The Four Beings (Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4)

Just to clarify, this is not an eschatological look at the apocalyptic writings of the Bible. So don’t worry – I am not going to pull out any time charts on you – that’s not my area of expertise or speciality…

As ENCS Music (my worship team at our church here in Singapore) are in the studio recording the new album “All the Way” this month, I felt led to get the team to read Ezekiel 1, Isaiah 6 and the first 4 chapters of Revelation, looking at a few of the similarities in those particular passages of the encounter of the supernatural presence of God.

The Four Beings

Ezekiel 1

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 that of a man, 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 the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, 9 and their wings touched one 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 man, 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. Their wings were spread out upward; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body. 12 Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. 13 The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. 14 The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.

Revelation 4

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings.

I’m fascinated at the choices of animal that God chose to reveal in this encounter that the exiled Ezekiel and the imprisoned John had. The lion, the ox, the man and the flying eagle – in both the Old Testament encounter and New Testament. Why were these animal faces looked upon in particular as being the faces that these worshiping winged creatures had. I checked out a few commentaries, and I enjoyed what I found.

The Lion – Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commented that the lion is a representation of the ROYALTY aspect of the enthroned Jesus. This can also be seen as a precursor from Ezekiel’s perspective and a confirmation from John’s perspective of the gospels (although the gospels were not necessarily confirmed from a canonical perspective at the time of the writing of Revelation). So if the animals were the four gospels, the lion with be Matthew – whose emphasis is the royalty and the identity of Christ as the foretold coming Messiah.

When compared to the four sub-camps of Israelites that left Egyptian slavery, the symbol of Judah camp was the lion.

The Ox – The hard-working goaded animal who plows the ground work for seed to be sown. Most gospel scholars will tell you that Mark served as the foundational text for the other two septuagint gospels, Matthew and Luke.

The camp of Ephraim was the one with the symbol of the ox, and Ephraim camp would be opposite facing the camp of Judah. A reminder that although royal in identity, there was still hard foundational work to be done for the Israelites in plowing new ground.

The Man – Luke referred to Jesus as the “Son of Man” and drawing from Ezekiel’s reference. It was here also in the gospel of Luke that we find the detailed depiction of Jesus as the man, in his suffering and in his relationships with those around him. The camp of Reuben was the one that would have the man as the emblem, and would be situated south of the tabernacle. To be “south” in the Genesis allegory, was to be “down” not just geographically, but also subservient in relation to the Tabernacle, which symbolized the meeting place of God at that time.

The Eagle – and not just any eagle, but a soaring eagle. John was that gospel, with his high picture of Christology, pointing primarily at the divine nature of Christ, and featuring the 7 miracles and 7 “I am” statements of Christ. The tribe of Dan was the tribe represented with the Eagle crest, and was of course situated north of the tabernacle, signifying the opposite side of man, being the nature of the God whose ways are far higher than ours.

There’s much more in the symbolism of this imagery, but I feel it necessary to highlight, that it is within the context of worship and communion that we encounter these creatures. These too are clues as to how God should be viewed in Jesus Christ, that he is indeed the majestic Lion of Judah who devours injustice, yet at the same time he is like the Ox who has laid the groundwork for our salvation through the cross. Jesus is like the Eagle who is the embodiment of Heavenly truth, yet at the same time Man who is able to empathize with the suffering – because He has been there…

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