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Previous: Revelation 4:4

The Surroundings 4:5-6b

And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. - Revelation 4:5-6b

At this point John's attention is drawn back to the great throne itself, and then again to activities that were happening around the throne. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. The power and majesty of God are symbolized by lightning (Greek astrape-"flashes of light"-- from aster, "star"), thunder (Greek bronte, "roar") and loud sounds (Greek phone). This resembles the awesome scene on Mt. Sinai when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments:

Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. - Exodus 19:16-19

An intense lightning storm can be a frightening experience. The worst storm I ever experienced was on a highway from Indiana to Chicago, when rain was so heavy the cars all had to pull over and stop for a while. One lightning bolt after another was discharged with its almost-deafening explosion of thunder. My family was terrified! It was a great relief when, after several minutes, the storm abated and we were able to continue our journey.

That intense storm caused my mind to turn instinctively to the Lord, in amazement of His creation, and in prayer for His protection. Insurance contracts often refer to storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters as "acts of God," and are usually excluded from coverage.

Fear of God's holiness and discipline is not a bad thing. King Solomon wrote:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction. - Proverbs 1:7

In the Mt. Sinai story the "heavenly fireworks" did not cause damage, but they were a stern reminder of the holiness and power of God. The throne in John's vision, and its divine occupant, who was both king and magistrate of the universe, was a mixture of indescribable beauty and of awesome power. Like the time just before the Ten Commandments were introduced, this symbolic description of the heavenly throne room preceded the judgments of the Tribulation Period.

This lightning, and its accompanying sounds, was apparently a constant phenomenon. Various judgments in the rest of the Book of Revelation will mention this spectacle (Revelation 8:5; 11:19: 16:18).

Surprisingly, there is one place on our planet that is known for its almost-continuous display of lightning. It is the area in Venezuela where the Catatumbo River empties into Lake Maracaibo. Because of the unique topographic and atmospheric conditions there lightning strikes up to 280 times per hour, 10 hours (night time) per day, nearly half of each year. (Catatumbo lightning, Wikipedia,, last accessed 5/1/2014)

Two images are said to be before the throne. Their position in front of God's throne emphasizes the importance of the things they symbolize. They represent God's wise and powerful dealing with the business at hand. In this case, the focus is on the prophecies that are about to be given concerning the dreadful period of time Jesus called "tribulation" (Matthew 24:3-14, especially v. 9), and "great tribulation" (Matthew 24:15-28, especially v. 21)." See Appendix A: Jesus' Own Outline of the Future, and Appendix D: Harmony of Prophecy Chart to understand the sequence of end times events.

The Tribulation will be a seven-year period of turmoil on earth. It corresponds to the 70th "week" of Daniel 9:27 and the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" from Jeremiah 30:4-7.

The first of the two important objects before the throne was identified. Seven lamps of fire were burning. The Greek word for "lamps" is lampas, meaning "torch." This is different from the lampstands in the previous chapters (Revelation 1:12-13,20; 2:1). Those were indoor light-holders, representing the seven churches of Asia. The lampstands were holders of the oil lamps, but the fire itself comes from the blessed Holy Spirit! In fact, according to Zechariah chapter 4, where a vision is given of two olive trees constantly supplying oil to the lampstand, even the oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit Zechariah 4:1-6).

Here in Chapter 4, these were outdoor torches, and as John MacArthur notes in his commentary, they could be considered war torches (Judges 7:16, 20; Nahum 2:3-4). (Macarthur, ibid., p. 151)

In Chapters 1 through 3 of Revelation the Holy Spirit was the fire, or light, in the lampstands (See notes on "The Need for the Fullness of the Holy Spirit" in Chapter 3, verse 1). In this fourth chapter, the Holy Spirit is seen, apart from the church, as the seven Spirits of God--the 7-fold spirit (Seven being the biblical number for perfection). He is the third person of the Trinity (See notes on Chapter 1, verses 4 and 5).

Again, before the throne-front and center, a second very important image is seen. There was a sea of glass, like crystal. Many interpretations of this sea have been suggested by various commentators. Some think it is symbolic of the mass of humanity, another way of describing the Holy Spirit, or the floor of heaven, making the scene on earth visible to those in the throne room.

When good Bible students have different ideas, it should not be disturbing. We will all discover in the future that our best attempts to understand prophetic events fall short of the actual fulfillment. That was the case in regard to the first coming of the Messiah. There were certain things that turned out just as they expected. For example, Herod's counselors said He would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-6), but no one could have written an accurate account of His whole life before it had all been fulfilled. That is why I often suggest how things might come to pass, without being dogmatic. Of course, whenever we find corresponding Scriptures that shed light on whatever we are studying, it makes it much easier to explain.

Back to the issue of the sea of glass, it probably fits the context best to see it as a symbol of tranquility in heaven, while there will be turmoil on earth. God is all-wise, almighty, and always just. As Moses said:

For I proclaim the name of the LORD:
Ascribe greatness to our God.
He is the Rock, His work is perfect;
For all His ways are justice,
A God of truth and without injustice;
Righteous and upright is He. - Deuteronomy 32:3-4

Next: Revelation 4:6c-8


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