The Four Living Creatures With Eyes All Over

God’s symbolic throne room represents His faithfulness to His own word—both His promise never to destroy the world and everything in it again (Cf. 4:1-4; Genesis 9) and His Law (Cf. 4:5; Exodus 9:16-17). Today, we will consider the Father’s holiness and worthiness.

Revelation 4:6-11

…and 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. 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. 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.”

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, 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,

“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.”

The four creatures (v. 6-8)

…and 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. 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. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within… 

We find almost all the imagery John employs, here, in Ezekiel 1. In fact, all of the imagery from Revelation 4 is found also in Ezekiel 1, from the throne to the rainbow to the the thunder and lightning. The glass floor doesn’t have to represent anything, but it does allude to the expanse above the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1:22. Some people go crazy trying to find a part-for-part comparison for every symbol. John’s Revelation is not a puzzle, it’s a picture. John’s description of the four living creatures alludes to Ezekiel’s cherubim in Ezekiel 1 and 10:20-22. In Ezekiel, the Cherubim:

  • had a human form,
  • each had four faces and four wings,
  • each had the face of a man, lion, bull, and eagle,
  • were constantly in the presence of God’s decree and the Holy Spirit,
  • had many eyes on wheels that observed the condition of the world,
  • represented the almighty to those who dwelled on the earth, and
  • represented the word of the almighty through and to the prophet Ezekiel.

So, in order to understand Revelation 4 and the remainder of the book, we need to have a working knowledge of Ezekiel’s prophecy or the basic Old Testament prophetic formula. In Ezekiel we see four major prophetic themes. Ezekiel announces the condition of the world and them declares God’s judgment upon Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:1-24:27), God’s judgment upon the nations (Ezekiel 25:1-32:32), God’s promise to provide repentance to Israel (Ezekiel 33:1-33), and the redemption of God’s remnant within the nation of Israel (Ezekiel 34:1-48:35). John is describing the same work in Revelation, particularly in this second vision, that God has been doing through the Old Testament. This vision will follow the basic format of Ezekiel’s prophecy. The cherubim, with their eyes of observation, will announce the condition of the world as Jesus Christ breaks the coming seals.

These cherubim could see the whole of the heavens and earth and followed the Holy Spirit’s movement. Some people will assume that the eyes indicate God’s omniscience, but the eyes are not on God. They are on the cherubim. To say they represent omniscience is to assume more about the text than is there. These four cherubim are the witnesses being called on to testify in the Father’s symbolic courtroom. Though they do not represent omniscience, the eyes do indicate that nothing goes unseen or unheard. This is not new symbolism in our age and is not reserved for the future; The same work was being done in the time of Ezekiel. This is God’s perpetual observation of the earth’s condition. He never stops monitoring. Every act, just and unjust, of humankind and every condition of the earth is seen and testified about in the Father’s symbolic heavenly courtroom.

…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.”

In all of their work in the heavens and observation on Earth as directed by the Holy Spirit, the angels never stop proclaiming God’s holiness. This means the work of angels is not to better human lives according to our preferences but to work such that God is seen as the holy and righteous one, not people.

Notice the difference in the language between this worshipful statement and the statement of the twenty-four elders in verse 11. The elders are speaking directly to God. The cherubim are not. Their ministry is a ministry of testifying concerning the condition of things. Before the testify about the condition of the world, the testify concerning the condition of God. He is holy, holy, holy; Three is the apocalyptic number of divinity and holiness. The world’s condition is measured by the standard of the almighty’s holiness.

These four witnesses also identify the almighty as the one who was, is, and is to come. God did not exist before His creation, which is impossible if time began to exist, but He does occupy all of time—making Him not only timeless but eternal, omni-transcendent. He stretched out the heavens like a metaphorical canopy in which His omnipresence dwells (Cf. Psalm 40:22). When we recognize the Father’s eternality, we recognize the nature of His work. He considers the condition of the earth for the purpose of judgment according to His promise and Law—which renews His earth and destroys that which is not of Him, sanctifies His people and derogates the reprobate. All of this is a perpetual work. God was, is, and is to come. His judgment and redemption was, is, and is to come. John does not say, these things and God is only to come… The cherubim declare God’s perpetuality and the perpetuality of His work by His word—promise and Law. To see God’s work as strictly future is to ignore the Old Testament and fail to consider His eternality and immutability (unchanging, holy nature). Necessarily, then, this indicates that God’s work before the Fall of Humankind in the Garden of Eden was done in order to work out His promise and the first Law in the Garden served the same purpose the Mosaic Law would; God’s work in the resurrection forevermore will be done according to His promise, and the Law will still reveal His holiness. God never changes. He is always doing the same work. There are no dispensations of Law or grace or special great tribulation. God’s eternal and immutable nature refute those ideas that have been added to the Scriptures. He was, is, and is to come.

The worship of the saints (v. 9-11)

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, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever…

The angels’ testimony about God’s condition causes God’s complete two-fold church, represented by the 24 elders, to worship the Father because the Father is the only one worthy of worship. They prostrate themselves because they recognize His holiness. Holiness doesn’t merely mean God is set apart from the world. He is holy because His nature is the very standard by which the condition of all other things are measured. If we have not the nature of God for ourselves, we are unholy and unrighteous—falling short of God’s glory. No one has God’s nature within them. The only reason the saints can worship holy God is because they have been clothed in white (Cf. v. 4); They have had God’s own righteousness imputed to them, and they are seen by God to have His righteousness. Without imputation, there is no hope of holiness and no hope of escaping holy God’s just judgment. His nature is the standard, not our works. Without being clothed in His righteousness, we will be observed according to our works and just testimony will be levied against us in the Father’s courtroom (Cf. 20:11-15). May we seek first God’s righteousness, not our own.

…and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “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.”

The saints cast their crowns, the symbol of reward and eternal life, before the Father’s symbolic throne. Why? Salvation belongs to Him, and He places it upon the people He chooses to clothe in His righteousness. After hearing the testimony of the cherubim, the saints worship. God is worthy because He is creation’s creator and sustainer according to His will alone. Only by the Father’s will were all things created, do they exist, and will they be sustained and renewed. We worship God because He is holy, not to gain something from Him or feel spiritual or to be entertained. True worship comes from a realization of God’s holiness. We care less about genre, being attracted to a building, or doing what we feel is best for us because our eyes are opened and we metaphorically hear the the cherubs calling from the throne room, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the almighty…” We, a humanity with more issues that we can count in light of God’s holiness, prostrate ourselves before the almighty knowing we have been clothed in His righteousness. We do not deserve to come worship, but God is winning His just reward. He is worthy. We must stop trying to produce good enough works. We must recognize God’s holiness, be clothed in His righteousness, and cast our crowns before His judgment seat. We will either be judged according to our own righteousnesses or God’s imputed righteousness. I fear for the person who hopes to measure up to God’s holiness by his or her own religiosity. Repent. Believe the Gospel. Take, as a garment, the righteousness of humanity’s only savior—Jesus Christ.

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