An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 16 April 2011; Revised 7 January 2016
Scripture: The Scripture text of Revelation used below is prepared by Blaine Robison with consideration given to the American Standard Version (which is in the public domain) and the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. See my web article The Jewish New Testament. Other Bible versions are also quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet. Messianic Jewish versions are CJB, DHE, GNC, HNV, MW, OJB, & TLV.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Works by early church fathers may be found at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the definitions of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations. Definitions of Hebrew words are from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981). The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
Vocabulary: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Torah (Law), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Audience with the King (4:1-5)
1ó After these things I looked, and behold, a door having been opened in heaven, and the first voice that I heard, like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things."
After: Grk. meta, prep. used to mark association or accompaniment; here in reference to time, after. these things: pl. of Grk. houtos, demonstrative pronoun signifying a person or thing set forth in narrative that precedes or follows it; this. Some interpret the opening clause to mean that the letters to the congregations are symbolic of the "church age" (a term that does not exist in the apostolic writings) and John now transitions to the future and the Day of the Lord (e.g., DSB). The straightforward meaning is that "after these things" simply refers to all that John saw and heard as recorded in chapters one through three, particularly the completion of the dictation of the letters to the seven congregations.
I looked: Grk. horaō, aor., refers to the perception of physical eyesight and so means to see, perceive, to catch sight of or to notice. The verb is a strong assertion of personal experience. The verbal declaration occurs frequently in Johnís narrative and affirms the absolute certainty of the visual experience. The verb would be better translated "I saw," emphasizing the certainty of his visual experience.
and: Grk. kai, conj. that marks a connection or addition. Kai has three basic uses: (1) continuative Ė and, also, even; (2) adversative Ė and yet, but, however; or (3) intensive Ė certainly, indeed, in fact, really, verily, yea (DM 250f). The first use applies here. Kai is used in the LXX to translate the vav (ו) character added to words for conjunctive effect. There are over 50 conjunctions in biblical Greek, but kai is by far the most common in the Besekh, occurring over 9,000 times (BibleHub). The excessive use of conjunctions and beginning verses with a conjunction (as the next verse) is evidence of either an original Hebrew text or Jewish Greek. In contrast to most Bible versions I translate all the instances of kai (and all the other conjunctions) as a reminder of John's Hebraic writing style.
behold: Grk. idou, aor. imp., aor. mid. imp. of eidon, the inflected aorist form of horaō ("to see") and functions as a demonstrative particle. In communities accustomed to oral communication, idou would serve to nuance a narrative reduced to writing, especially to focus on exceptional moments in the narrative (Danker). John didn't just cast his eyes in a certain direction, but he apprehended a scene of enormous import. It's as if John is saying to the congregation, "behold what I saw." Some commentators believe that John used the writings of the prophets and other Jewish works to invent this picturesque account. Rather, Johnís narrative style is meant to convey his insistence that he really did see the things he describes, incredible as his story may seem.
a door: Grk. thura, a device for opening and closing an entranceway or a passage providing access to a place. With economy of words, no further details of size, composition, or shape of the door are offered. Perhaps it was such an ordinary door that it required no elaboration (cf. Ps 78:23). having been opened: Grk. anoigō, perf. pass. part., to open, frequently used of doors. The perfect tense could suggest that the door had been opened and left that way for Johnís arrival (Mounce). in heaven: Grk. ouranos, the area above the earth that encompasses the sky, interstellar space and associated phenomena or the transcendent dwelling-place of God (Danker).
In the LXX ouranos translates the Heb. word hashamayim ("the heavens"), which is normally translated as singular (DNTT 2:191). The consistent use of the plural form for "heaven" is thought to signify completeness, yet different activities and places are associated with hashamayim. The Hebrew and Greek words for "heaven" are used in Scripture to refer to at least three different places (Ps 148:1-4). The first usage in the Bible is Genesis 1:1 where hashamayim, "the heavens" is mentioned in contrast to the earth. Then "the heavens" is the name given the expanse stretched out from the initial watery black hole ("the deep," Gen 1:2, 6-8) and then populated with the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day of creation to give light to the earth and function as signs for seasons, days and years (Gen 1:14-19).
The next use of heaven refers to the atmosphere or "face" of hashamayim, across which birds fly (Gen 1:20; 1Kgs 21:24; Rev 19:17) and from which comes rain, snow, dew, lightning and thunder (Gen 8:2; Deut 11:11; 33:13; Job 38:29; 1Sam 2:10; 2Kgs 1:10; Isa 55:10; Matt 6:26). Finally, the third heaven is the abode of God the Father, the home of angels and the place where Yeshua sits at the right hand of God (1Kgs 8:30; 2Chr 30:27; Job 16:19; Ps 2:4; 11:4; Matt 6:9; 2Cor 12:2-4; Eph 1:20). The majority of the occurrences of "heaven" in Revelation refer to the third heaven.
and: Grk. kai, conj. the first: Grk. prōtos, adj., having primary position in a sequence; first, earlier. voice: Grk. phōnē, can mean (1) an auditory impression, sound, noise defined in the context; (2) the faculty of producing speech, voice; or (3) a system of communication, language, 1Cor 14:10; 2Pet 2:16). In the LXX phōnē generally renders Heb. qŰl (sound, voice, BDB 876), the first usage of which is God's voice (Gen 3:8), and second the human voice (Gen 3:17), and these usages occur frequently in the Tanakh with various kinds of expression (DNTT 3:113). The "first voice" is the same one John heard in 1:10, with the same piercing quality, the voice of his Lord.
that: Grk. ho, dem. pron.; this, that. I heard: Grk. akouō, aor., has a range of meaning, including to hear as a sense perception, to learn, to listen, to follow, or to understand. In the LXX akouō consistently stands for Heb. shama, which not only means to apprehend, but also to accept and to act upon what has been apprehended (DNTT 2:173). like: Grk. hōs, adv., like, as, similar to, in the manner of. a trumpet: Grk. salpigx, which may refer to the instrument itself, the sound made by blowing into it or the signal given by the instrument. In the LXX salpigx translates six different Hebrew terms, the most common being shofar and chatsotsrah (DNTT 3:873f). The term shofar referred to originally the curved "ramís horn," then more generally "horn" or "wind instrument," and was used for both military and religious purposes. Chatsotsrah was a long straight "trumpet" made of beaten silver and used mainly for religious purposes (Num 10:1-10). The HNV has shofar, but the CJB and TLV have "trumpet."
speaking: Grk. laleō, pres. part., to make an oral statement, to speak or talk about something; say, utter. with: Grk. meta, prep. used to mark association or accompaniment; with, amid, among. me: Grk. egō, pron. of the first pers. saying: Grk. legō, pres. part., means to utter in words, say, tell, or give expression. The verb, though translated as past tense, is actually present tense, and represents a Hebrew manner of speaking. John employs this idiom eight times in Revelation, which gives his conversations with the angels and the Lord a sense of being there with him as he is receiving the divine disclosures.
Come up: Grk. anabainō, aor. imp., to proceed in a direction that is up, go up. here: Grk. hōde, adv. of place, here or in this place. "Come up here" refers to the destination of heaven, Godís abode, which is always viewed in Scripture as "up" in relation to the earth (cf. Acts 1:11). The command seems nonsensical since no human has the innate ability to fly up to heaven. Other men in the Bible received special revelation of things related to heaven, such as Jacob (Gen 28:12, 17), one of the sons of Korah (Ps 46:4), Micaiah (1Kgs 22:19), Amos (Amos 9:1), Isaiah (Isa 6:1-7), Ezekiel (Ezek 1:1, 26-28), and Daniel (Dan 7:9-10, 13), but Paul is the only one besides John who experienced heaven up close and personal (2Cor 12:2-4).
There is an element of submission and cooperation as the power of the Holy Spirit enables John to transcend the laws of time, matter and space in order to visit heaven and receive the testimony of the Lamb about the events associated with the end of the age. The fact that John was called to heaven to receive the vision of the future is significant. From the vantage point of heaven he would be able to see the big picture. John would see things from Godís point of view. Oh, what a difference it makes to see the world through the wide-angle lens of heaven.
The claim by some interpreters that John represents the entire Body of Messiah and that the command to "come up" refers to a secret rapture has no textual support in Revelation. The belief in the secret rapture is an escapist fantasy. Such supposed symbolism breaks down since John goes back and forth between heaven and earth (10:1; 11:1; 13:1; 14:1; 18:1; 21:10). In addition, the rapture requires a bodily resurrection, and there is no mention in this verse of John dying and being raised. The absence of the word "congregation" (Grk. ekklēsia) from this point until 22:16 proves nothing. The word ekklēsia does not occur at all in Titus, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude. There simply is no description of a pretribulational rapture of believers in Revelation (or anywhere else in the Besekh). See my web article The Rapture Debate.
and: Grk. kai, conj. I will show: Grk. deiknumi, fut., may mean to show (1) so as to be observed by another, point out, make known; or (2) or so as to be understood by another, explain, demonstrate. to you: Grk. su, pron. of the second pers. what: Grk. hos, rel. pron. must: Grk. dei, pres., impersonal verb from deō ('lack, stand in need of') and thus conveys the idea of something that's necessary, something that must or needs to happen. take place: Grk. ginomai, aor. mid. inf., to transfer from one state to another, with the following applications: (1) come into being by birth or natural process; (2) exist through will or effort; be made, be performed; or (3) undergo change or development; come to be, become, take place, happen, occur, arise, be, appear, come, arrive. In the LXX ginomai renders Heb. hayah (SH-1961), to fall out, to come into being, become, come to pass, to be (DNTT 1:181). The third usage applies here.
after: Grk. meta, prep., used here in reference to time. these things: pl. of Grk. houtos. Yeshua promises to show John what is to take place in the future in order for John to fulfill the command in 1:19 to write "the things which will take place after these things." While the first usage in this verse of "after these things" summarized what had happened up to this point, the second usage anticipates the visions beginning in Chapter Six. Johnson notes that the phrase, "take place after these things," occurs in the LXX of Daniel 2:29, 45, where it means "next" in historical sequence from the time of the writer. "After these things" does not imply an indefinite future but refers to what follows that which is at present. While there is debate in scholarly circles over how much of the prophetic visions are symbolic and how much literal, the words of Yeshua emphasize again the divine source of the information. Since the Messiah Yeshua is the Truth and tells only the truth (John 8:40, 44f), disciples can safely assume that what he told and showed John can be relied on as accurate intelligence of the future.
2ó Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and one sitting on the throne.
Immediately: Grk. eutheōs, adv., immediately, forthwith, right away. I was: Grk. ginomai, aor. mid. See the previous verse. in: Grk. en, prep. that functions as a marker of position; 'in' or 'within.' the Spirit: Grk. pneumati, dative case of pneuma, without the definite article, wind, breath or spirit as the animating force for bodily movement (Luke 8:55). In the LXX pneuma renders Heb. ruach, which has the same meaning. Pneuma is used for transcendent beings (Matt 8:16; Heb 1:14), particularly the Spirit as God's self-expression (Gen 1:2; Mark 1:10). Most versions capitalize the noun as "Spirit" or "the Spirit" (meaning the Holy Spirit), and that is probably John's intention. En pneumati without the definite article occurs 33 times in the Besekh and sometimes without any textual indication of distinguishing between the Holy Spirit and manís spirit (cf. Rom 2:29; 1Cor 6:17; Gal 6:1; Eph 6:18; Col 1:8; Jude 1:20).
However, there are passages where en pneuma definitely refers to the Holy Spirit (Matt 22:43; Rom 8:9; Eph 2:22; 3:5). For John this was not the same experience he had in chapter one where he was "in spirit" when the Lord visited him. Some interpreters would suggest that John referred merely to an ecstatic trance, implying that he did not actually go anywhere. Yet, John is more precise than Paulís report of being "caught up" to the "third heaven" (2Cor 12:2-4). Paul was not sure whether he had been in the body or out of the body, but he was certain that he had visited Paradise. Ezekiel reported that he was "lifted up" and taken by the Spirit on several occasions from his home to various locations (Ezek 3:12-14; 11:1, 24; 40:1-2; 43:5). However, if John only experienced the Revelation visions while in a trance on Patmos, there would be no need for the command in this verse to "come up here."
and: Grk. kai, conj. behold: Grk. idou. See the previous verse. Johnís exclamation emphasizes the transition from being on Patmos one second and in heaven the next. The rapid ride to heaven may have left him momentarily bewildered. His eyes and senses began to refocus. a throne: Grk. thronos refers to a throne or chair upon which a king sits. Ancient thrones typically had a high back-rest and arm-rests and sometimes with a foot-stool. The throne was the official place from which the king exercised his power, authority and judgment. The term is often used figuratively in Scripture of sovereignty or dominion (DNTT 2:611-615). John saw a platform and seating area that he took to be a throne, the kind used by kings or judges as they presided.
was standing: Grk. keimai, impf. pass., be in a set position, whether horizontal or vertical, here of an object resting on a surface or in an area. The verb refers to the elevated construction of the throne. The elevation of the throne, plus the height of the ceiling, is an architectural device to engender awe and respect. in: Grk. en, prep. heaven: Grk. ouranos. See the previous verse. This is the third heaven, the abode of God. and: Grk. kai, conj. one sitting: Grk. kathēmai, pres. mid. part., means to sit or sit down. Marshall renders the participle as "a sitting one." on: Grk. epi, prep. the throne: Grk. thronos. The revelation that God sits on a throne was known from the time of David (Ps 11:4; 29:10; 47:8).
However, it was the prophet Micaiah who gave the first eyewitness report of seeing God on His throne, "Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left" (1Kgs 22:19 NASB). A century later Isaiah reported, "In the year of King Uzziahís death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple" (Isa 6:1 NASB). Human minds may not be able to understand how the omnipresent God can "sit" on a throne and regard the report as so much figurative language, but the united testimony of Scripture is that God does indeed sit on a throne.
3ó And the One sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.
And: Grk. kai, conj. the One: Grk. ho, demonstrative pronoun and definite article. Many versions translate the pronoun as "He who" or "He that." Other versions render it literally as "The one" (CEB, CEV, ERV, GW, LEB, NET, NIV, NLT, NOG, NRSV, WE) or appropriately capitalize "One" (CJB, EXB, HCSB, NCV, NIRV, NLV, OJB). Among Jews "The One" was a circumlocution for God (cf. Ps 3:3; 37:24; Isa 40:26; 45:7; 49:7; Amos 9:5-6; John 1:33; 6:46; 7:18; 11:27; 12:45; 15:21; Acts 10:42; Rom 5:17; 2Cor 4:6). sitting: Grk. kathēmai, pres. mid. part. See the previous verse. John is immediately absorbed in what he sees and not his own personal condition.
The characteristics of the One seated on the throne become clearer. How would you describe such glorious sights? Johnís experience may be parallel to Paulís report that God dwells in unapproachable light (1Tim 6:16). All the colors are contained in the light spectrum and apparently the Creator God possesses an aura that diffuses a variety of colors of unimaginable magnificence. The vivid colors and beauty immediately remind John of precious stones he has seen on the earth. was like: Grk. homoios, adj., like, similar to, resembling. a jasper: Grk. iaspis, jasper. stone: Grk. lithos was a generic word for stone of various types, whether construction materials, millstones, grave stones, precious stones, tablets or small rocks. The "jasper stone" of Johnís day may have been a translucent rock crystal or perhaps a diamond, but was not the cheap modern jasper (Mounce).
and: Grk. kai, conj. a sardius: Grk. sardion, a precious stone, generally known as carnelian. The "sardius" was a blood-red stone named after Sardis near which it was found. in appearance: Grk. horasis, an outward impression made by something; appearance. and: Grk. kai, conj. a rainbow: Grk. iris means rainbow, colored halo or radiance and occurs only here and 10:1 in the apostolic writings. Iris translates the Hebrew word found in Ezekiel 1:28 (Robertson). around: Grk. kuklothen, adv., around, all around or round about. the throne: Grk. thronos. See verse 1 above. The "rainbow" may have been a halo or radiating light around the throne. like: Grk. homoios, adj. an emerald: Grk. smaragdinos, made of emerald.
in appearance: Grk. horasis. In contrast to colors emanating from the One sitting on the throne, the rainbow is described as being like an emerald, most likely the familiar green emerald of modern experience. Ezekiel reported also that the heavenly being he saw possessed a radiance around him like the appearance of the rainbow (Ezek 1:27-28). All three stones were included in the high priestís breastplate (Ex 28:17), as well as being part of Luciferís covering in Eden (Ezek 28:13), no doubt emulating the divine adornment (cf. Rev 21:18f). No symbolic meaning is disclosed concerning the colors and none should be speculated. John simply provides in the most suitable vocabulary a straightforward description of the incredible glory and grandeur of what he saw.
4ó And around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and on the thrones twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.
And: Grk. kai, conj. around: Grk. kuklothen, adv. See the previous verse. the throne: Grk. thronos. See verse 2 above. This throne is the throne of God. twenty: Grk. eikosi, the numeral twenty. four: Grk. tessares, the numeral four. thrones: pl. of Grk. thronos. and: Grk. kai, conj. on: Grk. epi, prep. the thrones: pl. of Grk. thronos. twenty: Grk. eikosi. four: Grk. tessares. elders: pl. of Grk. presbuteros, is related to presbus, which means "an old man." Presbuteros primarily carries the idea of ruling authority, leadership or acting in an official capacity. The plural noun occurs twelve times in Revelation (4:4, 10; 5:5f, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; and 19:4). clothed: Grk. periballō, perf. pass. part., to throw clothes around oneís self, to cover around, to be clothed, which may allude to the robe-like design of ancient clothing.
in: Grk. en, prep. white: Grk. leukos, adj., of quality expressing impressive brightness, bright, gleaming, shining or of a color shade ranging from white to grey. In the LXX leukos translates Heb. laban, white, though white in the Tanakh may include half-yellow (DNTT 1:204) (e.g., Gen 30:37; 31:8; 49:12). garments: Grk. himation, a covering for the body, generally referring to clothing or apparel, often in reference to an outer garment. In the LXX himation rendered the Heb. beged, meaning both the outer garment and the clothes as a whole (DNTT 1:316). In the Tanakh beged meant garment, clothing, raiment, or robe of any kind, from the filthy clothing of the leper to the holy robes of the High Priest, the simplest covering of the poor as well as the costly raiment of the rich and noble (BDB 94).
and: Grk. kai, conj. golden: Grk. chrusous, adj., made of or adorned with gold; golden. crowns: Grk. stephanos, that which forms an encirclement; wreath or crown. The word has a wide variety of applications in the Besekh. In the LXX stephanos translates the Heb. atarah, the royal crown and corresponding figurative uses (e.g., 2Sam 12:30; 1Chr 20:2; SS 3:11) (DNTT 1:405). on: Grk. epi, prep. their heads: pl. of Grk. kephalē, the head as an anatomical term. The mention of golden crowns parallels the saying of Rab in the Talmud that depicts saved human beings in the age to come:
"In the future world there is no eating nor drinking nor propagation nor business nor jealousy nor hatred nor competition, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the divine presence" (Berachot 17a).
There is considerable speculation among commentators regarding the identity of the heavenly elders. Some writers think the twenty-four elders represent the combined people of God of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Other interpreters assume that these heavenly elders are the raptured Church, connecting the instruction of 4:1 to "come up" with the KJV translation of 5:9-10 "redeemed us" and "made us." It is important to note that the heavenly elders were contemporaneous with John, i.e., they existed when John was alive, and, moreover, they engage John in conversation (5:5; 7:13), hardly a thing a "symbol" would do.
There are specific elements in John's description that would seem to favor the elders being humans. The characteristic emphasized by the word "elder" is age and nowhere else in Scripture is the term used of angels. The term occurs 62 times in the apostolic writings and everywhere outside of Revelation identifies leaders of Israel or men appointed by the apostles to preside over local congregations of believers (cf. Matt 15:2; Acts 14:23). Jewish elders were ceremonially ordained to their office and a board of three elders had the authority to decide points of halakhah, which means "way to walk" or applications of the Torah, cf. Matt 18:19 (Stern 64).
Like the redeemed of Israel the elders dress in white garments and wear crowns on their heads. The "crown" is the same as the word for crown in 2:10, typically considered the martyrís crown named after Stephen the first disciple to be killed. This crown is often associated with other terms to represent the blessedness and reward of those who follow Yeshua: e.g., the crown of life (Jas 1:12; Rev 2:10), the crown of glory (1Pet 5:4), and the crown of righteousness (2Tim 4:8). This "crown" is often used without any further description but always in connection with something to be looked forward to by believers (1Cor 9:25; Rev 3:11). In contrasting references this word for "crown" also identifies two crowns worn by Yeshua Ė the crown of thorns (Mark 15:17) and the golden crown He possesses in heaven (Rev 14:14).
Those who attribute symbolic meaning to numbers find in the number twelve a connection to divine government and the nation of Israel--twelve months in a lunar year, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, twelve gates in the New Jerusalem, twelve angels at each gate, etc. Multiples of twelve, such as twenty-four, have a similar significance, such as the twenty-four patriarchs of the Messianic line in Genesis, representatives of the twenty-four courses or divisions of the Levitical priests, and the twenty-four elders of the New Jerusalem (Johnson).
However, other commentators believe the descriptions of the appearance and activities of the elders fit celestial beings better than humans. In Scripture God is sometimes pictured surrounded by a council of heavenly beings, "A God greatly feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all those who are around Him" (cf. 1Kgs 22:19; Isa 24:23) (Ladd). White garments are the clothing of all the residents of heaven, including angels (15:6; 19:14; cf. John 20:12; Acts 1:10). God's people are not seen in Revelation wearing crowns, even though a crown is promised (2:10). The crown for disciples appears to be awarded after the resurrection. Every time John sees the elders they fall down on their faces in adoration of and reverence for the Creator (4:10; 5:8, 14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4).
Those identified as disciples are always seen as standing (7:9; 14:1; 15:2; cf. 6:9). The fact that the martyrs in 6:9-11 are "underneath" the altar does not preclude them from being in a standing position. In all their utterances there is no specific testimony of personal trust in the Savior and the overwhelming manuscript evidence of 5:10 indicates that the elders distinguish themselves from those who have been made a kingdom and priests. Whether angelic or human, no symbolic interpretation is offered for the number 24 and none should be automatically assumed. Johnís report should be accepted as it stands.
5ó And from the throne come flashes of lightning and voices and peals of thunder; and seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God;
And: Grk. kai, conj. from: Grk. ek, prep. the throne: Grk. thronos. See verse 2 above. come: Grk. ekporeuomai, pres. mid., move from one place to another, go out or come out. The verb has both literal and figurative usages. The verb is usually associated with coming out of a place and sometimes with a goal. flashes of lightning: pl. of Grk. astrapē generally means atmospheric lightning (Matt 24:27). and sounds: pl. of Grk. phōnē can mean (1) an auditory impression, sound, noise defined in the context; (2) the faculty of producing speech, voice; or (3) a system of communication, language. The term is used primarily of vocalizations, whether of God (Matt 3:17), humans (Matt 2:18) or heavenly beings (1Th 4:16; Rev 5:2), but also the sounds made by animals (Rev 10:3) and inanimate objects (John 3:8; 1Cor 14:7).
In the LXX phōnē generally renders Heb. qŰl (SH-6963; "sound, voice," BDB 876), with the same range of meaning (DNTT 3:113). John noted particularly that the sounds "come" (present tense) and kept on coming from out of the throne, as if from a powerful public address system. The word "sounds" could refer to the sound made by the lightning and thunder but more likely mean "voices" and represent the language of angels. and peals of thunder: pl. of Grk. brontē, thunder or a crash of thunder and refers to the thunder common to storms on earth. John notices elements of a thunderstorm, namely lightning and thunder, and other undefined sounds. Similar effects greeted Moses and the Israelites on Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:16; Deut 4:11f). David and the Levitical singers likewise recognized that Godís acts were attended by thunder and lightning (cf. Ps 18:13-14; 77:18; 104:7).
Stern points out that in Exodus 19:16 the Hebrew word qolot, rendered as "thunder" actually means "voices" (222). Qolot is the plural of qol. The LXX renders qolot in Exodus 19:16 with phōnai, plural of phōnē. In recounting the event Moses declared that God came to Sinai with myriads of His angels (Deut 33:2 LXX) and apostles affirmed that the Torah was ordained through the ministry of angels (Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2). Angelic language (1Cor 13:1; 2Cor 12:4), being unique in all of creation, would be unintelligible to John and perhaps not convey any sense of syntax common to human language.
and: Grk. kai, conj. seven: Grk. hepta, the numeral seven. lamps: pl. of Grk. lampas, device for illumination, used in reference to a torch or a lamp with wick and oil. Ancient lamps usually burned olive oil or fat (NIBD 628). of fire: Grk. pur, fire, as a physical state of burning. burning: Grk. kaiō, pres. mid. part., cause to be on fire, generally with the focus of providing illumination. before: Grk. enōpion, prep., from a word meaning "facing" with the basic idea of being 'in sight of' or 'in the presence of.' the throne: Grk. thronos. The seven burning lamps should not be confused with the lampstands of the congregations. Ancient lamps came in a variety of shapes and sizes and Johnís use of the term "lamp" implies some familiarity to him, but he offers no further description.
which: Grk. ho, relative pron., who, which, what. are: Grk. eimi, pres., to be, a function word used primarily to declare a state of existence, whether in the past ('was, were'), present ('are, is') or future ('will be'), often to unite a subject and predicate (BAG). the seven: Grk. hepta. spirits: pl. of Grk. pneuma. See verse 2 above. of God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. In secular Greek writings a number of deities, always represented in anthropomorphic form, were called theos. In ancient polytheistic culture theos was not one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe and certainly not spirit as described in Scripture (John 4:24). In the LXX theos renders the Hebrew words for God, El, Eloah and Elohim, as well as the sacred name YHVH (DNTT 2:67-70).
As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos. The God of the Bible is not a philosophical belief in monotheism or a generic term for the deities worshipped by all people. All the other deities worshipped by religions in the world are the product of Satan-inspired imagination. The only God in existence is the "God of Israel," an expression that occurs frequently in the Tanakh and twice in the Besekh (Matt 15:31; Luke 1:68). The true God revealed His name, His election and His commandments to the patriarchs and to Israel. Only the God of Israel saves (Jer 16:19-20).
The seven spirits are a special group of heavenly beings included in the heavenly court mentioned previously in 1:4 and 3:1. For John to say that the lamps "are" the seven spirits may mean the lamps represent the presence of the seven spirits in the same manner of Yeshua who while holding the bread, says "this is my body" (Matt 26:26). Many commentators identify the seven spirits as symbolic language for the supposed seven-fold nature of the Holy Spirit (as identified in the AMP, CJB, EXB, MSG, NLT, and TLB) deduced from Isaiah 11:2. Actually, Isaiah gives six characteristics, not seven, and Isaiah does not use the terminology of "seven spirits," which occurs only in Revelation. There is no interpretation offered for the seven spirits anywhere in Revelation and there is no mention of "seven Messiahs" or "seven Fathers."
The Holy Spirit is mentioned 14 times in Revelation without any designation of "seven." Moreover, the plural form of pneuma never refers elsewhere in Scripture to the Holy Spirit. There is, then, no textual need to capitalize "Spirits" as in a number of versions (ASV, KJV, NASB, NKJV, NLV). Most versions have the lower case "spirits." The only reasonable conclusion is that the seven spirits are simply seven heavenly spirit beings. The seven spirits could be the seraphim of God witnessed by Isaiah (Isa 6:2). The Heb. seraphim, which comes from Heb. saraph (SH-8313, "to burn") are not angels, but unique heavenly beings. (There is no biblical evidence for the common assumption that angels have wings.) For Isaiah the heavenly beings may have resembled huge flames of fire due to their shape of two wings folded downwards, two wings folded over their faces and two raised for flight. The description "burning ones" that Isaiah coined may also owe to the act of the seraph touching Isaiahís lips with a burning coal from the altar (Motyer 76f).
The Four Living Creatures (4:6-11)
6ó and before the throne there was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.
and before the throne there was, as it were, a sea: Grk. thalassa was used normally to refer to large bodies of water whether the sea as a general reference, the Mediterranean Sea in particular or an inland sea that in modern times is called a lake, such as Lake Gennesaret or the Sea of Galilee. The "sea" that John beheld would no doubt remind him of the molten sea that King Solomon had built for the first temple (1Kgs 7:23). Solomonís sea was a large basin made from cast bronze and measured 15 feet in diameter, 7 feet in height and 45 feet in circumference (NIBD 959). It contained about 10,000 gallons of water (1Kgs 7:26). The sea rested on the backs of twelve oxen and was intended for the priests to wash in (2Chr 4:4ff). Solomon relied on divine instruction given to David for the construction of all that went into the temple (1Chr 28:11, 19), and the design for the temple sea most likely was patterned on the one sitting before the throne of heaven (cf. Heb 8:5). of glass, like crystal: John gives no dimensions for the heavenly Sea (cf. 15:2), only pointing out that it was made of a material resembling crystal glass. There would be no need for an actual pool of water in heaven for ritual purification, since all are clean by the blood of the Lamb.
and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures: Grk. zōon denotes a living thing or being that is not human and yet not really an animal of the usual kind. One of the striking features of the throne panorama is four of the most unusual creatures John had ever seen. The creatures appear several times in Revelation (5:8, 14; 6:1, 3, 5, 7; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4). Johnson thinks these creatures are the same as the two seraphim Isaiah saw (Isa 6:3) and the four living beings Ezekiel saw (Ezek 1:5-25; 10:1-22). However, there are too many dissimilarities for these separate descriptions to be of the identical creatures. full of eyes in front and behind: Unlike earthly creatures, which normally have two eyes, these creatures are full of eyes. In other words the living creatures have many eyes on the front and the back of their bodies. The creatures are positioned both in the center of and around the throne of God, which was positioned in the center of the thrones of the elders. Do not look for symbolism here. These creatures exist and John saw them.
7ó And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.
And the first creature was like a lion: Grk. leon occurs nine times in the apostolic writings, six of which are in Revelation. While modern taxonomy recognizes at least seven subspecies of lion, the biblical term makes no such distinction. The lion is one of the most frequently mentioned animals in the Tanakh, for which eight different Hebrew words are used ("Lion," JE). John tries to help the congregation understand what he has seen by comparing these unique creatures to certain earth animals. Some think the comparisons suggest whatever is noblest, strongest, wisest and swiftest in the animal kingdom (Rienecker), as if animals could be imbued with character qualities. Unfortunately, John gives little in the way of commonality between the heavenly and earthly creatures.
and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man: The only specific feature mentioned in this verse is that one had a face like a man, which suggests that the other comparisons also pertain to the head of the respective animals, especially since the next verse mentions that all four had wings. and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle: The translation "a flying eagle" is not intended to describe capability of flight, but the eagle soaring with outstretched wings. "Flying" is a verb, not an adjective, and comes at the end of the sentence. The comparison would be lit. translated "the fourth creature was like an eagle flying." The creatures may have been simply indescribable in terms of human experience and vocabulary, but John more likely exercises restraint in accordance with the second commandment that prohibits the reproduction of a "likeness of what is in heaven" (Ex 20:4). A verbal likeness could easily lead to someone producing a golden likeness and committing idolatry.
8ó And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come."
And the four living creatures: Like the seraphim that Isaiah saw (Isa 6:2f), these creatures have six wings in addition to being full of eyes. The fact the creatures have wings and can speak does not automatically mean they are members of an angelic order. At no time are these creatures described as angels. They are truly unique in all of Godís creation. Day and night relates the ceaseless activity of the living creatures to human experience rather than being a statement of light conditions in heaven. The clause "day and night they do not cease to say" would literally be translated "day and night they have not respite" (Marshall). People must sleep several hours out of twenty-four and most earthly animals must sleep, some hibernating for weeks. Yet, these special creatures have no need of sleep, and demonstrate the boundless energy one expects of life in heaven.
Holy, holy, holy: In common with the seraphim, these tireless living creatures continually proclaim the holiness of the Almighty God, crying "holy, holy, holy." Grk. hagios. See 3:7 on "holy." The majority of Greek MSS have "holy" nine times at this point (NKJV). Metzger says that one or more MSS have hagios four times, six times, seven times, eight times, nine times (81 MSS), and even thirteen times (Metzger-Text 204). Such repetition indicates the reverence the MS copyists had for God in handling His holy Word. The three-fold announcement may emphasize the triunity of God, who cannot abide evil in His presence. The phrase "do not cease" does not mean the creatures are engaging in a monotonous repetition of this one praise for eternity, since they participate in the anthems of praise that mark the rest of this chapter and the next. However, these creatures have a singular purpose for their existence and that is to continually laud the greatness of the Creator God. The creatures end their announcement with a declaration of Godís nature that repeats the theological statement of 1:4.
9ó And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever,
And when the living creatures: The frequency of the creatureís adoring recitation is not given. The word "when" means whenever it occurs. John characterizes their speech as giving glory and honor and thanks without providing their actual words. Verse 9 really functions as an introductory clause to verse 10 to indicate the collaboration of the elders in the creaturesí worship of God. give glory: Grk. doxa originally meant opinion, conjecture, praise or repute in secular Greek in regard to what one thought about a person or thing. In the LXX doxa renders Heb. kabod (pronounced "kah-vohd"), "abundance, honor, glory" (SH-3519; BDB 458). Kabod does include the meanings of dignity of position, reputation of character and the reverence due to or ascribed to someone, and is frequently used for the honor brought or given to God (e.g., Ps 29:1; Isa 42:12).
In the Besekh doxa is a continuation of the underlying Hebrew concept (DNTT 2:45). The Hebrew idiom "give glory" means that someone deserves respect, attention and obedience (TWOT 1:427) and as an act of praise to acknowledge sovereignty (Shulam 171). Giving glory to God may acclaim the might of His creative power (Ps 19:1), laud His covenant faithfulness (Ps 115:1), or extol the greatness of His kingdom (Ps 145:11-12). In legal settings giving God glory meant to openly tell the truth before the Judge of the universe (cf. Josh 7:19; John 9:24).
and honor: Grk. timē denotes recognition of anotherís work by giving him the position and honors he merits. Timē is always something given to God or oneís fellowman (though not necessarily oneís social superior) (DNTT 2:44). "Honor" is a word directly related to position, and as King of the universe God deserves respect from all. and thanks: "Thanks" is the response of gratitude to Godís blessings and provision. What would the creatures be thanking God for? Since no mention is made of salvation or other gifts provided to people, the creatures were likely thanking God for things directly related to them. They could thank Him for creating and sustaining them, and for giving them a prominent place and vocation in the throne room.
to Him who sits on the throne: The object of so much adoration and thanksgiving is described with two attributes. First, God sits on the throne, mentioned in verse 2 above, which alludes to the authority God exercises in heaven and earth. This expression occurs seven times in Revelation (also 4:10; 5:13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 21:5) and serves as a constant reminder that God the Father and the Son are both in heaven. It is the Holy Spirit present with us that makes access to the throne of God possible. to Him who lives forever and ever: Second, the Lord God lives eternally (see 1:6 on "forever and ever"). God is completely unaffected by His law that causes death and decay (Isa 57:15; Dan 4:34; 12:7). Moses may have stated the matter most eloquently, "Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God" (Ps 90:2).
10ó the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
the twenty-four elders will fall down: Grk. piptō, "fall down," means to voluntarily thrown oneself to the ground as a sign of devotion. The fact of God sitting on a throne and living forever is repeated again for effect. before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship: Grk. proskuneō. See 3:9 on "worship." Whenever the four living creatures laud the Creator the elders immediately "fall down" or prostrate themselves before the throne of God and offer their "worship." Christians typically associate the term "worship" with a public religious service. Among Christians public worship services are conducted in a variety of forms or styles, and much debate and some division has occurred in congregations over these styles.
Some Christian leaders propose that God is an audience to the human effort at worship. God as audience was first suggested by Soren Kierkegaard, the nineteenth century philosopher, who viewed worship as a kind of play with three principal parts Ė prompters, actors and audience. He interpreted the liturgical worship of his day as God being the prompter, the clergy as the actors and the congregation as the audience. Kierkegaard believed the roles should be reversed with the clergy as the prompters, the congregation as the actors and God as the audience. The deficiency of Kierkegaardís model is that a worship service can become only a performance with the prompters seeking to orchestrate the quality of the performance and God watching with a critical eye as a heavenly Ebert with a wavering thumb. Kierkegaardís model does not fit any of the scenes of worship described in Revelation.
Other Christian leaders romanticize worship as an intimate encounter with God. Many modern Christian songs develop the intimacy model by portraying Yeshua or God as a lover, but this concept of worship does not occur in Scripture. In the Tanakh the focus of congregational services is adoration and praise directed to Adonai, the holy King. In all Scripture passages describing actual encounter with the divine presence the worshipers find the holiness and transcendent glory of God to be overwhelming. (Consider Exodus 19, 1 Kings 8; Isaiah 6, and Acts 2.) Hebrew congregational worship incorporated the key elements of adoration (telling the truth about God), sacrifice (presenting gifts to God) and consecration (pledging loyalty to God). The teaching and practice of Yeshua and the apostles maintain this essential character.
In Revelation the angelic adoration consists of lauding Godís eternal existence and nature, as well as His creation, rule, redemption and consummation of all things, and the consecration includes falling before God in reverence and casting down crowns. The fact that the word "worship" follows the action of bowing down is significant. To fall down or bow is characteristic of the biblical meaning of worship and indicates recognition of superior rank and submission to that authority (cf. Acts 10:25). Worship stems from a proper fear of the holy God and results in a pledge of service to Him, as the Torah says, "You are to fear Adonai your God, serve him and swear by his name" (Deut 6:13 CJB).
The first mention of "worship" occurs in Genesis 22:5 where Abraham says to his servant, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you." Abraham submitted to Godís authority and bowed down to the will of God by taking Isaac to a place of sacrifice. True worship of God is impossible without full consecration. From Abrahamís example Paulís admonishes the Roman saints to present themselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1) in order to demonstrate the worshipful heart that submits to character transformation and serves the will of God. and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying: Similarly the heavenly elders cast down their crowns before the throne as an act of surrendering self-interest, submitting their powers and authority to God who first granted their status and swearing continued fealty to His service.
11ó "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created."
Worthy are You: Adoration by the heavenly beings seem to strive for inventing new titles with which to compliment and praise the exalted attributes of the most holy God. The elders repeat the praise of the four living creatures, substituting "power" (Grk. dunamis) for "thanks." All three of these adulations are viewed as gifts that God is entitled to receive from the creatures, elders and everyone else. The reason given for Godís worthiness is His past work as Creator.
for You created: Grk. ktizō, aor., to create. Ktizō is only used in biblical literature of Godís creative activity, both of the material universe and the spiritual creation of the inner man. The angels make three important claims about creation. First, they affirm the source of everything that exists in the universe. The God who revealed Himself to the patriarchs and Moses, the God of Israel, is the only omnipotent God in existence and the only Power capable of performing the creative work (Gen 1:1; Ps 89:12; Isa 40:26; 41:20). Paul concurs, "For by Him all things were created" (Col 1:16). all things: The "all things" may point to the material universe, but the Lord God Almighty takes particular pride in His creation of man (Gen 1:27; Isa 45:12) and the creation of Israel, the people of God (Ps 102:18; Isa 43:1, 7, 44:2; Mal 2:10; Eph 2:10).
and because of Your will they existed: Grk. ēsan, the imperfect tense of eimi, which means to be or to exist. The imperfect tense stresses continuous action in past time. Marshall renders the verb as "they were." The CJB translates as "they came into being." The imperfect tense may allude to the six days God took to complete all His creation and once created the "all things" continued to exist by Godís sovereign maintenance (cf. Heb 1:3). The verb especially supports the inference that no animal or human has the will power or ability for self-creation or evolution. Neither can animal or man change himself without Godís help (cf. Jer 13:23). The phrase "because of your will" declares the reason why all things continued to exist after being created. God wanted Man. God certainly did not create Adam and then Eve because of a weakness within Himself nor was there an intention to use humanity as a means to an end, as often happens with people. Humans may marry out of loneliness or obligation, bear and raise children to live out a personal dream, and initiate other pursuits for greed or personal ambition. Godís very nature is self-giving, a sacrificial love that seeks relationship (1Jn 4:16).
and were created: Grk. ktizō, aor. pass. The second mention of "created," this time in the passive form, affirms again the method by which all things gained their existence. God spoke the heavens into existence (Ps 33:6) and formed the original structure and topography of the earth (Gen 2:7, 19; Ps 95:5; Isa 45:18; 2Pet 3:5). God did not begin with matter already in existence but exerted His will and they "were" that "were not before." The past tense of the two mentions of "created," bracketing the verb "existed," also points to creation in a single event that did not take millions or billions of years to complete and that His creative work was finished.
"God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts" (Gen 1:31-2:1).
For such mighty and awesome creative acts our God is certainly worthy of all praise and our deepest devotion.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online.
Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Colin Brown, ed. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
DSB: Henry Morris, Defenders Study Bible. World Publishing Co., 1995.
JE: Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), JewishEncyclopedia.com, 2002-2011.
Johnson: Alan F. Johnson, Revelation. Expositorís Bible Commentary. Zondervan Publishing House, 1983. (Zondervan CD-ROM Version 2.6, 1989-1998)
Ladd: George E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972.
Marshall: Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Zondervan Pub. House, 1986.
Metzger-TNT: Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament. 2nd ed. United Bible Societies, 1994.
Motyer: J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary. InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Mounce: Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation. rev. ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.
NIBD: Nelson's Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Herbert Lockyer, ed. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. 2 Vols. The Zondervan Corporation, 1980.
Robertson: Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. 6 Vols. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933. (Parsons CD-ROM Version 2.0, 1997) Online.
Shulam: Joseph Shulam, A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans. Messianic Jewish Publishers, 1997.
Stern: David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. 5th ed. Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1996.
TWOT: Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 Vols. ed. R. Laird Harris. Moody Bible Institute, 1980.
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