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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

Revelation 5

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-14

See Revelation 4:1 ff for the passage quote with footnotes.

[And I saw.—“Notice that from the general vision, in the last chapter, of the heavenly Presence of God, the scene is so far only changed that, all that remaining as described, a particular incident is now seen for the first time, and is introduced by καὶ εἶδον.” Alford.—E. R. C.]

Revelation 5:1. On the right hand of Him that sitteth upon the Throne.—[See Synoptical View, p149]. For a discussion of ἐπὶ τὴν δεξιάν, in opposition to Ebrard’s view, see Düsterd, p234. [“The right hand was open, and the book lay on the open hand.” Alford.—E. R. C.]

A scroll.—The book [scroll], βιβλίον, was in the Hebrew form of a roll (not in the form of a Roman document, as Huschke maintains).

[In answer to the question, “What is represented by this Book?” Alford presents seven different opinions, which may be condensed as follows: 1. The Old Testament, or the Old and New conjoined (Orig, Euseb, Epiphan, Hippol, Victor, August, Tichon, Bede, Hilary, Jerome, Joachim, Greg, the Great, Haymo, Ansbert). 2. Christ Himself (Hilary [?], Heterius, Paschasius). 3. Libellus repudii a Deo scriptus nationi Judaicæ (Wetstein). 4. Sententiam a Judice et patribus ejus conscriptus in hortes ecclesiæ conceptam (Schöttgen and Hengstenberg). 5. That part of the Apocalypse which treats of the opening of the seven seals, Revelation 6-11. (Alcasar). 6. The Apocalypse itself (Corn. a-Lap.). 7. “Divinæ providentiæ concilium et præfinitio, qua apud Se statuit et decrevit facere vel permittere, etc.” (Areth, Vitringa, Mede, Ewald, De Wette, Stern, Düsterd, et al.). The last he declares to be, in the main, his own view. See also Synoptical View.—E. R. C.]

Within and on the back.—The idea of a great leaf-roll, covered with writing on both sides, is here presented. Similar descriptions in classical literature; see in Düsterd. [“According to ancient usage, a parchment roll was first written on the inside, and if the inside was filled with writing, then the outside was used, or back part of the roll; and if that also was covered with writing, and the whole available space was occupied, the book was called opistho-graphos (written on the back-side; Lucian, Vit. Auction. 9, Plin. Epist. 3:5). or written ‘in aversâ cartâ,’ Martial, viii22.” Wordsworth.—E. R. C.]

The book [scroll] has no vacant places, for the world’s history is great, and in Heaven everything is foreseen even to the very end. The explanation of the whole passage is by no means as easy as Düsterdieck and others seem to think. It is not easy to demonstrate how a single leaf could be unsealed without the simultaneous loosing of all its seals, or how the loosing of a single seal could have freed only a single division of the leaf.[FN1] And therefore we, with Vitringa (De Wette?) and others, adopt the idea of seven membranes or leaves, of which each one was separately sealed. Further, we reject the view which conceives of the book [scroll] as directly embracing the whole Apocalypse. It of course embraces it implicite, but explicite its contents are exhausted with the sixth chapter, inasmuch as the seventh seal, on being opened, gives place to a new vision and introduces a new group of pictures. We can, indeed, say that as the seven churches preside over the seven seals, so the latter preside over the seven trumpets; nevertheless, not only do trumpets and seals form distinct groups, but the seals, as forms of secrecy or mystery, constitute a perfect antithesis to the trumpets. We must particularly note here the idea of the seal (secrecy and security at once, Isaiah 29:11, etc.); that of the sevenfold seal (a sevenfold and hence sacred involution of both considerations); the idea of the book [scroll] ( Exodus 32:32; Psalm 139:16, etc.); finally, the idea of the writing on both sides.

“The idea that the βιβλίον is the Old Testament (Victorinus), or the whole of Sacred Writ, containing the New Testament within and the Old Testament without (Primas, Bede, Zeger) is founded upon mere guess-work.” Duesterdieck. Our comment upon this is that the contents are made known by the unsealing.

Revelation 5:2. And I saw a strong angel (ἰσχυρόν).[FN2]—To the world of Angels the world of the contrast of guilt and grace is a mysterious region ( 1 Peter 1:12). Even to the strong Angels it is mysterious. And an anxiety is felt in the heavenly realms for a solution of this dark enigma of earth. Now, the research of the whole non-Christian spirit-world in regard to the great enigma of the world’s history might itself be called a mighty Angel. The longing of all spirits and all men cannot solve this enigma, and it sends out its demand for a solution into the universe. And hence beneath the unmistakable proclamatory office of the strong Angel, whose voice must pierce the whole world (Vitringa and others), we hear the cry of the entire world of spirits for the coming of the looser of the seals. Without this loosing [Lösung] there can be no complete releasing [Erlösung, redemption], as, on the other hand, the loosing is conditioned by the releasing [or redemption]. According to De Wette and Hofmann, the loosing of the seals is at the same time the execution of that which is sealed. But a great part of the book [scroll] is referable to the economy of the Father—not to that of the Son: we have reference especially to the red, the black, and the pale horse. Even the Rabbinic declaration: non facit Deus quidquam, donec illud intuitus fuerit in familia superiori, does not lead to the assumption which we have indicated.[FN3]

Who is worthy?—The history of the world in its eschatological tendency is unsealed only by the perfect ethical power resident in the Lamb.

To open the scroll and to loose the seals of it.—Is this a hysteron-proteron (De Wette)? We think not. The undertaking is first spoken of as a whole, and then its details are entered into. And, moreover, it is highly probable that there was something that bound the book [scroll] together as a whole.

Revelation 5:3. Or under the earth.—All this is in perfect accordance with the real circumstances of the case. The angels know not sin; the spirits in Hades and the demons (under the earth) know not grace; and sinful men know not the depths of the contrast between sin and grace. According to Düsterdieck, the place under the earth denotes, not demons (Vitringa), but only departed souls. Why should demons be excluded, since they, most of all, are positively blind in regard to the issue of things?[FN4]

And no one was able.—This takes for granted numberless attempts.

Nor even [neither] to look upon it.—Düsterdieck: “The seeing resultant upon the opening; hence, the seeing, within it.” This would be a great deal and would lie beyond the opening, whilst it is intimated that the inspecting precedes the opening. Most creatures dare not so much as look well at the problem, and none thoroughly recognizes it as a Divine book.

Revelation 5:4. And I wept much.—Hengstenberg, who is apt to see judgment everywhere, has even accused the weeping John of weak faith (p302); upon which view Ebrard sarcastically expatiates. It is particularly remarkable that Hengstenberg can conceive of a pusillanimous weeping as compatible with a condition of inspired vision. In this vision, John the Seer sees himself weeping as a bishop, and the weeping bishop has a right to weep. How could he receive a communication concerning the whole history of the worlds—a communication which exalted the most terrible things, war, famine, death’s rule in the world’s history, the great martyr history, and the dread trumpet tones of the world’s evening, into one triumphal procession of Christ—how could Hebrews, we repeat, receive such a disclosure without tears? Perfect faith in the glorified Christ in the centre of the world did not exclude the law that the universal consequences of His glorification must be unfolded in a grand sequence of stages, amid the most painful apostolic and reformatory struggles![FN5]

Revelation 5:5. One of the Elders.—The spirit of literalism has given birth to unsupported definitions of this Elder as Matthew or Peter (of course it is taken for granted that one or the other of these Apostles is already glorified).

Behold.—This, according to Düsterdieck, has reference to the beholding of the Lamb, in Revelation 5:6.

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath conquered.—John is to see, as he never has done before, the full consequence of Christ’s victory in its relation to the grand enigma of the world’s history.

Interpretations: 1. Christ has obtained the power of opening the book (ἐνίκησεν ἀνοῖξαι, Bengel, Ewald and others). 2. Absoluteness of Christ’s victory (Ebrard and others).

The text Isaiah, however, no mere declaration of Christ’s worthiness to open the book. The opening of all seals is the consequence of absolute victory. For the sealing is a judgment, ensuant upon the darkening of the mystery of the world into an obscure and forbidding enigma by sin.[FN6] Consequently, victory over the power of darkness is the condition of the loosing of the seals.

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah.—The promise of the Protevangel to the effect that the Seed of the woman should crush the serpent’s head, was further modified by the prophecy which constituted Judah the typical conqueror, the victorious Lion ( Genesis 49:9). The fact that in the passage cited Judah was designated merely as a type, is brought out in our text by the additional clause: the Root of David. These latter words are expressive of the further explication of the type, in respect of its genealogical kernel, in David, the warlike and victorious prince; in other words, it is intimated, that the Incarnation of Christ was the innermost motive power of the Christological significancy of David ( Isaiah 11:10), and consequently that the type of the Lion of Judah has found its true fulfillment.

The whole designation of Christ is a profound Christological saying, which neither refers alone to the human descent of the Saviour (Düsterdieck), nor to His Divine nature simply (Calov.). A reference to the hewn-down stem of the Davidic house, in accordance with Isaiah 11:1, is applicable here only as a collateral thought. [Alford thus comments: “The root of David (comp. Romans 15:12 with Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 11:10), i. e. the branch or sucker come up from the ancient root, and so representing it: not as Calov, al., the Divine root which brought forth David, to which Vitringa also approaches very near: for the evident design here is to set forth Christ as sprung from the tribe of Judah and lineage of David, and His victory as His exaltation through suffering.”—E. R. C.].

Revelation 5:6. And I saw [Lange: And lo[FN7]] in the midst of the Throne.—[See Synoptical View, p149]. The vision of the Seer expands, and lo! Christ appears, in wondrous contrast to the ideas which a Judaistic conception of the Lion of Judah, the ideal David, might entertain. This contrast is strikingly brought out (after Bengel) by Ebrard: “Now comes this Lion, the Mighty One, Whom none is able to resist,—the Victor par excellence. How terrible must be His aspect! But lo! a Lamb (ἀρνίον) appears in the stead of the Lion, and that ὡς ἐσφαγμένον. This is the battle whereby the Lion has overcome, viz.: that He has suffered Himself to be slain as a Lamb. It is only in the omnipotence of all-suffering love that the greatness of Omnipotence could be proved.”

Superfluous interpretations of the diminutive ἀρνίον see cited by Düsterdieck. [“The use of ἀρνίον, the diminutive, as applied to our Lord, is peculiar to the Apocalypse. It is difficult to say what precise idea is meant to be conveyed by this form … possibly, as De W, it may be to put forward more prominently the idea of meekness and innocence.” Alford. As there was manifestly an intended contrast between the announced Lion and the appearing Lamb, may it not have been intended to bring out more vividly, not merely His meekness and innocence, but His extreme natural feebleness?—E. R. C.]

The Lamb stands in the middle of the space enclosed, on the inner side, by the Throne and the four Life-forms [Living-beings], and on the outer side by the circle of Elders. Thus Düsterdieck, De Wette, Hengstenberg, whilst Ebrard, on the other hand, conceives of the Lamb as seated in the midst of the Throne, and also in the midst of the circle of Elders. “A truly monstrous idea,” observes Düsterd, who justly cites the Hebrew בֵין־וּבֵין.[FN8] This arrangement moreover, distinctly proves that the four Life-forms are not four representatives of the creature, but that they can be only four Ground-forms of the Divine governance which is embraced in the Lamb, as are also the Seven Spirits which, therefore, likewise stand between God and Christ.[FN9]) [“The words (ἐν μέσῳ) seem to indicate the middle point before the Throne; whether on the glassy sea (De Wette) or not does not appear; but certainly not on the Throne, from what follows in the next verse. Ἐν μέσῳ is repeated as ἀναμέσον in Leviticus 27:12; Leviticus 27:14.” Alford.—E. R. C.]

[Standing.—“The Lamb is here represented as standing, as having been slain (comp. Isaiah 53:7; Jeremiah 11:19). Although Christ was slain, yet He stands. He was not overthrown. On the contrary, by falling He stood.” Wordsworth.—E. R. C.]

As it had been slain.—Düsterdieck, in accordance with many others: “As one whose still visible scars indicate its having once been slain.” The completion of the Biblical delineation of the Lamb, see Revelation 1:18.

Seven horns and seven eyes.—See the Synoptical View [p149]. Comp. the Concordances. Seven world-historical manifestations of Christ in forms of power; seven world-historical manifestations in forms of spirit (the Lights). Against the combination made by Bede and others, according to whom the seven horns as well as the seven eyes are included in the explanation—which are the Seven Spirits, etc.—see Düsterd, p242. The Spirits here do, undoubtedly, seem to be manifestations of the spiritual life of Christ in the narrower sense of the term, and should, we think, be apprehended as Spirits of truth, knowledge. In accordance with their position in Revelation 1, however, they also represent the specific mighty governance of Christ; [FN10]; Michael, among the Archangels, appears as the symbol of His mighty rule. The septenary denotes perfect holy working, as the number three is significant of holy being.

Sent forth.—See Zechariah 4:10.

[Seven horns.—“The horn is the well-known emblem of might; comp. 1 Samuel 2:20; 1 Kings 22:11; Psalm 112:9; Psalm 148:14; Daniel 7:7; Daniel 7:20 sqq, Revelation 8:3 sqq.; Revelation 17:3 sqq. The perfect number seven represents that all power is given unto Him in Heaven and earth, Matthew 28:18. And seven eyes, etc., which eyes represent the watchful, active operation of God’s Spirit poured forth through the death and by the victory of the Lamb, upon all flesh and all creation. The weight of the whole sentence lies in the predicative anarthrous participle, ἀπεσταλμένα. As the seven burning lamps before the Throne represented the Spirit of God immanent in the Godhead, so the seven eyes of the Lamb represent the same Spirit in His sevenfold perfection, profluent, so to speak, from the incarnate Redeemer; busied in His world-wide energy; the very word ἀπεσταλμένα reminding us of the Apostolic work and Church.” Alford.—E. R. C.]

Revelation 5:7. And He came.—Expressive of the calmest decision and certainty. Since the great action of the Lamb is in question, εἴληφεν can not be reduced to a passive receiving. Λαμβάνειν has in general in the New Testament a considerable ethical weight.

Revelation 5:8. When He had taken; ὅτε ἔλαβεν.—[See Synoptical View, p149.]

In[FN11] place of the antiphony, Revelation 4. 8, 11], sustained by the four Living-beings and the Elders, in praise of the Creator and the creation, we have here a three-fold choral song in glorification of the Redeemer, the Redemption, and that transfiguration of the obscure and gloomy history of the world issuing from the Redemption. The order of succession in this chorus is very significant. First resounds the song of praise of the four Life-forms [Living-beings] and the Elders; then the song of the Angels ( Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12); after that the song of all creatures ( Psalm 148; Romans 8). If the four Life-forms [Living-beings] were representatives of nature, nature would here twice strike up the song of praise, in one case in advance of the Angels. It may, indeed, be questioned: how can the four Life-forms [Living-beings] fall down before the Lamb if they denote Fundamental Forms of the Divine governance? But we might also query: how can Christ send forth the Seven Spirits that yet do stand between God and Him? All these manifestations, however, are, as individual forms of Revelation, subordinated to the Lamb in His unity and in the unity of His highest decisive deed; and that with the expression of the freest homage. And the real beginning of every creaturely song of praise must proceed from Divine operations themselves.

[Fell down before the Lamb.—They render to Him Divine honor; comp. Revelation 4:10.—E. R. C.]

Having every one a harp [lute].—The playing upon the cither or harp is limited to the Elders; the Greek reads: ἔχοντες ἕκαστος. On the difference between the cither and the harp, see Winer, Musical Instruments. See [Also Kitto’s Cyclopædia, and Smith’s Dict. of the Bible.—E. R. C.]

And golden vials[FN12] full of incense.—Each cither, or lute, is proportioned to the individual who holds it, and belongs to him alone; the golden vials are alike; hence the plural in the case of the latter, though each might have his vial as well as his lute. These vials are full of incense, and the explanation reads: αἵ εἰσιν αι̇ προσευχαὶ τῶν ἁγίων. Though αἵ may by attraction relate to θυμιάματα is more probable that its reference is to the vials, since these forms, these measures of precious metal (intrinsic value) are an essential part of the matter. [“Αἵ might well have θυμιαμάτων for its antecedent, being feminine to suit προσευχαί below; but it is perhaps more likely that φιάλας is its antecedent—each vial being full of incense.” Alford. So also Wordsworth. Far more natural does it seem to refer the αἵ, with Barnes, to θυμιαμάτων, thus bringing the passage into correspondence with Psalm 141:2, “Let my prayer be set before Thee as incense,” and with the apparent meaning of the incense offered in the Temple.—E. R. C.]

Here, too, commentators violate common sense in the effort to grasp both items [the harp and the vial] at once. Ebrard: The κιθάρα is supported by the knees and operated upon by one hand (without its falling?), whilst the other presents the φιάλη. Düsterdieck: “In the right hand the vial, whilst the left holds the cither.” How then could they play? The like arrangements of Biblical facts are of frequent occurrence; for instance, De Wette makes the Lamb stand on the sea of glass. Symbolism gives both attributes to the Elders without insisting upon the idea that each one manages both harp and vial at each and every instant. Hengstenberg remarks that the harps, in conjunction with the songs of praise, refer chiefly to praise, and the golden vials to supplicatory prayers.

On the ungrounded application of the passage to the establishment of the Catholic doctrine of the intercession of saints, or to the support of the practice of invoking their intercession, compare Düsterdieck, p244. Luther did not deny, he says, that the members of the Church Triumphant pray for those of the Church Militant. The text, however, does not exactly bear upon this point.[FN13] That which we gather from the words under examination, is that the prayers of the saints on earth are inclosed in the holy measure of the golden vials; that they are by the ideal Church divested of their earthly, unbounded, and immoderate affections. As God beholds all mankind in the most special sense in Christ, Song of Solomon, too, He views the earthly Church in the light of the ideal Church, which is its aim. It is justly remarked, in this connection, that the twenty-four Elders are symbolical forms.[FN14] On the other hand, the view of Hengstenberg and Bengel, who understand the saints already in Heaven to be included in our passage, is productive of confusion.

In reference to these prayers, the posture of the Elders is different from that of the Angel with the censer, Revelation 8:3. That Angel seems to gather the prayers of the saints together, and to supplement them precisely as the Holy Ghost is declared to do in Romans 8:28. The prayers are thus made perfectly acceptable, and hence the same exalted Angel takes charge of the granting of them, filling the emptied censer with fire from the altar, i. e., with flames of the Divine judgment of the Spirit, and pouring its contents upon the earth—a proceeding productive of voices, and thunders, and lightnings, and earthquake, stirring forces which promote the process of consummation going on in the earth.

[See under Revelation 5:8, p158.] Let us first compare this first choir with the second and third, and then examine the three anthems.

The second choir is composed of Angels, the heavenly host ( 1 Kings 22:19). And I beheld and heard, says the Seer. This does not mean: he saw, that is, he heard; but it probably indicates that the survey of the infinite array of spirits recedes behind the distinct perception of their song. The circular arrangement of this celestial army first demands our notice; all of the vast array are related to the little inner circle, that centre of the history of salvation. Observe next their infinite number: myriads consisting of myriads, and thousands consisting of thousands. According to Bengel, the addition of the smaller numeral denotes a limitation of the whole number; according to Hengstenberg, it indicates that distinctions vanish in the case of immense numbers. Düsterdieck, on the other hand, says: ‘The anti-climax (comp. Psalm 68:17) signifies that the first and greater number is not sufficient.”

Revelation 5:13. And every creature.—[“The chorus of assenting praise from creation itself.” Alford.—E. R. C.] The third choir is formed of the sphere of creatures generally, in four divisions or regions (Bengel). The three-fold. division in Philippians 2:10 has reference exclusively to the spirit world; the four-fold division here, with its world-numeral, relates to creatures in general. As the spirit-world is already represented in the first two choirs, we cannot, with Alcasar, regard the term in Heaven as referring to Christians. As the song of praise of this choir is a matter-of-fact one, à-Lapide’s explanation, to the effect that sun, moon and stars are meant (included), is not to be rejected. The heavenly beings, as well as beatified saints (Düsterd.), are represented in the first and second choirs. In respect to the earth, Düsterdieck regards all other creatures as intended together with men. It is justly denied that demons (Vitringa) are here denoted by the creatures under the earth; reference is had to the realms of the dead [to Hades, where demons are not (see Excursus on Hades, p 364 sqq.)—E. R. C.].

Upon the sea.—On Patmos John had a lively view of creatures which live upon the sea rather than in it; we have reference particularly to sea birds, and flying fish.

The first choir [ Revelation 5:9-10] represents the whole knowledge of the New Testament, and magnifies it in a new song. From the wording of the song it would seem that the four Life-forms joined in it. As, however, the anthem is sung to the music of the harps, and the harps are the property of the Elders, the above assumption becomes somewhat dubious. But then the question arises: how can the Elders sing of the redemption without including themselves if they too have a part in it? Be it observed that an Apocalyptic Heaven-picture always has reference to a subsequent earth-picture. Thus our song of praise relates to Revelation 6, especially to the Martyrs amid the sufferings of the earthly time. They are ransomed to God with the blood of the Lamb by the redemption. And these very ones who in the earth-picture appear under the altar as souls of the slain, crying for recompense, appear in the Heaven-picture as the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of true Christian kings who already (dynamically) reign upon earth—not merely shall reign (βασιλεύουσιν in accordance with Cod. A. etc.[FN15]). They reign on earth as God’s Kingdom, but not as individual kings: yet their common rule on earth is mediated by their individual priesthood.[FN16] As a matter of course, the Elders do not exclude themselves from the redemption; their expression, however, is concrete in reference to the Church Militant on earth.[FN17] The worthiness of the Lamb to unseal the book [scroll] is deduced from His redemptive act; and justly Song of Solomon, for it alone solves the enigmas of the world’s history. [Is not the reason rather, that, by His redemptive Acts, He has conquered to become “Head over all things” (comp. Philippians 2:8-9; Ephesians 1:20-22)?—E. R. C.]

The Elders sing a new song[FN18] (sing), for the redemption is a matter of their enraptured experience. The Angels, on the other hand, are moved by adoration and sympathy; therefore they say with a loud voice, in a sort of recitative, as we understand it. The collective creatures of the universe, again, are simply described as saying. This saying Isaiah, of course, also dexological.

Again, the song of the Angels [ Revelation 5:12] is in harmony with their stand point. For them, the idea of the redemption recedes behind that of holy suffering. Because the Lamb was slain, i. e. humbled Himself to such a degree, He is worthy to receive majesty (i. e. glory and dominion) in the spiritual world such as is exalted far above that which is possessed by even them, the Angels ( Ephesians 1; Philippians 2). This majesty unfolds itself in three predicates of inner essence and three of outward appearance. The exalted Christ Isaiah, in the first place, rich in life; secondly, He is the wise Governor of His great Kingdom; and, thirdly, He possesses all requisite power. Hence, in the first place, He is worthy of all infinite honor; secondly, His dominion is an apparent spiritual glory; and, thirdly, His praise is sung by the whole world of spirits.[FN19]

The song of the creature-world rightly refers to the Creator, Him who sitteth upon the Throne. But even the creature-world is acquainted with Christ’s import to the creation. For it, however, the death of Christ recedes, giving place to the calm ground-tone of His Logos rule. He is magnified with the Enthroned One as the Lamb. And in harmony with the world-numeral four, the creatures utter four eulogies.

The sublimest doxology of all is the ascription of praise [blessing] in the region of conscious creatures. Next comes the ascription of honor from all living things. Next, the loveliness and magnificence of all beautiful creations in the Cosmos [glory]. The conclusion is formed by the glorification of God’s power in the whole universe. And thus it is to be into the æons of the æons, say the creatures. They speak thus, first, because they are under the law of temporality, and have a sense of the greatness of eternity; and, secondly, because they are destined to an eternal development reaching into the æons.

Finally, it is exceedingly significant that the four Life-forms [Living-beings] utter an Amen to the whole heavenly cultus, while the twenty-four Elders, falling down, are plunged in adoration.

In regard to the seven eulogies of the Angels, Bengel thinks that they should be uttered like one single word, on account of the one article at the beginning; he also regards them as referring to the seven seals. We prefer to take them as different views of the spirit-world.

The hypothesis that the four Life-forms utter the Amen on account of their comparatively meaner position (an idea of Hengstenberg’s) needs but a passing mention.

[Additional Note on the Living-Beings ( Revelation 4:6).—It is generally conceded, that the Ζῶα are the same as the heavenly Cherubim of the Old Testament. Not only is the term (Ζῶα) the one that is employed by Ezekiel, Revelation 1:5 (LXX.), to designate those whom he afterwards declared to be the Cherubim, Revelation 10:1 sqq, etc.; but the general appearance, the position, and the office of the Living-beings of both Testaments are the same (comp. Revelation 4:6-8; Ezekiel 1:5-10; Ezekiel 10:1 sqq. See also the description of the Seraphim, Isaiah 6:2-3, with whom many of the most judicious commentators identify them). On the subject of their nature, however, there is great diversity of opinion. It is generally agreed that they are Mediate symbols; but beyond this there is unexampled diversity. They have been explained as—1. Individual-mediate symbols of (1) the Four Evangelists, (2) the Four greatest Fathers of the Church, etc. 2. Classical symbols of (1) the Church Militant (Mede and Elliot), (2) the Ministers of the Church on earth (Daubuz), (3) eminent Ministers and Teachers of every Age (Vitringa), (4) glorified Saints who have been raised to special eminence (Lord), (5) Saints who are to attend Jehovah as Assessors in the Judgment (Hammond), (6) the Church Triumphant (Bush), (7) the forms of animated nature (Alford). 3. Aberrant symbols of (1) Divine Attributes (Stuart), (2) the Four Cardinal Virtues, (3) the Four Fundamental Forms of Divine Government (Lange), etc.

This diversity indicates utter uncertainty in the mind of commentators as to the Scriptural idea of the Cherubim. This uncertainty, in the judgment of the Am. Ed, is due primarily to the corrupted form of the doxology in Revelation 5:9-10; and is itself, in great measure, the cause (not the result) of that confusion of thought which prevails in the Church on the entire subject of Symbolism. The effort will be made to show the truth of both these positions.[FN20]

It will be generally admitted, that the apparent force, not only of the Heaven-scene set forth in chs 4, 5 but of the language and descriptions of the entire Apocalypse is (1) to place the Living-beings on the same platform as to reality of existence with the Elders and Angels (if these are symbols, then are the Ζῶα symbols; if these are real persons, then so are the Ζῶα); and (2) to suggest the idea, in reference to all these objects, that they are heavenly Persons. (The idea that the Angels and the Cherubim are persons seems also to be implied throughout the Old Testament; the Elders, at least by that name, are not mentioned therein.) Whilst, however, it is generally conceded that the Angels and Elders are persons, it is also generally held that the Ζῶα are mere symbols. Whence arises this apparently unauthorized variance?

This question cannot be answered by a reference to the admitted fact that the objects immediately beheld by the Seer (the simulacra) were symbols. This, in a sense, is true; but (1) it was also true in the case of the Angels and the Elders; it consequently does not explain the variance; and (2) it is not true that the simulacra beheld by John were symbols in the sense in which that term is ordinarily employed—in the sense, for instance, in which the Lamb was the symbol of Jesus. There is an ambiguity here, resulting from the generally unappreciated fact that there are two essentially distinct classes of symbols. A moment’s reflection should convince any man that whilst the Lamb was a symbol of Christ, there was back of this in the vision of the Lamb itself, the same distinction of simulacrum and object of representation that existed in the vision of the Ζῶα. In the vision of the Lamb not only was there a double symbolization, but a symbol of one class was charged upon that of another. The meaning of the writer may be made clear by the following diagram:

JOHN SAW—

I. A simulacrum, representing an Angel. Ζῶα.

II. A simulacrum, representing a Lamb, representing Christ.

By this diagram the fact and importance of the distinction between Immediate and Mediate symbols, presented in the Preliminary Note, p146, is made visibly manifest. In ordinary language (and in ordinary thought) the simulacrum drops entirely out of view, and the Seer is said to behold, not the simulacrum, but the object it represents.

Nor can the variance be explained by a reference to the probable fact that the simulacra of the Ζῶα were ideal as to form. It is probable that the simulacra of the Angels were also ideal; and it is certain that the undescribed Form upon the Throne was so—we do not thence conclude that the Blessed One whom that Form indicated ( Revelation 4:2-3) must have been a Symbol. (And here becomes manifest the importance of the distinction between Similar and Ideal Symbols. See p146.)

Nor, again, is it in the least supported (not to say explained) by the admitted fact that mere (Mediate) Symbols are introduced into the Heaven-scene—as, for instance, the Lamps symbolizing the Holy Spirit, and the Lamb representing Christ; for (1) these are not associated with the Angels, Elders, and Ζῶα, as the Angels, Elders, and Ζῶα are associated with each other; and (2) the symbol of the Lamps was declared to be a symbol by the fact that it was explained, and that of the Lamb, the previously recognized symbol of Christ, needed no explanation—in the case of the Ζῶα there is no intimation, either in this narrative, or any where else in the Scriptures, that they symbolized any thing.

The only satisfactory explanation of the variance is the one suggested above, viz.: that if the Ζῶα did take part in a doxology that ascribed their redemption to Christ, whatever be the apparent force of the implications of Scripture to the contrary, they must be symbols either of individual redeemed men, or of classes of redeemed men. And Song of Solomon, in effect, commentators must have argued in the days when the text of the Recepta was universally accepted. And thus the idea became established in the Church that the Cherubim, the Ζῶα, could not be heavenly persons—that they must be mere symbols.

But what do they symbolize? On this point there is not the slightest intimation given in the Word of God. The whole matter seems relegated to the imagination of commentators. The proof of these assertions is to be found, not only in the multitudinous and contradictory explanations given by able men, but in the entire lack of Scriptural evidence adduced as supporting any specific view. On the platform of the Recepta, the Ζῶα are the Sphynx of the Bible.

It should here be observed that the very necessity of adopting a conclusion in this important instance, in the face of the apparent implications of the language and scenic descriptions of the Scripture, together with the entire lack of Scriptural explanation of the (supposed) symbol, necessarily precludes any true scientific investigation of the subject of Symbolism. Such an investigation can be made only on the basis of those implications which the compelled conclusion virtually declares to be deceptive, and of those explanations which in the most important instance manifestly do not exist. The idea that the Ζῶα are mere Symbols plunges the whole subject of Symbolism into inextricable confusion—it involves the further idea that the entire symbolization of the Scripture is without order, at least without order discoverable by us.

It may, however, be remarked by some that our author is free from the alleged trammels of the Recepta; he accepts as genuine that form of the doxology which does not imply that those who united in it had any necessary connection with the redeemed race, and yet he regards the Living-beings as Symbols. In answer it may be said, that every observer of the course of human thought must have perceived that a generally established idea will often, in measure, linger, even in the mightiest minds, after the foundation on which it was reared has been swept away. To this, it is with the greatest deference suggested, may be due the position of Lange on this subject. He saw clearly (the fact is patent) that the correction of the doxology released him from the necessity of regarding the Ζῶα as symbols of human beings, and he took a forward step; but, reared under the influence of the universally accepted idea that the Living-beings must be mere symbols, and not perceiving the concealed truth, that the corrected doxology logically releases from this position also, he failed to take a second. The step he has taken is a mighty one in advance. It is preparatory, if not essential, to another, viz., that the Ζῶα are not Symbols at all—not Symbols of the Fundamental Forms of Divine Government, but personal Ministers thereof. This view, which subsidizes all of truth that our author has with so much power and beauty elaborated, is respectfully submitted for consideration. It is submitted in the belief that, upon reflection, it will be seen to be, not only more consistent with the apparent force of Scripture language and description than the one presented by Lange, but also absolutely essential to a consistent scientific scheme of the great subject of Scripture Symbolism.

The ideal forms of these glorious ministers of Jehovah, who stand nearest the Throne, are doubtless symbolic. So far as those forms are common to all, they are doubtless symbolic of their common attributes of knowledge, Wisdom of Solomon, and power; and so far as they are peculiar, they are representative of their peculiar characteristics and ministries. The question is suggested for consideration, whether the key to their respective ministries (ministries in accordance with their characteristics, as symbolized by their personal appearance) may not be found in the characteristics of the four seals, at the opening of which they respectively officiated. (See foot-note on p179).

In conclusion, it may be remarked, concerning the number four attributed to them, that two hypotheses are possible. The first, that it is natural, i. e., indicative of the actual number of these heavenly Ministers in the realms of Nature; the second, that it is ideal, drawn from the precedent symbolic number of nature (four), and thus symbolic of their relation to nature. The judgment of the writer inclines to the adoption of the former of these, both because of the relation of the Ζῶα to the first four seals, and because this view manifestly presents a reason why four should have been selected as the number of nature.—E. R. C.]

Footnotes:

FN#1 - See foot-note on p149.—E. R. C.]

FN#2 - “The epithet ἰσχυρόν is by no means superfluous, but corresponds to the φωνῇ μεγάλῃ below, which, as appears by what followed, penetrated Heaven and earth and Hades”—Alford. This is one of the passages which indicate that there are grades of angelic beings.—E. R. C.]

FN#3 - That the loosing involved the symbolic execution of that which was sealed, seems to be clear. John beheld in vision (by symbols) that which was afterwards to be (in reality); (comp. Revelation 4:1 with the frequent recurrence of εἶδον). The fact stated by Lange cannot invalidate this conclusion. The “economy of the Father” was, so to speak, the platform on which the actions of the Son were wrought; in order to the unfolding of the latter there must have been, of necessity, an unfolding, to some degree, of the former, just as in the unfolding of a writing there must be the unfolding of the parchment on which it is inscribed.—E. R. C]

FN#4 - See Excursus on Hades, p 364 sqq.—E. R. C.]

FN#5 - As in the Synoptical View, Lange here takes for granted that the Seer knew before the disclosure. He wept, not because of the woes that were to be (of these as yet he knew nothing), but because no one was found worthy to open the seals—to make the disclosure. See Synoptical View and foot note, p149.—E. R. C.]

FN#6 - What is the proof of this assertion? And if it be true in reference to men, how came the scroll to be sealed in reference to sinless angels? It should be remarked in continuance, however, that there can be no doubt that the right and power of the God-man to open the seals, which is but a mode of representing His supreme authority over all things, is the result of His victory over the power of darkness and sin and death.—E. R. C.]

FN#7 - See Textual and Grammatical Notes.—E. R. C.]

FN#8 - Düsterdieck’s comment, in our opinion, has special reference to Ebrard’s conception of the Lamo as sitting. It is thus that he quotes and italicizes Ebrard: “Das Lamm erscheint mitten im Thron, so dass es zu gleicher Zeit im Centrum der vier lebenden Wesen und im Centrum der aussen herumsitzenden, einen weiter concentrischen Kreis bildenden, 24Aeltesten sitzt.” He then gives utterance to the comment cited by Lange: “eine wahrhaft ungeheuerliche Vor-tellung (with this addition—the italics are our own—): das Lamm mitten im Throne sitzend.” Lange, by his peculiar representation of Ebrard’s view and his suppression of the italics in sitzt, and also by his immediate introduction of the Hebrew term, which Düsterdieck does not cite in direct connection with Ebrard, makes the latter commentator the author of an utter absurdity, viz., the assumption that the Lamb could sit in two places at once.—Tr.]

FN#9 - See Additional Note on the Living-Beings, p 161 sq.—E. R. C.]

FN#10 - See comment and additional foot-note under Revelation 1:5, p91.—E. R. C.]

FN#11 - The proper place of this paragraph would seem to be under the following verse. As, however, there are allusions in it to this verse, the Am. Ed. has not felt at liberty to transpose it.—E. R. C.]

FN#12 - “The word vial, with us, denoting a small, slender bottle with a narrow neck, evidently does not express the idea here. The article here referred to was used for offering incense, and must have been a vessel with a large, open mouth. The word bowl or goblet would better express the idea, and it is so explained by Prof. Robinson, Lex., and by Prof. Stuart, in loc.’ Barnes. The criticism is undoubtedly correct. Since, however, the word vial is so inwrought into the religious literature and thought of the English speaking people, and as no material interest is affected by its retention in the text, it is deemed expedient to retain it. Similar remarks might be made in reference to the retention of the term harp.—E. R. C.]

FN#13 - From this passage Stuart derives the opinion that prayer is offered by the redeemed in Heaven. (See Barnes, in loc.) This doctrine cannot be regarded as established by this Scripture; it is however, consistent with it, and seems naturally to flow from it. It may further be said that the doctrine referred to does not involve the utterly unscriptural idea that prayer may be offered to glorified saints, nor is it inconsistent with aught elsewhere taught in the Word of God.—E. R. C.]

FN#14 - See foot-note on p152.—E. R. C.]

FN#15 - See Textual and Grammatical.—E. R. C.]

FN#16 - The idea that the Saints are to reign as mere subjects (i.e. to be kings without authority over others) seems to he inconsistent with (1) the essential idea of reigning, which is to exercise authority over others; (2) the express intimations of the word of God; comp. Daniel 7:22; Daniel 7:27; Luke 22:29-30, etc. (see Excursus on the Basileia ii1, (4), (6), p98 ). The requirements of the first of these positions might apparently be satisfied by saying that the glorified saints, being freed from the dominion of Satan and sin, are to reign over themselves. The requirement of the second, however, cannot thus, even in appearance, be satisfied. If it be asked, Over whom are the Saints to reign? it may be answered, (1) Some, as superior Rulers, over their brethren (see Luke 22:29-30, etc.); and (2) all, as kings, over the human races to be born after the establishment of the Basileia, and, perchance, over other races throughout the universe. Speculation as to this last point, however, not only as to answer, but as to question, should be restrained.—E. R. C.]

FN#17 - See foot-note to Revelation 5:4, p152.—E. R. C.]

FN#18 - Sing.—“why present? Is it because the sound still lingered in his ears? Or, more probably, as describing their special and glorious office generally, rather than the mere one particular case of its exercise?” Alford.

New song.—“New, in the sense that it is a song consequent upon redemption, and distinguished therefore from the songs sung in Heaven before the work of redemption was consummated. We may suppose that songs of adoration have always been sung in Heaven; … but the song of redemption was a different Song of Solomon, and is one that would never have been sung there if man had not fallen, and if the Redeemer had not died.” Barnes.—E. R. C.]

FN#19 - The above arrangement of the particulars of the ascription seems to the Am. Ed. not only to have no foundation in the text, but to be inconsistent therewith; for (1) the force of the single article placed before the first particular is to bind all together as one word (so Bengel and Alford); and (2) δυναμις cannot be regarded as a generic term (meaning majesty), inclusive of those that follow as representatives of specific excellencies. The true idea seems to be that we have here a seven-fold (indicating completeness or perfection) ascription of glory.—E. R. C.

FN#20 - It should here be remarked that, to prevent confusion, the generally accepted terminology will be used throughout this argument. The hope may also be here expressed, that, as incidental results of the argument, the importance of a classification of symbols similar to the one given in the Preliminary Note (p145 sqq.), and of the employment of a scientific terminology, will be apparent.—E. R. C.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 5:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/revelation-5.html. 1857-84.

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