Angels certainly can look like things beyond our comprehension.
The prophets often describe them as wheels or covered in eyes.
Sometimes they can have multiple wings that cover their
feet and faces.
Or, in the case of Revelation,
we run into another type of angel.
Known as the “four living creatures,”
this type of angel—also known as a cherub--
God without ceasing.
Apostle John runs into these
in Revelation 4.
have the heads
ox, man, lion, and eagle.
Today’s article will explain what these angels are, their function, where else they show up in the Bible, and more.
What Are the Four Living Creatures? As mentioned above, the four living creatures, aka cherubim, are angels with many faces. They have the faces of lions, humans, oxen, and eagles.
In the passage in which they appear in Revelation,
they are covered in eyes, similar to the Ophanim.
Before we explain their function or where else they appear in the Bible,
it may help us understand why God chose
these four particular creatures to make up the heads of these beings.
Let’s dive into the biblical symbolism
of the four heads.
What Do the Four Heads Symbolize?
It’s important to note that commentators have differentiated
what these four heads could represent. Some think they could
symbolize man, the church, the offices, the angels, and so on.
For our intents and purposes,
we’re just looking at what these elements
represent in the biblical text itself.
1. Lion. Christ is known as the lion of Judah. Lions typically represent strength and power in the Bible. They’re known for their fearlessness, anger, and ferocity. Perhaps this angel could represent God’s power and dominion. It should be important to note that lions don’t always have positive connotations in the Bible. Sometimes Satan is described as a prowling lion, looking to devour unsuspecting victims.
2. Ox. This may seem like a strange symbol to have on an angel’s face. Oxen are not the most graceful or beautiful of creatures. What comes to mind is Jesus’ warning for us to take on his burden, for his yoke is light—yokes being linked to oxen. They’re also known for their stubbornness and, in the case of the church, perseverance. Some commentators believe the oxen represent the martyrs of the church. After all, oxen were often brought to slaughter in the Old and New Testament times. In the same way, it represents the sacrificial character of Christ.
3. Eagle. Eagles often represent God’s provision and care for his people. What often comes to mind is that passage in Isaiah 40 about how God’s people will be under the shelter of eagle’s wings, and they shall run and not grow faint. It can sometimes also represent vengeance. Eagles are scavenger birds, feasting on the decaying. Although God does provide for his people, he does not allow sin to abide. He will sweep away anything that is not holy.
4. Man Why man? We often associate men with evil things. However, we forget that God created man in his image. Not only did God become flesh to dwell among humans, but he continued to use humans after he ascended into heaven. God created us to be like him. So if God placed a man’s face on an angel, it might remind us that as far as we’ve fallen, there is still something good in us.
What Do the Four Living Creatures Do?
Now that we’ve established the possible meanings behind the four living creatures’ heads, let’s explore what cherubim do. Every angel class has a different function. Some serve as messengers. Some serve as warriors.
We see a cherubim’s primary function in Revelation 4.
Day and night,
they never stop
singing praises to God.
Over and over again, they say,
"Holy, Holy, Holy.”
They describe that God has worked in our past,
how he works in our present,
and how he will work in our future.
The cherubim are worshippers.
They sit in the throne
room of the most high and sing his praises
Where Are the Cherubim Mentioned in the Bible?
Much earlier than you think.
One of the most famous cherubim actually
hopes you will not know Christ.
You may have heard of him. He once went by the name Lucifer.
Satan once was an angel of worship.
We often say he has deep ties in the music industry,
and now we know why. He used to be in charge of praising the Lord.
But he got prideful and decided he wanted worship for himself--
hence why he earned his ticket out of heaven.
Apart from Satan, do we know of any other cherubim?
We do. In Genesis 3, a cherub guards the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned and were exiled. That means cherubim can do more than worship. They also can serve as warrior-like angels, guarding paradise. If the fact that Satan is one of the cherubim hasn’t already destroyed the idea that a cherub is a cute winged baby like in church paintings, this detail should.
Cherubim also make an appearance in Ezekiel 1.
He dives into their description even more.
In his words, “Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings.”
Some scholars refer to the angel Gabriel as a cherub.
Whether or not this is accurate, he is listed in the Bible as an archangel. Archangels, the highest rank, would administrate other angels. However, if Gabriel also resides in the cherubim class, it would explain why he tells Mary not to fear his appearance. Anyone would freak out when seeing that many eyes.
Are Cherubim Mentioned Anywhere Else?
Apart from the biblical text, a few other angels are called cherubim. These angels mostly appear in apocryphal texts of mystic traditions not connected to orthodox Christianity. We should take these descriptions with a grain of salt, as these angels are not explicitly mentioned in Scripture. Two fo the commonly listed ones are:
Raphael: According to the Book of Tobit, Raphael is one of seven angels who stand before the throne of God. He has healing powers and can perform exorcisms. Scholars also mention him as an archangel.
Jophiel: This is also known as the angel of beauty. Some say this is the angel who guarded the Garden of Eden.
What Can We Learn from the Four Living Creatures?These angels have a lot to teach us. But let’s boil it down to three main points.
First, worship plays an important role in God’s kingdom.
We worship God because
of his greatness
and for the wondrous deeds he has done.
A significant portion of Scripture worships God.
Although we may want to go to church on Sunday for the sermon,
we can’t forget the important
parts of the liturgy that precede that message.
Second, God imbues several aspects of
himself into his creation.
Humans may be the only ones made “in his image,”
but other creations show his traits. In the four living creatures,
we see signs
of God’s divine power, provision, wrath,
and sacrificial nature.
Knowing that God’s traits are reflected in what he creates,
we should look for those reflections in the world around
us—in nature and people.
We may know someone who displays God’s mercy
or sense of justice more than we do.
We should delight in seeing
God’s characteristics in ourselves and our world.
Third, we should know the name of the cherub who is our enemy.
Satan once worshipped God too.
But then he worshipped himself.
If we don’t know our enemy’s tactics,
we will always fall for his tricks.
He loves to stoke our pride
and direct our worship away from God and ourselves.
Be watchful, friends.