A.—IDEAL HEAVENLY WORLD-PICTURE CONCERNING THE SEVEN SEALS. STAND-POINT OF THE SEER IN HEAVEN. THE HEAVENLY WORLD AS THE ARCHETYPE AND FINAL GOAL OF THE EARTHLY WORLD
Rev_4:1 to Rev_5:14
a. Translation of the Seer to Heaven
1After this [these things] I looked [saw], and, behold, a door was [om. was] opened [set open] in heaven: and the [that] first voice which I heard was [om. was] as it were of [om. it were of] a trumpet talking [speaking] with me; [,] which said [saying], Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be here 2after [after these things]. And [om. And] Immediately I was in the Spirit [spirit]
b. The Throne, the Sitter thereon, and His Government
And, behold, a throne was set [stood] in heaven, and one sat on the throne [upon the throneone sitting]3And he that sat [the one sitting] was [om. was] to look upon [in appearance] like a jasper and a [om. a] sardine stone: and there was [om. there was] a rainbow round about the throne, in sight [appearance] like unto 4[om. unto] an emerald. And round about the throne were [om. were] four and twenty [twenty-four] seats [thrones]: and upon the seats [thrones] I saw [I saw] four and twenty [twenty-four8] elders sitting, clothed in white raiment [garments]; and they had [om. they had] on their heads crowns of gold [golden crowns]. 5And out of the throne proceeded [go forth] lightnings and thunderings and voices [voices and thunders]: and there were [om. there were] seven lamps of fire burning 6before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. [;] And [and] before the throne there was [om. there was-ins. as it were] a sea of glass [glassy sea] like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were7[om. were] four beasts [living-beings] full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast [living-being] was [om. was] like a lion, and the second beast [living-being] like a calf [bullock] and the third beast [living-being] had [having] a [the] face as [ins. of] a man, and the fourth beast [living-being] was [om. was] like a 8flying eagle. And the four beasts [living-beings] had each of them [each one of them having] six wings [ins. apiece] about him [om. about him]; and they were [om. they were—ins. round about and within were] full of eyes within [om. within]: and they [om. they] rest [ins. they have] not [ins. by] day and [ins. by] night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God [ins. the] Almighty [or All-ruler], which [who] 9was, and [ins. who] is, and [ins. who] is to come [cometh]. And when [whensoever] those [the] beasts [living beings] [ins. shall] give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat [sitteth] on [upon] the throne, who [to him that] liveth for ever and ever [into the ages of the ages], 10the four and twenty elders [ins. shall] fall down before him that sat [sitteth] on [upon] the throne, and [ins. shall] worship him that liveth for ever and ever [into the ages of the ages], and [ins. shall] cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11Thou art worthy, O Lord [our Lord and God], to receive [take] [ins. the] glory and [ins. the] honor and [ins. the] power: for thou hast created [didst create] all things, and for thy pleasure [on account of thy will] they are [were] and were created.
c. The Sealed Book of the World’s Course. Lamentation and Comfort touching the Sealed Book with the Dark Enigmas of the World’s History
1And I saw in [upon] the right hand of him that sat [sitteth] on [upon] the throne a book [scroll] written within and on the back [or, without] side [om. side], sealed [ins. up] with seven seals. 2And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with [in] a loud [great] voice, Who is [Isaiah 30] worthy to open the book [scroll], and to loose the seals thereof [of it]? 3And no man [one] in heaven, nor in [upon] earth, neither [nor] under the earth, was able to open the book [scroll], neither [nor even] to look thereon [upon it]. 4And I wept much, because no man [one] was found worthy to open and to read [om. and to read] the book [scroll], neither [nor even] to look thereon [upon it]. 5And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion [ins. that is] of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath [om. hath] prevailed [conquered] to open the book [scroll], and to loose [om. to loose] the seven seals thereof [of it].
d. The Lion as the Lamb
6And I beheld [saw], and, lo, [om., and, lo,] in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts [living-beings], and in the midst of the elders, stood [om. stood] a Lamb [ins. standing], as [ins. if] it had been [om. it had been] slain, haying seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. 7And he came and took the book [om. the book] out of the right hand of him that sat [sitteth] upon the throne.
e. Worship of the Lamb
8And when he had taken the book [scroll], the four beasts [living-beings] and [ins. the] four and twenty [twenty-four] elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one [each] of them [of item] harps [a harp], and golden vials full of odours [incense],which are the prayers of [ins. the] saints. 9And they sung [sing] a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book [scroll], and to open the seals thereof [of it]: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed [didst buy] us [or om. us] to God by [with] thy blood out of every kindred [tribe], and tongue, and people, and nation; 10And hast made [didst make] us [them] unto our God kings [a kingdom] and priests: and we [they] shall [or om. shall] reign on [upon or over] the earth. 11And I beheld, and I heard [or ins. as] the [or a] voice of many angels round about [around] the throne, and the beasts [living-beings], and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand [myriads of myriads], and thousands of thousands; 12Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was [hath been] slain to receive [take] [ins. the] power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. 13And every creature which [that] Isaiah 53 in heaven, and on [upon] the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in [upon] the sea, and all [things] that are in them, heard I saying, [ins. To him that sitteth upon the throne and to the Lamb, be] Blessing [the blessing], and [ins. the] honor, and [ins. the] glory, and [ins. the] power [might], be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb [om. be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb] for ever and ever [into the ages of the ages]. 14And the four beasts [living-beings] said, Amen. And the four and twenty [om. four and twenty] elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever [om. him that liveth for ever and ever].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
[Preliminary Note On The Symbolism Of The Vision]
By the American Editor
[The question—What did the Apocalyptist behold?—is one of great interest and importance. It is almost universally admitted, that he did not look upon the real Heaven and real angels. The scene he beheld was symbolic. But what is a symbol? What are the classes of symbols? What relation do they bear to the objects symbolized?
It is not designed in this note to discuss the whole subject of Symbolism. For this, the writer does not feel himself to be, at present, prepared; neither has he time or space for so great a work. He would, however, present certain views which may prove helpful to a more thorough appreciation and understanding of the Apocalypse than at present obtains, and which also may be of use as preparatory to that complete discussion of the entire subject, which, in the not distant future, must be made.
A Symbol may be defined to be a substantial (real or apparently real) sense image of some other object. Ordinarily, in the enumeration or classification of symbols, not only are substantial objects given, but also attributives (such as acts, effects, relations, etc.), and chronological periods and numbers. These latter, for scientific purposes, are better classed as symbolic attributives, periods and numbers, contemplating under the term Symbol only substantial (real or apparent) objects.
Symbols are of two essentially distinct classes, viz.: material and visional. The former are material things, such as the Tabernacle, the Mercy-Seat, the Candlestick, and the Cherubim of the Tabernacle, the Water of Baptism, and the Bread and Wine of the Lord’s Supper. Visional Symbols are those images, having the appearance of substantiality (simulacra), beheld in ecstatic vision. The latter were the objects beheld by the Apocalyptists (Daniel, Ezekiel, John), and concerning these alone is it designed, in the present note, particularly to treat. It is here proper to remark, however, that whilst scientific arrangements of these two classes of symbols based on their nature will be somewhat different, those based on a consideration of their relations to the ultimate objects represented will be precisely similar, as will appear.
As has just been hinted, Symbols may be classed on two essentially distinct principles: first, in respect of their nature; and, secondly, in respect of their relations to the ultimate objects symbolized.
The former, which, so far as the writer is aware, is the only classification that has been attempted, is exceedingly important; it is absolutely essential to a complete presentation of the subject of Symbolism. The following, adapted to meet the special views of the present writer, from Winthrop’s Essay on Prophetic Symbols, pp. 16 sqq. (and therein credited to Lord’s Theological and Literary Journal, Vol. III., pp. 688 sqq.), is presented for consideration.
I. Living Conscious Agents.
1. Intelligent, (1) the
, Rev_4:6; Rev_4:8-9; (2) Angels; (3) Men, etc.
II. Dead Bodies, such as the slain witnesses. Rev_11:8-11.
III. Natural Unconscious Agents or Objects; as the earth, the sun, the moon, stars, mountains, etc.
IV. Artificial Objects in Ordinary Use: as candlesticks, crowns, swords, harps, etc.
A still more important classification, however, is to be made in respect of the relations existing between the symbol and the ultimate object symbolized. The following, which does not profess to be more than tentative, is presented for consideration.
The symbols (simulacra) beheld by John and the other Apocalyptists are at once divisible into two classes: Immediate and Mediate. The former immediately represent the ultimate object contemplated, as the simulacra of Heaven, the Elders, the Angels; the latter represent the ultimate through the medium of some other object, as Christ is represented by the Simulacrum of a Lamb, and a church by that of a candlestick. This distinction is clearly implied in the narrative of John. Sometimes he wrote as though he directly beheld the ultimate objects; he saw Heaven, the Throne, and Him who sat thereon, and the Angels: and again he wrote, not as beholding the ultimate, but some object that represented it; he saw, not Jesus, not the Holy Spirit, but a Lamb representing the former, and Seven Lamps the latter. In the descriptive language of the Apocalyptist, the simulacra, which formed the common elements of the entire vision, were, so to speak, eliminated, and he wrote as though he directly beheld the things which the simulacra represented,—sometimes the ultimate object, sometimes the intermediate object that denoted the ultimate. In the former case, the eliminated simulacra were immediate; in the latter, mediate. In reference to the latter class, we occasionally find the Seer interpreting the symbol as in Rev_1:20, “The seven stars are (i. e. represent) the Angels,” etc. This was not always done, because, generally, it was unnecessary, as in the case of the Lamb slain representing Christ. It was done, however, with sufficient frequency to indicate the law.
Immediate symbols are divisible into two orders, viz.: (1) Similar, where the form of the simulacrum corresponds with that of the ultimate, as where the simulacrum of a man symbolizes a man; (2) ideal, where the form is not an image of the form of the ultimate, but is an ideal image (not, however, a likeness of some other known object) expressive of the qualities of the ultimate, as the (probably) ideal simulacra of the angels.
Mediate symbols may be divided into three orders, viz.: (1) individual, where the simulacrum indicates an individual ultimate, as where the Lamb indicates Christ; (2) classical, where it indicates a class of individuals, substantial entities regarded as one whole, as where the simulacrum of acandlestick symbolized a church, and that of a woman, the universal Church; (3) aberrant, where the simulacrum (always apparently substantial) indicates as its ultimate, not a substantial, but an ideal entity, as where the simulacrum of a sword indicates justice; and that of a horseman, war or pestilence.
From the preceding classification we deduce five orders of symbols, which may be designated with sufficient clearness as follows: I. Immediate-similar; II. Immediate-ideal: III. Mediate-individual; IV. Classical; V. Aberrant.
All the attributives of symbols (qualities, actions, relations to other symbols, etc.) are themselves symbolic, i. e. they represent some attributive of the ultimate object. They are of two kinds: Similar and Ideal. Similar, when some similar attributive is denoted, as where the walking, standing, speaking, of the symbol denotes that the individual symbolized walks, stands or speaks; Ideal, when something dissimilar is indicated. Thus the opening of the Seven Seals by the Lamb is Ideal; it denotes, not an actual opening of seals by Christ, but a disclosure of the previously concealed purposes of God. It may be observed that this division is analogous to the general divisions of the symbols themselves, given in the preceding foot-note. It may also be remarked that in the case of Classical and Aberrant Symbols, all the attributives are necessarily Ideal.
Numbers as applied to symbols, whilst they cannot properly be classed as attributives, have a like division. They are either Similar, denoting a like number as applied to the ultimate, or Ideal. Chronological periods may be in like manner divided.
One important fact in reference to Visional Symbolization should here be distinctly noted, as its non-recognition has resulted in much confusion. A simulacrum may immediately represent a Material symbol. Thus, for instance, in the real world, a throne is a real thing, even though it be at the same time a Material Symbol of established sovereignty. Now in the Visional symbolization of a palace and its furniture, the simulacrum of the throne would be an Immediate Symbol: it would designate a really existent substance. The throne in the palace would be a Material Aberrant symbol indicating sovereignty. The simulacrum of that throne would be a Visional Immediate symbol representing, primarily, a real throne. Such a Visional symbol, it should be remarked, would legitimately suggest that which the Material Symbol represented, and, under certain circumstances, might be designed to suggest it. From these observations it follows that a Visional Symbol may perform the double office (1) of immediately symbolizing a Material Symbol as a substance, and (2) of aberrantly representing that which the Material symbol was designed to set forth.
The effort will be made to apply the principles set forth in this Note in additional notes and comments throughout the remainder of the Commentary.—E. R. C.]
Chs. 4 and 5
The Seven Seals
The Vision of the Seven Seals embraces the history of the world, reposing upon the foundation of the Divine counsel and government. This history is represented in its constant gravitation toward the end. It is, on the one hand, in its fearful form, the riddle of all riddles, a book sealed seven-fold; but, on the other hand, unsealed by the Lamb of God, by Christ and the spirit of His cross, it appears as the foundation of the Church’s history, as the history of the Kingdom of God [Church]. Its Sovereign Ruler is the Rider on the white horse, behind Whom the other terrible horsemen must ride as esquires. It is thus dynamically governed by the Christian idea or, rather, the personal Christ; its object being the renewal of mankind by the connection of all human suffering with the redemptive crucial suffering of the Lamb. The Lamb, as It had been slain, is the central Personality, in the infinite life-giving operation of Its central suffering. As is the relation of the Logos to the world, of Christ to the human and spiritual world, so is the relation of Christ’s suffering to all the sufferings of humanity, down to the very depths of Sheol [Hades]. Accordingly, the vision, in respect of the celestial foundation which it constitutes, is the archetype of the world’s history—not its precursive counterpart, in accordance with Jewish ideas. See Düsterdieck, p. 211. The picture of the world’s history, again,—especially its history in New Testament times—ch. 6., is the foundation of external Church history, in respect of its eschatological bearings; whilst the Church, in respect of its inner relations as exhibited in the seven Churches, is the ideal prius of world-history. On the seven seals rest the seven trumpets; on these, the seven thunders, and against these last, the opposition of the seven-headed dragon rears itself, calling forth, in its turn, with its two seven-headed [?] Antichristian organs, the seven anger-vials of judgment; the vials of anger being, as the end of the old world, the preliminary condition of the new.
The effort to decide whether John beheld the whole series of visions in an unbroken succession, or whether prophetic sight ceased between the individual visions, and he set down by parcels that which he had seen only in part (Bengel and others), is the result of a rather literal conception of the Apocalypse. The latter view overlooks the grand unity of the vision in its totality, a unity which is even distinctly expressed in chap. 1. and without which the lively connection of the whole could be comprehended only through the assumption of immediate inspiration. On the other hand, the opposite theory ignores the freedom of the symbolic expression; in accordance with which the conception, given in its fundamental outlines on one Sunday, might be further developed in, with and amid its setting forth in writing, being continually accompanied by prophetic evidence.
The sublime Heaven-scene of chs. 4 and 5., introduced by the words,
ìåôὰ ôáῦôá åἶäïí
, is the type of all subsequent Heaven-scenes. And like the rest, it is, as a Heaven-picture, the preliminary condition of the earth-picture; in the sense, that is, of an absolute Providence of the Personal God—a Providence overruling the progress and development of freedom in the world, in their human and demonic aspects, in the might of light and right (Urim and Thummim), in order to the carrying out of judgment to the victory of salvation.
Single Features of the Heaven-Scene
The Open Door in Heaven is the full unfolding of the Apocalyptic revelation even unto its deepest heavenly foundation. In the first stage of vision, Christ came to the Seer on earth, clarifying the condition of the Seven Churches, already historically familiar to John, into a type of all future fundamental forms of the Church. In this new stage of vision, Christ transports John to Heaven itself: this higher power of vision is signalized by the words: Immediately I was in the spirit.
The Throne of God needs no explanation: it denotes the absolute firmness of His government. He sits upon the Throne—an expression of His glorious assurance of victory. He sits upon the Throne as the Unique One, the Mystery of mysteries; and yet recognizable as the exalted Personality. He is also more particularly characterized by His symbolic appearance. The jewels, as such, denote the most noble life, light and imperishability in one. If we suppose the sardius, as the carnelian, the flesh-colored stone, to be expressive, not of the divine penal righteousness—indicated by the hue of fire—but of God’s eternal relation to humanity through Christ, it is probable, that the jasper is significant of the Divine Essence in the abstract, in its symbolical appearance everywhere manifest as essential light; and according to this, the diamond, and not the ordinary jasper, is undoubtedly intended.
The Rainbow, whose arch surrounds the Throne, is indicative of the fundamental tone of God’s government; judgment issuing in salvation—covenant faithfulness, an attribute previously expressed by the rainbow of Noah. Amongst the colors of this rainbow, emerald [green] is pre-eminent; and it is to this that it is likened [ch. Rev_4:3]; Divine promise demands human hope.
The Occupant of the Throne is immediately surrounded by the twenty-four Elders, the ideal representatives of the Old and New Testament Theocracy, human spiritual princes; in respect of their symbolical number; representing the ramifying foundations of the Old and the New Covenant in the adornment of their heavenly perfection—clothed in white raiment; and by their golden crowns—the sign of their imperishable royal freedom [and authority], won by surrender to God—attested in God as His heroes (Israel=combatant of God).
Before the Throne the whole governance of God is manifest. His alternate operations are lightnings, and voices, and thunders; lightnings of heavenly wonders, forming epochs on the earth; voices, in which the fundamental idea of these lightnings becomes manifest; and far-reverberating thunders, as periods of the rejuvenescence, extension and development of the Kingdom of God [Church].
These operations are conditioned, however, by the Seven flaming Lamps [Torches] before the Throne, the Seven Spirits of God, as Fundamental Forms of the personal and permanent Life-Revelation of God in His Logos or the eternal Christ, or as the Seven Fundamental Forms of the revelation of the Holy Spirit (see Isaiah 9)
In pursuance of this manifestation of God, the ideal world is spread out before His Throne;—a sea, clear like crystal; infinitely swelling and agitated life; yet in its appointedness harmonizing with the Divine will—as in crystal life is fixed and transparent, like light; infinite liberty in infinite appointedness.
The foundation of the operations of God in the moral kingdom before the Throne are the four Life-forms (beasts) [Living-beings] about the Throne; the four Fundamental Forms of Divine Governance in the universal world generally—also in the creatural world. For the number of the world is four; the number of the Kingdom of God is seven (see below, on the four beasts [Living-beings]). These Life-forms are full of eyes before and behind (as also within and without, see Rev_4:8). That is, the Divine Governance is a thoroughly conscious rule; an absolute looking back upon the foundations and events of life, an absolute looking forward to the aims of life and their preliminary conditions; a perfect insight into the profoundest vital causes, as well as a perfect outlook upon the uttermost vital phenomena. A figure of omniscience in its undying motion over the world, in the consciousness of the Divine Governance. The lion appears in this figure as the mighty governance which overcomes all things, the dynamical principle in its irresistible forth-breakings. The bullock or ox appears as the principle of all sacrifice in the world, the principle of suffering in the creatural life (monstrously perverted into a conflict for existence). The human face represents the principle of humanity, relatively pervading the whole world; this Life-form is expressive of the concentration of the infinite in a likeness of the most conditioned finite life. The flying eagle appears as that ideal tendency toward some central sun which not only pervades the planets and comets, but is expressed in the motion of our sun itself; that tendency which is the mystery of all motion—a mystery manifested in its most peculiar essence in the higher tendency of the spirit-world toward the Sun of all life (I go to the Father). In a more general sense, however, motion is the property of all four Life-forms [Living-beings]. Each has six wings; for six is the number of restless activity in Heaven, of restless labor on earth, of restless self-frustration in the abyss. Hence it is said: the beasts [Living-beings] have no rest day and night. Their non-repose, however, consists in the festal work of glorifying God. They glorify Him as the thrice Holy One, Who preserves the purity of His own personality, and works unto purification in all His providential operations throughout the creatural and spiritual world. As the Holy One, He is the All-Ruler, Who repels every temptation to an impersonal line of conduct. And at the same time He is Jehovah (Who was, etc.), Whose covenant faithfulness aims in all ages at the establishment in love of a pure life-kingdom of personal beings.
Now follows the representation of an antiphony between the beasts [Living-beings] and the Elders. The beasts [Living-beings] have the initiative; for the adoration of the human spiritual princes, the Elders, rests upon the Fundamental Forms of the Divine rule in the world; that Divine Governance which actually redounds to the praise and glory and thanks of Him that sitteth upon the Throne, Who liveth for ever and ever. The Elders fall down before the Throne in humility and reverence, and worship; they cast their crowns at God’s feet as a sign that unto Him alone belongs honor, and utter their doxology. It agrees with the doxology of the beasts [Living-beings], with the exception that in the case of the Elders we have
, thanksgiving resolving itself into a glorification of the Divine almighty power. But the Elders further give the reason of their praise, and it is noteworthy that they speak of an ideal existence of things preceding the actual creation of them.
This vision of God’s glory in His government, of the world constitutes the general basis of the special vision of the world’s history. The history of the world is embraced in a book-roll [scroll] in the hand of God; the leaves of which are sealed with seven seals. The book [scroll] must, doubtless, contain seven leaves; otherwise all the seals would of necessity be loosed at once. At every new leaf of the roll, a fresh seal is encountered; but if the leaf be unrolled, it is found to be written upon both sides. Thus, in God’s sight, the history of the world is complete, like a book [scroll]. Its course is septenarious, for its design is holy. But it is a sealed book [scroll]; its whole contents are made up of perplexing and disturbing enigmas. And no being is able to unravel this fearful history, to throw light on the gloom-enwrapped fate of the world. None in the angelic world is able to do this, none in the human world, none in the world of departed souls. Not one can so much as try to look upon the book, to examine whether he can open it. The cry of the strong angel is not simply dramatic; it must be made evident that no spiritual power would have solved the riddle of the world’s history, if Christ had not solved it with His cross.
And I wept much, says the Seer. A simple yet sublime expression of the feeling and thought of what the world’s history would be, had not Christ’s cross and victory unveiled it. The weeping Seer is comforted by one of the Elders (for the redemption belongs to humanity), who points him to the glorious victory of Christ (Rev_5:5). The cross must, of course, be perfected in the resurrection; the Lamb that was apparently overcome must be manifested as the triumphant Lion, for only thus might He loose the seals of the world’s history. As the Lion of Judah, Christ possessed the lion nature in the highest sense, as the Master of self-denial and self-conquest (Gen_44:33-34); and the depths of His royal essence are expressed in the announcement that He is the Root of David, the truly real fundamental idea and fundamental impulse of Davidic glory in the centre of humanity. This Root is significant of the deepest human cause of life; this Lion denotes the most spiritually mighty human appearance. Then the new wondrous vision within a vision is prefaced by the words: I beheld, and lo!
In the midst of the Throne, i. e., directly in front of God, surrounded by the circle of beasts [Living-beings], and by the circle of Elders, there appears a Lamb, as it had been slain—the Man, with the lineaments of absolute patience and the traits of mortal suffering—suffering surmounted, it is true, yet in its effects enduring forever. The attributes of the Lamb, symbolically defined, are seven horns, the sum of holy powers (Mat_28:18), and seven eyes, the seven Spirits or spiritual manifestations of the one Spirit of God, which are continually going forth from the Lamb into the world. This apparition comes and receives the book [scroll] from the right hand of God. Two things are indicated here: first, the self-presentation of the Lamb upon the summons of the angel; secondly, the fact that He is really to loose the seals. And hence the grand chorus of praise is not postponed until after His action. In reference to His work, the Elders need not await the doxology of the Divine powers of the world. A new song bursts forth from beasts [Living-beings] and Elders in one grand unison. This song relates to the new creation, the redemption. The redemption [Erlösung] is the loosing [Lösung] of all seals, and the Redeemer [Erlöser] alone is worthy to perform this work. The beasts [Living-beings] and Elders base their praise upon the Redeemer’s death on the cross (slain), and the effects of that death. He thereby out of all peoples bought a people for God, the New Testament people of the peoples, making of them a Kingdom of Priests who, in dynamical operation, even now, in all their yielding, nay, by means of the same, reign on earth. This song of praise in the centre of the heavenly congregation, is echoed in a grand antiphony betwixt the angelic world, on the one hand, and the creatural world, on the other. The doxology of countless angel hosts, forming the remoter circle round the beasts [Living-beings] and Elders, comes first. Their homage is sevenfold, in harmony with the holy throng. The worship of the creatures is fourfold, in accordance with the number of the world. We have here an antiphonal song of praise from all beings, reminding us of Psalms 145.
In a didactical aspect, the song is expressive of the fact that the effect of Christ’s triumph pervades the entire world of spirits, on the one hand, as an extension of His glory (Ephesians 1; Philippians , 2.); and that, on the other, it ushers the whole creatural world into the process of glorification, to be consummated in the Palingenesia (Romans 8). The four Life-forms or beasts [Living-beings] can only say Amen to this, for therein is the effort of their governance fulfilled. But for the Elders; this blissful contemplation is an incentive to unutterable prostration and worship.
EXPLANATIONS IN DETAIL
Rev_4:1. Compare the introductory remarks by Düsterdieck, p. 211. Especially the distinction between the Jewish view of the heavenly preludes (a Divine council with the angels) and the Christian idea. Also the difference of the formulas:
ìåôὰ ôáῦôá åἶäïí
On the disputed question as to whether John always beheld and wrote down the visions separately, see above [p. 147]. The literal conception is pressed on either side.
[After these things.—The reference here is to the order of the visions. It does not necessarily follow that the events symbolized were to be subsequent to those previously set forth.—E. R. C.]
[I saw, “not I looked, as in the E. V; not the directing of the Seer’s attention, which discovers the door to him, but the simple reception of the vision which is recorded.” Alford.—E. R. C.]
A door set open in Heaven.—Explanations: Heaven is conceived of as a vault; as a Temple; as the Palace of God (Düsterd.). In accordance with the connection, however, the door here denotes the disclosure of the highest revelation, and, hence, the insight of John (De Wette). The voice is expressive of the heavenly inspiration and legitimation of this view. It distinguishes the real ecstasy of the Seer from an enthusiastic and fanatical exaltation.
[Set open.—“Observe here the perfect participle, the door had been opened and was standing open. The veil of the heavenly Holy of Holies had been removed by Christ (Heb_10:19-20), and Heaven was laid open to the view.” Wordsworth.—E. R. C.]
[The Apocalyptist saw Heaven, i. e., he saw an Immediate symbol thereof. As to the fact that Heaven is a place, there should he no doubt. It is, indeed, unquestionable that the term
is sometimes employed to denote the sky, as in Mat_16:2-3, and sometimes so used as to be consistent with the idea of a mere state, but it is also again and again employed in the didactic Scripture, as indicating a glorious and blessed place, where God specially manifests His glory, to which the Saviour ascended after His resurrection, and which is to be His abode until His second appearing in glory. (Comp. Act_1:10-11; Act_3:21; Act_7:55-56; Rom_10:6; 2Co_12:2; 1Th_4:16, etc. See also the Excursus on Hades, p. 364). It can scarce be supposed, however, that the symbolic display of the vision took place in this central home, this Holy of Holies, of the universe. This supposition is not required, as some may suppose, by the language. It is manifest that, throughout the Book, the Seer employs similar expressions where the object of vision was not the thing described, but a simulacrum thereof, as in Rev_13:1, where he declares that he “saw a beast rise up out of the sea.” And still further, precisely the same form of expression is employed, Rev_21:1 (“I saw a new Heaven and a new earth”), when the real objects referred to were not, at the time of the vision, existent—all that he could then have beheld were their simulacra.
But was the symbol similar or ideal? On this point it is impossible to speak with certainty; and, perhaps, it is improper in any degree to speculate. It may be remarked, however, that it by no means follows (as some seem to suppose) from the fact that the complex symbol beheld by John resembled the Tabernacle as to form and arrangement, that it must have been purely ideal. On the contrary, it is not improbable that the Tabernacle—the earthly dwelling-place of Jehovah, fashioned by Moses after the pattern shown him in the Mount (Exo_25:40; Exo_26:30)—may have been a material symbol of the Heavenly Temple, not only Immediate, but, so far as the earthly can resemble the heavenly, similar.—E. R. C.]
Rev_4:2. Immediately I was in the spirit,—
, without a conjunction, forcibly expresses the instantaneous translation of the Seer, thus denoting a high enhancement of the first stage of visionary sight. The text, therefore, forms a new step in comparison with the first I was in the spirit, Rev_1:10. The prototypes of this visionary celestial Throne-picture, 1Ki_22:19; Isaiah 6.; Ezekiel 1.; Dan_7:9, have been perverted by the Jews into monstrous allegories. See Düsterdieck, p. 214, the extract from the Pirke, R. Elieser, as given by Schöttgen. “A dextris ipsius est vita, a sinistris mors.” This recalls a kindred idea of Milton’s.
is interpreted in a variety of ways (breadth of the Throne, Bengel; its resting upon the cherubim (!), Hengsten.) The fact of its establishment in the highest sense is doubtless enwrapped in the
Upon the Throne One sitting.—Not an indefinite designation, but an expression of the loftiest mystery. The Jewish dread of uttering the name of Jehovah (Ewald and others) can hardly have any application here, since the Seer has several times given utterance to that name in a developed form. Herder’s explanation is irrelevant: “the soul has no image, language no word whereby He may be called.” According to Düsterdieck and some elder commentators, He who sits upon the Throne is not the Triune God, but the Father. This is a misapprehension of the symbolical nature of the distinctions. [May there not be an allusion here to a visible Manifestation of the Glory and Presence of Jehovah similar to the Shekinah, which, in the Tabernacle, beamed from the Mercy-seat (the Throne), from between the Cherubim? For comments on the Throne, see p. 147.—E. R. C.].
Rev_4:3. Like a jasper stone.—See the Introduction, pp. 20, 21 [and also p. 148]. The true jasper is sometimes greenish, sometimes of a reddish hue, but not
, as this jasper is described, Rev_21:11. Hence those exegetes who apprehend the word as expressive either of the ordinary jasper, or of a peculiar and unknown sort, are justly opposed by those who are of opinion that the diamond is intended. See Düsterdieck, pp. 216, 217. Compare likewise the various interpretations of the Stones as there given.
And a rainbow.—It is a mooted question whether the iris is to be apprehended as a rainbow, or merely as a bow; whether it encircled the Throne vertically or horizontally. As the light of the sun is refracted in its journey toward the earth, so the refraction of absolute Light can be conceived of only in its direction toward the world, i. e., toward the Seer primarily. Yet the bow, as a bow, can appear only in a vertical form. Green, the color of promise, is a dominant color even in the real rainbow, and it is not without reason that Ebrard (p. 222) and others have apprehended it as forming an antithesis to the hues of the precious stones which denote attributes of the Divine Essence itself. It is not indicated, however, that this circular radiance has its origin in the lustre of the jewels. It is possessed of an independent symbolical meaning; the revelation of God in the world is always, conditionally, at the same time a concealment. A tempering of the Divine radiance (Züllig) lies in the colored appearance of the Divine manifestation, whether a pillar of fire, a pillar of cloud, or a cloud is the instrument of presenting the highest glory to the gaze of imperfect human beings. The bow can, of course, be no true rainbow, since the most sublime refraction of light is intended here; though it cannot be concluded that John had a distinct idea of a heavenly ether in contra-distinction to the grosser atmosphere of earth.
[“The rainbow, composed by the joint influences of shower and sunshine, is an emblem of Divine severity, blended with Divine love; a symbol of the dark shower of Divine judgment illumined by the bright beams of Divine Mercy. Comp. the vision of Eze_1:28. The Bow is a record of the deluge, in which the world was drowned for sin, and speaks of sunshine after storm; and of the Divine Promise that the world should never more be destroyed by water; and yet it is also a silent memento of another judgment (see Gen_9:13-16, and 2Pe_3:7.” Wordsworth. The iris is but the manifestation of the different hues which perfect light assumes when in connection with gross matter. Since perfect light is the highest symbol of the Divine Excellence, what so significant of that excellence in its relation to the creature world (disintegrated, so to speak, into what we style different attributes) as the many-colored rainbow? Alford is of opinion that the entire bow was green—the shape, and not the prismatic coloring, being indicated by the term rainbow.—E. R. C.]
Rev_4:4. Twenty-four thrones.—According to De Wette, the twenty-four thrones must be conceived of as “a few degrees lower ” than the Throne of God. If we bring earthly ideas in play here, “a few degrees” would not be sufficient to indicate the distinction, The definition of the twenty-four Elders is an index to the ecclesiastical and theological stand-points of the different exegetes; they have been interpreted as follows: cardinals (Lyra); priests (Alc.); pastors (Calov.); true heads of the Church, and pastors (Vitringa); the crown of the human race (Herder the humanist); angels (Hofmann)—in accordance with an exaggerated Angelology. Rinck similarly; Old Testament dignities ([Würden=dignitaries?] Beng.); New Testament martyrs (Eichhorn); half, representatives of teachers, half, representatives of hearers (Volkmar; not quite democratic enough, since the hearers must necessarily preponderate over the clergy). The number of the Elders being composed of twice twelve, Bleek and others have groundlessly regarded it as indicative of a twofold representation of Jewish and Gentile Christians. Ebrard justly remarks, in opposition to this view, that such a division has no Biblical foundation; whilst Düsterd., on the other hand, erroneously cites Rev_7:4; Rev_7:9, in support of the same opinion, though the real antithesis in the passage quoted is—not Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, but—the Church Militant, and the Church Triumphant. Yet Düsterdieck himself gives the preference to the preponderant interpretation of many commentators, according to whom the twenty-four Elders represent the Old and New Testament Church, or the Twelve Patriarchs of Israel, and the Twelve Apostles. De Wette shows a thorough misapprehension of the symbolism employed, in insisting upon the unworthiness of individual Patriarchs. And thus an adverse argument has been founded upon the names of the Twelve Apostles, Rev_21:14. In perfect analogy with this symbolism is the fact that the conquerors on the sea of glass sing “the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.” By this, as well as by the twenty-four Elders, the complete harmony of the Old and the New Covenant is expressed. The fact that Jehovah is immediately surrounded by Elders, entirely corresponds with the symbolical significance of the theocratic Presbytery. The Elders represent the purest, richest, and ripest spirits in their Divine likeness and their acquaintance with the counsel of God. In this idea originated the Talmudistic Judaistic accounts of the Elders before the Throne of God (see Hengst., p. 270; Düsterd., p. 219).
[Düsterdieok thus writes: “The twenty-four Elders whom John sees sitting on the thrones which are placed around the Throne of God are the celestial representatives of the whole people of God, just as in Isa_24:23, Elders (Ancients) are conceived of as the earthly heads and representatives of the whole Church.” This view, which is confirmed by a comparison of Deu_31:28 with 30, does not exclude, but confirms, the further idea that the representative Elders were also (individually) chief Rulers in the Kingdom of God. The idea of superiority in rule was distinctly recognized by Jesus (see the Excursus on the Basileia ii. 2 (4), p. 99). The fact that these Elders are Rulers is set forth by their sitting on thrones and wearing crowns (see below). The suggestion of Barnes in explanation of the number of the Elders is worthy of consideration, viz.: that it was in reference to the twenty-four courses of the Jewish Priesthood (see 1Ch_24:3-18). On this view the twenty-four Elders are not only Superior Kings, but the Chief Priests, the Heads of the priestly courses of the glorified Israel.—E. R. C.]
The white robes and golden crowns are not merely symbols of the martyrs or confessors in the narrower sense; they are expressive of perfect righteousness of life in its negative and positive aspects. [The crowns, doubtless, are significant of their kingly authority (see above; also additional comment on Rev_2:11)—E. R. C.]
Rev_4:5. And out of the Throne go forth lightnings.—[See Synoptical View, p. 148.—E. R. C.] According to Düsterdieck, the lightnings, voices and thunders symbolize the omnipotence of God, especially that almighty power which is exercised in judgments (similarly Hengstenberg [also Alford and Barnes.—E. R. C.]). This interpretation is connected with the one-sided apprehension of the precious stones as symbolizing the essence of God. This too special interpretation contrasts with the too general explanation of De Wette. “In Rev_4:5 the mighty and vital influence of God over nature is represented; in Rev_4:6-8 nature itself, or the realm of the living, is symbolized in the four cherubim; in Rev_4:9-11, finally, the harmony of creation and redeemed humanity is represented; and thus God, in His living activity and reality, is exhibited” (De Wette). Similarly Ebrard, who describes God’s Throne as a “laboring, effervescent volcano.”
On theocratic ground the lightnings are still less a purely terrific conception than in the Scandinavian-Germanic mythology (the hammer of Thor). With reference to the lightnings of Sinai, comp. Deu_33:2-3. The Coming of the Son of Man shall be like a mighty flash of lightning. Thus the lightnings of the whole New Testament manifestation are for the defence of the faithful people of God, being terrible only to His foes, Zec_9:14. They are, therefore, wonders of revelation [Divine manifestation?—E. R. C.].
The history of Christ’s Baptism and Transfiguration demonstrates that voices are a sequence, in definite ideas and truths, of Divine revelations—revelations of salvation, in particular; in general, they are the first of the Divine forms of revelation. Even God’s voices, His revelation truths, have a judicial as well as an, evangelical side, Gen_3:10.
The last remark applies equally to the thunder. This denotes the grand effect of revelation [Divine manifestation] in judgment and deliverance. Thus the typical redemption of Israel was effected by a mighty thunder which, at the same time, brought down judgment on the head of Israel’s foes, Psa_77:18-19. Job finds his prostrating judgment, but also his reconciliation, in a grand thundering of God, chs. 38–40. As thunder accompanied the giving of the Law, so the voice which answered Christ’s prayer in the Temple, the prayer with which He consecrated Himself to death for our redemption, was accompanied by a tone as of thunder. And the more tremendous the wrathful judgment announced in the thunder, according to Jer_25:30, the more distinct is its proclamation of a now redemption for the people of God; comp. Joe_2:11. As Elijah, like Moses, was an Old Testament son of thunder, ascending to Heaven in a fiery storm, so two of the greatest Apostles of the New Testament were sons of thunder. And how glorious is the description of the seven-fold thunder of God in Psalms 29., the festal thunder-Psalm! This, therefore, is the sense in which we apprehend the thunders of God; they are heavenly, uncheckable, redemptive revelations, accompanied by judgments—in other words, reformations.
And seven Lamps [torches]of fire burning before the Throne.—[See Synoptical View, p. 148.—E. R. C.] We cannot refer the participle
to the preceding
; for the Lights, as such, do not issue forth like lightnings, and the Spirits of God do not proceed from His Throne, but from Himself. By the Seven Spirits that, according to Revelation 1., stand between Jehovah and Christ, and, according to Rev_5:6, go forth into all lands, we understand the seven fundamental forms of the revelation of the Holy Ghost through Christ, according to Isa_11:1, or the seven archangelic forms of Christ.
[“These seem to represent the Holy Spirit in His seven-fold working: in His enlightening and cheering as well as His purifying and consuming agency. So most Commentators.”—Alford. The idea of the seven-fold influences of the Holy Ghost is thus set forth in the ordination hymn of the Church of England:
“Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire;
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
Who dost Thy seven-fold gifts impart.”
It may here be remarked, that in the view of the Am. Ed, (see Preliminary Note, p. 145 sqq.) the simulacrum of the Seven Lamps constitute one (compound) Mediate-individual Symbol of the Holy Ghost; the division being significant of His manifold energies, and the seven-fold division, of the completeness, the perfection of those energies.—E. R. C.]
According to De Wette, the Seven Spirits are significant of the Spirit of God as the principle of physical and spiritual life, through Whom the inner influence of God over nature and mankind operates. According to Ebrard, also, the Spirit of God, in all His distinct properties, is denoted, in so far as He rules over the creation. According to Hengstenberg, on the other hand, the
—fire being invariably used in the Apocalypse to designate the Divine wrath (? comp. Rev_15:2)—here denotes the Spirit of God or of Christ with a limitation, i. e., “in so far as His operations are productive of ruin, are punitive, destructive.” To this view Düsterdieck justly opposes the remark, that the Apocalyptist is speaking of torches (
). This word is doubtless expressive of the enlightening effect of God’s Spirit.
The contrast between the lightnings, voices, thunders, which issue forth from the Throne, and the lights which are stationary before it, has been explained by De Wette in a manifold way. He suggests the dogmatical distinction of manifestations and inspirations, the distinction between the evangelical history and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. The thunder slowly dies away in the great echoes of the world’s history; but the light [
] becomes a morning star in the heart—in the realm of the interior history of the Kingdom, therefore; and when the Spirit can complete His judgment as the Spirit, that judgment becomes a redemptive judgment.
Rev_4:6. Before the Throne as it were a glassy sea [sea of glass].—[See Synoptical View, p. 148.—E. R. C.] The meaning of this is easily gathered from the two items, sea and crystal—national life and transparent, spiritualized creaturality. Hence the interpretation of Aretius comes very near the point: cœtus ecclesiæ triumphantis. Similarly Ebrard, p. 225. The interpretations—some of which are quite singular—of this passage are also, in many respects, characteristic. We cite some of them: Baptism (the baptismal basin); the Holy Scriptures; the perishable world; the smooth and shining heavenly pavement; the atmosphere; or more abstract conceptions (certa dei voluntas, etc.). See Düsterdieck, p. 223. In Rev_15:2 the crystal brightness of this sea is mingled with fire, or the appearance of fire, either because the victors have, in many ways, passed through the fire, or because the victorious Church contains the principle of the fire of the universal judgment. Düsterdieck, referring to Rinck, maintains that the crystal-like sea is identical with the crystal-like river of Revelation 22.; but this view is untenable. The purity, transparency, spirituality of this sea is doubly asserted when it is declared to be both glassy and like crystal. According to Hengstenberg, the crystal sea is another image of the judgments of God. “Opposed to the flood of human wickedness is the great flood, the broad ocean of Divine judgments.”
[The following from Alford is worthy of highest consideration: “Compare, by way of contrast,
ἡ êáèçìÝíç ἐðὶ
, the multitudinous and turbulent waters, Rev_17:1. In seeking the explanation of this, we must first track the image from its Old Testament earlier usage. (He comparesExo_24:10; Eze_1:22, andJob_37:10). If we are to follow these indices, the primary reference will be to the clear ether in which the Throne of God is upborne; and the intent of setting this space in front of the Throne will be to betoken its separation and insulation from the place where the Seer stood, and, indeed, from all else around it. The material and appearance of this pavement of the Throne seem chosen to indicate majestic repose and ethereal purity. … It is the purity, calmness, and majesty of God’s rule which are signified by the figure.” Wordsworth, who adopts the idea that the sea of glass was symbolical of the glorified Church, thus writes: “Sea, in this Book, represents the element of tumult and confusion in this lower world (see Rev_13:1). But here, by way of contrast, there is in the heavenly Church a sea of glass, expressive of smoothness and brightness, and this heavenly sea is of crystal; declaring that the calm of Heaven is not like earthly seas, ruffled by winds, but is crystalized into an eternity of peace.”
Here, it may be asked, may not the glassy sea be an Immediate symbol, indicating a real pavement in the real Heaven spreading out before the Throne; but at the same time aberrantly significant of the unapproachable grandeur of Him who sits upon the Throne, and (perhaps) of the peace, stability, and brightness of His rule? Similar questions might be asked in regard to other symbols, which generally are explained as merely Aberrant.—E. R. C.]
In the midst of the Throne and round about the Throne four living-beings [Lange: life-forms].—[See Synoptical View, p. 148; and also Additional Note on the Living-Beings, by the Am. Ed., p. 161 sq.] According to Eichhorn, Ewald I., and Hengstenberg, “the hinder part (of the eagle, and the human figure, as well as the others?) of the four
lay under the Throne, whilst the upper portion of them projected from beneath it and rose above it.” “An idea which, for the sake of its unsightliness, if on no other account, should not be imputed to John. According to Ebrard, the Throne is transparent, and the
move within it and issue forth from it.” (Duesterd.) Idem: “One on each side of the Throne, and each in the middle of its respective side.” If the Throne be significant of the Divine sovereign rule, the beasts [Living-beings], as individual Fundamental Forms of this government, must issue neither from the foot nor from the summit of the Throne, but f