SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 4
John’s soul here is taken up into Heaven where he sees God’s throne and all the angels and saints worshipping the Lord. The sight of it is awesome to behold! John sees the 12 Apostles and 12 Patriarchs of the Old Testament seated in a special place of judicial rank.
1 After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up hither, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne!
This open door in heaven is figurative for St. John’s entrance into Heaven, in which he was in the spirit, that is, his soul was outside of his body and taken to Heaven. The same voice that he heard in chapter 1, that is of the angel representing Christ, spoke to him with power and authority. St. John is to be shown what must take place, meaning, John will see under various figures the whole period of the Church’s history, from the time of the Incarnation to the End Times. John sees a throne in Heaven, that is, the authority and power of God ruling the Church. The one seated is Christ.
3 And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald.
The appearances of jasper and carnelian is some mode of similitude representing the awe and splendor of God, as well as the rainbow representing the awe and splendor around the throne. St. John is trying to express the appearance of something that cannot be fully expressed in human words.
4 Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads.
The 24 thrones that St. John beholds, are thrones for the representatives of both Testaments, of whom the Old Testament Patriarchs and the New Testament Apostles are seated on (though there are more in both orders), and are seated because of their judicial rank in Christ, and they are serving in presence of the Eternal Throne. These 24 seats that St. John saw seem to me to be the thrones that Daniel saw in Dan. 7:9. The 24 elders are the ones whom the foundations of the household of God are built upon, as the Apostle says, “you are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief corner stone (Eph. 2:20).” They carry upon their heads golden crowns, for they have been made victors.
5 From the throne issue flashes of lightning, and voices and peals of thunder, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God;
The sight of lightning and sounds of thunder from the throne symbolizes once again the awesomeness of God. The seven spirits of God are the sevenfold work of the Holy Spirit (see Rev. 3:1; Isa. 11:2-3).
6 and before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:
The vision of the sea is the multitude around the throne; and the glass and the crystal signify the purity and the freedom from every defilement of the saints and angels around God, who are as the sea in number; “for a thousand thousand stood before Him,” says Daniel(7:10), and “10 thousand times 10 thousand waited upon him”; and although there are so many, all of the saints are pure by Christ, resembling glass and crystal. The four living creatures, that is, the heavenly powers/angels, and all creation, the dominations and principalities and all the earth that worships God. This is to say that these are some of the holy living creatures whom Ezekiel the prophet was deemed worthy to see. Each of those had both 4 faces and 8 wings, and they creped along on wheels called Gelgel. And they were the Cherubim, so called by Ezekiel (10:20). And these are also the Seraphim, who were shown to the blessed Isaiah, “Upon it stood the seraphims: the one had six wings, and the other had six wings: with two they covered his face, and with two they covered his feet, and with two they flew (Isa. 6:2).” Their being full of eyes signifies the all-surveying oversight of God over them. The eyes in front and behind means God’s knowledge of the past and of the future.
7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle.
The 4 living creatures have been interpreted in various ways, one being that these are the 4 characteristics as applied to the Church (Primasius). And another way, which is the most common is that they have been interpreted to represent the 4 Gospel writers (Augustine). Oecumenius understood them to represent the 4 elements, fire, earth, air, and water.
Lion– The Church, therefore, lives and works on the strength and beauty of the royal majesty, because the Lion of the tribe of Judah conquers. “For Judah is a lion’s cub (Gen. 49:9),” from whose tribe kings are accustomed to be set over the people.
Matthew is intended in the lion, in that he describes the ancestral line of regal dignity in Christ, Who also has conquered as the lion of the tribe of Judah, for “Judah is a lion’s whelp;” and in his gospel, as a king, he is feared by a king, is worshipped by the Magi, in which also the king takes account of his servants, the king makes a marriage-feast for his son, and at the last the king separates the sheep from the goats;
Calf– For the same reason, the virtue of the Church is indicated in the calf, namely, the first victim, for whenever anyone of the faithful is slain for Christ, he conquers at that moment. “Present Your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, which is your reasonable worship (Romans 12:1),” so that what the Head has accomplished on behalf of the body, the body may be worthy to fulfill for the Head.
Luke is intended in the calf, which was the great victim under the Law, for that not only does his gospel at the commencement begin about the temple and the sacrifices, but it thus concludes, “and they were continually in the Temple praising and blessing God.”
Man– The humility of the Church is here commended. For although She has received “the Spirit of the adoption of son (Rom. 8:15)” and possesses “this treasure in clay vessels (2Cor. 4:7),” She nevertheless freely prefers to glory humbly in Her weaknesses than to be praised in the strengths that She has acquired. In this way She devoutly follows in the footsteps of the Master who was “made obedient even unto death (Phil. 2:8)” and who said, “Learn from me I am gentle and humble of heart (Matt. 11:29).”
But the face of a man, he says, signifies Mark, who says nothing of the regal, or of the sacerdotal power of the Lord, and only relates simply the actions of the man Christ;
Eagle– The Heavenly Church is being described as flying on the spiritual thoughts of Her members. For She is free from the heaviness of earthly desires and is drawn into the heights at the direction of the 2 Testaments.
and the eagle is John, for with keen sight he beholds the nativity of the Word, as the risen Sun
8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” 9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, 11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you did create all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
They never cease to sing, not because they continually spend a painful and burdensome existence, so that they are unable to have any relief from labor or from demanding obligation, but because all heavenly angels and God’s people never cease from giving praises to God, and from enjoyment in their songs to Him. The three “Holies” designate the persons of the Trinity. The repetition of the same word indicates that in the hymn you may understand the distinction of Persons in the Trinity, and the oneness of the Godhead, and while they say this they proclaim God.