Notes on Revelation

Chapters 4-5

by Jeff Smelser


THE FIRST VOICE THAT I HEARD    Again, it is "as of a trumpet", just as in Rev. 1:10. It is Jesus who speaks to John.

THINGS WHICH MUST COME TO PASS HEREAFTER    The things written to the churches contained references to trials and judgments to come, but primarily dwelt upon present conditions. Now John will be shown the future. The description of things to come to pass hereafter does not actually begin until chapter 6. Chapters 4 and 5 describe the circumstances which allowed for the opening of the book and the revelation of the things to come to pass hereafter.


THERE WAS A THRONE . . . AND ONE SITTING UPON THE THRONE    The vision that John here describes parallels that seen by Ezekiel. The throne (Ezek. 1:26), the rainbow of Rev. 4:3 and Ezek. 1:28, and the sea of glass like unto crystal of Rev. 4:6 and Ezek. 1:22 ("an expanse like the awesome gleam of crystal" -NASB) are all common to the two visions. Also note the four living creatures (Rev. 4:6, Ezek. 1:5) like a lion, calf/bull, eagle, & man (Rev. 4:7, Ezek. 1:10).


FOUR AND TWENTY THRONES . . . FOUR AND TWENTY ELDERS    The number twelve figures prominently both in the Old and the New Testaments: The twelve patriarchs (Ac. 7:8) from whom came the twelve tribes, and the twelve apostles. In the number "24", those of the old covenant and those of the new covenant are combined, for "apart from us they should not be made perfect" (Heb. 11:40). God's people, his kingdom, includes saints from before and after the cross. For a precedent of apostles on thrones, see Mt. 19:28, and Lk. 22:30. For the sense in which they rule, see Mt. 16:19, 18:18, and, Jn. 20:22-23. On the problem of the accuracy of the number of apostles, remember that we are dealing with symbols, and though there were in fact more than twelve apostles, the number twelve was symbolic for the apostles. So even in 1 Cor. 15:5, when there were only eleven apostles, the number 12 is used. See also Rev. 21:14.






FULL OF EYES    In John's vision, the living creatures are full of eyes before and behind, and thus all-seeing. In Ezekiel's vision there were wheels associated with the living creatures. The appearance of the wheels was as if "one wheel were within another," (Ezek. 1:16) and they had four directions (Ezek. 1:17). Evidently, we are to understand that each wheel had a wheel set inside it, but at a right angle. The result was that, "Whenever they moved, they moved in, any of their four directions, without turning as they moved," (Ezek. 1:17). The rims of these omni-directional wheels were "full of eyes round about" (Ezek. 1:18), and thus the Spirit which was in the wheels (Ezek. 1:20) was all-seeing. Ezekiel's vision, or at least his description of it, is a little more elaborate than John's, but the end result of both is all-seeing eyes, whether "eyes before and behind", or eyes on rims of wheels which could move in any direction without turning.


HAVING EACH ONE OF THEM SIX WINGS    Ezekiel described each of the living creatures as having four wings and four faces (Ezek. 1:6). John describes each as having one face and six wings. We do not conclude that John contradicts Ezekiel, nor that the living creatures in Revelation are different beings from those seen by Ezekiel. Rather we conclude that we should not expect to see anything in heaven which would literally look like what Ezekiel and John described. The visions themselves were symbolic. The four living creatures which John saw and which Ezekiel saw were symbols conveying spiritual concepts, and basically the same concept in both cases. Therefore we would expect very similar symbols in the two cases. However, for whatever reason, God might choose to convey the same concept in one way in one case, and in a slightly different way in the other case, as he evidently did in conveying the concept of the all-seeing spirit (see note above on the phrase "full of eyes" in Rev. 4:6).

IN THE RIGHT HAND    See note on the same phrase in Rev. 1:16. The things contained in this book, the judgments to be released, come from the hand of power.

A BOOK WRITTEN WITHIN AND ON THE BACK    The book would have been a scroll, and as was the scroll which was spread out before Ezekiel (Ezek. 2:9-10), this scroll had writing on both sides.


A STRONG ANGEL Even this strong angel proclaims, "Who is worthyto open the book?" implying his own inability in spite of his strength. Verse three confirms that no one was able to open the book.


THE LION THAT IS OF THE TRIBE OF JUDAH    The patriarch, Judah, was described as a lion by Jacob (Gen. 49:9). Ezekiel characterized Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin as lions which were ultimately captured. In contrast to these kings, Jesus is the heir to the throne of David, and scepter of Judah, whose reign will endure.

THE ROOT OF DAVID    Cf. Is. 11:1, 10, Jer. 23:5, 33:15. The meaning of this figure can be seen in Is. 6:13. Although God had scattered Israel among the nations, and the house of David was broken down, just as a tree that is cut down may leave a stump, a root, wherein is life that may spring forth at some future time, so there was yet a remnant wherein there was life. And at some future time, the Christ would come forth to reign on the throne of David.

HATH OVERCOME    What he had overcome was death.


A LAMB    A lamb represented the Lord in Is. 53:7, John 1:29, 1 Cor. 5:7, 1 Pt. 1:19, etc. And of course all of these passages used the imagery of the sacrificial lamb on the basis of the lambs used for sacrifice throughout the Old Testament.

AS THOUGH IT HAD BEEN SLAIN    The scene is Jesus, the Christ, coming before the heavenly throne after having been crucified, and raised from the dead.

HAVING SEVEN HORNS    Homer Hailey notes that

'Horn' was used metaphorically by the Hebrews for power; prophetically, 'horn' described the strength of Joseph's sons among the tribes of Israel (Deut. 33:17), and that of Jehovah's king (1 Sam. 2:10). Zedekiah, the false prophet, symbolized power by iron horns which he used as if to push the enemy (Il Chron. 18:10), and the psalmists and prophets used the term repeatedly to express the idea of power. The seven horns of the Lamb symbolize the fullness and perfection of His power, for 'All authority (power) hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth' (Matt. 28:18). (From his commentary on the book of Revelation)

AND SEVEN EYES, WHICH ARE THE SEVEN SPIRITS OF GOD...    See notes on Rev.1:4, and 4:6. The all-seeing spirit of God is in the Lamb.


INCENSE, WHICH ARE THE PRAYERS OF THE SAINTS    The twenty four elders, the angels, every created thing, and the four living creatures join in praising the Lamb. The incense represents the praises uttered in prayer by the saints. Cf. Heb. 13:15.


A NEW SONG    A new song is sung because a new thing has come about. One has now come who is worthy to open the book by removing the seals.

WORTHY ART THOU    The reason here given is brief: "for thou wast slain, and didst purchase..." The opening of the seals would involve various judgments upon the earth, as becomes clear in chapter 6. John 5:27 tells us that Jesus was given authority to execute judgment because he was a son of man, that is, because he was man. Heb. 2:14-18 explains that in becoming flesh and being tempted, "he is able to succor them that are tempted." See also Heb. 4:15. Hebrews 5:1-10 show that Jesus was qualified, worthy, to be high priest, because he was taken from among men. He "learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect," i.e., complete, and therefore, worthy, "he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation," (Heb. 5:8-9). Jesus' death is an integral part of his human experience (Phil 2:8, Heb. 2:14, Heb 5:7-8) and it is "a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain" that is worthy to open the book, by removing the seals, and thus revealing judgments to be rendered against them that dwell on the earth.


A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS    Not, as in the KJV, "kings and priests." See note on Rev. 1:6.

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