The 4 “Beasts”
When John finishes writing the letters to the 7 churches, he’s immediately taken up to heaven, “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne” (Revelation 4:1-2). For the remainder of the chapter, John is describing the lively scene in heaven with words like “jasper and sardine stone”, “lightnings and thunderings”, and “a sea of glass like unto crystal”. It’s safe to say that in our mere finite language, we can’t even begin to describe something that’s infinite! He sees the 24 elders in verse 4 which I go into depth on here. To add to the surprises John is taking in, he also introduces us to “4 beasts” in verse 6, “And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind”.
Not only are there 24 elders seated around the throne of God but 4 beasts as well described as having eyes all over their body. I can’t even begin to imagine something like that simply because we have nothing here on earth to compare a creature like that too. It makes me wonder what other types of beings God has created? He goes on to describe each of the 4 beasts’ appearance, “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. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:7-8). Now we have a better description of them; each one is like an animal here on earth (aside from one that has a man’s face), they each have 6 wings, and they all have eyes all over their body as we were told in verse 6 earlier. He also tells us what they do which is cry “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come”. When the beasts praise God like this, it prompts the 24 elders to worship him in like manner (Revelation 4:9-11).
In my article on the 24 elders, I go into length about how I believe the elders are used as symbolism to represent a much larger body of people – the body of Christ, or the church. However, I believe these 4 beasts aren’t symbolic but are literal creatures. Part of why I believe this is that John goes through great lengths to describe their physical features which I don’t think is done without a reason. Of course there are other examples where physical description is given but only a symbolic meaning should be applied, as in the case of the elders or satan as the “serpent” or the beasts that appear later in Revelation (Revelation 13). The main reason I believe this though is that these “beasts” appear in another part of the Bible as well and we’re given similar descriptions with new info.
Isaiah 6 talks about a type of heavenly being known as “Seraphim”, “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly”, (Isaiah 6:1-2). This verse shows us that Isaiah is seeing seraphim and describes their features as beings with 6 wings. They use 2 wings to cover their face, 2 to cover their feet, and the last 2 are used to fly. This mirrors what John sees in Revelation 4:8 but with more details. In contrast, Isaiah here doesn’t mention the fact that they have eyes all over their bodies but they most likely are the same beings. What seals the deal for me is what these seraphim are doing around God’s throne, “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory”, (Isaiah 6:3). This is the same as the 4 beasts in Revelation 4:8 that also proclaim “Holy, Holy, Holy”.
Although not much is said about the Seraphim in the Bible beyond these verses, we get to see another role they may have. In the next couple of verses we see a distraught Isaiah. He laments over the fact that in the midst of the almighty God, he sees the true nature of his being, “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged”, (Isaiah 6:5-7). The seraphim upon hearing this touches a coal to Isaiah’s lips in what seems like an act of purification, not only of his lips but of his entire sinful nature. These Seraphim aren’t explicitly given roles in the Bible but from the passages we’ve examined we know they worship God and they may have tasks that encompass purification.
In my next article, we’ll take a look at another “class” of angels known as the Cherubim. Although it diverges a bit from the main topic of this study, I believe it’ll help present better insight into the heavenly hosts and their roles.