Revelation 4:6
And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
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(6) And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal.—There is a sea before the throne of God. The woman apparelled in purple splendour sits upon many waters (Revelation 17:1). The waters are explained (Revelation 17:15) to be “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” Her throne rests on the fickle and stormy sea of world- opinion, fashion, and passion. The waters represent the unguided, unreasoning, and unprincipled thoughts of men. By analogy, the calm glass-like sea, which is never in storm, but only interfused with flame (Revelation 15:2), represents the counsels of God, those purposes of righteousness and love, often fathomless, but never obscure; always the same, though sometimes glowing with holy anger (Revelation 15:1). (Comp. the Psalmist’s words, “Thy judgments are like the great deep,” Psalm 36:6, Prayer Book version. See also Psalm 77:19, and Romans 11:33-36.) The position of the crystal sea is analogous to that of the molten sea in front of Solomon’s Temple (2Chronicles 4:9-10).

And in the midst of the throne—i.e., between the seer and the throne. The Apostle saw the crystal sea, and beyond it the living creatures encircling the throne—four living creatures (or, living beings) full of (or, teeming with) eyes before and behind.

Revelation 4:6-7. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal — Wide and deep, pure and clear, transparent and still. Both the seven lamps of fire and this sea are before the throne, and both may mean the seven Spirits of God, the Holy Ghost; whose powers and operations are frequently represented both under the emblem of fire and water. We read again, Revelation 15:2, of a sea as of glass, where there is no mention of the seven lamps of fire; but, on the contrary, the sea itself is mingled with fire. We read also, Revelation 22:1, of a stream of water of life, clear as crystal. Now, the sea which is before the throne, and the stream which goes out of the throne, may both mean the same, namely, the Spirit of God. And in the midst of the throne — With respect to its height; and round about the throne — That is, toward the four quarters, east, west, north, and south; were four beasts — Or rather living creatures, as ζωα means, (not beasts, certainly, any more than birds.) “It was a most unhappy mistake,” says Doddridge, “in our translators to render the word beasts, as it certainly signifies any other kind of animals; that is, of creatures which have animal life, as well as beasts. The word beasts not only degrades the signification, but the animals here mentioned have parts and appearances which beasts have not, and are represented in the highest sense rational.” It has been observed on Revelation 4:4, that the four and twenty elders may represent the Jewish Church. If so, these living creatures may represent the Christian Church. Their number, also, is symbolical of universality, and agrees with the dispensation of the gospel, which extends to all nations under heaven. And the new song, which they all sing, saying, Thou hast redeemed us out of every kindred: and tongue, and people, and nation, (Revelation 5:9,) could not possibly suit the Jewish without the Christian Church; nor is it, in any respect, applicable to angels. The first living creature was like a lion — To signify undaunted courage; the second like a calf — Or ox, (Ezekiel 1:10,) to signify unwearied patience: the third with the face of a man — To signify prudence and compassion; the fourth like a flying eagle — To signify activity and vigour; full of eyes — To betoken wisdom and knowledge; before — To see the face of him that sitteth on the throne; and behind — To see what is done among the creatures. Two things may be observed here; 1st, That the four qualities, thus emblematically set forth in these four living creatures, namely, undaunted courage, unwearied patience under sufferings, prudence, and compassion, and vigorous activity, are found, more or less, in the true members of Christ’s church in every age and nation. 2d, That it may possibly be here intimated, that these qualities would especially prevail in succeeding ages of the church, in the order in which they are here placed; that is, that in the first age, true Christians would be eminent for the courage, fortitude, and success wherewith they should spread the gospel; that in the next age they would manifest remarkable patience in bearing persecution, when they should be killed all the day, like calves or sheep appointed for the slaughter: that in the subsequent age or ages, when the storms of persecution were blown over, and Christianity generally spread through the whole Roman empire, knowledge and wisdom, piety and virtue should increase, the church should wear the face of a man; and excel in prudence, humanity, love, and good works: and that in ages still later, being reformed from various corruptions in doctrine and practice, and full of vigour and activity, it should carry the gospel as upon the wings of a flying eagle, to the remotest nations under heaven; to every kindred, and tongue, and people.

4:1-8 After the Lord Jesus had instructed the apostle to write to the churches the things that are, there was another vision. The apostle saw a throne set in heaven, an emblem of the universal dominion of Jehovah. He saw a glorious One upon the throne, not described by human features, so as to be represented by a likeness or image, but only by his surpassing brightness. These seem emblems of the excellence of the Divine nature, and of God's awful justice. The rainbow is a fit emblem of that covenant of promise which God has made with Christ, as the Head of the church, and with all his people in him. The prevailing colour was a pleasant green, showing the reviving and refreshing nature of the new covenant. Four-and-twenty seats around the throne, were filled with four-and-twenty elders, representing, probably, the whole church of God. Their sitting denotes honour, rest, and satisfaction; their sitting about the throne signifies nearness to God, the sight and enjoyment they have of him. They were clothed in white raiment; the imputed righteousness of the saints and their holiness: they had on their heads crowns of gold, signifying the glory they have with him. Lightnings and voices came from the throne; the awful declarations God makes to his church, of his sovereign will and pleasure. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne; the gifts, graces, and operations of the Spirit of God in the churches of Christ, dispensed according to the will and pleasure of Him who sits upon the throne. In the gospel church, the laver for purification is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which cleanses from all sin. In this all must be washed, to be admitted into the gracious presence of God on earth, and his glorious presence in heaven. The apostle saw four living creatures, between the throne and the circle of the elders, standing between God and the people. These seem to signify the true ministers of the gospel, because of their place between God and the people. This also is shown by the description given, denoting wisdom, courage, diligence, and discretion, and the affections by which they mount up toward heaven.And before the throne there was a sea of glass - An expanse spread out like a sea composed of glass: that is, that was pellucid and transparent like glass. It is not uncommon to compare the sea with glass. See numerous examples in Wetstein, in loco. The point of the comparison here seems to be its transparent appearance. It was perfectly clear - apparently stretching out in a wide expanse, as if it were a sea.

Like unto crystal - The word "crystal" means properly anything congealed and pellucid, as ice; then anything resembling that, particularly a certain species of stone distinguished for its clearness - as the transparent crystals of quartz; limpid and colorless quartz; rock or mountain quartz. The word "crystal" now, in mineralogy, means an inorganic body which, by the operation of affinity, has assumed the form of a regular solid, by a certain number of plane and smooth faces. It is used here manifestly in its popular sense to denote anything that is perfectly clear like ice. The comparison, in the representation of the expanse spread around the throne, turns on these points:

(1) It appeared like a sea - stretching afar.

(2) it resembled, in its general appearance, glass; and this idea is strengthened by the addition of another image of the same character - that it was like an expanse of crystal, perfectly clear and pellucid. This would seem to be designed to represent the floor or pavement on which the throne stood. If this is intended to be emblematical, it may denote:

(a) that the empire of God is vast - as if it were spread out like the sea; or.

(b) it may be emblematic of the calmness, the placidity of the divine administration - like an undisturbed and unruffled ocean of glass. Perhaps, however, we should not press such circumstances too far to find a symbolical meaning.

And in the midst of the throne - ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ θρόνου en mesō tou thronou. Not occupying the throne, but so as to appear to be intermingled with the throne, or "in the midst" of it, in the sense that it was beneath the center of it. The meaning would seem to be, that the four living creatures referred to occupied such a position collectively that they at the same time appeared to be under the throne, so that it rested on them, and around it, so that they could be seen from any quarter. This would occur if their bodies were under the throne, and if they stood so that they faced outward. To one approaching the throne they would seem to be around it, though their bodies were under, or "in the midst" of it as a support. The form of their bodies is not specified, but it is not improbable that though their heads were different, their bodies, that were under the throne, and that sustained it, were of the same form.

And round about the throne - In the sense above explained - that, as they stood, they would be seen on every side of the throne.

Were four beasts - This is a very unhappy translation, as the word "beasts" by no means conveys a correct idea of the original word. The Greek word - ζοῶν zoōn - means properly "a living thing"; and it is thus indeed applied to animals, or to the living creation, but the notion of their being living things, or living creatures, should be retained in the translation. Prof. Stuart renders it, "living creatures." Isaiah Isa 6:1-13, in his vision of Yahweh, saw two seraphim; Ezekiel, whom John more nearly resembles in his description, saw four "living creatures" - חיות chayowt Ezekiel 1:5 - that is, living, animated, moving beings. The words "living beings" would better convey the idea than any other which could be employed. They are evidently, like those which Ezekiel saw, symbolical beings; but the nature and purpose of the symbol is not perfectly apparent. The "four and twenty elders" are evidently human beings, and are representatives, as above explained, of the church.

In Revelation 5:11, angels are themselves introduced as taking an important part in the worship of heaven: and these living beings, therefore, cannot be designed to represent either angels or human beings. In Ezekiel they are either designed as poetic representations of the majesty of God, or of his providential government, showing what sustains his throne; symbols denoting intelligence, vigilance, the rapidity and directness with which the divine commands are executed, and the energy and firmness with which the government of God is administered. The nature of the case, and the similarity to the representation in Ezekiel, would lead us to suppose that the same idea is to be found substantially in John; and there would be no difficulty in such an interpretation were it not that these "living creatures" are apparently represented in Revelation 5:8-9, as uniting with the redeemed from the earth in such a manner as to imply that they were themselves redeemed.

But perhaps the language in Revelation 5:9, "And they sung a new song," etc., though apparently connected with the "four beasts" in Revelation 4:8, is not designed to be so connected. John may intend there merely to advert to the fact that a new song was sung, without meaning to say that the "four living beings" united in that song. For, if he designed merely to say that the "four living beings" and the "four and twenty elders" fell down to worship, and then that a song was heard, though in fact sung only by the four and twenty eiders, he might have employed the language which he actually has done. If this interpretation be admitted, then the most natural explanation to be given of the "four living beings" is to suppose that they are symbolical beings designed to furnish some representation of the government of God - to illustrate, as it were, that on which the divine government rests, or which constitutes its support - to wit, power, intelligence, vigilance, energy. This is apparent:

(a) because it was not unusual for the thrones of monarchs to be supported by carved animals of various forms, which were designed undoubtedly to be somehow emblematic of government - either of its stability, vigilance, boldness, or firmness. Thus, Solomon had twelve lions carved on each side of his throne - no improper emblems of government - 1 Kings 10:10, 1 Kings 10:20.

(b) These living beings are described as the supports of the throne of God, or as that on which it rests, and would be, therefore, no improper symbols of the great principles or truths which give support or stability to the divine administration.

(c) They are, in themselves, well adapted to be representatives of the great principles of the divine government, or of the divine providential dealings, as we shall see in the more particular explanation of the symbol.


6. Two oldest manuscripts, A, B, Vulgate, Coptic, and Syriac read, "As it were a sea of glass."

like … crystal—not imperfectly transparent as the ancient common glass, but like rock crystal. Contrast the turbid "many waters" on which the harlot "sitteth" (Re 17:1, 15). Compare Job 37:18, "the sky … as a molten looking-glass." Thus, primarily, the pure ether which separates God's throne from John, and from all things before it, may be meant, symbolizing the "purity, calmness, and majesty of God's rule" [Alford]. But see the analogue in the temple, the molten sea before the sanctuary (see on [2688]Re 4:4, above). There is in this sea depth and transparency, but not the fluidity and instability of the natural sea (compare Re 21:1). It stands solid, calm, and clear, God's judgments are called "a great deep" (Ps 36:6). In Re 15:2 it is a "sea of glass mingled with fire." Thus there is symbolized here the purificatory baptism of water and the Spirit of all who are made "kings and priests unto God." In Re 15:2 the baptism with the fire of trial is meant. Through both all the king-priests have to pass in coming to God: His judgments, which overwhelm the ungodly, they stand firmly upon, as on a solid sea of glass; able like Christ to walk on the sea, as though it were solid.

round about the throne—one in the midst of each side of the throne.

four beasts—The Greek for "beasts," Re 13:1, 11, is different, therion, the symbol for the carnal man by opposition to God losing his true glory, as lord, under Him, of the lower creatures, and degraded to the level of the beast. Here it is zoon, "living creatures"; not beast.

And before the throne; the throne mentioned before, Revelation 4:2,3, upon which one sat, & c.

A sea of glass like unto crystal; another allusion to the tabernacle or temple, in which was a sea, that is, a large vessel full of water; it was for Aaron and his sons to wash their hands, and feet, and sacrifices in, Exodus 30:19 1 Kings 7:23; it was ten cubits broad, five cubits high, and thirty cubits about. Here it is said to have been of glass; this, probably, signified the blood of Christ, in which all those souls and services must be washed which are accepted of and acceptable unto God. Its being represented here as of glass, may signify the purity and spotlessness of him whose blood it was. Other guesses there are many at the significancy of this sea of glass, but this seems to me most probable, because the use of the sea in the temple is made good in Christ. John in this vision also saw

four beasts, which beasts are said:

1. To be in the midst of, and round about the throne.

2. To be full of eyes before and behind.

3. They are, Revelation 4:7, said to have resembled a lion, a calf, a man in the face, and a flying eagle; Revelation 4:8, each of them had six wings, and they were full of eyes within, and incessantly glorified God.

Question. Whom did these beasts signify?

Solution. There are various notions about them. Some judge them the four evangelists; but John himself was one of these, and yet alive. Some will have them four apostles that were mostly at Jerusalem; but I see no ground for that. Some will have them angels; others, glorified saints; but we shall afterwards find them distinguished from both these. Others will have them the whole church. But the most probable sense is, that they represented the ministers of the church, who are living creatures, whose place is between God and his church, as those beasts are placed between the throne and the elders; and who are but four to the twenty-four elders, being but few in comparison with the multitude of believers; and yet have eyes on all sides, being enough to see to the affairs of the whole church of Christ on the earth. In this sense I rest; only here remains a question, how these are said to be in the midst of the throne, and yet round about the throne? To which various answers are given; that which pleaseth me best is, en mesw, in the middle, is not to be strained to signify a place at equal distance from two extremes, but more largely and proverbially for near the throne, or near him who sat upon the throne. See the several notions about this phrase in Mr. Pool’s Latin Synopsis.

And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal,.... By which is meant, not heaven, nor the souls of the blessed there, nor the multitude of the holy angels, nor the first converts to Christianity at Jerusalem; for those that got the victory over the beast are said to stand upon this sea, Revelation 15:2, which these senses, especially the three last, will by no means admit of. Some by it understand the world, which may be compared to a "sea", for the multitude of people in it, as many waters in this book signify people and nations, Revelation 17:15; and to a sea of glass, which is brittle, for the frailty and transitoriness of the world, of the fashion of it, and of men and things in it; and to the clear "crystal", because all things in it are open and manifest to the omniscient eye of God; but the world, and men of it, used not to be compared to a still and quiet sea, as this is, but to one disturbed and troubled by winds and tempests, whose waters cast up mire and dirt, Isaiah 57:20. Others think the ordinance of baptism is designed, of which the Red sea, through which the Israelites passed under the cloud, was an emblem; and which may be compared to a "sea of glass", for its transparency, it clearly expressing the sufferings, burial, and resurrection of Christ; and to crystal, for its purity; and to all this for its cleansing nature, as it leads unto the blood of Christ; and its being before the throne may denote its being the way of entrance into the Gospel church. Others think the blood of Christ is meant, in allusion to the brazen sea in the tabernacle, which was made of the looking glasses the women brought, and for the priests to wash in, before they entered on business, Exodus 30:18, and to the molten sea in the temple, which was for the same purpose, 1 Kings 7:23. Christ's blood is the fountain opened to wash in for sin, and may be compared to a sea for its abundant efficacy in cleansing from all sin; and it is this which makes way to the throne, and to him that sits on it; and is a special privilege enjoyed by those who come to Mount Zion, or into a Gospel church state; there is always this laver to wash their garments in, and make them white: though this sea, being of glass, seems not so much designed to wash in; and therefore rather I think by it is meant the Gospel, compared to a "sea" for the deep things of God and mysteries of grace which are in it; to a sea of "glass", because in it is beheld, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, of his person, office, and righteousness, as well as many other wondrous things; and to one like "crystal", for the clearness, perspicuity, and evidence of the truths contained in it; and to a, fixed, still; and quiet sea, because it is the Gospel of peace, love, grace, and mercy, and brings peace, joy, and tranquillity to troubled minds, when the law works wrath: but here are no tossing, foaming, raging waves of wrath, and fury, but all smooth, stable, solid, tranquil, and quiet. And this is said to be before the throne, where the rainbow of the covenant is, of which the Gospel is a transcript; and where the four and twenty elders, or members of churches be, for their delight and comfort; and where the seven spirits of God are, to furnish men with gifts to preach it; and where the four living creatures, or ministers of the word, have their place, who officiate in it. Agreeably to this figurative way of speaking, the Jews call (p) the law, , "the sea of the law", and the "sea of wisdom"; and frequently give the characters of such and such a doctor, as being very expert and conversant , "in the sea of the Talmud", or "doctrine" (q). The Alexandrian copy, the Complutensian edition, the Vulgate Latin and Syriac versions, read, "there was as a sea of glass", somewhat that looked like one. The word "glass" is left out in the Ethiopic version, but very aptly is it so described, the colour of the sea being sometimes green like that of glass.

And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts; or "living creatures", as the word may be better rendered, agreeably to Ezekiel 1:5, to which reference is here had; and by whom are meant not the angels, though there are many things which agree with them; they are said to be the "four spirits" of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth, Zechariah 6:5. They may be rightly called living creatures, since they live a most happy life in heaven; their situation is before the throne, and in the presence of God; and their being so sedulous, diligent, and watchful in doing the will of God, may be signified by their being "full of eyes behind, and before, and within"; their strength may be fitly expressed by "the lion"; their indefatigableness in the service of God, by "the ox": their wisdom, prudence, and knowledge, by "the face of a man"; and their swiftness in obeying the divine commands by "the flying eagle"; their number of wings agrees with that of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2; to which the allusion seems to be; and their work, in continually ascribing glory to God, suits with them: to which may be added, that the Jews often speak of four angels, , "round about his throne", that is, the throne of God; whose names are Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael; the three first they place in this manner, Michael at his right hand, Uriel at his left, and Gabriel before him (r). Sometimes thus, Michael on his right hand, Gabriel on his left, Uriel before him, and Raphael behind him, and the holy blessed God in the middle; and they are expressly called (s) by them the four living creatures, meaning in Ezekiel's vision; and they make mention of the intellectual living creatures which are , "round about the throne" (t). Notwithstanding all this, the angels cannot be intended, because these four living creatures are said to be redeemed by the blood of Christ, and are distinguished from angels in Revelation 5:8; nor are the four Gospels, with the four evangelists, here meant; for whatever agreement may be fancied there is between these, and the likeness of the living creatures; as that Matthew may be signified by the creature that has the face of a man, because he begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Christ, as man; and Mark by the lion, because he begins his Gospel with the voice of one crying in the wilderness; and Luke by the ox, because he begins his Gospel with an account of Zacharias the priest, offering in the temple; and John by the eagle, because he begins his Gospel, the first face or leaf of it, in a very high style, and with the divinity of Christ: and with what truth soever it may be said of these that they are full of divine light and knowledge, and swiftly spread it in the world, and are continually giving glory to God; yet it cannot be said of them, with any propriety, as is said of these four living creatures, that they fall down before God, and worship him, and are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb: besides, these four are represented as calling to John at the opening of the first four seals, to come and see what was to be seen; and one of them is said to give to the seven angels the vials of wrath to pour out, Revelation 5:8, to which may be added, that this sense is attended with this inconvenience, that it makes John to be one of the four creatures which he saw: nor are four particular apostles, as Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas, pointed at, as others think; nor the pure apostolical church, for the church is represented by the four and twenty elders, and these four living creatures are distinguished from the hundred and forty four thousand on Mount Zion, in Revelation 14:1. Dr. Goodwin has a very ingenious thought upon these words, could it be supported; he thinks that these four living creatures design the four officers in the Christian church, the ruling elder, the pastor, the deacon, and the teacher; the ruling elder by the "lion", who needs courage to deal with men in case of sins; the pastor by the "ox", for his laboriousness in treading out the corn; the deacon by that which has the "face of a man", it being necessary that he should be merciful and pitiful to the poor, as is the heart of a man; and the teacher by the "flying eagle", who is quick to espy errors, and soars aloft into high mysteries: but then it should be observed, that there is no such officer ass ruling elder in the church, distinct from the pastor; and that the pastor and teacher are one; so that there are but two sorts of officers in the church, pastor, and deacon; see Philippians 1:1; to which may be added, that the four living creatures are all in the same situation, and are alike full of eyes, and have the same number of wings, and are employed in the same work; all which cannot be said equally of church officers. By these four living creatures, I apprehend, we are to understand the ministers of the Gospel in general, in the successive ages of the church, to whom all the characters do well agree. And though they may not be all found in everyone, at least not in all alike, yet thou are in one or another of them, and in them as together considered. They are said to be "four", being fewer in number than the members of the church, which are signified by the twenty four elders, and yet a sufficient number; and in allusion to the four standards of the camp of Israel in the wilderness, to which there seems to be some reference in the whole of this account; as the tabernacle there was placed in the midst, so the throne of God here; as the priests and Levites were round about that, so the four and twenty elders here; as there were seven lamps, over against the candlestick in the tabernacle, continually burning, so there are seven spirits here before the throne; and as there were four princes, who were standard bearers, placed at the four corners of the camp, so here four living creatures, or ministers of the word, who are standard bearers: the standard of Judah, with Issachar and Zabulon under him, was at the east of the tabernacle; and Ephraim, with Manasseh and Benjamin, at the west; Reuben, with Simeon and Gad, at the south; and Dan, with Asher and Naphtali, at the north; and the Jewish writers say (u), that on Judah's standard was the figure of a lion, on Ephraim's the figure of an ox, on Reuben's the figure of a man, and on Dan's the figure of an eagle; and to which the four living creatures are likened here. And this number "four" may be the rather mentioned, with respect to the four parts of the world, and corners of the earth, whither the ministers of the Gospel are sent to preach, and whither their commission reaches; there being of the elect of God in all parts to be gathered in by their ministry: and very properly may they be called "living creatures", because they are alive in themselves, being quickened by the Spirit of God; or otherwise they would not be fit for their work; and because their work requires liveliness in the exercise of grace, and fervency in the performance of duty: and because they are a means in the hand of God of quickening dead sinners, and of reviving drooping saints by the word of life, which they hold forth: the situation of these four living creatures agrees with them, who are said to be both in the midst of, and round about the throne, and so were nearer to it than the four and twenty elders, and were between that and them; as the ministers of the Gospel are set in the first place in the church; have nearness to God, and much of his presence, which is particularly promised them; and stand between God and the people, and receive from the one, and communicate to the other, and lead on the worship of God, as these four do; see Revelation 4:9. And these are said to be

full of eyes; of spiritual light, and evangelical knowledge; and they have need of all the eyes they have to look into the Scriptures of truth, to search and pry into them, and find out the sense and meaning of them; to overlook the flock committed to them, they have taken the oversight of; to look to themselves, their doctrine, and their conversation; to espy enemies and dangers, and give notice of them to the churches; to look to God upon the throne, and to the Lamb in the midst of it, for fresh supplies of gifts and grace; and to see to it, that all their ministrations tend to the glory of God, the honour of a Redeemer, and the good of souls. And they had eyes

before and behind; "before" them, to look to the word of God, and the deep things in it, which continually lies before them, and to the things that are yet to come relating to the kingdom and church of Christ; and "behind" them, to observe how all sacrifices and types, predictions and promises, have had their accomplishment in Christ; they have eyes before them to watch over the church they are in the midst of, and which is the flock that is before them; and eyes behind, to guard against Satan and his emissaries, false teachers, who sometimes slyly and secretly come upon the back of them; they have eyes before them, to look to him that sits upon the throne, on whom their dependence, and from whom their expectations are; and they have eyes behind them, to look on the four and twenty elders, the members of the churches, to whom they minister.

(p) Zohar in Numb. fol. 90. 3. & 92. 1. & in Lev. fol. 24. 3. & in Deut. fol. 118. 4. Tikkune Zohar apud Rittangel. not. in Jetzira, p. 133, 134. (q) Ganz. Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 46. 2. & 47. 1, 2.((r) Bemidbar Rabba, sect 2. fol. 179. 1. Vid. Pirke Eliezer, c. 4. (s) Zohar in Numb. fol. 91. 3.((t) Raya Mehimna in Zohar in ib. fol. 95. 4. (u) Aben Ezra in Numb. ii. 2.

{7} And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.

(7) By instruments used, in that he has both a most ready treasury and a workhouse excellently furnished with all things, to the executing of his will, which things flow from his commandment, as repeated in Re 15:2 and has also the angels ready administers of his counsel and pleasure to all parts of the world, continually watching,

(in this verse) working by reason otherwise than the instruments without life last mentioned, courageous as lions, mighty as bulls, wise as men, swift as eagles Re 4:7 most apt to all purposes as furnished with wings on every part, most piercing of sight, and finally, pure and holy spirits always in continual motion Re 4:8.

Revelation 4:6. ὡς θάλασσα ὑαλίνη, ὁμοία κρυστάλλῳ. The ὡς—which[1759] belongs to the entire idea, and not chiefly to the ὑαλίνη[1760]—stands here just as in Revelation 8:8. What John further beheld before the throne of God appeared as a sea of glass like crystal. This is regarded as signifying baptism,[1761] the Holy Scriptures,[1762] repentance,[1763] the present transitory world,[1764] etc.,—all purely arbitrary. Without ground, further, is the allusion to the “brazen sea” in the temple,[1765] or to the bright inlaid floor, having, therefore, the appearance of a sea.[1766] It is in general a conception not justified by the text, to regard the “sea of glass “the basis of the throne, as C. a Lap., Vitr., Eichh., Heinr., Herder, De Wette, etc., presuppose, who from this same idea reach interpretations that are very different. With an appeal to Exodus 24:10, Ezekiel 1:26, De Wette[1767] regards “the sea of glass” in our passage, as well as also in Revelation 15:2, as a designation of “the atmosphere,” an explanation to which, in its pure naturalness, Exodus and Ezekiel do not apply,—where, however, in reality the pure ether is the natural substratum for the idea of the standing or enthronement of God in heavenly glory,—while in this passage the sea of glass is not beneath, but before, the throne of God, and the entire presentation is altogether foreign to “the atmosphere.” On the other hand, Vitr., Herder, etc., with a reference to Psalm 89:15, and similar passages, interpret the sea of glass as the basis of righteousness and grace, whereon the throne of God is founded.[1768] Following Beng., Hengstenb. has understood the sea of glass, since it appears in Revelation 15:2 mingled with fire, as the “product of the seven lamps of fire,” since and because of the expression “sea” referring to Psalm 36:7, as a designation of “the great and wonderful works of God, of his just and holy ways, of his acts of righteousness that have become manifest.” But already the parallelism of Revelation 5:6, where these seven lamps appear as seven eyes, in itself renders this artificial interpretation impossible.

Aret., Grot., and Ebrard proceed upon the fact that the sea, viz., as stormy and irregularly heaving (Revelation 13:1), represents the mass of the nations in their ungodly state; and then, that the sea of glass, clear as crystal, and therefore firm as well as pure, designates “the creature in its pure relation to the Creator.”[1769] But this interpretation is wrecked on Revelation 15:2. According to that passage,[1770] the sea, whose complete, heavenly purity is marked by the double designation, ὑαλ. and ὁμ. κρυστ.,[1771] is to be regarded identical with the stream of the water of life, which[1772] proceeds from the throne of God.[1773] The point thus designated belongs in fact essentially to the perfection of the view of the enthroned God; and according to the living relation in which the vision, ch. 4 [and 5], stands to all that follows, it is to be expected, that, as the succeeding judgments appear as the work of the holy and just omnipotence of the heavenly King here described, so also a definite point of the present fundamental description corresponds to the final glorious and blessed completion of the kingdom of God. Since in the presence of God there is fulness of joy,[1774] since God is the Blessed One,[1775] since before him and from him issues the river of eternal life, he himself, and communion with him, is the blessed goal for the development of his kingdom, and he himself is the leader thereto. [See Note XLIII., p. 203.] καὶ ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ κύκλῳ τοῦ θρόνου τέσσαρα ζῶα, κ.τ.λ. The four beings[1776] appear not as supporting the throne, for ἐν μέσῳ τ. θρ. is by no means “under the throne;”[1777] also not as stated by Eichh., Ew. 1., and Hengstenb., that the four ζῶα are stationed with the back under the throne, but with the upper part projecting therefrom so raised above the same that they could appear as being “round about” the throne—an idea which because of its absolute deformity ought not to have been forced upon John. In like manner impossible is Ebrard’s opinion, that[1778] the four ζῶα are in the midst of the (transparent!) throne, but that at the same time they had moved themselves with the rapidity of lightning from the same, so that they appeared also around about the throne. Incorrect also is Vitr., who makes of ἐν μέσ. and κυκλ. a strange hendiadys: “In the midst of the semicircular area which was before the throne.” According to the wording of the text, the position of the four beings is not to be regarded else than as is most natural in connection with their fourfold number, viz., one on each side of the throne, and besides each in the midst of its respective side.[1779] They stand so free as to be able to move;[1780] and because they have manifestly turned with their faces towards the throne, John can see that they are “full of eyes before and behind.”[1781] There is no occasion whatever for the conjecture that the words καὶ ἐν μέσῳ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων might have belonged in the text.[1782]

[1759] Cf. also Revelation 15:2.

[1760] Beng.

[1761] Victorin., Tichon., Primas, Beda, N. de Lyra, Hoë, Calov.

[1762] Joachim.

[1763] Alcas.

[1764] Par., Bull., Rib.

[1765] Alcas., Alsted.

[1766] Ew., with a comparison of the Koran, Sur. 27, 44.

[1767] Cf. Eichh., etc.

[1768] Vitr.: “A will of God, sure and perpetual, whereby he determined to have, among men, a kingdom of grace; a right sure and clear to erect such a kingdom of grace, in the righteousness and obedience of the mediator; this very right founded in the righteousness of Christ is the basis of the throne.”

[1769] Ebrard; Aretius: “The assembly of the triumphing Church.” Grot., in his way: “The people of Jerusalem.” The ὑαλίνη and ὁμ. κρυστ.: “Because God perceives the actions and thoughts of the people;” but also “because of the purity of the people of Jerusalem.” Klief.: “The multitude of the blessed conquerors from all times and nations on earth, preserved in heaven with God unto the end, who are represented by the twenty-four elders.” And this with an appeal to Revelation 15:2.

[1770] Cf. also Revelation 22:1.

[1771] Id.

[1772] Id.

[1773] Cf. Rinck.

[1774] Cf. Psalm 16:11.

[1775] Cf. 1 Timothy 1:11.

[1776] Cf., concerning their meaning, Revelation 4:8.

[1777] Hengstenb.

[1778] Cf. Ezekiel 1:4-5; Ezekiel 1:14.

[1779] Züll. Cf. De Wette.

[1780] Revelation 15:7.

[1781] See on Revelation 4:8.

[1782] Ew. ii.: “Between the chief seat and the elders.”


XLIII. Revelation 4:6. θάλασσα ὑαλίνη

Alford objects to our author’s identification of the “sea of glass” with the “river of water of life;” for “the whole vision there [Revelation 22:1] is quite distinct from this, and each one has its own propriety in detail. To identify the two is to confound them, nor does ch. Revelation 15:2 at all justify this interpretation. There, as here, it is the purity, calmness, and majesty of God’s rule which are signified by the figure.” Luthardt, on the other hand, in substantial agreement with Düst.: “The fulness of the divine life (cf. Revelation 22:1), which is nothing but peace and calm, in contrast with the stormy disquietude of the life of the world (Revelation 13:1; Daniel 7:2).”


XLIV. Revelation 4:6-8. τέσσερα ζῷα

Cf. Cremer (Lexicon): “Properly, a living creature, which also occurs elsewhere also in profane Greek, where ζῶον, a post-Homeric word, generally signifies living creature, and only in special instances a beast; θηρίον = animal, as embracing all living beings, must be retained in the Revelation, where four ζῶα are represented as being between God’s throne and those of the elders which surround it, the description given of which (Revelation 4:6-8) resembles that of the הַיוֹת in Ezekiel 1:5 sqq.; the cherubim in Ezekiel 10 (cf. Psalm 18:1; Revelation 4:6. For a sea in heaven, cf. above (on Revelation 4:4). In Test. Patr. Levi. 2 the sea lies within the second (first) heaven ὕδωρ κρεμάμενον ἀνάμεσον τούτου κἀκείνου, and in the Egyptian paradise the triumphant soul goes to “the great lake in the Fields of Peace,” where the gods dwell. The description, “a sea of glass, like crystal” (i.e., transparent, ancient glass being coarse and often semi-opaque, and ὕαλος being primarily = transparent, not vitreous) borrowed partly from archaic tradition (coloured by Egyptian and Assyrian ideas), is intended to portray the ether, clear and calm, shimmering and motionless. Rabbinic fancy compared the shining floor of the temple to crystal, and the hot eastern sky is likened (in Job 37:18) to a molten mirror, dry and burnished. Heaven is a sort of glorified temple (1 Kings 7:23, the sea in the Solomonic temple being copied from the oblong or round tank which represented the ocean at every Babylonian temple, while the earth was symbolised by the adjoining zikkurat), and the crystal firmament is a sort of sea. In Slav. En. iii. 1–3 the seer observes, in the first heaven, the ether, and then “a very great sea, greater than the earthly sea”. καὶ ἐν μέσῳ, κ.τ.λ.: “and in the middle (of each side) of the throne and (consequently) round about the throne,” the four חַיּוֹת of Ezekiel 1:5; Ezekiel 1:18 (cf. Apoc. Bar. li. 11). γέμοντα κ.τ.λ., a bizarre but archaic symbol for completeness of life and intelligence rather than for Argus-like vigilance. The four angels of the presence in En. xl. 2 move out, like Milton’s seven (Par. Lost, 3:647 f.), on various errands (lxxi. 9, cf. lxxxviii. 2, 3). The ζῷα of John are stationary, except in Revelation 15:7, where the context (cf. Revelation 6:6) might suggest that the seer took them to represent creation or the forces of the natural world (cf. the rabbinic dictum: quattuor sunt qui principatum in hoc mundo tenent, inter creaturas homo, inter aues aquilo, inter pecora bos, inter bestias leo). Note also that when they worship (Revelation 4:9), the πρεσβύτεροι acknowledge God’s creative glory (Revelation 4:11), and that the O.T. cherubim are associated with the phenomena of the storm-cloud. The seer does not define them, however, and they may be, like the πρεσβύτεροι, a traditional and poetical trait of the heavenly court.—τέσσερα, cf. Slav. En. xxx. 13, 14. The posture of the ζῷα may be visualised from a comparison of the Alhambra Court of the Lions.

6. a sea of glass] As there was a brazen “sea” in front of Solomon’s Temple, 1 Kings 7:23 &c. We find from Revelation 11:19, Revelation 15:5, &c. that St John was now in front of the heavenly Temple—whether the Throne was inside it seems doubtful: Revelation 16:17 looks as if it were, Revelation 11:19 as if it were not. That Temple had a real sea in front of it—sea-like in extent, no doubt, but a glassy sea, calm and transparent, and apparently solid, Revelation 15:2 : its earthly representative (see Sir 50:3, and note on Revelation 2:17 above) was hardly more than a tank, though richly ornamented.

like unto crystal] Ancient glass being not so clear as ours, a further term of comparison seemed necessary. The word may mean “ice,” but Revelation 21:11 confirms the A. V.

in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne] It is not quite clear how they are placed—whether with their bodies partly under the Throne, or only so far “in the midst” of it, that each of the four was in (or opposite to) the middle of one of its four sides. In Ezekiel 1:22 we see that the Cherubim support the Throne of God, which points to the first view.

four beasts] Should be rendered living creatures, as Ezekiel 1:5 &c.: the word for the “beasts” of ch. 13 &c. is quite different: and that used here, like the Hebrew one in Ezekiel, is cognate with the word for “life.”

Revelation 4:6. Ὡς θάλασσα ὑαλίνη, as a sea of glass) The force of the particle ὡς, as, falls more upon the word, of glass, than upon the word, sea; and the word, sea, is here used with somewhat greater literalness than the words, of glass. For a certain depth is denoted, and that both fluid and transparent, although not flowing, but standing calmly. Comp. ch. Revelation 15:2, where both the expression, as a sea of glass, is used, and also a sea of glass, being the same as to substance, as I think. So John 6:19, ὠς σταδίους εἰκοσιπέντε, where ὡς properly relates to the number. Vitringa departs further from the meaning of a sea, when he explains it to be a street or pavement.—ζῶα) There is a wide difference between ζῶον and θήριον. φύσεις ζώων καὶ θυμοὺς θηρίων: Wis 7:20. These four beasts are living emblems and ornaments of the throne, denoting a nearer admission than the 24 Elders. [In German you may call them Lebbilder, as Mannsbild, Weibsbild.—V. g.] Let their confession be looked to, ch. Revelation 5:9; whence they are accustomed to be spoken of, as being most closely connected with the throne, as though they were parts inserted into it.

Verse 6. - And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal. Sea of glass, or a glassy sea. The quality of "glassiness" may refer to the pure appearance of the sea; or it may mean that the sea was in consistency like unto glass; that is, solid and unyielding, so that there was nothing strange in the fact that it supported weights. In either case, the notion is repeated by parallelism in the next clause, "like unto crystal." But the glassy sea may mean "a glass laver," and bear no reference to what is usually called a sea. The brazen laver is described (1 Kings 7:23) as a "molten sea." St. John may therefore mean that before the throne of God was a laver of the purest material, just as the brazen laver was before the temple. One difficulty here presents itself, viz. that there would be no use for a laver in heaven, where all is pure, and the figure therefore appears a little incongruous. But as it stood before the throne, where all who came would have to pass by, it may fitly typify the waters of Baptism, passed by all Christians; and the figure would be aptly suggested to St. John by the furniture of the temple to which he has such constant allusions. And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne. This may mean either

(1) that, the throne being rectangular, the four living beings were in the middle of each side of the parallelogram; or

(2) while one was in front of the throne, the other three formed a semicircle round it, one being directly behind, and two towards the ends. Were four beasts; or, four living creatures (Revised Version); or, better still, four living beings (ζῶα). The "beast" (θηρίον) of Revelation 6:7; Revelation 11:7, etc., must not be confounded with the "living ones" of this passage. The one quality connoted by the term here used is the possession of life. The question of the precise meaning and interpretation of the vision of "the living beings" is a difficult one, and much has been written concerning it. The vision is evidently connected with the appearances described in Isaiah 6. and Ezekiel 1. and 10, and which are called in Isaiah "seraphim," in Ezekiel "cherubim." We are led, therefore, to inquire what mental ideas were pictured to the Jews under the symbolical forms of cherubim and seraphim. Cheyne shows ('Prophecies of Isaiah,' vol. 2. p. 272) that the name cherub is probably connected with kirubu, the winged ox god of the Assyrians, and with kurubu, the vulture or eagle (cf. the γρῦπες, the guardians of the treasures of the gods); and he infers that among heathen nations the mythic cherubim denote the cloud-masses which appear to guard the portals of the sky, and on which the sun-god issues at break of day. With regard to the seraphim, he compares the name of the fiery serpents(s'rafim) of Numbers 21:6, and concludes that the term was symbolical of the lightning, the weapon of the gods. Now, in Old Testament passages the cherubim and seraphim are always pictured as the attendants of God, and the workers of his purposes and judgments - an idea which may readily have been assimilated by the Jews from the conceptions of their heathen neighbours. Thus cherubim with the flaming sword are placed at the entrance of the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24); Jehovah rode upon a cherub, and did fly (2 Samuel 22:11; Psalm 18:10); he communes with his people from between the cherubim (Exodus 25:22); he is the Shepherd of Israel, who dwells between the cherubim (Psalm 80:1); the temple in Ezekiel 41:18 is adorned with cherubim, as being the dwelling-place of God; they are the attendants of the glory of God in Ezekiel 1:22-28; and the seraphim fill an analogous position (Isaiah 6:2). We may therefore infer that the appearance of the "living beings" implied the presence of some order of beings in attendance upon God, the workers of his will, and the manifestation of his glory. Again, the term used (ζῶα) and the characteristics of the appearance naturally and almost irresistibly lead us to interpret the form as one symbolical of life. The human face, the ox as the representative of domestic, and the lion of wild animals, and the eagle among birds, appear to be typical of the four most conspicuous orders of animal life. The ceaseless movements described in ver. 8 portray the same idea. The four living beings draw attention to the woes heaped upon created life (Revelation 6:8). The eyes denote never-resting activity. We may therefore believe that the living beings are symbolical of all creation fulfilling its proper office - waiting upon God, fulfilling his will, and setting forth his glory. It is noteworthy that the human face, as distinct from the Church, which is represented by the four and twenty elders, appears to indicate the power of God to use, for his purposes and his glory, that part of mankind which has not been received into the Church - the part which constitutes the "other sheep, not of this fold" (John 10:16). These representatives of created life worship God, and give (ver. 11), as a reason for ascribing glory and honour to him, the circumstance that "thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created." The following are other interpretations:

(1) The living beings represent the four Gospels. This view is held by many ancient writers, though there are many variations in assigning to each Gospel its own representative. Victorinus considers the man to be a type of St. Matthew, who sets forth prominently the human nature of our Lord; the kingly lion is referred to St. Mark; the sacrificial ox to St. Luke; the aspiring eagle to St. John. Amongst the supporters of this interpretation (though varying in the precise applicability) are St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Athanasius, St. Irenaeus, St. Gregory, St. Ambrose, Andreas, Primasius, Bede, I. Williams, Wordsworth (for a lull exposition of this view, see Wordsworth, in loc.).

(2) The four great apostles: St. Peter, the lion; James the brother of the Lord, the ox; St. Matthew, the man; St. Paul, the eagle (Grotius).

(3) The Church of the New Testament; as the Church of the Old Testament was represented by the standards or four tribes (see Numbers 2.), on which these devices were emblazoned according to tradition (Mede).

(4) The four patriarchal Churches: the man, Alexandria, famed for learning; the lion, Jerusalem, "propter constantiam" (Acts 5:29); the ox, Antioch, as "parata obedire mandatis apostolorum;" the eagle, Constantinople, remarkable for men "per contemplationem elevati, ut Grog. Naz." (De Lyra and a Lapide).

(5) The four cardinal virtues (Arethas).

(6) The four elements (the 'Catena,' p. 246) - a view not materially differing from that first set forth above, bearing in mind the idea of the ancients that all creation was formed from the four elements.

(7) The four motive powers of the human soul: reason, anger, desire, conscience (a Lapide, quoting Grog. Naz.).

(8) The doctors of the Church (Vitringa).

(9) Four attributes of our Lord: his humanity, sacrificial life, his kingly nature, his perfect and spiritual nature soaring beyond all other men (Arethas-Cramer, p. 245).

(10) The four orders: pastoral, diaconal, doctoral, contemplative, (Joachim).

(11) The four principal angels (a Lapide).

(12) Four apostolic virtues (Alcasar).

(13) The attributes of divinity: wisdom, power, omniscience, creation (Renan). Full of eyes before and behind. From Isaiah 6:2, 3 the idea of six wings is borrowed, and also the "Holy, holy, holy" from Ezekiel 1:5, 6; the four figures and four faces (which are united in Ezekiel, but made separate in the Revelation); and from Ezekiel 10:12 the body full of eyes. The eyes denote unceasing activity. If the four living beings all faced towards the throne while standing on each side of it, St. John would see them in various positions, and observe the back as well as the front. Revelation 4:6Of glass (ὑαλίνη)

Rev., glassy, which describes the appearance not the material. The adjective, and the kindred noun ὕαλος glass occur only in Revelation. The etymology is uncertain; some maintaining an Egyptian origin, and others referring it to the Greek ὕω to rain, with the original signification of rain-drop. Originally, some kind of clear, transparent stone. Herodotus says that the Ethiopians place their dead bodies "in a crystal pillar which has been hollowed out to receive them, crystal being dug up in great abundance in their country, and of a kind very easy to work. You may see the corpse through the pillar within which it lies; and it neither gives out any unpleasant odor, nor is it in any respect unseemly: yet there is no part that is not as plainly visible as if the body were bare" (iii., 24). Glass is known to have been made in Egypt at least 3,800 years ago. The monuments show that the same glass bottles were used then as in later times; and glass blowing is represented in the paintings in the tombs. The Egyptians possessed the art of coloring it, and of introducing gold between two layers of glass. The ruins of glass-furnaces are still to be seen at the Natron Lakes. The glass of Egypt was long famous. It was much used at Rome for ornamental purposes, and a glass window has been discovered at Pompeii: Pliny speaks of glass being malleable.


Compare Ezekiel 1:22; Job 37:18; Exodus 24:10. The word is used in classical Greek for ice. Thucydides, describing the attempt of the Plataeans to break out from their city when besieged by the Peloponnesians and Boeotians, relates their climbing over the wall and crossing the ditch, but only after a hard struggle; "for the ice (κρύσταλλος) in it was not frozen hard enough to bear" (iii., 23). Crystal, regarded as a mineral, was originally held to be only pure water congealed, by great length of time, into ice harder than common. Hence it was believed that it could be produced only in regions of perpetual ice.

In the midst of - round about

Commonly explained as one in the midst of each of the four sides of the throne. "At the extremities of two diameters passing through the center of the round throne" (Milligan).

Beasts (ζῶα)

Rev., living creatures. Alford aptly remarks that beasts is the most unfortunate word that could be imagined. Beast is θηρίον. Ζῶον emphasizes the vital element, θηρίον the bestial.

Full of eyes before and behind

The four living beings are mainly identical with the cherubim of Ezekiel 1:5-10; Ezekiel 10:5-20; Isaiah 6:2, Isaiah 6:3; though with some differences of detail. For instance, Ezekiel's cherubim have four wings, while the six described here belong to the seraphim of Isaiah. So also the Trisagion (thrice holy) is from Isaiah. In Ezekiel's vision each living being has all four faces, whereas here, each of the four has one.

"There came close after them four animals,

Incoronate each one with verdant leaf,

Plumed with six wings was every one of them,

The plumage full of eyes; the eyes of Argus


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