God on the Throne, Part 5 of 6 (series: Lessons on Revelations)
by John Lowe
7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
According to this verse, each of these creatures has a different face; lion, calf, man, and eagle. Each symbol shows that all of creation is represented before the throne, and thus all of creation is worshipping God. But sinful man worships and serves the creature rather than the Creator, and this is idolatry—“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:25, NIV). Furthermore, sinful man has polluted and destroyed God’s wonderful creation; and he is going to pay for it—“The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth” (see Revelation 11:18, NIV). Creation is for God’s praise and pleasure, and man has no right to usurp that which rightfully belongs to God. Man plunged creation into sin, so that God’s good creation (Genesis 1:31) is today a groaning creation (Romans 8:22); but because of Christ work on the cross, it will one day be delivered and become a glorious creation (Revelation 8:18-24). Creations purpose is to bring glory to God.
What do these four living creatures symbolize? The four living creatures stand for everything that is the best, strongest, wisest and swiftest in nature. Each has the pre-eminence in his own particular sphere.
• The “lion” is supreme among wild beasts—he is king of all the beasts (Genesis 49:9; Daniel 7:4; Amos 3:8). The lion symbolizes the powerful and effective working of the Son of God, His leadership, and His royal power, his majesty and omnipotence.
• The “ox” is supreme among cattle and represents domesticated animals. The ox signifies the priestly side of His work, for it is the animal of sacrifice. The ox denotes humility and patience, and is a beast of faithful labor (read 1 Corinthians 9:9-10; Proverbs 14:4).
• “Man” is supreme among all creatures. The man symbolizes Christ’s incarnation. Man is the highest of God’s creation, denoting wisdom, reason, and intelligence (Isaiah 1:18; Job 9:24; Ezra 9:6; 1 Corinthians 2:11).
• The “eagle” is supreme among birds, representing absolute sovereignty. The eagle is the wisest of all birds. He flies the highest, is keenest of sight and is swift to go into action (Deuteronomy 28:49; 9:26, Hebrews 1:8; Job 39). The eagle represents the gift of the Holy Spirit, hovering with His wings over the Church.
These characteristics combined to express the character of God’s throne in relation to earth. Another possible view is that they represent Christ as revealed in the four Gospels: in Matthew, the lion of the tribe of Judah; and Mark, the ox as the servant of Yahweh; in Luke, the incarnate human Jesus; and in John, the eagle pictures the divine Son of God. Another alternative is that the four living creatures are angels (Isaiah 6:2-3), who extol the attributes of God.
Note that there is no mention of fish in the new heaven and the new earth; there will be no more sea, and since there is no sea, you will not need any fish. Nor will there be reptiles. The serpent will not be there to introduce sin as he did at the beginning.
The beasts represent all the greatness and the strength and the beauty of nature; here we see nature praising God. In the verses to follow we see the twenty-four elders praising God; and when we put the two pictures together we get the picture of both nature and man engaged in constant adoration of God. “The ceaseless activity of nature under the hand of God is a ceaseless tribute of praise.” God uses the forces of nature to accomplish His will (Psalm 148), and all nature praises and thanks Him.
The idea of nature praising God is one which occurs in the Old Testament more than once. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2, NIV). “Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion” (Psalm 103:22, NIV). Psalm 148 as a magnificent summons to all of nature to join in praising God. Whatever carries out the function for which it was created is thereby worshipping God.
The humblest and the most unseen activity in the world can be the true worship of God. Work and worship literally become one. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever; and man carries out that function when he does what
God sent him into the world to do. Work well done rises like a hymn of praise to God.
This means that the doctor on his rounds, the scientist in his laboratory, the teacher in his classroom, the musician at his music, the artist at his canvas, the shop assistant at his counter, the typist at her typewriter, the housewife in her kitchen—all who are doing the work of the world as it should be done are joining in a great act of worship.
8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him. These creatures (created beings) are representative of the creation of God; they continually call out God’s holiness. They repeat the word holy three times, emphasizing that God is holy. They also acknowledge that God is almighty an eternal; He began all things and he will bring all things to a conclusion.
And they were full of eyes within. The eyes indicate complete knowledge—that is, they could perceive and understand everything that was happening.
And they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. Night and day the living creatures never rested from their doxology of praise: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” The doxology seizes on three aspects of God.
• It praises Him for His holiness (Isaiah 6:3).
• It praises His Omnipotence.
• It praises His everlastingness.
The praise is increasing. It reveals the nature of the thrice holy God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This same expression of praise was offered by the Seraphim in the Temple (Isaiah 6:3). There is no temple in heaven in a material sense. All of heaven is God’s sanctuary for those who serve before His holy throne (Revelation 7:15). However, John indicates in Revelation 15:5-8 that there is a special “sanctuary” of God (note also Revelation 11:19). In the eternal state, there will be no temple—“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. (Revelation 21:22).
These glorified beings are intimately connected with the holiness and justice of God. In the prophecy of Isaiah, they sound God’s praise and execute His judgment by taking the coals of fire to purge the lips of the prophet. Here they are doing the same. Before the fury of God’s wrath is poured out, His holiness is magnified. It is because of His holiness that He must judge sin. We are reminded of His holiness, deity, and eternalness. The names “Lord God Almighty” Jehovah Elohim Shaddai
suggest that God is getting ready to resume His relationship with Israel. These names were first given in connection with His chosen people. “Which was, and is, and is to come” also refers to Christ. He identified Himself at the very beginning of this book in just that way: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).
9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
Verses 9-11 offer a picture of worship. The angels give glory, honor, and thanks to the One who sits on the throne. To give someone glory is to put that person on display. To honor is to praise someone for what he or she has done. To give thanks is more than simply recognizing an attribute of someone, but to go one step further and be grateful for who that person is or what he or she has done. But the heart of the worship is centered on displaying God, acknowledging His attributes, and thanking Him for what He has done.
The twenty-four elders seem to be angelic beings, crowned members of the aristocracy of heaven, possibly those alluded to by Paul in his reference to thrones—“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16, NIV). They distinguish themselves from men in Revelation 5:9-10 (American Standard Version): “And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reigna
on the earth.”