SUMMARY.--The Voice from Heaven. The Throne and He Who Sat on the Throne. The Twenty-four Elders. The Four Living Forms. Their Cry Night and Day. The Doxology of the Twenty-four Elders.
9-11. And when the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanks to him that sitteth on the throne. Shall utter such praises as are given in verse 8 . Then the twenty-four elders also join in swelling the anthems. It will be noted that these two classes, whatever they signify, are both about the throne, and both engaged in harmonious praise of the Almighty. 10. Cast their crowns before the throne. There are four elements in this worship: (1) They fall down; (2) they adore; (3) they cast their crowns before the throne, an act of homage which gives Him who sitteth there all the glory of their crowns; (4) they offer ascriptions of praise. 11. Worthy art thou, etc. The chorus in which they join ascribes all glory to God as his right as the Creator. Because of thy will they were. Not as in the Common Version. They do not say that God created all things "for his pleasure," but that his will was the efficient cause.
The meaning of the Twenty-four Elders and the Four Living Creatures has been the subject of much discussion. It has been held by many discreet commentators that the first symbolizes the Redeemed Church, and the latter the Animated Creation, joined around the throne in the praises of the Almighty. It is always with hesitation and a degree of pain that I differ from those whose opinions I have studied with profit, but I am compelled to think that none of the explanations are entirely adequate. I give below my reasons, and what I think the correct view:
THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES.--What is symbolized by these forms? If the reader will turn to Ezek. 1 , he will find that the exiled prophet of the old dispensation saw by the river Chebar of Babylon, the same beings that John described in this chapter. While there are minor differences, the great features are the same. Each prophet, John and Ezekiel Ezekiel 1:5 Revelation 4:6 Ezekiel 1:10 Revelation 4:7 Ezekiel 1:18 Revelation 4:8 , sees (1) four living creatures; both see (2) four faces, like those of a man, a lion, an ox or calf, and a flying eagle; (3) the living creatures of each prophet are full of eyes; (4) in each case they are winged. There is one minor difference in the wings: John sees six wings, while Ezekiel Ezekiel 1:6 Ezekiel 1:8 mentions four wings and a pair of hands under the wings, making six members. The seraphim of Isaiah, chapter 6 had six wings. The similar appearance, and the fact that the same Greek term is used to represent them, proves beyond doubt that the "four beasts" of John are the "four living creatures" of Ezekiel. If we therefore can ascertain the significance of the symbols beheld by the Old Testament prophets, we will be able to ascertain what the same symbols mean in Revelation. We are not left in doubt about the identity of the beings described by them. In the tenth chapter Ezekiel describes certain beings that he beheld the second time; and in verse 15 verse 15 Ezekiel 22 , that these are the "living creatures I saw by the river Chebar." Again, in verse 20 he affirms the same thing, and says: "I knew that they were the cherubim." Isaiah , on the other hand, declares that the figures he saw were seraphim.
Here, then, is solid ground. The four living creatures, or "beasts," of John are not the four elements, four quarters of the earth, four continents, or four evangelists, but are cherubim or seraphim. The forms seen by these prophets are probably symbolical of their nature and work. The information given in the Scriptures Exodus 1:1 Genesis 3:24 Exodus 25:20 Hebrews 9:5 Hebrews 36:8 is scanty, but they are always represented as being very near the throne of God. When man sinned, it was cherubim who guarded the way to the tree of life. In the tabernacle cherubim hovered over the mercy seat and were figured upon the curtains. The Almighty is addressed elsewhere 1 Samuel 4:4 1 Samuel 4:2 Sa 6:2 Sa 6:2 Ki 19:15 Ki 19:1 Ch 13:6 Psalms 80:1 Psalms 99:1 Isaiah 37:16 as the One who dwells between the cherubim The brightness of the glory of the Lord is represented as attending them in Ezekiel ; and in the vision of John they are "in the midst of and around the throne." In the fifth chapter the Lamb stands "in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts." In some way the cherubim are immediately about the throne of God.
The forms seen by Isaiah, Ezekiel and John have a symbolical significance. These angelic intelligences represent the courage of the lion, the patient strength of the ox, the intellect of the man, and the swiftness of the eagle. They are full of eyes, or see all things; their wings are always in motion, or they are distinguished by tireless activity, and the continually cry, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty;" or, without ceasing they minister to the glory of God. Thus much can be said concerning the "four beasts," or "cherubim," without indulging in speculation. Cherubim are present at the fall of man; cherubim also celebrate his redemption and the triumph of the reign of Christ. Whether they also symbolize four forms of earthly creation is a matter left to conjecture.
THE FOUR AND TWENTY ELDERS.--What has been said will aid us to determine the meaning of these heavenly elders. It has been usually held that they were men, representative of the redeemed. The number has been troublesome, but they have been supposed to represent the twelve apostles and twelve patriarchs. I think that a careful examination of all the passages in which they occur will show that they are of kindred character to the cherubim (the four beasts) and to the angels. 1. They are about the throne--( 4:4 .) 2. When the cherubim give glory to God, they also worship--( 4:10 .) 3. Together they sing the new song--( 5:9 .)* 4. When the angels honour the Lamb, these unite in saying, Amen--( 5:14 .) 5. When the innumerable multitude of redeemed, clothed in white robes, praise God for salvation, the angels and elders, and four beasts are not with these redeemed ones, but about the throne, and join together in a separate ascription of praise from that offered by men--( 7:9-12 .) 6. One of the elders informs John concerning those arrayed in white robes, and it is evident that he does not belong to their number--( 7:13 .) 7. When the final triumph comes, and the seventh trumpet angel proclaims that "the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ," the four and twenty elders who were sitting on their seats before the throne fell upon their faces and gave thanks to God--( 11:17 .) 8. In chapter 14 , the Lamb has one hundred and forty and four thousand saints about him, who sing a new song "before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders." From all these passages, it will be seen that the elders are grouped, not with the martyrs, or redeemed, or the one hundred and forty and four thousand; not with saved men, but with the angels and the cherubim about the throne of God. This distinction marks their character. They belong to the heavenly intelligences; to the same class as the cherubim and angels. They are princes of heaven. They are twenty-four in number. This number is probably associated with the twenty-four courses of priests engaged in the service of the temple, the institutions of which were "patterns of things in the heavens." They are of the retinue that surround the throne and serve in the presence of God, and they constantly join in the adoration of the angelic hosts, and are incessantly employed in carrying out God's plans for the salvation of the world.