Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Revelation 4:6

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

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.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

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 thronouNot 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 Isaiah 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.

(d)Perhaps it might be added, that, so understood, there would be completeness in the vision.

The “elders” appear there as representatives of the church redeemed; the angels in their own proper persons render praise to God. To this it was not improper to add, and the completeness of the representation seems to make it necessary to add, that all the doings of the Almighty unite in his praise; his various acts in the government of the universe harmonize with redeemed and unfallen intelligences in proclaiming his glory. The vision of the “living beings,” therefore, is not, as I suppose, a representation of the attributes of God as such, but an emblematic representation of the divine government - of the throne of Deity resting upon, or sustained by, those things of which these living beings are emblems - intelligence, firmness, energy, etc. This supposition seems to combine more probabilities than any other which has been proposed; for, according to this supposition, all the acts, and ways, and creatures of God unite in his praise.

It is proper to add, however, that expositors are by no means agreed as to the design of this representation. Prof. Stuart supposes that the attributes of God are referred to; Mr. Elliott (i. 93), that the “twenty-four elders and the four living creatures symbolize the church, or the collective body of the saints of God; and that as there are two grand divisions of the church, the larger one that of the departed in Paradise, and the other that militant on earth, the former is depicted by the twenty-four elders, and the latter by the living creatures”; Mr. Lord (pp. 53,54), that the living creatures and the elders are both of one race; the former perhaps denoting those like Enoch and Elijah, who were translated, and those who were raised by the Saviour after his resurrection, or those who have been raised to special eminence - the latter the mass of the redeemed; Mr. Mede, that the living creatures are symbols of the church worshipping on earth; Mr. Daubuz, that they are symbols of the ministers of the church on earth; Vitringa, that they are symbols of eminent ministers and teachers in every age; Dr. Hammond regards him who sits on the throne as the metropolitan bishop of Judea, the representative of God, the elders as diocesan bishops of Judea, and the living creatures as four apostles, symbols of the saints who are to attend the Almighty as assessors in judgment! See Lord on the Apocalypse, pp. 58,59.

Full of eyes - Denoting omniscience. The ancients fabled Argus as having 100 eyes, or as having the power of seeing in any direction. The emblem here would denote an everwatchful and observing Providence; and, in accordance with the explanation proposed above, it means that, in the administration of the divine government, everything is distinctly contemplated; nothing escapes observation; nothing can be concealed. It is obvious that the divine government could not be administered unless this were so; and it is the perfection of the government of God that all things are seen just as they are. In the vision seen by Ezekiel Ezekiel 1:18, the “rings” of the wheels on which the living creatures moved are represented as “full of eyes round about them,” emblematic of the same thing. So Milton:

“As with stars their bodies all,

And wings were set with eyes; with eyes the wheels.

Of beryl, and careening fires between.”

Before - In front. As one looked on their faces, from whatever quarter the throne was approached, he could see a multitude of eyes looking upon him.

And behind - On the parts of their bodies which were under the throne. The meaning is, that there is universal vigilance in the government of God. Whatever is the form of the divine administration; whatever part is contemplated; however it is manifested - whether as activity, energy, power, or intelligence - it is based on the fact that all things are seen from every direction. There is nothing that is the result of blind fate or of chance.

Uriah Smith
Daniel and the Revelation, 388

Verse 6

The Sea of Glass. — Not composed of glass, but a broad expanse resembling glass; that is, says Greenfield, transparent, brilliant. This idea is further carried out by its being likened to crystal, which is defined to mean “anything concrete and pellucid, like ice or glass.” The position of this sea is such as to show that it bears no analogy to the laver of the ancient typical service.DAR 388.3

It may extend under, and be the foundation of, the throne, and even further, of the city itself. It is again brought to view in chapter 15:2, as the place where the overcomers, in the ecstatic joy of final victory, will soon stand.DAR 388.4

The Four Beasts. — It is a very unhappy translation which has given us the word beasts in this verse. The Greek word ???? denotes properly a living creature. Bloomfield says, “‘Four living creatures' (not beasts). So Heinr. renders it. ... The propriety of this correction is now, I believe, generally agreed upon by commentators. The word is very different from ??????, used to designate the prophetic beasts in the 13th and following chapters. (Scholefield.) It may be added that Bulkeley adduces several examples of to denote, not only creature, but even a human being, especially one from Origen, who uses it of our Lord Jesus.”DAR 388.5

Similar imagery is used in the first chapter of Ezekiel. The qualities which would seem to be signified by the emblems are strength, perseverance, reason, and swiftness, — strength of affection, perseverance in carrying out the requirements of duty, reason in comprehending the divine will, and swiftness in obeying. These living beings are even more intimately connected with the throne than are the four and twenty elders, being represented as in the midst of it, and round about it. Like the elders, these, in their song to the Lamb, ascribe to him praise for having redeemed them from the earth. They therefore belong to the same company, and represent a part of the great multitude, who, as already described (see remarks on verse 4), have been led up on high from the captivity of death. Concerning the object of their redemption, see remarks on chapter 5:8.DAR 389.1

They Rest Not. — “Oh! happy unrest!” beautifully exclaims John Wesley; and the theme of their constant worship is, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” No sublimer strain ever issued from created lips. And they repeat it “day and night,” or continually, these terms only denoting the manner in which time is reckoned here; for there can be no night where the throne of God is.DAR 389.2

We mortals are apt to tire of the repetition of the simple testimony we bear here to the goodness and mercy of God; and we are sometimes tempted to say nothing, because we cannot continually say something new. But may we not learn a profitable lesson from the course of these holy beings above, who never grow weary of the ceaseless repetition of these words, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty;” and to whom these words never grow old, because their hearts ever glow with a sense of his holiness, goodness, and love? Praise does not become to them monotonous; for with every utterance they gain a new view of the attributes of the Almighty; they reach a greater hight of comprehension in their vision of his perfections; the horizon expands before them; their hearts enlarge; and the new emotions of adoration, from their new standpoint, draw from them a fresh utterance of their holy salutation, new even to themselves, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!”DAR 389.3

So, even with us here, though remarks are often, repeated in reference to the goodness, the mercy, and the love of God, the value of his truth, and the attractions of the world to come, these should not grow stale upon the ear; for we should all our lives be rising to new conceptions of the blessings embraced in these glorious themes.DAR 390.1

Concerning the expression, “which was, and is, and is to come,” see remarks on chapter 1:4.DAR 390.2

“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power.” How worthy, we never shall be able to realize till, like the holy beings who utter this language, changed to immortality, we are presented faultless before the presence of his glory. Jude 24.DAR 390.3

Thou Hast Created All Things. — The works of creation furnish the foundation for the honor, glory, and power ascribed to God. “And for thy pleasure,” or through thy will, ??? ?? ?????? ???, they are, and were created. God willed, and all things came into existence; and by the same power they are preserved and sustained.DAR 390.4

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
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.