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Buist Fanning: The phrases that introduce this passage, “after these things I looked” (4:1) and “I came to be in the Spirit” (4:2; also in 1:10), indicate that 4:1–2 is a major transition in the structure of the book of Revelation (cf. the similar phrase “he carried me away in the Spirit” in 17:3 and 21:10). These expressions signal a new phase in the complex of visions that began in 1:9–10 and are now extended in 4:1–2 and will be extended further in 17:3 and 21:10.

After its prologue, Revelation opens with a spectacular vision of the exalted Christ (1:9–20) and the messages Christ commissioned John to write to the seven churches of Asia Minor (chs. 2–3). Now John experiences a second magnificent vision of the Lord God on his heavenly throne and of Jesus Christ the slain lamb, both receiving the worship of all creation for their majesty, sovereignty, and redemptive purpose (chs. 4–5). This serves as the grounding vision to orient the reader to the descriptions of wrath and redemption that will follow in the subsequent chapters: to chapters 6–16 most specifically (the seals, trumpets, and bowls) as well as to chapters 17–22 (the further descriptions of judgment and salvation that finish out the body of the book).  John’s vision of the scene in heaven gives “the appropriate perspective from which to view and make sense of what is happening on earth” in his own day and in days to come.

Main Idea: All the creatures in the heavenly throne room continually worship the Lord God Almighty as the eternal creator and sovereign of all things.

Grant Osborne: Chapter 4 celebrates the God of creation and chapter 5 the God of redemption (so Beasley-Murray 1978: 108–9). First, God is seated in splendor on his throne, far above earth’s petty rulers, obviously in control of his world and its history. As 1:4, 8 say, he “was, and is, and is to come.” He alone is “Lord God Almighty” (4:8) and “our Lord and God” (4:11a). He alone “created all things” and gave them life (4:11b). Second, only God and the Lamb are “worthy” because God is “creator” (4:11) and the Lamb “has triumphed” (5:2–5), and this victory was achieved by his sacrificial death as the “slain Lamb” (5:6, 9, 12). The Father and the Son are one not only by the throne theme but also by the unity of creation and redemption. It is important to realize that the victory of the Lamb and his exaltation to a place of authority occurs not at the end of the book but has already been achieved at the cross. Even here it is celebrated and not merely proclaimed. The victory was won at the cross, and the eschaton is the final result of that victory which has already taken place.

Richard Phillips: As the book of Revelation begins its series of prophetic visions of events present and future, the apostle John receives virtually the same vision as the one presented to Ezekiel seven centuries earlier. While some details are different, the similarities between Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4 are striking, and the message for John was the same as Ezekiel’s. Though John was an exile on Patmos and though the churches of Asia faced looming persecution from the throne of Caesar in Rome, it was God who truly reigned over history. This message is important for today’s Christians, who are pilgrims in a world that is not our home. As we prepare to face tribulation in our own day, we also are to know that our trials are all controlled by a faithful God and thus are certain to result in our salvation and the overthrow of evil. . .

When you consider the four living creatures, standing for the created order of living beings, together with the redeemed church, and add the myriads of angels that Revelation 5:11 says are gathered around the believers, you have all those who will dwell in the eternal glory assembled around heaven’s throne engaging in the single most important activity of all time: the worship of God. Therefore, the purpose of John’s vision was to remind beleaguered believers not only of the sovereignty of God on the throne in heaven but also of the great calling of his people to give him glory in all things and at all times. James Boice summarizes: “Because God is in control of all things we and all the creation must make it our primary activity and duty to worship him.”

James Hamilton: There are two statements of praise for God the Father in Revelation 4 and two statements of praise for Jesus in Revelation 5. Then Revelation 5 concludes with a statement of praise made to God and Christ together.


A.  (:1a) Open Door to Heaven

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven,

Robert Thomas: Immediately after Christ’s completion of the messages to the seven churches, the majestic figure that first dominated John’s attention (cf. 1:12-18) faces him no more, and he moves into a new phase of his revelatory experience: (“I looked, and behold, a door opened in heaven”). Eidon (“I looked”) does not mean that John turned in order to see as he did in the first vision (cf. 1:12), but simply that he came to recognize an object that was before him in prophetic vision. This action should not be equated with sight with the physical eye. Rather, it is sight with the eye of ecstatic vision as throughout the Apocalypse.

Kendell Easley: A door standing open in heaven is like the beginning of the prophet Ezekiel’s visions (Ezek. 1:1). In the New Testament the heavens opened when Jesus was baptized (Matt. 3:16), when Stephen was stoned (Acts 7:6), and when Peter saw a vision of a sheet filled with “unclean” animals (Acts 10:11). Later on in vision two John will see even more deeply into heaven when its temple is thrown open (11:19; 15:5). The last time heaven opens is when John sees the conquering rider on a white horse sent out from heaven to earth in vengeance (19:11).

Charles Swindoll: What is this biblical view of the cosmos? The Bible understands three basic “levels” of the universe —the heavens, the earth, and below the earth.  The term “heavens” may be further divided into three levels. The “first heaven” includes the sphere surrounding the earth. Today we call this the “atmosphere” or “sky,” in which birds fly and clouds drift. The “second heaven” includes everything in the cosmos above the earth’s atmosphere —the moon, sun, planets, stars, and galaxies. From a modern worldview perspective, both the first and second “heavens” are technically still part of the physical universe. Not so with the “third heaven.” In the biblical sense, the “third heaven” was the term used to describe the dwelling place of God, the angels, and any other spirit beings. Paul says he was “caught up to the third heaven. . . . into Paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2, 4). Today we might call this the “spiritual realm,” a plane of reality accessible only by heavenly invitation, like the one John received in Revelation 4:1.

The realm of existence “below the earth” also has both a physical and a spiritual dimension. Physically, it may refer simply to the grave or to underground spaces from which water may flow or lava may spew. Or it may refer to the place of spirits who have departed from the earthly plane but have not been admitted into the presence of God. In both cases the same terms are often used —sheol [H7585] in the Old Testament and hades [86] in the New. Context helps determine whether the text is referring to the physical or the spiritual realm.

So when John was taken up into heaven, he was not transported to another planet or even another galaxy. Rather, he was caught up to the “third heaven,” to the presence of the living God.

B.  (:1b) Summons to Come Up to Receive Special Revelation

and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.’

Buist Fanning: While God’s heaven seems distant and alien to everyday reality on earth, it is close at hand and pervades all that takes place on earth, as John will be shown.  While this is not the case for all of John’s visions, the heavenly “time” of this vision, as well as the related one in chapter 5, is portrayed as contemporaneous with John’s earthly time, since songs of worship in both chapters celebrate creation and the cross as already past (4:11; 5:6, 9) yet anticipate the seal judgments and the saints’ reign on earth as yet future (5:9–10).

Robert Thomas: some have taken it as a summons to the church into heaven at that future moment when Christ returns for her (Walvoord). This interpretation is supported by noting the similarity between this summons and the one the church anticipates at the rapture and by the absence of any reference to the church between Rev. 4:1 and 22:16.  It is acknowledged even by some supporters of this view, however, that there is no authority for connecting John’s summons with the rapture of the church (Walvoord). In fact, the two events are quite dissimilar in that John’s body remained on Patmos throughout his experience, whereas at the rapture of the church the bodies of the saints will be transferred to heaven. Another basic difference is that John’s summons is a command to receive revelation, but that of the church is one that accomplishes final salvation for the redeemed ones of the Body of Christ. (“to ascend into heaven”) is one of the ways of describing a penetration into the heavenly mysteries (cf. Rom. 10:6; 2 Cor. 12:1-2) (Moffatt). This summons is best understood as an invitation for John to assume a new vantage point for the sake of the revelation he was about to receive (Ladd; Mounce).

Kendell Easley: The verb come up is singular, referring to John alone. (Some have thought that Christ’s command here may also refer to the “catching up” of Christians that Paul mentions in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, but the singular verb here in Revelation excludes this possibility.)

C.  (:2a) Entrance into Apocalyptic State

Immediately I was in the Spirit;


A.  (:2b-3) Two Primary Elements of the Vision

Chiastic: ABBA structure:

1a.  The Throne in Heave

and behold, a throne was standing in heaven,

Grant Osborne: Only here in the NT is the throne of God described. The background can be found in Isa. 6:1–4 and especially Ezek. 1:26–28. From Isa. 6 comes the emphasis on the Lord “seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple” (see Rev. 1:1), as well as the presence of angelic beings (“seraphim”). From Ezek. 1 come the four living creatures, the vault of heaven, and the transcendent splendor of the throne. Unlike Isaiah, however, here the throne is in heaven rather than the temple (though there is temple imagery associated with the throne in Rev. 7:15; 8:3), and unlike Ezekiel it is fixed rather than moving like a whirlwind. This is the culmination of all throne scenes in the Bible.

Robert Thomas: The major focus of chapter 4 upon the throne is its symbolism of God’s sovereignty exercised in judgment.

John MacArthur: The central theme of John’s vision is the throne of God, mentioned eleven times in this chapter. All the features of the chapter can be outlined based on how they relate to that throne of divine glory. After describing the throne, John tells us who is on the throne, what is going on around the throne, what comes from the throne, what stands before the throne, who is in the center and around the throne, and what is directed toward the throne. . .

The use of the term temple symbolizes God’s presence. The throne was said to be standing because God’s sovereign rule is fixed, permanent, and unshakable. A vision of God’s immovable throne reveals He is in permanent, unchanging, and complete control of the universe. That is a comforting realization in light of the horror and trauma of the end-time events about to be revealed (chaps. 6–19). In much the same way, Isaiah was comforted during a traumatic time in Israel’s history by his vision of God’s glory (Isa. 6).

2a.  The One Sitting on the Throne

and One sitting on the throne.

Buist Fanning: In his visionary trance John begins to see through the “door standing open in heaven” and to glimpse details of the heavenly scene.  Two central features appear right away: a locus of ruling authority in heaven and someone who wields that authority. As in several of his later vision accounts, John’s style is somewhat impressionistic, somewhat minimalist at first and then adding descriptive details as he moves along. In a masterful way John gently unfolds for the reader—most likely mirroring the way Christ did so for him—this overwhelming, luminous vision (as we discover in the verses that follow) of God Almighty in his glorious throne room surrounded by his heavenly retinue.

Robert Thomas: This person is undoubtedly God the Father, because He is distinguished from the Lamb in 5:5, 7; 6:16; 7:10 and from the Spirit in 4:5 (cf. 19:4) (Alford; Bullinger; Charles).

2b.  (:3a)  Appearance of One Enthroned Compared to Precious Stones

And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance;

Robert Thomas: The sitting posture denotes the activity of reigning, not resting or a cessation of priestly functioning as in Heb. 1:3; 10:12; 12:2. . .

The key to probable identification of this stone is Rev. 21:11 where it represents a watery crystalline brightness (Alford; Morris). The modern jasper is opaque, but the ancient stone must have been translucent rock crystal, possibly a diamond. . .

Suggested symbolisms have included judgment by water and judgment by fire, the goodness of God in nature and His severity in judgment, deity and humanity, and the holiness of God and the justice of God (Alford). The last seems most probable because the same mixture of white light (i.e., the diamond) with fire (i.e., the carnelian) pervades the OT and apocalyptic visions of divine majesty (cf. Ezek. 1:4; 8:2; Dan. 7:9; cf. Rev. 1:14; 10:1) (Alford). The picture is that of His anger because of His holy nature reacting in response to the prevailing sinfulness of mankind, resulting in the judgment He is about to send upon the earth (Smith).

John MacArthur: Revelation 21:11 describes jasper as “crystal-clear”; therefore, it is best to identify this stone as a diamond. All the shining, flashing facets of the glory of God are compared to a diamond, brilliantly refracting all the colors of the spectrum. A sardius, from which the city of Sardis got its name, is a fiery, bloodred ruby. It too expresses the shining beauty of God’s glory, and may also symbolize God’s blazing wrath, about to be poured out on the sinful, rebellious world (chaps. 6–19).

There is a possible further symbolism in the choice of these two stones. The sardius and the jasper were the first and last stones on the high priest’s breastplate (Ex. 28:17–20; “ruby,” “jasper”), representing the firstborn (Reuben) and lastborn (Benjamin) of the twelve sons of Jacob. It may be that those stones depict God’s covenant relationship with Israel; His wrath and judgment will not abrogate that relationship. In fact, it is during the Tribulation that, largely through the zealous evangelistic efforts of the 144,000 (Rev. 7:3ff.), “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).

1b.  (:3b)  Appearance of Throne Highlighted by Surrounding Rainbow

and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.

Grant Osborne: The “rainbow” (ἶρις) is an unusual term used only here and in 10:1 in the Greek Bible and can mean either a rainbow or a halo. Nearly all agree that the rainbow is meant (contra Lohse 1960: 38), but it has an unusual shape in that it “encircles the throne.” This may explain the term ἶρις (the LXX uses τόξον [toxon] for “rainbow”), for this rainbow has the shape of a halo of light surrounding the throne. The imagery combines the rainbow as typifying the radiant light surrounding God in Ezek. 1:28 and the Noahic covenant of Gen. 9:13–17 (so Bauckham 1993a: 51–52). The promise never again to destroy the earth with water prepares for the judgment theme in the rest of the book (note the flood imagery of Rev. 11:18).  The description of the rainbow as “like an emerald” can have two implications. The σμαράγδινος can be a bright green precious stone or a transparent rock crystal that could serve as a prism and yield a “rainbow” of colors. Beasley-Murray (1978: 113) suggests the latter as best fitting the Noahic imagery. Either way, the imagery is that of the glory surrounding God on his throne.

Kendell Easley: Whether this encircled the throne horizontally or vertically or was like an aura or halo we don’t know. The only rainbows mentioned in Scripture are these: the beautiful but fleeting covenant rainbow of Noah’s time (Gen. 9:13–16) and the beautiful but everlasting rainbow surrounding beings in heaven (Ezek. 1:28; Rev. 4:3; 10:1). When God made the rainbow a sign of his covenant with humanity, he took something from his eternal throne and endowed it with fresh meaning. At the same time, the rainbow around the throne of heaven has become an eternal reminder of God’s covenant promise to humanity.

John MacArthur: The rainbow provides a comforting balance to the fiery flashings of judgment earlier seen emanating from God’s throne. According to Genesis 9:13–17, a rainbow symbolizes God’s covenant faithfulness, mercy, and grace. God’s attributes always operate in perfect harmony. His wrath never operates at the expense of His faithfulness; His judgments never abrogate His promises. God’s power and holiness would cause us to live in abject terror were it not for His faithfulness and mercy.

B.  (:4) Twenty-four Elders Seated on Thrones

  1. Vision of Subordinate Twenty-four Thrones

And around the throne were twenty-four thrones;

Richard Phillips: As John’s vision centers all creation on the realities of heaven, so also the heavenly occupation with the worship of God is creation’s highest calling. Vern Poythress comments: “God is the all-important, all-determining spiritual center and power center for the universe.” Therefore, “creatures find their consummate fulfillment, the meaning and full satisfaction of their existence, in worshiping, serving, and adoring him.”

  1. Occupants of Thrones = Twenty-four Elders

and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting,

Van Parunak: The details in this verse help us to identify the elders. The thrones, white raiment, and crowns are all promised to those who are faithful in the churches. So it seems reasonable to identify these elders as symbolizing believers, seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 2:6). But why are there 24?

At the end of the book the number 24 comes up again. We are given a vision of the bride, the lamb’s wife, pictured as the New Jerusalem descending out of heaven. This city has twelve foundations and twelve gates:

Rev. 21:12 [that great city … ] had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:

Rev. 21:14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The imagery strongly suggests that the lamb’s wife is made up of the saints of the old and new covenants, together. Both groups have major architectural roles in the city, and the number of each is twelve, for a total of 24. Similarly, in the churches of Asia, there would be both Jews and Gentiles who confessed the Lord Jesus and sought to overcome in their Christian lives.

So the 24 elders represent the people of God, the true saints under both covenants, seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 2:6).

John MacArthur: Presbuteroi (elders) is never used in Scripture to refer to angels, but always to men. It is used to speak of older men in general, and the rulers of both Israel and the church. There is no indisputable use of presbuteroi outside of Revelation to refer to angels. (Some believe that “elders” in Isaiah 24:23 refers to angels, but it could as well refer to humans.) Further, “elder” would be an inappropriate term to describe angels, who do not age.

Richard Phillips: Another reason to be confident that the twenty-four elders correspond to the church is the description that John highlights: they were “clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads” (Rev. 4:4). This represents the consummation of the salvation promised and begun on earth. The white garments signify the righteousness granted to Christians through Christ as well as their calling to lives of holiness. Jesus wrote to Sardis that those “who have not soiled their garments . . . will walk with me in white, for they are worthy” (3:4). A crown is the reward for true believers, who in Christ triumph over sin: “Be faithful unto death,” Jesus wrote to Smyrna, “and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10). Jesus had promised at the end of his seven letters that “the one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (3:21). These blessings, now dramatized in the vision of chapter 4, represent the reward not merely of certain choice believers but of all true Christians, those who not only profess faith in Jesus but live in faith to the end. Paul Gardner writes: “This is how it will be for all the redeemed. They will be in the presence of God and will reign with him and with Jesus.”

[Alternate View:]

Grant Osborne: There is great debate as to the identification of the twenty-four elders—are they human or heavenly figures? The basis of the decision is their description in 4:4, “clothed in white garments” with “crowns of gold on their heads.” Those who argue for the elders as human beings (Swete, Alford, Walvoord, Feuillet, Sweet, Kraft, Ford, Wall, McDonald, Harrington) state that angels are not called elders, nor do they wear crowns or sit on thrones in the Bible. Moreover, white clothing in Revelation is always worn by the saints (3:4–5, 18; 6:11; 7:9, 13; 19:14). Within this position several views are posited. The “twenty-four elders” could be

(1)  the twelve patriarchs (OT) and twelve apostles (NT), thus the whole people of God (see 21:12–14, with the names of the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles on the gates and foundations of the New Jerusalem);

(2)  the great saints of the OT seen as preceding the NT saints;

(3)  the whole community built on the twenty-four orders of the priesthood in 1 Chron. 24:4–5;

(4)  the church as the true Israel, the heavenly counterpart of all “victors” (στέϕανος as the victor’s wreath rather than the ruler’s crown) who remain true to God; or

(5)  a heavenly court sitting on thrones of judgment (fulfilling 3:21).

However, many others (Beckwith, R. Charles, Moffatt, Ladd, Beasley-Murray, Morris, Mounce, Johnson, Roloff, Krodel, Thomas) believe these are angelic figures. There are no other human beings in chapter 4, and in Isa. 24:23 angels might be called “elders” (it is debated whether they are angels or the elders of Israel). In Ps. 89:7 (cf. 1 Kings 22:19; Job 15:8) God sits in the “council of his holy ones” (= angels). Moreover, angels are called “thrones or powers or rulers or authorities” in Col. 1:16 (cf. Eph. 3:10; 6:12), and they wear white in Matt. 28:3; John 20:12; Acts 1:10. The thrones and golden crowns could refer to their royal function under God similar to the way first-century kings were subject to the Roman emperor.

The key is the function of the πρεσβύτεροι (presbyteroi, elders) in the book. Their primary role is that of worship (5:14; 11:16; 19:4) and praise (4:11; 5:9–10; 11:17–18; 14:3; 19:4). In addition, they serve as intermediaries and interpreters (5:5; 7:13–17). A close examination of these texts shows a distinct differentiation between the elders and the saints. In 5:8 they hold golden bowls that contain the prayers of the saints; in 7:13–14 one of them explains who the victorious saints are; in 11:18 they thank God for rewarding the saints; in 14:3 the 144,000 sing “a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders”; and in 19:4 they join the heavenly chorus. The elders are seated on thrones (4:4; 11:16), while the saints stand before the throne (7:9). From this evidence it is more likely that these are heavenly beings who reign with God and are part of the retinue surrounding his throne. Moreover, since “all the angels” also stand before the throne (7:11), these must be celestial beings with a ruling function.

As with the living creatures (v. 8), we do not know what type of heavenly being they are, only that they form part of the heavenly council. Their “white garments” signify purity and holiness (perhaps part of their priestly function in presenting the prayers of his saints and in their leading worship) and the “golden crowns” their royal status. The number “twenty-four” could refer to the priestly orders if that function is being highlighted here, or to the patriarchs and apostles if they are the counterpart of the church on earth. Although neither is certain, a priestly role would fit their function as leaders of heavenly worship and as presenting the prayers of the saints to God (5:8; 8:3–4). Beale (1999: 322) sees a link between the angelic beings and the saints; they symbolize the twelve tribes and twelve apostles, thus the redeemed of both Testaments. While the symbolic function of angels is probably correct, the twenty-four priestly orders make better sense (so also Aune 1997: 289), thus giving the angels a priestly function. Hurtado (1985: 120) believes that these angels build on the priestly orders and so represent the elect before God. On the whole, I conclude that the elders were a ruling class of heavenly beings who encircled the throne and led heavenly praise, thus exhibiting a priestly role.

Robert Thomas: The remaining explanation appears to be the correct one, that the twenty-four elders are a special class or college of angels, beings of high authority that belong to the court of God in heaven.  In this book they are always grouped with angels rather than men, but are distinguished from other angelic subgroups (cf. 7:9-11; 19:1-4) (Ladd). That they are such a class of angels is well borne out when one of the elders performs the same function of offering bowls of incense that is later performed by an angel (cf. 5:8; 8:3). In addition, in 7:13 the phrase “one of the elders” indicates that the elders were separate created beings rather than corporately representing a larger group. He is separate and different both from the great multitude and from John (cf. also 5:5) (Bullinger). In 7:14, this elder acts as an agent of revelation in much the same manner as angels function in the book (cf. 1:1; 17:3; 22:6). Such duties belong only to angels (cf. Dan. 9:21-27) (Charles). This particular group of angels primarily assists in execution of the divine rule of the universe. Very probably they are part of the assembly of heavenly beings that are regularly pictured as present with God in heaven (cf. 1 Kings 22:19; Ps. 89:7; Isa. 24:23) (Ladd).

[Alternate View:]

Marvin Rosenthal: Many pretribulationists argue that the twenty-four elders of Revelation 4 represent the church (cf. Walvoord). . .  there is no agreement on the part of conservative scholars as to the identity of the twenty-four elders.  The great scholar Henry Alford believed that the twenty-four elders represent the redeemed of the Old and New Testaments. . .

In marked contrast, William Newell, whose premillennial, pretribulational commentary on Revelation has remained a standard for years, took a different position.  He suggests that the elders of Revelation 4 are angelic beings of some kind . . . created and associated by God with His government. . .

There is significant evidence to suggest that the twenty-four elders do, in fact, represent those redeemed from within Israel and the Old Testament. . .

The priesthood of ancient Israel, made up of the house of Aaron, was divided into twenty-four courses or groups of priests (1 Chron. 24).  Each group served for two weeks each year on a rotation basis.  As the prophet was God’s spokesman to the people, so the priest was the people’s representative before God.  The number twenty-four in connection with the priesthood would speak of complete representation. . .

  • they are seen performing their representative priestly ministry in intercession
  • they are seen in their priestly ministry of praise
  • they are heard to be singing a new song
  1. Appearance of Twenty-four Elders

clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.

Buist Fanning: The prominence of these “elders” comes across unmistakably in the way John portrays them here and in later visions. First, like a royal council they sit on thrones arranged in a circle around God’s throne (v. 4a–b). The fact that other thrones exist in God’s presence does not detract from his unique supremacy already recognized (vv. 2–3) and acknowledged repeatedly (e.g., v. 10; 5:8, 14).  Second, they are “clothed in white garments,” symbolizing the holiness expected of those who approach God. Third, they have “golden crowns on their heads,” representing their exalted status and perhaps victory in the face of struggle. In later verses they offer worship to God (4:10–11; 5:8–14; 19:4) and interact with John in his visionary experiences (5:5; 7:13–14).

John gives attention to describing these “elders” and their activities, but he tells us nothing explicit about their being or identity. Are they angelic or human?  If human, do they represent Old Testament worthies, New Testament saints, or God’s people from all ages? John saw no need to specify such matters. We are left to ponder possible clues based on what John does tell us about them. Of the descriptions mentioned already, offering worship to God in heaven does not seem to be distinctive since 5:11–14 shows both angels and humans doing so. Wearing of white is likewise shared by Christ, angels, and humans (1:14; 3:4–5; 6:11; 7:9, 13). Enthronement and possession of a “crown” or victory wreath is sometimes thought to tip the scales toward seeing them as glorified humans, since these are promised to faithful Christians (2:10; 3:11, 21). But crowns may denote a broader sort of victory or exalted status in Revelation (6:2; 9:7; 12:1; 14:14) and elsewhere.  Finally, the significance of their number, “twenty-four,” is likewise debatable. This possibly symbolizes the whole people of God, representing the sum of both Israel (the twelve tribes as in 7:4–8; 21:12) and the church (the twelve apostles as in 21:14). Or it may picture them as a heavenly order of priestly ministers in heaven like the twenty-four Levitical orders of 1 Chronicles 24:4; 25:9–31.

The fact that these are called “elders” seems to be rooted in the term’s use for leaders among the people in the Old Testament and later Judaism, a group of officials who shared various social and tribal responsibilities as a ruling council (e.g., Exod 17:5; 18:12; Num 11:30; 2 Sam 5:3). This favors the view that these elders are a council of heavenly beings who surround God’s throne (as seen, e.g., in 1 Kgs 22:19; Job 1:6; Ps 89:7; Dan 7:9–10; possibly Isa 24:23).  Also favoring this view is the fact that John seems to distinguish the “elders” from martyred earthly saints who have come to be present in heaven after their physical deaths (Rev 7:13–14) and from redeemed saints whether on earth or in heaven (14:1–3).

C.  (:5-6a) Additional Elements Highlighting the Awesome Presence of God

  1. Lightning and Thunder

And from the throne proceed flashes of lightning

and sounds and peals of thunder.

Buist Fanning: The first set of items (“flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder”; v. 5a) represent God’s awesome presence taken from Israel’s Sinai experience (Exod 19:16–19) and repeated often thereafter as symbols of theophany and portents of coming judgment (Judg 5:4–5; Pss 18:7–15; 68:7–8; 77:18; Isa 13:13; 64:2–4; Jer 10:10; Ezek 1:13; Hag 2:6–7, 21). In Revelation the same three phenomena (with additions) appear also at the end of the three series of judgments (8:5; 11:19; 16:18), linking them to this vision of God in his heavenly rule as the source of the seals, trumpets, and bowls that will prepare the way for his rule on earth.

Craig Keener: The thunders around God’s throne (4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18) reveal his sovereignty. This would have been clear to Revelation’s first readers; not only Jews (Ps. 29:3) but other prominent Mediterranean religions portrayed the supreme deity associated with lightning and thunder.  Lightnings were also characteristic of the heavens, as one might expect (cf. 1 Enoch 14:8; 17:3; 69:23); some Jewish texts delegated lightnings to the high angels (3 Enoch 29:2).  Most important, however, the thunders and lightnings around the throne recall the revelation of God’s majesty when he gave the law at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:16; 20:18).

  1. Seven Lamps of Fire — Manifestation of the Holy Spirit

And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne,

which are the seven Spirits of God;

John Walvoord: John’s attention is also directed to seven torches of fire that are burning before the throne. These are identified as “the seven Spirits of God” mentioned earlier in 1:4 and 3:1. These are best understood as a visible representation of the Holy Spirit, symbolizing the perfection and completeness of His activities.

Robert Thomas: The lampades (“torches”) should be distinguished from the λυχν αι (lychniai, “lampstands”) of 1:12, 20. They were used outdoors rather than indoors. They were better suited for open air because of less likelihood that they would be extinguished by gusts of wind (cf. John 18:3) (Lenski). This feature, coupled with the use of kaiomenai (“burning”) elsewhere in the Apocalypse (cf. 8:8, 10; 19:20; 21:8), indicates that the torches emitted “a blazing and fierce” light rather than a calm and soft one.  Fire in this book symbolizes judgment, and these torches are no exception. Here is the divine preparedness for the battle against wickedness (cf. Judg. 7:16, 20; Nah. 2:3-4) (Seiss). The close proximity of these torches “before the throne” (enōpion tou thronou) harmonizes with the continuing emphasis of the chapter upon God’s wrath against sinful humanity.

The text removes all doubt concerning the specific representation of the torches. The words ha eisin ta hepta pneumata tou theou (“which are the seven spirits of God”) equate them with a Person already introduced in Rev. 1:4, the Holy Spirit.5 There He was seen as part of the source of divine grace and peace with which the prophet greeted the seven churches. Here His role as consumer of the ungodly is more prominent.  A further correlation to His presence in this scene may also be His part in creation and preservation of the natural world, which comes into focus at the end of the chapter (4:11; cf. Gen. 1:2; 2:7; Ps. 104:29-30) (Ladd). A picture of a heavenly court poised to launch its massive program to purify God’s creation is enhanced by this additional feature.

  1. Sea of Glass Like Crystal

and before the throne there was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal;

Buist Fanning: This is also drawn from Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek 1:22) as well as Israel’s experience at Sinai (Exod 24:10) and may likewise reflect a heavenly parallel to the furnishings of the earthly sanctuary, the bronze laver or “sea” (Exod 30:18–21; 40:7, 30; 1 Kgs 7:23–25). As it appears to John in his vision, it is like a gleaming, translucent floor stretching out in front of God’s throne, reinforcing the astounding impression of the glory and purity of heaven.

Grant Osborne: Crystal-clear” glass resembles a sea and adds to the imagery. Note that John does not say this “sea” exists in heaven but that what is there “looks like” a sea of glass. The emphasis is on God’s awesome vastness, his transcendence and his holiness that separate him from his creation (like the firmament separated the waters). The scene is enhanced greatly by this spectacular image. In one sense it is like glass, reflecting the magnificence and kaleidoscopic colors of the throne room. In another sense it is transparent, crystal clear, radiating his awesome holiness (note the “crystal-clear jasper” of 21:11, the “gold like pure glass” of 21:18, and the “crystal-clear river of the water of life” of 22:1 in the description of the New Jerusalem). This “sea” appears twice more in the book: at 15:2 the “sea of glass” is “mingled with fire,” pointing to divine judgment (as has every other image in this section); and in 21:1 we are told “there was no longer any sea,” which may refer to the “sea” as the “abyss,” the chaos of the deep that in ancient times signified the reign of evil in this world (see the excellent discussion in Sweet 1979: 119).  All three are interconnected, with 4:6 the basis of the others. Here the crystal-clear sea of glass symbolizes God’s transcendent holiness and his awesome sovereignty that is a source of worship (4:6) and then becomes the basis of judgment (15:2) when God will eradicate evil from his creation (21:1).

Robert Thomas: pictures the splendor and majesty of God on His throne that set Him apart from all His creation, a separation stemming from His purity and absolute holiness, which He shares with no one else. The term krystall (“crystal”) enhances the emphasis on God’s purity.

John MacArthur: Heaven is not a shadowy world of mists and indistinct apparitions. It is a world of dazzlingly brilliant light, refracting and shining as through jewels and crystal in a manner beyond our ability to describe or imagine (cf. Rev. 21:10–11, 18).

William Barclay: There are three things that this sea like shining glass does symbolize.

(1)  It symbolizes preciousness. In the ancient world, glass was usually dull and semi-opaque, and glass as clear as crystal was as precious as gold. In Job 28:17, gold and glass are mentioned together as examples of precious things.

(2)  It symbolizes dazzling purity. The blinding light reflected from the glassy sea would be too much for the eyes to look upon, like the purity of God.

(3)  It symbolizes immense distance. The throne of God was in the far distance, as if at the other side of a great sea. Swete writes of ‘the vast distance which, even in the case of one who stood in the door of heaven, intervened between himself and the throne of God’.

One of the greatest characteristics of the writing of the seer is the reverence which, even in the heavenly places, never dares to be familiar with God, but paints its picture in terms of light and distance.

Gordon Fee: All together this series of images is intended to inspire awe and wonder on the part of the reader, who is being brought into the presence of God, and before whom only awe and worship are the worthy responses; and that is what John now goes on to describe.


A.  (:6b) Location of the Four Living Creatures

and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures

full of eyes in front and behind.

Grant Osborne: Possible Views for the identification of these four living creatures:

  • The church fathers saw these as representing the four Gospels, but there was little unanimity as to which image represented which Gospel.  This is too fanciful to be seriously considered.
  • Another popular interpretation (R. Charles, Farrer, Kraft, Beasley-Murray) has been to trace their origin through Ezekiel (who lived in Babylon) to Babylonian mythology, which saw these as the four corners of the zodiac (Taurus = the ox; Leo = the lion; Scorpio = the man; Aquarius = the eagle). While this fits the first three, no valid explanation has been made as to why the eagle came to represent Aquarius, for no eagle was ever used in the zodiac. Moreover, the movement from Babylonian beliefs to Ezekiel to Jewish understanding to John is exceedingly speculative. Finally, John never builds on any such astrological motif in this book, so there is no supporting evidence. Such a theory must remain doubtful.
  • Similar to this, some (Albright, Ford) see the background in Assyrian and Babylonian representations of royalty with winged sphinxes or winged lions. Also, kings are depicted riding on thrones supported by cherubim (as in Ezekiel), so these could be a class of throne-bearing angels who serve Yahweh. This is closer to John’s use here, but again there is no hint of Babylonian imagery in Revelation.
  • (Walvoord, Johnson) see these as representing divine attributes or spiritual characteristics, such as courage and majesty (lion), patience and strength (ox), intelligence and spirituality (man), and sovereignty and swiftness of action (eagle). This is an interesting speculation but again lacks support in Revelation, for these creatures are never worshiped, nor are they seen in this way.
  • Another view (W. Scott 1900: 126 n.) is that these represent four tribes of Israel (Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, Dan) whose standards stood at the four sides of the tabernacle (Num. 2:2). As the tabernacle/temple is seen to be in heaven in the book, this is also possible. It can never go beyond mere possibility, however, for there is no proof.
  • Still others believe they represent the whole of animate creation (Swete, Ladd, Mounce, Harrington, Wall, Roloff, Giesen, Beale), perhaps detailing what is noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest in God’s creation. This seems to be the most viable option, and it avoids the tendency to allegorize the four overmuch. However, there is too little evidence to be certain.

Van Parunak: We must distinguish the “beasts” of Revelation 4-5 from the satanic beasts that come later: the beast from the bottomless pit (11:7), from the sea (13:1), and from the earth (13:11). The word that describes those beasts is θηρίον G2342, “wild animal.” The word here is ζῶον G2226, “living creature,” and continues to direct our attention to Ezekiel.

Note the Comparisons between Revelation 4 and Ezekiel 1

But then you have to note how the Living Creatures of Rev. 4 are some type of hybrid angelic creatures – combining some of the characteristics of the Cherubim from Ezekiel 1 and 10, and of the Seraphim from Isaiah 6:

Robert Thomas: they have something to do with the judicial authority of the throne (Scott). The present scene and its emphasis upon God’s judicial dealings with the creation provide part of the hint. Added to this is the suggestion that the number four speaks of universality as in “the four winds.” It is the recognized signature of creation, especially as it is the witness and manifestation of God (Lee; Caird). The four likenesses represent each part of the animal creation (Scott; Morris). Their participation in the administration of divine justice is evident later in the book (e.g., Rev. 6:1, 3, 5, 7). . .

they are of an exalted angelic order engaged in worship, who bear a special relationship to those angelic beings described in Ezekiel and Isaiah and whose special function in the context of the Apocalypse is the administering of divine justice in the realm of animate creation.

David Thompson: From the book of Revelation, we may conclude the following about these living creatures:

1)  These beings always appear near the throne of God. 4:6; 5:6; 14:3

2)  These beings are particularly involved in worshipping God for His Holiness and Mercy, specifically in regard to sinful man. 4:8; 5:9, 14; 7:11; 19:4

3)  These beings are closely connected to the actual process of judgment. 6:7

4)  These beings are involved in knowing and revealing God’s final program. 6:1, 7

5)  These beings were not hostile to the Apostle John. 6:1, 7

6)  These beings are in a position of recognizable authority. 4:9-10; 14:3

B.  (:7) Description of the Four Living Creatures – Related to Role in Judgment

  1. Lion — Ferocity

And the first creature was like a lion,

David Thompson: The majority of uses of the noun lion are metaphorical and when it is used this way in Scripture it is specifically used of a fierce anger and ferocious judgment of God against God’s enemies (Isaiah 31:4; Jeremiah 25:37-38; Hosea 5:14).

[Alternate View: Nobility]

Robert Thomas: Among the wild animals the lion is viewed as “king of the jungle” and, in general, represents what is the most noble; so this first being should be understood in this sense.

  1. Calf — Strength

and the second creature like a calf,

David Thompson: Metaphorically – it is used in three different ways:

  1. As a symbol of idolatry concerning the nation Israel – by far the most uses.

Exodus 32:4, 8, 19, 24, 35; Deuteronomy 9:16, 21; Nehemiah 9:18; Psalm 106:19; Hosea 8:5-6

  1. As a symbol of millennial peace . A calf dwelling with the young lion. Isaiah 11:6
  2. As a symbol of the future Promised Land . Jeremiah 34:18-19; Genesis 15:7-17

As we relate this face to these living beings, we conclude that these three points specifically connect this living being to Israel and the idolatry that has kept her out of the land, but also the Grace of God that will give her the land. This beast praises and worships God because Israel will receive her land and all idolatry and immorality will be eliminated. It is more than coincidental that just before Israel gets her land, the world in the Tribulation will be dominated by idolatry and immorality (Revelation 9:20-21).

Robert Thomas: The ox pictures that part of animate creation that is strongest. The Greek word in general usage sometimes refers to a calf in distinction from the grown bullock, but the LXX regularly uses it to refer to an ox, regardless of age (cf. Ex. 21:36; Lev. 22:23; cf. also Gen. 12:16; Exod. 29:10) (Alford).

  1. Man – Wisdom, Intelligence

and the third creature had a face like that of a man,

  1. Eagle – Speed and Mobility in Judgment

and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.

David Thompson: We need to observe that this fourth living being is not just any eagle, but like a “flying eagle.” There are five O.T. passages that are specifically related to this picture:

1)  Deuteronomy 28:49;

2)  Jeremiah 48:40;

3)  Jeremiah 49:22;

4)  Hosea 8:1;

5)  Habakkuk 1:8.

In examining these texts we may observe the following:

  • The flying eagle represents God’s swift, devastating judgment against rebellious Israel. Deuteronomy 28:49-50
  • The flying eagle represents God’s swift, devastating judgment against Israel’s enemies. Jeremiah 48:40; 49:22
  • The flying eagle represents God’s swift, devastating judgment by raising up nations against Israel. Hosea 8:1
  • The flying eagle represents God’s final , swift, devastating judgment by rising up nations to come against Israel just before He delivers her. Habakkuk 1:8

Collectively speaking, the flying eagle represents the swift judgment of God against His own rebellious nation and against all of Israel’s enemies. This living being worships God because the final and swift judgment of God is about to hit the world, and in the end Israel will stand and all nations who were against her will be quickly destroyed.

These living beings worship God continually in regard to His holy judgments, and at this point, there is much action because God is about to take over everything.

Daniel Akin: Dogmatism on their fourfold appearance is unwarranted. However, we can suggest a few truths our God may be communicating to us through this image. First, God is perfect in His authority. The lion is king of the animal world. It emphasizes strength and honor—that which is noble, respected. Second, God is perfect in His activity. The calf or ox is a servant. It exercises great power for the benefit of others. It was the mightiest among the domesticated animals. Third, God is perfect in His majesty. Man is the pinnacle of creation, and only man has a “face” in this vision. He is intelligent, rational, and spiritual. He is the apex of all God made. He is God’s vice-regent on earth. And finally, God is perfect in His deity. The eagle soars in the heavens and often represented deity. It is the mightiest among the birds and the swiftest of God’s creatures. These creatures are strong like a lion, serve like an ox, see like a man, and are swift like an eagle. Each in its particular appearance gives witness to the greatness and glory of our God. No creature is as strong as He. No creature serves as does He. No creature sees as does He. No creature is as swift as is He! (Mounce, Revelation, 124–25; also Osborne, Revelation, 233–34).

Kendell Easley: All nature is called on to declare the praises of God (Ps. 150), so God has designed the creatures nearest his throne to serve as constant reminders of this.

C.  (:8) Worship Refrain of the Four Living Creatures

  1. Characteristics of the Four Living Creatures

And the four living creatures,

a.  Six Wings

each one of them having six wings,

John MacArthur: Their six wings denote that their supreme responsibility and privilege is to constantly worship God. From Isaiah’s vision, we learn that the seraphim (possibly the same beings as the cherubim) used their six wings in the following manner: “with two [they] covered [their faces], and with two [they] covered [their] feet, and with two [they] flew” (Isa. 6:2). Four of their six wings related to worship; with two they covered their faces, since even the most exalted created beings cannot look on the unveiled glory of God without being consumed. They also used two wings to cover their feet, since they stood on holy ground. Worship is thus their privilege, calling, and permanent occupation.

J. Hampton Keathley, III: In verse 8 they have six wings which reminds us of the seraphim of Isaiah 6. This would emphasize their quickness and availability in service to the One sitting on the throne.

b.  Full of Eyes

are full of eyes around and within;

J. Hampton Keathley, III: The cherubim of Ezekiel 10were also full of eyes signifying their intelligence and spiritual perception of the ways and judgments of God. This is most likely the emphasis here.

  1. Constant Refrain

and day and night they do not cease to say,

Grant Osborne: What they “never cease saying” is the first of the many hymns of worship in the book. The hymns are strategically placed throughout to draw attention to two things: the majesty and sovereignty of God, and the worship of his people, heavenly as well as earthly. The emphasis is on the God who delivers and vindicates his people as well as judges the evildoers. Praise is the valid response of those who are the objects of his omnipotent love. Johnson (1981: 463–64) notes how the hymns of these two chapters (4:8, 11; 5:9–10, 12, 13) bring out the unity of the Father and the Son. The first two relate to God, the second two to the Lamb, and the final hymn addresses both. Moreover, the choir gets greater each time, beginning with the four living creatures and concluding with “every creature in heaven and on earth” (5:13).

G.K. Beale: The hymns make explicit the main point of the vision and of the whole chapter: God is to be glorified because of His holiness and sovereignty. Also in this section is found the reason that the four living beings represent the whole of animate life. They are performing the function which all of creation is meant to fulfill. That is, all things were created to praise God for His holiness and glorify Him for His work of creation. The twenty-four elders specifically represent redeemed humanity’s purpose to praise and glorify God, which is actually carried out, not only by them in heaven, but also by the true community of faith on earth.

a.  Holiness of God

Holy, holy, holy,

b.  Power and Sovereignty of God

is the LORD God, the Almighty,

G.K. Beale: The threefold name for God, the Lord God, the Almighty, is based on its recurrent use in the LXX (Amos 3:13; 4:13; 5:14-16; 9:5-6, 15; Hos. 12:5; Nah. 3:5; Zech. 10:3; cf. Mal. 2:16).

c.  Eternality of God and Control over History

who was and who is and who is to come.

Buist Fanning: The expression draws on God’s own self-disclosure in Exodus 3:14 and acknowledges him as the eternal, self-existent One who controls history from beginning to end (a significant foundation for the complementary vision that will follow in 5:1–14).

Van Parunak: Though the hymn deviates from Isaiah 6, a later verse in Isaiah combines holiness and eternity:

Isa 57:15 For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.

The Lord assures Isaiah that, though he is Holy (separated) and unconstrained by time, yet he devotes himself to the care of his contrite and humble people. That is precisely the message that we need, living in the world that the Revelation envisions—a humble people, poor in the eyes of the world, persecuted by Satan, but under God’s watchful care.

Robert Thomas: A complete absence from this song of any direct reference to salvation has caused some surprise. The reason is that redemption has not yet entered the picture, and will not do so until the next scene of this vision in chapter 5. All praise to God thus far centers in His creative endeavors.  The song is quite in keeping with the progress of the revelation to John up to this point. This continual song from the four living beings underscores the central role of the one sitting upon the throne in the present setting. As the absolutely holy one, He is thoroughly entitled and has ample might to initiate stringent measures against His own creation in order to return it to its original holy state.

Richard Phillips: God’s eternity emphasizes his sovereign control, since he is before and after all things. William Barclay comments: “Empires might come and empires might go; God lasts forever. Here is the triumphant affirmation that God endures unchanging amid the enmity and the rebellion of human beings.”


A.  (:9) Summary of Worship

And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks

to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever,

Gordon Fee: First they give him “glory,” which has to do with God’s own inherent splendor or magnificence, thus using language to give expression to the creatures’ wonder in the presence of that splendor. Second, they give him “honor,” a form of acknowledging God’s inherent worthiness to receive praise from his creatures. And third, they give him “thanks,” the inherent recognition that everything the creation is or the creature has comes as a divine gift. Thus the proper posture of all beings created with the power of thought and speech is thanksgiving, to accompany the praise.

Buist Fanning: The implication of the [temporal] clause is that, as seen in v. 8b, the living creatures offer their unceasing praise to God (v. 9), and the twenty-four elders join in (vv. 10–11).

Daniel Akin: Because our God is eternal, infinite, and omnipotent, the worshiping creatures in heaven acknowledge that their existence and being are completely dependent on the One who sits on the throne in heaven. In witness and word they testify to His greatness, to His worthiness. Wonderfully, we can join them in their worship.

B.  (:10) Activity of Worship

the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne,

and will worship Him who lives forever and ever,

and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

G.K. Beale: The chapter builds to a crescendo in the giving of glory to God, which is the main point of the chapter and the central focus of heaven and should thus become the central focus also of the church on earth. God’s people should remember that God is orchestrating history not to make them great but to make His name great and glorified.

William Barclay: Here is the other section of the choir of thanksgiving. We have seen that the living creatures stand for nature in all its greatness and the twenty-four elders for the great united Church in Jesus Christ. So, when the living creatures and the elders unite in praise, it symbolizes nature and the Church both praising God.

C.  (:11) Verbalization of Worship

  1. Praise for His Sovereign Role as Ruler

Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power;

Charles Swindoll: Axios (ἄξιος) [514] “worthy,” “deserving,” “fit

Worthiness stands out as a major theme in chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation. The word axios means “deserving.” God the Father is fit “to receive glory and honor and power” because He is the creator of all things (4:11). Jesus Christ is worthy “to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (5:12) because He is the Redeemer and heir of all things (5:9).

William Barclay: Here is something which would be even more meaningful to John’s readers than it is to us. The phrase for Lord and God is kurios kai theos; and that was the official title of Domitian, the Roman emperor. It was, indeed, because the Christians would not acknowledge that claim that they were persecuted and killed. Simply to call God Lord and God was a triumphant confession of faith, an assertion that God holds first place in all the universe.

John Macarthur: Axios (worthy) was used of the Roman emperor when he marched in a triumphal procession. The focus of the elders’ song is on God’s glory manifested in creation; He is presented as Creator throughout Scripture (cf. 10:6; Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:11; Isa. 40:26, 28; Jer. 10:10–12; 32:17; Col. 1:16). The elders are acknowledging that God has the right both to redeem and to judge His creation. Their song anticipates paradise lost becoming paradise regained.

This first movement of the oratorio of praise pictures God about to judge Satan, demons, and sinners and take back His creation. Both the living creatures and the twenty-four elders can only worship in awe and wonder as God prepares to bring about the glorious day of which Paul wrote:

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

(Rom. 8:19–22)

  1. Praise for His Sovereign Role as Creator

for Thou didst create all things,

and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.

Grant Osborne: Three main verbs in the last half of this hymn form an ABA pattern: “created,” “exist,” and “were created.” God is the emphatic subject (σύ, sy, you yourself), and all creation is the object (τὰ πάντα, ta panta, all things). The first element centers on the creation theology that virtually dominates the Bible (Ps. 19:1–2; 33:9; Isa. 40:28; 45:18; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16) and is a key theme throughout the Apocalypse (Rev. 3:14; 4:11; 10:6; 14:7; 21:1). There is certainly a further contrast with Caesar, for only God creates life, but the major message is the worship of the Creator who has made “all things” possible. Christ has already been called “the ruler of God’s creation” (3:14), and here we see that celebrated. Moreover, in 12:16 (the earth swallowing the serpent’s flood) and 16:8 (the sun scorching the earth-dwellers) creation fights on the side of God against the dragon and his followers. This is part of the apocalyptic theme attested in Rom. 8:19–22, the “groaning” of creation as it longs to be released from the “decay” of this present evil world. In Revelation the created world participates in the process of its release.

The next two aspects further explicate this theme. In ἦσαν (ēsan, were) the very existence of creation is διὰ τὸ θέλημά σου (dia to thelēma sou, because of your will).  Behind creation is divine providence; his “will” is the basis for every aspect of creation. In Heb. 11:3 (also Rom. 4:17) we are told that God by his command created the universe out of nothing. Here we know that the world is also sustained by his will. All this is preparatory for the fact that this world will be consummated and destroyed in his own sovereign time (2 Pet. 3:7, 10). God is the “Alpha and Omega” of creation!

Many have noted the strange order in the two final verbs; one would expect them to be reversed, with the act of creation preceding the existence of creation. Some (R. Charles, Swete, Mounce) interpret ἦσαν as teaching the preexistence of creation in the mind of God, the potential of existence before it was created. This is ingenious but unnecessary. It is far simpler to note the ABA pattern and see ἐκτίσθησαν (ektisthēsan, were created) as restating the “created all things” of the first element. We do not have chronology here but rather a logical order (so Ladd 1972: 78; Thomas 1992: 368). God is creator and sustainer of the whole of creation. As Beale (1999: 335) says, the purpose “is to emphasize preservation because the pastoral intention throughout the book is to encourage God’s people to recognize that everything that happens to them throughout history is part of God’s creation purposes.”