on Revelation 4 :6
Four beasts - Τεσσαρα ζωα· Four living creatures or four animals. The word beast is very improperly used here and elsewhere in this description. Wiclif first used it, and translators in general have followed him in this uncouth rendering. A beast before the throne of God in heaven sounds oddly.
on Revelation 4 :6
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.
on Revelation 4 :6
4:6 And before the throne is a sea as of glass, like 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 of water. We read again, Rev 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, Rev 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. Round about the throne - That is, toward the four quarters, east, west, north, and south. Were four living creatures - Not beasts, no more than birds. These seem to be taken from the cherubim in the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel, and in the holy of holies. They are doubtless some of the principal powers of heaven; but of what order, it is not easy to determine. It is very probable that the twenty - four elders may represent the Jewish church: their harps seem to intimate their having belonged to the ancient tabernacle service, where they were wont to be used. If so, the living creatures may represent the Christian church. Their number, also, is symbolical of universality, and agrees with the dispensation of the gospel, which extended 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, Rev 5:9, could not possibly suit the Jewish without the Christian church. The first living creature was like a lion - To signify undaunted courage. The second, like a calf - Or ox, Ezek 1:10, to signify unwearied patience. The third, with the face of a man - To signify prudence and compassion. The fourth, like an 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.