Thursday, 29 October 2020
The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. Revelation 4:7
In this verse, we have the continued description of the four living creatures brought into the narrative in the previous verse. John describes them in terms that have already been hinted at, or even explicitly seen in Scripture. Taking the various accounts and weaving them together, we can determine the meaning of the symbolism.
In Numbers, the tribes of Israel were encamped around the tabernacle in a very specific order. On each side, one main tribe was named, and it was accompanied by two other tribes that fell under its degel, or standard.
What each degel was is left unstated. However, it can be deduced by taking later passages in Scripture and combining what is said into one overall theme. This includes where we are now in Revelation 4:7.
Tradition says what they are – which is often a tad more than useless, and which normally leads to something meaning whatever one wishes – but the Bible also alludes to each. First is the standard of Judah, the Lion. Only one time in the Bible is the Lion specifically connected to Jesus. That is in Revelation 5:5 –
“Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” Revelation 5:5
The obvious connotation then is that the Lion is specifically connected to Judah. This confirms what was stated in Genesis –
“Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s children shall bow down before you.
9 Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He bows down, he lies down as a lion;
And as a lion, who shall rouse him?” Genesis 49:8, 9
If we can determine one other standard, then we can form a pattern. And it can be done. Ephraim is represented by an ox several times in Scripture. The first time is in Deuteronomy 33. In the blessing of Joseph, of which Ephraim was the preeminent son, he is equated to a wild ox in verse 17. In Hosea 10:11, Ephraim is called a “trained heifer,” meaning an ox. He is again called a bull in Jeremiah 31:18. These are sufficient to give two standards based on a vision of four living creatures seen in Ezekiel 1 –
“As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Thus were their faces.” Ezekiel 1:10, 11
Ezekiel beheld a vision of four living creatures, each with four faces. The faces are described first as a man. Thus, it is the one Ezekiel is seeing first. To the right is a lion. The right from Ezekiel’s position then corresponds to the east as the tribes are laid out. Thus, the man would be to the south, facing him, where the tribe of Reuben would be. On the left, meaning the west, was an ox. That matches where the tribe of Ephraim, the ox, is according to the camp layout. And that leaves the eagle facing north, where the tribe of Dan is. Thus, we can, with all certainty, see the four standards of the tribes – Judah is a Lion; Reuben is a Man; Ephraim is an Ox; and Dan is an eagle. From there, we can see the intended order of these in a numerical sequence from this verse from the book of Revelation –
“The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.” Revelation 4:7
The order of the faces is described by John in the same order as the layout of the four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew describes Jesus as the great Son of David, and thus King. The symbol of a king is a lion. The king is equated to a lion in Proverbs 19:12 –
“The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion,
But his favor is like dew on the grass.”
Kings are again equated with lions in Jeremiah 50:17 –
“Israel is like scattered sheep;
The lions have driven him away.
First the king of Assyria devoured him;
Now at last this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has broken his bones.”
The symbolism of the lion representing a king is found in Ezekiel 32:2, and elsewhere, also. Next, Mark focuses on Jesus the Servant. The ox is considered a servant animal. In the third Gospel, Luke focuses on Jesus’ humanity, calling Christ the Son of Man. He uses the term 26 times in this way. And finally, John focuses on Christ’s deity, calling Him the Son of God, specifically 10 times, but alluding to the Father/Son relationship continually. The eagle is thus a symbol of John’s Gospel, reflecting the Divine nature of Christ.
The camps are laid out by four standards in Numbers; the standards are revealed to us in Ezekiel; and their order is given to us in Revelation – an order that matches that of the four gospels. Thus, the four sets of tribes, consisting of twelve individual tribes, branching out from the tabernacle to the east, west, south, and north are reflective of the four gospels. They are the witness of the Lord who came and tabernacled among us.
What is recorded there reveals what was anticipated throughout the Old Testament, and that is then explained in the rest of Scripture, as to His Person, His work, and how it pertains to us.
The four creatures around the throne are representative of the four gospels. The eyes all around them are emblematic of the eternal witness of Christ and His fulfillment of the gospels. Everything He did was witnessed and testifies to His sinless perfection. Their being “in the midst of the throne, and around the throne” signifies that they are the central point of the record of Christ – His coming, His fulfillment of the promise of God, His faithful witness, and His centrality to the testimony of God in relation to humanity.
Life application: In the end, everything points to Jesus either directly or indirectly. What is veiled is there for us to unveil as we read and meditate on Scripture. The Person of Jesus Christ is the full and complete revelation of God to us in a form that we can understand. He is the glorious image of the invisible God. He is Jesus.
How wonderful it is to see our Lord and Savior revealed in the pages of the Holy Bible. Thank You, O God, for opening up wonderful pictures of Jesus to us in a manner we can understand and appreciate. Surely, You are a great and awesome God! You are full of splendor and majesty, and You are worthy of all of our praise and devotion! Amen.