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,
would be a picture of bizarre fantasy. So we need to look at it symbolically
learn to understand the meanings behind the figures. This is not left to
interpretation, for there is a precedent set in the apocalyptic books of the
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
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
the throne, as is a "sea of glass like crystal." Apparently between the throne
the circle of elders, there are four living creatures with six wings and full
"in front and behind" (v6) and "around and within" who do not cease to exalt
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
had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying
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
the living creatures says "as with a voice of thunder, 'Come'", and a colored
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
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
Ezekiel as having human form, four faces and four wings. They have straight
calf's hoof-like feet, and hands under their wings. The four faces are listed
"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
description of these living creatures is not exactly identical with the
that John gives, I think they are the same beings for they both appear near the
of crystal (Ezekiel 1:22) and the throne with the rainbow (Ezekiel 1:28) on
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
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
to Isaiah's seraphim (Johnson, 72), or "'burners;' denoting the ardor of their
God, and fervent zeal in His service" (Henry, 591). We see from both the
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
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
God's providential works in the world (52). Johnson says that they have
knowledge of God" (72) due to their covering of eyes, while Wiersbe says this
fact is meant to show the wisdom of God via His omni-vision (52). Being full
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
literature, the lion is used mostly in reference to its characteristic
including majesty, strength, royalty, courage and cruelty (Vine, 346). The ox,
bull, was used for plowing, treading out grain, dragging carts or wagons, and
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
features. The eagle is a large bird of prey (and thus unclean, according to
which builds its nest on lofty rocks, can see great distances, and fly swiftly.
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
would renew its youth (Davis, 192). In Ezekiel 17, the eagle represents the
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
so the judgments of God will descend upon the corrupt state of humanity" (Vine,
The different faces may picture the qualities belonging to God of royal
power (lion), strength (bull), spirituality (man), and swiftness of action (
(Johnson, 72). Walvoord similarly says that the lion face represents God's
and omnipotence; the ox, His faithful labor and patience; the man, His
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
to the lion, where Christ is the Lion of the tribe of Judah; Mark depicts Jesus
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
of the king (lion); Luke depicts the compassion from the Son of man (man's
(Wiersbe, 52). The meaning of Mark and John are the same in this second
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
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
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
flood of water. In representing this covenant, the four living creatures
the whole living creation. A Jewish rabbinic saying from around AD 300 says, "
mightiest among the birds is the eagle, the mightiest among the domestic
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
the Russian steppe as early as 2300 BC, and were certainly available by the
century BC. Horses were not a part of Abraham's livestock, but they were
as early as the time of Jacob and the first Biblical reference to them is in
context of Joseph's stay in Egypt (Thompson, 204). The mountainous geography
Palestine is not well suited for horses, so they were used mostly in the
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
Horses in Biblical literature stand for prestige (I Kings 10:26) and for
in war (Zech. 10:3) (Baldwin, 93). They also signify God's activity on the
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 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
of eight that Zechariah receives on one night. Baldwin argues that the series
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
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
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
the north country, the white ones went "after them", and the dappled ones went
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
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
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
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
world domination, i.e. the Assyrian Empire and the Babylonian Empire; and Egypt
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
gain in leaving vague the compass points of west (the white horses possibly)
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
red, sorrel, and white horses, while the eighth speaks of red, black, white,
dappled. The word translated as sorrel in the first vision is the only
that word in the entire Old Testament, so the exact color is unclear but is
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
last took place near dawn. Then the colors mentioned in 1:8 (red, sorrel,
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
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
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
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
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
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).
opening of the first seal calls out a white horse, the second calls a red
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,
war. These meanings also are implied in the red dragon of Revelation 12:3 and
red beast of Revelation 17:3 (Wiersbe, 64). The third seal calls a black
which is symbolic of famine and death according to all of the sources
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
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
seals. Is there a symbolic correlation between the living creatures and the
or the judgments brought by those horses? It seems to me that a correlation
indeed exist. The first relation is dependant on the assumption that the order
which the four living creatures are described in Revelation 4:7 (lion, calf,
eagle) is the same order in which they are mentioned in the opening of the
since they are in the same vision. As we have seen in relation to the colors
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
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
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
and the sacrificial, redeeming blood of the calf or bull of the sin offering.
is also the symbol of evil men (Psalm 22:12) and the symbol of mighty men (
69:30), both of which relate to the judgement of peace being taken from the
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
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
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
bird of prey. But death and hades are given only limited power, leaving room
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
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
Both young men and virgins; Old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted."
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Davis, John D. "Davis Dictionary of the Bible." Baker Book House, Grand Rapid
Henry, Matthew. "Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible." Moody Press, Chicago
no date given.
Johnson, Alan F. "Revelation." Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Mich
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
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
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.