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The Four Creatures (living beings) 4:6c-8

And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:
"Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!" - Revelation 4:6c-8

As already mentioned, the various elements of this vision are symbolic. They are meant to convey truth about the supernatural realm in the terms of natural sights and sounds. Nevertheless, they represent real concepts in the heavenly realm.

So far in this chapter God Himself and His throne have been described in these symbolic ways. Now the vision elaborates on an aspect of the God on His throne that is beyond human comprehension-the biblical truth that God is omnipresent. The God of the universe is greater than His creation, and the Bible does not tell us that He has retired to some distant place in outer space, but that He is everywhere-present, and is intimately involved in the governance of His world (Psalm 139:7-12; Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 23:23,24; Amos 9:2,3).

To describe this difficult concept, God's throne is depicted as movable, and the force that transports the throne comes from four powerful beings. They are said to be in the midst of the throne, and around the throne. Together, they encompass or even encapsulate the royal chair, perhaps the way a large carriage might have served as a travelling throne for an earthly king.

These entities were described as four living creatures. The Greek word is zoon, meaning "animal." Our word "zoo" is also derived from this word. It is translated here, "living creature."

John was surprised by the unexpected scene. In his amazement, he reported that the creatures were full of eyes in front and in back. It is safe to say that no earthly creature would fit that description. Ezekiel had a strikingly similar revelation. In his vision these creatures were covered with eyes (Ezekiel 1:18; 10:12). This was symbolic of the omniscience (all-knowing) attribute of God.

The imagery of this portion is almost identical to Ezekiel chapter 1 where the Old Testament prophet also describes a vision of the throne of God, being carried by four "living creatures."

Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves' feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze. The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings. Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward. - Ezekiel 1:4-9

Now as I looked at the living creatures, behold, a wheel was on the earth beside each living creature with its four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the color of beryl, and all four had the same likeness. The appearance of their workings was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they moved, they went toward any one of four directions; they did not turn aside when they went. As for their rims, they were so high they were awesome; and their rims were full of eyes, all around the four of them. When the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, because there the spirit went; and the wheels were lifted together with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When those went, these went; when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up together with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. - Ezekiel 1:15-21

These four beings are identified in Ezekiel 10:1-27 as cherubim. Theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer described cherubim as angelic beings that defend God's holy character and presence. (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2,(Binghamton, N.Y.: The Vail-Ballou Press), p. 17.)

Still further into Ezekiel's book, Satan was said to have been one of the cherubim before his rebellion (Ezekiel 28:12-19; See the discussion of fallen angels in the notes in Volume 1, Chapter 2, verse 13).

When God gave building plans for the Tabernacle and its furnishings, He prescribed gold figures of two golden cherubim covering the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. The cherubim were fashioned to face one another with their wings covering the Mercy Seat, the place where God would meet with the human race (Exodus 25:17-22; Hebrews 9:5).

In Perelandra, the second of C.S. Lewis' science-fiction series, he imagined a time when two angels, who were the presiding spirits of Mars and Venus, wanted to reveal themselves to lesser beings. They were on Venus, but at the time they were communicating to Ransom, a man from Earth:

"Let us appear to the small one here," said the other. "For he is a man and can tell us what is pleasing to their senses… look on this and tell us how it deals with you."
A tornado of sheer monstrosities seemed to be pouring over Ransom. Darting pillars filled with eyes, lightning pulsations of flame, talons and beaks and billowy masses of what suggested snow, volleyed through cubes and heptagons into an infinite black void. "Stop it . . . stop it," he yelled, and the scene cleared. He gazed round blinking on the fields of lilies, and presently gave the eldila to understand that this kind of appearance was not suited to human sensations. "Look then on this," said the voices again. And he looked with some reluctance, and far off between the peaks on the other side of the little valley there came rolling wheels. There was nothing but that--concentric wheels moving with a rather sickening slowness one inside the other. There was nothing terrible about them if you could get used to their appalling size, but there was also nothing significant. He bade them to try yet a third time. And suddenly two human figures stood before him on the opposite side of the lake.
(C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, Kindle version 3004-3016. Also on Rulit. Accessed May 9, 2014.

Theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer, cites biblical references about the power of angels that are equally impressive. He mentioned the account in 2 Samuel 24:16-17, when one angel destroyed 70 thousand people! (Chafer, Ibid, p. 16.)

In his classic book about Heaven, Randy Alcorn points to these verses as evidence that there will be animals there. Some who believe there will not be angels in heaven claim that there would be no purpose for them, but Alcorn says that these "cherubim" probably predate the existence of humans, and are the primary source of praises to God in the heavenly scene. (Randy Alcorn, Heaven; [Wheaton, Illinois; Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 2004], pp. 378-379.) /font>

The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.

The four faces of the cherubim depict the highest representatives of several categories of earthly creatures: the lion, king of wild beasts; the ox (calf), king of domesticated beasts; the eagle, king of flying creatures; and man, the one to whom dominion of all earthly creatures is given. The purpose of these symbols may be to impress us with the nature and extent of God's government.

God's omnipresence was symbolized by the extreme mobility of His throne, being borne by these cherubim. Likewise, His omniscience was depicted by the plethora of eyes in the creatures.

The faces of the various animals and man are symbolic of His omnipotence. In his commentary on Revelation, Barnes says, "It was not unusual for the thrones of monarchs to be supported by carved animals of various forms, which were designed undoubtedly to be somehow emblematic of government-either of its stability, vigilance, boldness, or firmness. Thus Solomon had [six] lions carved on each side of his throne." (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Revelation; [Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1954], 113) (1 Kings 10:18-20)

Some commentators also see in these four faces a type (or picture) of the different ways that the four Gospels present the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew shows Him to be the lion-as King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2; 3:2; 7:21; 13:11; 27:37); the Son of David (Matthew 1:1; 21:9). Mark describes Jesus as an ox: the servant of all (Mark 10:45), and the suffering Savior (Mark 15:34). In Luke Jesus is portrayed as the perfect man (Luke 5:24; 19:10). In John's Gospel Jesus resembles an eagle in the sense that He has descended from Heaven as the Son of God (John 3:16; 20:31).

The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. This is the first mention of the creatures' wings, but it has already been discussed because of the connection with Ezekiel's vision and the gold figurines on the Ark of the Covenant. The many eyes have also been discussed, but this unusual feature was evidently so impressive to John that he mentioned it again.

Next, John described what these cherubim were doing: And they do not rest day or night. We humans all get tired after a full day's activities. We need our sleep, and we enjoy it. That's just the way God created us. But the Bible describes our future immortality in a "spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). There will be tireless activity in the Heavenly Jerusalem, where there is no night (Revelation 21:1-22:5). These facts suggest that someday we will be like the angels, not really needing rest.

It is interesting that Randy Alcorn, an expert on the subject of Heaven, agrees that we will not get fatigue in Heaven, but since sleep is enjoyable, he thinks that we will probably sleep there, just as we will be able to eat. (Mark 14:25). (Alcorn, Ibid., p. 318.) If so, that will be because, even though we will be spiritual beings like the angels, we also have imperishable bodies.

What do the cherubim do, day and night? In this vision they are saying: "Holy, holy, holy." Now, no matter how much a person loves the Lord, it is hard to imagine that God's creatures (ourselves included) would literally just chant "Holy, Holy, Holy" for all of eternity!

Let's analyze the word "holy" first, and then try to picture what it means for either the angels or us to continually praise our God.

The Greek word hagios means "set apart." It is built on a Greek word that means "to venerate." When used of God, the word refers to His purity, majesty and glory. ("Holiness, Holy, Holily", Vine's Expository Dictionary, Electronic Version.) Thus God is transcendent. He is above and apart from His creation. He is righteous in all that He does. This is of the greatest importance in this passage, because the scene will soon shift from the peace and beauty of the heavenly throne room to the awful reality of the Tribulation taking place on earth.

Holiness, by the way, is another eternal attribute of God.

The way I picture this constant repetition: "Holy, holy, holy," is similar to the concept of "praying without ceasing." The Apostle Paul told some of his readers that "without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers." (Romans 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:3). He told others that they could, and should, "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Of course, even Jesus and Paul did other things besides prayer. But, prayer is like walking and talking with God. We can still do it while we do anything else that is pleasing to the Lord. From that point of view, one can understand that the adoring angelic host that is always privileged to see God's loving and righteous actions, are busy doing whatever they are supposed to do, but at the same time, like a couple of humans hiking through the Grand Canyon, or along the base of the Jungfrau in the Alps, they would be doing things, and even saying things during their adventure, but their minds could constantly be praising God for the beauty of His creation.

The cherubim also proclaim, "Lord God Almighty." God's sovereignty or absolute power is emphasized again by the word "almighty," which is the translation of the Greek word pantokrator: meaning the "one who rules over all" (See the notes in Volume 1, Chapter 1, verses 4 and 8).

God is called "almighty" in both places where He is also said to be "the one who was, and is, and is to come" (Revelation 1:4,8; Revelation 4:8). This introduces yet another divine attribute: His eternity.

The recent emergence of a new discipline called "Intelligent Design," emphasizes that something had to exist before there was ever a cosmos as we know it. Those who don't believe in a god must posit matter as the thing that existed alone before anything else, but they cannot explain how mindless matter could start the process that led to this fine-tuned universe. Since logic requires something "in the beginning," it makes much better sense to start with an intelligent entity that could launch the creation.

Next: Revelation 4:9


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