And in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. 7 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. 8 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:
2 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. 3 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)
9 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.