Copyright 1991 by Lynellen Perry
Lynellen Perry
Revelation
Dr. Bilezikian
December 6, 1991


The Four Living Creatures' Connection to the Four Horsemen of the Four Seals

Revelation chapter four is the scene of the Throne of God. Taken literally, it would be a picture of bizarre fantasy. So we need to look at it symbolically and learn to understand the meanings behind the figures. This is not left to random interpretation, for there is a precedent set in the apocalyptic books of the Old Testament. This paper proposes to study the four living creatures around the Throne and to discover what relation, if any, they have with the four horsemen who are called out by the living creatures at the opening of the first four seals in chapter six.

In Revelation four, we are told of a throne which has a rainbow around it and a ring of 24 elders sitting upon other thrones. The seven Spirits of God are before the throne, as is a "sea of glass like crystal." Apparently between the throne and the circle of elders, there are four living creatures with six wings and full of eyes "in front and behind" (v6) and "around and within" who do not cease to exalt the Lord God (v8) . These creatures are described in Revelation 4:7--"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."

We meet these same four living creatures in chapter six as the Lamb breaks the seals on the double-sided scroll. When the Lamb breaks the first seal, one of the living creatures says "as with a voice of thunder, 'Come'", and a colored horse appears. Presumably the other creatures use the same type of voice when they call, though it is not stated. We shall return to the significance of these horses after looking at another Biblical appearance of the four living creatures.

Ezekiel chapter one records a vision in which a terrible storm cloud comes from the north in which there are "figures resembling four living beings" (v5) surrounding "something that looked like burning coals of fire" (v13) which was bright and gave off flashes of lightning. The living creatures are described by Ezekiel as having human form, four faces and four wings. They have straight legs, calf's hoof-like feet, and hands under their wings. The four faces are listed as "the face of a man, . . . the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and . . . the face of an eagle" (v10) is presumably in the back. Though the description of these living creatures is not exactly identical with the description that John gives, I think they are the same beings for they both appear near the sea of crystal (Ezekiel 1:22) and the throne with the rainbow (Ezekiel 1:28) on which is the glorified Christ (Ezekiel 1:27).

There have been many proposals attempting to explain exactly what the four living creatures represent, but all seem to agree as to what they are. Johnson says that they are "actual supernatural beings involved with the purpose of God on earth and His worship in heaven" (71). In chapter 10 of Ezekiel, the living creatures are identified as cherubim, a special order of angel. They are also linked to Isaiah's seraphim (Johnson, 72), or "'burners;' denoting the ardor of their love to God, and fervent zeal in His service" (Henry, 591). We see from both the vision in Ezekiel and in Revelation, that these creatures have special access to God's presence and that they are the bearers of God's throne-chariot. We also know from Revelation that they are nearer to God than the rest of the angels or the elders.

What then do these four living creatures represent? Henry comments that their description denotes wisdom, courage, diligence and discretion (1006). Wiersbe points out that the cherubim of Ezekiel 1 seem to have an active part in God's providential works in the world (52). Johnson says that they have "exceeding knowledge of God" (72) due to their covering of eyes, while Wiersbe says this same fact is meant to show the wisdom of God via His omni-vision (52). Being full of eyes may also represent the attributes of God of omniscience and omnipresence (Walvoord, NT944). The multiple pairs of wings may symbolize the creatures' unlimited mobility to fill God's commands (Johnson, 72).

What do the faces of these creatures represent? The lion was fairly common in the thickets on the fringe of the Jordan River (Davis, 476). In Biblical literature, the lion is used mostly in reference to its characteristic features, including majesty, strength, royalty, courage and cruelty (Vine, 346). The ox, or bull, was used for plowing, treading out grain, dragging carts or wagons, and as food or a sin sacrifice to God (Davis, 585). There were about eight species of eagle occupying Palestine, and the eagle is also referred to mostly in terms of its features. The eagle is a large bird of prey (and thus unclean, according to the Law) which builds its nest on lofty rocks, can see great distances, and fly swiftly. It was believed to be immortal in that legend says it would fly, upon old age, up toward the sun until its feathers burned off and fell into the sea. By doing this it would renew its youth (Davis, 192). In Ezekiel 17, the eagle represents the great powers of Egypt and Babylon being used to punish corrupt and faithless Israel. Along these lines, Vine commented that "birds of prey gather where the carcass is, so the judgments of God will descend upon the corrupt state of humanity" (Vine, 9).

The different faces may picture the qualities belonging to God of royal power (lion), strength (bull), spirituality (man), and swiftness of action ( eagle) (Johnson, 72). Walvoord similarly says that the lion face represents God's majesty and omnipotence; the ox, His faithful labor and patience; the man, His thoughtful intelligence; and the eagle, His supreme sovereignty (NT944). Some have also suggested that the four faces represent aspects of Christ as found in the four Gospels. First, in relation to Christ's identity. The book of Matthew would relate to the lion, where Christ is the Lion of the tribe of Judah; Mark depicts Jesus as the Servant of Yahweh (the ox); Luke shows us the incarnate human Jesus (the man); and John tells of Jesus as the divine Son of God (the eagle) (Walvoord, NT945). Second, in relation to Christ's ministry. Matthew shows the royal gospel of the king (lion); Luke depicts the compassion from the Son of man (man's face) (Wiersbe, 52). The meaning of Mark and John are the same in this second scheme.

The four living creatures may have a meaning as a unit also. Wiersbe has suggested that they are heavenly reminders that God has made a covenant with creation over which He rules from His throne (52). The covenant referenced here is found in Genesis 9:8-17 and is made to man, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth. Thus the living creatures would remind God of the existence of His covenant with them, and the rainbow around His throne would remind Him of the content of that covenant--that He would never again destroy all flesh with a flood of water. In representing this covenant, the four living creatures represent the whole living creation. A Jewish rabbinic saying from around AD 300 says, " The mightiest among the birds is the eagle, the mightiest among the domestic animals is the bull, the mightiest among the wild beasts is the lion, and the mightiest among all is man" (Palmer, 159).

Let us turn now to the horses which the four living creatures call out at the breaking of the first four seals. Horses first came to the ancient near east from the Russian steppe as early as 2300 BC, and were certainly available by the 19th century BC. Horses were not a part of Abraham's livestock, but they were ridden as early as the time of Jacob and the first Biblical reference to them is in the context of Joseph's stay in Egypt (Thompson, 204). The mountainous geography of Palestine is not well suited for horses, so they were used mostly in the coastal plain area and the valley of Jezreel (Davis, 337). Horses were domesticated primarily for pulling light war chariots (Thompson, 204), and for kings to ride upon (Davis, 337). In John's day, horses were not used for everyday transport except perhaps by the Romans.

The Bible refers to several colors of horses, including white, black (and brown), red, reddish, sorrel (speckled, margin, bay), and greenish (Davis, 150). Horses in Biblical literature stand for prestige (I Kings 10:26) and for domination in war (Zech. 10:3) (Baldwin, 93). They also signify God's activity on the earth, and the forces He uses to fulfill His divine purposes (Wiersbe, 62). This nicely explains why horses are called out to perform God's judgments at the opening of the seals.

The horses called out by the living creatures in Revelation 6 have a parallel in Zechariah 1 and 6. These two visions are the first and the last ones in a series of eight that Zechariah receives on one night. Baldwin argues that the series of visions is a chiasm, so the first and eighth vision correspond (138).

The vision in Zechariah 1 is of a man on a red horse "among the myrtle trees which were in the ravine, with red, sorrel, and white horses behind him" (v8). These horses are "those whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth", verse 10 tells us. The Lord declares that He is very angry with the nations that are at ease and that He will judge them and return prosperity to Israel.

In the vision in Zechariah 6, four chariots led by horses of different colors come from between two bronze mountains to patrol the earth and appease God's wrath. Bronze symbolizes righteous divine judgment against sin (Walvoord, OT1557), and "patrolling" is the military sense of patrolling or reconnoitering (Walvoord, OT1550). The first chariot is drawn by red horses, the second by black horses, the third by white horses, and the fourth by dappled horses. Chariots formed the storm troops in ancient warfare and symbolize God's initiative in international affairs (Baldwin, 131) and the divine instruments of judgment on the enemies of God's people (Johnson, 79). Walvoord comments that, "the judgement determined by God on the Gentiles in the first vision is executed by divinely commissioned war chariots in this final vision" (OT1557).

Johnson has suggested that the colors of these four horses represent the four points of the compass (79). Zechariah 6:6 says that the black horses went to the north country, the white ones went "after them", and the dappled ones went to the south country. Baldwin says that a lacuna, a blank space, appears in the manuscript at verse six, so a word or phrase is missing from the verse, which begins with the word "which". It is then argued that the missing phrase could have been one that said that the red horses went to the east since neither the red horses nor the east are mentioned in the rest of the verse. In order to fill out the four compass points, Baldwin also points out that the addition of only one consonant in the Hebrew would change the white horses from "after them" (that is, after the black horses to the north) to "after the sea", or to the west (131).

However, do all the directions need to be indentified? The north and east countries were symbolically important to Israel as having sinister connotations of world domination, i.e. the Assyrian Empire and the Babylonian Empire; and Egypt in the south was still an important world power at the time of writing. But there was nothing of significance to the west of Israel, so perhaps there is stylistic gain in leaving vague the compass points of west (the white horses possibly) and east ( the red horses simply not mentioned) (Baldwin, 140).

If the first and eighth visions in Zechariah are meant to correspond, then why don't the colors of the horses listed correspond? The first vision speaks of red, sorrel, and white horses, while the eighth speaks of red, black, white, and dappled. The word translated as sorrel in the first vision is the only occurrence of that word in the entire Old Testament, so the exact color is unclear but is usually translated as brown, sorrel or speckled (Walvoord, OT1550). Baldwin has suggested several explanations for the inconsistency. First, since all eight visions occurred in one night, perhaps the first took place near sunset while the last took place near dawn. Then the colors mentioned in 1:8 (red, sorrel, white) would correlate with those seen around sunset, and the colors of early dawn (black, white, gray/dappled) would be reflected in the eighth vision. In this scenario, the red horse rider mentioned separately from the other horses in the first vision and identified as the Angel of the LORD, and the red horse in the eighth vision would be in a separate category than those relating to sunset and sunrise (Baldwin, 138).

A second proposal is that perhaps the original text did have identical lists of colors but that abbreviations were used in the text to save repeating well known expressions or expressions occurring frequently in the book. When the initials of the colors were later copied, they were misunderstood by the copyists. Thus black and sorrel, which share the same initial, were substituted for each other as were yellow and red (Baldwin, 139).

But did the writer of Zechariah need to have every detail from the two visions coordinated? Baldwin points out that we don't know if the colors of the horses in these visions really stood for particular countries, as ancient commentators thought, and the text does not explicitly build anything on the colors. So we can not assume that consistency was even intended by the prophet (Baldwin, 139).

Despite the difficulties in interpreting the colors and directions of the horses, the horsemen of Zechariah's visions clearly relate to the horsemen of Revelation 6 in that both are God's instrument of judgment on the earth. The seals that are opened in Revelation 6 parallel the signs of the end times from Jesus' Olivet Discourse which describes false Messiahs, wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes and death . . . the beginning of the birth pangs (Johnson, 78). The opening of the first seal calls out a white horse, the second calls a red horse, the third a black horse, and the fourth a pale horse.

The colors of the horses in Revelation 6 are clearly symbolic, even though the symbolism of the colored horses was not as obvious in Zechariah 1 and 6. White horses can symbolize victory, triumph, purity and joy (Davis, 150). The fiery red horse of the second seal symbolizes terror, death, wanton bloodshed, and war. These meanings also are implied in the red dragon of Revelation 12:3 and the red beast of Revelation 17:3 (Wiersbe, 64). The third seal calls a black horse, which is symbolic of famine and death according to all of the sources consulted. The fourth horse is a pale horse. According to Johnson, this means a yellowish green color, like that of a plant or the paleness of a sick person (81). This color, and the dappled horse of Zechariah 6, are symbolic of pestilence and plagues.

We have now carefully examined the four living creatures in Revelation and in some of their other Biblical appearances, and we have also studied the four colored horses called out by the living creatures at the opening of the first four seals. Is there a symbolic correlation between the living creatures and the horses or the judgments brought by those horses? It seems to me that a correlation does indeed exist. The first relation is dependant on the assumption that the order in which the four living creatures are described in Revelation 4:7 (lion, calf, man, eagle) is the same order in which they are mentioned in the opening of the seals since they are in the same vision. As we have seen in relation to the colors of the horses in Zechariah's separate visions, this may very well be a mistaken assumption. But I will put forth my idea for consideration anyway.

Perhaps the lion living creature is still the first creature mentioned, and thus related to the first seal. This would relate the symbolism of royalty attached to the lion to the symbolism of the white horse being the conquering world leader, the antiChrist. This could be further supported the fact that the antiChrist is a persecutor, and persecutors were described as lions in Psalm 22:13. The world empire established by Satan is described as a lion in Daniel 7:1- 4. The Devil himself is symbolized as a roaring lion in I Peter 5:8, and the antiChrist is also symbolized as a lion in Revelation 13:2.

The calf would correspond to the second seal and the red horse. This connects two different blood symbols: the red horse of war and wanton bloodshed, and the sacrificial, redeeming blood of the calf or bull of the sin offering. The bull is also the symbol of evil men (Psalm 22:12) and the symbol of mighty men ( Psalm 69:30), both of which relate to the judgement of peace being taken from the earth and men slaying one another. Finally, the bull could be figurative of the Lord's sacrifice (Isaiah 34:6,7).

The living creature like a man is connected to the black horse's judgement of the third seal. Of all God's creations, only man has intelligence for agriculture and a market economy. In the third seal judgement, these two gifts are useless for there is a severe famine and the economy is suffering from extreme inflation.

Lastly, the eagle corresponds to the fourth seal which brings the pale horse of death and hades. There is an obvious correlation between death and the carrion bird of prey. But death and hades are given only limited power, leaving room for God to care for His own, just as He did with eagle's wings in Exodus 19:4 and Revelation 12:14. In conclusion, if these correlations do not stand up under closer scrutiny, it can at least be said that these four living creatures and the four horsemen of the four seals are proof that God will use His creation and the forces of nature to accomplish His will.

"Praise the Lord from the earth, sea monsters and all deeps;
Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;
Mountains and all hills; Fruit trees and all cedars;
Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and winged fowl;
Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth;
Both young men and virgins; Old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted."
Psalm 148:7-13a

Bibliography

Baldwin, Joyce. "Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi." Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Gr ove, Illinois: 1972.

Davis, John D. "Davis Dictionary of the Bible." Baker Book House, Grand Rapid s, Michigan: 1986.

Henry, Matthew. "Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible." Moody Press, Chicago : no date given.

Johnson, Alan F. "Revelation." Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Mich igan: 1983.

Palmer, Earl F. "The Communicator's Commentary." Volume 12. Word Books, Publisher, Waco, Texas: 1982.

Richardson, Alan, Ed. "A Theological Word Book of the Bible." Macmillan Publi shing Company, New York: 1950.

Thompson, J. A. "The Handbook of Life in Bible Times." Inter-Varsity Press: Downers Grove, Illinois: 1986.

Vine, W. E. "Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words." Wo rd Bible Publishers, Iowa Falls, Iowa: 1981.

Wiersbe, Warren W. "Be Victorious." Victor Books, Wheaton, Illinois: 1985.

Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck, Eds. "The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament." Victor Books, Wheaton, Illinois: 1989.

____________. "The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament." Victor Books, Wheaton, Illinois: 1989.