John is describing what most Bible translations call ‘the 4 living creatures’ or ‘the 4 beasts’. Creatures or beasts means animals; however, they are not animals. They are some kind of important angel (a special servant of God in heaven). The word for them in the Greek language is ZOON; that word means something that is alive. So it might be better to call them ‘the 4 Living Ones’.
The first of these angels looked like a lion (a very strong wild animal). The second was like a young ox (a strong farm animal that is like a cow). The third had a face like a man. The fourth was like the eagle (a powerful bird). These are the same animals that appear in Ezekiel’s description of the angels called cherubim (Ezekiel 1:10).
People have given many different explanations of this description; we could fill several pages with their ideas. However, the best explanation is probably the simplest one. These angels look like these animals because their character is like these animals. Like lions, these angels are bold (Proverbs 28:1) and strong. Like an ox, although the angels are so strong, they are also very humble. In other words, they loyally do the work that God, as their master, has given them to do. As God has given wisdom and intelligence to people, so these angels are wise and intelligent. As the eagle rises high in the sky, these angels live in the highest heaven.
The fact that there are 4 angels also expresses the idea of strength. A building with 4 walls is strong, as is a city (21:16). If you guard something on all 4 sides, you have protected every side of it. That was what God told Israel’s people to do in Numbers chapter 2. They camped in 4 groups on the 4 sides of God’s house called the tabernacle. There is a tradition (not in the Bible) that the pictures on their flags showed a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle.
Next part: Holy, holy, holy (Revelation 4:8)
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© 2016, Keith Simons.