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Notes on the Book of Revelation: Chapter 4, Part 3

Posted by lehunt on February 11, 2017

Caedmon Manuscript // Larry Hunt Bible Commentary

A Cherub expelling Adam and Eve from Paradise, Caedmon Manuscript

v. 6: John describes “a sea of glass, like crystal.”  I do not know exactly what this sea is supposed to be or to represent, but I suspect that the image is related to the dome shining like crystal in Ezekiel 1:22.  I wonder if this sea is what Solomon had in mind when he had the Sea made for the temple?[9] I believe the image recurs in Revelation 15:2 in the “sea of glass mixed with fire.”  The sea of glass mixed with fire is an allusion to the Red Sea.  I say this because the people of God who are standing beside this sea of glass mixed with fire sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.  The song of Moses (which foreshadows the later song of the Lamb) is in Exodus 15:1-18.  Moses leads the Israelites in singing it after they have all passed safely through the Red Sea.  Often, the sea (or any body of water) represents death and the forces of chaos over which God has power and out of which he brings life and order.  Paul describes the passage through the Red Sea in this light by comparing it to baptism[10] (1st Corinthians 10:1-2).   Other images confirm this view of the sea.   It is the chaotic “face of the deep” in Genesis 1. Peter compares the flood of Noah to Baptism (1st Peter 3:18-21). I believe when Christ walked on the sea (Matthew 14:25-26), he was giving a demonstration of his power over it, i.e., over the forces of death and chaos.  Compare this with Job 9:8.  Note also Matthew 8:26-27 and compare with Psalm 89:9-10.  Jonah, in the belly of the fish (in the depths of the sea) is also an image of death, and when he emerges it is symbolic of rebirth.  This is why Jesus uses Jonah to allude to his own death and resurrection (Matthew 12:39-40).  Perhaps also the sea is symbolic of death in Revelation 21:1 when John writes, “[T]he sea [i.e., death] was no more.”  But the sea may be used as a metaphor for other things than death and chaos, and the sea of crystal here in 4:6 seems like a permanent, positive feature of God’s presence, which makes it difficult to interpret as death or God’s authority over death, since death will be no more at some point.  If it really is an allusion to the “dome” in Ezekiel 1:22, perhaps an understanding of that dome would help.

Since these creatures are so similar to the cherubim in Ezekiel 1, I believe they are cherubim also.  Oecumenius does not believe that they are cherubim because their features differ in some ways from those of the cherubim in Ezekiel 1, but this seems like a weak reason to reject John’s living creatures as cherubim.  Even within the book of Ezekiel, the features of cherubim differ from vision to vision.  In Ezekiel 1:6,10, each cherub has four faces: human (in the front?) lion on the right, ox on the left, and eagle (on the back?).  But in Ezekiel 41:18-20, the images of the cherubim carved on the temple walls depict them with two faces: a human face on one side and a young lion face on the other.  Furthermore, the giant statues of  cherubim in the temple’s Most Holy Place (1st Kings 6:23-28) seem to have two wings a piece, whereas those in Ezekiel 1:6 have four wings.  (I think it is interesting that, if one adds these two giant statues of cherubim to the two images of cherubim on the lid of the ark itself, four cherubim are represented in the Holy of Holies, just as there are four cherubim here in John’s vision.)

v. 7: I feel certain that every feature of these cherubim should represent something, but I do not know what most of it means.  I believe the fact they have eyes all over represents their vigilance as guardians (Genesis 3:24) and possibly the omniscience of God, who sees all.  The fact that they are on all four sides of God’s throne may also represent both of these qualities: they are positioned in every direction (omniscience/omnipresence) and surround God like an honorguard.  However, what each individual animal represents is beyond me.  Oxford believes that they represent “humankind and all animals” but does not say why humankind and all animals are represented in an angel’s form.  What is such a representation trying to say?  Johnson claims that all of animated nature is represented in these four: humans, wild beasts of prey (lion) domestic animals (ox) and fowls of the air (eagle) but he does not cite any Biblical source justifying this belief and the list is not really comprehensive.  What about wild creatures that are not beasts of prey?  And is an eagle not a wild beast of prey?  Oecumenius also believes that these four represent the living creatures of earth, but extends the symbolism, writing, “[S]ince every living body is composed of the four elements…each of the living creatures represents one of these” (57-58).

All three commentaries agree that the four living creatures represent all of animated creation.  I like that idea, but the specific connections which these commentaries make seem a little arbitrary.  The first chapter of Genesis would be a much better starting point for trying to explain how these four creatures might be connected to animated creation in general.  Genesis 1 gives the impression of categorizing animated creation into four groups, but the groups seem to be: fish (all things living in the water), birds (all things that fly in the air), land animals (all things, except humans, that live on land), and humans, who rule over the other three orders of animals.[11] Since these four living creatures do not seem to conform to those categories, I suspect that they represent something other than animated creation, but what that is I do not know.  They do all have one common feature: power, the power of authority in the human, and the power of ferocity and/or strength in the other three animals.

 

[9] See my Key for Solomon’s Temple in my notes on 2nd Chronicles.  The sea in the temple is described in 2nd Chronicles 4.

[10] Baptism is itself symbolic of death.  See Romans 6:4

[11] See also 1st Corinthians 15:39.

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