much - A weeping which sprung from greatness of mind. The tenderness of heart which he always had appeared more clearly now he was out of his own power. The Revelation was not written without tears; neither without tears will it be understood. How far are they from the temper of St. John who inquire after anything rather than the contents of this book! yea, who applaud their own clemency if they excuse those that do inquire into them!
And one of the elders - Probably one of those who rose with Christ, and afterwards ascended into heaven. Perhaps one of the patriarchs. Some think it was Jacob, from whose prophecy the name of Lion is given him, Gen 49:9. The Lion of the tribe of Judah - The victorious prince who is, like a lion, able to tear all his enemies in pieces. The root of David - As God, the root and source of David's family, Isa 11:1, Isa 11:10. Hath prevailed to open the book - Hath overcome all obstructions, and obtained the honour to disclose the divine counsels.
And I saw - First, Christ in or on the midst of the throne; secondly, the four living creatures making the inner circle round him; and, thirdly, the four and twenty elders making a larger circle round him and them. Standing - He lieth no more; he no more falls on his face; the days of his weakness and mourning are ended. He is now in a posture of readiness to execute all his offices of prophet, priest, and king. As if he had been slain - Doubtless with the prints of the wounds which he once received. And because he was slain, he is worthy to open the book, Rev 5:9, to the joy of his own people, and the terror of his enemies. Having seven horns - As a king, the emblem of perfect strength. And seven eyes - The emblem of perfect knowledge and wisdom. By these he accomplishes what is contained in the book, namely, by his almighty and all - wise Spirit. To these seven horns and seven eyes answer the seven seals and the sevenfold song of praise, Rev 5:12. In Zechariah, likewise, Zac 3:9, Zac 4:10, mention is made of "the seven eyes of the Lord, which go forth over all the earth." Which - Both the horns and the eyes. Are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth - For the effectual working of the Spirit of God goes through the whole creation; and that in the natural, as well as spiritual, world. For could mere matter act or move? Could it gravitate or attract? Just as much as it can think or speak.
And he came - Here was "Ask of me," Psa 2:8, fulfilled in the most glorious manner. And took - it is one state of exaltation that reaches from our Lord's ascension to his coming in glory. Yet this state admits of various degrees. At his ascension, "angels, and principalities, and powers were subjected to him." Ten days after, he received from the Father and sent the Holy Ghost. And now he took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne - who gave it him as a signal of his delivering to him all power in heaven and earth. He received it, in token of his being both able and willing to fulfil all that was written therein.
And when he took the book, the four living creatures fell down - Now is homage done to the Lamb by every creature. These, together with the elders, make the beginning; and afterward, Rev 5:14, the conclusion. They are together surrounded with a multitude of angels, Rev 5:11, and together sing the new song, as they had before praised God together, Rev 4:8, &c. Having every one - The elders, not the living creatures. An harp - Which was one of the chief instruments used for thanksgiving in the temple service: a fit emblem of the melody of their hearts. And golden phials - Cups or censers. Full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints - Not of the elders themselves, but of the other saints still upon earth, whose prayers were thus emblematically represented in heaven.
And they sing a new song - One which neither they nor any other had sung before. Thou hast redeemed us - So the living creatures also were of the number of the redeemed. This does not so much refer to the act of redemption, which was long before, as to the fruit of it; and so more directly to those who had finished their course, "who were redeemed from the earth," Rev 14:1, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation - That is, out of all mankind.
And hast made them - The redeemed. So they speak of themselves also in the third person, out of deep self - abasement. They shall reign over the earth - The new earth: herewith agree the golden crowns of the elders. The reign of the saints in general follows, under the trumpet of the seventh angel; particularly after the first resurrection, as also in eternity, Rev 11:18; Rev 15:7; Rev 20:4; Rev 22:5; Dan 7:27; Psa 49:14.
And I saw - The many angels. And heard - The voice and the number of them. Round about the elders - So forming the third circle. It is remarkable, that men are represented through this whole vision as nearer to God than any of the angels. And the number of them was - At least two hundred millions, and two millions over. And yet these were but a part of the holy angels. Afterward, Rev 7:11, St. John heard them all.
Worthy is the Lamb - The elders said, Rev 5:9, "Worthy art thou." They were more nearly allied to him than the angels. To receive the power, &c. - This sevenfold applause answers the seven seals, of which the four former describe all visible, the latter all invisible, things, made subject to the Lamb. And every one of these seven words bears a resemblance to the seal which it answers.
And every creature - In the whole universe, good or bad. In the heaven, on the earth, under the earth, on the sea - With these four regions of the world, agrees the fourfold word of praise. What is in heaven, says blessing; what is on earth, honour; what is under the earth, glory: what is on the sea, strength; is unto him. This praise from all creatures begins before the opening of the first seal; but it continues from that time to eternity, according to the capacity of each. His enemies must acknowledge his glory; but those in heaven say, Blessed be God and the Lamb.
This royal manifesto is, as it were, a proclamation, showing how Christ fulfils all things, and "every knee bows to him," not only on earth, but also in heaven, and under the earth. This book exhausts all things, Co1 15:27-28, and is suitable to an heart enlarged as the sand of the sea. It inspires the attentive and intelligent reader with such a magnanimity, that he accounts nothing in this world great; no, not the whole frame of visible nature, compared to the immense greatness of what he is here called to behold, yea, and in part, to inherit.
St. John has in view, through the whole following vision, what he has been now describing, namely, the four living creatures, the elders, the angels, and all creatures, looking together at the opening of the seven seals.