IV. THE SITUATION OF THE THRONE
A. Revelation 4:5
"And out of the throne come forth lightnings and voices and thunders. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God."
"And out of the throne come forth lightnings and voices and thunders." We see that God will execute judgment shortly. This throne is God’s throne of righteousness, His throne of judgment. "Lamps of fire" in the original text is "torches of fire." A lamp is used in the house, and a torch of fire is used outdoors. (The torch of fire used by the Greeks was in the shape of a trumpet and filled inside with linen or cotton soaked in oil. It was used outdoors where air was abundant.) There is, of course, only one Holy Spirit before God. The seven Spirits here indicate that the emphasis is on the work and effectiveness of the Holy Spirit. This perfectly corresponds with the meaning of the torches of fire (see Rev. 5:6; Isa. 11:2).
B. Revelation 4:6
"And before the throne there was as it were a glassy sea like crystal; and in the midst of the throne and around the throne, there were four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind."
A glassy sea is before the throne because the rainbow surrounds the throne. In Noah’s time, God covenanted that He would never again destroy the earth by water (Gen. 9:15). Here we see that the judgment by water is over; judgment will no longer be by the sea. In Revelation 15:2 the glassy sea is mingled with fire. In the new heaven and new earth, there will be no more sea. Nevertheless, there will be hell—the lake of fire. It is a lake, but a lake of fire. For this reason, Mr. Govett said that this glassy sea later becomes the lake of fire. According to him, the judgment will not be by means of a sea of water; rather, it will be by a lake of fire. This seems quite reasonable.
There is only one throne; therefore, "the midst of the throne" cannot be taken to mean the center of the throne. It can only be explained as the midst beneath the throne, that is, the central area under the throne. "Four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind." "Eyes" represent intelligence. If the eyes are closed, one cannot see the world. The eyes are those which have the most contact with the world. "Full of eyes in front and behind." This shows us that the four living creatures are very intelligent before God.
V. THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES
"And the first living creature was like a lion, and the second living creature like a calf, and the third living creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings apiece, are full of eyes around and within; and they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God the Almighty, who was and who is and who is coming."
Some have said that since the twenty-four elders signify the church, these four living creatures also signify the church. We have said previously that Revelation is not a book of signs. Anything in this book that is not used as a sign should be interpreted literally. If the twenty-four elders are the church, if they are a sign with so many numbers, how do we interpret the other numbers later on? Such an interpretation not only makes it difficult to understand, but it also makes it easy for us to lose the value of this book. Therefore, the four living creatures are not a sign, but rather are the representatives of the creatures in Revelation 5:13. (The angels are represented in 5:11.) The twenty-four elders are representatives of the angels in heaven, and the four living creatures are representatives of the living creatures on earth.
According to Genesis, the living creatures are of six classifications: (1) aquatics, (2) birds, (3) livestock, (4) insects (creeping things), (5) beasts, and (6) man. But according to Revelation 4:7, there are only four kinds:
(1) The lion is the king of beasts (Prov. 30:30).
(2) The calf is the king of livestock. (Among the livestock the calf is the biggest.)
(3) The man represents the human beings in the world. The man does not represent the church, for in the kingdom age "the earth will be full of the knowledge of Jehovah" (Isa. 11:9). During the age of the kingdom, the church will be divided between those who are merely saved and the overcomers. But in the new heaven and new earth there will be no such distinction. During the age of the kingdom, although the human beings on the earth will also believe in God, there will be no baptism in the Holy Spirit; hence, they will not become members of the Body of Christ. They can only believe as individuals. In the new heaven and new earth they will be restored only to the condition of Adam before he committed sin. They will eat fruit, sleep, marry, and give birth to sons and daughters, but they will no longer die, be sick, or sin, because they will no longer be tempted by the devil. (More will be examined later concerning this.)
(4) The eagle is the king of birds.
No creeping things or fish are mentioned. The largest creeping thing is the serpent; therefore, it has no representative here. The fish were not judged in the age of Noah, but all the other living creatures were. Furthermore, in the new heaven and new earth there will be no more sea. By this we can see that the fish will be judged only in the future; therefore, they also have no representative here.
Because of the influence of man’s fall, the whole creation is far from its original condition. Consequently, Romans 8:19 through 22 says that the whole creation expects to enter into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. When the Lord comes we shall be glorified, and the creation will be freed from the slavery of corruption. Only when the Lord comes will all things be restored (Acts 3:21). The effectiveness of the Lord’s death on the cross reaches not only man but all things (Col. 1:20). Hebrews 2:9 says "everything." The Lord tasted death on behalf of "everything," that is, for all created things. The preceding portion says "all things" (v. 8); the following portion says "everything" (v. 9). Hence in the future, not only man but all created things will be redeemed. The Lord Jesus is not only a man but also the Firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15; Rev. 3:14).
The four living creatures represent the redeemed living things before God. Among the four living creatures, the calf and man are clean, whereas the lion and the eagle are unclean. These two types of creatures stand before God with no distinction between clean and unclean because they are all redeemed. The lion and the eagle are ferocious, while the man and the calf are gentle. Yet because they are all redeemed, they can live together.
In the Old Testament there are two kinds of messengers: (1) the cherubim and (2) the seraphim. The cherubim have only four wings (Ezek. 1:6) and the seraphim have six (Isa. 6:2). The four living creatures here in Revelation resemble the four living creatures spoken of by Ezekiel—they have the faces of the cherubim (Ezek. 1:10) and the wings of the seraphim (Isa. 6:2). From this we see that the living creatures here are a combination of the cherubim and the seraphim. Cherubim are for God’s glory. Exodus 37:7 says, "And he made two cherubim of gold." This signifies the glory of the cherubim. Seraphim are for God’s holiness (see "holy" in Isaiah 6:3). Glory is related to God Himself. Holiness is related to God’s nature. Therefore, the four living creatures here manifest God’s glory and holiness. "The Almighty, who...is coming" means that He shall come. This indicates the Lord’s second coming.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 16: Study on Revelation, Chapter 4, by Watchman Nee)