Revelation 4 Commentary

v.3 “The minerals ‘jasper’ and ‘carnelian’ portray the supernatural splendor of God, while the ‘rainbow, resembling an emerald’ conveys the impression of God’s encircling brilliance (cf. Ezek 1:27-28). But we need not find symbolism in each element of the vision; it is enough to allow the archetypical imagery to create the impression of transcendent glory.”[1]

v.4 “The elders have been variously identified as (1) stars (from an astrological background), (2) angels, (3) OT saints, (4) angelic, heavenly representatives of all saints, (5) patriarchs and apostles representing the OT and NT saints together, and (6) representatives of the prophetic revelation of the twenty-four books of the Old Testament [We have 39 books in our OT; back then books like 1 & 2 Samuel were originally written as one book].  The elders certainly include reference to OT and NT saints.  They are either angels representing all saints or the heads of the twelve tribes together with the twelve apostles, representing thus all the people of God.”[2]

“The elders are always associated with the ‘four living creatures’ (4:6 ff.) and engage in acts of worship of God and the Lamb. […] In the Bible twelve appears to be the number of divine government–twelve months in a lunar year, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, twelve gates in the New Jerusalem, twelve angels at each gate, twelve foundations, twelve thousand sealed from each tribe, twelve thousand stadia (the length of the New Jerusalem), etc.  Multiples of twelve–such as twenty-four, etc.-probably have a similar significance. Thrones are related to the heavenly powers in Colossians 1:16.  In Revelation ‘white’ clothing generally belongs to the saints but relates to angelic beings elsewhere in the NT (e.g., John 20:12). While the ‘crowns of gold’ are likewise usually related to the redeemed, here they refer to the royal dignity of those so closely associated with the throne of God (cf. 1 Kings 22:19; Ps 89:7). Golden crowns are referred to in 4:4, 10; 9:7; 14:14.”[3]

v. 5 “‘Flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder’ coming from the throne are symbolic of God’s awesome presence and the vindication of the saints and occur with slight variation four times in Revelation (4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18, cf. Exod 19:16, Ezek 1:13; Ps 18:13-15).”[4]

v. 6  “‘A sea of glass, clear as crystal’ simply adds to the magnificence of the scene (15:2). […] The mirror-like [sic] reflecting quality could symbolize the fact that before the sight of God all is revealed; i.e., ‘Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eves of him to whom we must give account’ (Heb 4:13).”[5]

vv. 6-8  “The ‘four living creatures’ should be linked with Isaiah’s seraphim and Ezekiel’s cherubim (cf. Isa 6:3; Ezek 1:5-25; 10:1-22). They, like the elders and angels, are heavenly creatures of the highest order involved with the worship and government of God. ‘Covered with eyes’ may give the impression of their exceeding knowledge of God, while the faces of a ‘lion,’ ‘ox,’ ‘man,’ and a ‘flying eagle’ suggest qualities that belong to God, such as royal power, strength, spirituality, and swiftness of action. Each of the creatures mentioned is the chief of its species. Together they embody the reflection of God’s nature as the fullness of life and power. Their six wings (cf. Isa 6:2) give the impression of unlimited mobility in fulfilling God’s commands. Their position ‘in the center, around the throne’ suggests that one might be before and one behind the throne with one on either side (Beckwith). The four living creatures appear throughout Revelation (cf. 5:6, 8, 14; 6:1 ff.; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4).”[6]

“The four living creatures ceaselessly proclaim the holiness of God: ‘Holy, holy, holy’ (v. 8; Isa 6:3). In Hebrew, the double repetition of a word adds emphasis, while the rare threefold repetition designates the superlative and calls attention to the infinite holiness of God–the quality of God felt by creatures in his presence as awesomeness or fearfulness (Ps 111:9: ‘Holy and awesome is his name’). The living creatures celebrate God’s holiness and power as manifested in his past, present, and future activity. Such holiness cannot tolerate the presence of evil (21:27). […] The trisagion (‘Holy, holy, holy’) is a liturgical expression used in both ancient Jewish and Christian worship.”[7]


[1] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 4:2-3.

[2] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 322.

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 4:4.

[4] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 4:5.

[5] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 4:6-8.

[6] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 4:6-8.

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