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THE LIVING CREATURES

 

 

And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 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. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:5b–11).

 

John has seen the magnificence of the Glorified Christ sitting on the throne of the Kingdom of God. In viewing Christ, his attention was drawn to 24 elders sitting on thrones that surround Christ’s throne. These we learned represent the redeemed of all ages. Christ spoke the Word of God, the gospel, from His throne and produced the visible representation of the Kingdom of God, the church filled with the Holy Spirit. And then John saw a sea of glass at the feet of Christ, which we learned represents the blood of Christ, the only way to approach Christ and enter the Kingdom of God.

 

In the Midst and Around the Throne

 

As John looks upon this sea of glass he sees four living creatures each with an unusual but specific attribute.

The first thing he noticed was the position of these living creatures; they were “in the midst of the throne and around the throne.” This positioning is somewhat difficult to understand at first. The New American Standard Bible and several other modern versions render the position as “in the center and around the throne.” The Living Bible renders this with a logical but somewhat dubious expression: “Four Living Beings . . . stood at the throne’s four sides.” The version call The Message has a fantastic rendering for this position: “Prowling around the Throne were Four Animals.” The literal rendering of the Greek actually written by John is “in midst of the throne and in a circle of the throne.”

The Greek word translated “the midst” is mes-os, meaning the middle. Vincent in his Word Studies describes this positioning of in the midst and around in this manner:

 

Commonly explained as in the midst of each of the four sides of the throne. “At the extremities of two diameters passing through the center of the round throne.” (Milligan)[1]

 

In other words, take the four corners of the throne, draw lines through the center from opposite corners, and where they intersect is the middle of the throne.

One might ask, “What is the significance of this positioning?” When we read through this chapter of the Revelation we tend to pass over this to go on to the descriptions of the living creatures. What is significant about the positioning is that the Glorified Christ sitting on the throne and the four living creatures occupy the same space. They are in the middle of the throne and their presence extends from the middle to all the sides of the throne. In other words, there is an apparent combination of the Glorified Christ and the four living creatures. They are not one and the same as Christ, but their unique attributes emanate from their position in Christ.

In the simplest of terms, John here sees the mysterious reality of the redeemed being in Christ and Christ being in the redeemed. Does the Bible teach that the redeemed are in Christ? 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” This is the reality of real conversion; a real and permanent change of values and behavior.

Albert Barnes in his commentary writes of the new creation:

 

. . . all who become true Christians—undergo such a change in their views and feelings as to make it proper to say of them that they are new creatures. No matter what they have been before, whether moral or immoral; whether infidels or speculative believers; whether amiable, or debased, sensual, and polluted, yet if they become Christians they all experience such a change as to make it proper to say they are a new creation.

 

Adam Clarke may possibly be stronger in what he writes:

 

It is vain for a man to profess affinity to Christ according to the flesh, while he is unchanged in his heart and life, and dead in trespasses and sins; for he that is in Christ, that is, a genuine Christian, having Christ dwelling in his heart by faith, is a new creature; his old state is changed: he was a child of Satan, he is now a child of God; he was a slave of sin, and his works were death; he is now made free from sin, and has his fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. He was before full of pride and wrath; he is now meek and humble. He formerly had his portion in this life, and lived for this world alone; he now hath God for his portion, and he looks not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are eternal. Therefore, old things are passed away.

 

Yes, as born again Christians, we are in Christ; but is Christ in us? We are told in Colossians 1:27, “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Remember what Jesus told His disciples in John 14:17 and 18; He said that the Holy Spirit “will be in you” and then tells them “I will come to you”. In gospel salvation Christ comes into the hearts of believers through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. How many times do we exhort people to let Jesus come into their hearts? The essence of salvation is not joining a church or subscribing to a set of doctrines, it is Christ actually living in your spirit.

While these four living creatures are in Christ and Christ is in them, we see that this positioning is the result of two things. First, the lamps of fire, the church filled with the Holy Spirit, shining the light of the gospel to them, and Second, the sea of glass, the blood of Christ that cleanses from all sin.

 

The Attributes of the Four Living Creatures

 

They each have unique attributes, but they also have two attributes in common: they each have six wings and eyes in front and in back. Their unique attributes are their faces. The attributes of the living creatures in John’s vision represent certain attributes of the born-again Christian, the redeemed, through his relationship with Christ: he in Christ and Christ in him.

The first attribute is the eyes of the creatures, which are described as “full of eyes in front and in back”.

The Apostle Paul gives his testimony of Christ calling him to preach the gospel in Acts 26:17–18,

 

I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.

 

A person in Christ has experienced this opening of his eyes and possesses a spiritual discernment he did not have as a sinner: He can tell the difference between darkness and light, error and truth: and, He can tell the difference between the power of Satan and the power of God. Those that are not in Christ are ignorant of both discernments.

Jesus taught in Matthew 6:22, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. Jesus speaks of the eye as the spiritual filter that defines moral quality. If your eye is good (your King James Version says “single”) your body will be full of light. When the moral compass is focused on the Knowledge of Good, it reaches to the spirit and produces works of righteousness. Adam Clarke makes a fairly long discourse on the single eye in which he makes a corresponding statement:

 

If the line of simple intention be drawn straight to him [Christ], and the soul walk by it, with purity of affection, the whole man shall be light in the Lord; the rays of that excellent glory shall irradiate the mind, and through the whole spirit shall the Divine nature be transfused.

 

To the opposite, Jesus said, “If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness”. The Living Bible gives a simple but insightful rendering, “But if your eye is clouded with evil thoughts and desires, you are in deep spiritual darkness. And oh, how deep that darkness can be!”

So, the living creatures, those that are in Christ and Christ in them, are full of eyes in front and in back showing that they are given spiritual discernment to recognize Christ’s moral values and requirements in ALL situations. Nothing is left to personal judgement in the matter of good and evil, right and wrong.

Jumping ahead to verse 8 in Revelation chapter four, we find that each of the living creatures has six wings. Most commentators relate the wings to swift obedience of God’s will, or some kind of movement in the kingdom. However, the New Testament is rather sparse with the use of the word wing or wings. There are only three instances where the word is used or implied. Jesus uses the word wings one time; Acts 9:27 does not have the word wing, but there is an allusion to the concept of a wing; and Hebrews makes a reference to wings by virtue of the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant.

In Matthew 23:37 looking over Jerusalem, Jesus says,

 

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

 

Jesus speaks with great compassion for the people He came to save from sin, but rejected Him. As the hen’s wings are the means of compassion for her chicks, Christ’s compassion is the same to all mankind. Jesus is stern in His requirements for salvation, but He loves all people and out of the deepest compassion does everything He can to help them repent and trust Him. His deepest desire is to gather them together in Him.

In Acts 9:27 we find Barnabas, the son of consolation, helping a new convert by the name of Paul. The New King James Version says that “Barnabas took him”—the version called the Message adds a great deal of pathos as it says, “Then Barnabas took him under his wing. He introduced him to the apostles and stood up for him”. Barnabas saw that the apostles and the church at Jerusalem did not trust Paul as he had recently been the agent of their persecution. Barnabas realized that Paul had seen the Lord and had a real conversion experience and needed someone to come along side and help build their confidence in his salvation and the work to which Jesus called him.

The New Living Translation renders Hebrews 9:5 in a way that expresses God’s presence on the mercy seat. “Above the Ark were the cherubim of divine glory, whose wings stretched out over the Ark’s cover, the place of atonement.” The presence of God dwelt between the wings of the cherubim on the mercy seat of the Ark. God’s presence there was to have mercy on the people and to make atonement for, or take away, their sins.

Reaching back to the Levitical Law, we find that God’s people are required to have compassion on those that are not of the spiritual household. Leviticus 19:33–34,

 

And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him.  The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

 

The Law separated God’s people from all other people in the world; but, we see in that same separation, God’s people are to be compassionate to the strangers among them. Translating that concept into the gospel, Christians are to have compassion on non-Christians remembering they themselves were once lost in sin, and it is through their love and compassion that God would draw sinners to Himself and the salvation He has made possible for them.

So, we find that those that are in Christ and Christ in them have the mercy of Christ, not just upon them for their sakes, but in their lives for the benefit of those in need of salvation.

 

The Four Faces

 

The four faces are unique in the vision they are but common traits of the redeemed, each being complimented by the moral clarity or the eyes and heart-felt compassion of the wings.

Four different faces are presented, but that does not imply that Christians are divided into four groups. There are not “lion” Christians and “eagle” Christians; just Christians having all the attributes these faces represent. The traits of moral discernment and compassion are more or less background traits of the redeemed. The four faces represent four aspects of the grace of God in the lives of all the redeemed.

 

The Face of a Lion

 

The face of a lion is representative of the grace to reign over sin. On his death-bed, Jacob identified his son Judah with the lion, and it is from the family of Judah that the kings of Israel descended. In Numbers chapter 23, when Balaam was hired to curse Israel by Balak, Balaam was only able to speak well of Israel and in verse 24 says, “Look, a people rises like a lioness, And lifts itself up like a lion; It shall not lie down until it devours the prey, And drinks the blood of the slain.”

The lion is noted and respected for its power. Micah 5:8 likens the people of God to a lion,

 

And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, who, if he passes through, both treads down and tears in pieces, and none can deliver.

 

As the redeemed, we are given grace to reign over sin in this life as seen in these following verses.

 

But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20–21).

 

Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. (Romans 6:11–12).

 

And looking ahead into Revelation chapter 5, we are told in verse 10 that the redeemed have been made “kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”

 

The Face of a Calf

 

The calf, or young bullock, was one of the animals used for sacrifices under the Law of Moses. In the lives of the redeemed, the calf represents the grace of commitment.

The redeemed no longer get to use a calf for a sacrifice because we are now the sacrifice; a sacrifice of total commitment to the will of God. We are charged in Romans 12:1–2,

 

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

 

With our moral compass focused on the Knowledge of Good, our spirit and lives reach to the spiritual and produce righteousness. That righteousness is to be lived out and exemplified in our bodies. As the redeemed we have the grace to submit our wills to the will of God in all things.

 

The Face of a Man

 

In having grace to reign over sin and live lives committed to the will of God, we also have grace to be human. This is the face of a man. As the redeemed we do not become angels or super-human, we remain human in all aspects and we find that we are subject to the weakness of our humanity.

The Apostle Paul was a man mightily used by God but yet was keenly aware of his humanity. He refused to rely on how God had used him in the kingdom, instead he wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:5, “Of such a one I will not boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities”.

In recognizing the limitations of his humanity he actually allowed the power of Christ to become prominent in his life as he records in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10,

 

 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

As the redeemed, we live for God in our fleshly bodies that are subject to all kinds of weakness. Our weakness is not an excuse for failure in the things of God. And human weakness does not mean the redeemed are prone to sin. Our weakness is an avenue to the grace of God.

 

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15–16).

 

The Face of an Eagle

 

The final face is that of an eagle, which represents the grace to endure. The eagle is noted for its strength and endurance as can be seen in Deuteronomy 32:11, “As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings.” In Exodus 19:4 we find God carrying the Israelites on eagle’s wings: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.”

The grace of endurance is given to those that commit themselves to God as we are told in Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait on 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.”

 

Homage to the Glorified Christ

 

In verses 8–11 of Revelation chapter 4 we see the homage the redeemed give to the Glorified Christ.

Our redemption and the righteous life we live are not the fruit of our own efforts; they are the result of the grace of God. Praise to the Glorified Christ flows from our hearts. We are seen saying,

 

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is to come!

 

The testimonies of the redeemed are joined in great humility with the testimonies of all the redeemed. We cast our crowns before the throne; that is, we acknowledge it is only by His grace and power we are saved from and reign over sin. And we constantly acknowledge what He has done for us:

 

You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.



[1] Vincent, Marvin R.,  Word Studies in the New Testament,  MacDonald Publishing Company: McLean, VA, 1888,  Volume II, pg. 481.