A preposition can make all the difference. As a case in point consider Revelation 15:2: “And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.”
John has seen this sea of glass before. In Revelation 4:6 he wrote, “Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal . . .” Revelation 4 is a description of the glorious throne room of God in heaven; before His glorious throne there is a sea of glass, like crystal. This is what John sees in Revelation 4; now he sees it again in Revelation 15. In Revelation 4 we have a description of the glorious throne room of God in heaven. In Revelation 15 we have a broader description of heaven itself, pictured to us here in terms of a temple (vv. 5, 6, 8).
You may remember the furniture that was present in the Old Testament temple and tabernacle. In the Holy of Holies was the ark of the covenant, the very throne of God on earth. In the Holy Place stood the altar of incense, just before the entrance to the Holy of Holies. On one side of the Holy Place stood the golden lampstand. On the other side of the Holy Place stood the table of showbread. In the outer court stood the bronze altar of sacrifice and the bronze laver.
It is to the bronze laver we must turn our attention if we are to understand our text. The bronze laver was called a “sea” in Solomon’s temple. It is described for us as such in 1 Kings 7:23–26, “And he made the Sea of cast bronze, ten cubits from one brim to the other; it was completely round. Its height was five cubits, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference. Below its brim were ornamental buds encircling it all around, ten to a cubit, all the way around the Sea. The ornamental buds were cast in two rows when it was cast. It stood on twelve oxen: three looking toward the north, three looking toward the west, three looking toward the south, and three looking toward the east; the Sea was set upon them, and all their back parts pointed inward. It was a handbreadth thick; and its brim was shaped like the brim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It contained two thousand baths.” The bronze laver was called a “sea” in Solomon’s temple.
We read of the construction of the original bronze laver under Moses in Exodus 38:8, “He made the laver of bronze and its base of bronze, from the bronze mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” The bronze laver—called a sea in Solomon’s day—was made from the bronze mirrors of the women. Imagine the brilliant appearance of that bronze laver—that sea—as the water reflected off the bronze and the glass. It must have looked like a sea of glass, a sea of crystal, if you will.
Remember where that sea of crystal—that sea of glass, that bronze sea, that bronze laver—stood: it stood in the outer court of the temple. It stood there for the purpose of washing. There the priests would wash themselves and cleanse themselves as they prepared to minister before God, whether in the Holy Place or, for the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, in the Holy of Holies. Such cleansing was needed, not only due to the defilement of sin, but also due to the blood of the sacrifices. The sea stood there as a continual reminder of the cleansing that was needed in order to approach God.
The sea pointed back, therefore, to that great event of the Old Testament in which the people of God were separated and cleansed, namely, the Exodus. It was in the Exodus—the Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea—that God separated and cleansed His people.
God set His people apart in the Passover. He set them apart by means of the blood of the sacrificial lamb. The blood of the sacrificial lamb was smeared on the doorposts of the Israelite homes in order to separate them from the Egyptians. Incidentally, the altar of sacrifice in the outer court of the tabernacle would remind the people of God of the blood of the sacrificial lamb that separated them from the Egyptians. That altar is also hinted at here in Revelation 15:2, as the sea of glass is mingled with fire—the fire of the altar of sacrifice.
God cleansed His people in the crossing of the Red Sea. He washed them, as it were, by bringing them through the waters of the Red Sea on dry ground. Later, Paul would call this the “baptism of Israel.” Even as the altar of sacrifice was intended to remind the people of the Passover—the Passover in which God separated them—so the bronze laver was intended to remind the people of the crossing of the Red Sea—the crossing of the Red Sea in which God cleansed His people.
These two pieces of furniture in the outer court of the tabernacle—the bronze altar of sacrifice and the bronze laver—were intended to remind the people of God that they were a separate and holy people, a people belonging to God. These two pieces of furniture were also intended to remind the people of God that they could not enter the presence of God unless they were separate and cleansed. Think of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement: he had to go through the outer court before he could enter the Holy Place and then the Holy of Holies. Sacrifices had to be made on the bronze altar. Cleansing had to take place at the bronze laver. Only then could the High Priest enter the presence of God.
That’s the significance, then, of the sea of glass in Revelation 15:2: in view is the bronze laver that stood in the outer court. That bronze laver signified the separation and cleansing of God’s people, as a people holy unto the Lord, a people whom God delivered from their enemies—a people whom God had delivered by His mighty hand, a people whom God had delivered by His outstretched arm—a people whom God had given the victory.
Victory is in view here also in Revelation 15:2. John sees “those who have the victory over the beast, over his image, over his mark, and over the number of his name . . .”
In Revelation 13 John saw the beast from the sea, vv. 1–10. Our study of that chapter led us to conclude that the beast from the sea represents all the world powers that have set themselves up against the Lord and against His Christ. This beast has great power; the dragon having given him his power, his throne, and great authority (13:2). This beast seems to possess power over death itself, for he has a mortal wound, but that deadly wound is healed. This is the way it is with world powers: just when one world power falls another one rises, and on and on it goes—world power never seems to die. This beast is powerful, and the entire world marvels at him and follows him (13:3). This beast blasphemes God (13:5–6). This beast is even given power to make war with the saints and to overcome them (13:7): he is given power to persecute the saints, to imprison the saints, and yes, even to kill the saints. And yet we are told that the saints here in Revelation 15:2 have been given victory over the beast. You see the point: world powers may persecute the saints, may imprison the saints, may even kill the saints, but the saints have the victory. Nothing can separate them from Christ—they have the victory over the beast—he cannot ultimately overcome them.
The saints also have the victory over the image of the beast. There comes another beast after the beast from the sea, namely, the beast from the earth. And the beast of the earth serves the beast from the sea. The beast from the earth “deceives those who dwell on earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (13:14–15). Whereas the beast from the sea possesses great power, the beast from the earth uses great deception. He is one who appears like a lamb, and speaks like a dragon (13:11). He is in the business of deception. By deception he would carry the saints away into the service of the beast from the sea, and ultimately into the service of the dragon, even Satan himself. And yet we are told that the saints here in Revelation 15:2 have been given victory over the image of the beast. You see the point: deception threatens the saints on every side, but the saints have the victory. Nothing can separate them from Christ—they have the victory over the image of the beast—he cannot deceive them.
The saints also have the victory over the mark of the beast. This is one of the tools the beast from the earth uses in his deception. “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive mark on their right hand or on their foreheads and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (13:16–17). One of the tools the beast from the earth uses is that of social excommunication: if you do not bear his mark, you cannot buy or sell; you will quickly lose your place in this world. And yet we are told that the saints here in Revelation 15:2 have been given victory over the mark of the beast. You see the point: the saints may be socially excommunicated, they may be left out, they may lose their place in this world, but the saints have the victory. Nothing can separate them from Christ. They have the victory over the mark of the beast; they do not bear his mark.
The saints also have the victory over the number of the beast. That number, we learned, was the number of man. His number is 666. Why 6? Because man was created on the sixth day—one day short of perfection. Man, if left to himself, will never reach the seventh day. Man, if left to himself, will never reach eternal rest. In view here is nothing less than the city of man, the kingdom of man—that kingdom that sets itself in opposition to the city of God, the kingdom of God. And yet we are told here in Revelation 15:2 that the saints have been given victory over the number of the beast. You see the point: the kingdom of man may set itself up against the kingdom of God, but the saints have the victory. Nothing can separate them from Christ—they have the victory over the number of the beast—they do not bear his number.
The saints are victorious over the beast, over his image, over his mark, and over the number of his name. And that victory is set before us most poignantly in the next statement here in Revelation 15:2, for where does John see the saints—those who have the victory? He sees them standing on the sea of glass!
Here we need to go back to 2 Chronicles 6:12ff., where King Solomon, at the dedication of the temple, made a bronze platform upon which to stand in the outer court. The Hebrew words that are translated “bronze platform” are the very same words that are used in Exodus 38:8 for “bronze laver.”1 Constructed above the bronze laver is the bronze platform upon which King Solomon stands. He stands on the bronze platform; he stands on the bronze laver; he stands on the sea of bronze; he stands on the sea of glass; he stands on the sea of glass, like crystal. And he stands as a victorious King—one who has been granted rest from His enemies all around. For what was Solomon’s kingdom, but a kingdom of peace—peace over the sea of nations? Solomon reigned in victory over all enemies!
Do you begin to understand the message of Revelation 15:2? This imagery of a victorious king—victorious over all his enemies—is now applied to you. John is referring to the saints—those separated by the grace of God—those cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. John is referring to you, dear Christian. He sees you in heaven, having the victory over the beast, over his image, over his mark, over the number of his name. He sees you in heaven, standing on the sea of glass.
How can that be? How can you have the victory over the beast, over his image, over his mark, over the number of his name? How can you stand on the sea of glass in victory? Only because you belong to Jesus Christ, who has won the victory over the beast, over his image, over his mark, over the number of his name. This is the victory that is now given to the people of God. And what a victory it is! We have a hint of this great victory here at the end of verse 2. For not only do we stand on the sea of glass, we have also been given harps of God. You may recall in 14:1–5 the redeemed of the Lord played harps and sang a new song. So also here. In view are all the saints of God, and they all have harps—harps of God—harps used to assist in singing the song that follows: the song of Moses and the Lamb.2
Before giving our attention to that song, we need to see our present position. We stand on the sea of glass in heaven. Victory is ours. Though Satan and his cohorts threaten us, though his minions seek to undo us, though he rages against us, we stand on the sea of glass in heaven. Victory is ours. Our place in heaven is secure.
And the best is yet to come. That is indicated by the fact that the sea of glass is in the outer court. It is a glorious position, to be sure, but we have yet to enter the Holy of Holies. We have yet to behold God face to face. Victory is already ours, but the best is yet to come! While we look forward to entering the true Holy of Holies, even the new heavens and new earth, John doesn’t want us to underestimate our position presently. Even as the bowls of wrath are being poured out, even as Satan attacks, even as this world passes away, we stand on the sea of glass. That’s our position presently!
A preposition can make all the difference. As a case in point consider Revelation 15:2. We do not merely stand “by” the sea of crystal; we stand “on” the sea of crystal. We do not merely stand by and observe the victory of our King. We are united to Him, and we participate in the victory of our King. And that, I would submit to you, is far more glorious still. Perhaps it is time to change the wording of the hymn to better reflect our present status in Christ: “On the sea of crystal, saints in glory stand . . .”
1. I am indebted to the late Rev. Charlie Dennison for this insight.
2. We’ll give attention to this song of triumph in a future article.
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan.