CHAPTER 4: The Prophecy
1: John was told back in 1:19 to write what he saw in this vision that was given to him; both the things that were at that time, and the things that were to come. The letters to the seven churches were the things that were, or actual reality, during John's own lifetime. Chapter 4 begins the prophecy, or the things that are yet to come. John saw a door to heaven open, and a voice like a trumpet told him to come up, promising to show him the things that would occur in the future; the words "meta tauta" meaning "after these things." Many interpret this as being after each church has received it's promise; i.e.-- after the rapture of the church. Thus, according to this theory, the great tribulation would not occur until after Jesus gathers His faithful bride, referred to as the rapture.
2-3: The throne of God described here matches that in Ez. 1: 26-28; both John and Ezekiel describe the glory of God's likeness as a rare and precious gemstone, with a brilliant rainbow surrounding the throne. They describe the glory and splendor surrounding God, not God himself, as no one has actually seen the face of God himself. (see John 1:18; also 5:37) It seems clear however that the mere presence of the Almighty God is beauty beyond all imagining.
4: Some believe the 24 elders are representative of the Sanhedrin, the ruling and judging council of Israel, although the Sanhedrin had only 23 members, not 24; it seems much more likely that these 24 elders represent the union of the old and new testaments; the 12 tribes of Israel from the old, and the 12 apostles from the new. White rainment is always spoken of as clothing of righteousness; crowns of gold = victor's rewards. These 24 elders were seated around the throne, as minor kings or princes might be seated around a greater king.
5: Lightnings, thunders, and voices are thought to represent God's wrath on the day of judgment. 7 lamps of fire, which are the seven spirits of God = The number 7 represents God's perfect power and authority; these seven spirits are the agents used by God to carry out His judgments. (see note on 3:1; many early mss. say 'sevenfold spirit', leading some to believe the Holy Spirit is who is being referred to here. While that is possible, it does not seem likely from the context.)
6-9: Sea of glass, like crystal = possibly refers to the beauty and serenity surrounding God's throne. The four beasts: The word beasts has been translated incorrectly here; the correct translation is actually ' four living creatures'. There are two predominant theories regarding these creatures. One is that they represent the best in every category--- an eagle is the greatest among all birds, an ox is the strongest among cattle, a lion is the king of wild animals, and man is greatest among all living creatures. Another theory is that this is a picture of the twelve tribes of Israel; because these are the emblems of four of the tribes, and a picture of how they set up when they made camp.
- 1st creature = LION, the emblem of the tribe of Judah, who camped on the east, along with Issachar and Zebulon.
- 2nd creature = CALF (or OX), emblem of the tribe of Ephraim, who set up on the west, along with Benjamin and Manasseh.
- 3rd creature = FACE OF A MAN, emblem of Reuben, who camped on the south, with Simeon and Gad.
- 4th creature = spread (or flying) EAGLE, emblem of Dan, on the north side of camp with Asher and Naphtali.
The tribe of Levi, who were the priests and the keepers of the Ark of the Covenant, was always protected in the center of the camp with the ark of the covenant. Joseph's two sons, Ephrain and Manasseh, had been adopted by Jacob on his death- bed, and they formed the rest of the twelve tribes, replacing Joseph and Levi around the camp.(see Num. 2 for a complete description.)
These four living creatures correspond to those mentioned in Isaiah 6:2-3: they also have six wings, and praise and worship the Almighty God constantly. This description of the four living creatures also matches that of the four faces of the creature in Ez. 1:10. It is thought by some that perhaps these "living creatures" may be cherubim. (see Ez. 10:20) Whatever these four living creatures represent, it is obvious that they worship God constantly, giving Him praise, glory, honor, and thanks.
10-11: The 24 elders also worshipped God, casting their crowns before Him, as lesser kings and princes bowing to the higher King, acknowleging Him as sovereign, and saying only He was worthy to receive glory, honor and power. They paid tribute to God with their crown, their symbol of victory, realizing the victory was from Him.
1: The book sealed with seven seals, which was in the right hand of the One who sat on the throne = the whole story of God's creation, His plan for the redemption of man and for all of eternity. Sealed with seven seals = again, the number 7 refers to God's perfection, thus this book was perfectly sealed; totally impervious to opening or tampering.
2-4: Only a very special person could open the book, obviously. The phrase 'no man in heaven, nor in the earth, nor under the earth' = no angelic being, no human being, no demonic being was able to open the book. John realized the importance of the book to all mankind, and was deeply saddened that no one was found perfect enough to open it, or even to look upon it.
5-6: The Lion of the tribe of Judah (see Gen. 49:8-10; also Luke 3:33), and the root of David (Is. 11:1) = Jesus, the Lamb who had been slain (for the forgiveness of sin) and now had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the the seven spirits of God. The horns represent power, and seven is the number of perfection; Jesus has perfect power. The horns are also an indication of the sacrificial offerings, when the blood was placed on the horns of the altar for atonement. (see Ex.27:2 and 29:12) The seven eyes, or spirits of God, indicate the perfect omniscience Of God, and His perfect power and authority, both of which Jesus has.
7-10: Jesus is the only one who is worthy to open the book, causing great rejoicing among the the 24 elders and the four living creatures around the throne, all of whom fell down before Him, and worshipped Him, acknowledging that He redeemed them to God with His own blood, and that He made them kings and priests. Golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints refers to a belief held by the Jews that their prayers wafted up to God as a pleasant aroma; this is a rabbinical term indicating any act of service or devotion which is pleasing to God, (see Ex 29:18; also Phil. 4:18) which the prayers of the saints would certainly be.
11-14: Countless thousands and thousands of angels also worshipped around the throne, loudly proclaiming that the Lamb who was slain was worthy to receive seven things: power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and blessing--- i.e., every perfect gift that God has to offer, Jesus is worthy to receive. Every creature in heaven, on earth, and under the earth (see note on 5:2,3) and under the sea, also recognize Him as being worthy, and the 4 living creatures agree, saying Amen, or "Let it be so".
References used in this study:
- NIV Study Bible; Zondervan Press
- The Revelation of John, volume 2; Wm. Barclay
- Halley's Bible Handbook; H.H. Halley
- Clarke's Commentary On The Bible; abridged by Ralph Earle