A Heavenly Scene
"After these things I saw, and behold, a door set open in
the heaven, and the former voice which I heard, as of a trumpet, speaking with
me, saying, 'Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must take
place after these things.'
"Immediately I became in the Spirit, and, behold, a throne was set in the heaven, and upon the throne one sitting; and He that was sitting [was] like in appearance to a jasper and a sardine stone, and a rainbow encircled the throne, in appearance like to an emerald; and around the throne 24 thrones, and upon the 24 thrones elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and on their heads golden crowns. And out of the throne go forth lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and seven torches of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God: and before [or, the prospect from] the throne as it were a glassy sea, like unto crystal; and amidst the throne, and around the throne, four living ones, full of eyes before and behind; and the living one the first like a lion, and the second living one like a young ox, and the third living one having the face like a man, the fourth living one like a flying eagle. And the four living ones, each one of them had around them six wings apiece, and within they are full of eyes; and they have not rest day and night, saying, 'Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God the Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.'"
"And whenever the living ones give glory, and honour, and thanks to Him that sits on the throne, to Him that lives for the ages of the ages, the 24 elders fall down before Him that sits on the throne, and worship Him that lives for the ages of the ages, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: 'Thou art worthy, O Lord and our God, to receive the glory, and honour, and the power, because Thou did create all things, and by Thy will they were, and were created.'" Revelation 4:1-11 (Revised Text)
I have said that this open door in heaven, and this calling up of the Apocalyptic seer through that door into heaven, indicate to us the manner in which Christ intends to fulfill His promise to keep certain of His saints "out of the hour of temptation" (3:10) and by what means it is that those who "watch and pray always" shall "escape" (Luke 21:36) the dreadful sorrows with which the present world, in its last years, will be visited.
Those of them that sleep in their graves shall be recalled from among the dead. Those of them who shall be found living at the time, "shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor. 15:51-52), and both classes "shall be caught up together in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thes. 4:17). The same voice that John heard even "the voice as of a trumpet" whether dead or living, they shall hear saying to them, "COME UP HITHER." And there shall attend it a change and transfer as sudden and miraculous as in his case.
As the seven Epistles show us these faithful ones in their sufferings, conflicts, virtues, and victories on earth, the chapter before us carries us up to the contemplation of their estate and dignities in heaven. It is high and peculiarly holy ground that rises to our view, and it becomes us to venture upon it with measured and reverent steps. It would seem, indeed, as if it were rather a subject for angels than for men; but God has caused it to be written for us and has pronounced special blessing upon them that read, hear, and keep what has been thus recorded for our learning.
"Secret things belong unto the Lord," and we may not trespass on that reserved, mysterious realm; "but those things which are revealed, belong unto us, and to our children forever." It is our duty, as well as our privilege, humbly to inquire and to search diligently into what has been prophesied of the grace and the glory which is to come to the saints.
Discarding, then, that false humility, which is the offspring or the cloak of spiritual sloth, let us, in the fear of God, go forward with our investigations. Let us stir ourselves up to the effort to obtain some distinct ideas of what the blessed Saviour has thought it so important to show to His Church. Happy shall we be if the sublime King admits us into His court, though He may not now take us into His counsel.
May Almighty God open our hearts to the subject and the subject to our hearts!
Some Of The Surroundings And Relations Of The Vision
The scene of this vision is in heaven not in the temple, as some have represented. The door that John saw was an opening "in the heaven." The voice that he heard came from above. It commanded him to "Come up." It was potent, for "immediately" he "became in the Spirit." It wrought an instantaneous rapture so that the next opening of his eyes disclosed his presence in a supernal region. There is no allusion to Jerusalem or to its temple. The whole scene is heavenly and relates only to what is heavenly. It belongs to a realm above the earth and above all the sanctuaries of the earth.
The Rabbins dreamed of seven heavens. Paul speaks of three, in the highest of which he "heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." But as John was commanded to write what he saw and to communicate it to the Churches, and Paul was forbidden to describe what he saw and heard, this would seem to be a different heaven from that called "the third." The heaven of this vision would seem to be, indefinitely, the regions above us the firmament the higher portions of the atmosphere which envelops the earth. This however I take to be certain, that the location of what John beheld was not earth, but above the earth, and quite unconnected with the earth.
Whether there was a literal, bodily transportation of the seer from the earth to the regions of space is not stated, nor inferable from the description. Perhaps the apostle himself was not able to perceive how it was. Paul could not tell whether he was "in the body, or out of the body" when he "was caught up." He only knew that he was somehow present in "the third heaven," and that that presence was the same to him as a bodily transportation, equally real and equally effective.
It was the same in John's case. He tells us that he was called by a mighty voice to come up into heaven and straightway "became in the Spirit" in some mysterious, miraculous, ecstatic state, wrought by the power of God which was, to all intents and purposes, a complete translation from Patmos to the hidden sky. He was not dead; he was not in a mere swoon. He had all his senses entire: his ears heard; his eyes saw; his heart felt; his capacity to weep and to speak continued with him. The thing was, in all respects, the same as a bodily carrying up to the heavenly sphere where he found what he was commanded to describe.
We notice also, that this vision sets forth what is to be after the fulfilment of the vision and letters concerning the Churches. The links of consecutive revelations are distinctly expressed and are by no means to be overlooked. The declared object for which the apostle was called up into the sky, was to be shown not what existed in heaven at the time, as some have mistakenly thought but "the things which must take place AFTER" what he had already seen and described.
The seven Churches, in all the amplitude of their representative significance, were first to run their course, and the order of things to which they belonged was to touch upon its end, before one jot of what is here portrayed was to be realised. As John was called up just to be shown "the things which must take place after these things," of course, all that he saw and heard consequent upon that rapture can only be referred to the period next following the things of the first vision. That vision, as we have been led to conclude and as we think must be admitted, embraces the whole continuity of the dispensation under which we are now living and takes in the entire earthly Church-state, from the time of the apostles to the end of the age. The end of this age will be when Christ comes again to receive His people to Himself.
That "end" we regard as very near, but so long as it is yet future, the time to which this vision refers is also future. It relates to things which do not exist as yet and which cannot become reality till that to which they are specifically said to be subsequent is fulfilled. It is therefore a picture of things in the sky, immediately upon the first movement of the Saviour in His coming to judgment. This is marked by the miraculous seizing away of the saints from their associates on earth to the clouds of heaven.
It is also to be observed that the things foreshown in this vision, while they come after the first interference with the present order, still precede the great tribulation and the scenes of judicial visitation upon the apostate Church and the guilty world. Indeed, it is from what is here depicted, that those inflictions proceed. What John sees is permanent. It continues through all that comes after, the same as seen at the first. The throne, the Elders, the Living ones, all retain their places unchanged and have direct connection with all that subsequently transpires. The action of the seals, in chapters six and seven, which brings the great tribulation upon the world, and the still remoter action of the trumpets and vials, and the whole series of judgments described in the latter part of this book, proceed from and depend more or less on the scene of glory and power represented in these two chapters.
The realisation of what they describe must, therefore, fall intermediately between the first removal of saints from earth, and the forthcoming of the great troubles, and the destruction of Babylon and Antichrist. In other words, it is a scene of things to be manifested in heaven immediately succeeding the beginning of the judgment of the Church and preceding the judgment of the world of apostates and sinners. It is a picture of the results of the former and of the source and instrument of the latter.
There have been writers, I will not call them interpreters, who have fallen so low as to affirm that these two chapters are simply the creation of the writer's own fancy. They maintain that the revelations were meant to set forth how deeply he was impressed and pervaded with a sense of God's power and glory, and hence, in how fit a state he was to take in and express the mysteries of the divine purposes. For such bald rationalism I have neither sympathy nor respect.
If there is anything divine in the book, and everything in it proves to me that it is divine, the announcement of the object for which John was taken up to heaven to see these sights, must also be divine. It was a trumpet-voice from heaven that made it, and its effect was instantaneously miraculous, carrying the prophet by some mysterious unlocking of his inner nature quite away from earth.
That Voice declared that John was thus called and transported to see not what was to create seriousness in him, or merely to persuade the reader that there was something momentous to be told, but WHAT MUST TAKE PLACE after the fulfillment of the things pertaining to the Churches. What he was to be shown was not to prepare for the prophecy, but was itself the head and front of the prophecy. What he was to see was to become reality; it was to come to pass; it was in due time to be history and fact. And to apply this divine affirmation only to what follows these chapters, and not to what these chapters themselves contain, is like undertaking to render the play of Hamlet, with the part of Hamlet left out.
No, if there is any sacred prediction in the case, these chapters are a most vital element of it, without which, indeed, the remainder is but imperfectly intelligible. Upon evidences as solid as those which prove the inspiration of this book, I hold that these two chapters are as substantially prophetic as any other part. They do not relate directly to the earth, but they compass a very grand part of the results of God's gracious doings in the earth for all these ages past, and a very grand part of what is to affect the earth for all the recurring ages of the future.
With these points settled, we are now prepared to look at the particulars which the magnificent picture brings to our contemplation.
The Throne In Heaven
The first thing named, and that which is at once the central object of the vision and of all that follows it, is A THRONE. The Scriptures continually speak of thrones in connection with the sovereignty and majesty of God. They tell us that "the Lord has prepared His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:9).
Among the last words of the preceding chapter, Christ refers to His throne and the Father's throne. Here the apostle sees "a throne in the heaven." No intimations are given of the form of the magnificent object. The throne on which Isaiah saw the Lord was "high and lifted up." In another vision, John saw a throne, "great and white." But everywhere we are left to think of the power and authority of which the throne is a symbol, rather than of any particular form or material structure. A visible image was presented to the eye of the seer, but he does not stop to tell us what it was like. It was simply an indescribable seat of grandeur, greatness, majesty, and dominion.
Nor was it the eternal throne of the Father, at least not in the position and relations which it occupies anterior to the time to which this vision relates. John sees it, not as long since fixed and settled in this locality and form, but just as it was taking up its rest in this place. It was being set as he was looking. The expression is in a tense which denotes unfinished action, reaching its completion at the time of the seeing. The apostle's language implies that the act of the placing of the throne where he saw it, was only being completed at the moment of his looking.
That moment was the moment of his being called up from earth into heaven. The rapture of the saints, then, is the point of transition where the present dispensation begins to end, and another, of which this throne is the centre, takes its commencement. The passage is an exact parallel, both as to subject and phraseology, to Daniel 7:9, where the prophet says "I beheld till the thrones were set (not cast down, as our version has it), and the Ancient of days did sit, whose throne was like the fiery flame." The vision embraced the placing of the throne, as well as the throne itself, and the locality it occupied.
"And upon the throne one sitting." There is no name mentioned and no figure described, but we can be at no loss to distinguish who is meant. John was manifestly filled with mysterious awe, and his words sufficiently intimate that he was looking upon "the unnameable, indescribable Godhead," in which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are consubstantial, and the same. And yet there was visible manifestation.
"He that was sitting [was] like in appearance to a jasper and a sardine stone" not as to shape, for Deity has no shape, but in colour and flashing brilliancy. The scriptural representations of the jasper are that it is "most precious," crystalline, and purple in hue. The sardine, or sardius, is also described as exceedingly precious and of a beautiful bright, red, carnation colour. It is capable of a particularly high and lasting polish. Uniting the qualities of tint and brilliancy belonging to the purer specimens of these precious gems, we have the appearance of flames without their smokiness a pure, purple, fiery, red, crystalline, flashing light. This was the appearance of the unnameable and indescribable occupant of this equally indescribable throne.
"And a rainbow encircled the throne in appearance like to an emerald." The rainbow is one of the most beautiful and maj- estic of earthly appearances. It is the token of God's covenant with all flesh, never again to destroy the earth or its inhabit- ants as in the flood (Genesis 9:11,17). Encircling this throne, the intimation is that, although a throne of judgment, it is not a throne of destruction, but one of conservation, which bears with it the remembrance and the stability of the ancient promise.
From what the apostle subsequently saw go forth from this throne, and the shakings and overturnings in heaven and earth of which it was to be the source and means, fears might naturally arise as to the continuity of the earth as an organised structure for the habitation of God's creatures. But this rainbow around the throne forever scatters such apprehensions.
Yet, the intimation is that the fulfilment of that covenant is not to be always in the course of nature as we now have it. The true iris is around the throne, but there is a change in it now. Its prevailing hue is light green "in appearance like to an emerald" which is an appearance having something additional to nature, or nature modified, with one part of it exalted and strengthened beyond its wont. The jasper and the sardine flash terrible glory, but over them is the soft-beaming emerald of promise and hope mercy remembered in wrath salvation over-spanning the appearance of consuming fire.
"And out of the throne go forth lightnings, and voices, and thunders." These demonstrate that the throne is one of judgment and that wrath is about to proceed from it. When God was about to visit Egypt's sins upon her, He "sent thunder [Hebrew: 'voices'], and hail, and fire ran along upon the ground." And Pharaoh sent and said, "Entreat the Lord that there be no more voices of God" (Exodus 9:23,28). When He wished to show Israel the terrible extent of His anger with sin, "there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud" (Exodus 19:16). When He sent forth His wrath upon the Philistines, "the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them, and they were smitten before Israel" (1 Samuel 7:10).
These instances show us that this is not a throne of grace but a throne of judgment. These lightnings, thunders, and voices, proceeding from it, tell of justice and wrath to be visited upon transgressors. The river of water of life is gone, and in its place is the terror and fire of judgment and death.
The Seven Spirits Of God
"And seven torches of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God." These are not candlesticks or lamps within doors but torches borne aloft without; they are speaking preparation for battle. When Gideon went forth in vengeance against the Midianites, his 300 men each took a burning torch in his left hand and a trumpet in his right, "and they cried, THE SWORD OF THE LORD, and of Gideon" (Judges 7:16,20). In the prophetic announcement of the going forth of God's wrath upon Nineveh, the destroyer is described as displaying "flaming torches in the day of his preparation" (Nahum 2:3-4).
So the throne which is set for the judgment of the world has before it its "torches of fire burning," charged with the fulness of consuming vengeance upon all the enemies of God; for they are "seven." The Spirit of God, in all His plenitude, is these seven torches. It is not peaceful light but flaming indignation which is betokened. It at last sets the world on fire, producing that day "that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble, and it shall burn them up, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch" (Malachi 4:1). The throne speaks vengeance upon the guilty, and the Spirit of God is the spirit of the throne the spirit of devouring fire.
The Glassy Sea
"And before [or, the prospect from] the throne as it were a glassy sea, like unto crystal." When Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the 70 elders of Israel went up unto the Lord on Sinai, "they saw the God of Israel, and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone and as it were the body of heaven in clearness" (Exodus 24:10-1l). In the vision of Ezekiel, the floor or plain on which the throne of God rested was "the likeness of the firmament, as the colour of the terrible crystal" (1:22).
These several descriptions explain each other. This throne, and all surrounding it or connected with it, had its place upon a plain, which resembled a wide sea solid, transparent, and full of inexpressible beauty, splendour, and majesty. Though in the air, it was not hung there. It had a base. There is a pavement, like a sapphire stone, on which it, as the whole celestial assemblage, rests. We also read of the street of the city being "pure gold, as it were transparent glass" (Revelation 21:21). Heaven is not a world of mists and shadows, but of substance and beautiful realities.
The 24 Elders
"And around the throne, 24 thrones; and upon the 24 thrones, Elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and on their heads golden crowns." There was more than one throne. In the centre, conspicuous and majestic beyond description, was the throne of Deity. In a wide circle around it were 24 other thrones, distinct and glorious, but smaller and lower than that which is by eminence called "The Throne." Our translators call them "seats," but the original word is the same in the case of the 24 in the circle, as in that in the centre. They are all "seats" certainly, but a particular kind of seats, regal seats, seats of majesty and dominion, seats of royal assessors with the enthroned One. Nor can we be much at a loss as to the persons who occupy them.
They are not angels, but human beings. This is ascertained by the song they sing, in which they speak of having been gathered out of the tribes and peoples of the earth (chapter 5:9). They are not the patriarchs, Jews, or apostles, only; for they are from "every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation" (5: 9). They are not unfallen beings but ransomed sinners, for they give honour to Christ for redeeming them "You redeemed US by Your blood" (5:9).
They are not disembodied spirits of the saints but glorified subjects of grace, for they are enthroned, crowned, and robed in white, which is a fruition of blessedness and honour which is everywhere reserved till after the resurrection and the glorifying rapture. Paul tells us that he was to receive his "crown of righteousness" not at his decease but "at that day" - the day of Christ's coming to awake and gather His saints. The same is true of all who are to be partakers of that crown (2 Tim. 4: 8).
The entire scriptural doctrine concerning the state of the dead forbids the idea that disembodied souls are already crowned and enthroned, although at rest in the bosom of God. Such rewards Christ is to bring with Him (see 22:12; 11:18; Isaiah 53:12). Hence, no one receives them until He comes, recalls the sleepers, and completes that redemption of power for which all things wait (Romans 8:22-23). The coronation time is the resurrection time, and no one can be crowned until he is either resurrected, if dead, or translated, if living. Any other doctrine overthrows some of the plainest teachings of the Scriptures and carries confusion into the whole Christian system.
Since John beholds certain subjects of redemption robed, crowned, and enthroned as priests and kings in heaven, we here have (let it be noted) positive demonstration, that, at the time to which this vision relates, a resurrection and a translation have already taken place. It will not do to say that the picture anticipates the position and triumphs of the Church after the seals, trumpets, and vials have run their course.
They occupy these thrones while yet the closed book, which brings forth the seals and trumpets, lies untouched in the hand of Him that sits upon the throne. They see it there, and they vote the Lamb worthy to open it. They behold Him taking it up and fall down and worship as He holds it. They are in their places when heaven receives the accession of the multitude that comes "out of the great tribulation" (7:11-14). They have their own distinct positions when the still later company of the 144,000 gather round the Lamb on Mount Zion. And they are spectators of the judgment of great Babylon, and sing Alleluia in glory as they see her fall (19:4).
Instead of anticipation of the final result of the great day of the Lord, there is actual participation in the processes and administrations by which that result is wrought.
They are "Elders" not only with reference to their official places, for that term is expressive of time rather than of office. The elder is the older man, and in the original order of human society, he was the ruling man because he was the older man. These enthroned ones are elders not because they are officers, but they are officers because they are elders. They are the older ones of the children of the resurrection.
They are the first-born from the dead - the first glorified of all the company of the redeemed - the seniors of the celestial assembly, not indeed with respect to the number of their years on earth but with respect to the time of their admission into heaven. They have had their resurrection, or their translation, in advance of the judgment-tribulations and are crowned and officiating as kings and priests in glory, while others less faithful are still slumbering in their graves or suffering on the earth. They do not represent, by any means, the whole body of the redeemed, as some have supposed. They are exactly what their name imports; the seniors of them; the first-born of the household; the oldest of the family, hence honoured officials.
There certainly is a succession in the order in which the saints are gathered into their final glory. There are some who "escape" the tribulation, being taken to heaven before it comes; there are others who suffer it and are only taken to heaven out of it. Then there is a peculiar company of sealed ones who come in at a still later period, and a "harvest of the earth" still subsequent to their appearance with the Lamb on Mount Zion. There may be a still remoter bringing in of those under Antichrist who "had not worshipped the beast, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands," all of whom together make up the fulness of "the first resurrection." Of these successive companies and orders, the enthroned ones of this vision are among the first, if not absolutely the first. They are the seniors - "the Elders."
John saw but 24 of them, but these were the representatives of many others. There were many priests and Levites under the old economy. The number of those who "were set to forward the work of the house of the Lord, was 24,000" (1 Chronicles 23:3-4). But they were all arranged in courses of 24 (1 Chronicles 24:3-5) so that never more than 24 were found on duty at a time. There were also many prophets appointed to praise God with instruments of song, but they too were arranged in 24 courses, each course with its own individual representative (1 Chronicles 25).
These were not human devices but things specially directed by the Spirit of the Lord (1 Chronicles 18:11-13,19). They were meant to be "figures of the true" and "patterns of things in the heavens" (Hebrews 9:9,23-24). Accordingly, we are to see in these 24 royal priests, but one course of as many more courses, all of which together do but represent thousands upon thousands of the same high and privileged class. Heaven is not an empty place, nor is it stinted in the number of its honoured dignitaries.
I find, then, in these enthroned Elders the highest manifested glory of the risen and glorified saints. They are in heaven. They are around the throne of Deity. They are pure and holy, wearing white, "which is the righteousness of the saints." They are partakers of celestial dominion. They are kings of glory with golden crowns. They are settled and at home in their exalted dignities - not standing and waiting as servants but seated as royal counsellors of the Almighty. They are assessors of the great Judge of the quick and dead, the spectators of all that transpires in heaven and earth, and participants in the judgment of the world for its sins, the Church for its apostasies, Babylon for her impurities, Antichrist for his blasphemies, and that old Serpent and his brood for their ungodliness and wickedness during all these weary ages (1 Cor 6:2-3). They are Elders of the glorious house of the redeemed and kings and priests in the temple and palace of the Lord God Almighty, whom all the earth shall obey and all the ages acknowledge. Yet, there is another picture in the vision, which some take to be still higher.
The Four Living Creatures
"Amidst the throne and around the throne," John saw "four Living ones," unfortunately called "beasts" by our translators, "full of eyes before and behind - the first like a lion, and the second like a young ox, and the third having the face like a man, and the fourth like a flying eagle. And the four Living ones, each one of them, had around them six wings apiece, and within they are full of eyes; and they have not rest day and night, saying, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY,- LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS, AND WHO IS, AND WHO IS TO COME."
What are we to understand by these? They sing precisely the same song (5:9-10) which the Elders sing. They give praise to the Lamb for having died for them and for redeeming them by His blood "out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation." They say to the Lamb, "You redeemed US to God by Your blood." This settles the point that they are also glorified men, not "beasts" at all, nor mere personifications of mute creation or nature's forces.
Perhaps the easiest and shortest way for us to get at the true explanation of this remarkable manifestation is to go back to the ancient dispensation, so much of which was copied exactly from these heavenly things. The Jewish writers tell us that the standard of each tribe of Israel took the colour of the stone that represented it in the high priest's breastplate. There was also wrought upon each a particular figure - a lion for Judah, a young ox for Ephraim, a man for Reuben, and an eagle for Dan. These were the representative tribes, and all the rest were marshalled under these four standards (Numbers 2) - Judah on the east, with Issachar and Zebulon; Reuben on the south, with Simeon and Gad; Ephraim on the west, with Manasseh and Benjamin; and Dan on the north, with Asher and Naphtali. In the centre of this quadrangular encampment was the tabernacle of God, with four divisions of Levites forming an inner encampment around it.
It was thus that Israel was marched through the wilderness under the four banners of the lion, the young ox, the man, and the flying eagle. These were their ensigns, their guards, their coverings, the symbols of powers by which they were guided and protected. They were parts of that divine and heavenly administration which led them forth from bondage, preserved them in the wilderness, and finally settled them in the promised land. Such was the earthly, outward, material aspect of the case. In Ezekiel's vision of the cherubim we have the same thing in its more interior and heavenly aspects (Ezek. 1).
"To cover and guard" is thought to be the proper signification of the word cherub. After the expulsion of our first parents from Eden, cherubim were placed at the east of the garden "to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24); and the prince of Tyre is likened to the cherub that covers (Ezekiel 28:14). A vision of the cherubim, then, is a vision of them that cover, protect, guard, and keep.
In this vision of Israel's protectors and keepers, what did Ezekiel see? "Above the firmament was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone, and the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it." This was the throne of God. But under the throne, connected with the throne and instinct with the life of the throne, was "the likeness of four living creatures" who "ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning" and moved with complicated wheels, with high and dreadful rings, full of eyes. It was through them that the Spirit of the throne went forth every way, wherever it would. And these living creatures, the executors of the will of the Spirit of the throne, had the same forms combined in each which were borne upon the four banners of the children of Israel - the lion, the man, the ox, and the eagle (1:10).
These cherubim were not human beings; they were angelic beings. What these cherubim were in the ancient order, these "living ones" are in the order which obtains at the time to which this vision of John refers. They are redeemed men, glorified, and related to the judgment-throne in heaven, and to the interests and affairs of the future kingdom on earth, just as the cherubim are related to the throne and kingdom now, and in the former dispensations. They are the cherubim of the new order. They are joined directly to the throne of the new order. They are in the midst of it. They are around it. They are expressions of it. And they take the forms of the lion, the man, the young ox, and the flying eagle for the reason that they are the heavenly powers who guard and cover the camp of the Lord which, under them, the entire world is to become.
Jesus tells us that "they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that aeon [age] and the resurrection from among the dead are (isangeloi) equal unto the angels" (Luke 20:35-36). This is the vision of that declaration fulfilled, showing us certain pre-eminent classes of the eclectic resurrection and translation, not only angelic as to their form of existence, but in the exact positions which angels held in other dispensations.
Ezekiel saw but four cherubim. The number was significant of the scene of their ministrations - the world. These four included and represented many more, for "the chariots of God" are "20,000, even many thousands of angels" (Psalm 68:17). For this same reason, John saw only four of these "living ones." This is the worldly number and denotes that their office has reference to God's providence in the world. But in these four are embraced thousands of glorified ones whose high distinction is to share the throne with their Divine Redeemer as His ministers and as executors of His will throughout eternal ages.
They have wings, for they are angelic now, and more wings than their angelic predecessors, showing how fully they are capacitated for motion and how much wider is the sphere of their movements. The Israel of old was but one nation; the Israel they do for is all the nations.
They are full of eyes - before, behind, and within - which is the symbol of intense intelligence looking backward into the past, and forward into the future, and inward upon themselves and into the nature of things. They are able to direct their ways and administrations with unlimited penetration and discretion.
They never rest in the fervency and grandeur of their zeal. They are perpetually expressing the holiness and glory of the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.
Some have taken them to be the same as the Elders, only in other relations and in other features of their dignities and blessedness. I cannot so understand it. They have, it is true, the same priestly censers as the Elders, and they sing the same song of a common redemption, kingship, priesthood, and dominion over the earth. But they have, as a class, an individual distinctness that is never lost sight of and never confounded with the elders. Even on earth, "there are diversities of gifts, and differences of administrations," and much more will there be varieties of place and function in heaven.
The Elders have crowns and thrones distinct from the central throne, but these living ones have for their crown the very throne itself. They are joined to the throne; they are in the midst of it, and directly express it. (These four beasts are living emblems and ornaments of the throne, denoting a nearer admission than the 24 elders. - Bengel) They also lead the Elders in their adoration, for "whenever they give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sits on the throne," then it is that "the 24 Elders fall down before Him that sits on the throne and worship Him that lives for the age of the ages and cast their crowns before the throne," giving glory, honour, and power to the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth.
The one class have more the semblance of counsellors, the other, that of executors, and the two together are the closest to God of all the redeemed.
The Heavenly Prize
These, my friends, are the dignities and glories to which you and I and all who hear the Gospel of Christ are called and invited. There is not a prerogative of that celestial eldership - not an office or possession of these living ones - not a song they sing - not an attribute they wear - not a place they fill - which is not held out and offered to every one of us.
Oh, the grandeur, the blessedness, the sublime nature of the overtures of the Gospel of Christ! With your eye on these heavenly splendours, these celestial princedoms and priesthoods, these eternal royalties with God and with His Son, Jesus Christ, and with your heart warmed with the contemplation of their unfathomed excellency, I ask you whether you are willing to despise and cast away this your golden opportunity to obtain them?
I wish to put it to your conscience, O man, O woman, whether, after all this has been put within your reach, you can still hope for clemency if you wilfully turn a deaf ear and carelessly let your chance go by! I wish to have your honest, sober, practical decision on the question, whether you are willing to allow this world's fleeting vanities and damning sins and follies to occupy and possess you in preference to these immortal regencies and eternal principalities and powers?
Believe me that I am in earnest in this appeal, for I make it as a messenger of God, called to deal with these holy things for your salvation. The Lord fasten it on your soul and give each of us grace to let go friends, pleasures, comforts, home, country, freedom, life, everything, rather than let slip so blessed an opportunity for so great a prize!
Home | Links | Writings | Biography