In this study we explore the 4 Living Creatures in the book of Revelation and compare them to the 4 Living Creatures of Ezekiel's vision. Are they cherubim, seraphim, or something else?
- Ezekiel 1:4-11; 26
- Ezekiel 10:12-14
- Rev 4:5-11
- Rev 5:6-11
- Rev 15:5-7
- Rev 19:1-4
- Isaiah 6:1-7
- Numbers 2:1-2
- Ezekiel 41:17-19
- 1 Kings 1:29
- Psalms 92:12-13
- Rev 7:9-11
Ezekiel’s Vision of Cherubim
Ezekiel 1:4-11; 26
4 I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, 5 and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, 6 but each of them had four faces and four wings. 7 Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, 9 and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.
10 Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. They each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body.
26 Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.
- The cherubim had the face of:
- A lion
- An ox
- An eagle
- A human
- The cherubim had 4 wings
- 2 covering their body
- 2 spread out touching the wings of others
- They didn’t cover their faces
- The cherubim were beneath God’s throne
12Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels. 13I heard the wheels being called “the whirling wheels.” 14Each of the cherubim had four faces: One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a human being, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
- Their entire bodies are full of eyes
- Each one had a “whirling wheel” associated with it
- He referred to the face of an ox as the face of a cherub
John’s Vision of the 4 Creatures
5Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; 6and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. 7The 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. 8And 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.”
9And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10the 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.”
How do these creatures compare to the ones in Ezekiel's vision?
- They were around God’s throne
- Not beneath
- They are also full of eyes
- They each have the face of:
- A lion
- An ox
- A human
- An eagle
- They had the same faces as Ezekiel’s but these only had one face each
- They have 6 wings
- Versus 4 of Ezekiel’s living creatures
- They were worshipping God day and night
- They’re associated with the 24 elders
6And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
10“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.
- Who was the lamb?
- They are associated with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit [7 Spirits of God]
- The four living creatures are associated with the throne
- Says “the throne with the 4 living creatures”
- They are holding golden harps and bowls of incense which are the prayers of the saints
- As were the 24 elders
- The creatures are distinguished from the angels
5After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, 6and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes. 7Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever.
- There is a temple of the tabernacle in Heaven
- One of the 4 living creatures supplied the angels with 7 bowls of wrath
- It is distinguished from the angels
- It’s not an angel
- It’s a different order of being
1After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER.” 3And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER.” 4And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”
- They are worshipping with the 24 elders
Isaiah’s Vision of Seraphim
Some think that the 4 Living Creatures are Seraphim and not Cherubim
1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
6Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
What are the similarities and differences from the 4 Living Creatures?
- They have 6 wings like the 4 living creatures
- The sang a similar song to the Living Creatures of Revelation
- The seraphim were above the throne
- The 4 living creatures were “among” or around the throne
- God would come between the cherubim of the ark, so although they were above the ark they weren’t above the throne
- The cherubim of Ezekiel’s vision were beneath the throne
- Seraphim interact with humans not just spiritual beings
- Different role
- Seraphim cover their faces
- Not worthy of showing their faces before God
- Different type of being
I believe that the 4 Living Creatures are cherubim. We will study the seraphim in more detail later and clearly see that they are a different type of being than the 4 Living Creatures.
The Four Gospels
Christian tradition has long connected the authors of the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) with the four "living creatures" that surround God's throne, as described in Rev 4:7, in the following pairs:
- Matthew = Human/Angel
- Mark = Lion
- Luke = Ox
- John = Eagle
They are referred to as the four evangelists.
Winged Man, Incarnation.
To St. Matthew was given the creature in human likeness, because he commences his gospel with the human generation of Christ, and because in his writings the human nature of Our Lord is more dwelt upon than the divine.
Winged Lion, The Resurrection.
The Lion was the symbol of St. Mark, who opens his gospel with the mission of John the Baptist, "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." He also sets forth the royal dignity of Christ and dwells upon His power manifested in the resurrection from the dead. The lion was accepted in early times as a symbol of the resurrection because the young lion was believed always to be born dead, but was awakened to vitality by the breath, the tongue, and roaring of its sire.
Winged Ox, Passion.
The form of the ox, the beast of sacrifice, fitly sets forth the sacred office, and also the atonement for sin by blood, on which, in his gospel, he particularly dwells.
The Eagle, Ascension.
The eagle was allotted to St. John because, as the eagle soars towards heaven, he soared in spirit upwards to the heaven of heavens to bring back to earth revelation of sublime and awful mysteries.
Standards and Banners
The Israelites left Egypt in rank and in file and as they journeyed in the wilderness the tribes would camp around the Tabernacle in locations that God determined. The twelve tribes, in groups of three, were divinely situated at a certain distance around the tabernacle. The Levites were camped just outside the tabernacle in tents. This would have left only eleven tribes but the large tribe of Joseph was divided into two, consisting of the descendants of his sons Ephraim and Manasseh.
Four of the tribes, Judah, Reuben, Ephraim and Dan were recognized as tribal leaders. Judah (with Issachar and Zebulun) encamped on the east. Reuben (with Simeon and Gad) on the south side. West was Ephraim (with Manasseh and Benjamin) and on the north side was Dan (with Asher and Naphtali).
Each of the twelve tribes had a specific area of the camp to live in. Each had its own flag ( standard or banner) .
1The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 2“The Israelites are to camp around the tent of meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family.”
In addition to this tribe’s personal banner, the brigade leaders also had a separate standard for their side (East, West, North, South). The tabernacle was surrounded with the flags of the four brigade leaders.
According to Jewish tradition it was believed that the standards of the tribes were as follows:
- Ephraim - West (black Ox on gold background).
- Reuben - South (Man on gold background).
- Dan - North (gold Eagle on a blue background).
Each of the four sides housed three tribes, with the Lion, Man, Ox, and Eagle as the Brigade leaders. Thus, these beasts that John saw were the Emblems of the armies of the Brigade Leaders on each side. Since the tabernacle is a reflection of what is in Heaven, we can now see that it also contained a representation of the 4 living creatures in John’s.
The tribes individual banners were:
Ruben: Red flag with mandrake flowers (duda'im)
Simon: Green flag with buildings of the city of Sh'chem
Levi: Red, white and black flag with the High Priest's breastplate (Urim &'Tumim)
Judah: Sky blue flag with a lion
Issac: Bluish black flag with a sun and moon
Zebulun: White flag with a ship
Dan: Blue flag with a snake
Naftali: Deep wine colored flag with a deer
Gad: Black and white flag with a tent camp
Asher: Pearlescent colored flag with an olive tree
Joseph: Pitch black flag with Egypt depicted upon it.
- Joseph’s two sons who became tribes:
- Ephraim was pictured a flag with an ox,
- Menasheh was a flag with a wild ox [re’em]
Benjamin: Multicolored flag with a wolf
Whenever the bible refers to a palm tree, it is referring to a specific type of palm tree known as the “date palm” which flourished in that area at the time.
The palm tree is a symbol of victory, triumph, peace and eternal life originating in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean world. A palm branch was awarded to victorious athletes in ancient Greece, and a palm frond or the tree itself is one of the most common attributes of Victory personified in ancient Rome. In Christianity, the palm branch is associated particularly with Palm Sunday, when according to Christian tradition palm branches were waved at the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It was adopted into Christian iconography to represent the victory of martyrs, or the victory of the spirit over the flesh.
17In the space above the outside of the entrance to the inner sanctuary and on the walls at regular intervals all around the inner and outer sanctuary 18were carved cherubim and palm trees. Palm trees alternated with cherubim. Each cherub had two faces: 19the face of a human being toward the palm tree on one side and the face of a lion toward the palm tree on the other. They were carved all around the whole temple.
- The temple had cherubim and palm branches
- The cherubim had two faces (lion and human)
1 Kings 6:29
On the walls all around the temple, in both the inner and outer rooms, he carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers.
- Cherubim seem to be associated with palm trees
12The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
- Palm trees are associated with the righteous
9After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
11All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
- We see that similar to the cherubim in the temple, the 4 living creatures are associated with palm branches
- Those carrying palm branches are the Christians who believed in Jesus
The cherubim and the palm trees were often associated. Both of them pictured righteousness in the sanctuary of God. The cherub is a righteous and holy being because it is always in the presence of God and the palm tree stood for the good man who had obtained righteousness.
Psalm 92:12 says "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree". Cherubim are innately holy beings because they are always in God’s presence. The palm trees represent human beings who became holy. Cherubim and palm trees are often depicted together in temple and tabernacle drawings. The temple and tabernacle layouts were a shadow or reflection of what is in Heaven. In this passage we see the 4 living creatures are associated with both the 24 elders and Christians who have overcome holding palm branches..
Since we see an association between cherubim and palm trees in the temple, we would expect to see some matching pairing of cherubim and righteous men in Heaven. What we see is a pairing of the 4 Living Creatures associated with righteous men carrying palm branches. This supports the belief that the 4 living creatures in Revelation are indeed cherubim.
It is curious that the palm tree, once so abundant in Judea, is now comparatively rare, except in the Philistine plain and in the old Phoenicia about Beyrout . The word Phoenicia, which occurs twice in the New Testament -- ( Acts 11:19 ; 15:3 ) --is in all probability derived from the Greek word for a palm.
We saw in our previous lesson that cherubim could have 1, 2 or 4 faces, and could have 2 or 4 wings. Today we saw that the 4 living creatures of Revelation had the same face\ial combinations as the cherubim: man, lion, ox, eagle. Each of the living creatures though had a single face. The living creatures also differed from the cherubim we saw previously because they had 6 wings.
We saw that seraphim also have 6 wings and are associated with God’s throne, but since the seraphim interact with humans and don’t appear to be worthy of showing their faces before God it’s unlikely that the 4 living creatures are seraphim.
Although the 4 living creatures had only one face whereas the cherubim in Ezekiel’s vision had four faces, we saw the the cherubim above the ark of the covenant only had one face. We have also seen that cherubim can have 2 or 4 wings, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that some may also have 6 depending on their role.
I would conclude that these 4 Living Creatures are a special anointed class of cherubim.
The cherubim’s primary role is connected to providing service to God and are always depicted in relation to God’s throne. God would come down between the cherubim of the ark, the 4 living creatures were seen among or around God’s throne, and the cherubim of Ezekiel’s vision were beneath God’s throne.
The 4 Living Creatures are almost always mentioned in conjunction with God and usually with the 24 elders. They are often mentioned as worshiping in conjunction with the 24 elders. We saw that the 4 lead tribes had banners which bore the likeness of the faces of the 4 living creatures. Many believe the 24 elders to have some association to the 12 tribes of Israel. So the tribal brigades bearing the 4 standards with faces of an ox, man, eagle and lion mirrors the association of the 4 Living Creatures with the 24 elders in Heaven.
We also see the 4 Living Creatures associated with Christians carrying palm branches similar to how we see cherubim and the palm trees depicted together in the temple.
- The 4 Living Creatures that John saw around God’s throne in the book of Revelation each had a different face. One had the face of an ox, one of an eagle, one of a man and one of a lion.
- These differed from the cherubim in Ezekiel’s vision because each cherubim in Ezekiel’s vision had all four faces
- Both types of creatures were covered in eyes
- Those in Ezekiel’s vision had 4 wings whereas those in Revelation had 6
- The 4 Living Creatures in Revelation were distinguished from the angels, and were almost always mentioned in association with the 24 elders
- Although the seraphim of Isaiah’s vision had 6 wings and were covered with eyes, they interacted with man and had to cover their faces in the presence of God, so we concluded that they must be of a different class than the 4 Living creatures.
- The Israelite camps around the tabernacle were separated into 3 groups on each of the 4 sides of the tabernacle. Each group of 3 had a flag or standard which represented it. One flag bore the images of an ox, one of an eagle, one of a man and one of a lion. These were the same as the four faces of the living creatures surrounding God’s throne. This again showed how the tabernacle was a reflection of what was in Heaven.
- We also saw that the 4 gospels are said to symbolically represent: a man, a lion, an eagle, and an ox.
- We saw that the walls of the temple were decorated with pictures of cherubim and palm trees. This was similar to a description of men holding palm branches with the 4 living creatures in the book Revelation.
- Because of these and other reasons we concluded that the 4 living creatures were cherubim. They were possibly of a different class than those in Ezekiel’s vision.
Presenter: Michael Leadon
1Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. 3And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.
Palm Branches for Jesus
12 On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,
13 Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.