Beyond the Open Door (4:1-11)

Submitted by admin on Wed, 2006-09-06 17:12.

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John saw an opened door in heaven, and the voice of God’s Son, which he had heard at the beginning, resounded like a trumpet and invited him to enter. Beyond the open door, John, “in spirit,” found himself beholding a throne. Seated, the glorious personage, the Almighty God, appeared in radiant splendor, which resembled “jasper” (possibly semiprecious white jasper) and “sardius” (likely a precious gem that is red in color). This description is insufficient for arriving at even a vague picture of the one whom John saw. A halo resembling an emerald encircled the throne and the one seated thereon. (4:1-3; compare 1:10-13)

Twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes and with golden crowns on their heads, sat upon thrones surrounding the central throne. As at Mount Sinai when the law was given, lightnings, thunders, and voices revealed the divine presence. (Exodus 19:16-19) Seven lamps burned brightly before God’s throne (representing the “seven spirits” or God’s spirit in all its fullness of operation and under his control and direction). John also saw something resembling a sea of glass, like crystal, in front of the central throne. Perhaps this reminded him of the molten sea or basin at the temple and conveyed to him the need for absolute purity or cleanness in the case of all who would be granted approach to the central throne. (4:4-6)

Four living beings, fully covered with eyes and each having six wings, occupied the position closest to the throne. Based on his knowledge of the book of Ezekiel, John would have recognized them as cherubs. (Ezekiel 1:5-11; 10:20-22) A different face distinguished one living being from another. Perhaps, though not necessarily, the face itself called attention to qualities or attributes. If the face of a man represented the noble qualities humans possess, the other faces could represent features in which humans do not excel — strength (bull, Proverbs 14:4), boldness or fearlessness (lion, 2 Samuel 17:10; 1 Chronicles 12:8; Proverbs 28:1), and speed (flying eagle, Habakkuk 1:8). Ever awake, ever watchful (with nothing escaping the view of their many eyes), the cherubs unceasingly declared God’s holiness. This suggests that they are upholders and defenders of the Most High’s purity. As even their wings have eyes, this may denote that the living beings could use them with full awareness in flight or when providing protective covering. (4:6-8)

Whenever the living beings glorify or praise, honor, and thank the Almighty, the twenty-four elders join in worship. Their crowns are not royal crowns or diadems (diadémata), but crowns of victory (stéphanos, often the designation for a victory wreath). Removing their crowns and placing them before the central throne would have constituted an acknowledgment that their victory and honor came from God and had been obtained on the basis of his unmerited favor. Because elders can represent an entire congregation, these elders appear to be representative of God’s people as already having attained their future reward (dressed in white, crowned as victors, and enthroned). Based on the names later associated with the New Jerusalem, the number twenty-four may be linked to the twelve apostles and the family heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. (21:10-14) John heard them acknowledging God as being worthy of receiving glory, honor, and power because he created everything, and, by his will, everything exists and came into being. (4:9-11)

Note: The words méta taúta (“after these things”) either end the sentence in verse 1 of chapter 4 (“must take place after these things”) or start the next sentence (“After these things, I immediately came to be in spirit...”).