The Four Cherubim
February 18th, 1962 @ 8:15 AM
THE FOUR CHERUBIM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-18-62 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Four Cherubim. In our preaching through the Bible and now through the last book of the Bible, we have come to Revelation, chapter 4. And if you will turn in the holy volume to that passage, you can follow it as the pastor delivers the message this morning. Revelation chapter 4, beginning with verse 4; Revelation chapter 4, verse 4:
And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders…
And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which represent the plentitude, the fullness of the Spirit of God, the seven lamps, 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 this is one of the most unfortunate translations that mind could imagine: the Greek word for “beast” is thērion, and you will come across that word several times in the book. In the thirteenth chapter of the Revelation you will find thēria, “beasts” [Revelation 13:1]. The word here is zoē, life; zoology, the zoo, life, created life. “And round about the throne were four zoē, four living ones” [Revelation 4:6], four God in-breathed, created creatures; four zoē, four living ones full of eyes before and behind. “And the first zōon,” singular of zoē:
And the first zōon was like a lion; and the second zōon like a calf, like an ox; and the third zōon had a face as a man; and the fourth zōon, the fourth living one, was like a flying eagle.
And the four zoē, the four living ones 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 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.
And the message this morning concerns those four living ones. And in the message this morning is one of the most glorious of all of the things that God has revealed in the entire Holy Book. And I hope God will help me this morning as we follow the testimony of the Lord.
Now those zoē, those living ones four in number [Revelation 4:6], we have met them many times before. For example, in the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel; “Out of the midst of the enfolding fire, the prophet saw the likeness of four living creatures, four living ones” [Ezekiel 1:5], the same thing that you find here “the four zoē” [Revelation 4:6]. That’s Ezekiel 1:5, “Out of the midst of the enfolding fire came the likeness of four living creatures,” translated in Ezekiel 1:5, “living creatures.” Now when I turn to Ezekiel 10:20, “This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar; and I knew that they were the cherubim”: these zoē [Revelation 4:6], these living ones [Ezekiel 1:5] are the cherubim of God [Ezekiel 10:20].
Immediately when I say the word “cherubim” there comes into heart and memory a flood of things that we read of them in the Old Testament. In Genesis, the closing of the third chapter, there they are guarding the way of the tree of life, “And God placed on the east side of the garden, at the gate into His paradise, cherubim, to keep the way, to guard the way of the tree of life” [Genesis 3:24]. That’s the first time we meet them. Again in the tabernacle there they are woven into the ten curtains that covered the inner sanctuary in the tabernacle [Exodus 26:1]. And there they are inwoven into the veil that enters the Holy of Holies; God’s cherubim [Exodus 26:31-33]. And on the inside of the holy sanctuary is the ark of the covenant that contained the [stones of the ten] commandments, the covenant between God and His people [Exodus 25:16-21].
“Do this and thou shalt live” [Deuteronomy 4:1], which no man could do, and no man could live, but covering the commandments that men do break; for there’s no man that sinneth not [1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36]. Covering the commandments of a broken covenant is the propitiatory, the mercy seat, actually the golden lid of the ark of the covenant [Exodus 25:17-22]. And beaten out of one piece, out of solid, pure gold, beaten out of the slab of the lid that is called the propitiatory, the mercy seat, beaten out of that solid gold are—and there they are again—two cherubim whose wings arching over the mercy seat touch, and whose eyes and face look full upon the sprinkled blood of expiation, and propitiation, and atonement, and cleansing; the cherubim in the tabernacle [Exodus 25:17-22].
Then as we turn the page of the Old Testament, there they are magnificently executed in the incomparable temple of Solomon. Inside of the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple, the great king made two gigantic cherubim; they were ten cubits high [1 Kings 6:23-26], that’d be fifteen feet high, and the two faced the Holy Place as you went through the veil, as you pulled aside the curtain there they were facing you. And their outstretched wings touched tip to tip and wall to wall [1 Kings 6:27]. And under the wings of the cherubim, the holy covenant of God was placed [1 Kings 6:19, 23]. Time and again you will find in the Old Testament God referred to as “the Lord who dwelleth between the cherubim” [1 Samuel 4:4]. On the veil also in the temple of Solomon there was inwoven the figure of the cherubim [2 Chronicles 3:14].
And Solomon, around the base of the portable lavers, carved those cherubim, and on the cedar planks, covered with pure gold, he carved the figures of the cherubim that made the inside walls of the temple [1 Kings 6:29-32]. As you entered Solomon’s temple, everywhere there were the pictures of and the symbols of those cherubim.
In Herod’s temple, the temple that Jesus visited [Luke 2:46], they painted on the walls what they thought the cherubim might have looked like. But Josephus says that in that day, which was his day, it had gone out of the memory of man what the scriptural cherubim looked like. So we have no idea what those cherubim were that covered the mercy seat; what they looked like in Solomon’s temple; what figures they were when they were carved on the gold plated cedar planks and when they were inwoven into the veil and the curtains of the tabernacle. Nobody knows. Josephus says that by his day and the day of Herod’s temple it had gone out of the memory of man. It had been lost what the scriptural cherubim looked like. But here in the Bible, in Ezekiel and in the Revelation, we are told their symbolic form, and from them we can easily learn their place in the jurisdictional government of God in this universe.
In the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet says that he saw coming out of the north a great whirlwind [Ezekiel 1:4], and pushing in front, and in front of the whirlwind, pushed by it, was a great black angry cloud, the cloud of the judgment of God. And as the whirlwind and the great black cloud approached out of the north, he saw inside of the cloud a furious fire enfolding itself [Ezekiel 1:4]. Then as the vision drew closer, out of the enfolding fire he saw four glorious creatures [Ezekiel 1:5]. Each one of them stood by a wheel through which transverse another wheel, and the four looked in four directions [Ezekiel 1:10]. And the wheel had also the spirit of the living God in it [Ephesians 1:20]. And when they moved, they moved like lightning. And they turned not when they moved because they faced all four directions and could immediately, like the lightning flash, turn in any direction that the spirit of God might direct [Ezekiel 1:4-21]. And above the heads of those four living creatures, there was a firmament of terrible crystal [Ezekiel 1:22]. And above the firmament of terrible crystal, he saw a throne of sapphire. And on the throne of sapphire, he saw the Lord God Jehovah [Ezekiel 1:26-28]. And in the tenth chapter and the twentieth verse, he says that those four living creatures that he saw coming out of the enfolding fire are the four cherubim of God [Ezekiel 10:20].
Now they uphold, they bear the throne of the Almighty [Ezekiel 1:26]. And in the Old Testament Scriptures, such as in the eighteenth Psalm, you will find that figure followed through: that the chariot of Jehovah, the throne of the Lord God, is sustained by the cherubim [Psalm 18:10]. These are the four living creatures that John saw around the throne of the Lord God [Revelation 4:6], and they have to do with several things that bring to us a magnificent and incomparable hope. One of the most glorious revelations to be found in the Book is to be found in the meaning and the significance of these four living creatures. Now let’s begin with them.
First of all they have to do with this world. They have to do with us. They have to do with this planet on which we live. They have to do with God’s created animate life. They are always four in number in Ezekiel and in the Revelation, where they are symbolically described. What they actually look like, it has been lost, nobody knows. It’s a strange thing. The cherubim at the garden of Eden, in the tabernacle, in the temple of Solomon, the cherubim are never described. I cannot understand that. There will be a description in the Word of God how to make the smallest little hook in the tabernacle or in the temple of Solomon [Exodus 26:1-37; 2 Kings 7:1-51]. Yet the cherubim are never described. They’re just named.
And here we have their symbolism. They are four in number, which is the number of the earth, of the world. Like seven is the number for plentitude and fullness and completion, like three is the number of Deity, of God, so four is the number of the world, of this earth, like the four winds, the four points of the compass, the four corners of the world, the four seasons, the four elements, on and on; four. They have to do with this world, and they represent God’s creation, God’s created animate life. The old Jewish writers observed that, of the four tremendous parts of God’s created life, there is the leader of all intelligent life, the man; primary among domestic life, the ox; primary among undomesticated life, wildlife, the lion; and primary among the great kingdom of the birds, the eagle; and those are the four faces that he saw in this symbolic description of the cherubim.
One had the face of a man, one had the face of an ox, one had the face of a lion, and one had the face of a flying eagle [Ezekiel 1:10]; representing all of the four great departments of God’s created animate universe, God’s created life. So they represent this world. They represent the life of this world. They represent all God’s created living creatures. And the whole creation worships God; not now, but finally. As the four and twenty elders represent all of the redeemed of the Lamb [Revelation 4:4], so those four living creatures represent all of God’s created life.
Now a second thing about them; they are the instruments for the administration of the judicial government of God. They execute God’s purposes and God’s decrees. Now look at this, verse 5 out of chapter 4 of the Revelation; “And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices” [Revelation 4:5]. That is, the throne is one of judgment. No longer at the hour when this comes, no longer will the nations oppose God and live, and no longer will God be blasphemed by mortal man and stand: “For the day of the wrath of the judgment of God is come; and who shall be able to stand?” [Revelation 6:17].
And the instrument for the implementation of these decrees and this purpose of God is these four cherubim. Now look at it. In the sixth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, “I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder,” this is the judgment of God, “one of the four living ones said, Come!” [Revelation 6:1]. Now we will discuss that more in detail when we come to the opening of those seven seals. You have it translated here, “Come and see.” No. What John wrote there was, “And the first cherubim, the first cherub,” singular:
The first one of the cherubim said, Come.
And in obedience to his voice there came that false conqueror, riding a white horse.
And when He had opened that second seal, I heard the second of the cherubim say, Come.
And there went forth that red horse of war and blood.
And when He had opened the third seal, I heard the third of the cherubim say, Come. And there came that black horse of famine.
And when He had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth of the cherubim, saying, Come.
And there came forth the pale horse of death.
Apparently, there is no other way for God to redeem this universe except in blood, and in fire, and in fury, and in wrath, and in war, and in judgment. And these decrees of the Almighty, by which this world is to be purged of sin, these decrees of wrath and of judgment, are carried forth by the cherubim. They are the instruments of God.
Now once again, in Revelation chapter 15:7: “And one of the four cherubim gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever” [Revelation 15:7]. And that is the end of the purging of this earth. The seven bowls of the wrath and the judgment of God are given into the hands of the seven angels by these four cherubim [Revelation 6:1-8].
The purpose of God is to make righteous this wicked world. The divine decree of the Almighty is to deliver this creation out of corruption and bondage into the likeness and the liberty of the sons of God [Romans 8:21-23]. And the instruments of that decree and the executors of that holy purpose is found in these four cherubim.
Now one other thing about them, which is the most glorious of all of the hopes and promises that a man could think of, now follow it carefully as I sum it up in these last few moments that remain. The cherubim in the Book are ever and always signs of the gracious purposes of God for His people. They are emblems of grace, and of hope, and of blessedness. At the garden of Eden there were placed the cherubim, lest the man reach forth his hand and eat of the tree of life and live forever [Genesis 3:22-24]. That is, lest a man be confirmed in this house of death forever: “For flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” [1 Corinthians 15:50]. And as long as we are in this tabernacle, in this house of death, we are shut out from the presence of God.
And if a man were to eat of the tree of life and be confirmed in this house of death forever [Genesis 3:22], it would be the most impossible of all of the judgments of horror and of death that you could imagine. Imagine, if you’re crippled, being crippled forever. Imagine, if you’re senile, being senile forever. Imagine, if you’re blind, being blind forever. Imagine, if you’ve lost your mind, that you have lost your mind forever. Imagine that you could seek death and never find it, and be confirmed forever in this house of death.
It was a matter of love and of mercy that God took away the tree of life. And it was an emblem and a sign of His blessing and His goodness that He guards it away from us by the cherubim [Genesis 3:24]. And we are given the tree of life to eat of the fruit thereof, here? No. Our home, says God, is in heaven [Philippians 3:20]. And our tabernacle, our house that abides forever made without hands [2 Corinthians 5:1-2], is up there guarded by the cherubim for us in the day when God gives it to us, to those who trust in Him [Revelation 2:7]. So they are signs and they are emblems of God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s promised blessing.
Another thing I find about them: these four cherubim are the signs of God’s care and of God’s remembrance of His people as they march through the wilderness of this world. In Numbers 2:1-34, the old Talmudic Jewish writers said that the standards under which they marched were, first, there was the standard of Judah which was a lion, and second, there was the standard of Ephraim which was a calf. Third, there was the standard of Reuben which was a man, and fourth, there was the standard of Dan which was a flying eagle. And in the square that was the camp, on one side was the standard of Judah and the two tribes of the tribes with him, the three tribes on the east side of the camp, the standard of Judah; then on the other side of the camp, the standard of Ephraim, which was an ox. And then on the other side of the camp, the standard of Rueben, which was a man. And on the other side of the camp, the standard of Dan, which was a flying eagle.
In the center of the camp was the tabernacle, the home, the throne, the place of God [Numbers 2:17]. Then around the camp on the four sides were encamped the Levites. And then around were God’s children under those four standards [Numbers 2:18-34]. And that is what we find of these four cherubim. Like a lion, like an ox, like a man, like a flying eagle [Ezekiel 1:10], and they marched through the wilderness under the guiding, guarding, keeping hand of God under those four standards. So God guides and guards through the wilderness of this life His people. They have to do with us.
Now the last thing: they are the signs and symbols of the ultimate deliverance of the whole creation from the bondage of corruption and captivity. That’s why I had you read the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans:
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
For the creature was made subject to disease and death, made ferocious, carnivorous, wild, not willingly, but because of the great permissive will of God in a future hope
Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain
together until now … waiting for the redemption of our bodies, and the manifestation of the glorious sons of God.
All of created life has been in bondage, and in wildness, and in judgment, and in groaning, and in travailing in pain, until now. God never made it that way. These animals that eat one another, God never made it that way. And we eat animal flesh. God never at first intended that. And the claw and the tooth and the wildness, God never intended it that way, for the whole creation and the creature were made subject to the bondage of corruption, and a whole world of God’s life groans and travails in pain until now [Romans 8:22]. Ever hear the lowing of cattle when they were dying of thirst? Ever see the pain of animals when they are hurt or in beast birth? The whole creation groaning and travailing [Romans 8:22]: where’d that come from? That came from one of the number of the cherubim. They did it. They did it.
In the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, who was this, the sum of wisdom and perfect in beauty? [Ezekiel 28:12]. Who was this in the garden of Eden with every precious stone his covering? [Ezekiel 28:13] Who was this that lifted himself up in pride and in vanity because of his beauty? [Ezekiel 28:17]. Who was this that said, “I will be God?” [Isaiah 14:12-14]. Who was this? Ezekiel 28:14 says that that Lucifer was “the anointed cherub that covered”; the leader of the cherubim of God. And it was one of their number that caused the destruction of God’s universe [Ezekiel 28:14]. And it was one of their number that brought the bondage of corruption to God’s created world. It was one of their number that fell, that brought down in the garden of Eden first Eve and then Adam [Genesis 3:1-6], and that cursed the lion, and the tiger, and the ape, and all God’s life in this world. It was one of their number [Ezekiel 28:14].
And they are the ones that are going to be used of God to bring it back to this primeval, primordial purpose, whereby the whole creation, all of God’s world, worship the Lord [Revelation 4:9-11]. When those four cherubim, who are the instruments of God’s purposes, of God’s judgment in bringing this world back to Himself and in introducing the millennial age, when those four cherubim 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 and worship Him, saying,
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy self and for Thy glory and for Thy worship, and love, and adoration, they are and were created.
That is, through these four cherubim who are the instruments of God’s purposes [Revelation 6:1-8], all of this creation is going to be brought back to God, as it was before one of their number fell and destroyed it in the face and in the presence of the Almighty [Ezekiel 28:12-19]. And that is the incomparable and marvelous prophecy you have of that coming and final Day of the Lord. Listen to it. Listen to it. Listen to it:
For 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 den;
For they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.
[Isaiah 11: 6-9]
God never made the leopard to kill, and God never created the lion to be carnivorous, and God never made the wolf with a fang to destroy; that is the bondage of God’s created life in pain and in travail until now [Romans 8:21]. But through these, one of whose number caused that fall [Ezekiel 28:12-19], God shall bring back His whole animate creation into that worship and glory of God that shall honor our Lord, and the whole creation, says Paul in Romans 8, is to be redeemed, all of it, all of it [Romans 8:22-23]. The lion won’t destroy anymore; he’ll eat straw like an ox [Isaiah 11:7]. And the wolf won’t destroy anymore; he’ll lie down with the lamb [Isaiah 11:6]. And the leopard won’t destroy anymore; he’ll dwell with the kid [Isaiah 11:6]. And all God’s creation will be Edenic and paradisiacal and beautiful like God made it in the beginning [Genesis 2:8-15].
And this song that these four cherubim sing here in the fourth chapter of the Revelation is the song of the new creation [Revelation 4:8]. God hath redeemed it all to Himself [Revelation 5:9]. The four and twenty elders, that’s us [Revelation 4:4]; and the four cherubim, that is the whole animate creation of God [Revelation 6:1-8], when the Lord makes anew this world that travails and groans in pain until now [Romans 8:22]. Oh, what a prospect, what a promise, what a glorious thing God hath in store for us who live in this veil of tears and who face so dark a night in the grave! It is light in the promise and the blessing of God.
Now while we sing our song of appeal, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10]. Somebody you, put your life with us in the fellowship of the church. As the Spirit of the Lord shall open the door and lead in the way, would you come this morning, a family you or one somebody you, while we stand and while we sing?