The Four Living Cherubim
February 18th, 1962 @ 10:50 AM
THE FOUR LIVING CHERUBIM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-18-62 10:50 a.m.
On the radio, you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled, The Four Living Cherubim. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the last and the climatic book, the Apocalypse. And in the Revelation, we have come to chapter 4. Last Sunday morning, we spoke of the fourth verse of chapter 4, “The Four and Twenty Elders.” This morning we begin at verse 5, and reading to the end of the chapter, Revelation 4, verse 5 and following:
And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
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…
And in the King James Version, it is translated “beasts” [Revelation 4:6]. There is a Greek word for beasts, theria, and you will find that word in the thirteenth chapter of the Revelation; theria, beasts, wild animals. But the word here is zōa, an altogether different kind of a nomenclature; zōa refers to “living ones.” The word “zoo” comes from it; “zoology” comes from it:
. . . and round about the throne, were four zōa, four “living ones,” full of eyes before and behind.
And the first zōon, the first living one was like a lion, and the second zóon like a calf—like an ox, and the third zōon had a face as a man, and the fourth zōon was like a flying eagle.
And the four zōa 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.
And when those zōa, when those “living ones” give glory and honor and thanks to Him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
The four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created
The four zōa, the four living creatures.
In the Old Testament, we have been introduced to them in years past, and in ages past. In the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet saw a whirlwind; before the whirlwind, a great black cloud. In the black cloud, a fire enfolding itself and out of the enfolding fire, he beheld the likeness of four living ones, four living creatures, four zōa [Ezekiel 1:4-5]. And in the tenth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, and the twentieth verse, he gives them a familiar name:
This the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar—
the vision that he saw in the first chapter—
and I knew that they were the cherubim.
The four zōa, the four living creatures that John saw around the throne, are the four cherubim of God [Revelation4:6]. They represent the animated life of all of the hosts of God in heaven and all of the manifold, many forms of life in this world—the four cherubim [Revelation 4:7].
Many times have we seen them in the Old Testament Scriptures. In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, when the man and the woman were cast out of the garden of Eden, it was the cherubim who were placed on the east side of the garden to guard and to keep the tree of life [Genesis 3:24]. In the building of the tabernacle, the pattern of which God gave to Moses from heaven, there were cherubim interwoven in the sacred veil before the Holy of Holies [Exodus 26:31-33]. There were cherubim interwoven in the ten curtains that covered the tabernacle [Exodus 26:1]. And above the ark of the covenant—that contained the Ten Commandments [Exodus 40:20-21]—which if a man kept he should live, which if a man broke he should die [Leviticus 26:3-16]—above that covenant was the mercy seat, the propitiatory, the lid made out of solid gold. And out of the one piece of solid gold, there were beaten the two forms of cherubim whose wings arching over, made the throne of God and whose eyes looked down upon the blood of expiation [Exodus 37:6-10, Leviticus 16:15]. And throughout the Old Testament, Jehovah God is called “the One who,” dwells,”[is enthroned] between the cherubim” [Psalm 99:1; 2 Kings 19:15; Isaiah 37:16].
In the construction of the temple of Solomon, there were cherubim inwoven in the veil between the holy place and the Holy of Holies [2 Chronicles 3:10-14]. And beyond the veil, King Solomon made two gigantic emblems, the cherubim of solid olive wood who were ten cubits high, who were covered with pure gold, whose wings overarched beneath which the ark of the covenant was placed, and whose faces look forward beyond the veil [1 Kings 6:23-26]. Solomon also carved the likenesses of cherubim around the lower part of the lavers, and he placed the likeness of the cherubim on the olive doors, and he carved the likeness of the cherubim on the cedar planks covered with gold, that formed the inside of the beautiful temple [1 Kings 6:29-32].
In the days of our Lord, in Herod’s temple, pictures of supposed likenesses of cherubim were painted on the wall. But, Josephus said that by that day, and his day, that they had forgotten what the scriptural likeness of a cherub looked like. We have no idea what they were in their form and in their figure, except that they had wings—that they were formed. It is a strange thing that in the scriptural pattern of the tabernacle we have God’s delineation of every little hook and every little curtain and every little rod, but there is no description of the cherubim. What they looked like is known but to God. In the Bible however, in Ezekiel [Ezekiel 1:5-10] and here in the Revelation [Revelation 4:6-7], we are given symbolic forms of those glorious creations. And in Ezekiel, and in the Book of the Revelation, they have wings, they are filled with eyes—penetrating into the inmost purposes and decrees of Almighty God—and they have four faces—the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of an ox, and the face of a flying eagle [Ezekiel 1:10; Revelation 4:7].
As we read the book and as we follow the course of the Apocalypse, we can easily see the part that the cherubim play in the administrative decrees of Almighty God. There are three things to be said about them in the Revelation. First: they have to do with this world. They have to do with God’s purposes in this created life. They are four in number [Ezekiel 1:5; Revelation 4:6]. And four is the scriptural numeric for the world; as seven is the number of the fullness of God, as three is the number of the deity of God, so the number four refers to the world that God made. Four seasons, four points of the compass, four elements, four winds; four, the number that refers to this earth. And these cherubim, four of them in number, represent and are emblems of God’s great, animate creation. The old time Jew in the Talmud said that there were four who were primary among the forms of life that God had made—one, among all created life, man; second, among all domestic life, the ox; third, among all wild, untamed life, the lion; and fourth, among the life of the birds of heaven, the flying eagle. And these are the four faces of the emblems and the symbol of the cherubim: the face of a man, the face of an ox, the face of a lion, and the face of a flying eagle [Ezekiel 1:10, Revelation 4:7]. They have to do with the God’s created life in this world.
The second thing about them: they have to do with the implementation and the execution of God’s purposes and God’s decrees for this world and for the life that God has made. They stand on the steps leading up to the throne of God, one on each side, ready and equipped to execute God’s decrees anywhere in His world and in His universe. And their assignment is the execution of the decrees and purposes of God in human history, and in the destiny of this created universe. In their introduction: “Out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices” [Revelation 4:5]. We know therefore, that the throne set in the Book of the Apocalypse is a throne of judgment. And it is by the decrees of God, and it is by the judgment of God, that the Lord will redeem this lost and fallen creation.
We can see that in the assignment of the cherubim in the Revelation. In chapter 6 there is presented the opening of the six seals [Revelation 6:1-17]—of the seven seals:
And I saw when the Lamb had opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the voice of thunder—
it is to be a day of judgment and the visitation of the wrath of God—
I heard and I saw one of the four zōa, one of the four cherubim saying: Come…
And when that cherub said, “Come,” there came a white horse, the Antichrist, a false prophet of peace:
conquering and to conquer…
And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second of the cherubim say, Come…
And there came in response to his command a red horse of war and of blood and of pillage. And when he had opened the third seal:
I heard the voice of the third of the cherubim say, Come…
and there came a black horse of famine and awful agony…
And I looked when he had opened the fourth seal,
And I heard the voice of the fourth cherubim say, Come…
and there came a pale horse and the rider was named Death.
In the providence of God and in the decrees of God, the nations of the world that oppose Him and the men who blaspheme His name shall be destroyed in a day of dark and terrible judgment [Psalm 73:9, 18-19]. It has pleased God that in blood and in agony this world is to be redeemed. And the instruments of that judgment and the implementation of those decrees, is in the hands, committed to the four cherubim [Revelation 6:1-8].
Once again in the fifteenth chapter of the Revelation and verse 7: “And one of the four cherubim gave unto the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever” [Revelation 15:7]. And in those seven bowls is filled up and poured out the sum of the final wrath of God against the iniquity of this world. Not forever does God say that iniquity shall abound, and the nations shall be cursed, and mankind and all of animate life be in corruption and in bondage. But in the decree and in the elective purpose of the sovereign Lord God Almighty, there is coming a day when this world will be judged in its sin, when it will be redeemed from its corruption, when the Lord shall make a new creation; and the instrument of the execution of those decrees of God lie in the hands of the four cherubim [Revelation 6:1-8].
The third thing about the zōa, the living creatures, the cherubim: they are not only representative of the life that God has made, all animate life, and they are not only the instruments of God in executing His decrees—sovereign electives in this earth and in this world—but they are also the emblems, of and the instruments of, and the insignia of the love and purposes of grace for us and for God’s great creation.
In the garden of Eden, when the man and the woman were driven out, they [the cherubim] were placed on the east side of the gate to guard, to keep the tree of life, lest the man in his sin and in his mortality, “lest the man take thereof and eat, [and live] for ever” [Genesis 3:22-24]. That was a part of the provision of God for our blessing in His mercy and grace and goodness toward us. For had the man eaten of the tree of life after he had fallen into sin, he would have been confirmed forever in this body of death. And the Book says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God [1 Corinthians 15:50].
In the Revelation, there is a picture of men who seek death and cannot die [Revelation 9:6]. For a man to be confirmed forever in this body of death would be a horrible sentence beyond any imaginable word to describe it. For in this body, in this house, we are crippled, we are hurt, we are blinded, we are diseased, we are senile. And for us to live forever and forever in this house of clay—blinded, destroyed, senile, mind gone—no more horrible prospect could be delineated for a man. And lest the man,” in his sin, lest the man in his depravity, lest the man in his corruption, “put forth his hand, and eat of the tree of life and live for ever” [Genesis 3:22]: bound down in this body of death, the Lord took the tree and placed before it the cherubim that it might be guarded [Genesis 3:23-24] for that holy and redemptive day when the man, resurrected, blessed, glorified, may partake of the tree of life in the garden of Paradise which is heaven [Revelation 22:2].
This house must be planted in the earth that it might be resurrected to the glory of God [1 Corinthians 15:35-37]. In this house, we must die that we might live unto the Lord [1 Corinthians 15:42-44]. ; this house must be taken away in order that we might be given the house made without hands, eternal in the heavens [2 Corinthians 5:1]. “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon” [2 Corinthians 5:2], to be given our glorious house, our new body, which God is fashioning for us in heaven [John 14:2-3]. And the guarding, keeping, care of the cherubim [Genesis 3:22-24] are that we might someday inherit that final glory that God hath prepared for those who trust in Him [Hebrews 6:12].
Another thing about the cherubim in their blessing to life and to us: the old rabbis in the Talmud, in commenting on the second chapter of the Book of Numbers, said that the twelve tribes of the children of Israel—marching three tribes on each side of the encampment—that they march under those four banners: the four standards, the four insignia of the administrative and judicial purposes of Almighty God. The standard of Judah was a lion—and on that side, three tribes gathered. The standard of Reuben was a man—and on that side, three tribes gathered. The standard of Dan was a flying eagle—and on that side, three tribes gathered. And the standard of Reuben, and the standard of Ephraim was an ox—on that side, three tribes gathered. So the twelve tribes, encamped around the central glory of God, marched through the wilderness under the banner of [Numbers 2:1-34]: and the first zōa was a lion; and the second zōa like an ox; and the third zōa like a man; and the fourth zōa like a flying eagle [Ezekiel 1:10; Revelation 4:7].
In the purposes of God, He took His children out of the bondage of Egypt, and He preserved them through the wilderness, and He settled them in the Promised Land of Canaan [Acts 13:18-19]. Thus it is God’s care for His elect and for His people in this weary world: He guides them and He directs them through the wilderness of this life until finally He gives to us our ultimate and our promised inheritance in heaven[1 Peter 1:4]: the four zōa, the four living ones, the four cherubim of God.
And now the third and the last and the most glorious of all of the emblems of blessing God hath purposed toward His people in these four cherubim: in the fifth chapter, the next chapter of the Revelation, there is a song of redemption [Revelation 5:8-10]. There is a great deal of textual difference in this song. For some of them, in the way it is written in the ancient Greek manuscripts, refer the redemption just to the four and twenty elders—the church and the redeemed of the Lord. But most of those manuscripts have, singing that song, not only the four and twenty elders, but also the four zōa.
And when the Lamb had taken the book, the four zōa—
the four cherubim—
and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb…
And they sang a new song saying, Thou, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation…
and we shall reign upon the earth.
That is very plain why a textual critic would choose a text that kept that song just to the four and twenty elders and excluded it to the four zōa. But to me, as I read the Scriptures and pore over these pages, I can see, it is to my heart clear, why those four cherubim could also join in that ultimate and final and glorious paean of praise and glory to redemptive work of the Son of God.
That is why I had you read the passage in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans. Paul says in this passage that not only will fallen humanity be redeemed, not only shall we be delivered from the bondage of corruption, but Paul says in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans that the entire creation of God and every one of God’s living creatures shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. “For,” he says, and I read it again, “For the earnest expectation of the creature.” God’s animal life, all of God’s life, “the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to death,” and to carnivorous viciousness and to the wildness of life, “not willingly, but by reason,” of the sovereign Lord God, “who allowed it in the hope,” and in the prospect and in the promise of a more glorious redemption. “Because the creature itself,” the creature itself—animate life itself, “shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation …” [Romans 8:19-22]. All of animal life, whether it be domestic like an ox, whether it be wild like the lion, whether it be bird like the flying eagle, or whether it be a man, “we know the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” [Romans 8:22].
The agony of the animal world, in their vicious carnivorousness was not a thing intended of God, but it was a judgment; it was an execution of the wrath of God upon sin. And where did that come from? Who initiated it? Who destroyed God’s perfect creation? It was one out of a number of the cherubim. In the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, he is described. His name is given:
. . . Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.
Thou hast been in the garden of Eden; every precious stone was thy covering . . .
Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee…
Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness . . .
[Ezekiel 28:12-13, 15, 17]
Who is that Lucifer whose pride, whose beauty, whose wisdom, lifted him up against God Almighty? Who was that Lucifer? The Book says, “Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth” [Ezekiel 28:14], the one whose wings outstretched over God’s creation and in whose beauty, and in whose wisdom, and in whose care God gave the keeping of all of His vast universe [Ezekiel 28:14]. And in his pride and in his wisdom and in his beauty, he lifted up himself against God; and that brought sin into heaven [Ezekiel 28:17], and that brought sin into this world [Ezekiel 28:17]; and that destroyed God’s beautiful creation [Romans 8:20]. It was one of their number, it was one of the cherubim whose heart lifted up against God [Exekiel 28:17] and in whose soul sin was born [Exekiel 28:15]; and he destroyed God’s creation [Romans 8:20]; and he was the instrument of destroying the man and the woman that God made [Genesis 3:16-19]; and in that iniquity, the earth was cursed [Genesis 3:17] and the wild beasts grew a claw and a fang, and they carnivorously destroyed each other.
Was that the purpose of God? Was that the initial creation of the Lord God that the earth should be stained with blood, and that life should destroy each other and devour each other, and that the whole world should face animosity and horror? The attack upon each other of the untamed animal and the war; and the war by which the man destroys and slaughters his friend and his neighbor, was that the purpose of God in the creation? No. No!
And that throne is a throne of judgment and those four cherubim represent God’s great work of an animate life [Ezekiel 1:4-5; Revelation 4:6]. And when one of their number fell, in the wisdom and the choice of God, He gave to that group, He gave to the cherubim the execution of the decrees of the Almighty, whereby this whole creation shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption and from its pain and from its travail until it be again as God made it in the beginning [Romans 8:22-23]: full, and free, and beautiful, and delivered, and living to the glory and the worshipful reverential awe and love of the Lord God our Creator.
And that is how this fourth chapter ends, in the paean of praise of the four cherubim, in the redeemed creation that now serves its just and only God. And when those four cherubim give glory and honor and thanks to Him that sat on the throne [Revelation 4:8-10], the four and twenty elders fall down to worship, and they say:
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power . . .
For Thou hast created all of these things, and for Thee, they were and are created.
And when the four zōa bow before God, singing that song of creative redemption, they represent all of God’s creation; bowing before God, serving the Lord in the purposes for which God did create them.
And that is the holy and incomparably beautiful picture that you have of that millennial age “when the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” [Isaiah 11:9]; for, says the prophet, in that day and in that time, when God hath executed these purposes, and when He has delivered the creation from its bondage, in that day, says the prophet:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid . . .
. . . and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den.
“And none shall make them afraid” [Micah 4:4]. All of animal life that is now vicious and carnivorous, God will remake into that beautiful, Edenic peace by which He decreed their creation in the beginning [Genesis 1:30]. And the lion and the leopard and the wolf shall lose their claw and their fang and their vicious carnivorous spirit. And the wolf, and the lamb, and the leopard, and the kid, and the lion, shall live in peace and in beauty [Isaiah 11:6-8] and in glory to the great Lord God who created them and made them and placed them in the Edenic garden of this world [Genesis 1:24-25].
And all of creation shall be redeemed–not just the man—all of God’s creation shall be redeemed: animal life, bird life, human life, domestic life, the stars, this earth, burned and seared with drought and desert and burning sands. All of it shall be redeemed unto God [Romans 8:22-23]. It is the purpose of the Lord for us that we shall live in a beautiful and a holy and a godly world. And the instruments of the decree by which He shall bring it to pass are the cherubim who stand in the midst of the throne; in the day and in the night, ready to carry forth the final and ultimate and elective purpose of God for us in this world.
Ah, what a blessedness and what a glory that the Lord purposed for His people and for this world in which God hath placed them. And what an incomparable preciousness that we can love Him now, and call on His name now, and trust in Jesus now [John 3:16-18]. And that is our appeal and invitation to your heart. Somebody you, coming down this aisle or down one of these stairways, “Today, pastor, I give my heart to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13], and here I come, and here I am.” Or, “Today, pastor, we put our lives in the fellowship of this dear and blessed church” [Hebrews 10:24-25] Into the aisle, down to the front and to the pastor, “Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8] . Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming.” Or just a couple, or just one somebody you, as God shall say the word, shall open the door, shall lead in the way, would you make it now? Would you make it now? On the first note of the first stanza, “Here I come, and here I am.” Would you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?
translates it “four beasts” – Greek for “beasts” is theria(Revelation 13)
word used in our text is zoa, “living ones”
have been introduced to them in the past (Ezekiel
The four living creatures John saw are the four cherubim of God
Represent animated life of all the hosts of God in heaven and all forms of life
in this world
have seen them in Old Testament
At the gate of the garden of Eden(Genesis 3:24)
in the tabernacle
Woven in the curtains, the veil(Exodus 25:31,
On the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant(Leviticus
16:15, 26:3-16, Exodus 39:6-10, 40:20)
Throughout Old Testament Jehovah God is called “the One who dwells between the
cherubim” (Psalm 80:1, 99:1, 2 Kings 19:15,
Isaiah 37:16, 1 Samuel 4:4, 2 Samuel 6:2)
In Solomon’s temple(1 Kings 6:23-28, 8:6-7, 2
Chronicles 3:10-13, 5:7-8)
Two gigantic cherubim of olive wood overlaid with gold
Figure of cherubim carved on gold-plated cedar planks which form the inside of
Carved on the bases of the lavers
Woven into the veil of the Holy of holies
In Herod’s temple there were figures painted on the wall of supposed likenesses
Josephus says that by then they had forgotten what the scriptural cherubim
are given symbolic forms of these glorious creations(Ezekiel 1, 10, 41:18-25, Revelation 4:6, 8-9, 5:6, 8, 14, 6:1, 3, 5-7,
7:11, 14:3, 15:7, 19:4)
As we follow the course of the Apocalypse, we see the part cherubim play in the
administrative decrees of AlmightyGod
II. They have to do with this world
are four in number
the scriptural numeric for the world God made
and are emblems of God’s animate creation
Jewish Talmudic saying – four beings which were primary among the forms of life
God had made: man, ox, lion, eagle
III. They have to do with God’s judicial
Assignment is the execution and implementation of decrees and purposes of God
in human history and in the destiny of created universe
The throne is one of judgment (Revelation 4:5)
is by the decrees and judgment of God the Lord will redeem this lost and fallen
In this divine purpose, the cherubim summon the four horsemen of the Apocalypse(Revelation 6:1-8)
of them gives the seven bowls of wrath to the seven angels(Revelation 15:7)
IV. They have to do with grace and
the holy things of God in blessing to fallen mankind(Genesis 3:24, Exodus 25:20, 26:31)
Marching through the wilderness to the Promised Land, the twelve tribes of
Israel marched under four standards – lion, man, ox, eagle
Singing the song of redemption(Revelation 5:8-9)
only fallen humanity redeemed, but entire creation of God delivered from bondage
of corruption (Romans 8:19-22)
Creation destroyed by the fall of one of their own (Ezekiel
The praise of the four cherubim, in the redeemed creation (Revelation 4:9-11)
The whole creation delivered(Isaiah 11:6-8)