THIS IS THE FIFTH IN A SERIES ON THE CHERUBIM.
In chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation, John saw four living creatures (“beasts” in the KJV). There are clear similarities to Ezekiel’s four cherubim-the lion, ox, man and eagle. Similarly, the creatures are covered with eyes because each one represents a multitude of people. John’s creatures, however, differ in that they have have six wings.
Six is the number of man. Scripture contains another reference to six-winged beings. They are the seraphim in the vision of Isaiah 6:2-7. Both seraphim and Revelation’s living creatures recite the same formula: “Holy, holy, holy”. Both are associated with God’s throne. John’s living creatures are a composite of seraphim and cherubim, as are we. (Our role as seraphim deserves its own series).
John relates that the creatures are in the midst of the throne and round about it. Now, how is this? One view is that they are bearing the throne, but this proves awkward for at times the creatures fall down before the throne and are seen carrying bowls of incense and harps. I suggest that John saw what Isaiah saw: six-winged beings hovering above and moving about the throne. Interestingly, John’s vision, like Ezekiel’s includes a wheel within a wheel, as we shall see.
The living creatures serve admirably to identify the cherubim as God’s people, but they aren’t emblematic of a priesthood. In Ezekiel’s case, the priestly tribe of Levi did not march or camp under the four divisional banners-lion, ox, man and eagle-as did the other tribes. Hence, the need to include them as the wheel within a wheel. In the wilderness journey, the Levites formed the innermost circle around the tabernacle and its ark, God’s earthly throne. This served more than convenience. Moses instructed that “…the Levites shall pitch round about the tabernacle of testimony, that there be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel….(Nu 1:53)”. The rest of the populace camped safely at a distance in an outer wheel.
Now, contrast this rather scary arrangement with John’s vision. Again, the cherubim allude to God’s people, but now they are intimately connected to the throne and His presence. They are the inner wheel! There is no wrath, rather the glow of an emerald rainbow, a symbol of peace. To delineate the priestly nature of their actions, we have an outer circle of 24 elders who comprise the 24 courses of the priesthood. The elders and the cherubim are one and the same, a priesthood of all believers. Hence, there’s a unity of worship in their songs and actions. The scene John describes contains elements of the morning and evening sacrifices in Jerusalem’s temple. These include the slain lamb, incense, harps and singing.
The introduction of the elders also serves as a useful vehicle to describe the worshipers. They are seated in heavenly places, as are we (Eph 2:6). They wear the crown of victors and the white garments of overcomers. John also notes a sea of glass before the throne and this tells us more. Recalling that the earthly tabernacle is a type of the heavenly pattern, we can associate the sea of glass with the laver, Solomon’s brazen sea. The Levitical priests were required to wash there before ministering at the altar or in the tabernacle on penalty of death. The heavenly sea is calm and smooth. The elders have done with their ablutions.
John distinguishes angels from the worship of the elders and the four creatures: “…the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, 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 hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” Rev 5:8-10. This alone is humanity’s song, but angels then join the worship: “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” Rev 5:11,12).