And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created." (ESV)
My first thoughts were to view the four living creatures in two ways. They could symbolize the attributes that we should have before God since we, like them, are beings that continually live before God. They could also symbolize the characteristics of God since they have often been seen when He is seen. Then it occurred to me that they don’t have to be symbolic of anything. It is possible that God created these beings for His own pleasure and to declare His holiness to all creation.
Like A Lion
Scripture says a lot about lions and what they represent. Read these verses.
What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion? (Judg 14:18b NIV)
Then even the bravest soldier, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a fighter and that those with him are brave. (2 Sam 17:10 NIV)
You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness — who dares to rouse him? (Gen 49:9 NIV)
The lion is obviously a symbolic of strength, courage and ferocity. The ferocity of the lion is even used to describe Satan’s hatred and desire to destroy Christians (1Peter 3:8). It also symbolized Israel (Nu 24:9) and Jesus (Rev 5:5).
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help And rely on horses, And trust in chariots because they are many And in horsemen because they are very strong, But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord! (Isa 31:1 NASU)
For thus says the Lord to me, "As the lion or the young lion growls over his prey, Against which a band of shepherds is called out, And he will not be terrified at their voice nor disturbed at their noise, So will the Lord of hosts come down to wage war on Mount Zion and on its hill." Like flying birds so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem. He will protect and deliver it; He will pass over and rescue it. (Isa 31:4-5 NASU)
They represent God in His protection for his people. Think about these verses for a few minutes in relation to a time of trouble and confusion coming on the world when people are turning everywhere except to the Lord. This has happened throughout history and will be completed in the end times. The mighty God of heaven is waiting to help any who turn to Him. Instead we turn to others for help. The Israelites turned to the Egyptians for help. People today turn to psychiatrists, mediums, self-actualization classes, booze, and various other “wise things” of man. But these things are not God’s intention. These things can even happen to a church when they turn to the world’s methods of trying to “sell” the Gospel. They may even decide to use worldly money raising techniques to fund their operations or capital improvement plans. When they do this, they will eventually see the hand of God turned against them. On the other hand, think of the comfort of having the Lord God Almighty protect His people and not letting the clamor of the world take them away from Him.
Like An Ox
So Moab said to the elders of Midian, "Now this company will lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field." (Num 22:4a NKJV)
This showed the relentless eating habits of oxen. They would continue eating in a pasture until all the grass was consumed. Nothing would be left. This is the attitude we need in our spiritual life. Like an ox, we must carefully consume all of the Word of God. We need to look at all He has said to us.
As an attribute of the Lord, this could show that He is patient and steady. In the cosmic battle between good and evil, He will leave nothing of wickedness behind but will consume it all.
Oxen were also animals of sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed Himself for us.
Then Jesus said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light." (Matt 11:28-30 NLT)
Jesus is also identifying Himself with some other qualities of an ox. He is gentle and humble and in His strength, He carries our burdens for us. God is also a jealous God who wants His people to turn to Him. When we do, we receive comfort and rest. He has already carried the burden of our sin, so why not let him carry all the other burdens as well?
Like A Man
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." (Gen 1:26 RSV)
The third creature had a face like a man. This shows that the living creatures are like us in that they are created beings. The word “image” in the Hebrew means a representative figure. The work “likeness” in the Hebrew means “resemblance.” Man is created to resemble God and to be a representative figure of Him. In doing this He has given us some of His attributes. We possess intelligence, having the ability to think, make choices, and show emotion. As God is holy, and these creatures are living in His presence, they, too, are holy. God originally created us to be holy and to live in His presence. We need to use our intelligence to choose to be holy. Our ability to think also lets us know that we aren’t holy and that the only way we can become holy is by the means that God has revealed.
For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. (Heb 2:16-18 NASB)
This also shows us that God identifies with us. When we come before the throne of God, this creature should be a constant reminder to us that God knows our weakness and won’t forget that He has made atonement for our sins through Jesus our Lord. (Actually I doubt we will ever forget when we see Jesus in heaven; however our Lord often speaks to us in many ways just to make sure we don’t forget.) This is the only way we can become holy - through the blood of Jesus.
Like an Eagle
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isa 40:30-31 ESV)
This is the picture of one who puts his hope in the Lord. In time of trouble and hardship, He will renew us. The eagle is shown as a tireless creature that can soar and continue for hours without rest. In the presence of the Lord, we too, will not grow weary. When we are tempted to give up or become depressed, we need to go into the throne room of the Lord to be renewed. This is something that we need to be reminded of over and over again. No matter what the problem is, now matter how bad the circumstances, our Lord is sovereign and He will renew us and give us strength.
You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. (Ex 19:4 NIV)
The symbol of an eagle is associated with the Lord’s divine protection. When Israel was brought out of Egypt, it was totally by the will and power of the Lord. Later in the book of Revelation we will see another time when a “woman” is saved by giving her the two wings of a great eagle to save her. (Rev 12:14).
He found him in a desert land, And in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, That hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions. (Deut 32:10-11 NASU)
I watched You Tube videos where eagles are flying beside and above others. According to the makers, these are young eagles learning to fly with the adult. Apparently, the air currents from the adult make it easier for the young to learn; it appears as if the adult is carrying them. Others have said that eagles actually kick the young out of the nest and then swoop down and catch them until they learn to fly. (This isn’t documented by any researchers that I looked up.) However, they have been seen to fly over the nest to lure the young to take their first flight.
The Lord is along side of us at all times as well as hovering over us, leading us in His paths. He also has to stir up our nests at times to get us moving on to where He wants us to go. Unlike the eagle, God does actually carry us. The Christian walk is not a walk that seeks the comfort of status quo, but one that involves stretching to make us grow.
Now my days are swifter than a runner; They flee away, they see no good. They pass by like swift ships, Like an eagle swooping on its prey. (Job 9:25-26 NKJV)
This verse relates the swiftness of the eagle to the shortness of our lives. Think also about the swiftness of judgment that comes from the Lord. To the eagle’s victim, it comes out of the blue (up to 190 miles per hour), and is seldom anticipated except for a split second, if at all. The Lord’s vengeance will come upon the earth in the same way. In the expanse of history, seven years of tribulation will seem very swift. Because people at that time will be so callused, they will be like an eagle’s victim and wonder from where it came.
Covered With Eyes
Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. (Matt 6:22 NLT)
These creatures dwell in the presence of the living Lord and have eyes all over them. It is possible that they only have eyes for God, and so should we. In the presence of God these beings are fully flooded with the light of the Lord. They are full of light just as we can be if we are truly focused on Him.
Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened … (Eph 1:18 RSV)
It shouldn’t be surprising to think of creatures with eyes all over them, since we refer to having eyes in our hearts. These are eyes that see spiritual truth. These are eyes by which we gain understanding of the Lord.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom 1:20 NASB)
We gain understanding by what we see, and we can see His nature in what He has created as well as when we use our eyes to read His word.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb 12:2-3 NIV)
We need to fix our eyes on Jesus to see His response to opposition and pain. We always need to remember that the book of Revelation is a book of pain and sorrow for many, but those who have their eyes fixed on Jesus will see the end, which is the joy that He has provided for us. When our eyes are full of Jesus, we will not grow weary and lose heart.
The eyes of the creatures represent their total concentration on God.
Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. (Isa 6:2 ESV)
Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you." (John 13: 10 ESV)
In Isaiah, the creatures covered their feet with their wings. As the creatures hide their feet we are reminded that our feet come in contact with the dirty part of the world. The unholiness of the world should not be brought before the Lord. He is too holy to look upon that. Of course we also know that since He made the provision for us to come to Him complete and in confidence, this is only symbolic and must remind us that the blood of Jesus must cover our sin. They also cover their faces showing that He is also so holy we can’t look directly at Him. Thanks be to God that He has also provided the covering of His righteousness so that through Jesus, we may see Him. The creatures also use their wings for movement, which represents our ability to serve Him.
Keep me as the apple of the eye; Hide me in the shadow of Your wings From the wicked who despoil me, My deadly enemies who surround me. (Ps 17:8-9 NASU)
How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. (Ps 36:7 NASU)
Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, For my soul takes refuge in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge Until destruction passes by. (Ps 57:1 NASU)
God’s protection, comfort, and shelter are all symbolized in wings. The shelter is sometimes only until the disaster has passed. He doesn’t promise escape from the disaster but shelter so that we may endure it. What He wants us to do is to come to Him to cope with our problems of life. Families of alcoholics learn to cope in non-biblical ways and many times never learn the truth. Only by seeking refuge in Him can we truly cope. After the disaster has passed, we come out from under the wings and are on the front lines, stronger than ever.
Never Stop Saying Holy
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Isa 6:3 KJV)
When Isaiah saw these creatures they were declaring the holiness of God and His glory. When John saw them they were still declaring God’s holiness. Day and night they never stop, most likely from eternity past to eternity future. Doesn’t this tell us something unique about God’s holiness? We may refer to holy angels or holy saints, but the holiness of God is so amazing and beyond our comprehension that these creatures have never stopped declaring it. He is a loving God and He has demonstrated it by sending Jesus to die for us, but the creatures don’t cry “loving” day and night. We could recite the same argument for each of His attributes and discover that it is only His holiness that is declared forever. When I read the first few books of the Bible, I see His great concern for holiness. If we ever doubt His holiness or attribute to Him any kind of evil thoughts or intent, we have maligned the most important attribute of God.
But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:15-16 NKJV)
If we don’t have a concern for personal holiness, then we have missed a significant aspect of our lives in Christ.
The creatures also use the phrase “Lord God Almighty,” which describes His authority, position, power, and everlasting nature. John explains in verse 9 that this is giving glory, honor, and thanks to God. How often do we forget that our words are often the only way that others can know that we are giving God glory, honor, and thanks? I love that song that says that when the world asks us why we are raising our hands, we’ll tell them we are loving our King. Our hearts may very well express it, but for others to see it and know what it is, it must become verbal. John picks up on the last verse of what the creatures say and emphasizes it two more times. God lives forever and ever. No matter how long it takes for these things to take place, the same God is in control. We don’t have repeatedly deal with a new administration every four or even a hundred years.
He Is Worthy
The elders fall down before the throne every time the creatures declare God’s holiness. I can only picture them continually on their faces. The creatures never stop crying holy so they must be there in a constant state of worship. When we discussed the crowns in Revelation 2:10, several were listed that we will all receive when we get to heaven. If the elders’ crowns are representative of the crowns we are to receive, then they are showing that all we have in the way of righteousness, joy, love, compassion, or anything else is owed to our Lord and God.
The elders then take up the praise and are vitally concerned with God’s worthiness to receive that glory, honor, and power. The King James Version says they were created for His pleasure. God would not will into being something that was not made for His pleasure and anything made for His pleasure is good because He is a holy God.
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. (Gen 1:31 KJV)
God made all things for His pleasure and that they are good but that doesn’t rule out the fact that sin has entered in this world and it has grieved our Lord.
As we continue into the book of Revelation, we will always want to remember these attributes of God, for it is because of His holiness that the end of sin must come. Since He does live forever, He can see the big picture, which gives Him the ability to judge fairly. By the end of the book He will have allowed man to try every way he can to save himself and shown that they are all rebellion against God. So at the end, if any do not come by His way, by faith in Jesus, then He can say that He has seen it all and still men have rebelled. Because He is worthy both from the standpoint of having paid the price for sin, and having created all things, He has the right to carry out the judgment. Because He is all-powerful, He has the ability to carry out the judgment.
May you be inspired by His holiness and worthiness to worship Him in holiness and truth. May His holiness and worthiness enable us to trust Him for all things and live a holy life in Jesus.