Revelation 4:7
And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
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(7) And the first beast (better, in each case, living being) was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf (comp. Ezekiel 1:7; Ezekiel 1:10), and the third beast had a face as a man (or, its countenance as of a man), and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.—These are living beings, not “beasts,” as in the Authorised version. The rendering “beasts” introduces confusion of thought, and violates the laws of Apocalyptic, indeed of Bible imagery. The evil powers are described under the emblem of wild beasts; for thus brute force, and unrestrained passion, and self-will, &c., are symbolised. (See Revelation 11:7; Revelation 13:1-2; Revelation 16:2; Revelation 17:3; Revelation 17:7; Revelation 19:19-20; Revelation 20:10.) But these “living beings” do not represent the evil element in the world. They are representative of animated nature. They are four in number—as there are four beings which hold a primacy in the world: among created beings, man; among birds, the eagle; among cattle, the ox; among untamed animals, the lion. The characteristics of these four chiefs of creation unite to make a perfect picture of the spirit of true service, which should be brave as the lion, patient as the ox, aspiring as the eagle, intelligent as man. It may here be noted that the number “four” in the Apocalypse is almost always associated with the earth. (See Revelation 7:1.) We need only call to mind the four quarters, four elements, four seasons, to see its fitness. (Comp. Revelation 21:13; Revelation 21:16.) The living creatures are “full of eyes.” This strong expression is used again in the next verse. Twice used, its meaning must be significant. The same idea is found in the later prophets of the Old Testament. The wheels of Ezekiel and their tires (Ezekiel 1:18; Ezekiel 10:12) were full of eyes. The stone of Zechariah had seven (the perfect number) eyes (Zechariah 3:9). The thought is emphasised again in Revelation 5:6, where the Lamb is said to have seven eyes. Multiplicity of eyes may symbolise vitality and vigilance. Some have thought, inappropriately enough, that it signifies the unceasing praise of God’s works. A better interpretation is given by Dr. Currey. “The power of nature is no blind force, it is employed in the service of God’s providence, and all over it the stamp of reason is impressed.” (See Speaker’s Commentary on Ezekiel 1:18). May we not add that the force of nature is always observant of God’s will? Its myriad eyes are fixed on Him, as the eyes of a servant on his master (Psalm 123:2); doing His commandment, hearkening unto the voice of His word (Psalm 103:20-21); the eyes too of all creation wait on God, who gives them meat in due season (Psalm 104:27, Prayer Book version)—

“His state

Is kingly; thousands at His bidding speed And post o’er land and ocean without rest;

They also serve who only stand and wait.”

4:1-8 After the Lord Jesus had instructed the apostle to write to the churches the things that are, there was another vision. The apostle saw a throne set in heaven, an emblem of the universal dominion of Jehovah. He saw a glorious One upon the throne, not described by human features, so as to be represented by a likeness or image, but only by his surpassing brightness. These seem emblems of the excellence of the Divine nature, and of God's awful justice. The rainbow is a fit emblem of that covenant of promise which God has made with Christ, as the Head of the church, and with all his people in him. The prevailing colour was a pleasant green, showing the reviving and refreshing nature of the new covenant. Four-and-twenty seats around the throne, were filled with four-and-twenty elders, representing, probably, the whole church of God. Their sitting denotes honour, rest, and satisfaction; their sitting about the throne signifies nearness to God, the sight and enjoyment they have of him. They were clothed in white raiment; the imputed righteousness of the saints and their holiness: they had on their heads crowns of gold, signifying the glory they have with him. Lightnings and voices came from the throne; the awful declarations God makes to his church, of his sovereign will and pleasure. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne; the gifts, graces, and operations of the Spirit of God in the churches of Christ, dispensed according to the will and pleasure of Him who sits upon the throne. In the gospel church, the laver for purification is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which cleanses from all sin. In this all must be washed, to be admitted into the gracious presence of God on earth, and his glorious presence in heaven. The apostle saw four living creatures, between the throne and the circle of the elders, standing between God and the people. These seem to signify the true ministers of the gospel, because of their place between God and the people. This also is shown by the description given, denoting wisdom, courage, diligence, and discretion, and the affections by which they mount up toward heaven.And the first beast was like a lion - A general description has been given, applicable to all, denoting that in whatever form the divine government is administered, these things will be found; a particular description now follows, contemplating that government under particular aspects, as symbolized by the living beings on which the throne rests. The first is that of a lion. The lion is the monarch of the woods, the king of beasts, and he becomes thus the emblem of dominion, of authority, of government in general. Compare Genesis 49:9; Amos 3:8; Joel 3:16; Daniel 7:4. As emblematic of the divine administration, this would signify that He who sits on the throne is the ruler over all, and that his dominion is absolute and entire. It has been made a question whether the whole body had the form of a lion, or whether it had the appearance of a lion only as to its face or front part. It would seem probable that the latter only is intended, for it is expressly said of the "third beast" that it had "the face of a man," implying that it did not resemble a man in other respects, and it is probable that, as these living creatures were the supports of the throne, they had the same form in all other particulars except the front part. The writer has not informed us what was the appearance of these living creatures in other respects, but it is most natural to suppose that it was in the form of an ox, as being adapted to sustain a burden. It is hardly necessary to say that the thing supposed to be symbolical here in the government of God - his absolute rule - actually exists, or that it is important that this should be fairly exhibited to people.

And the second beast like a calf - Or, more properly, a young bullock, for so the word - μόσχος moschos - means. The term is given by Herodotus (ii. 41; iii. 28) to the Egyptian god Apis, that is, a young bullock. Such an emblem, standing under a throne as one of its supports, would symbolize firmness, endurance, strength (compare Proverbs 14:4); and, as used to represent qualities pertaining to him who sat on the throne, would denote stability, firmness, perseverance: qualities that are found abundantly in the divine administration. There was clearly, in the apprehension of the ancients, some natural fitness or propriety in such an emblem. A young bullock was worshipped in Egypt as a god. Jeroboam set up two idols in the form of a calf, the one in Dan and the other in Bethel, 1 Kings 12:28-29. A similar object of worship was found in the Indian, Greek, and Scandinavian mythologies, and the image appears to have been adopted early and extensively to represent the divinity.

The above figure is a representation of a calfidol, copied from the collection made by the artists of the French Institute at Cairo. It is recumbent, with human eyes, the skin flesh-colored, and the whole after-parts covered with a white and sky-blue drapery: the horns not on the head, but above it, and containing within them the symbolical globe surmounted by two feathers. The meaning of the emblems on the back is not known. It is copied here merely to show that, for some cause, the calf was regarded as an emblem of the Divinity. It may illustrate this, also, to remark that among the sculptures found by Mr. Layard, in the ruins of Nineveh, were not a few winged bulls, some of them of large structure, and probably all of them emblematic. One of these was removed with great difficulty, to be deposited in the British Museum. See Mr. Layard's Nineveh and its Remains, vol. ii. pp. 64-75. Such emblems were common in the East; and, being thus common, they would be readily understood in the time of John.

And the third beast had a face as a man - There is no intimation as to what was the form of the remaining portion of this living creature; but as the beasts were "in the midst of the throne," that is, under it as a support, it may be presumed that they had such a form as was adapted to that purpose - as supposed above, perhaps the form of an ox. To this living creature there was attached the head of a man, and that would be what would be particuLarly visible to one looking on the throne. The aspect of a man here would denote intelligence - for it is this which distinguishes man from the creation beneath him; and if the explanation of the symbol above given be correct, then the meaning of this emblem is, that the operations of the government of God are conducted with intelligence and wisdom. That is, the divine administration is not the result of blind fate or chance; it is founded on a clear knowledge of things, on what is best to be done, on what will most conduce to the common good.

Of the truth of this there can be no doubt; and there was a propriety that, in a vision designed to give to man a view of the government of the Almighty, this should be appropriately symbolized. It may illustrate this to observe, that in ancient sculptures it was common to unite the head of a man with the figure of an animal, as cobining symbols. Among the most remarkable figures discovered by Mr. Layard, in the ruins of Nineveh, were winged, human-headed lions. These lions are thus described by Mr. Layard: "They were about twelve feet in height, and the same number in length. The body and limbs were admirably portrayed; the muscles and bones, although strongly developed, to display the strength of the animal, showed, at the same time, a correct knowledge of its anatomy and form. Expanded wings sprung from the shoulder and spread over the back; a knotted girdle, ending in tassels, encircled the loins. These sculptures, forming an entrance, were partly in full, and partly in relief. The head and forepart, facing the chambers, were in full; but only one side of the rest of the slab was sculptured, the back being placed against the wall of sun-dried bricks" ("Nineveh and its Remains," vol. i. p. 75).

The following engraving will give an idea of one of these human-headed animals, and will serve to illustrate the passage before us alike in reference to the head, indicating intelligence, and the wings, denoting rapidity. On the use of these figures, found in the ruins of Nineveh, Mr. Layard makes the following sensible remarks - remarks admirably illustrating the view which I take of the symbols before us: "I used to contemplate for hours these mysterious emblems, and muse over their intent and history. What more noble forms could have ushered the people into the temple of their gods? What more subblime images could have been borrowed from nature by people who sought, unaided by the light of revealed religion, to embody their conceptions of the wisdom, power, and ubiquity of a Supreme Being? They could find no better type of intellect and knowledge than the head of a man; of strength, than the body of the lion; of rapidity of motion, than the wings of a bird. These winged, human-headed lions were not idle creations, the offspring of mere fancy their meaning was written upon them. They had awed and instructed races which flourished 3000 years ago. Through the portals which they guarded, kings, priests, and warriors had borne sacrifices to their altars, long before the wisdom of the East had penetrated into Greece, and had furnished its mythology with symbols long recognized by the Assyrian votaries" ("Nineveh and its Remains," vol. i. p. 75, 76).

And the fourth beast was like a flying eagle - All birds, indeed, fly; but the epithet flying is here employed to add intensity to the description. The eagle is distinguished, among the feathered race, for the rapidity, the power, and the elevation of its flight. No other bird is supposed to fly so high; none ascends with so much power; none is so majestic and grand in his ascent toward the sun. That which would be properly symbolized by this would be the rapidity with which the commands of God are executed; or this characteristic of the divine government, that the purposes of God are carried into prompt execution. There is, as it were, a vigorous, powerful, and rapid flight toward the accomplishment of the designs of God - as the eagle ascends unmolested toward the sun. Or, it may be that this symbolizes protecting care, or is an emblem of that protection which God, by his providence, extends over those who put their trust in him.

Thus, in Exodus 19:4, "Ye have seen how I bare you on eagles' wings." "Hide me under the shadow of thy wings," Psalm 17:8. "In the shadow of thy wing's will I rejoice," Psalm 63:7. "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him," Deuteronomy 32:11-12, etc. As in the case of the other living beings, so it is to be remarked of the fourth living creature also, that the form of the body is unknown. There is no impropriety in supposing that it is only its front aspect that John here speaks of, for that was sufficient for the symbol. The remaining portion "in the midst of the throne" may have corresponded with that of the other living beings, as being adapted to a support. In further illustration of this it may be remarked, that symbols of this description were common in the Oriental world.

Figures in the human form, or in the form of animals, with the head of an eagle or a vulture, are found in the ruins of Nineveh, and were undoubtedly designed to be symbolic. "On the earliest Assyrian monuments," says Mr. Layard ("Nineveh and its Remains," vol. ii., p. 348, 349), "one of the most prominent sacred types is the eagle-headed, or the vulture-headed, human figure. Not only is it found in colossal proportions on the walls, or guarding the portals of the chambers, but it is also constantly represented in the groups on the embroidered robes. When thus introduced, it is generally seen contending with other mythic animals - such as the human-headed lion or bull; and in these contests it is always the conqueror. it may hence be inferred that it was a type of the Supreme Deity, or of one of his principal attributes. A fragment of the Zoroastrian oracles, preserved by Eusebius, declares that 'God is he that has the head of a hawk. He is the first, indestructible, eternal, unbegotten, indivisible, dissimilar; the dispenser of all good; incorruptible; the best of the good, the wisest of the wise; he is the father of equity and justice, self-taught, physical and perfect, and wise, and the only inventor of the sacred philosophy.' Sometimes the head of this bird is added to the body of a lion.

Under this form of the Egyptian hieracosphinx it is the conqueror in combats with other symbolical figures, and is frequently represented as striking down a gazelle or wild goat. It also clearly resembles the gryphon of the Greek mythology, avowedly an Eastern symbol, and connected with Apollo, or with the sun, of which the Assyrian form was probably an emblem." The following figure found in Nimroud, or ancient Nineveh; may furnish an illustration of one of the usual forms. If these views of the meaning of these symbols are correct, then the idea which would be conveyed to the mind of John, and the idea, therefore, which should be conveyed to our minds, is, that the government of God is energetic, firm, intelligent, and that in the execution of its purposes it is rapid like the unobstructed flight of an eagle, or protective like the care of the eagle for its young. When, in the subsequent parts of the vision, these living creatures are represented as offering praise and adoration to Him that sits on the throne Revelation 4:8; Revelation 5:8, Revelation 5:14, the meaning would be, in accordance with this representation, that all the acts of divine government do, as if they were personified, unite in the praise which the redeemed and the angels ascribe to God. All living things, and all acts of the Almighty, conspire to proclaim his glory. The church, by her representatives, the "four and twenty elders," honors God; the angels, without number, unite in the praise; all creatures in heaven, in earth, under the earth, and in the sea Revelation 5:13, join in the song; and all the acts and ways of God declare also his majesty and glory: for around his throne, and beneath his throne, are expressive symbols of the firmness, energy, intelligence, and power with which his government is administered.

7. calf—"a steer" [Alford]. The Septuagint often uses the Greek term here for an ox (Ex 22:1; 29:10, &c.).

as a man—The oldest manuscripts have "as of a man."

It is observed concerning these four living creatures, (for so they were, not beasts in a strict sense, as it is opposed to flying things, for the fourth was a fowl):

1. That they were the same mentioned in Ezekiel’s vision, Ezekiel 1:10; only each one there is said to have had the four faces of these creatures, here each one had a single face proper to it.

2. That these were the four creatures whose portraitures were in the four ensigns of the Israelites as they were marshalled into four companies, allotting the men of three tribes to each company.

Judah’s standard had a lion in its colours, according to Jacob’s prophecy of that tribe, Genesis 49:9, Ephraim had an ox, Reuben had a man, Dan an eagle. This the learned Mede proves from the Rabbins, who, though fabulous enough, yet in such a thing may be credited. It is also thought they answered the four cherubims in the temple.

Question. But what is signified by these four living creatures?

Solution. Some say the four evangelists; others, four apostles, &c. But certainly they judge best who say, that by them is signified the various gifts with which God blesseth his ministers, giving to some more courage and fortitude, that they are like lions; to others more mildness and meekness, that they are like oxen or calves; others have more wisdom and prudence, which most adorn a man; others a more piercing insight into the mysteries of God’s kingdom, rendering them like eagles.

And the first beast was like a lion,.... And this figure expresses the strength of the ministers of the word, the lion being the strongest among beasts, Proverbs 30:30, to do the work they are called to, to endure hardness, as good soldiers of Christ, and to bear the infirmities of the weak; and also it denotes their courage and boldness in preaching the Gospel of Christ, without fearing the faces of men, or of being afraid of their revilings:

and the second beast like a calf; or "ox", for so the word here used signifies in the Hellenistic language, and with the Septuagint interpreters, and agrees with Ezekiel 1:10, and designs the laboriousness of Christ's faithful ministers in treading out the corn of Gospel truth, who labour in the word and doctrine, and are labourers with God; as also their humility, meekness, and patience in bearing insults, reproaches, and sufferings for Christ, and instructing those that oppose themselves:

and the third beast had a face as a man; and points at the humanity and tender heartedness, the wisdom, prudence, knowledge, and understanding, and the use of the reasoning faculty, together with a manly spirit in abiding by the Gospel at any rate; all which are so necessary in the ministers of the word.

And the fourth beast was like a flying eagle; which sets forth the sagacity and penetration of Gospel ministers into the deep things of God, and mysteries of grace, and their readiness and swiftness to do the will of God, in publishing the everlasting Gospel; see Revelation 14:6.

And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
Revelation 4:7. While, in Ezekiel,[1783] the forms of the four cherubim[1784] bear in wonderful combination the fourfold faces of the lion, the ox, the man, and the eagle, John with more distinct clearness has so seen the four beings that in each of them only a part of that fourfold form is expressed. In this, also, he is distinguished from Ezekiel, that he represents his “four beings,” not each with four but with six wings, as the seraphim in Isaiah 6.; yet, on the other hand, John agrees with Ezekiel, that in him the wings, as well as the whole body, appear full of eyes (Revelation 4:8).

The second being is like a μόσχος, i.e., not a “calf” in distinction from a grown ox, but, as is already required in an aesthetic respect, the ox. The LXX. have μόσχος, Ezekiel 1:10, for שׁור;[1785] also Ezek. 21:37;[1786] Leviticus 22:23. But they render thus also the words פָר,[1787] עֵגֶל[1788] and בָקָר[1789] By μόσχος, therefore, only some animal of that class is designated; the more precise determination is given by the context.

The third ζῶον has τὸ πρόσωπον[1790] ἈΝΘΡΏΠΟΥ. In Ezekiel the chief form of the cherubim is human; this has been adopted also by Vitr. and Hengstenb. for the Apoc.[1791] On the contrary, Beng. infers from the words ἜΧ. Τ. ΠΡΌΣΩΠΟΝ, Κ.Τ.Λ.: “So it did not have in other respects the form of a man.” Ebrard is right in being contented with not knowing more than is said in the text. In the third being, however, the human face is characteristic; just as in the eagle, to which the fourth being is like, not so much the form in itself, as the flying, is significant, and therefore marked.

[1783] Ch. Revelation 1:10.

[1784] Cf. E. Riehm, De Natura et Notione Symbolica Cheruborum, Bas. et Ludov., 1864, p. 23. Cf. also Stud. u. Krit., 1871, p. 399 sq.; Lämmert, D. Cherubim der H. Schrift., Jahrb. f. Deutsche Theologie, Gotha, 1867, p. 587 sq., 609 sq.; L. Seeburg, Die Sage von den Greifen bei den Alten; James 1 : Ueber d. Ursprung der Sage und ihre Verbreitung im Oriente, Göttinger Inaugural-Dissertat. (1867), pp. 7, 32 sq.

[1785] Ezekiel 1:7, as it refers to the feet of the cherubim, does not belong here.

[1786] LXX., Revelation 22:1.

[1787] Exodus 29:10.

[1788] Exodus 32:4.

[1789] Genesis 12:16.

[1790] ὡς. See Critical Remarks.

[1791] Cf. Revelation 5:8, Revelation 19:4, where the beasts fall down, “which cannot be thought of if two of them were four-footed.”


XLIV. Revelation 4:6-8. τέσσερα ζῷα

Cf. Cremer (Lexicon): “Properly, a living creature, which also occurs elsewhere also in profane Greek, where ζῶον, a post-Homeric word, generally signifies living creature, and only in special instances a beast; θηρίον = animal, as embracing all living beings, must be retained in the Revelation, where four ζῶα are represented as being between God’s throne and those of the elders which surround it, the description given of which (Revelation 4:6-8) resembles that of the הַיוֹת in Ezekiel 1:5 sqq.; the cherubim in Ezekiel 10 (cf. Psalm 18:1; Psalm 99:1; Psalm 80:2; 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15). They are named living creatures here and in Ezekiel 1, on account of the life which is their main feature. They are usually the signs and tokens of majesty, of the sublime majesty of God, both in his covenant relation, and in his relation to the world (for the latter, see Psalm 99:1); and therefore it is that they are assigned so prominent a place, though no active part in the final scenes of sacred history (Revelation 6:1-7). The appearance of four represents the concentration of all created life in this world, the original abode of which, Paradise, when life had fallen to sin and death, was given over to the cherubim. They do not, like the angels, fulfil the purposes of God in relation to men; they are distinct from the angels (Revelation 5:11). We are thus led to conclude that they materially represent the ideal pattern of the true relation of creation to its God.” Oehler (O. T. Theology, p. 260): “It is the cherubim, as Schultz well expresses it, ‘which at one and the same time proclaim and veil his presence.’ The lion and the bull are, as is well known, symbols of power and strength; man and the eagle are symbols of wisdom and omniscience; the latter attribute is expressed also in the later form of the symbol by the multitude of eyes. The continual mobility of the ζῶα (Revelation 4:8) signifies the never-resting quickness of the Divine operations; this is probably symbolized also by the wheels in Ezekiel 1. The number four is the signature of all-sidedness (towards the four quarters of heaven). Thus Jehovah is acknowledged as the God who rules the world on all sides in power, wisdom, and omniscience. Instead of natural powers working unconsciously, is placed the all-embracing, conscious activity of the living God.”

Revelation 4:7. μόσχῳ, “an ox or steer” (as LXX). The four animals are freely compounded out of the classical figures of Ezekiel’s cherubim and the seraphim in Isaiah 6; the latter supply the six wings apiece. This function of ceaseless praise (Revelation 4:8-9) is taken from Enoch lxi. 10 f., where the cherubim and seraphim are also associated but not identified with the angelic host (though in 40. the cherubim are equivalent to the four archangels); for a possible Babylonian astral background, cf. Zimmern in Schrader,3 626–632, and Clemen’s Religionsgeschichtliche Erklärung des N. T. (1909), pp. 74 f. Behind them lie the signs of the zodiac (the bull, the archer, the lion and the eagle, as a constellation of the North; so, e.g., Gunkel, Bruston, etc.). The analogous figures of the four funerary genii before the Egyptian throne represent the four points of the compass.

7. The description of these living creatures does not exactly agree with any of the O. T. parallels: in Ezekiel 1, which is the nearest, the four Cherubim, as they are called, have human figures, calves’ feet, and each has four faces, of the same four animals as these: also they have each four wings, while these have six, like the Seraphim of Isaiah 6:2. Probably the meaning is, that these four represent the Cherubim and Seraphim who “continually do cry ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth’.” We have no reason to suppose that the Angels, or these super-angelic Beings, have proper bodies or invariable forms: they appear in such forms as may please God, or may be appropriate to the purpose for which He bids them appear. For further discussion as to their meaning, see Excursus I.

Revelation 4:7. Μόσχῳ) a bullock, an ox. The Hebrew בקר and פר and שור are rendered by the Septuagint μόσχος.

Verse 7. - And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. (Upon "beast" (ζῶον), see on ver. 6. For the signification, see also above on ver. 6.) Whether there was any difference in the forms as a whole, or whether the difference consisted chiefly or solely in the thee, cannot be certainly known. Each being is symbolical of some class or some quality of which it is representative. (For the application, see on ver. 6.) Revelation 4:7Lion, calf, man, eagle

From this passage is derived the familiar symbolism of the four Evangelists; Mark seated on a lion, Luke on a steer, Matthew on a man, and John on an eagle. These are varied however. Irenaeus attributes the lion to John, and the eagle to Mark. Augustine the lion to Matthew, the man to Mark.


See on 1 Peter 5:8.

Calf (μόσχῳ)

Compare Luke 15:23. In the Septuagint for an ox or steer. Exodus 22:1; Ezekiel 1:10.

Eagle (ἀετῷ)

See on Matthew 24:28.

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