But let us look a little further. In the book's picture language there are "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne." These we are plainly told "are the seven spirits of God." That is a Hebrew way of saying "the perfect spirit of God." This is of intense interest. The Holy Spirit is represented as being before the throne.
In the confidential talk with the inner group of disciples on the betrayal night, in John's Gospel, [Note: Joh_14:1-31; Joh_15:1-27; Joh_16:1-33.] Jesus promises that when He has ascended up to the Father He will send down the Holy Spirit to them. When the Spirit has come down to the disciples He will begin a new ministry of witnessing to the world through them.
In the Book of Acts that promise is fulfilled. The Spirit comes down with remarkable manifestations on the day of Pentecost. The distinctive thing He does is to take possession of a group of men and form them into a new witnessing body called the Church. He had dwelt in the nation of Israel as a nation, and had been withdrawn from that nation when it proved finally faithless to its mission. He had dwelt in individual men before and during and after that time.
At Pentecost He is sent down on a new mission. He is to do in men all that Jesus has done for them in His life and death and resurrection. But the distinctive thing of Pentecost is His forming this new body called the Church, through which He begins a new ministry of witnessing to the world.
All through the Acts and Epistles He is constantly spoken of as here on the earth working in the Church and through it. He in the Church is a powerful restraint upon the powers of evil in the world. In Thessalonians, [Note: 2Th_2:6-7.] Paul has spoken of a day coming when that restraint would be withdrawn. The Holy Spirit, the "One that restraineth now," is to be taken away.
Now here the Holy Spirit is represented as being, not in the Church, as always in the Acts and Epistles, but as being "before the throne." This is the second significant thing to note in this scene. This also would seem to suggest the beginning of a new order of things.
John goes quietly on with his description. Before the throne he sees a great expanse that looks like a sea of clear, bright, beautiful crystal. Before the throne and around about the throne are four living creatures or creatures of life. These living creatures are of intensest interest. They appear throughout the Scriptures from the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the very close of this Book of Revelation.
They are also called cherubim and seraphim, that is, cherubs and seraphs. They are always associated directly with the immediate presence of God, [Note: Eze_1:4-28; Eze_10:1-22.] and with His presence-chamber, in the tabernacle, [Note: Exo_25:17-22; Exo_37:6-9.] in the temple, [Note: 1Ki_6:23-26; 1Ki_8:6-7; 2Ch_3:10-14; 2Ch_5:7-8.] and in Ezekiel's vision of a new temple, [Note: Eze_41:15-26.] and in the thought of the people. [Note: 1Sa_4:4; 2Sa_6:2; 2Sa_22:11; 1Ch_13:6; Psa_18:10; Psa_80:1; Psa_99:1; Isa_6:1-3; Isa_37:16.] There is one possible exception to this, where they are seen at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. [Note: Gen_3:24.] The description of them is most full in Ezekiel. It varies in details, but with the essentials always the same.
The general appearance is that of a man, but there are four faces as of a man, a lion, an ox or calf, a flying eagle, and sometimes a cherub face. They are full of eyes everywhere, and they seem enveloped in the pure fire which everywhere is associated with God's own presence. These descriptions combined suggest perfection of purity, of intelligence, of obedience, and of power.
In this book of the Revelation they are spoken of seven times, [Note: Rev_4:6-9; Rev_5:6; Rev_5:8; Rev_5:14; Rev_6:1; Rev_6:3; Rev_6:5; Rev_6:7; Rev_7:11; Rev_14:3; Rev_15:7; Rev_19:4.] that is, more frequently than in any other book, though not so fully as in Ezekiel. Five times they are leading or joining in the worship of God, by men and angels, and twice they are coöperating with the Lamb or the angels in what is being done on the earth.
These beautiful, intelligent beings seem to represent the whole animate creation, man, the animals intimately associated in service with man, those that roam at will, and the birds, and the angels. It would seem as though they stand for God's ideal of creation, as it was before the hurt of sin came, as He holds it in His heart, and as it will be after sin has gone. His ideal of a perfect and perfected creation is always in His presence and before His face, intelligently and gladly carrying out His will, reverently and joyously sounding His praise.
It suggests that He will not rest content until His ideal for the creation shall be a sweet, full realization, all sin and rebellion removed and all His works uniting in joyous, continuous worship, and glad, harmonious obedience.