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Revelation 4:4-11, the Beasts, the Elders, and the Sea

Updated on February 24, 2019
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Marcelo holds a B.A. in Bible and a M.S. in education. He has ministry experience and is collaborating with church planting in MD.

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Recap

While John was in Patmos, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him in a vision. The Lord dictated to John seven letters, each of which was addressed to a different church in Turkey. Afterwards, the Lord directed John to ascend to heaven.

John entered heaven through an open door, and there he saw God sitting on His throne. The throne of God represents His rule: from His throne, God judges and gives orders.

In this article, we will examine additional details John gives to us in relation to God's throne: the sea, the elders, and the beasts.

Revelation 4:6, The Sea

John tells us that before the throne of God, there was a "sea of glass like unto crystal" (Revelation 4:6, KJV). What John may be referring to as a sea of glass is a basin made of crystal.

In Exodus 30:18-21, God commanded Moses to make a laver (a basin) of brass. This laver of brass was to be set between the tabernacle and the altar, filled with water, and used for the priests to wash their hands and their feet before they entered the tabernacle or used the altar.

Many generations later, Solomon built a temple. For the temple, Solomon made a basin of brass that was much larger than the one made by Moses. It was so large, it was called a sea (1 Kings 7:23 and 2 Chronicles 4:2).

The sea made by Solomon was complex. It was held by twelve bulls: three bulls faced the north, three the west, three the south, and three the east. Moreover, Solomon made ten smaller basins to match the sea: five were on the right side of the sea, and five were on its left side.

The purpose of the smaller basins was for the sacrifices that would be offered on the alter to be washed, but the sea was for the priests to wash their hands and their feet.

The sea that John sees in heaven is not made of brass, but of crystal. The transparent quality of this basin may be a symbol of its cleanliness and purity.

Revelation 4:4, The Elders

John sees 24 other thrones around God's throne; and on each throne, there was an elder. Each of these 24 elders was dressed in white clothes and wore a crown of gold.

The white clothes in Revelation represent purity (Revelation 19:8), and they are related to the role of a priest (Exodus 28:40-43). On the other hand, the crowns represent accomplishment (Revelation 2:10 and 3:11), and also authority and rule (Revelation 12:1, 12:3). Authority and rule are also represented by the thrones themselves.

In 1 Chronicles 24:1-19, David appointed 24 priests to serve in the temple; and in 1 Chronicles 23:4, 24,000 was the number of Levites who did the work of the house of the Lord. Moreover, 6,000 Levites were officers and judges, 4,000 were porters, and 4,000 dedicated themselves to praise the Lord with instruments.

As we read ahead in the book of Revelation, these 24 elders in heave sing, use harps, and offer incense to the Lord (Revelation 5:8-9). Clearly, these 24 elders have a number that is related to the temple worship, they are dressed as priests, and they are also performing duties similar to those of a priest. Not only so, but they are also not only in heaven, but in a temple in heaven: for there are candlesticks, a sea, an altar, and even the ark of the covenant (Revelation 8:3, 11:19).

Thus, these 24 elders are priests. Nevertheless, they are not necessarily Levites, for in their son, they proclaim that Jesus has made those whom He has redeemed kings and priests of God (Revelation 5:9). These are not priests under the Old Covenant, but priests under the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:4-6), and it is therefore possible that these are the twelve sons of Jacob and the twelve apostles of the Lord (Revelation 21:12-14).

Revelation 4:6-8, The Beasts

John also tells that, in heaven, he saw four fearsome beasts.

At first, we may think that these beasts are distorted, ugly, and repulsive; but such a conception of the four beasts would greatly disagree with John's vision of the crystalline rainbow and the glass-like sea. It is more likely that these beasts are beautiful and majestic, though still fearsome.

The first beast had the face of a lion; the second beast had the face of a man; the third beast had the face of a bull; and the fourth beast had the face of a flying eagle. The beasts were full of eyes in front, behind, and even within. Moreover, each of the beasts had six wings. The beasts also praised the Lord.

Interestingly enough, the beats are not only around the throne, but also in the midst of the throne.

As I have already established in my other articles on Revelation, John's book incorporates elements from various Scriptures, particularly from the Old Testament prophets Daniel and Ezekiel.

When Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord, he saw four living creatures similar to these beasts (Ezekiel 1:5-14). Some of the details that Ezekiel gives of these creatures are not present in John's description of the beasts, while other details given by Ezekiel appear at first glance to be contradicted by John.

Ezekiel says the living creatures had four faces each (the face of a lion, the face of a man, the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle), where as John describes four beasts, each one with one face (one with the face of a lion, one with the face of calf, one with the face of man, and another with the face of an eagle). Moreover, Ezekiel says the living creatures had four wings each, but John says the beasts had six wings each.

Given John's tendency to make reference's to the rest of the Scriptures throughout Revelation, it is clear that John (or rather, the Lord) intends for us to associate the beasts he saw with the living creatures Ezekiel saw. The differences between John's beasts and Ezekiel's living creatures do not necessarily mean that John and Ezekiel saw different entities, but that the purpose of their visions was different.

Thus, Ezekiel saw the four living creatures, which he later called cherubim (Ezekiel), when the Lord's glory was traveling and would eventually depart from Israel's temple. Therefore, the living creatures move, have legs, and are accompanied by wheels, because they are bearing God's throne. John, on the other hand, sees the same entities, which he calls beasts, when God's glory is stationary in heaven, therefore there the throne does no have wings, and the legs of the beasts are not important.

The differences also highlight that these visions are indeed only visions of what is real in the spiritual realm, but not necessarily an accurate representation of what the spiritual realm is. The spiritual realm may be beyond description, and therefore God chooses to reveal it through visions, in terms of what we can understand.

What should be clear, however, is that John is talking about the same entities that Ezekiel described: the cherubim (Ezekiel 10:14-15).

The Cherubim

The first time we read abut cherubim in the Bible is in the book of Genesis (Genesis 3:24). After judging Adam and Eve, and passing sentence on them, the Lord sent them out of the garden of Eden so they would not be able to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life.

The Lord then put cherubim at the east of the garden (implying that Adam and Eve were driven out eastward); and on the way to the Tree of Life, He put a flaming sword that could turn every way to keep the Tree of Life.

Obviously, the role of the cherubim was to serve as sentinels. They were to ensure that Adam and Eve, or their descendants, would not return to the garden of Eden and take of the Tree of Life. Anyone who tried to trespass, would obviously be killed with the flaming sword, a sword which no human can ever wield since it is enveloped with fire.

There also seems to be a connection between the cherubim and the sword. The flaming sword is the weapon, but the cherubim themselves are the watchmen. Although the sword is able to stand on its own and turn every way, the cherubim are the entities who have been given the task and responsibility to prevent access to the garden and the tree.

The distinction between the cherubim and the sword is important. It is God who places the cherubim in the east of the garden, and it is God who places the sword on the way to the Tree of Life. Thus, the authority of the cherubim proceeds from God, and the power of the cherubim also proceeds from God.

Nevertheless, it is likely that the sword turns every way because it is being directed by the spirit of the cherubim. A similar connection is presented in Ezekiel 1:15-21 between the cherubim and the wheels of God's throne, which like the sword are normally inanimate objects. Because the spirit of the living creatures is present in the wheels, the wheels are able to move and follow the movements of the cherubim.

Moreover, it is remarkable that the cherubim were given the charge to keep the way to the garden and the Tree of Life, for we are told by Ezekiel that one of them became a traitor who rebelled against God (Ezekiel 28:13-15). But we will elaborate on this anointed cherub some other time.

For now, what we need to understand at this time is that the beasts that John describes are a class of being called cherubim, like those seen by Ezekiel; and these beings were given the task to be sentinels of the garden of Eden, sentinels of the Tree of Life, and sentinels of God's own throne.

The many eyes that John sees in their front and in their back may be a reference to this task of theirs, for they are watchmen; and the many eyes that he sees within them could be a reference to them watching among their ranks, even within their hearts, for any act of rebellion, that they none of them would fall in a similar manner as the anointed cherub who became a traitor.

Thus, the cherubim that were beside the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18), and the cherubim of the decorations (Exodus 26:1), and the cherubim of the temple (1 Kings 6:23-27), were most likely not only seen as beautiful designs, but also as a warning of judgment upon any sinner who would dare to trespass into the presence of the most holy God.

Cherubim and Seraphim

Nevertheless, the cherubim that John sees are mixed with some attributes of the seraphim seen by Isaiah (Isaiah 6:2-3).

Isaiah's seraphim had each six wings, and John's cherubim also have six wings each. Once again, the reason the details are mixed is probably because John is seeing visions, which consists of sounds, visions, smells, and even textures of beings and things that are spiritual. Things spiritual things and beings are being convened to John in a way that he can understand them, but not in the way that they truly are.

Moreover, just as Isaiah's seraphim, John's cherubim are singing about God's holiness, although the context has changed: Isaiah's seraphim were proclaiming that God's glory fills all the Earth, but John's cherubim are proclaiming that the eternal God is coming to the world.

In regards to why John's cherubim are both in the midst of the throne and around the throne, it is probably because the throne of God is actually being held by the cherubim in a similar manner in which the sea was being held by the bulls, for the cherubim were bearing the throne of God in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:22-23, 26). The cherubim held the firmament with their heads, and on the firmament itself was God's throne.

Cherub Mimgne by Pvasiliadis

Pvasiliadis [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Pvasiliadis [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons | Source

Revelation 4:9-11, Conclusion

The fourth chapter of Revelation concludes with worship, which is a most appropriate response when one stands before the eternal and most holy God.

As lightnings, thunders, and voices proceed from God's throne; and as the cherubim (the beasts) proclaim God's holiness, eternity, and advent; and as they also give him honor, glory, and thanks; the twenty-four elders bow before God, cast their crowns before Him (a gesture that indicates that all glory belongs to God, not to them), and recognize that God is the Creator and the ultimate purpose of everything.

In a similar way, you and I can bow ourselves before God and worship Him. We are not personally confronted with God's glory as were Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John; but these things are written so that we too can worship Him as we believe the things that written about Him.

Reflection and Prayer

Questions

The questions below are based on the Scriptures we have considered today. Read them and reflect on them. If you wish to do so, share your answers on the comments section below.

1. Why do you think the cherubim in Revelation 4 thanked God? Why do you personally thank God?

2. Why do you think the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before God? How do you redirect all praises, honor, and glory that people may give you to God?

3. What does it mean to worship? How do you worship God?

4. How is God your Creator and how is God the ultimate purpose of your existence, the existence of your loved ones, and the existence of everything?

Prayer

Often, our prayers are mainly requests to God. Today, spend time worshipping God: praise Him for creating you and loving you, praise Him for what He is like, and tell Him how important He is to you, and how much you love Him.

© 2019 Marcelo Carcach

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