“And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.” ~ Revelation 4:6, 9-11
The book of Revelation includes many descriptions of heaven and the new heavens and earth. One such description is found in the above passage. The image of “a sea of glass like unto crystal” is a beautiful one, and we do well to consider it alongside the words of the hymn which so effectively versifies the passage, By the Sea of Crystal, by William Kuipers.
The first verse of this hymn emphasizes the truths of the size and diversity of the body of Christ: “By the sea of crystal saints in glory stand, myriads in number, drawn from every land, robed in white apparel, washed in Jesus’ blood, They now reign in heaven with the Lamb of God.” The Bible speaks of the appearance of the body of Christ on multiple occasions, and it is a one of my personal favorite truths from Scripture. On the one hand, it is characterized as being absolutely immense. When Christ returns, we will be able to see the body of Christ in all its glory, and we will likely be stunned by its sheer size; the hymn’s word “myriads” will likely not even be able to do it justice. God will prove Himself faithful to His promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:17 to make his seed “as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore.”
Additionally, the body will be incredibly diverse. This too is found in Scripture; in Revelation 5:9, we read, “…for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” That God calls His people out of every corner of the earth and out of all races and peoples stands in stark contrast to what we would do. If we are honest with ourselves, the body of Christ would look much different if we were to pick its members than how it does in actuality. This is because, while man looks only on outward appearance, God judges the heart (I Samuel 16:7). God, who makes the true decisions on the body’s members, “is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). God elected the body in eternity entirely apart from any merit of theirs. That body will one day stand together, united by our status of justified, “robed in white apparel, washed in Jesus’ blood.” What a knowledge!
The final verse of the hymn is also quite striking. It begins by attributing all glory to God alone: “Unto God Almighty, sitting on the throne, And the Lamb, victorious, be the praise alone.” As did the 24 elders of Revelation 4, we will bow down at the feet of God’s throne, confessing that He is worthy “to receive glory, and honor, and power.” The song concludes with an amazingly powerful rhetorical question. We sing, “God has wrought salvation, He did wondrous things, Who shall not extol Thee, Holy King of Kings?” No person worldwide will be able to stand before the presence of the Lord in defiance; everyone will be forced to extol Him. Indeed, it will not simply be the 24 elders or the elect people of God who will bow before Him. We read in Romans 14:11, “As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” While it is impossible for us to fully comprehend this idea, it is still incredible to attempt to picture the scene, and doing so is enough to bring tears to the eyes of the child of God. We are again led to ask, “Who shall not extol Thee, Holy King of Kings?”