Welcome back! This is the third post in our series on Revelation chapters 4 and 5. We’ve now come to the last section of Revelation chapter 4. We’re going to look at the very fascinating subject of the “four living creatures.” John called these strange-looking creatures “the living beasts,” but in the book of Ezekiel, they are called cherubims. Let’s just say they’re a unique kind of angel. Let’s get started!
Revelation Chapter Four
Third in a Seven-Part Series
by Karen Thompson
The Four Living Creatures
Rev. 4:6 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. 7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. 8And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
Next, John described two more additional things he saw before the throne. He said, “before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal….” It was so clear that he described it as being glass, like crystal. This sea of glass before the throne represents the pure river of life that will flow out of the throne of God in the new Jerusalem when God, once again, dwells with mankind. John described this sea in Revelation 22:1: “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
Then around the throne were four beasts—very unusual beasts: “And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.” One was like a lion, another like a calf, another had the face of a man, and the last one had the face of an eagle. In verse eight, John went on to describe how each of these beasts had six wings, or three pair of wings. The most unusual thing about these beasts was their eyes: “and they were full of eyes within….” Some interpret this to mean they had eyes within their wings.
John said the four beasts worshiped God saying “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” Their worship reflects God’s eternal nature (which was, and is, and is to come). Day or night, they never stop offering up this worship; it was continuous, without end. How interesting! Their worship reflecting God’s eternal nature is offered up to God—eternally!
Who are these four beasts? What do they represent? Some have claimed they represent the four New Testament Gospels: The book of Matthew is supposed to represent Jesus as king in the face of the lion; Mark is supposed to represent Him as a servant in the face of the calf; Luke is supposed to represent His humanity in the human face; and lastly, John is supposed to represent His deity in the face of the eagle. Though this sounds spiritual, there is no scriptural foundation for this interpretation. It is merely speculation.
The prophet Ezekiel saw these same beasts when he had a vision of the glory of God; only he called them “living creatures” instead of beasts. He experienced this vision during the time of the exile when he was living in Babylon. In the vision, Ezekiel saw a whirlwind come out of the north. He described a great cloud and fire folding in on itself. Then out of the fire came “four living creatures.” He described them in the first chapter:
And out of the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures… And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man, But each one had four faces and each one had four wings.And their legs were straight legs, and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot, and they sparkled like burnished bronze. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides. And the four of them had their faces and their wings thus: Their wings touched one another; they turned not when they went but went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they each had the face of a man [in front], and each had the face of a lion on the right side and the face of an ox on the left side; the four also had the face of an eagle [at the back of their heads]. Such were their faces. And their wings were stretched out upward [each creature had four wings]; two wings of each one were touching the [adjacent] wing of the creatures on either side of it, and [the remaining] two wings of each creature covered its body. And they went every one straight forward; wherever the spirit would go, they went, and they turned not when they went. In the midst of the living creatures there was what looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; the fire was bright and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures darted back and forth like a flash of lightning. (Eze. 1:5–14 Amp.).
John and Ezekiel’s descriptions of the living creatures vary slightly. Ezekiel said their basic form was that of a man’s; John said they each had eyes all around and within. Ezekiel said their legs were straight like a man’s legs, but their feet were like the feet of a calf, meaning hooves. He also said they each had four faces, not just one. On their front, they had the face of a man. To the right, they had the face of a lion. And to the left, they had the face of an ox (or calf). And on the back side, they had the face of an eagle.
John said they each had six wings, or three sets of wings. Ezekiel said they had four wings, or two sets of wings. Ezekiel said with one set of their wings, they covered their bodies. They stretched their other set of wings out and upward so that each of their wings touched the wings of the living creature next to it. And they had human hands under their wings.
Ezekiel described them as being shiny like polished bronze, as though having been in fire. There are several descriptions of beings in heaven that are described in this way. Some speculate that it is a result of being in the presence of God’s glory. His glory is energy and power that looks like fire and lightning. In the midst of them, he described coals of fire that moved among the living beings like flashes of lightning. One can imagine a sort of energy like electricity shooting back and forth among them. Ezekiel said this was a vision of the glory of the Lord (Eze. 1:28). When he saw it, he fell to the ground on his face.
Living Creatures Are Cherubims
The living creatures are actually cherubims. We know this because through the rest of his book, Ezekiel called the living creatures “cherubims.” For example, Ezekiel 10:16 says, “And when the cherubims went, the wheels went by them: and when the cherubims lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the same wheels also turned not from beside them.” The living creatures, or cherubims, do not perform the sort of tasks that we see other angels performing. They are a special sort of angelic being.
If we look in scripture at all the places where we see cherubims, it will help us identify what cherubims represent. The first time we hear about them in scripture is in Genesis after Adam and Eve had sinned and fell from the glory of God and were cast out of the Garden of Eden. They were exiled from the Garden of Eden to keep them from the tree of life. In Genesis, it says cherubims were posted at the east entrance to keep them out of the garden: “So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24).
After this verse in Genesis, every time we see the cherubims, they are always in the presence of God. When both John and Ezekiel saw them, they were in the midst of God’s throne. We see this replicated in the earthly tabernacle as a type and shadow. In the book of Exodus, God directed Moses to create a type, or shadow, of God’s heavenly tabernacle, or throne room. In verses 18–22, we read about the cherubims: “And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof. And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be. And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel” (Exo. 25:18–22).
God told Moses to create two cherubims to place on either end of the mercy seat, facing each other, toward the mercy seat. He was also directed to embroider cherubims on the curtains of the tabernacle (Exo. 26:1). Just like in Ezekiel’s vision, their wings were to touch each other’s. The mercy seat is a type and shadow of God’s throne in heaven. In verse 22, the Lord said He would talk with Moses from the mercy seat between the two cherubims. Again, notice how the cherubims are always placed in the midst of where God is; they always dwell in His presence. Over and over in the Bible, God is referred to as the One who dwells between the cherubims or the One that sits between the cherubims. (Ps. 80:1, Ps. 99:1, Isa. 37:16)
Ezekiel called the cherubims “living” creatures. Have you noticed that no other of God’s created beings are referred to as living? It seems redundant to call them living because all of His created beings are alive and living. So why are the living creatures referred to as living? What do they represent?
Simply put, the cherubims represent God’s creation; more specifically, they represent the “living” creatures in His creation. The lion represents the wild beasts. The ox, or calf, represents the gentle beasts. The eagle represents the winged creatures. And, lastly, man represents mankind. The physical forms of the living creatures are an amalgamation of all the living creatures of God’s creation: wings like birds, hands and legs like humans, and feet like a calf.
When you see them in scripture, they are always associated with God’s creation on earth. It was the cherubim that guarded the Garden of Eden, not regular angels. And when they speak in the book of Revelation, it is in connection with God’s creation on earth.
Also, the fact that John saw four living creatures and Ezekiel also saw four living creatures, each with four faces, is not without significance. Those who study numbers in scripture say the number four is associated with God’s earthly creation. You see creation connected with the number four both in Scripture and in nature. For instance, the first four seal judgments in Revelation all have to do with the coming destruction of earth through warfare. The last three seals are something else. And the first four trumpet judgments all have to do with destruction of earth. The last three trumpet judgments are something else. It’s the same with the bowl judgments.
As noted earlier, there are four phases of God’s judgment poured out on earth. Each phase of judgment was initiated with “lightnings, thunderings, and voices” (Rev. 4:5, 8:5, 11:19, 16:18). Also, the Bible often talks about the “four corners of the earth.” We see the number four associated with creation in nature. There are four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. There are four divisions of the day: dawn, day, evening, and night. There are four directions: north, south, east, and west. There are four elements: earth, air, fire and water. These are just a few examples of how things associated with earth comes in fours.
We’ve established that the four living creatures represent God’s living creation on earth. And now we will answer the question as to why the living creatures are always seen in God’s presence. The living creatures represent God’s desire to live in the midst of His creation again. Since the fall of mankind, God has not been able to dwell with the living beings of His creation, because His presence would consume them in their sinful state. (Remember, He is a consuming fire: Heb. 12:29; Deut. 4:24.) As God dwells in His heavenly tabernacle in the midst of the living creatures, the living creatures serve as a reminder to Him and a promise to mankind that He will once again dwell in the midst of His beloved creation as He once did in the Garden of Eden.
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