Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Revelation 4:6

and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Animals;   Crystal;   Laver;   Sea;   Throne;   Vision;   Scofield Reference Index - Elders;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Sea, the;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Beasts;   Cherub;   Crystal;   Glass;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Angels;   Throne;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Apocalyptic;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Cherub;   Crystal;   Glass;   Sea of Glass;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Bread;   Cherub (1);   Crystal;   Glass;   Number;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Crystal;   Eye;   Ezekiel;   Glass;   Minerals and Metals;   Number Systems and Number Symbolism;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Cherubim;   Glass, Looking-Glass, Mirror;   Jewels and Precious Stones;   Sea of Glass;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Arts;   Beast;   Cherubim ;   Enoch Book of;   Eye;   House;   Living;   Numbers;   Sea ;   Sea of Glass;   Throne ;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Beast;   Cherub, Cherubim;   Crystal;   Ezekiel, Book of;   Glass, Looking Glass;   Numbers as Symbols;   Sea of Glass;   Standard;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Cherub;   Crystal;   Smith Bible Dictionary - Crystal,;   Glass;   Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types - Lass;   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Crystal;   Glass;  
Encyclopedias:
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Cherubim (1);   Crafts;   Creature, Living;   Crystal;   Eye;   Four;   Glass;   Glass, Sea of;   Isaiah;   Lively;   Living Creature;   Luke, the Evangelist;   Raphael;   Revelation of John:;   Seraphim;   Stones, Precious:;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Apocalypse;   Cosmogony;   Death, Angel of;   Revelation (Book of);   Seraphim;  

Adam Clarke 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.

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Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/revelation-4.html. 1832.

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.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/revelation-4.html. 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

Revelation 4:6

A sea of glass like unto crystal.

The spiritual navigator bound for the holy land

“And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal.” I find hereof seven several expositions.

1. Some expound this glassy and crystal-like sea, of contemplative men.

2. Some conceive it to be an abundant understanding of the truth, a happy and excellent knowledge given to the saints, and that in a wonderful plenitude.

3. Some understand by this glassy sea like crystal, the fulness of all those gifts and graces which the Church derives from Christ.

4. Some intend this glassy sea like to crystal to signify the crystalline heaven, where the eternal God keeps His court and sits in His throne.

5. Some expositions give this sea for the gospel. And their opinion is probably deduced from the two attributes, glassy and crystalline.

6. Some by this glassy and crystal sea conceived to be meant baptism, prefigured by that Red Sea (Exodus 14:1-31.). The accordance of the type and antitype stands thus: as none of the children of Israel entered the terrestrial Caanan but by passing the Red Sea, so, ordinarily, no Christian enters the celestial Caanan but through this glassy sea. The laver of regeneration is that sea, wherein we must all wash.

7. Lastly, others affirm that by this glassy sea is meant the world. This being the most general and most probable opinion, on it I purpose to build my subsequent discourse. A special reason to induce me I derive from Revelation 15:2, where the saints, having passed the dangers of the glassy sea--all the perils of this slippery world--and now setting their triumphant feet on the shores of happiness, they sing a victorious song. Now for further confirmation of this opinion, in the third verse, the exultation which they sing is called the song of Moses the servant of God. So that it seems directly to answer in a sweet allusion to the delivery of Israel from the Egyptians. Our adversaries like theirs, our dangers like theirs, our warfare like theirs; but the country we sail to far transcends that earthly Caanan.

Against this construction it is objected--

I. A sea.

1. The sea is an unquiet element, which none but the Maker’s hand can bridle (Matthew 8:27). The world is in full measure as unruly. The Psalmist matcheth roaring waves and roaring men; the raging of the sea with the madness of the world. And yet God is able to still them both (Psalms 65:7). The prophet calls the sea a raging creature, and therein yokes it with the wicked (Isaiah 57:20). The world is full o| molesting vexations no less than the sea.

2. The sea is bitter. The waters thereof are salt and brinish. All demonstrates the world to have an unsavoury relish. So it bath truly, whether we respect the works or the pleasures of it. But how bitter, saltish, and unsavoury soever the sea is, yet the fishes that swim in it exceedingly like it. The world is not so distasteful to the heavenly palate as it is sweet to the wicked.

3. The sea is no place to continue in. No man sails there to sail there; but as he propounds to his purpose a voyage, so to his hopes a return. The world in like sort is no place to dwell in for ever. Self-flattering fools that so esteem it (Psalms 49:11).

4. The sea is full of dangers.

II. A sea of glass.

1. There is a glassy colour congruent to the sea. All the beauty of glass consists in the colour; and what in the world, that is of the world, is commendable besides the colour? A cottage would serve to sleep in as well as sumptuous palace, but for the colour. Russets be as warm as silks, but for the glistering colour.

2. Glass is a slippery metal. The wisest Solomon, the strongest Samson, have been fetched up by this wrestler, and measured their lengths on the ground. How dangerous, then, is it to run fast on this sea, where men are scarce able to stand.

3. This glass denotes brittleness. A fit attribute to express the nature of worldly things; for glass is not more fragile. “The world passeth away and the lust thereof,” saith St. John. Man himself is but brittle stuff, and he is the noblest part of the world (Job 14:1). Now, since the world is a sea, and so brittle, a sea of glass, let us seek to pass over well, but especially to land well. A ship under sail is a good sight; but it is better to see her well moored in the haven. Be desirous of good life, not of long life; the shortest cut to our haven is the happiest voyage. Who would be long on the sea?

III. Thus far we have surveyed this glassy sea, the world, in regard of itself. The other two attributes concern almighty God’s holding and beholding.

1. That God may most clearly view all things being and done in this world; it is said to be in His sight as clear as crystal. As in crystal there is nothing so little but it may be seen; so there is nothing on earth, said or done, so slight or small, that it may escape His all-seeing providence (Hebrews 4:13). God beholds, as in a clear mirror of crystal, all our impurities, impieties, our contempt of sermons, neglect of sacraments, dishallowing His sabbaths. Well, as God sees all things so clearly, so I would to God we would behold somewhat. Let us open our eyes and view in this crystal glass our own works.

2. Lastly, this glassy sea is not only as crystal for the transparent brightness that the Almighty’s eye may see all things done in it, but it lies for situation before His throne; generally for the whole, and particularly for every member, subject to His judgment and governance. His throne signifies that impartial government which He exerciseth over the world (Psalms 9:7-8). (T. Adams.)

Four beasts full of eyes before and behind.--

The ideal of intelligent creatureship

I. It stands in immediate contact with the presence and government of god.

1. It is the ideal of intelligent creatureship to live in the immediate presence of God.

2. It is the ideal of intelligent creatureship to serve in connection with the celestial government of all things.

II. It has numerous inlets of knowledge which aid in a vigilant conduct of life.

1. They have a power to understand history: eyes behind.

2. They have a power to comprehend prophecy: eyes before.

3. They have power to interpret self: eyes within.

III. It is gifted with a combination of varied and well-balanced abilities.

1. Great courage.

2. Enduring industry.

3. True intelligence.

4. Sublime aspiration.

5. Swift service.

IV. It is ever ascribing devout praise to the great God. Lessons:

1. There are in the unseen universe intelligent creatures vastly superior to man.

2. As these creatures find the highest joy in the service of God, so should man.

3. Man should seek to enter into the vigour of an ideal creatureship. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Full of eyes within.

Spiritual introspection

I. A few thoughts respecting these awful intelligences of whom we read in the text. Every manifestation of the glory of God has usually been accompanied with the presence of these living creatures. In the column of fire at the gate of Eden were seen the mystic forms and evolutions of these wondrous beings. In after times, God was addressed as dwelling between the cherubim. In the holiest of all, there was the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. The symbol of the Divine presence seems associated with them. It is to be remembered that the Oriental court was framed on the principle that it was the pattern of the Divine. The monarch was the visible representative of God. His laws, like those of God, were immutable. No one without permission could see his face and live; and the highest princes of the realm stood in his presence. In the court of our sovereign the most exalted personages--the highest in title, rank, and wealth--minister to royalty. Their very greatness is necessary to qualify them for service, and thus they manifest the glory of the monarch. Those created beings who stand before God in an official character are represented as possessing all possible perfections. They are the highest order of created intelligences; they are the ministers of the great King--and yet between them and God how great, how inconceivable the distance! The impropriety of terming these living creatures “beasts” has been admitted by every writer--the term is utterly at variance with their character and perfections. They are evidently official personages. All their acts are official. That these living creatures possess the highest capacities may be presumed from their dignified station. Their penetrating and comprehensive knowledge is intimated by their being “full of eyes, before and behind.” They see the past as well as the present; they can look all ways and see all things. They have, in its perfection, the faculty of introspection, for they have “eyes within.” This singular statement is but the symbol of their knowledge of themselves, as well as of outward things.

II. A few suggestions relative to the faculty of introspection. Man is related to the outward and to the spiritual world to the things that are seen and to the things that are unseen--to the things that are temporal and to the things that are eternal. He has an outward and an inward life--the sense of sight and the faculty of introspection. Man is “fearfully and wonderfully made”; he has the faculty of introspection, but through disuse it becomes dimmed, or paralysed, and dead. Christ comes., that men may see. “He opens blind eyes.” The regenerated men is the spiritual man, with the full use of spiritual powers, with the faculty of spiritual discernment. But more particularly--

1. Man does not recognise his own spiritual nature. He does not know how awful and mysterious that nature is. His outward life overshadows his inner life. His body is the prison-house of his soul. The spiritual man has “eyes within.” He communes with his own heart; he listens to the utterances of his spirit; he is familiar with the sorrows and joys of his soul. We may well pray, each for himself, Open Thou my eyes that I may see myself.

2. Man does not study the phenomena of his own mind. He thinks, but he thinks about his calling, about his trade; his thoughts are like his tools, his implements, he does not employ the powers of his mind on spiritual realities, or make his thoughts the chariot in which he can ascend to God. If we had eyes within we should see that there is nothing more wonderful than thought. We should see “that as a man thinketh in his heart so is he”; that if he thinks worldly thoughts, he is worldly; that if he thinks sensual thoughts, he is sensual; that if he thinks spiritual thoughts, he is spiritual; that thoughts are of moment and of the utmost importance.

3. Men do not know their own hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” There is only one Being who knows it. If our eyes were opened, we should cry out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

4. Men do not form a correct estimate of their own capabilities. “Man,” says Pascal, “is the scorn and the glory of the universe.” You have a nature that can only find its completeness in God, and therefore you can only find your satisfaction in Him. You have capabilities that you do not conceive of, for joy or for misery. You can become a partaker of a Divine nature, or you can sink into the most fearful degradation and infamy. (H. J. Bevis.)

The seeing eye

Full of eyes they are, these living creatures, not only before and behind, but within and without. Within every living creature perceives itself, scrutinises its own inner mysteries, and knows its own instincts and feelings and passions and ambition and hope and purpose. All these it has eyes to see in their manifold combinations even as it moves on and acts. And eyes without, not absorbed in introspection, but rather, and at the same moment at which it searches the deep things of the spirit, and by the same act it has eyes without, eyes that see so far away into the heart of things, eyes that gaze upon all the amazing scenery of the world about it, eyes that look upon the face of the eternal God. Full of eyes! What a surprising characteristic of nature for us! Our modern feeling about nature, derived from unphilosophic popularised science of the day, pronounced that nature is eyeless, that it works in the dark, that its laws are blind to its issues and action. Nature crushes and ruins the distinction between good and bad and right and wrong, and knows not what it does. Rivers run blindly down in their grooved channels; the seas beat blindly against blind rocks; the winds moan in blindness round the blind walls of the hills. The whole earth is blind. The heavens are vacant of any vision; they tell us we have put out their eyes. And this has happened, we know, because we have dropped God and His Christ out of their own creation. We have tried to look at it as if they were not there. We are compelled, in order to accomplish certain analytical issues essential to scientific investigation, to omit the spiritual factors of the universe from our immediate calculations. But then this abstraction is confessedly only for a purpose that is partial and incomplete in itself, and the danger lies in this, that when once this partial purpose of science is satisfied we forget to restore what our abstraction had eliminated. And then we look up and out and are appalled--for lo, God has vanished out of the natural scene! It is all empty of His presence of His will! It is purposeless, it is mechanical, it is blind--so we cry in our dismay! How could God be expected to appear in the shape of a material phenomenon, and yet only so could our scientific methods of research come upon Him. So it is that the world is blind, is godless to this pseudo-science. Look at nature with the eyes of a spirit, according to the rules and methods of spiritual vision; bring into play the organs that belong to a spiritual world, and lo! it is no longer sightless and meaningless and dark; it has become full of eyes within and without. In every portion of it there is a light, a purpose, a hope. The soul of man becomes conscious of a spirit that is abroad and about him on every side, and which fills his earthly house with the presence of Him he knows and who knows him. On all sides of him in this natural life here on earth he dimly perceives by the inspiration of a fellow feeling the living creatures full of eyes within and without, who unite with him in uttering the one phrase, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty! Full of eyes within and without. Our common humanity--that too should become full of eyes. Every faculty, every capacity in us which before had passed under Christ’s sway while it was of the earth earthy was always blundering into the dark, should discover that the quickening power of the Spirit has brought out one great boon--the gift of eyes--the capacity to see. That is the triumph of grace--that it enables this natural gift of man, his reason, to see where before he could not see. Grace gives it eyes, and reason henceforward can join in the hymn of adoration. It looks within and it looks without, and everywhere it now recognises the triple law of the spiritual life, the triple evidence of the threefold God! And thus made full of eyes to see, it, too, sings its song, Holy, holy, holy! And not reason only, but conscience gains eyes; the natural conscience lifted and transfigured perceives what it had never seen hitherto. It sees, for instance, the higher possibility of purity to which it had been wholly dark; it sees that purity holds the secret of true growth, for man and for woman all alike and both equally, which was never suggested to it until Christ opened its eyes. It detects the powers inherent in humiliation, in self-sacrifice, and in brotherly service. Therefore, where before it expected only weakness, it now perceives strength; the glories that lay concealed in virtues that it deemed passive and petty and effeminate are now disclosed to it. The darkness should always be turning into light as the fulness of grace spreads throughout the dim surface of human life, and touches it all with glory. Full of eyes! A question appropriate to Trinity Sunday for each one of us is, Do we use our human capacities with better precision than we did? Do we use them over the larger surface of life? Do we see more than we used to of God’s counsels for us here, of man’s obligations, of our own possibilities and calls and duties? Grace should be for ever raising our ordinary capacities to a higher power, enriching their insight, fertilising their judgment. Is it so? Ask yourselves. Your imagination, for instance, is it more full of eyes than before? Does your imagination bring the sorrow of the world before you as if it were your own case, as a bitter sorrow, as a personal disgrace, for which you abhor yourself in dust and ashes? And your sympathies, are they more alert, quicker than once they were? Ah, the sins! They, too, stand out, now that you have eyes to see them, with a worse ugliness and a more rooted, stubborn repugnance. You had not thought yourself so bad, so base, so selfish, but now the light is thrown on you. You have eyes to see all the black wrong. (Canon Scott Holland.)

They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy.--

Labour and rest

God has affixed certain peculiarities to our present state of being. It can be shown that there are portions even of the visible creation in which there can be no succession of day and night such as there is on earth--regions far removed in space from us, where clusters of suns must of necessity make perpetual sunshine. And we know from Scripture that the peculiar relation between rest and labour which is characteristic of earth, at all events as it is, is local, or temporary, or both; and that in another state of things the words of our text take the place of it, and “they rest not day and night.”

I. In Eden there was rest without labour. Eden in its innocence gave no trouble to its inhabitants. They trimmed its roses, and trod its velvet lawns, and ate its fruits, and drank its transparent rivers, and enjoyed the tranquillity of unbroken rest. And this is the reason why, though man now cannot be really happy without employment, he naturally turns in imagination to such a state as one of perfect enjoyment. It was his primary condition before sin entered into the world.

II. We turn to labour and rest--the relation which exists on earth as it is. That in this state of things there should be labour is expressly declared after the fall. “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.” That there must be rest is expressly taught: “Man goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening.” And we know, in practice, that within certain limits there may be a change in the relation subsisting between the two, but that if these limits are exceeded either way, the result is ruin to man’s moral and physical constitution. It degrades him to be without labour; it destroys him to be without rest. There is but one who has lived in this ruined world without sin. Christ, as man, is the model of what man ought to be in a world which is as it ought not to be. In Christ’s example we see what ought to be man’s state in the present world, as it respects labour and rest: that the two should interchange--that because it is paradise no longer there must be toil, and because it is still earth there must be rest--rest for bodily refreshment, rest for the friendly intercourse of one with another, rest for communion with Him whose presence alone can give the soul of man true rest.

III. There is another solution of the problem of the relation between labour and rest--labour without rest. And this is only to be found in hell. Satan himself is always represented as a being of restless activity: “going about,” “walking up and down.” There is a faint reflection of hell in the bosom of each unconverted man; and of such we read (Isaiah 57:20). And let me say that whatever makes earth approximate to a state of restlessness, so far makes it approach to a resemblance to the place of everlasting misery.

IV. We come to the last and best relation between rest and labour, that which exists in heaven, where they “rest not day and night,” because they rest in labour. In heaven employment is unceasing--for those who are there are freed from the weariness of the flesh. Free from all infirmity, they rest not day and night. And employment is unceasing in heaven--for the employments of heaven are restoring instead of exhausting. They have life in them. (S. Garratt, B. A.)

True worship a foretaste of heaven

Now, what are the characteristic features, so to call them, of the perfect worship of heaven, which are touched on in the text?

1. It will be a continuous service. There will be no break or intermission on the part of those who join in it. The now that is there is always.

2. It will be united worship--all join and all join alike.

3. The character of the worship will be one and the same.

4. The worship will be “before the throne,” i.e., in the conscious immediate presence of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, with all the surroundings of visible glory.

5. The worship will be all-absorbing in contemplation of the Divine glory and perfections. No thought of personal doings or deservings can find place there. There is only the acknowledgment that all are His gifts--all has come from Him--and there is the humble tendering back of everything. “The crowns are cast before the throne” in adoring thankfulness to Him who is the Giver of them all. Worship, as distinct from prayer and praise and thanksgiving, is the conscious lifting up of the soul to God in contemplation of Him, in His Being and acts, whether towards ourselves in particular, or towards our whole race, or in all His works, according to our knowledge of them. We cannot really worship without knowledge--we cannot worship a blank; we must have knowledge of Him to whom we pay homage; and that knowledge must be received into ourselves from without. Thus worship is both a taking in and a giving out: taking in, i.e., receiving, and following out, and expanding, and setting forth before ourselves, who that great Being is with whom we have to do, whose works encompass us, and to whom we desire to draw near, to know better and to hold communion with; and then giving back, as it were, this knowledge at which we have arrived, in acts of adoration and praise, expressed in different ways according to the subject matter as regards Almighty God, in which we may be engaged. The two must go hand in hand: you cannot rightly worship except you have acquaintance with Him whom you worship, and you cannot have this acquaintance without worship. You cannot come at a right knowledge of Almighty God, much less of Almighty God as revealed under the Christian dispensation, except the knowledge acquired and the spirit in which that knowledge is dwelt on and followed up, be with a mind of adoration and worship. And the two (the knowledge and the worship) grow and advance together. Increased knowledge of God carries us on in worship, and fuller worship leads up to fuller knowledge. What is set before us in the text is the type of the perfect worship of heaven, and it is toward this that our life on earth should lead. For man’s eternal joy will be in praising God. The power of fully appreciating the love of God towards us will prompt the unceasing praise, and in that unceasing praise will be the joy of heaven. The Divine love, which receives the praises of that innumerable blessed company, will ever fresh inspire their song, will pour into it new depth and richness, and will receive it into the fulness of the Divine life. There is no intermission, there is no end; for God’s glory cannot be known in its eternity except by the gift of an eternal power of contemplation and of union with Him. People talk a great deal about places of worship and forms of worship. But do they consider what worship means? They think perhaps of edification by sermons, or of instruction out of God’s Holy Scriptures, or of joining in prayers and hymns, or of the good they may feel, or of the things they need to ask, but these are not worship. In all these we look for something for ourselves, something to get. But worship does not mean getting anything, but it means giving something. And what? Money, costly offerings, such things as come by birth, high station, or intellect? Not so; not so, in the truest sense of giving. For these things are not our own. It is of them that the man after God’s own heart said, “Of Thine own have we given Thee.” Wherein, then, consists that offering which we may more truly call our own than all such things without, though in a sense, and for a time at least, they do belong to us? Something there is, more nearly and more truly our own, which we are to give. That more costly offering, that in which God has delight, is ourselves. We make an offering of our mind, when we withdraw our thoughts from the business of the world, from those things which engross our thoughts and make any lengthened devotion wearisome and distasteful; when we calmly and resolutely set ourselves to mediate on God and things of God; when we try to shut out the distractions of things, and to fix our thoughts upon God, and upon God only, for the time. Again, we make an offering of our heart, which is the seat of the affections, in earnestness of devotion, calling up before us His goodness, His love, His bounties towards us, as well in respect of His gifts in this life as still more for all His gracious and abundant promises for the life to come. Again, as God made the mind, He requires an offering of that; and as He made the heart, He demands an offering of that also; so, too, as He made the body, He requires that the body shall bear part in worshipping Him. This we do by outward acts of worship, bowing, kneeling, singing, and joining in the services of His house. Thus the whole man, body and soul, may take part in worship; after this manner here below preparing for the perfect worship of heaven. And He who invites us thus to worship here will be with us, and make that worship approach little by little towards the perfect worship of heaven. (R. F. Wilson.)

Celestial worship

I. The worship of heaven will engage the activities of all celestial creatureship.

1. Universal.

2. Ceaseless.

3. Perfect.

II. The worship of heaven will be inspired by clear views of the divine character.

1. Holy.

2. Omnipotent.

3. Eternal.

III. The worship of heaven is rendered with the greatest humility of soul.

1. This humility is inspired by a true sense of the Divine majesty.

2. This humility is awakened by a due estimate of the unworthiness of self.

3. This humility is manifested by the external attitudes of worship. The crown of an adoring soul gains its worth and brightness by being cast before the throne of God.

IV. The worship of heaven is celebrative of the creative pleasure of God.

1. Celestial worship ascribes the plan of creation to the creative power of God.

2. Celestial worship recognises the creative power of God as calling for the highest worship of intelligent creatures.

They ascribe to God--

1. Glory.

2. Honour.

3. Power.

Lessons:

1. It is the privilege and duty of all intelligent creatures to worship God.

2. In praise we should seek to have clear views of the Divine character.

3. We should endeavour to approach God with a becoming sense of unworthiness. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Earnest devotion

In the apostle’s vision of heaven, he is struck with the glowing devotion of the spirits before the throne. It is pure, fervent, and exalted; it is subject to no changes of rising and falling emotions; it is always as great as the perfections of the Infinite require, and as the nature of the hearts from which it proceeds permits it to be. Do you ask, “How can it be sustained at such a height, when all human devotion is so easily brought down--how can their minds be kept fixed on the object of their adoration when human thoughts so readily wander away?” The explanation is found in the words, “They rest not day and night”; their hearts are always engaged in the service; the night suspends it not, for there is no night there. It is because they are thus devoted--in a word, it is because they rest not--that their devotion maintains itself so fervent, and towers so high. This, then, illustrates the great truth which ought to be impressed on every heart; religious improvement, the chief object of existence, requires the steady devotion of all our powers to secure it. In proportion as man rests from that labour does he surrender the hope and power of ever securing that prize. Consider the effect of inaction upon the physical nature. The frame which is regularly exercised, if not urged beyond its strength, grows in firmness and energy, and expands in full and fair proportion. But let the frame be given over to rest, let the man have no steady employment that requires interest and exertion, and it is not long before disease begins to spread through the system. Consider the effect of inaction upon the mind of man. There is a strong analogy between the wants of the body and the mind; exertion is indispensable to the health of each; and though one who lives without exercising either may not yet perceive the injury he is doing to himself, it is not less certain that the day of recompense and sorrow must come. Disease is as sure to follow the inactive mind as the inactive body. Its effects are not open to the eye, or rather they are not noticed by careless observers, though they may be seen in the incapacity for serious reflection, in the depraved intellectual taste which can relish only miscellaneous novelty or intoxicating fiction. When the body dies, its pains and sorrows are over; not so, not so with the mind, which dieth not; when coldness wraps the suffering clay, the mind still lives and must live for ever. Consider the effect of inaction on the spiritual nature of man. It is common to meet with those who neither look forward to eternity nor up to God; and the consequence is, not only that their devotion, if they ever had any, dies, but also that they lose the power of devotion. They lose all power of spiritual discernment, so that the great realities of another world have no presence nor life to the soul. This is the darkest and most fearful thought that can be presented to the human mind--the death and ruin of the soul. There is a time when “ye cannot do the things that ye would.” The same is true of love to men, that other great duty which God so intimately associated with devotion. This feeling can be strengthened into a principle by the common sympathy of life--that sympathy which is never so strong and sure as when sanctified by religious feeling. But if our benevolent impulses are not followed, we lose not only the opportunity of the moment, but we lose the power of exertion. They are like the wayfarer in the polar regions; after suffering awhile with the cold, he feels a sleep stealing over him; it comes without pain, it gives no warning of danger; unable to resist the persuasive influence, he sinks into slumber, from which he never wakes in this world again. It is in the same way that hearts are frozen; they feel no danger, they suspect not that the sleep which is stealing over them is the sleep of death. Having thus endeavoured to show what law we are under, let us take a more practical view of the subject. Love to God and love to man are the great elements of that character which we are sent into this world to form, and it is practising on these principles which gives them power and increases their power within us. It is because the seraphs rest not day and night that their hearts become living flames in the service of their God. We are to remember, then, that God has so arranged the present life that all things favour the growth of love to man in those who really determine to possess it, while all things seem to hinder it in those who hold it in slight regard. Whenever an opportunity of benevolence is offered--whenever God’s providence makes an appeal, as it often does, to our kind feeling--we should feel that to resist it or reject it is wrong. It is so much done to injure and destroy the principles and affections which form the only treasures of heaven; they are all the wealth we can carry from this world into another, and without them we shall be poor indeed. So, if we have the least desire to possess the spirit of devotion, we shall take advantage of every time and every service that can awaken the spirit of devotion. (W. B. O. Peabody, D. D.)

The celebration of the Trinity

In the understanding of this place, what, or who these four creatures are, there is difficulty. And so we shall well do if we interpret these four creatures to be first and principally the four evangelists, and then enlarge it to all the ministers of the gospel. So, then, the action being an open and a continual profession of the whole Christian religion, in the celebration of the Trinity, which is the distinctive character of the Christian, the persons that do this are all they that constitute the hierarchy and order of the Church. And before we come to their qualification in the text, first, as they are said to have six wings, and then as they are said to be full of eyes, we look upon them as they are formed and designed to us in the verse immediately before the text, where the first of these four creatures hath the face of a lion, the second of a calf, or an ex, the third of a man, the fourth of an eagle. Now, says St. Ambrose, these four creatures are the preachers of the gospel; that we had established afore, but then we add with St. Ambrose, all these four creatures make up but one creature; all their qualities concur to the qualification of a minister; every minister of God is to have all that all four had--the courage of a lion, the laboriousness of an ox, the perspicuity and clear sight of the eagle, and the humanity, the discourse, the reason, the affability, the appliableness of a man. All must have all, or else all is disordered--zeal, labour, knowledge, gentleness. Now besides these general qualifications, laid down as the foundation of the text, in the verse before it, in the text itself these four creatures have also wings added unto them; wings, first for their own behoof and benefit, and then, wings for the benefit and behoof of others. They have wings to raise themselves from the earth, that they do not entangle themselves in the business of this world; but still to keep themselves upon the wing in a heavenly conversation, ever remembering that they have another element than sea or land, as men whom Christ Jesus hath set apart, and in some measure made mediators between Him and other men as His instruments of their salvation. And then as for themselves, so have they wings for others too, that they may be always ready to succour all in all their spiritual necessities. And then, their wings are numbered in our text: they have six wings. For by the consent of most expositors, those whom St. John presents in the figure of these four creatures here, and those whom the prophet Isaiah calls seraphim, are the same persons. The Holy Ghost sometimes presents the ministers of the gospel as seraphim in glory, that they might be known to be the ministers and dispensers of the mysteries and secrets of God, and to come from His council, His cabinet. And then on the other side, theft you might know that the dispensation of these mysteries of your salvation is by the hand and means of men, taken from amongst yourselves, and that therefore you are not to look for revelations, nor ecstasies, nor visions, nor transportations, but to rest in God’s ordinary means, He brings those persons down again from that glorious representation as the seraphim to creatures of an inferior, of an earthly nature. These winged persons, then have eyes as well as wings; they fly, but they know whither they fly. God gives them wings, that is, means to do their office; but eyes too, that is, discretion and religious wisdom how to do it. And this is that which they seem to need most, for their wings are limited, but their eyes are not; six wings, but full of eyes, says our text. But then, especially, says our text, they were full of eyes within. All my wings shall do me no good, all mine eyes before and behind shall do me no good, if I have no prospect inward, no eyes within, no care of my particular and personal safety. If the Lord open thy lips, let it be to show forth His praise. That they speak, declare the glory of God. For this is that ingenuity, that alacrity, which constitutes our first branch. And then the second is the assiduity, the constancy, the incessantness, “They rest not day nor night.” But have the saints of God no vacation? Do they never cease? Nay, as the word imports, they have no rest. God Himself rested not till the seventh day; be thou content to stay for thy sabbath till thou mayst have an eternal one. If we understand this of rest merely, of bodily rest, the saints of God are least likely to have it in this life; for this life is a business, a warfare, a voyage, and a tempestuous voyage. If we understand this rest to be cessation, intermission, the saints of heaven have none of that in this service. It is a labour that never wearies, to serve God there. To conclude all, this eternally of our God is expressed here in a phrase which designs and presents the last judgment, that is, “Which was, and is, and is to come.” And, therefore, let us reverently embrace such provisions, and such assistances as the Church of God hath ordained, for retaining and celebrating the Trinity, in this particular contemplation, as they are to come to judgment. And let us at least provide so far, to stand upright in that judgment, as not to deny, nor to dispute the power, or the persons of those judges. (John Donne, D. D.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 4:6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/revelation-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

and before the throne as it were a sea of glass like unto crystal; and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, four living creatures full of eyes before and behind.

A sea of glass ... If the sea represents populations of the earth, as in late chapters, the calmness of it here would indicate the tranquillity and peacefulness of souls in the service of God, and how his eyes can penetrate to the very bottom. The purpose of the crystal sea might have been simply the creation of an emphatic distance between the beholder and the throne itself. There is also the possibility that it is an inert factor in the vision, as are certain ingredients in the parables of the Master.

The four living creatures ... The many eyes "before and behind" in these creatures have a suggestion of something approaching omniscience, yet their being "creatures" limits this. The visions in Ezekiel 1 and Isaiah 6 are so similar to this that we feel justified in accepting what is revealed there as having the same application here. For some time, it appears, Ezekiel wondered what the living creatures were; but a later vision (Ezekiel 10) gave him the clue to the mystery. Then he said:

This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river Chebar; and I knew they were cherubim (Ezekiel 10:20).

We may safely set aside, therefore, the ancient interpretations that interpret these as the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, or the symbols of the four divisions of Israel's marching formation in the wilderness,[38] "the countless living earthly agencies of God's providence,"[39] "the entire animate creation,"[40] or "the four chief signs of the Zodiac,"[41] etc. There is practically nothing that can be fully known about these living beings in God's presence. John's description of what he saw in this vision of God's throne is not a photographic depiction, but an impressionistic view.

[38] Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 989.

[39] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 181.

[40] G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 117.

[41] Ibid.

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Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/revelation-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

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 callF16Zohar 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. the law, ימא דאוריתא, "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 בים התלמוד, "in the sea of the Talmud", or "doctrine"F17Ganz. Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 46. 2. & 47. 1, 2. . 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, סביב לכסאו, "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 himF18Bemidbar Rabba, sect 2. fol. 179. 1. Vid. Pirke Eliezer, c. 4. . 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 calledF19Zohar in Numb. fol. 91. 3. by them the four living creatures, meaning in Ezekiel's vision; and they make mention of the intellectual living creatures which are סחרין לכרסיא, "round about the throne"F20Raya Mehimna in Zohar in ib. fol. 95. 4. . 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 Philemon 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 sayF21Aben Ezra in Numb. ii. 2. , 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.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/revelation-4.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

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 (Revelation 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 (Revelation 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 (Revelation 4:8).
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/revelation-4.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

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” (Revelation 17:1, Revelation 17:15). 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 Revelation 4:4, above). There is in this sea depth and transparency, but not the fluidity and instability of the natural sea (compare Revelation 21:1). It stands solid, calm, and clear, God‘s judgments are called “a great deep” (Psalm 36:6). In Revelation 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 Revelation 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,” Revelation 13:1, Revelation 13:11, 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.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/revelation-4.html. 1871-8.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

As it were a glassy sea (ως ταλασσα υαλινηhōs thalassa hualinē). Old adjective (from υαλοςhualos glass, Revelation 21:18, Revelation 21:21), in N.T. only here and Revelation 15:2. Possibly from υειhuei (it rains), like a raindrop. At any rate here it is the appearance, not the material. Glass was made in Egypt 4,000 years ago. In Exodus 24:10 the elders see under the feet of God in the theophany a paved work of sapphire stone (cf. Ezekiel 1:26). The likeness of the appearance of sky to sea suggests the metaphor here (Beckwith).

Like crystal (ομοια κρυσταλλωιhomoia krustallōi). Associative-instrumental case after ομοιαhomoia Old word, from κρυοςkruos (ice and sometimes used for ice), in N.T. only here and Revelation 22:1, not semi-opaque, but clear like rock-crystal.

In the midst of the throne (εν μεσωι του τρονουen mesōi tou thronou). As one looks from the front, really before.

Round about the throne (κυκλωι του τρονουkuklōi tou thronou). Merely an adverb in the locative case (Romans 15:19), as a preposition in N.T. only here, Revelation 5:11; Revelation 7:11. This seems to mean that on each of the four sides of the throne was one of the four living creatures either stationary or moving rapidly round (Ezekiel 1:12.).

Four living creatures (τεσσερα ζωαtessera zōa). Not τηριαthēria (beasts), but living creatures. Certainly kin to the ζωαzōa of Ezek 1; Ezekiel 2:1-10 which are cherubim (Ezekiel 10:2, Ezekiel 10:20), though here the details vary as to faces and wings with a significance of John‘s own, probably representing creation in contrast with the redeemed (the elders).

Full of eyes (γεμοντα οπταλμωνgemonta ophthalmōn). Present active participle of γεμωgemō to be full of, with the genitive, signifying here unlimited intelligence (Beckwith), the ceaseless vigilance of nature (Swete).

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
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Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/revelation-4.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

Of glass ( ὑαλίνη )

Rev., glassy, which describes the appearance not the material. The adjective, and the kindred noun ὕαλος glassoccur only in Revelation. The etymology is uncertain; some maintaining an Egyptian origin, and others referring it to the Greek ὕω torain, 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.

Crystal

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 thebestial.

Full of eyes before and behind

The four living beings are mainly identical with the cherubim of Ezekiel 1:5-10; 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

If they were living would be such as these.

Reader I to trace their forms no more I waste

My rhymes; for other spendings press me so,

That I in this cannot be prodigal.

But read Ezekiel who depicteth them

As he beheld them from the region cold

Coming with cloud, with whirlwind, and with fire;

And such as thou shalt find them in his pages,

Such were they here; saving that in their plumage

John is with me, and differeth from him.”

Dante, “Purgatorio,” xxix., 92-105.

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Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/revelation-4.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

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.

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, 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.

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," Revelation 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, Ezekiel 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.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/revelation-4.html. 1765.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

A sea of glass; corresponding to the great brazen laver in the temple of Solomon. (1 Kings 7:23.)--Beasts; living beings.

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Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ain/revelation-4.html. 1878.

Scofield's Reference Notes

beasts

living creatures. (See Scofield "Ezekiel 1:5").

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Scofield, C. I. "Scofield Reference Notes on Revelation 4:6". "Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/srn/revelation-4.html. 1917.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

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.

Ver. 6. A sea of glass] The word, say some; the world, others. The word is to us a crystal glass, giving us a clear sight of God and of ourselves, 2 Corinthians 3:18; James 1:23. The world is to God a sea of glass, corpus diaphanum, a clear transparent body, he sees through it.

Four beasts] ζωα, or living wights; {a} not angels, but ministers, those earthly angels, who are set forth, 1. Full of eyes for their perspicacity and vigilancy. 2. Furnished with six wings apiece for their pernicity and promptitude to scour about for the people’s benefit. 3. Qualified with all necessary endowments, for the discharge of their duties, being bold as lions, painful as oxen, prudent as men, delighted in high flying, as eagles.

{a} A living being in general; a creature. Obs. OED

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/revelation-4.html. 1865-1868.

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

By this sea of glass there seems to be an allusion to that large vessel of water in the temple called the brazen sea, in which Aaron and his sons did wash themselves before they administered in holy things: signifying that purity which is required in all the worshippers, but especially in all the ministers of God: and because the use of this sea, in the temple, is made good in Christ, the laver of his blood might by signified by the sea of glass here represented, which is compared to crystal; denoting the spotless innocency of his person and sufferings, and the purity and clearness of his justified members.

Others, by this sea of glass, will have the world represented to St. John's visionary view; the world (say they) is compared to a sea for its instability, tempestuousness, and uncertain motion; to a sea of glass, for its slipperiness, and for its brittleness: glass yields no good footing to any that stand upon it, nor does the world to any that stay themselves upon it; and to a sea of glass like crystal, because of the clearness and transparency of it to God; he sees quite through it, all the counsels and actions of men being naked and open before God and the throne.

By the four beasts here understand the four evangelists in special, and all gospel ministers in general, who went forth to preach the word in all the quarters of the world: and here we have a most stately emblem of true gospel ministers; they have the courage of the lion, the strength of the ox, the loftiness of the eagle, the face, that is, the prudence and discretion of a man.

Farther, they are described as full of eyes; they have eyes looking before them to God for direction, looking behind them to the flocks they lead, and within them to their own hearts.

They have also six wings; with two they cover their faces, manifesting their deep reverence of God, with two they cover their feet, manifesting the humble sense of their infirmities, and with two they fly with cheerful expedition to the service of God.

Observe next, what was represented to St. John, as the perpetual employment and work of heaven; namely, incessantly to admire, love and praise, the holiness of God, which is the excellency of all his other excellences. They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.

Learn hence, That the celebrating of the praises of the most high and holy God, is the incessant work of glorified saints and angels in heaven, and a very great part of the work and duty of the faithful ministers of God here on earth.

Again learn, 2. From this example, how much it is the duty of the ministers of Christ to study and endeavour to make God known in all his glorious attributes, particularly in his holiness and his power; as also in his eternity and simplicity, as he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, without variation and shadow of changing.

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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wbc/revelation-4.html. 1700-1703.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

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 Psalms 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 Psalms 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)

NOTES BY THE AMERICAN EDITOR

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).”

NOTES BY THE AMERICAN EDITOR

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. Psalms 18:1; Psalms 99:1; Psalms 80:2; 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15). They are named living creatures here and in Ezekiel 1, on account of the life which is their main feature. They are usually the signs and tokens of majesty, of the sublime majesty of God, both in his covenant relation, and in his relation to the world (for the latter, see Psalms 99:1); and therefore it is that they are assigned so prominent a place, though no active part in the final scenes of sacred history (Revelation 6:1-7). The appearance of four represents the concentration of all created life in this world, the original abode of which, Paradise, when life had fallen to sin and death, was given over to the cherubim. They do not, like the angels, fulfil the purposes of God in relation to men; they are distinct from the angels (Revelation 5:11). We are thus led to conclude that they materially represent the ideal pattern of the true relation of creation to its God.” Oehler (O. T. Theology, p. 260): “It is the cherubim, as Schultz well expresses it, ‘which at one and the same time proclaim and veil his presence.’ The lion and the bull are, as is well known, symbols of power and strength; man and the eagle are symbols of wisdom and omniscience; the latter attribute is expressed also in the later form of the symbol by the multitude of eyes. The continual mobility of the ζῶα (Revelation 4:8) signifies the never-resting quickness of the Divine operations; this is probably symbolized also by the wheels in Ezekiel 1. The number four is the signature of all-sidedness (towards the four quarters of heaven). Thus Jehovah is acknowledged as the God who rules the world on all sides in power, wisdom, and omniscience. Instead of natural powers working unconsciously, is placed the all-embracing, conscious activity of the living God.”

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Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hmc/revelation-4.html. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

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: Wisdom of Solomon 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.

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/revelation-4.html. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

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.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/revelation-4.html. 1685.

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

море стеклянное В небесах нет моря (21:1), но прозрачный помост, окружающий Божий престол, выглядит как большое сверкающее море (ср. Исх. 24:10; Иез. 1:22).

четыре животных Буквально «четыре существа». Это херувимы – ангелы, которые часто упоминаются в Ветхом Завете в связи с присутствием, могуществом и святостью Бога. Хотя описание Иоанна не тождественно описанию Иезекииля, вероятно, и то, и другое касается одних и тех же сверхъестественных и неописуемых существ (Пс. 79:2; 98:1. См. пояснения к Иез. 1:4-25; 10:15).

исполненных очей Хотя они не являются всеведущими (эта характеристика принадлежит единственно Богу), эти ангелы имеют всеобъемлющее знание и восприятие. Ничто не ускользает от их испытующего взгляда (ср. ст. 8).

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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/revelation-4.html.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

A sea of glass like unto crystal; chap Revelation 15:2; an expanse of crystal-line clearness and splendor. It answers to the "paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in its clearness," Exodus 24:10; and to the firmament "as the color of the terrible crystal" on which the throne of God rested, Ezekiel 1:22; Ezekiel 1:26.

Four beasts; rather, four living creatures. The word in the original is different from that applied to the persecuting beasts in chap Revelation 11:7; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 13:11, etc. The agreement between these four living creatures and the cherubim of Ezekiel’s vision, chaps Revelation 1:10, is so remarkable, that we must suppose that in both cases the same thing is represented. In both places they appear as the immediate attendants upon God’s throne, of which in Ezekiel they are the bearers; in both places they have the same four faces, only that in Ezekiel each has all the four, while here they are distributed one to each; in both places, moreover, their bodies are full of eyes. In their six wings, and in their ceaseless cry, "Holy, holy, holy," they agree with the seraphim of Isaiah. They seem to represent all the created powers and agencies by which God administers his providential government over the world; which are all pervaded by his omniscient Spirit, and stand ever ready to do his bidding; which all show forth his praises, and execute with unerring certainty his high purposes.

Full of eyes; representing their ever wakeful vigilance and discernment of God’s will. In Ezekiel they and the wheels by them are all pervaded by the one Spirit of God: "Whithersoever the Spirit was to go they went; thither was their spirit to go," chap Revelation 1:20. None of God’s creatures are omniscient, but his omniscience directs all their movements.

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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Family Bible New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fam/revelation-4.html. American Tract Society. 1851.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘And before the throne as it were a glassy sea, like crystal.’

Compare the ‘firmament’ carried by the cherubim which bore the throne of God in Ezekiel 1:22 which also was of crystal. This sea is based on the molten sea in the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 7:23-39; 2 Chronicles 4:2-10). There it was a large bronze sea of over 16,000 gallons capacity (nearly 73,000 litres) mounted on twelve bronze oxen, and was for the priests to wash in (2 Chronicles 4:6). While the water would be as clean as they could get it, it would be fairly murky (we tend to forget they had no pure water supply on hand), and was for the removal of ‘earthiness’.

Here it is replaced by crystal-like glass, which is a symbol of unearthiness, holiness and purity. The washing for priests, like all Old Testament washings, removed the earthiness that was preparatory to waiting on God for cleansing. (Every mention of washing with water in the Pentateuch is followed by the phrase ‘and shall not be clean until the evening’, thus it was preparatory not finally effective). Now in Heaven there is no more earthiness, all is pure, and therefore no sea for washing is required. Instead the crystal sea reflects the holiness and purity of God and of the redeemed. That is why the sea is now crystallised, a reminder of what is and what was.

The glassy sea is mentioned again in Revelation 15:2 where it is mingled with fire and those who have gained victory over the Beast gather there, holding harps of God, made pure through tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). At this point they sing ‘the song of Moses (Deuteronomy 31:30; Deuteronomy 32:44), the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb’ which is based on a number of Old Testament scriptures including Deuteronomy 32:3-4, and stresses that He is true, righteous and uniquely holy. This is also what the sea symbolises.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/revelation-4.html. 2013.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

The clear glass-like sea before the throne may represent the need for cleansing before approaching God. The laver (called a "sea" in the Old Testament, e.g, 1 Kings 7:23, et al.) served the need for cleansing in the Israelite tabernacle and temple. Perhaps the fact that this sea is solid indicates that those who can approach God"s throne have attained a fixed state of holiness by God"s grace. [Note: Strauss, p134.] Perhaps the sea represents the forces opposed to God"s will and His people. This is what the sea symbolized in the ancient Near East. John now saw these forces under God"s sovereign control (cf. Exodus 24:10; Ezekiel 1:22; Ezekiel 1:26). [Note: Johnson, p463] The best explanation seems to be that this sea pictures some type of firmament that separates God in his holiness and purity from all of His sinful creation (cf. Genesis 1:7; Exodus 24:10-11; 1 Kings 7:23; Psalm 104:3; Ezekiel 1:22; Ezekiel 1:26). [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p353.]

The four living "creatures" seem to be angelic beings that reflect the attributes of God. They form an inner circle and surround the throne and God (cf. Ezekiel 1:12), so they must constitute an exalted order of angelic beings. They appear similar to the seraphim ( Isaiah 6:2) and even more like the cherubim ( Ezekiel 1:4-14; Ezekiel 9:3; Ezekiel 10), though because of their differences they seem to be in a class by themselves. They appear to have a judicial function (cf. Revelation 6:1; Revelation 6:3; Revelation 6:5; Revelation 6:7) and to have some connection with animate creation (cf. Revelation 4:9-11; Revelation 15:7). Their many eyes evidently symbolize their penetrating intelligence that makes them immediately aware of whatever is happening that affects their judicial responsibility (cf. Ezekiel 1:18; Ezekiel 10:12). [Note: Ibid, pp358-59.]

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/revelation-4.html. 2012.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Revelation 4:6. And before the throne as it were a glassy sea like unto crystal. The most various opinions have been entertained regarding the ‘glassy sea’ here spoken of, some of which may at once be set aside. It can hardly be intended to signify ‘the will and law of God in constituting the kingdom of grace,’ or ‘the mysterious judgments of God,’ or ‘the purity, calmness, and majesty of God’s rule,’ for no passages of the Old Testament can be referred to in which these principles of the Divine government are represented by a sea similar to that now mentioned. Other interpretations, again, such as those that understand by it ‘Baptism’ or ‘the volume of the Scriptures,’ may also be rejected as having no foundation in the imagery of this book. The idea that the sea is identical with the river of the water of life ‘clear as crystal’ in chap. Revelation 22:1, may likewise be regarded as untenable A sea and a river are entirely different from one another, and it is impossible to connect the ‘sea’ of chap. Revelation 15:2, which must be the same as this one, and upon which those who had overcome took their stand, with the ‘river’ of chap. 22. More naturally might we be led to associate the great brazen sea of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:23-26) with the sea here spoken of, were it not that, as a general rule, the imagery of the Apocalypse appears to be taken not from the temple, but from the tabernacle, and the ‘laver’ of the latter is never called a sea.

In endeavouring to determine the meaning of the figure, we must have recourse to that rule of interpretation so often needed in the Apocalypse, which calls us to supplement the description given of any object in one place by what is said of it in another. Doing so in the present instance, the ‘glassy sea’ of chap. Revelation 15:2 supplies various hints which may be helpful to us here. That sea is not only glassy, but ‘mingled with fire,’ an expression which at once suggests the thought of the Divine judgments, while the same thought comes prominently forward in the song sung by those who, standing upon the sea, celebrate the ‘righteous acts of the Lord which have been made manifest.’ Again, it is to be observed that the song sung by these conquerors is called ‘the song of Moses, the servant of God,’ as well as ‘the song of the Lamb;’ and the most natural reference of these words is to the song of triumph sung after the crossing of the Red Sea, of which it is said, ‘Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea’ (Exodus 15:1). The propriety of this reference is confirmed by the fact that it is not said of these conquerors that they ‘had gotten the victory over the beast’ (Authorised Version), or even that they ‘had come victorious from the beast’ (Revised Version), but that they ‘had come victorious out of the beast,’ the preposition used distinctly indicating that they had been delivered by escape from their enemies rather than by victory over them in the field. To these considerations let us add that the deliverance of Israel from Egypt had been always appealed to, both by Psalmists and Prophets, as the peculiar token of that providential care and guidance which the Almighty extended to His people (Psalms 66:12; Isaiah 43:2-3), and we shall be led to the conclusion that in the ‘glassy sea’ of this verse we have an emblem of that course of Providence by which God conducts those who place themselves in His hands to then-final rest in His immediate presence. The different manner in which the ‘sea’ is viewed in the words before us, and in chap. Revelation 15:2, seems to favour this conclusion. In the one it is simply ‘before the throne,’ and under the eye of Him by whom the throne is occupied. It is seen from the Divine point of view, and is therefore only ‘clear as crystal.’ Its darker are to Him as bright as its more transparent elements. The ‘fire’ that is mingled with it is not less a part of His counsel than its most pellucid waters: ‘the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee’ (Psalms 139:12). In the other it is occupied by man, and is seen from the human point of view. Hence the ‘fire,’ always there, but not mentioned in the first instance, is now seen. They who stand upon it cannot forget those ‘righteous acts’ of God which they have witnessed, or the troubled paths by which they have escaped the great enemies of their salvation. Judgment upon their foes, as well as mercy to themselves, marks the whole of that way by which they have been led. It may be only further remarked in conclusion, that to behold in the glassy sea the Almighty’s providential guidance of His people harmonizes with the whole spirit of a chapter dealing mainly with creation and providence before we pass in chap. 5 to the more special subject of redeeming grace.

The description is continued, and we are next introduced to four living creatures full of eyes before and behind, which were in the midst of the throne and round about the throne. The living creatures do not support or bear up the throne; nor are they to be thought of as stationed together at the same spot. They are rather at the extremities of two diameters passing through the centre of the round throne, thus preserving perfect symmetry. In other respects the relation of these beings to the throne presents some difficulty, because it is natural to think that the Seer, having begun his description with Him that sitteth on the throne, is now proceeding from the centre outwards. The four living creatures would thus appear to be outside both the Sitter on the throne and the twenty-four elders and the glassy sea. But this is not probable—(1) Because the words describing their position indicate a greater degree of nearness to the throne. (2) Because of the position of the cherubim in the tabernacle. (3) Because in chap. Revelation 5:6 the absence of the words ‘in the midst of’ before ‘the four living creatures’ seems to show that the latter are so closely connected with the throne as to be almost a part of it. The real explanation is to be found in this, that the position of the cherubim in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle was above the mercy-seat. In like manner the living creatures here spoken of are not on the same level as the throne. Although, therefore, St. John really describes from within outwards what he beheld, and although, before we reach the present point of his description, he has already spoken of the outermost circle, that which bounded the glassy sea, it does not follow that the living creatures were beyond that circle. They were really above it, yet within it; and it is by now lifting his eyes upwards that the Seer beholds them. What has been said finds support in the language of Isaiah 6:2, where the prophet, after speaking of the Lord’s sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, adds, ‘above it stood the seraphim.’ It is remarkable to see how St. John manages to combine the visions of both Isaiah and Ezekiel,—the one the prophet of the coming Saviour, the other the prophet of the restored Church. By the view now taken the harmony of the description is preserved, and the four living creatures’ are a part of the accompaniments of the throne, and not beyond it.

They are full of eyes, we are further told, before and behind: they share the attribute of God, seeing in all directions with a penetrating glance (comp. chap. Revelation 1:14), that they may the better execute the Divine purposes.

A fuller description of them is now given.

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/revelation-4.html. 1879-90.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

A sea of glass, like crystal, calm and transparent, and may signify that the saints had passed a boisterous sea of troubles in this world, which is now changed into everlasting tranquility. --- Four living creatures, or animals. Alcazar (p. 364) takes notice of thirty different expositions of these animals. He understands the apostles, bishops, and preachers of the Christian faith: others, four of the chief Angels or celestial spirits. Several others expound them of the four evangelists: yet this was before St. John himself had written his gospel. (Witham) --- The extensive sea of glass, here described transparent as crystal, represents what may be called the floor of heaven. Before the throne and round it stand four living creatures, of an extraordinary shape, which denote the four great prophets, Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechiel, and Daniel. Their bodies are described full of eyes, both before and behind, an emblem of their prophetic sight, that penetrates into all ages past, present, and to come. And their being also full of eyes within, indicates that their extensive knowledge arises from an interior divine inspiration. They have each six wings, in the same manner as the seraphim appeared to the prophet Isaias. (Chap. vi. 2.) Some have imagined these four symbolical animals to represent the four evangelists; but we think improperly, as St. John was still living and there present in person. The first animal is here said to resemble a lion, the king of beasts, because the prophet Isaias, represented by it, was descended of the royal race of David. The second animal resembles a calf, and represents the prophet Jeremias in his character of priest; the calf, which was the principal victim in Jewish sacrifices, being on that account the emblem of the priesthood. The third animal, exhibiting Ezechiel, has the countenance of a man; because God, in speaking to that prophet, always addresses him by the name of son of man. The fourth animal, denoting Daniel, resembles a flying eagle, on account of the sublime oracles of this prophet, who soars to the highest objects, and views the succession of all the great empires that were to rise up in the world to the end of time. Probably these four principal prophets are to be understood to represent all the prophets of the old law. (Walmesley)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/revelation-4.html. 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

there was . glass. The texts read "as it were a glassy sea".

unto = to.

round about. Greek. kuklo. In Rev. only here and Revelation 7:11. Occurs: Mark 3:34.

were. Omit.

beasts = living ones, or living creatures (as Hebrews 13:11, first occurance). Greek. zoon. Occurs twenty times (App-10). Not the word in Rev. 13 and Rev. 17. These zoa are the cherubim of Genesis 3:24. Ezekiel 1:5-14. Compare Ezekiel 10:20. They are distinguished from angels (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 5:11). These zoa speak of creation and of redemption also.

eyes. See Ezekiel 1:8; Ezekiel 10:12.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/revelation-4.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

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.

'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate, Coptic, Syriac, read, 'As it were a sea of glass.'

Like unto crystal - not imperfectly transparent as the ancient glass, but like rock crystal. Contrast the turbid "many waters" on which the harlot "sitteth," (Revelation 17:1-18.) Compare Job 37:18. Primarily, the pure ether which separates God's throne from all things before it, symbolizing the 'purity, calmness, and majesty of God's rule' (Alford). But see the analogue in the temple, the molten sea before the sanctuary (note, Revelation 4:4). There is in it depth and transparency, but not the fluidity and instability of the natural sea (cf. Revelation 21:1). It stands solid and clear. God's judgments are "a great deep" (Psalms 36:6). In Revelation 15:2, it is a "sea of glass mingled with fire." There is symbolized the purificatory baptism with water and the Spirit, of all made "kings and priests unto God." In Revelation 15:2, the baptism with 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, able, like Christ, to walk on the sea as if solid glass.

Round about the throne - one in the midst of each side of the throne.

Four beasts rather 'living creatures' [ zooa (Greek #2226)]: "beasts " Revelation 13:1; Revelation 13:11 is different [ theerion Four beasts - rather, 'living creatures' [ zooa (Greek #2226)]: "beasts," Revelation 13:1; Revelation 13:11, is different [ theerion (Greek #2342)]: symbol of the carnal man, who, by rebellion, loses his true glory, as lord, under God, of the lower creatures: degraded to the level of the beast.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/revelation-4.html. 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(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,” Psalms 36:6, Prayer Book version. See also Psalms 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 (2 Chronicles 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.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/revelation-4.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

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.
a sea
15:2; Exodus 38:8; 1 Kings 7:23
crystal
21:11; 22:1; Job 28:17; Ezekiel 1:22
the midst
5:6; 7:17; Ezekiel 1:4,5
four beasts
8,9; 5:6,14; 6:1; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4; Ezekiel 1:5-28; 10:14
full
8; Ezekiel 1:18; 10:12
Reciprocal: 1 Kings 7:25 - General1 Kings 7:29 - lions;  Isaiah 62:6 - which;  Hebrews 13:21 - to whom;  Revelation 4:7 - the first beast;  Revelation 5:11 - the throne;  Revelation 6:5 - he had;  Revelation 7:10 - unto

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/revelation-4.html.

E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

A sea is deep-and c"r_z/stal _r/lass is clear and pure, symbolizing the beauty of the scene around the throne, Four beasts is an unfortunate translation, for we always think of a "beast" as an animal of the lower world, and hence not a. fitting symbol of something enjoying the dignity of these in this verse; the proper rendering of the original word Isaiah, "living creatures." Fall of cg/cs befo-re and beh-inrl symbolizes the ability to look in a universal direction.

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Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/znt/revelation-4.html. 1952.

Hanserd Knollys' Commentary on Revelation

Revelation 4:6

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.

This sea of glass beareth some resemblance unto the sea of brass in Solomon's Temple, { 1 Kings 7:2-3} like crystal, that Isaiah, clear and perspicuous; such is the gospel of the grace of God, { 2 Corinthians 3:18} wherein we have an open vision of Jesus Christ, who is the image of the unseen glory of God. { 2 Corinthians 4:6} By this sea of glass we may understand the pure worship of God under the gospel, { Revelation 15:3-5} mixed with fire; that Isaiah, with fiery trials, persecutions and sufferings for Christ, on which the victors stood with Christ, singing, praising and worshipping him.

" And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts"

Tessara zwa (quatnor Animalia) four living creatures, (zyon) signifies (Animale Rationale) a rational living creature, not a beast, for these were some of Christ's redeemed ones, { Revelation 5:8-9} they were men who worshipped God. { Revelation 4:9-10; Revelation 5:14} The four and twenty elders were the ministers of God in general: these four living creatures were the four sorts of officers of Christ in special, fixed and set by him in every particular congregation and church of saints, who waited and attended on the work of the ministry in the church. { Romans 12:7-8; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11-13}

"Full of eyes, before and behind"

whereby is signified the watchfulness of the elders, whom the holy spirit hath made overseers of the flock of God, the church of saints. { Acts 20:28} They had eyes within; that Isaiah, the pastors and teachers are to look to themselves, and to their doctrine. { 1 Timothy 4:16} They had eyes before; that Isaiah, they ought to look that no false brethren creep in unawares. { Galatians 2:4-5} And they had eyes behind; that Isaiah, they ought to look after the members of the church, and see that they walk orderly, { Colossians 2:5-7} and have their conversation as becometh the gospel. { Philippians 1:27}

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Knollys, Hanserd. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Hanserd Knollys' Commentary on Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hkc/revelation-4.html.

Harold Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Verse6.

"The sea of glass, like crystal" before the throne indicating the DEPTH, EXPANSE, CLEARNESS of God"s counsels. "The FOUR LIVING CREATURES"--not "beasts" as in the A.V. which confuses with "the beast" of chapter13. "FOUR" in number these "living creatures" represent MANKIND. They have eyes on all sides. That Isaiah, they see all that is going on in all directions. They have the qualities of a LION--STRENGTH, an OX--SERVICE, the FACE OF A Prayer of Manasseh --INTELLIGENCE, and the EAGLE of HIGH SPIRITUAL FLIGHT. Like Isaiah"s seraphim ( Isaiah 6:1-13) each has six wings. And they sing of the might of God PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE. (verse7). J. P. Love suggests "It will be well worth while to read this fourth chapter of Revelation and the sixth chapter of Isaiah together and then go carefully through the hymn "Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty," noting how remarkably the hymnist has blended the figures used by Isaiah and John." (Dr. J. P. Love "Layman"s Bible Commentary on John --, Jude --Revelation" SCM Press, Page64). The praising of God by the four living creatures and the elders in verses6-11lift our hopes for the time when the qualities of ALL mankind shall be equal to the STRENGTH of the lion, the POWER and SERVICE of the ox, the INTELLIGENCE of a Prayer of Manasseh, and the SWIFTNESS of the eagle.

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Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Revelation 4:6. And before the throne as a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne and roundabout the throne four beasts, full of eyes before and behind. Bengel says, "Mention is made of the seven lamps of fire and of the sea together; and it is said, as respecting that, so also respecting this, very emphatically, before the throne.

Afterwards, at ch. Revelation 15:2, there is again the appearance as of a sea of glass; and instead of the seven torches of fire being brought into connection with it, the sea itself is mingled with fire." We have already remarked that the distinct connection of the torches of fire and the sea together is to be explained from the latter being the product of the former. God by his Spirit brings about the execution of what is right. The import of the sea we apprehend from the song, which in ch. 15 was sung by those who stood on it, and which forms a commentary on the symbol, after the manner of Scripture generally, in which sign and word go together. Accordingly, it denotes the great and wonderful works of God, his righteous and holy ways, his just deeds become manifest. The sea of glass appears there as an antitype to the Red Sea, in which the Seer beheld an image of the great judgment of God. The original passage for the one before us, and for ch. Revelation 15:2, is Psalms 36:7, "Thy judgments are a great flood." The judgments there are the judicial acts through which God destroys the wicked and aids his people. The comparison with the sea denotes, according to the connection, measurelessness. Against the flood of human wickedness stands the great flood, the broad ocean of the divine judgment (Genesis 7:11, the only other passage where the expression great flood, דבה תהום, occurs). The great flood has reference to the deluge, in which the judgment of God appears as in reality a great flood. Twice had the sea served as an embodiment of God's judgments, which are here described as immeasurable under its image,—at the deluge, to which the fundamental passage refers, and when the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, to which reference is made in ch. 15. The words, "before the throne," rest on Psalms 89:15, Psalms 97:2, "righteousness and judgment are the foundation of thy throne," that is, God's dominion maintains itself on the territory of what is just and righteous. These two passages in the Psalms again, rest on Exodus 24:10, "And they beheld the God of Israel, and under his feet there was like the work of white (clear glittering, comp. on Revelation 4:4) sapphire, and like the heaven itself in purity." They give an explanation of the symbol there. Upon the fundamental passage and the two passages in the Psalms again rests, Ezekiel 1:22, "And there was on the heads of the beasts something like a cloud, like the look of crystal, terrible (Michaelis: the splendour of which is so great that it blinded the eyes of the spectator), expanded over their heads above." Above this cloud stands the throne of God, according to Ezekiel 1:26, From this passage we see the import of the crystal here in Ezekiel. It signifies the terribleness (comp. Habakkuk 3:2, "Lord, I heard thy doing, I was afraid"), the awe-inspiring greatness and glory of the divine executions of judgment. Also according to ch. Revelation 22:1, "And he shewed me a stream of water of life, clear as crystal," it is not the transparency, but the shining clearness of crystal that is brought into consideration (comp. Revelation 21:11). The glass is different from the crystal. That designates the rectitude and purity of the divine judgments—comp. ch. Revelation 21:21, "as transparent glass," and ch. Revelation 21:18, "like pure glass." In Exodus 24:10 too there is found a double point, the clear splendour and its purity. To the purity of glass, as indicative of righteousness and truth, corresponds in ch. Revelation 15:3 the righteous and true are thy ways, thou king of saints." And to the clear and blinding glitter of crystal, as indicative of the frightfulness and glory of the divine acts of judgment, corresponds the "Great and wonderful are thy works, Lord God Almighty. Who would not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name!" It is this also to which respect is had in the present symbol: the measureless character of the divine judgments, their absolute rectitude, their terrible glory—a view, if dreadful to the world, most consolatory to the church, which cannot look enough into this glorious mirror, and in the depths of this sea should lose all its cares, and sorrow, and pain—whole eye should be delivered from its tears, the moment the cloud vanishes which conceals this sea from its view—and whose highest problem it is to keep the eye shut in regard to the sea of the nations, and have it open for this holy sea before the throne of God. (Bossuet: "The sea commonly signifies in Scripture agitation and trouble; but here the idea is changed, and changed by the transparence and the likeness of crystal.")

In the midst of the throne, that is, under it, and round about the throne—since the throne does not quite cover them, and their heads appear from below it[Note: That the Cherubim here do not, us Züllig supposes, stand merely beside the throne, is clear, not only from the ἐ ν μέ σῳ which is violently rendered by him, but also from the ἔ κειτο in Revelation 4:2.]—the Seer perceives four beasts; or, more exactly, living creatures, full of eyes behind and before.[Note: Bengel: " ζῶ ον and θηρί ον essentially differ, φύ σεις ζώ ων και θυμοὺ ς θηρί ων, Sap. vii. 20."]These are the Cherubim, which meet us in the Old Testament, especially in the symbolical forms of the law and in Ezekiel. The signification of this symbol discovers itself from the name here given to the Cherubim. They are called ζῶ α, living beings, corresponding to the חיות of Ezekiel. Consequently they are the representation of living beings, of all that is living on the earth. God appears as enthroned above the Cherubim, in order to impress on the minds of those, who stand in awe of him, his absolute supremacy over all that is earthly. When the earthly creature of the church of the Old Covenant became alarmed, it had only to direct its eye to him, who sat enthroned on the Cherubim, and its fear vanished. To this representation of God corresponds the epithet, God of Hosts, Zebaoth, pointing quite as exclusively to the dominion of God over the heavenly powers, as the other to his dominion over the earthly. The God—exclaims here to the Seer and to the church the sight of the Cherubim under the throne—who is preparing to judge the world, is the God of the whole earth, whom all that lives and moves on it obeys, and who can turn all it contains into weapons of vengeance against the apostate. Woe to him, who has this God for his enemy, happy he who has him for his friend! The same object is served in the main by the appearance of God above the Cherubim in Ezekiel, Eze and Ezekiel 10, where God comes to execute judgment on apostate Israel. There, beside the living beings, which are more immediately denoted by the Cherubim, the powers of nature are also symbolized by the wheels beside the Churubim, the import of which is partly explained by Ezekiel 10:13, "the wheels, they were called the whirlwind in my ears," (comp. Psalms 18:10, where the wind is connected with the cherub, "He rode upon the cherub and did fly, and floated on the wings of the wind," God comes in the full glory of his being, as the Lord of the beings and powers of nature); and partly also from Ezekiel 10:6, where the fire that was to burn the wicked city Jerusalem, is taken from the midst of the wheels. To the wheels in Ezekiel corresponds in Psalms 148:8, "Fire and hail, snow and vapour, stormy wind, that fulfils his word." For the refutation of those, who would understand by the Cherubim superior angels, what was advanced by Vitringa is quite sufficient: "These four creatures are throughout this vision connected with the assembly of elders, and are distinguished, not only from the angels, but also from all angels, as is done in ch. Revelation 7:11. In ch. 5 the whole heavenly assembly that was before the throne, is divided into two choruses or classes. The beasts and the elders formed the one chorus, Revelation 4:8, and the angels the other, Revelation 4:11." Everywhere we find the territory of the Cherubim put in marked separation from that of the angels. The Cherubim never do the service of the malakim or messengers, never do the part of ministering spirits sent forth to minister. Their business is only that of being, first, under the throne of God (of a material supporting we are not to think either here or in Ezekiel), then of symbolizing the truth, that God is the God of the whole earth, the God of the spirits of all flesh, or of praising and glorifying God. This was done, not only here, but also in Ezekiel, when the prophet, Ezekiel 3:12, heard a loud voice saying, "Praised be the glory of the Lord (who now rises up) from his place." For their existence was a matter-of-fact celebration of God's praise (comp. the call made on all in heaven and earth to praise God, as bearing on it the marks of God's glory, in Psalms 148, and the poetical change from the matter-of-fact praise into a verbal one in Psalms 19:2, Psalms 103:21), and he was farther entitled to it for the benefits conferred by him on his creatures upon earth. Finally, in addition to these two functions of the cherubim, they have a part to do in prefiguring the judgments, which are to fall upon the earth, as at the opening of the seals in ch. Revelation 6:1, ss., they call out to the Seer, "Come and see," and in ch. Revelation 15:7, they stretch out the seven vials to the seven, angels. They come forth here as representatives of the earth, which is to be affected by the divine judgments. That the Cherubim are merely symbolical figures, is manifest from their whole bearing. They have always but a few words to utter. From these functions of the Cherubim, and especially from the circumstance of their being under the throne of God, the God who sits enthroned upon the Cherubim, all such notions are exploded, as that they are the four evangelists, the most eminent teachers of the church (so Vitringa, who labours in vain to dispose of the troublesome fact, that the beasts are nearer the throne than the elders), the office-bearers of the church, etc. These notions, besides being untenable in themselves, are quite unsuitable here, where the object was to impart consolation in the presence of a seemingly omnipotent world, and pledge the certainty of a victory being gained over it; and equally so in Ezekiel, where the object is to dispel the illusions of those, who dreamt they could escape the vengeance of an angry God. So that it were entirely out of date to attempt any revival of them now.

That the Cherubim were four, arises from four being the signature of the earth. Bengel already remarks, "Scripture often describes visible nature by the four quarters of the world, Psalms 89:13, and in Revelation also mention is frequently made of the four corners of the earth, ch. Revelation 7:1, Revelation 21:13." In Psalms 148, of those who must praise the Lord on the land, there are four times four, and four in particular of living creatures, because four is the signature of the earth. We find the same four of living creatures in Genesis 7:21, Genesis 7:23. In Ezekiel the number four has still greater play: the four beasts have each four faces and four wings, Ezekiel 1:6. The beasts are full of eyes before and behind. In the first description of the Cherubim, Ezekiel merely says in Ezekiel 1:18, that the felloes of the wheels connected with the cherub were full of eyes, while in the second description, Ezekiel 10:12, he says in perfect unison with John, "And their whole flesh, and their backs, and their hands and their wings, were full of eyes round about." The meaning of the eyes we learn from Revelation 5:6, according to which the Lamb has seven eyes, "which are the seven Spirits of God that are sent forth upon the whole earth"—comp. Zechariah 4:10, where the operations of the Lord's Spirit are set forth tinder the image of the seven eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro in the whole earth. The eye is the organ, and, as such, the corporeal image of the Spirit. The Cherubim being full of eyes indicates, that the whole living creation is inspirited. According to the doctrine of Scripture, all life, not merely the intellectual and spiritual, but the physical also, is of God, the source of life, the God of the spirits of all flesh, Numbers 16:22, Numbers 27:16; Hebrews 12:9; comp. Genesis 1:2, Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 12:7, "The spirit returns to God who gave it;" Psalms 104:29, "When thou hidest thy face, they are frightened, when thou gatherest their breath, they vanish and return to their dust." The eyes of the Cherubim, considered as symbolical of the powers of God working in creation, contribute to the matter in hand; they serve as an encouragement to the pious, as a source of terror to the wicked. So understood, we can also understand how in Revelation 4:8 there should be a repeated allusion to the eyes in connection with the song of praise by the Cherubim: this song forms a commentary on their being full of eyes, round about and within. The exposition of Bengel and others, by which the eyes denote wisdom and knowledge, is quite erroneous.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/heg/revelation-4.html.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

6.There was (as it were) a sea of glass—The Old Testament passage to which this seems to be analogous is Exodus 24:10: “And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire-stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.” The idea, then, is, that this apparent sea of glass like unto crystal, is the transparent basis of the throne. God’s throne should not stand on base earth, but upon a condensed ethereality. So the Rabbies say: “The place on which his throne stands is seven clouds of glory.” The Orientals are proud to this day of the splendour of their tessellated pavements. The Koran (Sur. 27:44) tells us that the queen of Sheba mistook Solomon’s pavement, in his audience hall, for a sea. (See Stuart.) To the idea that this sea is a basal pavement of the throne, Dusterdieck objects that it is described as before the throne. But the seer being in the far front describes the part he more distinctly sees, the part which more specially isolates the occupant from the attendants surrounding him. This clear, tranquil sea symbolizes the divine purity and serenity; and, indeed, derives its character from his divine, everlasting nature. Hence, it may be held as the primal fountain of the crystal stream of life in Revelation 22:1. And its sympathy with the divine Mind is symbolized by the wrathful “fire,” infused into the glass, in Revelation 15:2. So small a crystal surface might hardly be called a sea, but our thought from this small revealed spot necessarily extends its existence beyond all limits.

In the midst’ round’ the throne— Hengstenberg and Stuart represent the throne as upborne by the four beneath it. This is in clear contradiction to the words, ‘ , which mean in midst, namely, of the circular area, whose circumference was formed by the thrones of the twenty-four, and which belonged as basis to, and was held by the seer as part of, the throne itself. Within this area, at each of the four corners of the structure of the throne, stood one of the cherubim. But Dusterdieck understands by in the midst, that the cherubim stood one at each of the four sides, (at the mid-point between the two ends of the side,) so as to be round about the throne.

Four beasts—The word beasts presents one of the most unfortunate translations to be found in our English Bible. It is altogether a different word from the “beast,” , of chap. 13; being , from which comes our word zoology, and comprehends every thing finite possessed of intelligent life. It is thence by some rendered living creatures; but better, by Alford, living beings. The creational number four immediately suggests that these beings must represent all the living beings of our creation. This is confirmed by the fact that the most eminent species of the animal world are selected to afford the four. Of wild beasts the lion is king; of tame, the ox; of birds, the eagle; and of all earthly creatures, man. Hence, their anthem of thanks sung with the elders, is thanks for our creation. And of the three series of seven symbols—the seals, the trumpets, and the vials, to be hereafter presented— it will be found that each first four (in which the four living beings are specially interested) will be mainly connected with points on earth, and of a creational character; while each last three rises into a more elevated and fuller strain, for good or evil more spiritual, and suited to the elders, as the previous song was to the beasts.

 

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/revelation-4.html. 1874-1909.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

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 , 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 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”. , . . .: “and in the middle (of each side) of the throne and (consequently) round about the throne,” the four of Ezekiel 1:5; Ezekiel 1:18 (cf. Apoc. Bar. li. 11). . . ., 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 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 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 , a traditional and poetical trait of the heavenly court.— , cf. Slav. En. xxx. 13, 14. The posture of the may be visualised from a comparison of the Alhambra Court of the Lions.

 

 

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Bibliographical Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 4:6". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/revelation-4.html. 1897-1910.