What does Revelation 4:7 mean?
ESV: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight.
NIV: The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.
NASB: The first living creature was like a lion, the second creature like a calf, the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.
CSB: The first living creature was like a lion; the second living creature was like an ox; the third living creature had a face like a man; and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.
NLT: The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight.
KJV: And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
NKJV: The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.
Verse Commentary:
It is possible the four living creatures represent Christ as the four Gospels portray Him. They're certainly literal, in the sense that John is actually seeing them in heaven. Their description, however, makes for a convenient parallel to Jesus' primary depiction in each of the four Gospels.

John describes the first living creature as resembling a lion. The lion is purported to be the king of animals, so it is a fitting symbol of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew that was written to present Jesus as Israel's king. We find in Matthew's Gospel many references to Israel's king and his kingdom.

The ox, used in Bible times for sacrifice and service, is an appropriate symbol for Mark's Gospel that presents Jesus as having come to earth "to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

The third living creature had a man's face. This creature symbolizes Luke's presentation of Jesus as the perfect man. Often the Gospel of Luke calls Jesus "the son of man" (see, for example, Luke 9:22, 26).

The fourth living creature to catch John's eye was a flying eagle. The eagle flies high above other birds and typically builds its nest in a lofty crag. As such, it aptly portrays Jesus in John's Gospel as the Son of God. Jesus is high above mortals, but He descended from this home in heaven to give Himself as the sacrifice for our sins (John 3:13–16).
Verse Context:
Revelation 4:7–11 continues the apostle John's description of what he saw and heard after being transported to heaven. This passage is typical of apocalyptic literature, and Revelation in particular, as it seems to blend literal descriptions with symbolic ones. Some of these details are meant to have deeper meanings, or be entirely a metaphor. Others seem to be intended to be interpreted literally. John describes four living creatures similar to the heavenly creatures Isaiah and Ezekiel saw (Isaiah 6:2–3; Ezekiel 1:5–15). His description in Revelation 4 also focuses on the creatures' ascription of praise to God and the twenty-four elders' praiseful response.
Chapter Summary:
John reports in the opening verse of Revelation 4 that he saw a door open in heaven and heard a voice beckoning him to come up to heaven. From heaven's vantage point John would witness future events. Upon his arrival in heaven, John saw God. He was sitting on a throne surrounded by twenty-four other thrones. A sea of glass lay in front of God's throne, and four living creatures were beside the throne. When the living creatures ascribed honor and praise to God, the elders who occupied the twenty-four thrones fell down and worshiped God. They cast their crowns before Him and praised Him.
Chapter Context:
Chapter 3 concluded the description of ''the things that are'' (Revelation 1:19). Chapter 4 begins the final section of Revelation, regarding ''the things that are to take place after this'' (Revelation 1:19). Chapter 1 describes the appearance of Jesus to John on the island of Patmos, at which time He commanded John to write to seven churches in Asia Minor. Chapters 2 and 3 provide us with the contents of Jesus' letters. Whereas chapters 1–3 relate events on earth, chapters 4 and 5 describe what John saw in heaven. Because the word ''church'' does not appear in this ''after this'' section of Revelation, we may assume the church does not experience the judgments described in chapters 6 and beyond.
Book Summary:
The word ''revelation'' means ''an unveiling or disclosure.'' This writing unveils future events such as the rapture, three series of judgments that will fall on the earth during the tribulation, the emergence of the Antichrist, the persecution of Israel and her amazing revival, as well as Jesus' second coming with His saints to the earth, the judgment of Satan and his followers, and finally, the eternal state. This content, combined with the original Greek term apokalypsis, is why we now refer to an end-of-the-world scenario as ''an apocalypse.''
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