Each of the four living creatures in Ezekiel's vision had four faces, that of a man, a lion, a young bull, and an eagle, whereas in John's vision the living creatures have one face each, a lion, a young bull, a man, and an eagle.
Ezekiel 10:20, 21 These were the living creatures I had seen beneath the God of Israel by the Kebar River, and I realized that they were cherubim. 21Each had four faces and four wings, and under their wings was what looked like the hands of a man.
Isaiah 6:1 - 4 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
There are minor differences between John's vision and that of Ezekiel such as the faces of the cherubim, the number of wings and the absence of the wheels in John's vision.
One ought not to expect photographic images in these prophecies but rather that they resemble the messages that the prophets are conveying based on what they saw in the Spirit. If we understand the purpose of these visions, we would be able to measure the differences between them and from that try to determine their meaning. Also, then we would expect to find variations between these messages from God to his people as the history of his people progresses through time.
Ezekiel's vision, for instance, portrayed movement by showing the Israelites wheels and motion in the vision, which was an assurance to the exiles in Babylon that, despite the temple's destruction and their stateless condition, the Lord had not retracted the promise of his presence but would travel with them in exile.
John's vision, on the other hand, gives the church a glimpse of God's tranquil sovereignty over the turmoil on earth and the living creatures' main activity is worship. But they will also implement the judgments as God orders them.
Isaiah's vision also reveals worship, pointing to John's vision, or more accurately, revealing that worship has never departed from God's throne and John's vision confirms that.
It behooves us to bear in mind that images and visions always would be less accurate than the reality they portray, because the vision is intended to point to or describe in some measure what is to come, but never in the full measure.
Commentators are divided on what the four beings actually mean.
These opinions could be summed up in the following:
a) The four beings represent such things as: the elements, the cardinal virtues, the faculties and powers of the human soul, the patriarchal churches, the great apostles, the orders of churchmen, the principle angels, and so on.
b) Some hold to the theory that the tribes of Israel were divided into four groups, each gathering under their own banner:
Numbers 2:3 On the east, toward the sunrise, the divisions of the camp of Judah are to encamp under their standard. The leader of the people of Judah is Nahshon son of Amminadab.
Numbers 2:10 On the south will be the divisions of the camp of Reuben under their standard. The leader of the people of Reuben is Elizur son of Shedeur.
Numbers 2:18 On the west will be the divisions of the camp of Ephraim under their standard. The leader of the people of Ephraim is Elishama son of Ammihud.
Numbers 2:25 On the north will be the divisions of the camp of Dan, under their standard. The leader of the people of Dan is Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai.
These commentators propose that Judah on the east represents a lion, Ephraim on the west represents an ox, Reuben on the south a man, and an Dan on the north represents an eagle. There is no mention in Scripture that their positions or division relates to the beings mentioned in Revelation.
c) These four cherubim are often taken as symbols of Jesus as represented in each gospel; in classical church architecture, these four "characters" are repeated often as a motif that signifies both heaven and the four gospels.
d) Many scholars see Matthew as the "Lion" gospel (showing Jesus as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah), Mark as the "Ox" gospel (showing Jesus as a humble servant, a worker), Luke as the "Man" gospel (showing Jesus as the perfect man, the second Adam), and John as the "Eagle" gospel (showing Jesus as the man from heaven, the sky), but this approach is not without other interpretations.
e) It is perhaps the safest to say that the four faces present all of animate creation, in its utmost excellence - the lion is the mightiest of wild animals, the ox strongest of domesticated animals, the eagle king of all birds, and man is highest of all creation. Without attempting a definitive interpretation of these passages, one may safely use it as the most probable.
f) It is interesting to see that the Bible associates a face with the idea of person; here we have singular beings with four faces. Apparently, there are beings that can be more than one person - as our God is One God in three Persons.
Let's look at some of these passages:
I Chronicles 12:8 Some Gadites defected to David at his stronghold in the desert. They were brave warriors, ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear. Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains.
II Chronicles 29:6 Our fathers were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the LORD our God and forsook him. They turned their faces away from the LORD'S dwelling place and turned their backs on him.
Isaiah 3:15 What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?" declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.
Isaiah 13:8 Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them; they will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at each other, their faces aflame.
It is less likely that these passages would serve as proof text for the cherubim in Revelation and that they could consist of more than one person.
This passage introduces the five praises that are bestowed on God the Father: first, there are the four living creatures glorifying the Lord; second, there are the twenty four elders; third, the twenty four elders are joined by the four living creatures confessing the worthiness of the Lamb to take the scroll; fourth, thousands and thousands of angels respond in praise; and finally, fifth, the crescendo reaches its climax as every created thing that is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, ascribe glory to the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb together. Two of the praises, or doxologies, praise the Father, two the Lamb, and one praises them together.
What a sight this must have been for John to witness. And we will witness it too. We will be totally consumed by the presence of God and the intensity of his glory and majesty. As we proceed through these passages of praise, we ought to pit our own old nature against these images of what will come, and become aware of the rotten condition that we are in, in this life. But we also can look forward with confidence, knowing that we will finally be rid of this corruption and imperfection and join our Savior Jesus Christ in this heavenly gathering in the throne room of God the Father.
These words describe to us the omniscience of God and his omnipresence, given to John in the images of many wings covered with eyes all around. The fact that these attributes are ascribed to living creatures rather than to God Himself, indicates in human terms the 'outstretched arm' of God. We see the same phenomenon in the seven spirits of God hovering before his throne. They are God and yet they are seen as separate beings, portrayed in the imagery of human understanding.
Let's read from verse four from chapter one of Ezekiel's vision.
Ezekiel 1:4 I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north--an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal. 5And in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man. 6But each of them had four faces and four wings, 7their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. 8Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings 9and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.
10Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. 11Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out upward; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body. 12Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. 13The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. 14The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.
15As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. 16This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. 17As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went. 18Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. 19When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. 20Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
21When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
22Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome. 23Under the expanse their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. 24When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.
25Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. 26Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. 27I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. 28Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
What a remarkable vision indicating the presence of God amidst a nomadic Israel, reflecting the same images that John saw.
The four living creatures praised God 'day and night' meaning they did it without rest, but not without interruption. We see that verse 9 starts with "whenever" meaning that there were times that they would cease saying "holy, holy, holy".
In Revelation 5:8 we read, And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints, indicating that they stopped praising God in that fashion. In verse 9 they sang a new song; in verse 14 they said, "Amen"; and in chapter 6:1 they spoke again. So, while the words 'day and night' may indicate perpetual, uninterrupted praises, it rather reveals to us praises that are brought forever.
The words 'holy, holy, holy" indicates something in the highest possible sense. In Hebrew, the double repetition of a word adds emphasis, while the rare threefold repetition designates the superlative and calls attention to the infinite holiness of God. They declare that the Lord God is Almighty, the "pantokrator," Greek for "the one who has His hand on everything, Almighty God." The same word is used in II Corinthians 6:18 "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
The words "Who was and is and is to come" is another reference to God's eternal Being, translating the thought behind "Yahweh" as in Revelation 1:8.
Revelation 1:8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."
Isaiah 6:3 And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
Revelation 11:17 "…We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign."
The word 'whenever' indicates a repetitive action and the action of the twenty-four elders during this action. Glory and honor appear as elements in the following doxologies, but thanksgiving is given to God only once more during the response of the heavenly host to the salvation song of the victorious multitude in Revelation 7:12.
The praise that the living creatures bring do not speak of God's deeds and actions, but of His attributes. God is thanked just for being who He is: the all-holy, Almighty, ever living One. His eternity is emphasized in the title "him … who lives for ever and ever."
Daniel 4:34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
Daniel 6:26 "I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. "For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end."
Herewith some passages that illustrate the thanks due to God for all he has done, which ties in with the thanks the living creatures declare before the throne of God.
Deuteronomy 16:11 And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name--you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you.
II Samuel 7:18, 19 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: "Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far. 19And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD?
II Samuel 7:20 "What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign LORD.
Psalm 68:3 But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.
Psalm 71:14, 15 But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. 15My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure.
Psalm 96:12, 13 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy, 13they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.
Psalm 98:8, 9 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy. 9Let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.
II Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.
II Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.
I Thessalonians 1:3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I Thessalonians 2:19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?
I Thessalonians 3:7 - 9 Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you.
The twenty-four elders represent the congregation, the body of Christ, and their prostration before God is the highest worship that can be given. They prostrate themselves before the Lord and cast their crowns at His feet, acknowledging that all authority derives from him, belongs to him, and returns to him. This is the kind of worship expression that the devil desires: that which is given, not to angels and men, but to God alone.
Matthew 4:9 "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
Revelation 19:10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
Revelation 22:8, 9 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!"
Verse 11 starts the second doxology, that given by the twenty-four elders.
The words 'you are worthy, our Lord and God…' reflect a very power summary of the gospel, namely, the acknowledgment that God is worthy of all our praises, and in fact we cannot bring praises that sufficiently reflect God's worthiness. The words 'our Lord and God' are an acknowledgment of the sacrifice of Christ that reinstated our union with the Father. The bond of sin has been broken and once again we may say that the Father is 'our Lord' just as Jesus refers to the Father as 'my God.'
They acknowledge that God is the creator of all things and that by His providence all things are what they are.
Romans 11:36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
I Chronicles 29:11, 12 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 12Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.
Daniel 2:21, 22 He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. 22He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.
Luke 2:14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
Acts 17:25, 26, 28 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live, 28'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'
Ephesians 4:6 One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
I Timothy 6:16 Who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
Jude 1:25 To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
An unresolved question of worthiness, of deserved authority and rightful claim, will soon plunge John into deep grief amid his celestial joy. John wept because no one could be found who was worthy to open the scroll or even look inside it. (Rev. 5:4). It is the crux of the two-movement throne scene that we are considering. Recognition of the supreme worthiness of God evokes a stabbing, sweet sense of awe, to which our modern hearts may be numbed by self-reliance and cynicism. Who would we consider worthy enough today to risk damaging our dignity by flinging ourselves spontaneously facedown on the pavement? But then again, John is not in an ordinary situation facing mere passers-by.
The elders also support their assertion of God's worthiness with a rationale: "…for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being." The praises around the throne move from contemplation to who God is in himself, to his work of creation, and then on to the apex of worthiness, the work of redemption accomplished by the Lamb.
These words indicate that the vision of the previous chapter continues. There is no interruption, but John's attention is now drawn to the right hand of the Father in which lies a scroll with writing on both sides.
A scroll with writing on both sides was also given to Ezekiel upon his calling as prophet.
Ezekiel 2:9, 10; 3:1 - 3 Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, 10which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. 3:1And he said to me, "Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel." 2So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. 3Then he said to me, "Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it." So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.
Let's read a short history on scrolls and writing on both sides of these ancient scrolls:
Ezekiel 2:10 LXX: gegrammena …opisthen kai ta emprosthen, "written on the back and the front." The scroll given to the Lamb in Revelation 5 was introduced similarly: "written inside and on the back" (gegrammenon esothen kai opisthen). The order "inside and on the reverse" in Revelation 5:1 reproduces the Hebrew text of Ezekiel 2:10, which is reversed by the LXX [Septuagint]. The biblically informed readers and hearers would recognize the allusions to Ezekiel's scroll as a reason to identify the Lamb's scroll of Revelation 5 with the 'little scroll' that John will eat in Revelation 10. This allusive link between Ezekiel 2 and Revelation 5 and 10 is strengthened by the fact that the processes by which papyrus and vellum (animal skin) pages were produced made the reverse side of the material irregular and hard to inscribe. Papyrus was made by overlaying a row of vertical leaves with a row of leaves in which the fiber lay horizontally, conducive to the printing of straight horizontal lines. On the back, a scribe would have to print across vertical fibers. Vellum scrolls were normally inscribed only on the smooth interior surface of the skin, since it was time-consuming and expensive to scrape the hairy exterior smooth enough to receive writing. For these reasons most ancient scrolls, whether of papyrus or vellum, were written only on the front, which when rolled became the inside face of sheets.
What was written on this scroll? There are various opinions about the contents of the scroll of which some are:
a) Some think the scroll is the Old Testament; or the Old and New Testaments together, or fulfilled prophecy; but this theory looks back, not forward, and John is speaking of things related to things which must take place after this (Rev 4:1) - and who would be unworthy to open that scroll?
b) Some think the scroll is God's claim of divorce against Israel; but there is little Scriptural evidence for this idea - and who would be unworthy to open that scroll?
c) Some think the scroll is God's sentence against the enemies of the church; perhaps this is true, but only in an indirect sense - and who would be unworthy to open that scroll?
d) Some think the scroll is the text of Revelation, or the next few chapters; but this is rather unlikely considering how the idea of the scroll is communicated - and who would be unworthy to open that scroll?
e) Some think the scroll is the title deed to planet earth. This is an attractive idea, especially because this period of coming tribulation will end with Jesus ruling on earth. But it's hard to demonstrate this with certainty; the best connection in this idea seems to be with Jeremiah 32:6-15, which describes Jewish title deeds as sealed.
Jeremiah 32:10 I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales.
But the earth is already the Lord's property as we see in Psalm 24:1 The earth is the LORD'S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Although the governments of this world belong to Satan, as we see in Luke 4:5-8 where Satan took Jesus up to the roof of the temple to tempt Him, when did God ever lose the title deed to the earth that he has to get it back? The fact is, God has the scroll in his hand and if it were the so-called lost title deed, then how come God has possession of it? The scroll must be opened, its contents must be revealed, that's the problem here.
f) The best solution is to see the scroll as "God's will, his final settlement of the affairs of the universe."; this is based on the idea that customarily, under Roman law, wills were sealed with seven seals, each from a witness to the validity of the will.
The seven-sealed book, therefore, is the comprehensive program of God culminating in the second coming of Christ. It contains his will, his purpose for the world, just as the scroll that Ezekiel ate contained God's will and purpose for Israel.
The principle is that God has a book in which the history of the universe is already written; He has written the history of the world in advance, He holds in His hand the history of the world in advance, and He initiates the consummation of all history - only God can hold this scroll
The emphasis is not the content of the scroll, but its seals and the One who is worthy to take it and open it.
Ezekiel had to eat the scroll to be able to proclaim its contents, while John has a problem: John cannot proclaim the contents of the scroll because it is sealed and no one can be found that can open it. In the ancient world documents were sealed with wax impressed with the author's insignia as a token of authenticity, but also for security and privacy. A sealed scroll can not be read until the seals were broken, but since the seal symbolized its owner's authority, it could not legitimately be broken without his authorization. In this fashion Jesus' tomb was sealed by order of the governor, which was notice to all that no one was permitted to move the stone without authorization from the Roman imperial officials. (Matt 27:66).
A strong angel issues a challenge to all creation; a challenge no creature can answer - because no creature is worthy to open this particular scroll.
Herein lies the problem that wrings lament from John's heavy heart. A strong angel puts it into words that resound through the universe: "who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" Who is qualified, deserving by right and authorized by the scroll's Author to break the scroll's seals and so disclose its message?
Among all the splendors of God's majestic retinue in heaven -- living creatures, elders, angels -- and all creatures on earth and under it, none was found worthy "to open the scroll or even look inside it."
There is no answer because the creation is utterly incapable of deciding or effecting its own destiny; that must be determined by someone above the order of created beings - only God can unfold the plan of history. And He does.
How wonderful the contents of this book, that none of the heavenly host except the enthroned One has sufficient status to unveil its secrets! What a wonderful privilege to know its contents! At this point John cannot know the specifics; but he has been summoned to heaven to see "what must take place after these things."
John weeps much; this is either because the promise in 4:1 to see the future may now be denied, or more likely, because the consummation of history is now indefinitely postponed. If the scroll stays sealed, the consequences are even more serious than the confusion of the churches. The opening of the scroll would be not only an act of revelatory disclosure but also an act of executive authority, carrying its edicts into action. The things written in the scroll "must take place" because they constitute God's plan for history, culminating in the vindication of his servants and the unchallenged establishment of his dominion on earth, as it is in heaven.
The strong angel's question is not merely 'Who is worthy to reveal God's plan?' but also 'Who is worthy to carry out God's plan?' Who deserves to receive from the Father's hand all authority in heaven and earth, to make the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ?
Isaiah 45:23, 24 By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. 24They will say of me, 'In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.'" All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.
Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
Hebrews 1:6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."
Philippians 2:10, 11 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Revelation 11:15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever."
 Written by Dr. S.M. Baugh for a footnote in Dennis E. Johnson's "Triumph of the Lamb", page 103.