Four Living Creatures (rev. 4:6-11)

And in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

This text constitutes an expansion of Ezekielian visions to include those of Isaiah. The living beings of Ezekiel 1-11 are identified with the six-winged creatures of Isaiah 6.

These descriptors of God’s four special servants are in fact merged together in the prophetic vision of John in this text with some variations (the very last section). We read also in Isaiah 6:2-3:

Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.”

And in Ezekiel 1:22-24:

22 Now over the heads of the living beings there was something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal, spread out over their heads. 23 Under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward the other; each one also had two wings covering its body on the one side and on the other. 24 

Both in Ezekiel and in Revelation the four living beings are situated under the traveling throne-chariot of God, forming an escort as it were through the wings that touch each other and the wheels that move together with the living beings at all times. The expanse (the bottom of the heavenly chariot) separates them and God himself is upon his throne that is situated directly over them from the other side.

The emphasis on the eyes of these beings speaks clearly of their ability to see and track all events in the created order. God himself of course sees everything and knows all things. Their eyes do not look to one direction alone, but to all possible directions.

Since the body has always been considered the symbol of creatureliness, their nature as created beings had to be covered with wings. This was to show the true honor that was rendered by these magnificent beings to the uncreated God.

The joyful praise of God is a well attested theme in a wide variety of Jewish literature. For example, in the Qumran collection, coming roughly from the period of time within which the book of Revelation was authored, we read:

Praise the God of the lofty heights, O you lofty ones among all the gods of knowledge. Let the holiest of the godlike ones sanctify the King of glory who sanctifies by holiness all His holy ones. O you chiefs of the praises of all the godlike beings, praise the splendidly praiseworthy God. For in the splendor of praise is the glory of His realm… Sing with joy, you who rejoice in His knowledge with rejoicing among the wondrous godlike beings. And chant His glory with the tongue of all who chant with knowledge; and chant His wonderful songs of joy with the mouth of all who chant of Him. For He is God of all who rejoice forever and Judge in His power of all the spirits of understanding. (The Song of Sabbath Sacrifice, 4Q403)

And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

John was allowed to witness not only the structure of the heavenly traveling throne-chariot of God, but also the actual liturgy – the order of worship that takes place in heaven wherever God is worshiped. In vs. 9-11 the order is stated as follows: first the four living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne; then twenty four elders prostrate themselves before him, casting their own crowns. The content of their confession is specified in terms of God’s worthiness to receive glory, honor and power and is rooted in the act of creation of all things.

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  1. Kat H

    I see in John 1:1 that “came into being through him” (G1096 egeneto) uses the same word as “Thy will be done on earth”.

    In Revelations “for thou hast created” implies the use of the word form(G2936 ektisas).
    However continuing.. “for thy will (G2307- thelEma) they are and were created” implies through Christ

    1. what one wishes or has determined shall be done
    a. of the purpose of God to bless mankind through Christ
    b. of what God wishes to be done by us
    i. commands, precepts
    2. will, choice, inclination, desire, pleasure

    How can God’s will in definition #1 of thelēma be to keep His Commands and
    definition #2 (often translated) as God taking pleasure in us being law-free 🙂

    1. Dr. Charles van den Berg

      Kat …The Christian dogma that we are “free from the law”, is among other things the result of a misinterpretation of Rom. 7:1-6.
      The word “ law” (Torah H8451 – Nomos G3551) may refer to the whole of the law, but sometimes only to a part of the law ´ ´.
      Rom. 7:1-6 is referring to a part, to the law on divorce (Deut. 24:1-4).
      A married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives. When he had given her a certificate of divorce, and she had become the wife of another man, she was an adulterous and unclean. For that reason her first man was not allowed to take her back. Not even after her second husband died. Only after the death of her first husband, she was ‘free’ from that law and allowed to marry another man and was no longer considered an adulterer.
      Now listen: God had given Israel and Juda, as being His wife a certificate of divorce, because His wife because his wife committed adultery and became in that way the woman of another man. (Jer. 3:8-11).
      To the law of Deut. 24:4 he could not remarry her. God as her first husband had to die to free up her of this law of divorce. That is why Christ had to die. Then she was allowed to marry with another. That is why Christ has been raised up from the dead. To marry her as being Another.

      1. Kat H

        Dr. Charles I am not disagreeing with you on Romans 7, but to me this was the 2nd death (2nd Revelation of Christ) before the gospel. Remember I had no Biblical language- none! I think of Romans 7 as being divided (like a war between good and evil on the Sabbath). All of us know the correct answer to this question, “”Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” You might say I was in agreement with God. My prayers were that my labor be undivided. I saw God’s will as keeping His Commandments (doing good)

        1. Dr. Charles van den Berg

          Kat ….Rom. 7:1-6 speaking about the death of the first man, who was not allowed to remarry his adulterous wife, is a reference to the death of Christ, from which he rose again to marry her as Another.
          The rest of the chapter (with a beginning in verse 5) , talks about the death due to Sin, which is indeed the 2nd death. . By his physical death did Christ nullified the second death (Rev. 21:8 ) for those who belong to Him. So, I think we are in full agreement

          1. Kat H

            Dr. Charles, I think we agree. Many people disagree with me because I was not a Christian when I understood these revelations. They believed that only Christians (the saved) could know this.

          2. Dr. Charles van den Berg

            You write: you ‘was ‘not a Christian. So it was first time in your head, and now in your heart.

          3. Kat H

            I will argue for better words. Let’s eliminate the words church and Christian for a moment (I’ve been reading the JJMJS articles.) I was from a household. We had beliefs. I committed to a set of values (Exodus 19:8/ The Ten Commandments) but I forgot. Something happened and I stood before God naked (all my sin exposed). I prayed for His provision. What was in my heart and mind? The Answer
            “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”

            Moving on you wrote “So it was first time in your head, and now in your heart.” What did Peter see in Jesus that he was willing to die for? Was his denial a head to heart failure, a change of mind? Speaking for myself, it was neither. I prayed that God make me into the image of my values (Ten Commandments). What was in my heart and mind? The Answer “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God”

            What was the purpose of having an Answer? I will recognize Him when I hear His voice (John 10:1-6) Greater is He who Answers, than he who prays 

          4. Dr. Charles van den Berg

            You’re right Kat … there are no better words, then that of God himself.

            – This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put MY LAWS on their HEARTS, and write them on their minds,” (Heb. 10:16)

            – And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us HIS SPIRIT IN OUR HEARTS as a guarantee. (2Co 1:21-22)

            – For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, ABBA Father. THE SPIRIT himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: (Rom 8:15-16)

            – And because you are sons, God has sent THE SPIRIT of his Son into OUR HEARTS, crying, “ABBA! Father!” (Gal. 4:6)

            – And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but THE Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but ON TABLETS OF HUMAN HEARTS (2Co 3:3 )

            – We love, because he first loved us. (1Jo 4:19)

  2. jane z. mazzola

    Are these 4 living creatures the symbols of the 4 Evangelists? Lion, Matthew; man, Mark; Ox, Luke; & Eagle, John? Also, from where did the art come? With the stylized, more 2 dimensional manner & the heavy gold leaf of the halos, it makes me think of an Eastern, Greek, or Russian Orthodox fresco. I note, though, the words are in English. I clicked onto the picture, but it did not give reference.
    Blessings & Shalom,
    Jane M

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Jane, I don’t think they stand for the evangelists. My associate picked the art. (I am not sure where he got it). Sounds like American Orthodox Church.

      1. jane z. mazzola

        Thank you, also, Dr. Eli, as always, for clarifications & insights.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          You are most welcome, Jane.

  3. Drs. Charles van den Berg

    In the Scriptures are eight kinds of angelic beings: (Hebrew:) Serafim, Cherubim, (Greek:) Thronos, Kuriotes, Arche, Exousia, Dunamis, Angelos (Hebr. Malak).

    In Ezekiel is talk of Cherubim Ezekiel 10:1.
    They are described as four creatures, living beings with the faces of lion, calf, man and eagle.
    Cherubs have ‘four’ wings Ezekiel 1:6

    In Isaiah is talk of Seraphs Isaiah 6:2.
    They are calling ‘holy ,holy ,holy’ Isaiah 6:3 .
    Seraphs have ‘six’ wings Isaiah 6:2

    I think so Rev.4:6-11 tells us not that the Cherubim with the ‘ four’ wings are the same as the Seraphs with the ‘six’ wings, but rather teach us the four faces are symbolic for properties that apply to Cherubim ass well as to Seraphs.

    The face of a calf : minister, serve 1 Corinthians 9:9-10; Ps. 103:20-21
    The face of a lion: strong Judges 14:18
    The face of a eagle: immortality Psalm 103:5
    The face of a man: they are created and they are persons (they have mind, will, emotions, language skills).

    1. jane z. mazzola

      Thank you, Dr. van den Berg, for this info, especially, the last paragraph w/references.

      1. Dr. Charles van den Berg

        You are welcome Jane !

  4. jane z. mazzola

    This post has been difficult for me to “get my head around it”: to visualize & to grasp the symbolism & action. After several readings on different days & times, I am seeing the majesty of the scene, the symbolism, & the liturgy of praise by the 4 living creatures & the 24. Are the 4 living creatures representing the 4 evangelists? But then John, as one of the evangelists, is also the observer. It will be good to put this post side by side w/ your previous one, to see cohesion in what is transpiring. Or am I searching for connections that are not there?
    A good challenge! 🙂
    Jane M

    1. jane z. mazzola

      Numbers 6:22-26:
      “The Lord spoke to Moses: Speak to Aaron and his sons: ‘Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:
      ‘The Lord bless you and protect you!
      ‘The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you.
      ‘The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!'”
      (JPS Hebrew- English TANAKH, 2003 – 5764)

      To you, Dr. Eli & those you hold most dear.

  5. Drs. Charles van den Berg

    Dr. Eli, you wrote:

    ‘ The emphasis on the eyes of these beings speaks clearly of their ability to see and track all events in the created order. God himself of course sees everything and knows all things. Their eyes do not look to one direction alone, but to all possible directions.’

    The same thought is expressed by Zechariah:

    These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth.” (Zec 4:10)

    Noteworthy is that the number seven only refers directly to God Himself in three cases:

    1) The Menorah’s seven lights (a number of places)
    2) The seven eyes of the LORD (Zec. 4:10)
    3) The seven spirits of God (Rev. 3:1; Rev. 4:5; Rev. 5:6)

  6. Marcus Mareano

    Thanks for you explanation. I woulde like suggestions of books, dictionary etc about the jewish background in the book of Revelation. I’m doctorad student from Brazil and I research the hymns in the book of Revelation.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I am writing one :-). But there are few things that are extremely technical that can be used. They are for after your seminary training I think though. Eli

  7. Kat H

    The Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice is thought provoking. I am still wondering if the 7 spirits of God (gods of knowledge or Isaiah 11:2-3) could mean covenants that rested on Jesus (daath / Wikepedia). The 24 elders would then be judging based on their knowledge of Christ (Christ’s power of all spirits of all understanding (yada / Wikepedia) . Also interesting is Colossians “elemental spiritual forces of this world” were associated with self-imposed rules that were connected to angel worship. This makes me wonder if the words “sinful nature” means flesh or our created likeness (Romans 7) vs sanctified by the King of glory who sanctifies us (Romans 8).

  8. nevirim

    Brother Eli, what a blessing! many were the days when studying Revelation when this topic came up, and one wonders to the type of beings these creatures were, frankly one wonders if some of the old sci-fi movies of the 50’s got some of there images and story lines from these strange, yet wonderful beings. Thanks again especially pulling together Ezekiel and Isaiah: Shalom and Blessings in Yeshua, Brother Jan Fowler

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Welcome to the forum, Jan!

  9. Deborah Glasscock

    Amen & amen!

  10. Wyatt

    ” for You created all things and because of Your Will they existed and were created”. The Greek verb here for created is ktizo which never appears in the Gospel of John. Genesis Ch 1 LXX has poieo but John 1.3 has ginomai throughout ( and the ‘exist’ here).

    How significant is this choice of verb in that crucial John 1.3 verse ? Difficult to say but “came into being” seems better in keeping with that whole tenor of the Gospel which leads to an ultimate unity – ” that they may be completely/perfectly One” ( Jn Ch 17 v 22-23, and with the interesting ‘katabole’ of the world in verse 24) than the ontological separation implied by creation.