(5) And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
This is judgment language! The violent storm is a repeated symbol throughout the book (8:5; 11:19; 16:17-18; 19:6). John also hears voices proceeding from the throne; there is deliberation going on between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are also seven lamps of fire; if we weren’t careful we may have thought that this was the figure of the seven churches (the seven lampstands of chapter one); but these lamps are the source of light, they are a figure of the Spirit of God. The Spirit is spoken of in the sevenfold (as in other places in the book, 1:4; 3:1; 5:6). Since the creation of the world, God has established the number seven as a figure of his fullness. The Spirit of God is completely (seven-times) surrounding the throne in all his fullness of blazing glory! A shadow of this glory was illustrated by the seven lamps in the physical temple (Numbers 8:2).
(6) Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back.
This sea of glass was illustrated in the earthly temple by the bronze laver, which was also called “the sea” (1 Kings 7:23). The sea was used for cleansing the priests (Exodus 30:17-21). None of the priests could participate in the service of God without first washing their hands and feet in the sea, or they would die. The nature of God has not changed, there is still the necessity of washing away our sins before entering into the service of God; this sea is therefore an archetype of baptism (Acts 22:16, 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21). Its description as “glass, like crystal” displays how pure and clean the sea is; that no matter how many filthy people pass through the sea to be made clean, its waters are still crystal clear.
“Four living creatures.” These beings are also seen and described by Ezekiel when he also saw the throne room of God. John does not give any interpretation as to who or what these creatures are, but Ezekiel did. Ezekiel first saw them in the first chapter of the book which bares his name, but when he sees them again, in chapter ten, he calls them “cherubim.” Ezekiel spends much more time describing the cherubim than John, and I expect that we are to look at the two visions together in order to get the full sense.
“Four.” Why are there four? Four is used much throughout Revelation to convey the idea of completeness, a perfect square. It is so important that we recognize that the cherubim make up a perfect and complete square around the throne. Ezekiel points out that each cherub has one set of wings spread upward to touch the wings of the other cherubim on each side (Ezekiel 1:11); they link themselves together all around the throne. But they are more than just a chain surrounding the throne; for John wrote that they are “in the midst of the throne” as well as “around the throne.” The concept of their being “in the midst” places them as a part of the throne. This is evident by the design of the ark of the covenant, where the cherubim are a part of the mercy seat. As a parallel, Ezekiel had described the throne as being above the cherubim (Ezekiel 10:1-2). Putting it all together, it appears that the cherubim not only surround the throne but are in the midst of it; they are a part of the structure of the throne and uphold the throne from underneath. But wait, there’s more! Ezekiel writes that there are also four wheels, one beside each of the cherubim (Ezekiel 10:9). I’m no artist, but if one were to sketch out the details of this vision, the picture would be of a glorious vehicle! This foursquare living vehicle with four wheels carries the holy throne of the Almighty.
David, the king and psalmist, also made use of the cherub in a similar picture. In Psalm 18:7-10, He described how God came down in judgment against his (David’s) enemies:
(7) Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. (8) Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. (9) He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. (10) He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
Further, in David’s plan for the temple which he gave to Solomon, it is specifically stated that the cherubim form the chariot of God! Consider 1 Chronicles 28:18, “…his plan for the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the LORD.”
David, Ezekiel, and John, all saw the Almighty coming in judgments. They all saw, in some form, the cherubim carrying the Lord God as his chariot of war. The presence of the four living creatures in the book of Revelation is a powerful display to the churches that the Lord is in his holy temple; he is ready to judge; on his throne he will come; and by the swiftness of his chariot, he will lay waste the wicked and restore the faithful.
“Full of eyes in front and in back.” This is similar to the way Ezekiel described them: “And their whole body, their rims, and their spokes, their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around” (Ezekiel 10:12). This is symbolism that is readily recognizable, they can see everything. No one can sneak by or do anything without these judgment creatures knowing all about it. This omniscience which they have is an aspect of the nature of God who created these powerful beings for the service of judgment.
(7) The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.
The description of the living creatures is on an individual basis, as each one is different from each other. There is a variation here to how Ezekiel saw them, but that’s understandable as these are only symbols that convey the idea of the real beings (who would only look like the symbol in terms of their nature). Nevertheless, Ezekiel and John both speak of their appearance being in the likeness of lion, ox/calf, man, and eagle (Ezekiel 1:10). As the cherubim make a fourfold completeness, so their likenesses together make a complete picture as well. Together they appear as the chief of wild beasts (lion), the chief of domestic beasts (ox/calf), the chief of the air (eagle), an the chief of all creatures (man). They are a fourfold picture of God’s creation upholding the throne of God; they represent the rule of God over all.
(8) The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”
The description that they have six wings is also a variation from Ezekiel’s vision, however the detail that the wings were “full of eyes” is exactly what Ezekiel saw too (Ezekiel 10:12). But the six wings are more reminiscent of Isaiah’s vision of the throne room of God (Isaiah 6). The creatures which Isaiah saw were seraphim; fiery creatures who, like the cherubim, are certainly servants of God’s judgments. Isaiah saw these beings with six wings a piece, unlike Ezekiel’s view of the four-winged cherubim.
John heard these creatures saying “holy, holy, holy!” This is another comparison to Isaiah’s vision of the seraphim who spoke similarly, “And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). According to John, “they do not rest day or night” but constantly give “glory and honor and thanks” (v.9) to God. This completes the picture of the four living creatures who we will continue to see throughout the book. They are heavenly beings who represent the rule of God over all things, they are his vehicle by which he judges and makes war all from his throne which they carry. And they cry “holy, holy, holy,” because they are defenders and upholders of the holiness of God. God reigns! God judges! To God belongs vengeance; and he will always defend and restore holiness!
(9) Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, (10) the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: (11) “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.”
This chapter closes with a scene of unending worship to God, from the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (the saints, whether in the heavens or on the earth). What moment goes by where our God is not worthy of glory, honor and thanks? The saints are seen falling before the throne of God; and they worship him! And they cast their crowns before him! But what are these crowns? These are not crowns of rule (diadem), but crowns of victory (stephanos). They cast their wreaths of victory before their God, night and day, because he is the reason for their victory; they attribute all the honor to him. These are victors over sin and the Devil; they have rendered their lives in obedience to the one who is “worthy.”