Apocalypse iv.

Notes & Commentary:

Ver. 1. No sooner had St. John received in the preceding vision the documents he was to transmit to the seven Churches of Asia[Asia Minor], when, behold, a new scene displays itself. Heaven opens, and St. John is invited up thither by the voice which had spoken to him before, and is told he shall see what is to happen in future ages. On a sudden appears a throne, and the Almighty himself seated upon it. The rainbow which surrounds the throne, denotes the covenant of reconciliation and peace between God and man. (Walmesley) — Behold a door open. Here begins what may be looked upon as the second part of the Apocalypse, and from hence to the two last chapters are contained wars and victories of the Church over all its enemies, the devil, Jews, heathens, and heretics.  These visions are so differently expounded, when applied to different events, that this alone may convince us how uncertain are those various interpretations. The servants of God are taught that they must expect to meet with many trials, afflictions, and persecutions; but this ought to be a great subject of consolation to the faithful, that they are assured of victory if they fight manfully, and of a recompense of endless happiness for their short labours. Such visions and majestic descriptions shew that St. John was inspired by the same spirit of God, as the ancient patriarchs and prophets. — I will shew thee the things which must come to pass hereafter; i.e. after the things already revealed concerning the seven Churches, and therefore after the destruction of Jerusalem, which was about twenty years before St. John wrote this Apocalypse. (Witham)

Ver. 2. I was in the spirit, rapt as it were in an ecstacy into heaven, and saw a throne, and one sitting, representing God the Father. (Witham)

Ver. 3. And he….was to the sight like the jasper,[1] or had the appearance of jaspers, as to the colours with which he appeared, &c. (Witham)

Ver. 4. About the throne were four and twenty seats, or lesser thrones, with twenty-four seniors or senators upon them, representing the illustrious saints both of the Old and New Testament, clothed in white garments, in token of their innocence, and crowns of gold, signifying the glory of the heavenly inhabitants. (Witham) — These four and twenty elders sitting round the throne of God, represent the judgment which the Almighty was about to pass upon the enemies of his Church. Thus in Daniel, when he was about to pronounce sentence against Antiochus Epiphanes, “thrones were placed, and the ancient of days sat,…the judgment sat, and the books were opened.” (Daniel vii. 9, 10.) They represent kings and priests who attend on the Sovereign Judge. It appears as if God intended to designate by the number the ancient patriarchs and the twelve apostles, who judge with the Lord, and condemn the injustice of their persecutors. (Calmet)

Ver. 5. Lightnings, a symbol of God’s majesty and power. — Seven lamps burning, which signified the seven spirits of God, the chief spirits that attend his throne. See chap. i. 4. (Witham) — The lightnings, loud voices, and thunders, which come from the throne of God, announce alarms and severe hardships, such as persecutions, heresies, calamities, &c. by which he tries the fidelity of his servants on earth. And the seven spirits of God, who appear under the form of burning lamps, are seven Angels, as before mention, (Chap. i. 4.) standing ready to execute the divine commands. (Walmesley)

Ver. 6A sea of glass, like crystal, calm and transparent, and may signify that the saints had passed a boisterous sea of troubles in this world, which is now changed into everlasting tranquillity. — Four living creatures, or animals. Alcazar (p. 364) takes notice of thirty different expositions of these animals. He understands the apostles, bishops, and preachers of the Christian faith: others, four of the chief Angels or celestial spirits. Several others expound them of the four evangelists: yet this was before St. John himself had written his gospel. (Witham) — The extensive sea of glass, here described transparent as crystal, represents what may be called the floor of heaven. Before the throne and round it stand four living creatures, of an extraordinary shape, which denote the four great prophets, Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechiel, and Daniel. Their bodies are described full of eyes, both before and behind, an emblem of their prophetic sight, that penetrates into all ages past, present, and to come. And their being also full of eyes within, indicates that their extensive knowledge arises from an interior divine inspiration. They have each six wings, in the same manner as the seraphim appeared to the prophet Isaias. (Chap. vi. 2.) Some have imagined these four symbolical animals to represent the four evangelists; but we think improperly, as St. John was still living and there present in person. The first animal is here said to resemble a lion, the king of beasts, because the prophet Isaias, represented by it, was descended of the royal race of David. The second animal resembles a calf, and represents the prophet Jeremias in his character of priest; the calf, which was the principal victim in Jewish sacrifices, being on that account the emblem of the priesthood. The third animal, exhibiting Ezechiel, has the countenance of a man; because God, in speaking to that prophet, always addresses him by the name of son of man. The fourth animal, denoting Daniel, resembles a flying eagle, on account of the sublime oracles of this prophet, who soars to the highest objects, and views the succession of all the great empires that were to rise up in the world to the end of time. Probably these four principal prophets are to be understood to represent all the prophets of the old law. (Walmesley)

Ver. 7. Like a lion, &c. The qualities in these animals are observed to be courage and strength in the lion; profit to human life, by the calf; reason and wisdom, by the face of man: soaring high, and rapidity or swiftness, by the eagle: whether we understand those spiritual perfections to belong to blessed spirits, or to the apostles in general, or to the four evangelists. (Witham)

Ver. 8. Each of them six wings. See the like visions, Ezechiel i. 4; Isaias vi. 2. These signify their swiftness in executing God’s just commands. — Full of eyes: a symbol of knowledge and watchfulness. — They rested not day and night. There is no night in heaven; but hereby is signified, that they praised God without intermission for all eternity, saying: Thou art worthy, O Lord, our[2] God, &c. (Witham) — They repeat the word holy three times, probably in honour of the blessed trinity. And the four and twenty elders prostrate before the throne, in token of their acknowledging all their happiness and pre-eminence to be his gift. (Walmesley)

Ver. 10. Nothing is so well adapted to give us an idea of the infinite majesty of God, and of the sovereign respect which is due to him, as this description. How ought Christians to appear in the presence of the God of armies, if what is most august and most elevated in heaven acknowledges its lowness and nothing before this tremendous Majesty? (Calmet)


[1] Ver. 3. Similis erat aspectui jaspidis, omoios orasei iaspidi.

[2] Ver. 8. Dignus est Domine Deus. God is wanting in many copies, but Dr. Wells restored it as the true reading.

Bible Text & Cross-references:

The vision of the throne of God, the twenty-four ancients, and the four living creatures.

1 After these things I saw: and behold a door opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard, was as it were, of a trumpet speaking with me, said: Come up hither, and I will shew thee the things which must come to pass hereafter.

2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and behold there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne.

3 And he that sat, was to the sight like the jasper and the sardine-stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.

4 And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats, four and twenty ancients sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.

5 And from the throne proceeded lightnings, and voices, and thunderings: and seven lamps were burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God.

6 And before the throne was as it were a sea of glass like crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne were four animals full of eyes before and behind.

7 And the first animal was like a lion, and the second animal like a calf, and the third animal having the face as of a man: and the fourth animal was like an eagle.

8 And the four animal had each of them six wings: and round about and within they are full of eyes. And they rested not day and night, saying, *Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.

9 And when these animals gave glory, and honour, and benediction to him that sitteth on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,

10 The four and twenty ancients fell down before him that sitteth on the throne, and adored him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:

11 Thou art worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honour and power: because thou hast created all things, and for thy will they were, and have been created.



8: Isaias vi. 3.