The Four Living Creatures by Dr Stephen E Jones
The four living creatures that John saw “in the center and around the throne” symbolize all of mankind in the whole earth. This section of Revelation 4 lays the background for a final crescendo at the end of Revelation 5, where every living creature is worshiping and praising God. Rev. 4:6-7 says,
Perhaps the most curious detail in this passage is the fact that the four living creatures are said to be both “in the center and around the throne.” We are, however, given a clue in the description of the laver (“the sea”) in 1 Kings 7:25,
There were four sets of “beasts”—in this case, oxen—forming the base of the laver. These were facing outward in four different directions, but the back sides of these oxen stood under the laver itself. If we can picture this (with some alterations) in regard to the four living creatures in and around the throne, perhaps we can see these four with their faces situated at an outer side of the throne, yet having their bodies on the inside, forming the bulk of the throne itself.
Since the throne is a symbol of divine law—or the Word of God in general—these living creatures would then represent all mankind as an expression of the Word of God. Even as Jesus Christ was the Word (the Logos of John 1:1), so also is the Body of Christ destined to be part of that expression when it is perfected and in full agreement with Him.
Likewise, with Christ seated upon this throne, it would picture every living creature in subjection to Him, as Paul foresaw in 1 Cor. 15:27, “for He has put all things in subjection under His feet.” This was not only prophesied through David in Psalm 8:6, but was also God’s original intent stated in Gen. 1:28,
Adam (man) was made the overall ruler over God’s creation, including (1) the birds (1:28) of which the eagle is king; (2) the beasts of the earth (1:24), of which the lion is king; and (3) the cattle (1:25), of which the ox is king. The king or leader of each category is not meant to exclude all others, but rather they represent all others in their respective classes. Hence, these animals came to represent the whole earth.
Adam was called to lead creation to God, not by conquest or by military force, but by the power, character, and Spirit that Jesus Christ later demonstrated in His ministry. However, the first Adam sinned, bringing corruption to the earth, and so the earth’s rulers have misused this mandate, not ruling according to the divine law, but according to his own laws.
Yet Jesus Christ came as the Last Adam to fulfill this mandate, for He alone had the mind of the Father and knew how to rule in love without oppressing the earth. In the end, His rule will be ratified by every living creature. All creatures on earth will praise and worship Him. The four living creatures will say “Amen!” to His rule (Rev. 5:14), after experiencing the injustices of man’s rule for so long. All other contestants for dominion over the earth have proven themselves unfit and unworthy to rule creation. Only Jesus Christ and His perfected Body are qualified to rule in His throne. And so we find the book of Genesis giving us the beginning of all things, and the book of Revelation revealing the end.
The Four Living Creatures in Ezekiel
In Rev. 4:7 the four living creatures are pictured as a lion, calf, man, and eagle. These same creatures appear also in the first chapter of Ezekiel, where the prophet sees a vision of the throne of God coming in the heavens. The difference is that the prophet saw four sets of creatures, each set having a lion, calf, man, and eagle. And yet, from the prophet’s perspective, watching this throne come from the north, he specifically saw first the face of the man on the south side of the throne; a lion on the right, a bull, or calf, on the left, and finally the eagle on the rear (north side) of the throne. We read in Ez. 1:10,
The position of these living creatures is significant, because it is the same seen in the encampment of Israel in the wilderness under Moses. On each of the four sides of the Ark of the Covenant, three tribes of Israel were camped. Each set of three had a leading tribe with a banner, as we read in Num. 2:2,
East of the tent of meeting was the leading tribe of Judah (Num. 2:3), with its banner of a lion (Gen. 49:9). With Judah was Issachar and Zebulun.
South of the tent of meeting was the leading tribe of Reuben (Num. 2:10), with its banner of the man (Gen. 49:3, 4). With Reuben was Simeon and Gad.
West of the tent of meeting was the leading tribe of Ephraim (Num. 2:18), with its banner of the bull (Deut. 33:17). With Ephraim was Manasseh and Benjamin.
North of the tent of meeting was the leading tribe of Dan (Num. 2:25), with its banner of the eagle carrying the serpent (Gen. 49:17). With Dan was Asher and Naphtali.
These leading tribes of Israel with their banners were meant to picture the four living creatures around the throne of God—the Ark of the Covenant. The position of each banner is maintained in Ezekiel. But the meaning of these living creatures precedes even Moses, as we have already seen, for they are first presented to us in the first chapter of Genesis.
The next mention of these four living creatures comes to us in the story of Noah and the covenant God made with the earth after the flood. In Genesis 9:16 the four living creatures are specifically said to represent “every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth,” giving precise definition to the living creatures mentioned in Genesis 1.
We already covered this in chapter one in the section on ‘The Emerald Rainbow.” The covenant was a promise that He would not destroy them, and He signified it with a rainbow. This was a fitting symbol, because its arch was like a divine covering that stretched from horizon to horizon as if to protect the whole earth.
And so, when John sees these four living creatures around th e throne of God, it is apparent that he was not merely seeing four creatures, nor even the four leading tribes of Israel, but the whole earth. God positioned the twelve tribes with their banners in order to picture a larger truth of the restoration of every living creature. John himself describes this in Rev. 5:9 as including “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”
Furthermore, Rev. 5:13 repeats this with a clearer definition, saying,
The fact that these four living creatures are said to be in and around the throne tells us that all men will be reconciled to God and restored to their proper place in submission to Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of Acts 3:20, 21, saying,
In the original tabernacle of Moses, there were two cherubim with wings kneeling upon the Ark of the Covenant with their wings touching. Many years later, when God gave King David the pattern for the temple that Solomon was to build, we see that the temple was twice the size of the tabernacle. Furthermore, Solomon’s temple had two cherubim standing, with wings outstretched the entire width of the Most Holy Place (1 Kings 6:27).
At the temple’s dedication, the priests placed the Ark of the Covenant under the wings of the two new Cherubim that had been constructed (1 Kings 8:6, 7). Thus, there were now four Cherubim in the Most Holy Place—the original two that were attached to the Ark, and the two larger Cherubim built in Solomon’s day.
These four Cherubim are the four living creatures that Ezekiel saw. In the first chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet describes the four living creatures but does not call them Cherubim. However, in Ezekiel 10:15 and 20 the prophet says,
Identifying the four living creatures with the Cherubim in the temple sheds much light on this subject. It also raises some questions. Perhaps the two large Cherubim in Solomon’s temple, one the left, and the other on the right, corresponded to the positions seen by the prophet Ezekiel. If so, we could say that the cherub on the right was a winged lion, and on the left was a winged bull (Ez. 1:10). These were also on the banners of the two leading tribes of Israel: Judah (lion) and Joseph (bull).
That would leave the man (Reuben) and the eagle (Dan) as the two smaller winged Cherubim on the Ark itself. The four gospels also manifest the four living creatures.
Matthew presents Christ as the Lion: “Behold your King” (Zech. 9:9).
Mark presents Christ as the Ox: “Behold, My Servant” (Isaiah 42:1).
Luke presents Christ as the Man: “Behold, the Man” (Zech. 6:12).
John presents Christ as the Eagle: “Behold, your God” (Isaiah 40:9).
Looking at the positions of the Cherubim from this perspective, we can see how each set of Cherubim form polarized positions, as in an electrical circuit (male and female). The Lion and the Ox are positioned opposite each other to show the contrast between the King and the Servant. The man and the Eagle are positioned opposite each other to show the contrast between the Son of Man and the Son of God. The lesson to be learned is that of balance. Christ was a Servant-King and a God-Man. To know Christ is to see Him in that balanced view and understand the paradox has no contradiction.
Two, Four, and Six Wings
An earthly, physical eagle has only one set of two wings with which it flies. In Ezekiel’s vision, the prophet sees these living creatures having four wings. This shows a progression of revelation, much like we see in the expansion from the tabernacle of Moses to the temple of Solomon. Ezekiel 1:6 and 11 tell us,
Finally, John sees these living creatures with six wings. Rev. 4:8 says,
God seems to do all things by the law of two or three witnesses. This law is often applied in a progressive manner, such as the progression from Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Those feasts represent the progressive stages of spiritual growth from lawlessness to perfection. Likewise, the three parts of the tabernacle represent the path to God, as a man goes first into the outer court, then the Holy Place, and finally, the Most Holy Place, where the divine presence rested on the mercy seat. And because we too are temples of God, our “outer court” is the body; our “Holy Place” is the soul; and the Most Holy Place is the spirit, where the divine presence resides in us.
Thus, it takes no leap of faith to see that the progression from two wings to four and finally to six wings forms a progression of spiritual growth in the overall divine plan for creation. The wings indicate movement by the Spirit of God in Ezekiel 1:11, 12,
Prior to the Cross was a Passover Age, in which men possessed, as it were, a single pair of wings with which to soar toward the heavens. This set of wings brought the foundational revelation of the Word (through Moses) primarily to Israel and Judah. Two indicates a double witness that establishes truth in the earth.
After the Cross, beginning in Acts 2, came a Pentecostal Age, in which Jesus’ disciples were given another set of wings through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It took four wings to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Four is the number of the earth.
And in the Tabernacles Age to come, the overcomers will be given a final set of wings by which they will be able to soar to the highest dimensions of heaven and minister to God directly. Six is the number of man, and it thus takes six wings for man to reach his fullest potential in Christ, where He may dwell in the full presence of God.
These are also pictured in typical Old Testament language in Ezekiel 44:15-19, which speaks of the “sons of Zadok,” who represent the Melchizedek Order. Of them it is said that they will be able to minister directly to God in His (heavenly) Sanctuary, as well as to men in the “outer court” (earthly realm).
Thus, it is the Overcomers who will be the first to receive six wings. These will be called to minister to those yet in the “outer court” who possess, as it were, only two or four wings until their day comes. Ultimately, all men will have full access to God with no veils to separate them from His glorious presence, for John tells us that all four of these living creatures have six wings.
Full of Eyes
Rev. 4:8 says that these living creatures are also “full of eyes around and within.” What is the significance of this?
The word “eye” comes from the Hebrew letter, ayin, which is the sixteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Hebrew words that contain this letter ayin make reference in some way to the idea of seeing, knowing, watching, or making manifest (visible).
For example, the word Eber, meaning a “Hebrew” person, is spelled: ayin, beth, resh. Beth-resh is the Hebrew word bar, which means “son” in the sense of an heir. (Hence, we read of Barnabas, “son of consolation” in Acts 4:36.) So the word Eber speaks of the “manifestation (ayin) of the Son (bar).” This teaches us the underlying message of what it means to be a Hebrew. A true Hebrew in the sight of God is a manifested son, one who makes the glory of God visible in his body in the earth, like Jesus did at the Mount of Transfiguration.
Those who are able to make this transition are true Hebrews. The word “Hebrew” thus literally means an immigrant, one who crosses over. In Abraham’s day, it was applied to those who immigrated from Babylonia to Canaan. But the divine meaning as applied in the New Testament Book of Hebrews is one who is able to immigrate from the Old Covenant of Moses into the New Covenant of Christ. This is the path of Sonship and the only way to become a manifested Son of God in the Feast of Tabernacles.
The four living creatures are said to be “full of eyes.” They portray creation as it was originally intended to be—full of light and manifesting the glory of God. Matt. 6:22 says,
With seven eyes, not only can the creation (“living creatures”) see God clearly for who He is, but it is also “full of light.” The light (glory) of God is in them even as it was seen in Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:2). The seven eyes in the living creatures, then, portray the glory of the Lord filling the whole earth. The force of this is not merely to increase one’s ability to see things as they really are, but to show the ability to BE SEEN by others—that is, to manifest Christ to others.
Zech. 3:9 also speaks of eyes when it says about Joshua, the high priest,
Before explaining this stone, we must see the meaning of the previous stone that had been entrusted to the Joshua who led Israel into Canaan after Moses died. That Joshua was of the tribe of Ephraim (Num. 13:8), son of Joseph. Joseph had been entrusted with “the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel” (Gen. 49:24). It was the Stone on which Jacob-Israel had laid his head on the night of his dream where he saw the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man (Gen. 28:12; John 1:51).
The Stone itself became a symbol of Christ, because Jacob anointed it with oil. The word for Christ or Messiah means “anointed one.” Hence, the Rock of Israel was used many times as a symbol of Christ throughout the Scriptures. But originally, it signified ascending and descending between heaven and earth. Thus, it spoke of the manifestation of the sons of God, beginning with Jesus Himself, and then extending to the overcomers.
And so in Zechariah 3 we find another Joshua, another type of Jesus (Yashua), this time in the capacity of a High Priest of the Melchizedek Order. In front of him is again a Stone, this time with seven eyes (or pairs of eyes). The text tells us specifically that it has to do with the removal of iniquity in one day. What is the connection?
First, the letter ayin is also the Hebrew number 70, because they used their letters as numbers. (Our present-day numbers are called Hindu-Arabic Numerals, which the Arabs adopted through contact with Hindus from India.) Seven ayin is 7 x 70 = 490. This is a biblical number that deals with the forgiveness of sin and removal of iniquity, as shown in Peter’s question in Matt. 18:21, 22,
Then Jesus gives an illustrative parable about the importance of forgiveness. This has to do with the law of Jubilee, a period of 49 years. Daniel’s 70 “weeks” or sabbatical years, is a period of 490 years, or 10 Jubilee cycles. We covered this topic fully in my book, Secrets of Time, so we will not pursue it further here. It is enough for now to see that the seven eyes of Zechariah 3:9 have to do with the forgiveness of sin and removal of iniquity. When this symbolism is compared and applied to the living creatures in Rev. 4:8 who are “full of eyes,” we see that it has to do with the forgiveness of sin, the removal of iniquity (both outside and within), and the manifestation of the Sons of God.
This is the main force behind the symbolism as it is described in Rev. 4:8. In this wonderful condition, of course, these living creatures do not cease to affirm the holiness of God, justifying Him rather than themselves. David did this as well after his sin with Bathsheba, saying in Psalm 51:4,
Only those who are in agreement with God and His judgments can truly justify God. The rest disagree with God’s just judgments, thinking His standard is too high, his judgments too harsh, or His love for us too shallow. The day comes, however, when every living creature will justify God and His holiness and will no longer disagree with Him in His disciplines or His standard of righteousness.
Holy, Holy, Holy
In Rev. 4:8 the four living creatures say, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God.” In Isaiah 6:2 we read,
The Hebrew word, seraphim, is the plural of seraph, “burning.” The root word means “to cause to burn.” It is spelled with three Hebrew letters: shin, resh, and pey. These Hebrew letters are also words: shin means “teeth, or consume” resh means “head, or leader,” and pey means “mouth, or speaking.” So the literal idea conveyed by this word is a head whose mouth speaks a fiery word that consumes the flesh.
This idea was pictured in the “fiery serpents” (seraphim) that God sent upon Israel in Num. 21 when the people spoke words of complaint against God (21:5). The serpent’s head had a mouth out of which darted its red, forked tongue that reminded them of a fire. Its bite burned their flesh like fire and killed those who were bitten (21:6). This was why those serpents were called seraphim. But these were like counterfeits of the true life-giving Seraphim around the throne of God.
God told Moses to set up a bronze serpent (nachash, “snake”) on a pole, so that all those who looked upon it would be healed and would not die. This serpent represented Jesus Christ (John 3:14) as well as the true Seraphim. While the counterfeit seraphim will speak words that lead to death, the true Seraphim speak words of life.
Thus, the message of the Seraphim that Isaiah heard by the Spirit was: “the whole earth is full of His glory.” These are the fiery words of life that bear witness to the holiness of God. They bear witness to God’s solemn vow by which He bound Himself in Num. 14:20, 21, saying,
The phrase, “as I live,” indicates a vow. God makes some promises without vowing, as in verse 20 above. He also makes some covenants, which involve “tokens,” or “signs” of the covenant, such as the rainbow in Gen. 9:13. Physical circumcision was a sign of the Old Covenant, and heart circumcision is the sign of the New Covenant.
But in Num. 14:21 God made a vow, swearing upon His own life, saying, “as I live.” This vow bound God to fill the earth with His glory by the council of His own will. It has nothing to do with the will of man. It has everything to do with the will of God. If man’s sinful condition proves to be too powerful for God to fulfill His Word, then He would have to forfeit His life. It is not a wonderful paradox, then, that He would come to die on a cross, as if He were a mere lamb that was too helpless to accomplish such a lofty goal?—and then by that very apparent defeat, He would rise from the dead victorious over death for all men to fulfill His vow? How else could He say in John 12:32 and 33,
In other words, Jesus had to become like the serpent on the pole in the wilderness to draw ALL MEN to Himself. He performed the work necessary to fulfill the word of life spoken by the Seraphim, “The whole earth is full of His glory.” He died to fulfill His vow to Moses, saying, “As I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.”
Holiness and Mercy
Most people accept the idea of the holiness of God is accepted almost without a thought. But when one thinks about it, men of all ages and in all religious systems have cast serious doubt upon God’s holiness. We could speak of the gods of the Greeks and Romans, whose character flaws were well known and taught as a matter of course. Men feared their own gods and appeased them with good works, sacrifices, and beautiful temples. Even Eros (Cupid), the god of love, was an immature, whimsical trickster, while Venus, the goddess of love, was little more than a carnal goddess of sexual promiscuity.
But we could also mention the permissiveness of Christian religious systems, where men think that God condones sin, or where the reality of sin is reduced to mere illusion. To such people, Jesus broke the law of Moses and Paul buried it with Grace. With no law, neither is there any such thing as transgression (Rom. 4:15), for it is the law which makes sin a crime against God. No crime is committed where there is no law to violate. Hence, by putting away the law of God, they have saved all mankind by doing away with sin and judgment.
The message of the four living creatures is an affirmation of God’s holiness. One cannot separate holiness from the character of God (as manifested in Jesus Christ). He was the spotless Lamb who was without sin. He never once violated the law, though He often violated the traditions of men—that is, their incorrect views of the divine law. Men have always struggled with little success to walk the “highway of holiness” (Is. 35:8).
The standard is the Word, including its foundational revelation in the divine law. But the means of attaining it is not to be found in man’s ability for self-discipline, though this is good to have. It is not to be found in our good works, though good works are not to be despised. Holiness can only be obtained by the Holy Spirit working within a person, first on a Pentecostal level (“the earnest of the Spirit”—2 Cor. 5:5), and finally on a Tabernacles level (“all the fullness of God”—Eph. 3:19).
The law is a revelation of the character of God. The law defined the holiness of Jesus Christ, who was without sin. Our inability to achieve the same standard of righteousness has never lowered the standard. The standard will not be lowered to meet our ability. Rather, through the power of the Spirit, our very nature is being changed so that we will meet that righteous standard that God set for man at the beginning.
This is achieved by two manifestations of Christ, as described in the law. First, He had to die as the first goat (Lev. 16:9) in order that His blood might be poured on the mercy seat to COVER our sin. This gave us an imputed righteousness. Secondly, He must yet come as the second goat to be presented alive (Lev. 16:10) to REMOVE our sin (Lev. 16:21). Jesus has already completed His first work by dying as the first goat, making us legally righteous and holy. He must return the second time (Heb. 9:28) to fully remove our sin, both for us as individuals and ultimately for the whole world.
The first work of Christ was completed when He said on the cross, “It is finished.” But the second work of Christ is not finished until the four living creatures say “Amen.” When every living creature is “holy,” then full work of Christ shall be accomplished in earth, for then will His glory cover the earth according to His vow.
Affirmation by the Twenty-Four Elders
Whereas the four living creatures and the Seraphim affirm God’s holi ness, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty,” the twenty-four elders affirm His worthiness—that is, His inherent and lawful right to rule creation. Though the focus is slightly different in each case, they go together. Rev. 4:9-11 says,
These two factors (holiness and worthiness) are very important concepts that give us the basis for the great restoration of creation at the end of Revelation 5.
Jesus was holy in His character and nature. This was a requirement to be a spotless Lamb to pay for the sin of the world. This, however, is not the focus of the twenty-four elders in their praise. Verse 11 above says that they affirm His worthiness on this basis: “for Thou didst create all things.”
This takes us back to Gen. 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The legal implication of this statement is rooted in the axiom that one’s labor is one’s most sacred property right, and that one owns what one creates. In other words, because God created all things, He therefore owns all things. This is made manifest in the law found in Lev. 25:23, which says,
Again, God shows His inherent right to sell Judah and Jerusalem into a Babylonian captivity by citing this very law. Jer. 27:5, 6 says,
Man is made of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7). Man is thus “from the earth, earthy” (1 Cor. 15:47). The land, including all of its dust, is God’s by right of creation. He owns all mankind. He owns all nations of men. Therefore, He is WORTHY to rule over all that He has created. That is, He has the legal right to rule creation and do with it as He pleases. This is an awesome truth, if we can but grasp it.
As I showed in my booklet, If God Could Save Everyone—Would He?, God has every right by the standard of His own law, to declare that all land—all dust—is His to do with as He pleases. And what has He decreed? He has decreed that no land can be sold permanently (Lev. 25:23). Though men have sold themselves into bondage to sin from Adam to the present, they lack the legal authority to sell themselves perpetually into such bondage. Why? Because no man has created himself, and therefore no man owns himself. Man has been given a certain level of authority, and by that authority he may sell himself as a slave to sin; but man has not been given absolute sovereignty over himself, because he did not create himself.
If men but understood the law, they would understand how it could be that all creation anticipates the glorious liberty of the children of God. By men’s doctrine of perpetual loss with no hope of redemption, one would think that creation would dread that day! But in fact, creation’s hope is based upon the firm foundation of divine law that the land cannot be sold in perpetuity, because it is not theirs to sell. The most they can do is sell it until the year of Jubilee. The most that men can do is to sell themselves as slaves until the year of Jubilee sets them free.
Why? Because God is worthy by right of creation to receive not only glory and honor but also POWER. The Greek word is dunamis. It means “inherent power,” which is sovereignty. It is not like the Greek word exousia, which means simple “authority.” Man has been given authority, because it was given to him by a higher power. But God’s power is self-derived, self-existing, inherent sovereignty. He has sovereignty by right of creation, and sovereignty always trumps authority. Authority can act only until the higher power of a Sovereign Will says, “It is enough; I declare a Jubilee.”
Thus, sin itself, though real, is not stronger than God’s ability to save all mankind. Man’s sin can never trump the power of God to save His creation. God’s purpose for creation will be fulfilled in the end. Even as He has allowed mankind to sell themselves into bondage to sin, so also He will judge those who are not redeemed during their time of life. But He has built into the law a limitation on all judgment.
Is it any wonder that the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne? Though they have been given authority, they remain in submission to God’s sovereignty and have nothing but praise for His wisdom and love for all creation.
The Image was created by Danielle Jordão