The Face of a Man, the Body of an Eagle?

The throne room scene in Revelation 4 and 5 must be mostly symbolic. If you take the images literally, they seem ridiculous. But as symbols, they’re powerful. Symbols of what? The lesson on Tuesday has some answers.

These Images Could Seem Ridiculous, Unless…

One of the symbols in the throne room scene is the image of the four living creatures in Revelation 4:6-8. They’re completely covered with eyes, even under their wings. How would that be sensible, the sort of thing God would create? What would the eyes under the wings be looking at?

And one of them is described simply as having the face of a man, and another simply looks “like a flying eagle.” Does that last one sit in one place in front of the Throne but still somehow look like an eagle that is constantly flying (while still sitting still)? So these creatures must be symbolic of certain ideas.

In Revelation 4:8, it says they are praising God constantly — that is, without stopping, ever — and that the twenty-four elders (in verse 10) fall down in front of God every time they do. But since they are always praising God, the elders would have to fall down constantly, over and over. Does that mean they’re bouncing up and down? How does it work?

So this non-literal scene must represent a reality that would be hard to express any other way.

The Ancient Source of the Symbols

As symbols, these images are not ridiculous; they’re powerful and beautiful. The Jewish people who read Revelation when it first was sent out to the churches knew the ancient Sanctuary service intimately. And that’s where many of the symbols in Revelation come from.

They knew the twenty-four yearly divisions of worship in the Sanctuary, which the twenty-four elders represent. They knew about the priests’ prayer offerings that were given in golden bowls, which are represented by the golden bowls of incense in Revelation 5:8.

And certainly they would have resonated deeply with the Slain Lamb in Revelation 5, because lambs were slain all the time in the Sanctuary services. But in Revelation 5, the symbolism is taken a step further to explain the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood.

The scroll, introduced in Revelation 5:1-2, that no one is worthy to open, I think represents all the promises of a Messiah, of salvation, that are recorded in the Old Testament. John weeps because it can’t be opened, but then it’s found that the Lamb can open it because of His sacrifice (Rev. 5:9,12), His divinity (Rev. 5:13), and His triumph (Rev. 5:5).

Constant Praise

So this strange scene of the Throne Room of God actually shows us a picture of the Good News, of a salvation that can regenerate us: Revelation 5:10 states that the goal of God’s plan is to turn us into a new kingdom of priests who reign over the Earth.

The throne room scene  reminds us of the rituals in the Old Testament Sanctuary services, which in turn were simply reflections of the constant worship of God that happens in Heaven. The four living creatures represent all of universal creation constantly praising God for just being Who He is. They don’t say, “Thank you, God, for this new car, this nice house, these clothes, this food.” No, they praise Him for His glory, wisdom, strength, and love — character traits of God that are constant no matter what situation of life we’re in.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)


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