Revelation 4

Celestial Visions about What Is To Come[a]

Christ, Lord of History[b]

Chapter 4

Vision of the Throne.[c]1 Following this, I had a vision of heaven with an open door, and I heard the voice like a trumpet that I had heard speaking to me before, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was caught up in the spirit,[d] and there in heaven I beheld a throne. 3 Seated upon the throne was one whose appearance was similar to that of jasper and carnelian, and surrounding it was a rainbow that looked like an emerald.

4 Encircling the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders,[e] dressed in white with gold crowns on their heads. 5 Emanating from the throne were flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder. Burning in front of the throne were seven flaming lamps, the seven spirits of God, 6 and in front of the throne there was something like a sea of glass as transparent as crystal.

In the center of the throne and around it there were four living creatures,[f] and they were covered with eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature resembled a lion, the second resembled an ox, the third had a human face, and the fourth resembled an eagle in flight. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings, and all of them were covered with eyes all around and underneath their wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God, the Almighty,
who was, and who is, and who is to come.”

9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders prostrate themselves before him who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever. As they lay down their crowns in front of the throne, they cry out:

11 “Worthy are you, O Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things;
by your will they were created
and have their being.”


  1. Revelation 4:1 In antiquity, books took the form of large scrolls. Thus, the most important and difficult part of the Book of Revelation is presented to us as a well-sealed scroll; the seals must be broken and, as they are, the visions unfold one after the other. In their main lines these visions intersect according to the classic plan of an apocalypse. After a grandiose inaugural vision (chs. 4 and 5), there is the prelude of events to come (Rev 6:1—11:9): it is the history of Israel, whose fall under the blows of the Roman armies is regarded as a judgment of God on his people. Then follow the trials and confrontations of the decisive moment (Rev 12:1—20:15): the nations come before us, slaves to the powers of evil that oppose the plan of God, who wants to save human beings. The Roman empire is certainly in the forefront. The Judgment will be even more terrible than that of Jerusalem if they remain hostile to Christ the Lord, to his Gospel, and to his Church. In any case, the great battle between God and the wicked powers will end with the extermination of these powers. Then, the drama can be resolved in the final accomplishment (Rev 21:1—22:15): God creates a new world reserved for his Elect.
    But must we read, in this succession of numberless visions, the sketches of a mysterious calendar, a succession of events to come? The whole would then appears terribly supercharged, badly ordered, and—in a nutshell—incoherent. Doubtless, one can imagine that the elements of two different apocalypses—each redacted according to a similar movement—have been poorly coordinated, in a single book. But the author multiplies images and explanations to such an extent as to disconcert and baffle us. Yet, these events are described in such an ambiguous manner that they could be applied to all times. These things are always happening; we should always be ready for the end.
  2. Revelation 4:1 This is a view of history imparted by faith. The Book suggests it by immediately transporting us to the throne of God where the destinies of the universe are decided. Images are multiplied to suggest in advance and to represent the hidden meaning of history. This inaugural vision places the readers in the worship of God; it confirms the role of Christ as Master of the history of the world.
  3. Revelation 4:1 Emperors are entertained like gods and are thought to have power over the world’s destiny. The truth is far different. Who indeed can open the door of the true God’s dwelling and express the greatness of his life and plan? Here are innumerable symbols orchestrated like a brilliant symphony. Everything is inaccessible greatness: the peace of the light, the dread of the All-powerful, the power that dominates the universe, the perfect knowledge of all things. All this is what is proclaimed in these images.
    Already present around God are the fathers, those great ancestors whose sacred history faith proclaims (see Sir 44–50; Heb 10–12); for He is the God of the living and not of the dead, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as Jesus attests in the Gospel (see Mk 12:26-27). The great manifestations (or epiphanies) of God depicted in the Old Testament are an invitation to adore God, and the author was inspired by them. We recognize the themes of Isaiah in the temple (see Isa 6) and especially the images of Ezekiel (see Ezek 1 and 10). In this way, the Jews were wont to express God’s domination over the universe.
    Thus, the sea, always felt to be a savage and hostile power, was itself tamed by the all-powerful God. All the forces of heaven that can be imagined—for example, those to which are attributed the government of the seasons and the rhythm of time, the four living creatures that represent the best of creation—are at the service of God. All these symbols form a great hymn to the Creator.
  4. Revelation 4:2 In the spirit: see note on Rev 1:10.
  5. Revelation 4:4 The elders exercise a priestly and royal role: they praise and adore God, offer him the prayers of the faithful, assist him in governing the world, and share in his power. The number twenty-four corresponds perhaps to the twenty-four classes or divisions of priests in 1 Chr 24:1-9, or to the twelve patriarchs plus the twelve apostles. They thus represent salvation history.
  6. Revelation 4:6 The four living creatures represent the created world that reveals God’s goodness and power. Their many eyes symbolize the universal knowledge and providence of God. They continue to give glory to God through their work in creation. Their forms (lion, ox, human, eagle) represent what is noblest, strongest, wisest, and most agile in the created world. Ever since St. Irenaeus, Christian tradition had seen in them symbols of the evangelists Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John, respectively.

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