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"The Apocalypse, or Revelation to John, the last book of the Bible, is one of the most difficult to understand because it abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism, which at best appears unusual to the modern reader."

The 4 living creatures and 24 elders are mentioned numerous times in Revelation.


In Revelation 4:

4 Surrounding the throne I saw twenty-four other thrones on which twenty-four elders sat, dressed in white garments and with gold crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder. Seven flaming torches burned in front of the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. 6 In front of the throne was something that resembled a sea of glass like crystal. In the center and around the throne, there were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back. 7 The first creature resembled a lion, the second was like a calf, the third had a face like that of a human being, and the fourth looked like an eagle in flight. 8 The four living creatures, each of them with six wings, were covered with eyes inside and out. Day and night they do not stop exclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.”

9 Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before the one who sits on the throne and worship him, who lives forever and ever. They throw down their crowns before the throne, exclaiming: 11 “Worthy are you, Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things; because of your will they came to be and were created.”

In Revelation 5:

6 Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders, a Lamb that seemed to have been slain. He had seven horns and seven eyes; these are the [seven] spirits of God sent out into the whole world. 7 He came and received the scroll from the right hand of the one who sat on the throne. 8 When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.

The creatures and elders are directly mentioned again in 5:11 and 5:14.

In Revelation 6:

1 Then I watched while the Lamb broke open the first of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures cry out in a voice like thunder, “Come forward.” 2 I looked, and there was a white horse, and its rider had a bow. He was given a crown, and he rode forth victorious to further his victories.

This pattern is repeated thrice more in the next passages, 6:3-8. The Lamb breaks the next seal, the next living creature cries out "Come forward", and the next horse and rider emerge.

Then in Revelation 7, 14, 15, 19:

7:11 All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God,

14:3 They were singing [what seemed to be] a new hymn before the throne, before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth.

15:7 One of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven gold bowls filled with the fury of God, who lives forever and ever.

19:4 The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, “Amen. Alleluia.”


What does Christian scripture, major/longstanding tradition, or Church teaching tell us about the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders?

Note that I am not asking for personal opinions or interpretations of these passages. Please do not post answers that "reason through" the passages, saying "because of X, the elders are probably Y", unless you are quoting or carefully explaining some source that is considered reasonably popular and scholarly by some body of Christians.

  • I'm surprised that no one has directly quoted Ezekiel 1:10, "As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle.", which lists exactly the same four creatures. – Ray Butterworth Nov 15 at 14:58
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Traditionally:

  • The twenty-four elders represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles.
  • The four living creatures represent universal creation; on some accounts, the four evangelists.

From the Navarre commentary on RSVCE page 54:

Christian tradition going back as far as St Irenaeus has interpreted these four creatures as standing for the four evangelists because they "carry" Jesus Christ to men. The one with the face of a man is St Matthew, who starts his book with the human genealogy of Christ; the lion stands for St Mark: his Gospel begins with the voice crying in the wilderness (which is where the lion's roar can be heard); the ox is a reference to the sacrifices in the temple of Jerusalem, which is where St Luke begins his account of Christ's life, and the eagle represents St John, who soars to the heights to contemplate the divinity of the Word.

Saint Irenaeus lived 130-202. However, the notes on Revelation 4 in NABRE seem to clarify this, and they read:

Universal creation is represented by the four living creatures (Rev 4:6–7) [...]

Lion…calf…human being…eagle: these symbolize, respectively, what is noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest in creation. Calf: traditionally translated “ox,” the Greek word refers to a heifer or young bull. Since the second century, these four creatures have been used as symbols of the evangelists Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John, respectively.

Twenty-four elders: these represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles; cf. Rev 21:12–14.

Revelation 21:12-14 reads:

12 It had a massive, high wall, with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed and on which names were inscribed, [the names] of the twelve tribes of the Israelites. 13 There were three gates facing east, three north, three south, and three west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

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  • My understanding for 4 beasts is the 4 Gospels. – Mawia Feb 19 '13 at 5:07
  • @Mawia: Why not add an answer of your own to that effect? – El'endia Starman Mar 5 '13 at 14:35
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It seems that it would not make much sense for the four living creatures to represent the four evangelists, considering John was one of the four, and John was the one looking into heaven to witness these four living creatures. Why would John be represented in heaven during his own vision? I think that places the importance of John on a higher level than it should.

I believe the four creatures represent all of creation:

  1. Lion - wild animals
  2. Ox - tamed animals
  3. Man - humans
  4. Eagle - birds
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  • Welcome to C.Se. Welcome to C.SE. When you get the chance, please check out our about[ page and find out how we are [different than other sites. This is a good answer, but would benefit from sourcing the idea about the four creatures representing all of creation. – Affable Geek Oct 5 '13 at 15:32
  • Can you substantiate your list? The opening post requests that personal opinions not be given. – Steve Jan 5 '14 at 19:26
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The four living creatures can be identified as the last priest king given understanding of the most high, and only Lord God's will. Lion- king, Ox- priestly sacrifice, Eagle as it is soaring- one of understanding (includes the many eyes within). They four are the one mightiest angel (Chayot), who authored the small scroll; sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the belly. He would absolutely have to be foretold of throughout the entire old and new testaments. Such mystery as was commanded to be with-held. Yet, in the last day, a more pure and sure definition of the Fathers holiest name, and will, would be disclosed.

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  • 1
    This answer would be a lot better if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. On this site, we're not looking for personal interpretation, but rather focusing on what various Christian groups teach. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? – David Stratton Nov 17 '13 at 5:09
  • Yeah, if you could even describe the source from which you get this answer, it would make it much better. – Affable Geek Nov 18 '13 at 3:01
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The Four living creatures are Four Angels mention In the Book Of Enoch...Chapter 40.....[Chapter 40]

1 And after that I saw thousands of thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand, I saw a multitude 2 beyond number and reckoning, who stood before the Lord of Spirits. And on the four sides of the Lord of Spirits I saw four presences, different from those that sleep not, and I learnt their names: for the angel that went with me made known to me their names, and showed me all the hidden things. 3 And I heard the voices of those four presences as they uttered praises before the Lord of glory. 4,5 The first voice blesses the Lord of Spirits for ever and ever. And the second voice I heard blessing 6 the Elect One and the elect ones who hang upon the Lord of Spirits. And the third voice I heard pray and intercede for those who dwell on the earth and supplicate in the name of the Lord of Spirits. 7 And I heard the fourth voice fending off the Satans and forbidding them to come before the Lord 8 of Spirits to accuse them who dwell on the earth. After that I asked the angel of peace who went with me, who showed me everything that is hidden: 'Who are these four presences which I have 9 seen and whose words I have heard and written down?' And he said to me: 'This first is Michael, the merciful and long-suffering: and the second, who is set over all the diseases and all the wounds of the children of men, is Raphael: and the third, who is set over all the powers, is Gabriel: and the fourth, who is set over the repentance unto hope of those who inherit eternal life, is named Phanuel.' 10 And these are the four angels of the Lord of Spirits and the four voices I heard in those days.

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The four living creatures and twenty-four elders in Revelation?

According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewaido Church the twenty-four elder are Holy Angels (Seraphim).

The twenty-four Priests of heaven are a class of priestly angels positioned in the fifth rank of angelic hierarchy and perform priestly duties without rest. (Rev. 4:4, 10, 11) They have been cleansing, praying and seek mercy for mankind as they had cleansed Isaiah with live coal from the altar. (Isa. 6:1-7).

They are also called Seraphim from the Hebrew word ‘seraph’ or ‘seraphim’ (plural) – meaning ‘burners’. They fly around the Throne of God crying "Holy, Holy, Holy” and are six-winged angles; with two wings they cover their faces, with another two they cover their feet, and the last two they use to fly. (Isa. 6:2-3)

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewaido Church has been built churches dedicated to them and celebrates their feast each year on Hidar 24 (December 3). - The Commemoration of the Festival of the Twenty four Priests of heaven

Twenty-four Elders

According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church the four living beasts of the Apocalypse are are Holy Angel (Cherubim).

Every year on Hidar 8 (November 17), the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewaido Church celebrates the feast of the four beasts locally known as ‘Arba’ettu Ensisa’. Churches named after these heavenly creatures has been rarely built across the nation. They are four in number and take the form of a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle. They have six wings; are covered with eyes and continually praise God.

The Ethiopic Synaxarium records the description of the Four Living Creatures as follows:

On this day is celebrated the festival of the Four Beasts, who have no bodies, and which are the Wheels of God that bear His Divine Throne. According to the testimony concerning them by John the evangelist in his vision says, “I saw a throne in heaven, and He Who sat thereon was brighter than the sun, and more brilliant then the lightning. And I saw in the midst four beasts, full of eyes; the first had the likeness of the face of a lion, the second had the likeness of the face of a bull, the third had the likeness of the face of a man, and the fourth had the likeness of the face of an eagle; and each of them had six wings. And they cried out by day and by night, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, God of Hosts. All the heavens and the earth are filled with the holiness of Thy glory” (Rev. iv, 6).

And Isaiah the prophet also said, “I saw the Lord of Hosts sitting upon a high throne, and the whole place was filled with His glory. Seraphim and Cherubim surrounded Him, and His awe and majesty were exceedingly great. Each of these had six wings; with two of their wings they covered their faces, with two of their wings they covered their feet, and with two of their wings they did fly in the greatest glory by day and by night, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. All the heavens and the earth are filled with the holiness of Thy glory” (Isaiah vi, 2).

And David the prophet said, “He rode upon the Cherubim and did fly” (Psalm xviii, 10), and he also said, “He Who sitteth upon the Cherubim maketh the earth to quake,” And Ezekiel said concerning these wheels, “I saw a wind blow from heaven, and in it there was a cloud surrounded by fire, and brightness, and lightning, and four beasts supported Him. Each face (or person) had six wings, and they went before them. And the first beast had the likeness of the face of a man, and they ceased not to praise God by day and by night, and they said, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, all the heavens and the earth are filled with the holiness of Thy glory” (Ezekiel I).

And John the evangelist said, “I heard a voice saying, Hallelujah! Salvation and power and blessing to our God. And the four beasts and the four and twenty elders of heaven worshipped God, saying, Hallelujah! God the Sustainer of the universe is King (Rev. xix, 4). After this I heard a voice saying, Praise our God with harp and psalms, Hallelujah! And I heard the voice of a multitude of peoples like unto the thunder, saying, God, the Sustainer of the universe, is King.” And many of the Books of the Old and the New Testaments testify concerning the honor of these Four Beasts which God hath set near Him to make supplication on behalf of all creation.

He with the man’s form maketh supplication on behalf of the children of men, he with the lion’s form maketh supplication on behalf of the beasts, he with the bull’s form maketh supplication on behalf of the cattle, and he with the eagle’s form maketh supplication on behalf of the birds. Now these beasts are very much nearer God than all the other powers of heaven.

For this reason the fathers of the Church have instituted the commemoration of the heavenly creatures, and have built churches in their name in every place because they make supplication for the race of man.

Salutation to the Four Beasts and to the horses of the Cherubim!

The Annual Feast of the Four Living Creatures (Cherubim)

Four Living Creatures

Acording to Ethiopian Church tradition of iconography, the surroundings and inner door of sanctuaries ornamented by the icons of Cherubim along with the Images of Holy Trinity.

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The best I can do for longstanding traditional interpretations is to cite those found in the Church Fathers.

The twenty-four elders are less discussed. Victorinus offers three interpretations: they are the twenty-four Old Testament books (a natural counterpart to the living creatures as the Four Gospels), or they are the twelve patriarchs and twelve apostles, or they are the angels of the twenty-four hours of the day. Oecumenius proposes twenty-four biblical persons from the Old Testament down to the earliest Christian martyrs (Abel... Stephen).

For the four living creatures, Ezekiel's vision of the four living creatures forming God's chariot also comes into play. Best known is their identification with the Four Gospels (e.g., Irenaeus), with several ancient schemes as to which gospel is which animal. Alongside that, they are also interpreted as the principal events of Christ's life (e.g., Chromatius has man=incarnation, calf=sacrifice on the cross, lion=resurrection, eagle=ascension). Methodius links them with the four elements (lion=fire, etc.). Jerome mentions certain philosophers who see also four seasons (thus probably four zodiacal constellations: lion=Leo, etc.). Origen sees the living creatures as four parts of the interior human: the eagle is the spirit, and the other three are the Platonic tripartite soul. Andrew of Caesarea sees the four virtues (lion=fortitude, etc.). Macarius sees four ruling factors in the soul (eagle=will, lion=conscience, ox=intelligence, man=love), but also four natural dominions (eagle=king of birds, lion=king of wild beasts, ox=king of tame beasts, man=king of all).

For the various interpretations of the living creatures, I refer to Kenneth Stevenson, "Animal Rites: The Four Living Creatures in Patristic Exegesis and Liturgy", SP 34 (2001), 470-492.

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