The next thing that we see in this scene in heaven is the angels of God worshipping around the throne. “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.” The sea of glass like crystal answers to the molten sea in the temple. It was the place of cleansing as one entered into the tabernacle and/or temple. There is no doubt in my mind that this with the cherubim completes the pattern of heavenly things seen in the tabernacle and temple. Further, there is some debate about the significance of the sea of glass. Some see it as a picture of the blood of Christ which cleanses away all sin. Others believe that it is a picture of the body of believers who are at rest before the throne; among other ideas. The sea of glass answers to firmament as seen in the vision of Ezekiel as being upon the heads of the cherubim (Ezek. 1:22). The idea is given that God in His omniscience sees all things through the prism of heaven or as Gill would say, “… all things in [the earth] are open and manifest to the omniscient eye of God….” Is it possible that those who have passed into the heavens being cleansed forever from sin will look back down from heaven as witnesses to the judgment of this earth? Certainly we will rejoice at the victory of Christ. Is this the prism through which we will look and make up that great cloud of witnesses? When the four beasts cry out for those in heaven to “come and see” will it be through this prism? That is a bit of exciting conjecture to which I will only commend to you.
That brings us to the four beasts. This also fits with the pattern of things in heaven. In the tabernacle on earth the cherubim were on the mercy seat as well as woven in the pattern of curtains of the tabernacle. Not everyone agrees to the idea that the four beast (or four living creatures) are angels (i.e. cherubim). Most of those ideas border on pure conjecture. Some see them as pictures of the redeemed and others see them as pictures of officers in the church or others yet see them as the writers of the four gospels personally or in type as we shall see. The problem with these views is they are not supported by the Scripture while the view that they are angels (i.e. cherubim) is supported by the Scripture. If we have a plain correlation between several Scriptures then we must take the obvious interpretation. The seraphim were depicted in the sixth chapter of Isaiah who saw the Lord on His throne. They cried “Holy, Holy, Holy” as these did and they too are described as having six wings as these do. The description of the cherubim in the first chapter of Ezekiel fits almost perfectly with these in our text as they are described; with the exception that they have four wings while those in our text only have six. That leads us to believe one of the following: Ezekiel only reported what he saw and they had six wings but he only saw four or cherubim and seraphim are different names for the same kind of creatures some of which have six wings and some of which have four. I opt for the second answer. They also answer to the four spirits described by Zechariah which are particularly connected with God’s dealing with this earth (Zech. 6:5). Johnson summed it up best like this: “When man sinned, it was cherubim who guarded the way to the tree of life. In the tabernacle cherubim hovered over the mercy seat and were figured upon the curtains. The Almighty is addressed elsewhere as the One who dwells between the cherubim. The brightness of the glory of the Lord is represented as attending them in Ezekiel; and in the vision of John they are “in the midst of and around the throne.” In the fifth chapter the Lamb stands “in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts.” In some way the cherubim are immediately about the throne of God. The forms seen by Isaiah, Ezekiel and John have a symbolical significance. These angelic intelligences represent the courage of the lion, the patient strength of the ox, the intellect of the man, and the swiftness of the eagle. They are full of eyes, or see all things; their wings are always in motion, or they are distinguished by tireless activity, and the continually cry, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty;” or, without ceasing they minister to the glory of God. Thus much can be said concerning the “four beasts,” or “cherubim,” without indulging in speculation. Cherubim are present at the fall of man; cherubim also celebrate his redemption and the triumph of the reign of Christ.”
They are described as being in the midst and around the throne. They are centered specifically on the being of God. They hovered over the throne and seem in our text to be directing worship toward God. They are described as having eyes before and behind them and within them as stated in the eighth verse. Gill stated that this showed that they were “watchful in doing the will of God, may be signified by their being “full of eyes behind, and before, and within”….” They saw their own folly with their eyes within which may be the reason why they covered their face and their feet when they worshipped God in Isaiah. They are described rather uniquely. “And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.” Many interpret these to be the pictures of the four gospels to which I will not argue as long as you still see them as actual creatures acting throughout this book. Jamieson gave an apt explanation of the pictures of the gospel here found: “The Fathers identified them with the four Gospels, Matthew the lion, Mark the ox, Luke the man, John the eagle: these symbols, thus viewed, express not the personal character of the Evangelists, but the manifold aspect of Christ in relation to the world (four being the number significant of world-wide extension, for example, the four quarters of the world) presented by them severally: the lion expressing royalty, as Matthew gives prominence to this feature of Christ; the ox, laborious endurance, Christ’s prominent characteristic in Mark; man, brotherly sympathy with the whole race of man, Christ’s prominent feature in Luke; the eagle, soaring majesty, prominent in John’s description of Christ as the Divine Word.” Others see the description as the type of character which the possessed. Johnson pointed that “each is represented by what, in the eyes of a Hebrew, would be regarded as its highest type.” It said of Lucifer, who was the anointed cherub, that he was more subtle than any beast and here these cherubim are described with the highest types. Gill stated that “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”….”
These are the servants that minister to the people of God and their first act in this scene is to lead us in worship. “And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” They unceasingly are ministering in this way. They are not beings at rest in heaven as the believers but they are beings at work in leading worship day and night. They lead us to worship above all His thrice holiness that belongs to the Father, Son, and Spirit. Holiness is the most striking character of God and it will be the first thing that we will be led to adore. It fits prophetically with the worship of the thrice holy God who dwells between the cherubim in the book of Psalms (Ps. 99:3, 5, 9). They lead us to worship the one that is as the LORD (Jehovah), the Creator and beginner of all things (as God), and as the one who can do all things (omnipotent) as the Almighty. Every aspect of God is highlighted in His worship. They lead us to worship the God that is and was and is to come. To this the saints will join in and it will end with them casting their crowns before Him that sat on the throne.