Notes on Chapters 4 and 5
Cecil N. Wright


 Verse 1: Following his vision on the isle of Patmos of the risen and eternal Christ and receiving dictation for the letters to the seven churches of Asia (Chapters1 -3), John saw a door opened in heaven and a voice called him to come up to be shown "the things that must come to pass hereafter." Heaven would now be the vantage point "in the spirit" for the series of visions continuing through chapter 16. They would have to do with the environment and fortunes of the saints, their tribulations and enemies, and the eventual success of the Lord’s cause and theirs (in the Roman Empire, seemingly). After that, his vantage point would change to "a wilderness" (17:3), where certain enemies and conflicts and victory would be seen in even more impressive detail. Finally, it would change to "a mountain great and high" (21:10), from which the heavenly Jerusalem, the promised eternal abode of the saints, would be seen in awe-inspiring magnificence and glory.

            Verses 2-3: "In the spirit," John saw a throne set in heaven and its occupant, referred to later as God (vs. 8,11). This was the throne of the universe, in contrast with the vastly inferior throne of Caesar in Rome, which had become and would be one of the major agencies of Satan against the saints at different intervals until overthrown.

            The appearance of God on his throne was "like a jasper stone and a sardius." Jasper is sparkling white, signifying holiness, or victory, or both, as the context may warrant. And sardius is fiery red, symbolizing justice. In addition, there was "a rainbow round about the throne, like an emerald to look upon." An emerald is green, signifying mercy. These characteristics in the Sovereign of the universe would be exceedingly comforting to the saints, guaranteeing the ultimate triumph of righteousness and justice tempered with mercy.

            Verse 4: "And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones; and upon the thrones … four and twenty elders setting, arrayed in white garments; and on their heads crowns of gold." These elders figure prominently in the court of heaven (4:10; 5:5,8-10,14; 7:11-12, 13-17; 11:16-18; 14:3).

            At first thought, these may seem likely to be heavenly representative of the redeemed of humanity – the twelve apostles of Christ and the twelve patriarchs of Israel. And the reading of 5:9-10 in the King James Version makes that seem to be so, representing them as singing: "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priest: and we shall reign of the earth."

            But the American Standard Version, supported by the consensus of textual scholarship of today as correctly representing the original Greek text, reads as follows: "Thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood (men) of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation; and madest them (to be) unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth" – thus distinguishing the redeemed of the earth from themselves, without anything in any subsequent texts indicating otherwise.

            On the other hand, if the elders are not representative of the redeemed of earth, they must be a part of the created intelligences of heaven along with the angels and likewise the "four living creatures" of Verse 6 and various other passages, with the latter of whom they are almost always associated.

            It remains to be noted that the four and twenty elders are represented as having "on their heads crowns of gold"." The word here for "crown" is not diadema (diadem), the badge of royalty, but stephanos, a chaplet, wreath, or garland – a badge of "victory in the games, of civic worth, of military valor, of nuptial joy, of festal gladness" (Thayer) – here most likely a crown of honor and dignity – a never-fading badge, made of gold, (Some of Rome’s emperors wore stephanos and not the diadema, as a badge of victory in war. But there is not anything to associate the four and twenty elders with such.)

            Verse 5a: "And out of the throne proceed lightnings and voices and thunders." These are ominous sights and sounds that evidently portend judgments upon enemies of God and his people, intended to encourage persecuted saints.

            Verse 5b: "And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God." Seven was a symbolical number for fulness of completeness. Hence, the Holy Spirit in his fulness is indicated. But, since the Holy Spirit is here symbolized by seven lamps, and lamps are for illumination, this must represent the fulness of the Spirit’s function in revealing the word of God – a "lamp" unto thy feet, a "light" unto our path (Psalm 119:105). The letters of Christ to the seven churches of Asia were also "what the Spirit saith to the churches" (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).

  Verse 6: "And before the throne, (there was) as it were a sea of glass like unto crystal." Some take this deep, smooth, transparent sea to symbolize the purity and calmness of the divine rule. The huge laver in Solomon’s temple, near the entrance to the Holy Place, was called a "sea" (1 Kings 7:23-26) – likely because of the quantity of water it held, namely 2,000 baths, or 11,000 American gallons. The laver was used by the priest for washing before entering the tabernacle to minister (see Exodus 30:21). The "sea of glass" is referred to again in 15:2. It is doubtful if this "sea" was in appearance a laver or contained water. It was rather a sizable area before the throne that it was so clean and crystalline as to be called a sea (cf. 21:18,21) – "as it were a sea of glass like unto crystal." It added significantly to the awe-inspiring magnificence of the total scene, apart from any symbolical significance it may have had.

            Verse 6b-8: "And round about the throne, (there were) four living creatures full of eyes before and behind. And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face as of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, having each one of them six wings, are full of eyes round about and within: and they have no rest day or night, saying Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come."

            These are quite similar to the four living creatures of Ezekiel 1, seen by the prophet beside the river Chebar during the Babylonian captivity and again in the court of heaven (Chapter 10, where they are called Cherubim and identified, in vs. 15 and 22, as the ones seen by the rive Chebar). Isaiah also, in a vision of God upon his throne, saw similar but not identical creatures that he called Seraphim (Chapter 6). But these are created orders of heavenly beings, along with those called angels, and are not symbolic of earthly creations, though they may be employed in service to mankind (cf. Hebrews 1:14).

            Verses 9-11: "And when the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanks to him that sitteth on the throne, to him that liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders shall fall down before him that sitteth on the throne, and shall worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and shall cast their crowns before the throne saying Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created."

            It is to be noted how much in unison the four and twenty elders and the four living creatures engage in worship. Also to be noted is that the elders cast their crowns before the throne as an act of worship. Their crowns are badges of honor and dignity, and by this gesture they are saying God is worthy of greater dignity and honor and glory than they – that they are only creatures, whereas he is Creator of "all things."

            CHAPTER 5.

            Verse 1: "And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back, close sealed with seven seals." This was a manuscript written on both sides and rolled together to form a scroll. It was completely filled, with nothing more to be added. Succeeding chapters indicate it to have been the book of the future. It was sealed both to human and to angelic vision. It was so sealed that opening the first seal allowed the first chapter, so to speak, to be read, and so on through the seventh – the entirety. And the entire revelation, while featuring particularly the fortunes of the saints and the cause of their Lord Jesus Christ in relation to seemingly invincible enemies then being faced, also sweeps to the end of history and into eternity itself, with incomparable assurances for the faithful in Christ Jesus.

            Verses 2-5. A strong angel called for anyone worthy to open the book and loose its seals. And when no one in heaven or on earth was able, John "wept much." Then one of the elders said to him, "Weep not; behold, the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, Root of David, hath overcome to open the book and the seven seals thereof." Reference is to Jesus Christ according to the flesh. He was of the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:14), and Judah had been described as a "lion’s whelp" (Genesis 49:9-10). He was also a descendent of David (20:16) and an heir to his throne (Luke 1:31-32).

            Verse 6. "And I saw in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth."

            When John looked to see the "lion of the tribe of Judah," it was now a lamb – "the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Though having been slain, he is now "alive for evermore" (1:18) and had been given "all authority … in earth" (Matthew 28:19). He would open the book that was sealed with seven seals.

            This Lamb was unique, having "seven horns" symbolic of all authority and power, and "seven eyes" explained as being "the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth." The latter evidently represents the Holy Spirit in all its power and functions, whose services are available to "the Lamb." Being symbolically described as "seven eyes" and said to be "sent forth to all the earth," suggests that through his agency "the Lamb" sees and knows everything – that there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do" – even "the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12-13). Compare this with Zechariah 4:10, which speaks of "the eyes of Jehovah, which run to and fro through the whole earth."

            Verses 7-14. "And he came, and he taketh (the book) out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne." And when that occurred, a crescendo of praise of him began with the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders, followed by "ten thousand times the thousand, and thousands of thousands" of angels around the throne," and then by "every created thing which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, on the sea, and all things that are in them." Finally, "the four living creatures said, Amen. And the elders fell down and worshipped" – again, so it seems.

            When the living creatures and the elders fell down before the Lamb initially, "each had a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (v.8). In the Old Testament tabernacle and the later temple worship, prayers were offered outside by the people while the priest were burning incense on the inside (see Luke 1:8-13). By virtue of that association, incense came to symbolize prayer. In like manner, much of the tabernacle and temple singing was accompanied by instrumental music, by virtue of which and similar association instruments of music, (in this instance harps) came to symbolize song. Hence, while the living creatures and elders were not themselves symbolic of the redeemed of earth, the imagery described represents them as presenting in heaven their prayers and praise of the saint on earth – meaning that their prayers are not lost but reach the throne of God and his Lamb.

            The doxologies of the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders, the angels, and all created beings of heaven and earth, are described in verses 9-10, 12 and 13, respectively. They are all directed to the Lamb, whereas the doxologies of Chapter 4 (vs. 8 and 11) were directed to God, the Father. Both are deity, and alike deserve the worship of all created intelligences. Our English work "worship" is from an old Angle-Saxon term meaning worthship. And heavenly doxologies of Chapters 4 and 5 say of both God and the Lamb, "Thou art worthy." etc.

            These two chapters are introductory to the opening of the book of the future sealed with seven seals, and of what the opening of each seal would reveal of "the things which must to pass hereafter" (4:1). They imply that heaven is in control, and they feature the Creator and the Redeemer, who are immensely concerned with their creatures here below and will reward to the uttermost those who are loyal to them.