In this chapter the prophetical scene opens; and, as the
epistolary part opened with a vision of Christ (ch. 1), so this part is
introduced with a glorious appearance of the great God, whose throne is in
heaven, compassed about with the heavenly host. This discovery was made to John,
and in this chapter he, I. Records the heavenly sight he saw (v. 1-7). And then,
II. The heavenly songs he heard (v. 8 to the end).
We have here an account of a second vision with which the
apostle John was favoured: After this, that is, not only "after I
had seen the vision of Christ walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks,"
but "after I had taken his messages from his mouth, and written and sent
them to the several churches, according to his command, after this I had another
vision." Those who well improve the discoveries they have had of God
already are prepared thereby for more, and may expect them. Observe,
I. The preparation made for the apostle's having this vision.
1. A door was opened in heaven. Hence we learn, (1.)
Whatever is transacted on earth is first designed and settled in heaven; there
is the model of all the works of God; all of them are therefore before his eye,
and he lets the inhabitants of heaven see as much of them as is fit for them.
(2.) We can know nothing of future events but what God is pleased to discover to
us; they are within the veil, till God opens the door. But, (3.) So far as God
reveals his designs to us we may and ought to receive them, and not pretend to
be wise above what is revealed.
2. To prepare John for the vision, a trumpet was sounded, and he
was called up into heaven, to have a sight there of the things which were to be
hereafter. He was called into the third heavens. (1.) There is a way opened into
the holiest of all, into which the sons of God may enter by faith and holy
affections now, in their spirits when they die, and in their whole persons at
the last day. (2.) We must not intrude into the secret of God's presence, but
stay till we are called up to it.
3. To prepare for this vision, the apostle was in the Spirit.
He was in a rapture, as before (ch. 1:10), whether in the body or out of the
body we cannot tell; perhaps he himself could not; however all bodily actions
and sensations were for a time suspended, and his spirit was possessed with the
spirit of prophecy, and wholly under a divine influence. The more we abstract
ourselves from all corporeal things the more fit we are for communion with God;
the body is a veil, a cloud, and clog to the mind in its transactions with God.
We should as it were forget it when we go in before the Lord in duty, and be
willing to drop it, that we may go up to him in heaven. This was the apparatus
to the vision. Now observe,
II. The vision itself. It begins with the strange sights that
the apostle saw, and they were such as these:1. He saw a throne set in
heaven, the seat of honour, and authority, and judgment. Heaven is the
throne of God; there he resides in glory, and thence he gives laws to the church
and to the whole world, and all earthly thrones are under the jurisdiction of
this throne that is set in heaven. 2. He saw a glorious one upon the throne.
This throne was not empty; there was one in it who filled it, and that was God,
who is here described by those things that are most pleasant and precious in our
world: His countenance was like a jasper and a sardine-stone; he is not
described by any human features, so as to be represented by an image, but only
by his transcendent brightness. This jasper is a transparent stone, which yet
offers to the eye a variety of the most vivid colours, signifying the glorious
perfections of God; the sardine-stone is red, signifying the justice of God,
that essential attribute of which he never divests himself in favour of any, but
gloriously exerts it in the government of the world, and especially of the
church, through our Lord Jesus Christ. This attribute is displayed in pardoning
as well as in punishing, in saving as well as in destroying sinners. 3. He saw a
rainbow about the throne, like unto an emerald, v. 3. The rainbow was the
seal and token of the covenant of the providence that God made with Noah and his
posterity with him, and is a fit emblem of that covenant of promise that God has
made with Christ as the head of the church, and all his people in him, which
covenant is as the waters of Noah unto God, an everlasting covenant, ordered in
all things and sure. This rainbow looked like the emerald; the most
prevailing colour was a pleasant green, to show the reviving and refreshing
nature of the new covenant. 4. He saw four-and-twenty seats round about
the throne, not empty, but filled with four-and-twenty elders,
presbyters, representing, very probably, the whole church of God, both in the
Old-Testament and in the New-Testament state; not the ministers of the church,
but rather the representatives of the people. Their sitting denotes their honour,
rest, and satisfaction; their sitting about the throne signifies their relation
to God, their nearness to him, the sight and enjoyment they have of him. They
are clothed in white raiment, the righteousness of the saints, both imputed
and inherent; they had on their heads crowns of gold, signifying the
honour and authority given them of God, and the glory they have with him. All
these may in a lower sense be applied to the gospel church on earth, in its
worshipping assemblies; and, in the higher sense, to the church triumphant in
heaven. 5. He perceived lightnings and voices proceeding out of the throne; that
is, the awful declarations that God makes to his church of his sovereign will
and pleasure. Thus he gave forth the law on mount Sinai; and the gospel has not
less glory and authority than the law, though it be of a more spiritual nature.
6. He saw seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are
explained to be the seven Spirits of God (v. 5), the various gifts,
graces, and operations of the Spirit of God in the churches of Christ; these are
all dispensed according to the will and pleasure of him who sits upon the
throne. 7. He saw before the throne a sea of glass, like unto crystal. As
in the temple there was a great vessel of brass filled with water, in which the
priests were to wash when they went to minister before the Lord (and this was
called a sea), so in the gospel church the sea or laver for purification
is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, who cleanses from all sin, even from
sanctuary-sins. In this all those must be washed that are admitted into the
gracious presence of God on earth or his glorious presence in heaven. 8. He saw four
animals, living creatures, between the throne and the circle of elders (as
seems most probable), standing between God and the people; these seem to signify
the ministers of the gospel, not only because of this their situation nearer to
God, and between him and the elders or representatives of the Christian people,
and because fewer in number than the people, but as they are here described,
(1.) By their many eyes, denoting sagacity, vigilance, and circumspection. (2.)
By their lion-like courage, their great labour and diligence (in which they
resemble the ox), their prudence and discretion becoming men, and their sublime
affections and speculations, by which they mount up with wings like eagles
towards heaven (v. 7), and these wings full of eyes within, to show that in
all their meditations and ministrations they are to act with knowledge, and
especially should be well acquainted with themselves and the state of their own
souls, and see their own concern in the great doctrines and duties of religion,
watching over their own souls as well as the souls of the people. (3.) By their
continual employment, and that is, praising God, and not ceasing to do so night
and day. The elders sit and are ministered unto; these stand and minister: they
rest not night nor day. This now leads to the other part of the representation.
We have considered the sights that the apostle saw in heaven:
now let us observe the songs that he heard, for there is in heaven not only that
to be seen which will highly please a sanctified eye, but there is that to be
heard which will greatly delight a sanctified ear. This is true concerning the
church of Christ here, which is a heaven upon earth, and it will be eminently so
in the church made perfect in the heaven of heavens.
I. He heard the song of the four living creatures, of the
ministers of the church, which refers to the prophet Isaiah's vision, ch. 6.
And here, 1. They adore one God, and one only, the Lord God Almighty,
unchangeable and everlasting. 2. They adore three holies in this one God, the
Holy Father, the Holy Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these are one infinitely
holy and eternal Being, who sits upon the throne, and lives for ever and
ever. In this glory the prophet saw Christ, and spoke of him.
II. He heard the adorations of the four-and-twenty elders,
that is, of the Christian people represented by them; the ministers led, and the
people followed, in the praises of God, v. 10, 11. Here observe,
1. The object of their worship, the same with that which the
ministers adored: Him that sat on the throne, the eternal everliving God.
The true church of God has one and the same object of worship. Two different
objects of worship, either co-ordinate or sub-ordinate, would confound the
worship and divide the worshippers. It is unlawful to join in divine worship
with those who either mistake or multiply the object. There is but one God, and
he alone, as God, is worshipped by the church on earth and in heaven.
2. The acts of adoration. (1.) They fell down before him that
sat on the throne; they discovered the most profound humility, reverence,
and godly fear. (2.) They cast their crowns before the throne; they gave
God the glory of the holiness wherewith he had crowned their souls on earth and
the honour and happiness with which he crowns them in heaven. They owe all their
graces and all their glories to him, and acknowledge that his crown is
infinitely more glorious than theirs, and that it is their glory to be
3. The words of adoration: they said, Thou art worthy, O
Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power, v. 11. Observe, (1.) They do
not say, We give thee glory, and honour, and power; for what can any
creature pretend to give unto God? But they say, thou art worthy to receive
glory. (2.) In this they tacitly acknowledge that God is exalted far above
all blessing and praise. He was worthy to receive glory, but they were not
worthy to praise, nor able to do it according to his infinite excellences.
4. We have the ground and reason of their adoration, which is
threefold:(1.) He is the Creator of all things, the first cause; and none but
the Creator of all things should be adored; no made thing can be the object of
religious worship. (2.) He is the preserver of all things, and his preservation
is a continual creation; they are created still by the sustaining power of God.
All beings but God are dependent upon the will and power of God, and no
dependent being must be set up as an object of religious worship. It is the part
of the best dependent beings to be worshippers, not to be worshipped. (3.) He is
the final cause of all things: For thy pleasure they are and were created.
It was his will and pleasure to create all things; he was not put upon it by the
will of another; there is no such thing as a subordinate creator, that acts
under and by the will and power of another; and, if there were, he ought not to
be worshipped. As God made all things at his pleasure, so he made them for his
pleasure, to deal with them as he pleases and to glorify himself by them one way
or other. Though he delights not in the death of sinners, but rather that they
should turn and live, yet he hath made all things for himself, Prov.
16:4. Now if these be true and sufficient grounds for religious worship, as they
are proper to God alone, Christ must needs be God, one with the Father and
Spirit, and be worshipped as such; for we find the same causality ascribed to
him. Col. 1:16, 17, All things were created by him and for him, and he is
before all things, and by him all things consist.