In the centre, round the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and behind. 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. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all round, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!’
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’
The four living creatures said, ‘Amen’, and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Can you imagine the Albert Hall filled with angels? It wouldn’t be big enough (only 5272 seats and air space for, at a guess, another 20,000). How about the O2 Arena (20,000 seats plus air-space)? Too small. When God created the angelic hosts, he was extravagant. John, the writer of the book of Revelation, was not able to count the numbers of angels, or even give an estimate. His description of ten thousands of ten thousand is his way of expressing numbers that are beyond counting. There are more angels than you think.
God’s throne is surrounded by angels, and they worship him, just like the seraphim were doing in Isaiah’s account. They worship the Lamb, our Saviour Jesus and Father God on the throne.
The angels do not sing their songs and then go home for lunch. They stay, and they continue to worship. The “for ever and ever” that is said by the whole created universe goes on literally for ever and ever. Angels were created with understanding to know fully who God is, and to serve and worship in his presence for ever. That’s why we initially come a little lower than them in the created order.
The four creatures are, on our first reading of their descriptions, simply weird. They also appear in Ezekiel’s account that we mentioned at the start of Advent. I get a little uncomfortable when I think of these seraphim-like creatures having eyes under their wings, but I’m responding to the writer’s inadequate attempts to describe something way beyond description, and probably gloriously beautiful (and living-daylights frightening!) to behold.
These four creatures have a special place close to the throne. They seem to be a higher order of angels and take on the likeness of an ox, a lion, a man and an eagle. We cannot be sure why they look like this or why. One day we will encounter them and understand who they are, and we will join with them in worshipping our Lord Jesus into eternity.
Why is it we don’t bump into angels that often?
Father God, if I only know you without Jesus then I can only see you from afar, for you are too holy and unapproachable for the likes of me. I can never come near because I am unholy. Thank you that you gave me Jesus in loving sacrifice so that I may approach your holiness clothed in him. Amen.