"The Day of the Lord"
The Throne and its surroundings
We now come to the matter of the Book, which we have indicated by the letter X [in the section The Scope of the Apocalypse Shewn by its Structure]. It consists, as we have seen, of seven pairs of visions.
The first of each pair is a Vision "in heaven"; and the second of each pair is a Vision "on earth."
Each Vision "in heaven" is preparatory to the Vision afterwards seen "on earth": and what is seen "on earth" is the carrying out of the Vision previously seen "in heaven." The one is mutually explanatory of the other. The heavenly Vision explains what is going to take place upon the earth; and the utterances in each heavenly Vision set forth the special object of the earthly events which are to follow. The former Vision of each pair is, therefore, the key to the latter.
These divisions are made by the Holy Spirit Himself; and the divisions , made by man into chapters, where they do not agree with the Divine divisions, are only misleading.
We shall have, therefore, wholly to ignore them, except for purposes of reference.
These heavenly and earthly Visions will form the great chapters or divisions of this part of our work. We shall take each of these fourteen Visions in order: first giving the structure, with any necessary expansions; following each with our own translation, based on a revised Greek Text, according to the authorities quoted in the notes; interspersed with such running expository remarks as may be necessary.
The structures themselves will be found full of teaching, and will give the scope of each section; showing, at a glance, what are the subjects of which our attention is to be fixed.
The following is the structure (in brief) of H1, the first Vision "in heaven," consisting of chapters 4 and 5.
From this it will be seen that the great subjects of this Vision "in heaven" are:
THE THRONE, THE BOOK, AND THE LAMB.
That which comes first in the Book gives its importance and significance to the whole Book. It is the key to all that follows, and carries us forward by the Spirit to the future age, the coming "Day of the Lord." The first thing seen and the first mentioned (in verse 2) is
"Immediately, I became in Spirit; and behold! a throne was set in heaven."
No words could be more important as fixing our minds on the great central and all-governing fact which pervades the Book of this prophecy.
It is the day spoken of in Ps. 103:19.
And in Pss. 9 and 10., which treat of the coming great Tribulation as the "times of trouble" (9:9, and 10:1), it is declared: The Lord "hath prepared His throne for judgment." And in Ps. 11:4-6 we read:
These three Psalms foretell and refer to the scenes described more fully in the Apocalypse.
Daniel (7:9, 10) also speaks of this very moment when he says "I behold till the thrones were set" (not "cast down" as in AV. but "placed" as in RV.*) "and the ancient of days did sit... His throne was like the fiery flame and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him; thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: THE JUDGMENT WAS SET, and the books were opened."
This throne speaks of judgment; "the throne of grace" is no longer seen. Grace is the character of this present dispensation; while judgment, righteousness, and justice will characterise that which is coming. The heavenly voice announces it. "Just and true are thy ways, thou king of nations" (15:3 q.v.). "Thy judgments are made manifest" (verse 4). "Thou art just, who art and who wast the holy One, because thou judgedst thus" (16:5; see also verse 7, and 19:2, 11). The martyred ones are represented as crying "How long, O Sovereign Lord,* the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on the dwellers on the earth" (6:10). The reply is, not that this cry is out of place, but that it is only premature: they are to wait a little longer. Heaven itself bids all to rejoice at the execution of judgment (18:20; 19:2). "Fear God and give glory to him" (is the cry that will then go forth), "for the hour of his judgment is come" (14:7). Judgment is also the final Vision (20:4); and it is given to the saints who have overcome. Psalm 149:5-9 also tells of that final scene.
The Throne, therefore, with which this first Vision "in heaven" commences, is the great central object. The structure shows this; and it shows also other prominent objects, viz. the Book and the Lamb, and their relation to two great subjects, Creation (chap. 4.) and Redemption (chap. 5).
Before we proceed to the translation we must give the expansion of A. 4:1-8-. Its importance is seen from the minuteness with which the Throne is described.
We now proceed to give the translation of each separate member, marking each with the corresponding letters, so that its place in the general structure and plan can be easily referred to, found and followed.
A. 4:1-8-. THE THRONE.
a. 1-3-. On it: the Enthroned One.
4:1. After these things] Seven times in this book we have this or a similar expression (4:1; 7:1, 9; 15:5; 18:1; 19:1; 20:3). As in the last case a thousand years intervene, it is clear that what is seen does not necessarily follow immediately. (It is a Hebrew idiom. Compare Gen. 22:1).
I looked, and, behold a door set open IN HEAVEN] There are five openings mentioned in this Book; and, while they do not mark special literary divisions, yet they are all of the deepest importance and significance. See 11:19; 15:5; 19:11; and 21:1. This first is a "door" opened to admit John. But when the Armies of Heaven come forth, then John says: "And I saw Heaven opened" (19:11), and not merely a door. The same happened to Ezekiel when he saw "visions of (or from) God."
And the former voice which I heard (at the beginning, 1:10) was as it were of a trumpet speaking with me (1:10), saying, "Come up hither, and I will show thee what things must come to pass hereafter"] There is no necessity for taking these words (...) (die genesthai) differently from 1:1, 19; 22:6+ Matt. 24:6; 26:64+ Dan. 2:28, 29. (...) (meta tauta) means (literally) after these things, when used in historic narrative; but when used in promise or prophecy the expression means hereafter. See 1:19 and 9:12.
2. *Immediately I came to be in Spirit] See chap. 1:10; 17:3; and 21:10. And for the further uses of (...) (en pneumati) in spirit, see Rom. 9:1; 14:17; 15:16. I Cor. 12:3, 9. 2 Cor. 6:6. I Thess. 1:5. Jude 20 and Micah 3:8.
and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and upon the throne was One sitting] This is evidently the Father; who henceforth, throughout the book, is spoken of as "He that sitteth upon the throne." He is distinguished from the Son in 6:16; 7:10.
3. And He that sat was, in appearance like to a jasper stone and a sardius; and there was a rainbow round about the throne, like, in appearance, to an emerald] It cannot be known precisely what is meant by the appearance of these stones, nor can we identify them satisfactorily. But there is no doubt as to the "rainbow." It speaks of a scene of judgment not of water, but of fire; and it tells also of hope and deliverance for those concerned in the covenant of which it is the "sign." The form tells us of the covenant of Gen. 9:8-17; and the colour, being the opposite of that of fire, tells of mercy in the midst of judgment (Hab. 3:3. Ps. 101:1).
4. And round about the throne (behold) four and twenty thrones; and upon the four and twenty thrones* elders sitting, arrayed in white garments] The word for the Elders' thrones is the same as that for "the throne" of verse 2. Probably they were both smaller and lower; as they were also evidently subordinate.
and on their heads* crowns of gold] The common interpretation is that the Elders are symbolical of the Church of God. But why not leave them alone? Why must they be something different from what they are? David arranged his twenty-four courses of the Priesthood (I Chron. 24:3-5) after the heavenly order. And he had it all "by the Spirit." "All this," said David, "the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me"** (I Chron. 28:11-13, 19). It was the same in the case of the Tabernacle which served "unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as when Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the Tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed thee in the mount" (Heb. 8:5 and refs.). Hence, they are called "patterns of things in the heavens" (Heb. 9:23). It was the same with David and the Temple, so that when David copied on earth was a pattern of real things "in the Heavens." The Temple worship on earth was therefore modelled on that worship which is carried on in heaven: and which , if we were caught up now, we should see being carried on there by these heavenly leaders of heaven's worship.
These elders are the heads of the heavenly priesthood; the chief-priests or elders of Heavenly worship and rule. The comparative (...) (presbuteros) elder) has been distinguished from (...) (presbutes) old man), from the most ancient times, as marking and denoting official position. It is preserved in our Eng. Alderman or elder man. In the papyri is it constantly used of both civil and religious rulers. The affairs of the whole priesthood of the Egyptian mysteries were conducted by an annual council of 25 presbutero1: The word does not mean "priest" in any sense, for we often find the expression "presbyter-priest" "used of a ruler among priest," so that there were priestly-governors as well as civil-governors.* The word is used in this sense in the Old Testament of "elders of the priests." (See Isa. 37:1. Jer. 19:1; and passages given below). This is the meaning of the word here also.
David distributed his twenty-four courses, sixteen from the sons of Eleazar; and eight from the sons of Ithamar. These were "governors of the sanctuary and governors of the house of God." (I Chron. 24:5). If we ask, Why twenty-four? the answer is because twelve is the number of governmental perfection; and wherever we find it, or any multiple of it, it is always associated with government and rule.
So these four-and-twenty elders are the princely leaders, rulers, and governors of Heaven's worship. They are kings and priests. They were not, and cannot be, the Church of God. They are seen already crowned when the throne is first set up. They are crowned now. They were not, and are not redeemed, for they distinguish between themselves and those who are redeemed. See their song below (chap. 5:9, 10 and RV.). They speak of the time of "giving the reward to thy servants" (11:18), not to us thy servants. They are heavenly unfallen beings, and therefore they are "arrayed in white robes." They speak of Creation (4:8-11). And when they sing of Redemption (5:8-14) it is called "a new song." Redemption would be no new song to the Church of God, for it would be the old song which they had so often sung upon earth as "the old, old story." One of them speaks to John (7:13-17) as though separate and different from both the great multitude and from John himself. They offer "golden bowls full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints (5:8). They are priests ministering for others. Is this the work of the Church? Their functions are altogether priestly. See 2 Chron. 5:11-14. And, as "elders," they were also rulers; and hence are seen seated on thrones (see Gen. 24:2. Ex. 3:16. In 1 Sam. 30:26, and 2 Sam. 3:17; 5:3). They are next to the King, his councillors. (Compare 2 Sam. 17:4 and 1 Kings 8:1-3). From all this we may gather the position of these four-and-twenty elders; and see that, to interpret them of the Church is to force many passages of Scripture into a meaning which they cannot have.
5. and out of the throne go forth lightnings and voices and thunders*; and seven torches of fire are burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God] See above on 1:4; 3:1; and compare 5:6. These seven spirits are "before the throne" ready to obey the commands of Him who sits thereon. The throne itself has all the accessories of judgment which inspire awe and speak of coming wrath.
6. and (behold) before the throne, like* a glassy sea, like crystal] It does not say what it was, but only what it was "like." Having been told what it was "like," it is not for us to seek for any further symbolism. Heaven, we believe, is a place of glorious realities, and not a place of unsubstantial shadows. We shall one day see what John saw, and then we shall know. Now, we have to believe what is written until faith shall be exchanged for sight.
And in the midst of the throne and around the throne, four Zoa, full of eyes before and behind. 7. and the first Zoon was like a lion, and the second Zoon like an ox, and the third Zoon having the face as a man, and the fourth Zoon like a flying eagle. 8. and the four Zoa had each of them respectively, six wings; around and within they are full of eyes] The word "beasts" is not the same as in chaps. 12 and 17. Here it is (...) (zoon), and means any living creature; but in chap. 13 and 17 it is (...) (therion), a wild, untamed beast. It is difficult to find a term which shall exactly represent the original. "Living creature" is both vague and cumbrous; "living beings" implies too much of humanity; "living ones" would be better, but as the word is sometimes used in the singular number it would cause confusion to say "living one," inasmuch as "the Living One" is used in this book as one of the Divine titles of the Lord Jesus. We have judged it better therefore to leave the word untranslated, and use Zoon in the singular, and Zoa in the plural. No difficulty will be experienced, as the word is already partly Anglicised and understood in our words, Zoology, Zoological, Zoophyte, Zootomy, Zoonymy, &c., which all have to do with living things; animate as opposed to inanimate.
The first time the Zoa are mentioned in the Bible they are named, though they are not described. In Gen. 3:24 they are called "the Cherubim," and this word has never been translated in any Version. We have, therefore, a good precedent for leaving their other names, Zoon and Zoa, also untranslated.
The Zoa are described in Ezekiel (chap. 1:5-14), and they are identified in Ezek. 10:20 with the cherubim. "This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar; and I knew that they were the cherubims." The two terms are used interchangeably in Ezekiel. Compare 1:22 and 10:1, 15. No one can tell us anything about them beyond what God has Himself told us. Man's opinions as to what they "represent" are hardly worth controverting. Our own opinions are equally worthless; we can only point our readers to what God has revealed about them.
Some would have it that they represent the Godhead; but it is hardly likely that God, who commanded that no emblem of Deity should be made, should make one Himself; especially one like unto "an ox that eateth grass." (See Deut. 4:15, 16. Rom. 1:22, 23. Ps. 106:19, 20). Moreover, they offer worship, but are never worshipped themselves (Isa. 6; Rev. 4., 5.).
Some think they represent the four Gospels; but animals can hardly represent books. Moreover, it is difficult to see the point of the four Gospels guarding the Tree of Life, or occupying such a prominent place in the Tabernacle and in the Temple.
That they cannot be the Church is clear from the following facts:
These words receive a new significance if we regard the Cherubim, or Zoa, as being the concrete representation of this groaning creation; and as being the pledge that its groaning shall one day cease, and its hope be fulfilled. That hope was given when they were first placed, as in an Tabernacle, (as the word means), at the gate of Eden. There, at that time, was the Lord's presence manifested. Hither Cain and Abel brought their offerings; and from this "presence of the Lord" Cain went out (Gen. 4:14-16).
It may be that the Tabernacle of God continued up to the time of the Flood. For Shem is spoken of as the custodian of this "dwelling place." The word "placed" in Gen. 3:24 is (...) (shaken), and it means to station or dwell in a tabernacle, and is commonly spoken of as God's dwelling among men and of His dwelling place.* In Gen. 9:26, 27, we read:
Here the three patriarchs are mentioned. Canaan (i.e., Ham) and Japhet occupy the two central lines; while Shem and the Lord His God occupy the two outer lines. If this be so, then, this Tabernacle of the Divine presence continued among men down to the Flood and contained the Cherubim.
After the Flood, the Teraphim (probably a corruption of Cherubim) were made in imitation of them, and became objects of worship. The remembrance of them was carried away by the scattered nations (Gen. 11.), and probably the Assyrian sculptures are traditional corruptions of the Cherubim, for they consisted of a man with an eagle's head; a lion or a winged bull with a human head.
When God set up the Tabernacle in Israel it was that He might "dwell among them" (Exod. 25:8; where we have the same word as that used in Gen. 3:24: "placed in a tabernacle"). The first thing made was not the Tabernacle itself, but the Ark of the Covenant with its mercy-seat and the Cherubim (Exod. 25:10-12). These were not the real cherubim, of course; they were only copies of them on the mercy-seat. Representations of them were woven into the Vail (Exod. 26:31; 36:35). This could only have been to show that, henceforth, the hope of creation was bound up with "the hope of Israel"; and, that both were bound up in, and based on, the merits of atoning blood. From "between the Cherubim" God spoke; and there His glory dwelt. (I Sam. 4:4. 2 Sam. 6:2. Ps. 80:1, 3, 7, 14, 19. Isa. 37:16). The original Covenant with Adam, and with the Son of Man Himself, takes in the whole animate creation, and tells of the hope of its deliverance (Ps. 8:6-8; 148:7-11). And millennial glory will not be complete without that hope being fulfilled (Isa. 11:6-9).
In Rev. 4 and 5 the Son of Man is about to realise this hope of creation; and, therefore, creation rejoices in the blessed prospect. The Zoa are seen attached to the throne, and they speak of creation. The earth is about to be judged; and their deliverance is at hand. Hence they say, "Thou art worthy, O Lord and our God, to receive glory and honour and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they were, and were created" (4:11). They speak, too, of the redemption on which the coming deliverance is based (chap. 5:9, 10; see below); and thus explain the object with which they had been associated with the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat.
In all this we are on Old Testament ground; for when allusion is made to these momentous truths in Rom. 8., creation's hope is spoken of as being distinct from that of the Church, though bound up with it, and depending upon its manifestation in glory. In brief, then, we may say, that the cherubim are heavenly realities; living ones of whom we know nothing by experience. But, the references made to them in Scripture teach us that in some way they tell us of Creation's association with the effects of the Fall, and of the future hope of deliverance from those effects. Hence, their introduction here, now that that deliverance is at hand; and hence their words also, which tell that it is near.
This brings us to the utterances of the Zoa and of the twenty-four Elders in B, 4:-8-11.
B, chap. 4:-8-11.
The Theme Creation.
We now come to B, 4:-8-11, the subject of which is the worship and utterances of the Zoa and the Elders. This is part of the larger structure of H1, and still part of the first vision seen "in Heaven."
The following is the structure:
4:-8. And they have no cessation day and night, saying: "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was, and who is, and who is coming."
This is the first of all the seventeen Heavenly utterances. They begin with God Himself, and relate to what He is in Himself; and not to what He has, or has done, or is going to do. The emphasis is on "who was," because it is put first.* The object of the whole Book, and of all that it records, is to establish the Holiness of God, which is here, at the very outset, the first thing that is proclaimed. The reign of Heaven is about to be established in the Earth, when all shall be holy, where now all is unholy. Hence we have the same thought in the great Kingdom-prayer:
Then, and not till then, we have "us." "Give us," etc. It is remarkable also that there are three Psalms which proleptically speak of this coming reign. Psalms 93., 97., and 99: The three Psalms which precede these commence with the command to sing, and then these Psalms which follow each begin "the Lord reigneth." Not yet can they be sung of accomplished facts, but the day is coming when they can, and will be, sung of then present glorious realities. The point, however, we wish to notice is that, each of these three Psalms ends with a reference to God's holiness, because it will then be said "the Lord reigneth." But the heavenly utterances in Revelation begin with the proclamation of this holiness, because those who say "Holy, Holy, Holy," are about to call for the judgments which are to bring in that coming Holy Reign. (See Isa. 23:18. Zech. 14:20, 21). Those three Psalms must be carefully read in the light of the Apocalypse.
The first (93.) is called for by the song for the Sabbath (92.), which speaks of the millennial Sabbath-keeping which is to come, and tells of the destruction of the wicked, the perishing of the enemies and the scattering of the workers of iniquity, before the Lord is exalted as most High for evermore. (verses 7-9). Then comes the answer in Psalm 93., which begins "THE LORD REIGNETH," and tells of the Throne being established, and ends with the declaration, "holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever."
The second (97.) is called for in the Psalm 96:1. "O sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, all the earth"; and speaks of the millennial glory, which is summed up in verse 11:
"Let the heavens rejoice,
This, too, is the burden of the final heavenly utterances in Rev. 19:5, 7. Then comes the answer in Psalm 97., which begins "THE LORD REIGNETH," and tells how "righteousness and judgment are the habitation of this throne" (verse 2; and compare Rev. 15:3; 16:7; 19:2); and goes on to speak of the very judgments which are described in the Apocalypse, and also of the same exaltation of Jehovah high above all the earth (verse 9; compare 92:8). It ends by calling on the righteous to "rejoice in the Lord... and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness."
The third (99.) is called for in Psalm 98:1-3: "O sing unto the Lord a new song: for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand and his holy arm hath gotten him the victory... He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel." Then comes the answer in Psalm 99., which begins "THE LORD REIGNETH; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubim, let the earth be moved" (marg., stagger). Three times in this Psalm we have the three-fold "Holy" of the Zoa in Rev. 4:8 giving us its interpretation and significance:
All this truth and teaching is embraced in this first heavenly utterance, spoken by the four Zoa.
We have called attention to the fact that each Vision seen "IN HEAVEN" is marked by heavenly voices; and we have stated that it is in these we must look for the key to the judgment scenes which follow on earth. We shall have, therefore, to give more attention than is usually done to the significance of these utterances; weigh their words, learn their lessons, and note their bearing on what follows "on earth."
9. And when the Zoa shall give glory, honour, and thanksgiving to Him who sitteth upon the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
10. The four and twenty elders shall fall down before Him who sitteth upon the throne, and they
shall* worship Him who liveth for ever and ever, and shall* cast their crowns before the throne, saying: