THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES IN HEAVEN
The four living creatures are described in Revelation 4:6-9; 5:6-14; 6:1-8; 14:3; 15:7 and 19:4. They are said to be “full of eyes in front and behind” and had the face of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle in flight. They each have six wings and are always saying “holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” These four living creatures closely resemble the four creatures described in Ezekiel 1:10 and Isaiah 6:2. It is not clear whether these passages are describing the same four living creatures, but it is very likely they are of the same exalted order of angels, whose main job is to worship God and speak His holiness (Revelation 19:4). In response to the worship of the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before God’s throne in agreement (Revelation 4:10-11). They exist to praise God forever before His throne, and they hold “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:6-14). This means that they hold the prayers of all believers throughout time, both the prayers of the past and those that will be prayed—a fragrant offering before God’s throne (Revelation 8:3-4). This eternal fragrance was first symbolized by the incense burning in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:6).
One of the most interesting aspects of the four living creatures is that they demonstrate that Jesus, the Lamb of God, is equal to God Himself. Their worship of the Lamb in Revelation 5:6-14 is clearly directed towards Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:5; 9-10), and they say “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:11-12) and “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13) and they fall down and worship the Lamb, along with “him who sits on the throne” —God, the Father. Scripture makes it clear that “the Lord is God; there is no other besides him” (Deuteronomy 4:35; 1 Kings 8:60). God spoke through Isaiah, saying, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5-6) and Jesus Christ also responded to the Pharisees’ question about His identity by saying “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Based on their subsequent attempt to stone Jesus, we know that His statement “I am” was taken to mean “I am God” and the Pharisees took it as blasphemy. But the words and worship of the four living creatures make it clear that Jesus was telling the truth.
2.0 FOUR LIVING CREATURES IN THE BOOKS OF EZEKIEL
Ezekiel’s vision of the four living creatures in Ezekiel chapter 1 are identified as cherubim in chapter 10 who are God’s throne bearers. Cherubim as minor guardian deities of temple or palace thresholds are known all over the Ancient East. Each of Ezekiel’s cherubim have four faces, that of a man, a lion, a cherub, and an eagle. However, their human shape appearances set them apart from the griffin-like cherubs and lamassu of Babylonia and Assyria. In their ability to move, Ezekiel’s cherubim do not need to turn, since they face all compass points simultaneously. This description of movement differs from the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6:2) who have an extra set of wings for their ability to fly.
3.0 FOUR LIVING CREATURES IN THE BOOKS OF ISAIAH
Isaiah 6:1-6 says: ‘In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar.
4.0 FOUR LIVING CREATURES IN THE BOOKS OF REVELATION
In Revelation 4:6–8, four living beings are seen in John’s vision. They had the face of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle, and they rest not day and night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come”, much as in Ezekiel but in a different order. They have six wings, whereas Ezekiel’s four living creatures are described as only having four. In verse 6, they are said to have “eyes all over, front and back”, suggesting that they are alert and knowledgeable, that nothing escapes their notice. The description parallels the wheels that are beside the living creatures in Ezekiel 1.18; 10.12, which are said to be “full of eyes all around”. The Hebrew word for “wheel” was also used in later Jewish literature to indicate a member of the angelic orders (1 Enoch 71.7; 3 Enoch 1.8; 7.1; 25.5-6, etc.). In this passage in Revelation, the four creatures surround “the one” on the red throne (which is of ruby and sardius), which is contrasted with the white throne in Daniel 7:9 and Revelation 20:11-15.
5.0 MEANING OF FOUR LIVING CREATURES
They had four faces: of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. They seem to be representative of various parts of God’s creation (the wild beasts, domesticated animals, humanity, and birds). These living creatures worship God continually. Significantly, each face belonged to a creature that embodies majesty, strength, and mightiness. The lion is a majestic wild animal, the bull an impressive domestic animal, the eagle a mighty bird, and man the crowning achievement of God’s earthly creation, the ruler of all other creatures on earth.
5.1 Creature Like a Lion
In describing the four living creatures, John says that the first “beast” was like a LION. A LION is the “King of the beasts” and represents majesty. Thus, symbolising the kingship of Christ, and Christ is portrayed in the Gospel of Mathew as “King of Kings”. Christ, as the promised son of David, received the authority to sit enthroned at God’s right hand. Before him all crowns must be thrown down. He is the supreme King of kings and Lord of lords (1Timothy 6:15, Acts 2:30-36, Revelation 19:16). “The courageous man whose heart is like that of a lion.” (2 Samuel 17:10; Proverbs 28:1) Based on such scriptures, the lion’s face pictures courageous justice.
5.2 Creature Like a Calf / Ox
The Second living creature is said to be “like a calf”. The word translated “calf” can also be translated as “bullock” or “heifer”. This of course, was an animal frequently used for sacrifice. CHRIST here is portrayed as “Sacrifice” for our sins and symbolising the priesthood of Christ. He washed away our sins in his blood. Mark in his Gospel presents “CHRIST as the SERVANT who was to be sacrificed.” Christ is the almighty King-Priest, who has made us kings and priests (Hebrews 8:1-2, Hebrews 9:24-28). “The power of a bull yields an abundant harvest.” (Proverbs 14:4) Based on such scriptures, the bull’s face, irresistible power. Throughout the book we see the labour of Jesus that Mark has recorded. There is no genealogy or record of Jesus’ birth and early life but directly after baptism goes straight to work with the sick and hurting of the people. More than any of the other gospels, there is an emphasis on the message Jesus was trying to get out to the people. It is recorded he preached to the people the good news and that was the message of the servant or labourer for God.
5.3 Creature Like a Man
The Third living creature “had a face as a man”, symbolising the humanity of Christ. The third creature would represent CHRIST as a MAN. The Gospel of Luke presents CHRIST as the Perfect Man. Also, as described in Philippians 2, Christ left His position of Glory with the Father and became a man so that He might die on the cross for our sin. Jesus Christ is Son of Man, one of us, born of woman, God made flesh, and he precedes us as the firstborn from the dead, yet remains close to us, knocking at our door, seeking to sup and abide with us (Revelation 3:20, Galatians 4:4, John 1:1,14). It must refer to a quality that could be portrayed, not by any animal, but by humans, who are made in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27) That quality—on earth, unique to humans—is highlighted by God’s commands: “You must love LORD your God with all your heart” and “you must love your fellow man as yourself.” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18) When we obey these commands by showing unselfish love, we reflect God’s own love. As the apostle John wrote, “we love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:8, 19) Hence, “the face of a man” represents love.
5.4 Creature Like an Eagle
The fourth living creature was “like a flying EAGLE”, symbolising the divinity of Christ. The eagle symbolizes Sovereignty and Supremacy. “An eagle flies upward,” and “its eyes look far into the distance.” (Job 39:27, 29) Based on such scriptures, the eagle’s face, far-seeing wisdom. Thus, the living creature represents CHRIST in all his DEITY. The Apostle John in his Gospel presents JESUS CHRIST as the SON OF GOD and shows His relationship with heaven. Jesus was truly God from eternity, heavenly, and having risen from the dead and ascended on high, lives forever far above all things (John 1:1, 1John 5:20, 1Timothy 6:16, Revelation 19:11-16).
Notice that John does not describe these creatures except to liken them to something that someone would be familiar with, if they had read the book of Ezekiel. Especially notice the words “like” and “as” used in his account. John further describes the four creatures as having six wings each and being full of eyes within.” While John could only describe the beasts by comparison, he is very precise in telling what they do”, And they rest not day and night, saying, ” HOLY, HOLY, HOLY LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, which was, and is, and is to come”.
More specifically, all life created by God: humans, wild animals (lion), tame animals (ox), and birds (eagle). The creatures may represent four facets of Jesus. The lion, king of all beasts, shows Christ’s ruling authority. The calf (ox) parallels Jesus’ sacrifice for mankind. The eagle is a fitting portrayal of Jesus’ majesty while the human face is symbolic of Jesus’ humanity.
The four living creatures are surely something on which to meditate! Someday soon we shall actually see these wonderful creatures, maybe touch them, possibly speak with them. When meditating on such things is can be difficult to actually visualize the sights that will be seen in the future. Whatever the reality. when we, who love GOD, finally see these creatures, we can be assured that God has prepared the scene for us long ago.