Revelation 4:6

sea of glass, like crystal
Those who achieve victory over the beast (by not loving their lives to the death, Rev. Rev. 12:11+) are seen standing on this sea of glass before the throne. There, it is said to be “mingled with fire” possibly indicating the brilliance of light radiating from the crystal -like structure (Rev. Rev. 15:2+).

Moses, the sons of Aaron, and the elders of Israel saw something similar when they met with God on Mount Sinai:

Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. (Ex. Ex. 24:9-10)

This sea may also symbolize the “river of life” which flows from the temple during the Millennium (Eze. Eze. 47:1-9) and proceeds from the throne in the eternal state (Rev. Rev. 22:1+), where there is no more sea (Rev. Rev. 21:1+). Both are said to be like crystal.1 Corresponding to the bronze laver in the tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple (Ex. Ex. 38:8; 1K. 1K. 7:23), the sea pictures the washing away of uncleanness by Christ’s atonement. This sea of glass is under the throne, but was seen above from Ezekiel’s perspective below the chariot throne (Eze. Eze. 1:22-26).2

Thank God the laver [in heaven] will be turned to crystal. The day will come when one of the saints will ever need confession. . . . I shall never have to go to the Heavenly Father again to tell Him I have sinned. . . The laver is of crystal only because I and all the saints of all the ages will have been made like into the Lord Jesus Christ. There will be no more sin. This is one of the reasons why it will be Heaven.3

See commentary on Revelation 15:2.

around the throne
These creatures are around the throne, whereas in Ezekiel’s vision the similar creatures are in the midst of the cloud of fire (Eze. Eze. 1:5).

four living creatures
There are four creatures indicating the universal character of their representation (see the symbolic meaning of four). They are Living creatures, ζῷα [zōa] : Rev. 4:6-9+ reminds us of the ζῷα [zōa] in Eze. Eze. 1:5ff, the cherubim. See also Rev. Rev. 5:6+, Rev. 5:8+, Rev. 5:11+, Rev. 5:14+; Rev. 6:1+, Rev. 6:3+, Rev. 6:5-7+; Rev. 7:11+; Rev. 14:3+; Rev. 15:7+; Rev. 19:4+.”4 Ezekiel also sees four living creatures, τεσσάρων ζῳιων [tessarōn zōiōn] (Eze. Eze. 1:5-22; Eze. 3:13; Eze. 10:1-20). Ezekiel’s creatures have close similarity to these:

  1. They attend the throne.
  2. They are winged.
  3. Aspects of their character represent a lion, an ox (or calf), a man, and an eagle.

But there are also significant differences:

  1. Ezekiel’s creatures had four wings whereas these have six.
  2. Ezekiel’s creatures each had all four faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle whereas these each have one of the characteristics.5
  3. No mention is made of Ezekiel’s creatures themselves having eyes—although the wheels they attend are full of eyes. These creatures themselves are full of eyes.

Similarity does not make identity and we must conclude that these living creatures, while probably cherubim, are different in identity to Ezekiel’s cherubim (Eze. Eze. 10:20). Since Isaiah’s seraphs had six wings, perhaps these creatures are of that order (Isa. Isa. 6:2, Isa. 6:6).

It appears that these creatures attend God’s stationary throne whereas Ezekiel’s cherubim attend God’s chariot throne which transports the manifestation of His glory (Ps. Ps. 18:10; Eze. Eze. 10:19-20; Eze. 11:22). We first meet with cherubim in their service of God guarding the way to the tree of life after the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden (Gen. Gen. 3:24).6

Satan was created as one of these cherubim serving at God’s throne until he fell (Eze. Eze. 28:14). “Here are the living ones, in every way his equals, yes, infinitely his superiors, since they have access to all of the power of God. These are not with him in his rebellion. They are ready to carry into effect the orders of divine judgment.”7

These living creatures call John’s attention to the effects of the Lamb’s loosening of the first four seals whereupon the four horsemen of the Apocalypse ride forth (Rev. Rev. 6:1-7+). One of the four living creatures gives the final seven bowls of God’s wrath to the seven angels who will pour forth the seven plagues.

After the Flood, the Teraphim (probably a corruption of the Cherubim) were made in imitation of them and became objects of worship [Gen. Gen. 31:19, Gen. 31:34-35; Jdg. Jdg. 17:5; Jdg. 18:14, Jdg. 18:17-18, Jdg. 18:20; 1S. 1S. 15:23; 1S. 19:13, 1S. 19:16; 2K. 2K. 23:24; Eze. Eze. 21:21; Hos. Hos. 3:4; Zec. Zec. 10:2]. The remembrance of them was carried away by the scattered nations (Gen. Gen. 10:1), and probably the Assyrian sculptures are traditional corruptions of the Cherubim, for they consisted of a man with an eagle’s head; a lion or a winged bull with a human head.8

The cherubim attend God’s throne. The writer of Hebrews informs us that the things in the earthly sanctuary were a model of the ultimate reality in heaven above (Heb. Heb. 9:24). In the earthly Tabernacle and Temple, we find these living creatures portrayed at each end of the Ark of the Covenant and on the veil separating the holy place (Ex. Ex. 26:31; Ex. 36:35). Their images attended God’s glory which was said to “dwell between the cherubim” above the mercy seat (Ex. Ex. 25:22; Num. Num. 7:89; 1S. 1S. 4:4; 2S. 2S. 6:2; 1K. 1K. 7:29; 2K. 2K. 19:15; 1Chr. 1Chr. 13:6; 2Chr. 2Chr. 5:7; 2Chr. 6:41; Ps. Ps. 80:1; Ps. 99:1; Isa. Isa. 37:16; Eze. Eze. 41:18). See The Abiding Presence of God, A Heavenly Pattern.

lion . . . calf . . . man . . . eagle
The symbolism conveyed by these faces is the subject of much discussion.

The interpretations of the symbols of the four living creatures are, of course, numerous and varied. Some of them are: the four Evangelists or Gospels; the four elements; the four cardinal virtues; the four faculties or powers of the human soul; the Lord in the fourfold great events of redemption; the four patriarchal churches; the four great apostles, the doctors of the Church; the four principal angels, etc.9

As we discuss elsewhere, the interpretation of symbols can often lead in unbiblical directions, especially to the degree that non-biblical sources provide the source for their interpretation. When other passages within Scripture are taken into consideration, it seems the likeness of these four creatures reflect the four primary roles of Messiah Jesus revealed in the four gospels:
  1. King (Matthew)
  2. Servant (Mark)
  3. Man (Luke)
  4. God (John)

Evidence in support of this view is presented in our discussion of the Four Gospels.


1 Passages related to the river of life : Ex. Ex. 17:6; Ps. Ps. 36:8-9; Ps. 46:4; Sos. Sos. 4:15; Isa. Isa. 12:2; Isa. 44:3; Isa. 55:1; Jer. Jer. 2:13; Jer. 17:13; Eze. Eze. 47:1, Eze. 47:8-9; Joel Joel 3:18; Zec. Zec. 13:1; Zec. 14:8; John John 4:10; John 7:37-38; John 19:28; 1Cor. 1Cor. 10:4; Rev. Rev. 7:17+; Rev. 21:6+; Rev. 22:1-2+, Rev. 22:6+; Rev. 17:1+.

2 “Contrast the turbid ‘many waters’ on which the harlot ‘sitteth’ (Rev. Rev. 17:1+, Rev. 17:15+).”—A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 4:6.

3 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 94.

4 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 341.

5 Only one of the creatures is said to have a face like a man. The other creatures are simply said to have a likeness to a lion, ox, and eagle, respectively. We should not be dogmatic about whether it was their faces which bore the likenesses in all four creatures.

6 Cherubim are mentioned in Gen. Gen. 3:24; Ex. Ex. 25:18-20, Ex. 25:22; Ex. 26:1, Ex. 26:31; Ex. 36:8, Ex. 36:35; Ex. 37:7-9; Num. Num. 7:89; 1S. 1S. 4:4; 2S. 2S. 6:2; 2S. 22:11; 1K. 1K. 6:23-29, 1K. 6:32, 1K. 6:35; 1K. 7:29, 1K. 7:36; 1K. 8:6-7; 2K. 2K. 19:15; 1Chr. 1Chr. 13:6; 1Chr. 28:18; 2Chr. 2Chr. 3:7, 2Chr. 3:10-14; 2Chr. 5:7-8; Ezra Ezra 2:59; Ne. Ne. 7:61; Ps. Ps. 18:10; Ps. 80:1; Ps. 99:1; Isa. Isa. 37:16; Eze. Eze. 9:3; Eze. 10:1-9, Eze. 10:14-20; Eze. 11:22; Eze. 28:14, Eze. 28:16; Eze. 41:18, Eze. 41:20, Eze. 41:25; Heb. Heb. 9:5.

7 Barnhouse, Revelation, 97.

8 E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), 225.

9 M. R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group, 2002), Rev. 4:8.