Like the 24 elders, the four “living creatures” worship God at his throne (Rev 4:6b-8a). The NIV places these creatures “in the center, around the throne.” This reflects the difficulty of the syntax of this line in Greek. It could mean they are simply in the immediate vicinity of the throne, near the throne.
Most scholars think John’s vision draws on the throne room vision from Ezekiel 1-2. If this is true, then these creatures in Rev 4 are cherubim. In Ezekiel the four creatures are a part of the throne of God, more or less the “wheels” of the Throne-Chariot of God. There are, however, a number of differences between these creatures and Ezekiel 1-2. The four creatures are described as having similar other-worldly features. They are “full of eyes,” or “eyes all around.” This is similar to Ezekiel 1; the cherubim are “wheels within wheels, full of eyes.” But the description is also slightly different; the faces are not quite the same in Revelation.
Thirteenth century ivory carving of Christ surrounded by the four living creatures from the Muse national du Moyen-åge
It is possible the description in Revelation recalls something of Ezekiel, but also may have been influenced by other developments in Jewish thinking about angels. One possibility is that John intended to make a reference to archangels. In the Hebrew Bible, there are no archangels, although Gabriel (Dan 8:16, 9:21, Luke 1:18, 26) and Michael (Dan 12:1, Jude 9) are two specific, named angels given that distinction in later Jewish documents. “Archangel” does appear in Jewish literature, but it is perhaps not the right designation for these angels.
It is possible these many-eyed creatures are apocalyptic “watchers.” In some apocalypses written well before the first century, there is a category of angelic being who are designed by God to “witness” everything (1 Enoch 1:5, Jubilees 4:15; 8:3; 10:5). According to 1 Enoch 6-36, some of these angels came down to earth and taught humans sinful practices (like making war and sorcery, but also medicine and cosmetics, 1 Enoch 8). They also had relations with human women and created “the giants.” Michael and Gabriel (along with Surafel or Uriel, depending on the manuscript of 1 Enoch) “observed carefully from the sky” all of this wickedness and called out to the Most High to judge these angels and to destroy the wickedness they had caused (1 Enoch 9-10). The result, of course, is the flood (and a blockbuster Hollywood film).
The Targum on Ezekiel has an expanded description of the cherubim. In Tg. Ezek. 1:6 the angelic beings face four faces, each of which have four faces, sixteen to each creature, with sixty-four faces in all. This kind of elaboration is also found in 3 Enoch 21:1-3:
R. Ishmael said: The angel Metatron, Prince of the Divine Presence, said to me: There are four creatures facing the four winds. Each single creature would fill the whole world. Each of them has four faces and every single face looks like the sunrise. 2 Each creature has four wings and every single wing would cover the world. 3 Each one of them has faces within faces and wings within wings. The size of a face is 248 faces, and the size of a wing is 365 wings. 4 Each creature is crowned with 2,000 crowns and every crown is like the rainbow; its brightness is as the brightness of the sun’s orb and the rays which shine from each separate crown are as the brightness of the morning star in the east. (P. Alexander, OTP 1: 277)
Each of the four creatures has a different appearance. Only the third is said to have the “face” of a man, but based on Ezekiel 1 it may be that only the face is in mind. A major difference between these four creatures and Ezekiel 1 is that each creature has a different face, while Ezekiel 1 describes four creatures with four faces each. These creatures have wings like the Seraphim of Isaiah 6 and they worship God is a very similar manner as the Seraphim, but other characteristics (such as the faces and eyes, etc.) are similar to Ezekiel.
Many attempts have been made to ferret out some meaning of the four faces, some more serious than others. The church fathers usually tried to find the four gospels in the faces, but never really agreed on which gospel was intended. It is probably best to agree with the majority of modern commentaries and see these faces as referring to the highest creature in four categories, wild animal, domestic animal, flying animal, and man.
We can know for certain these creatures lead worship in heaven (Rev 4:6-9; 5:8-9, 19:4) and they appear to be associated with the throne of God. In Rev 6:1-7 they will announce the coming of the four horsemen after each seal is opened, and in 15:7 one of these creatures gives the seven bowls of God’s wrath to the angels who pour them out on the earth (16:1).
Schmitt, John W. and J. Carl Laney. Messiah’s Coming Temple. Updated Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2014. 248 pp. Pb; $16.99. Link to Kregel.
This book is an update to Schmitt and Laney’s original 1997 Messiah’s Coming Temple, adding three chapters and about 50 pages to the original. In addition to this new material, there are a number of new illustrations including new 3D models of the temple. All illustrations are in black and white, some of the 3D images are on Schmitt’s Future Hope Ministries website. Like the original, this is a popular level introduction to Ezekiel’s vision of a future temple. The book is designed to be read by laymen, so there is little discussion of wider scholarship on the vision.
The first two chapter of the book survey the history of the Temple in the Old Testament. After a description of the Tabernacle, Schmitt and Laney give a brief sketch of the history of the Tabernacle and the Temple. The section on the Tabernacle creates a typology between various elements of the Tabernacle and Jesus Christ. For example the “single entrance” to the Tabernacle foreshadows Christ is the one door of access to the Father (citing John 10:9). As popular as these typological observations are, I have never found them convincing. Several key Hebrew terms appear in these chapters, but unfortunately the authors define temple by using Webster’s Dictionary rather than a Hebrew lexicon. The chapter does not compare Solomon’s temple to other Ancient temples. The history section begins with Solomon, runs through the the destruction of the first Temple and the rebuilding of the second Temple, Herod’s renovations and finally the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Chapters 3, 5 and 8-10 focus on the book of Ezekiel. The third chapter introduces the reader to the prophet Ezekiel in offers a general overview of the book. Chapter 5 is a new chapter in this edition of the book, comparing the temple in Ezekiel’s vision to several to the Solomonic gates at Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer. The chapter includes excellent photographs and several charts illustrating similarities. My only criticism here is the chapter relies on Biblical Archaeology Review articles rather than direct reports from archaeologists. This is simply the nature of a popular book, but a “for further reading” section would have enhanced this chapter greatly. Schmitt includes a section on Mount Gerizim since the Samaritans built a temple there after then time of Ezekiel’s vision. Unfortunately the temple has not been fully excavated because of Byzantine church was built on top of the Gerizim Temple, but it would be interesting to compare the general layout of the Samaritan temple to Ezekiel.
In chapters 8-10 the authors examine the details of the prophecy in the book of Ezekiel, beginning with a survey of the various interpretations of the vision. Some take the vision as a “memorial of pre-captivity temple,” others see it as the real postexilic temple. Others have understood the vision as an allegory of the heavenly state or the present church age. For Schmitt and Laney the vision is a literal temple, a “building in the future kingdom.” The section is good overview although I would have appreciated footnotes to commentaries espousing each of the five views presented. The rest of these chapters survey the vision and offer some architectural comments. Reading the text in Ezekiel is difficult, these notes attempt to summarize and clarify the visions.
Chapter 6 is a new section in this updated edition. Schmitt and Laney survey several other predictions of future temple, calling these predictions “different temples.” Perhaps this chapter was added in response to critiques of the first edition of the book, which did focus on only Ezekiel. Chapter 7 offers a short introduction to Schmitt and Laney’s view of eschatology. “What is next on the Prophetic Calendar…” Chapters 6-7 were an interruption of the theme of the book (Ezekiel’s temple) and the book could be improved if these chapters were moved either before or after the survey of Ezekiel.
Chapters 10-15 concern the future temple, often moving beyond the text of Ezekiel. Here Schmitt and Laney develop the outline of eschatology presented in chapter 7 and deal with a number of “problems” associated with a literal future temple. First, chapter 10 discusses future predictions of the temple and the antichrist attack on that temple. They are adamant the future temple is designed for the Messiah. The problem is: are there two temples, one during the tribulation and a second, new Temple during the kingdom?
Second, Schmitt and Laney discuss the problem of an altar and sacrifice in the future temple (ch. 11). This of course is only a problem for premillennialists who believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross puts an end to Old Testament sacrifices. For some Jews, Ezekiel’s references to an altar are also problematic since it is been two millennia since sacrifice has been made in the Temple. The authors conclude there will be sacrifices in the millennial kingdom and they will serve as a continuous memorial that the Messiah has come (140).
Third, the last new chapter in the book answers the question “Can Sacrifices Be a Part of a Future Temple?”(ch. 12). This chapter answers the question of the previous chapter. It explores the purpose of the sacrifices in the temple during the millennial kingdom. They conclude that Ezekiel’s temple sacrifices do not violate the mosaic system of worship because they are another in system entirely (158).
Fourth, Schmitt and Laney discuss the future temple and the land of Israel (13). Here the authors deal with several suggested locations for the original temple, but also the prophetic location of the future temple. Ezekiel’s map of Israel is idealized for the messianic Kingdom and there are a host of problems with the order of the tribes and the position of the temple.
Fifth, chapter 14 describes what Schmitt and Laney see as “life in the messianic age.” This chapter goes far beyond the confines of Ezekiel to describe what the eschatological age looked like in Old Testament prophecy. This age will be a time of peace, joy, holiness, comfort, healing of sickness, freedom from oppression, and economic prosperity. It will be a time characterized by the personal presence of the Messiah and the universal knowledge of God. It is a time when Jerusalem is at the center of all worship in the world.
Last, Schmitt and Laney list a few items missing from the future temple and offer some explanation for their absence (ch. 15). There are eight missing items listed in the book: the wall of partition, the court of the women, the laver, the golden lampstand, the table of the showbread, the altar of incense, the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, and the Ark of the Covenant. In addition to the missing items division has a different view of the altar in the temple. Ezekiel uses a different word for altar in 43:15b, אֲרִיאֵל (ʾărîʾēl), although the altar is also spelled הַרְאֵל (harʾēl) in 43:15a. On pages 190-1 the authors transliterate this as ariel and state the root of this unusual word means “lion of God.” They then argue the name of the altar in Ezekiel “lion of God” is an allusion to Judah as a lion in Gen 49:9 (אֲרִי, lion, plus אֵל god). This in turn looks forward to the Messiah is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5). While the word could be construed as a proper name meaning lion of God, their argument seems to me to be quite a stretch. The Mesha Stele uses the related word אראל in reference to a “hearth of an altar” (HALOT) and a similar word appears in Isa 29:1 as a metaphor for Israel as a whole. The etymology of “lion of God” may not be valid and it is even stranger to force the name of the altar into a typology of the Messiah. My criticism here is driven by the popular level of the book. An introduction like this book is probably not the place to discuss the complicated problems of the etymology of Hebrew words. On the other hand, since the problems exist it is probably safer to make typological claims more tentatively.
Conclusion. This is a very easy to read introduction to the Temple both past and future. Premiliennialists (and dispensationalists) will feel comfortable with the ideas presented in the book, although this terminology is not used in the book. The closest they get is in chapter 7 where they discuss the rapture of the church; Laney is pre-tribulational with respect to the rapture and Schmitt leans to mid-tribulational rapture (88). This is the language of dispensationalism, even if the writers want to avoid the term. I find it strange these terms would be omitted from a book so friendly toward dispensationalism. In fact, Laney has a doctoral degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. I suspect this is simply to create some space between the book and more popular (and strange) forms of dispensationalism.
While the sub-title of the book clearly states the book is about Ezekiel’s vision for the future temple, I would have appreciated a chapter relating Ezekiel’s vision to the New Jerusalem vision in Rev21. Since the book is not concerned only with Ezekiel, I think there is space for Revelation.
Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.