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Third Millennium Study Bible
Notes on Revelation 4:2-6

The Throne - Revelation 4:2-6

John was in the Spirit (cf. Rev 1:10; 17:3; 21:10). This echoes that of other saints who were in the Spirit (e.g., Isa. 61:1; Ezek. 11:1, 5). "Spirit" should be capitalized as this is part of a reference to the Trinity: God the Father on the throne (Rev 4:2-3), Jesus the trumpet (Rev 4:1), and the Spirit himself. See below. So, John is in the Spirit. John was (most likely) "in the Spirit" all along (cf. Rev 1:10) so this may be a different phrase of thus being "in the Spirit."

He sees God the Father on the throne. Throne - in the Greek (thronos, thronon, thronou) - is used 14 times in this chapter (Rev 4:2(x2), Rev 4:3, 4 (x3), Rev 4:5 (x2), Rev 4:6 (x3), Rev 4:9, 10(x2) and 47 times - in the Greek - in the book (Rev. 1:4; 2:13; 3:21(x2); Rev 4:2(x2), Rev 4:3, 4 (x3), Rev 4:5 (x2), Rev 4:6 (x3), Rev 4:9, 10(x2); Rev 5:1, 6, 7, 11, 13, 16; 7:9, 10, 11(x2), Rev 5:15(x2), Rev. 5:17; 8:3; 11:16; 12:5; 13:2; 14:3; 16:10, 17; 19:4, 5; 20:4, 11, 12; 21:3, 5; 22:1, 3). The word dominates the chapter, stressing the sovereignty of God. God - not Satan, the Beast, or the anti-christ, or nature - is in absolute control of what is going to happen in the coming chapters.

The throne room is described. Morris states:

Ezekiel has an account of God on his throne (Ezek. 1:26-28), a passage to which this shows resemblances, though John's account is marked by greater reserve. He uses suggestion rather than description to convey the majesty and unfathomableness of God. In particular he frequently refers to the worshipping host of heaven. God is usually made known to us by contact with those who know him rather than by direct vision.

John likens him on the throne to jasper and carnelian. The lack of a scientific terminology among the ancients makes identification of precious and semi-precious stones a somewhat hazardous business (JB has 'a diamond and a ruby'). Jasper may be the same stone as the modern jasper, but some hold that it was green jade or green quartz (NBD), or even diamond on the grounds that elsewhere it is said to be 'clear as crystal' (Rev 21:11). Carnelian ('sardius') was a red stone and most agree with NIV, though some favour ruby. Clearly both were costly, as was the emerald (the same three are linked by Plato, Phaedo 110E). There may be significance in the fact that the sardius and the jasper are the first and last of the twelve precious stones in the high priest's breastplate [Alpha and Omega, Rev 1:8], each of which was inscribed with the name of one of the tribes of Israel (Exod. 28:17-21). Flashes of light from precious stones form an apt symbol of the divine presence, at once restrained as regards detail, but clear as regards excellence.

Round the throne was a rainbow, resembling an emerald, 'a statement which teases the imagination out of all thought' (Caird). So difficult is this expression that some think of a halo rather than a rainbow (Phillips gets the best of both worlds with 'a halo like an emerald rainbow'). Some see a reference to the bow of Ezekiel 1:28 and think of a means of concealing the Deity. It would then be part of John's restraint in depicting God. It is better, however, to understand it of a rainbow in its usual sense and see a reference to the sign of God's covenant (Gen. 9:16). The rainbow round the very throne of God then is a way of saying that the covenant is eternal. It will never be repudiated. The word rendered emerald (smaragdinos) is of uncertain meaning, but most accept 'emerald'. If the colour green is significant it will point to the mercy of God.

Wilcock adds:

Of course, John saw more than this. The Presence on the throne, the living creatures, and the surrounding rainbow could not fail to bring to his mind's eye all the associated marvels of the vision Ezekiel had had (Ezek. 1); the rainbow shone also from a far remoter past, the days of the Flood (Gen. 9:12 ff.). Thunder and lightning recalled the revelation of God at mount Sinai (Exod. 19:16 ff). There were a 'sea' (a great bronze basin for ritual washing) and a seven-branched lampstand in the Temple at Jerusalem (Exod. 25:31 ff.; 2 Chron. 4:2-6). Then as well as all these extra dimensions to the vision, John must have seen their inner meanings: the majesty, mercy, glory, purity, and power of God. The picture is in fact a merging of many Old Testament images of divine truth, and presents God the Creator as worthy of universal praise (Rev 4:11). All that exists is under his sovereign sway; that is why the divine throne is the central and primary feature in the vision (Rev 4:2).

The twenty-four elders (cf. Rev. 11:16) are a class of angelic messengers representing the Church. They include reference to Old Testament and New Testament saints (the elect of God's special creation). These elect, who rule with Christ, are described as on thrones and exercising judgment. They represent the Church; the royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9). They are seen as reigning as priests with Christ (Rev. 1:5-6; 5:9-10). They wear crowns (Rev. 2:10; 3:11). They also possess king like authority over the nations (Rev. 2:26-27). They are seated with Christ on his throne (Rev. 3:21). So, these represent the church of all ages. As kings, they sit on thrones and rule and as priests they wear crowns (Exod. 28:36-41) and are 24 in number (1 Chron. 24).

Some have suggested that the two-twelves refer to the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles (Rev. 21:12-14). However, if so, then the numbers are symbolic as: (1) there were more than 12 tribal names (Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh are often listed as full tribes and the list in Rev. 7:4-8 is not identical with the Old Testament list (i.e. it omits Dan, and lists Joseph and Manasseh, but not Ephraim) and (2) there were more than 12 Apostles; Judas was replaced with Matthias (Acts 1:26) and then of course there is the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 9:1; 2 Cor. 11:5).

It is interesting that based upon Jewish tradition (the Talmudic and Midrashic texts; i.e. Midrash Koheleth 12:12, etc. - the fact that the Hebrew alphabet is comprised of 24 letters) that there were twenty-four books in the Old Testament and thus twenty-four authors. Therefore, the twenty-four elders would be the authors and Church witnesses to the 'whole of prophecy' (the whole of redemptive history) that 'has, is being, and will be' (Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 15:3) fulfilled "in Christ" (2 Cor. 1:20; Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13).

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