And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” Revelation 4:8 (NAS)
As one reads our text today from the book of Revelation, the familiar visions of two prominent Old Testament prophets quickly materialize in our minds. These verses allude to Isaiah’s vision of Yahweh, the LORD of Hosts, as recorded in Isaiah 6:1-3 and Ezekiel’s vision of the four living beings of Ezekiel 1:5-10.
Isaiah and Ezekiel’s angelic visions
The Scripture often portrays visions of the LORD in glory as being encompassed or surrounded by angelic beings (C. f. 1 Kings 22:19; Ps. 68:17; Dan. 7:10). Isaiah was the first prophet of God to see in a vision the six winged seraphim that moved about and above the LORD who sat upon the exalted throne in glory. Ezekiel got the opportunity to see four living beings of human form that were similar yet different to the Seraphim of Isaiah’s vision. They bore four faces (ox, bull, man, eagle; representative of God’s creation), four wings, and four wheels and served as the portable throne of the LORD. One wheel touched the earth while the rims of the wheels of this portable throne “were full of eyes round about.” The four living beings used one pair of their wings to cover their body similar to what the Seraphim did (Ezek. 1:4-21). These beings are referred to as Cherubim later on in Ezekiel (Ezek. 10:1-22). The living creatures in John’s vision are a composite of Isaiah and Ezekiel’s visions. The four living beings now possess six wings and are “full of eyes around and within”.
There are a lot of interesting ideas in the religious marketplace concerning angels, and in particular, the Seraphim of Isaiah’s vision and the four living beings of Ezekiel’s vision. Don’t get bogged down in every nuance and detail, understand the general principles being communicated. These celestial beings give the Lord of hosts the proper reverence (covered eyes), proper decorum and humility (covered bodies) desiring to rapidly carry out His will as His ministers (one set of wings to fly to and fro) while they continually praise Him Who is Holy. The “eyes round about” and the one wheel touching the earth in Ezekiel’s vision convey God’s omniscient nature, His eyes upon His faithful ones to protect them while He executes His eternal plan upon earth (2 Chron. 16:9).
Whom Isaiah and Ezekiel saw
The images of the angels and their actions as presented in Isaiah and Ezekiel’s visions are interesting and intriguing, However, the real focus of their visions was seeing the LORD seated on the throne in glory. Just exactly Whom did they see? Yahweh, Lord of hosts, right?
With a little help from John in his inspired gospel account, Isaiah’s vision is properly interpreted. “These things Jesus spoke, and He departed and hid Himself from them. But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes, and He hardened their heart; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them.’ These things Isaiah said, because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.” (John 12:36b-41) Whom Isaiah saw is whom Ezekiel saw. Jesus in His resurrected state in glory, that which He had with the Father before the world was (C. f. John 17:5).
Vision collision or vision synergism?
Like Isaiah and Ezekiel, the first thing that John in the Spirit sees when the door in heaven is opened is the vision of the Lord upon the throne in glory. Unlike Isaiah and Ezekiel, John’s vision continues until he sees before the throne the Lamb slain for the sin of the world who is now exalted as worthy to receive honor, glory, and dominion forever. The elders and the living beings are now falling down before and worshipping the Lamb (Rev. 5:11-14). What’s going on here? Do we have vision collision between John, Isaiah and Ezekiel? Two receiving worship, rather than the Lord God alone? No, what we have is vision synergism.
The fullness of the godhead is presented in this vision of the Lord God and the Lamb. The focus moves to the Lamb who is now described as having seven horns (power/dominion) and seven eyes (fullness of the Holy Sprit) and is worthy to receive the praise reserved for the Lord God, the Almighty. John’s vision regarding the Lamb moves along progressively until He is presented as the One seated in the very center of the throne in heaven (Rev. 7:17). This is a glimpse by faith of the picture of God being all in all, as Paul penned in 1 Cor. 15:28. Jesus and Jehovah are one!
So what’s the purpose of John’s heavenly vision? Like Isaiah and Ezekiel, the message is that the Lord God Almighty (Jesus) is on the throne in heaven executing His plan. Jesus is He who was and He who is. The true Israel of God, the church, is to draw the needed encouragement from John’s vision to understand that Christ is in control, He rules on behalf of His church, His eyes are upon us to protect us, and we, as His ministers on earth, need to as rapidly as possible execute His plan to hasten the day of He who is to come. Until He comes, let’s imitate the angels’ example and not cease in proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty”. Amen?