Revelation 4:6-7 (ESV)
6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight.
One of the best illustrations that I have ever heard to describe the role of God’s creation is that we are as mirrors, reflecting to one another the glories of our Creator. As human beings, it is our purpose in life to show the universe aspects of the glory of our Lord. Other people, angels, or the creation itself should be able to look at us and see us reflecting glimpses of who God is and how wonderful he is. No, we will never perfectly mirror the infinite, but we can show tiny reflections of some of God’s attributes.
This morning I was listening to Hershael York working through a series overviewing the book of Revelation (a series I’m enjoying quite a lot). In that series, I listened to Dr. York reading the verses above, and was again struck by the glorious pictures in this passage. My mind has since been working through how these verses also show us some of the mirroring of God’s glory.
The four living creatures around God’s throne in the book of Revelation are mysterious beings. Are they angels? They don’t look like any angels we see in other passages. They are, well, creatures. God made them and gave them a purpose. I would put forward, though tentatively to be sure, that their purpose is to reflect to us aspects of the work of Christ in redemption.
The four faces of the creatures have been interpreted in a variety of ways. The one that makes the most sense to me would show us four aspects of the person of Christ. The lion could represent Judah, kingship, Messiah. The ox could represent humble servanthood. The man could represent humanity as Christ took on true human form to save us. The flying eagle could represent deity.
(at this point, let me say that there are several other good options available to you here, so let’s not get dogmatic. One example is people saying that the lion is for wild beasts, the ox is for tame beasts, the man for humanity, and the eagle for flying creatures—all four categories over which God reigns as supreme.)
What is also fascinating, if you go with my look at the four beasts, is that we see those four purposes paralleled in the four gospels. Looking at Matthew, we see the genealogy of Jesus arguing for his kingship or his being Messiah—the lion. Looking at Mark, there is no genealogy which may indicate the humble servanthood of Christ who laid down his rights to rescue God’s children—the ox. Looking at Luke, we see the genealogy of Jesus taking us all the way back to Adam, establishing Jesus’ humanity—the man. John’s gospel has no genealogy, but begins with and regularly asserts the deity of Jesus—the eagle.
Could it be that those four creatures around the throne of God have faces that are eternally reminding us of the person and work of Jesus Christ? He is the Messiah, the humble servant, the God who became man, and the man who is still God. Maybe so. And if this is the job of those creatures, even their only job, what a glorious role they have. Forever, they fly near the throne of God, show the universe the person and work of Christ, and declare God to be triply holy and worthy of all praise. If this is the purpose of these creatures, they fulfill their roles well, and they must be overjoyed to eternally see and savor the glory of the Lord.
So, taking my little foray into symbolism to another level, how about you? What kind of face would be on you as a sign of who God is? If people were to look at your life, would they see a creature that shows them some of God’s love, his grace, his compassion, his purity, his kindness, his mercy, etc? What do you show the world about your Creator? It is certain that God has made you in his image. You are to be a mirror of his glory. You will be most happy, most fulfilled, when you are busily showing the universe around you the awesome beauty of our God.