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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
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, Revelation 4:1-11.
1After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
A door was opened in heaven - This appears to have been a visible aperture in the sky over his head.
2And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
I was in the Spirit - Rapt up in an ecstasy.
3And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
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 Numbers 24:10, etc., and the notes there.
4And 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.
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.
5And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
Seven lamps of fire - Seven angels, the attendants and ministers of the supreme King. See Revelation 1:4, and the note there.
6And 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.
Four beasts - Τεσσαρα ζωα· 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.
7And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
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 Numbers 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.
8And 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.
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 חשמל, (chashmal), in the midst of the fire, Ezekiel 1:4, On his head is placed a crown and a diadem, with the incommunicable name (יהוה 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 scepter 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, Ezekiel 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.
9And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
10The 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,
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.
11Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
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.