What does the hymn mean that we'll be 'gathered by the crystal sea'?
We sang a song last Sunday written by Francis H. Rowley in 1886. You may be familiar with the words:
“Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story Of the Christ Who died for me, Sing it with the saints in glory, Gathered by the crystal sea.”
I’ve been thinking about that crystal sea ever since. It is a reference to Revelation 4:6 and 15:2 where John says there is a ‘sea of glass like crystal’ and a ‘sea of glass mingled with fire’ near the throne of God. What does this mean? Clearly it is an oxymoron to say there was a sea of glass, since one moves and the other is stationary.
Another Bible reference helps us in clarifying what the floor in the throne room of God looks like.
“Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself” (Ex. 24:9-10 NLT).
So we can understand that surrounding God’s throne is a tranquil peacock blue sea that shines with flaming brilliance like perfectly clear crystal.
To me, that speaks of God’s dominion from sea to sea (Psa. 72:8), His blessings like showers upon the earth (Psa. 72:6), His name enduring forever (Psa. 72:16) and His knowledge and righteousness filling the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:4) but I think this is missing the point of what the “sea” is all about.
Going back to the tabernacle in the wilderness there was a bronze laver, or water-filled bowl on a pedestal stand, that was used by the Israelite priests to wash their hands and feet when they entered the sanctuary. In Solomon’s temple there was a “Molten Sea”, a large basin that was used similarly for the ablution of the priests. In both cases, the priests had to physically cleanse themselves before entering into the presence of God.
In God’s dwelling place itself, no one can approach Him unless they are fully washed and made pure in the crystal sea. The throne of God was “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1) so it was actually set over and above the crystal sea. That this is all referring to Jesus in His glory was confirmed by the apostle John (John 12:41).
Going back to Revelation 15 we read about all those who were victorious over the beast, his image, the mark and the number of his name were standing on the sea of glass playing harps and singing the song of the Lamb, proclaiming Jesus as the King of the saints whose name alone is holy.
We are in the closing days of earth’s kingdoms and this reality will soon be realised by all who accept Jesus as their King in this day and age.