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Also before the throne,

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there was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal. There were four living beings

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who were in the midst of the throne and surrounding the throne.

These four living beings were covered with eyes in front and in back.


Also bringing glory to the one holding complete authority was evidence that God had turned the threat of death into no threat at all and used it to show His glory and goodness. There was a full contingency of representatives of all living things God has created who were intimately close to the one with all the authority, they were completely submissive to His authority, and He could rely on them fully. The actions of these representatives were evident to everyone. These representatives of all living things God had created knew everything that went on; nothing escaped their sight.


1: “Also before the throne”

Whether expressions of thanks and praise, or swift obedience to the Master’s will, all the possible meanings of someone being “before the throne” would give glory and praise to the one holding such great authority.

2: four living beings

Not “beasts,” but “living beings.” The point here is that they were beings to whom God had given life, and they represented, as we shall soon see, all the categories of living things God had made. It is a way of saying that all created beings, everything with life, will one day be totally submissive to God. It sounds like Phil 2:10-11, “So that at the name of Jesus, every Knee will bow … and every tongue will confess.”

A “Sea of Glass Like Crystal”

There were several symbolic meanings for the “sea.” One meaning was that of vastness, great abundance and expansiveness. It was the dwelling place of the fish and other sea creatures God had created. It was a place of chaos and disorder from which God brought order during the six days of creation. But the meaning that seems to fit best in this passage pertains to the fact that sea was seen by many ancient peoples as a symbol of danger and death. Sailors would leave on a ship, and some would never come back. The sea was dark; one could not see what was deep inside those waters. The sea was known for having ferocious storms; it was a violent place. The Babylonian god of death, Mot, dwelled in the sea. The sea was often referred to as the abyss.

What does it mean that the sea was like glass? They did know about glass well before the time of John, but only the rich people had any, and it was not as nice as what we have today. Even so people would have known it well enough for a mention of it to bring to mind its two most prominent characteristics: Glass is smooth, and glass is transparent.

Glass is smooth, the sea is not. Describing the ocean waters as smooth means that God has changed one of the characteristics that makes the sea so dangerous—namely, He has removed the waves and rendered the sea harmless; He has tamed the wildness of the sea. For people going through persecution this is a huge encouragement. They may still face danger every day, they may still live with the possibility of losing their lives but God has given them this picture to encourage them by pointing out that death (the sea) should no longer be feared. It is no longer a bad thing but a good thing. Through death God will usher them into His unhindered presence. This should encourage them to stand strong against persecution and pressure to turn away from God because a big tool used by a believer’s enemies, the fear of death, no longer holds much power. If Death is not to be feared, then let the persecution come, for it holds no threat to me at all.

So you see that this small, hardly noticed word picture is a huge word picture; it is a quiet carrier of a powerful message. Most Americans who have read this passage, read about the sea being like glass and they say, “Ok, whatever.” It means almost nothing to them except that God has power to do whatever He wants to do. While American’s say “whatever,” people facing persecution read that and say, “YES, Thank you. I needed that encouragement. What a huge blessing!”

But, as with many things in Revelation, there is another layer of truth to be uncovered. Glass and crystal were both known and valued for their transparency. The sea is called transparent, not so we can see what is in those depths, but so we can better understand God’s qualities. The main reason we would want to see what is in the ocean depths is to know if there are any terrible creatures coming to harm us (in ancient times the Leviathan would have been on their minds). But if God has already tamed the sea and made it safe from danger, we do not need to be concerned about such things. Instead the transparency allows us to look into a world we had not known before, indeed it has only been in recent times that we have known much at all about the world under the surface of the water. The point is that God has taken the danger out of the sea and used it to demonstrate His power and glory. The fact that we know more than they did about what is down there should only encourage us to give Him even more glory.

The emphasis on the formerly dark and foreboding sea becoming transparent is strengthened by the fact that two word pictures are used, glass and crystal. About this phrase we should think in a theological sense more than in a scientific sense. The transparency of the sea would allow people to see in it the power of God over death, and the fact that He is good and is not happy that death and suffering are realities in our world and so He has done something about that problem.

Death is the primary curse of sin. Suffering, pain and toil are part of that curse, but death is the primary ingredient. God is not a God of death, rather He is at work to transform the curse of death into something good.

In the Midst of the Throne and Surrounding the Throne

The Greek literally says, “In the middle of the throne.” Scholars have long debated what John saw, and then what it meant. I think he saw exactly what he says he saw. If it does not make sense to us or does not square with the realities we know, that should not be a problem because symbolism does not have to agree with reality. Its only purpose was to communicate a message.

What was that message? I am confident that the intended message was one of closeness.

What does it mean to be close to the one with complete authority? It means total submission and complete obedience to Him, and full acceptance from Him. That spells intimacy; it means the

one in authority has complete trust in the one who is close; it means one’s will and actions are so intermingled with His will that there is no distinction between the two.

The next statement says, “Surrounding the throne.” To take these two statements literally is impossible, for one cannot be “in the middle of” and “surrounding” something at the same time. The efforts of various scholars to explain what John saw fall short, for it is impossible to reconcile in a literal way, two things that are so perfectly opposite. But this is symbolism, and we must remember that for people of John’s day the symbol was often more powerful than reality.

Here “surrounding” has nothing to do with protection, for no one needs to protect God’s authority. Rather it has to do with demonstrating something, making it visible to everyone. One would think that being “in the middle of the throne” would make it impossible for others to see the closeness, the submission, and the obedience demonstrated by these four representatives of all the living beings God has created. But the opposite is true since, at the same time, they surround the throne. Their actions and attitudes are evident to all. While it is an intimate relationship, there is also a very public demonstration of that relationship. That is the way it should be for all of us.

While their lives were totally consumed by God’s authority (they were in the middle of His authority and He surrounded them), it could also be said that God’s great passion, His primary desire, was toward the living things He had created (they surrounded Him). I am not saying that He is totally consumed with us the same way we should be with Him, but there is some correlation, some reciprocity. It is a two-way street. He surrounds us as the one holding complete authority; we surround Him as one of the ways in which His divine qualities are demonstrated to the world. I might add that seeing God demonstrated in us has a more powerful and personal impact on our world than seeing Him demonstrated in nature. God places high value on using us as His representatives; He has surrounded Himself with us for that purpose.