The Sea of Glass
Rev. 4:5 tells us that there were “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” It is not the lampstands, but the “fire burning before the throne” that represent the seven Spirits of God. We had already learned from Rev. 1:20 that the seven lampstands were the seven churches, and verse 16 says that in His hand Christ was holding the seven stars, which were the angels of the seven churches.
7 lampstands are the 7 churches
7 fires on the lamps are the 7 Spirits of God
7 stars in His hand are the 7 angels
Christ Himself was situated “in the middle of the lampstands” (Rev. 1:13).
Revelation 4:6 says,
6 and before the throne there was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal…
The laver in the tabernacle of Moses was built according to the pattern of this “sea of glass” that was before the throne. In God’s instructions to Moses about the way to construct the furniture for the tabernacle, God says in Exodus 25:40,
40 And see that you make them after the pattern [tabniyth] for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.
Moses saw the heavenly tabernacle and was told to duplicate it on earth according to that pattern, model, or blueprint. As for the laver itself, instructions were given to Moses in Exodus 30:18-21. It was to be built of bronze and placed “between the tent of meeting and the altar.” Its purpose was for the priests to” wash their hands and their feet, that they may not die.”
The heavenly temple thus had a sea of glass in front of it, presumably to cleanse those priests of God who would draw near to God’s throne in heaven. Did John need to wash his hands and feet when He was taken up to the throne of God? Nothing is said in Revelation 4, but the fact that it was like “glass,” having no ripples, suggests that it was unused or unneeded.
Cleansed by the Word
John was already cleansed by the word. In John 15:3 Jesus had told the disciples, including John,
3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”
Furthermore, Jesus had already washed the feet of the disciples in John 13:3-10, thus preparing them for an audience before the throne. Hence, the sea was like glass. Washing their feet was an outward sign or ceremony, but it was actually the word itself that had cleansed their hearts, qualifying them for immortality, “that they may not die.”
We read again of the “sea of glass” in Rev. 15:2, 3,
2 And I saw, as it were, a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had come off victorious from the beast and from his image and from the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. 3 And they sang the Song of Moses…
In this case the “sea” is no longer described as being “like crystal,” but as “a sea of glass mixed with fire.” Whereas John had seen the sea in front of the throne, here we see the overcomers “standing upon the sea of glass.” What does this mean? Certainly, in the tabernacle of Moses no priest ever stood in or upon the water of the laver.
First, this “sea” contained “fire.” As such it is connected to the “lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14, 15), which is the “fire” of God’s nature that purifies the hearts of men in order to qualify them for immortality. The lake of fire and the sea of glass serve the same purpose, except that one is for unbelievers, while the other is for believers (priests). The believers walk on the sea of glass, because they are no longer in need of divine purification. The unbelievers, however, must be cast into the lake of fire, because they need such purification.
This lake of fire also contains “brimstone,” that is, sulfur, which is a powerful cleansing agent as well as a substance that burns with intense heat. The Greek word for sulfur is theon, whose root word is theos, or “God, divinity.” It was a divine purifying agent. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon tells us, “brimstone was regarded as having power to purify.”
The Molten Sea
When Solomon built the temple, he made the laver larger than the one built under Moses. He built it according to the pattern (tabniyth) that was shown to his father, David (1 Chron. 28:11, 12). The Hebrew word is the same as the word used in Exodus 25:40, although the NASB chose to translate it “plan” in David’s instructions to Solomon.
In both cases the pattern, or plan, was given by divine revelation—first to Moses, and later to David. Both saw the heavenly pattern, but David saw something greater than what Moses saw. For this reason, he instructed Solomon to build a temple, rather than a tabernacle. This tells us that the heavenly patterns are not static, but progressive, as if to reveal the expected changes in the development of the Kingdom through time.
As for the laver, Solomon was instructed to build a “molten sea” (KJV) 1 Kings 7:23 (NASB) interprets this to mean,
23 Now he made the sea of cast metal ten cubits from brim to brim, circular in form, and its height was five cubits, and thirty cubits in circumference.
The laver was “thirty cubits in circumference,” which means it was roughly ten cubits in diameter. (30 divided by pi = 9.55 cubits.) Solomon placed this laver upon twelve oxen, three of which faced each direction. These oxen represent the twelve apostles. In general, an ox in Scripture represents a strong and obedient servant, and it is contrasted with the donkey, which is weaker and often stubborn. Hence also, donkeys represent those in Pentecost, while the oxen represent the overcomers in the feast of Tabernacles.
For this reason, the twelve oxen supporting the laver do not truly represent the twelve tribes of Israel, although certainly, the twelve tribes were called to become overcomers. However, they failed to reach that goal, and only the remnant of grace—that is, the overcomers—received the promise (Rom. 11:7).
It is interesting, then, that under Solomon the twelve oxen were positioned under the laver, while in Rev. 15:2 the overcomers were seen standing upon the sea of glass. They move from supporting the cleansing word to standing upon the word. Perhaps this indicates a shift in their calling from Pentecost to Tabernacles.
Removing the Oxen
More than two centuries after the temple of Solomon had been constructed, another shift took place in regard to the twelve oxen under the molten sea. King Ahaz of Judah (the father of Hezekiah) “sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, ‘I am your servant and your son’” (2 Kings 16:7). Ahaz bribed the king of Assyria to free Judah from paying tribute to the king of Syria.
The plan worked (2 Kings 16:9), but when Ahaz went to Damascus to meet with the Assyrian king, he became too impressed with the pagan altar that he saw in Damascus. 2 Chron. 28:23 says,
23 For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him, and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Aram helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they became the downfall of him and all Israel.
He then commanded Urijah the priest to build an altar patterned after the one in Damascus (2 Kings 16:10, 11). The original Bronze altar built under Solomon by the heavenly pattern was removed and placed on the north side of the new altar (2 Kings 16:14).
Likewise, 2 Kings 16:17 says,
17 Then King Ahaz cut off the borders of the stands, and removed the laver from them; he also took down the sea from the bronze oxen which were under it, and put it on a pavement of stone.
2 Chron. 28:24 says further that “he cut the utensils of the house of God in pieces; and he closed the doors of the house of the Lord.”
So in the time of apostasy, the twelve oxen were removed from their supporting role for God’s word (“water”). The same has been true during the Age of Pentecost, especially during the time when the Scriptures were hidden from the people for many centuries. The light of the word did not spread to the common people again until the invention of the printing press in the mid-1400’s. That event, as we will see, was prophesied in Rev. 10:2 in the vision of the “little book which was open.”
The Songs Overcomers Sing
It appears, then, in the progression of the Kingdom, that the overcomers (oxen) ought to support the word of God. Yet at the same time they are to stand upon the word as they teach it to the people. Their message, as depicted in Rev. 15:3, 4 is to sing the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. The words are given to us:
3 … Great and marvelous are Thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Thy ways, Thou King of the nations. 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou alone art holy; for all the nations will come and worship before Thee, for Thy righteous acts have been revealed.
Many today are willing to sing the Song of the Lamb, but shun the Song of Moses. The overcomers, however, understand that all Scripture is inspired revelation and that we are not to live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from God. When the word is truly taught, “all the nations will come and worship before Thee.” And why not? The Good News is that God has reconciled “the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19).
Seeing that we have such a great and good God, One who not only has made promises, but also has the power to keep His word, who wouldn’t worship Him? The central theme of the songs sung by the overcomers is the Restoration of All Things, when “all the nations will come and worship” Him.
The sea of glass was not just a pleasant part of the heavenly landscape. It portrayed everything that was revealed in the lavers built by Moses and by Solomon. Its most important function was to purify priests who were approaching God to minister to Him. In the end, all the nations will come to worship God, but they must all first be purified at the laver, the molten sea, or the lake of fire.