Many who read the Bible have the same struggle. This Book from God is filled with a great deal of literal narration, yet some of it is obviously symbolic. As difficult as this is for some, both forms of literature need to be considered when interpreting God’s Word. For instance, consider this vision seen by John and recorded in the last book of the Bible.
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)
Today’s devotional reading focused on the “no rest” and never-ending praise that will be part of our experience in eternity with Jesus Christ. For me, I wondered about the four living creatures. This is not the first mention of odd living things full of eyes. Elsewhere, they are said to be like a lion, or an ox, or a man, or an eagle. I can understand the idea of never-ending praise, but what do these creatures represent?
Apparently, the church Fathers identified them with the four Gospels and how their authors used symbols to express an aspect of Christ in relation to the world. Even the number four is significant as the four quarters of the world, so these four writings present yet another symbol.
In them, Matthew gives prominence to Jesus as royalty, the Lion of Judah. Mark focus on the laborious endurance of the Savior like the ox. Luke points to Jesus as the man, filled with brotherly sympathy to humanity. John depicts Jesus in soaring majesty, the eagle and the divine Word, God in human flesh.
As for this passage in Revelation, these four living creatures seem to represent the body of Christ, the redeemed church, who are involved in ceaseless praise. As His people, we are ministering as kings and priests to God, and ministers to bless a redeemed earth. As His people, we will stand at the head of all, human in ourselves yet filled with the divine Holy Spirit. One commentator says we are the lion who is the head of wild beasts, the ox who leads of tame beasts, and the eagle who is over all birds.
In another view, that of Jewish tradition, there were “four standards” under which Israel camped in the wilderness: Judah to the east, Dan to the north, Ephraim to the west, and Reuben to the south. Respectively, these were a lion, an eagle, an ox, and a man. The tabernacle stood In the midst of their camp, a symbol of God’s presence with them. This pictures “that blessed period when—the earth having been fitted for being the kingdom of the Father—the court of heaven will be transferred to earth, and the ‘tabernacle of God shall be with men’ (Revelation 21:3), and the whole world will be subject to a never-ending theocracy.”
As is the way of God’s Word, the point of union between the Old and New Testament views is Christ, the perfect realization of Old Testament ideals. He is presented in a fourfold aspect in the four Gospels respectively. Then at the end of time and throughout eternity, the redeemed Church will realize those ideals because of Him.
We will, as His Body, combine human perfections because we will be fully like Him. This includes: (1) kingly righteousness that hates evil; (2) laborious diligence in every duty; (3) human sympathy; and (4) the contemplation of eternal truth. As the high-soaring intelligence of the eagle forms a contrasted complement to practical labor with the ox bound to the soil; so God’s holy and judicial vengeance against evil is a contrasted complement to human sympathy.
Earlier, the creatures are each said to have “six wings.” Two covered each face in reverence, as not presuming to lift up their faces to God. Two wings covered the feet of each in humility, not worthy to stand in God’s holy presence. The other two wings gave each creature flight in obedient readiness, instantly doing God’s commands.
This is a picture of what Jesus Christ is like, and what I ought to be like as one small member of His body. In eternity, this will happen day and night. Right now, after reading these things, it should be happening more often.
Lord, sometimes I focus on my personal relationship with You to the point that I forget the bigger and even grander scheme of things. A song says, “Christ is exalted above all else.” That is what You want from me, to exalt the One who is described in the actions of a God-man who came to earth, but also depicted with symbols as the King over all, Servant to You and to all who call out to You, Friend and caregiver to the masses, and Divine Almighty God who is worthy to receive glory, honor and power. I am not worthy of such a role yet gladly do whatever I can to lift up Your Name.