The Four Gospels and the
Four Living Creatures
By Pastor F. M. Riley
August 5, 2010
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God [God breathed], and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect [complete; capable], thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17
I do have a question regarding the four canonical Gospels!
Why is it necessary to have four of them to describe a single event?
Why is it necessary that the DIVINE WORD OF GOD be explained from four different points of view? I find this confusing!
I am a student of history and I am well versed in the development of the Bible since circa 400 AD with Roman Emperor Constantine, and the multitude of the counsels held by the SUPPOSEDLY learned men in positions of Theological (Ecclesiastical) power to decide how I SHOULD READ the Word of God today.
Pastor, that has me in a quandary! GOD BEING all powerful, why did He leave this important function of promulgating HIS WORD to the happenstance and whim of the occasional mortal(s) in power to do so through the ages?
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Thank you for writing. I appreciate hearing from you. Your email gives me another opportunity to share the wonderful truths of God’s Word with you and others of His people. The questions you set forth in your email are timely and relevant, due to many others today having similar questions about the Bible. So let’s see if we can answer your questions and resolve the problem that is bothering you and appears to be bothering many others today.
First, I want to make a few comments about…..
The Divinely Inspired Word
Almighty God DID NOT “leave this important function of promulgating HIS WORD to the happenstance and whim of the occasional mortal(s) in power.” It is a simple fact of history that most of the “mortals in positions of power” through the centuries who appeared to honor and embrace the Word of God did so for no other reason than hoping
to destroy it. History is filled with many such examples.
WAS NOT the great “church father” that some so-called “Christian religions” [Sic!] make him out to be today. Constantine was no more than a wicked politician and a reprobate. The Roman Emperors from the time of the personal ministry of Christ to the time of Constantine had done everything in their power to stamp out this “new” Christian movement, and had utterly failed. The more they persecuted the followers of Christ, the faster the Christian movement grew. So when Constantine came to the throne, being a wicked and crafty politician, he decided to follow the plan politicians have always followed right to this day; that is, “If you can’t lick them, then join them and control them from within.” That is exactly what wicked old Constantine did. I too am a student of history, especially Christian history, and if Constantine believed what he actually said he did, then he is screaming out his damnation in the fires of hell today. I make no apology to anyone for making this statement. Constantine
But now let’s turn to the Word of God itself…..
Just as our text for this study states, the Word itself claims to be inspired of God. Here is another Scripture that basically states the same truth…..
“For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost [Spirit],” 2 Peter 1:21.
Now what about it? Are these claims explicitly set forth in the Word itself valid and true, or are they just lies? If they are just lies, then one might as well flush the Bible down the toilet and quit pretending to even believe in God. Either the Bible is exactly what it claims to be; the Divinely Inspired Word of God, or it is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the human race. People need to make up their mind. Think about it!
I have thought about it! I can assure you that I have an absolutely unshakeable and immoveable faith in the God of the Bible and in the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s own precious Son, [my Savior and my Lord] and therefore in the inspired truth and accuracy of His Word. I am not talking about some silly superstitious faith. I am talking about a well studied, educated, tested, proven faith! I have been intensely and diligently studying the Word for the past 56 years, and I have more reason today to KNOW that it is the Divinely Inspired Word of God than I did when I began studying it 56 years ago. I have personally TESTED AND PROVEN it over and over again across these many years.
It is an absolute truth, whether men want to believe it or not, that Almighty God inspired His Word, verbally dictating it to men whom He chose to write it. If we really believe the Word, then we know this to be true because the Word itself explicitly states that the same men chosen of God to write the Word then turned and “searched” the very Scriptures they had written to see if they could learn what this thing called “grace” was, and “what manner of time” it was to be given to mankind. Read this statement for yourself in 1 Peter 1:9-12. If they had only written down their own personal opinions and beliefs, then why would they have been “searching” their own writings to discover TRUTH? Well..?? Maybe some of the critics of God’s Word would like to provide God’s people with an intelligent answer to this question…..
I would suggest to anyone who has doubts about the authenticity and accuracy of God’s Word, that they spend more time in STUDYING THE WORD and less time in studying ABOUT THE WORD. The two are not the same thing. The inspired Word still
says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” Romans 10:17. Almighty God gave His Word to mankind exactly the way He wanted it given. If one cannot harmonize the statements and teachings of the Word in accordance with their own human reasoning, then I suggest that they turn from their human reasoning and humbly ask the Lord in prayer to give them genuine “spiritual discernment,” 1 Corinthians 2:11-16. However, such discernment will only be given to those who are sincerely seeking the Lord and the truth of His Word [Matthew 5:6], or to those who have truly repented of their sin and received the Lord Jesus as their own personal Savior.
Now let’s see Divine Inspiration demonstrated as we turn our attention to…..
The Four Gospels…..
You asked why there are four gospels, and appeared to imply in your email that it is likely because of the “mortals in power” at any given time and the “Theological powers and counsels” who have sit in judgment on the Word. Dear friend, nothing could be further from the truth!
If Almighty God is WHO He claims to be in His Word, then He most certainly had [and has] the power to watch over and preserve His Word, bringing it down to us living today exactly like He originally gave it and wanted us to have it. Almighty God is neither impressed nor sidetracked by men, not even the world’s most powerful men. On the other hand, it is obvious that the best laid plans of the “elite and powerful” men of the world are often side tracked by Almighty God! Think about it!
Now what about there being four gospels? Any true believer who seriously studies God’s Word knows that each of the gospels gives a detailed account of the personal ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ when He walked among men at His first coming. The person and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is the major emphasis in each gospel, even as it should be throughout the entire Word of God. We believers should always seek to give Christ the preeminence in everything, including giving Him preeminence in our own lives. Read Colossians 1:14-19.
The Gospel of Matthew is the gospel primarily written to the Jewish people and for the Jewish people. In this gospel the Lord Jesus Christ is presented to the Jewish people as the Messiah of Israel and “the Lion of the tribe of
The Gospel of Mark is the gospel that presents the Lord Jesus Christ as the sacrificial “servant” of God who came to live and die in order that the sin debt of humanity might be paid. In this gospel He is then presented as the sacrificial “calf or ox.”
The Gospel of Luke is the gospel that presents the Lord Jesus Christ as “the Son of man,” emphasizing His humanity, and His relationship to and compassion for fallen mankind.
The Gospel of John is the gospel that presents the Lord Jesus Christ as the “Son of God,” emphasizing His Divine Nature even in His incarnation. As “the eagle” spreads his wings and soars into the heavens, so this gospel emphasizes the resurrection of Christ and His return to His Father following His resurrection.
This is just one of the reasons why there are four gospels; in order that four distinct
aspects of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ could be emphasized. This also explains why there are slight differences in each of the gospels; to place emphasis on the particular work of Christ that the Lord wanted to emphasize in each particular gospel.
However, let me make it clear to our readers that there are absolutely NO DISAGREEMENTS OR CONTRADICTIONS between the four gospels. They are in perfect harmony with each other. It is only that some details are omitted or inserted according to the spiritual truths that the Lord wanted emphasized in each gospel. Those who believe the gospels to be contradictory would do well to SERIOUSLY study the gospels. Any serious, dedicated, study will result in the supposed “contradictions” vanishing in the wind. I know! I have been there and done that!
…..And the four camps of
Now let’s carefully look at what at first glance may seem to be a totally unrelated subject. But let’s just study to see if we can discover a relationship between the four gospels and the camps of
Let’s begin by taking note of the Lord’s instructions to
as recorded in Numbers 2. In this chapter the Lord gave explicit instructions as to how the Israelites were to camp. The twelve tribes were to be divided into four camps with three tribes in each camp as instructed in this chapter. As the camps were set up, there was to be a “standard” [banner; flag] erected before each camp with an “ensign” [symbol; emblem] on it. We are not told in Numbers 2 what the four “ensigns” were which appeared on the “standards” which stood before the four camps. But the ancient writings of the Jewish Rabbis tell us that these four “ensigns” were as follows….. Israel
Before the camp of
stood a “standard” with the “ensign” of “a lion” on it. Judah
Before the camp of Reuben stood a “standard” with the “ensign” of “a calf” on it.
Before the camp of Ephraim stood a “standard” with the “ensign” of “a man” on it.
Before the camp of Dan stood a “standard” with the “ensign” of “an eagle” on it.
Now isn’t this interesting? Some 1,500 years before Christ came into the world, the camps of
were displaying these symbols on the flags that stood before each of the four camps; the same symbols set forth in the four gospels by the personal ministry of Christ. Coincidence? Not hardly! There is not even a word for “coincidence” in the Hebrew language. Israel
Then am I just reading my own opinion into the personal ministry of Christ as set forth in the four gospels? In other words, have I just assigned these four symbols to each of the four gospels arbitrarily according to my own viewpoint? Guess again!
That I may dwell among them…..
In Exodus 25:1-2 the Lord explicitly told Moses to speak to the children of
, asking them to bring an offering to the Lord, “…of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take My offering.” Israel
This freewill offering was to be used to build the Tabernacle and everything in it. In verse 8 the Lord explicitly stated the purpose for building the Tabernacle, “And let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” The Lord’s desire and plan to dwell among the children of
is explicitly stated 16 times in the Old Testament Scriptures. Therefore this IS NOT just a passing thought! Israel
To save time and space I will simply say that everything about the Tabernacle typified the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the “sanctuary” in which Almighty God dwells bodily among His people. No, this IS NOT just my opinion. Read Colossians 1:18-19 and 2:9. Praise the Lord! Glory to God! Hallelujah!
Now let’s go back to the camps of
. We have already noticed the arrangement of the camps of Israel in Numbers 2, except for one tribe! I remind our readers that there were actually and literally 13 tribes in the nation of Israel . However, the Scriptures are very explicit that “…the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel , as the Lord commanded Moses,” Number 2:33. See the explicit instructions given about the tribe of Levi in Numbers 1:47-54 and other passages. Why were the Levites not numbered among the Israelites? Because the Levites were chosen to represent God Himself dwelling in the midst of the children of Israel under the Old Covenant. See the explicit instructions given in Numbers 1:53 and 2:17 regarding the Levites. The arrangement set forth only four camps with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the four camps. This is a vivid picture of God’s GRACE dwelling in the midst of Israel . Technically, the camp of the Levites would make the fifth camp. Israel Keepin mind that “five”  is the Bible number for “GRACE!”
Please don’t miss this beautiful type of “the grace of God” dwelling in the midst of
Israeleven during the Old Testament dispensation while was still living under the Old Covenant of Law. Those of our readers who are true believers should surely be able to see the love and yearning in the very heart of God Himself to pour out His “grace” upon unbelieving and rebellious Israel centuries before He sent His own Son into the world as the very embodiment of His “grace.” Read John 1:17. Glory to God! Israel
The Four Living Creatures…..
Three truths should be obvious to every reader at this point. (1) The nation of
was divided into four camps by instructions from the Lord Himself, and (2) before each camp was a “standard” [flag] with an “ensign” [emblem; symbol] on it. (3) The symbols on those four flags definitely represented the four camps of Israel with the Lord dwelling in their midst. These three truths are indisputable for anyone willing to deal honestly with the Word of God. Keep them in mind as we continue to study….. Israel
Now let’s notice the Lord’s later dealings with
as recorded in Ezekiel 1. In this chapter the prophet was given “visions of God,” Ezekiel 1:1. Beginning in verse 5 and extending through verse 25 Ezekiel is shown “four living creatures.” He describes them in detail in these verses. In verse 6 the prophet says that each of these “living creatures” has “four faces.” Then in verse 10 Ezekiel describes their four faces by saying, “As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had Israel
the face of an eagle.” Whoa! Wow!
These “four living creatures” have exactly the same four faces which the Jewish Rabbis claim were the symbols on the four flags which stood before the four camps of
, and which also typified the four aspects of the personal ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ in the four gospels. So here in Ezekiel is a direct Scriptural connection back to the four camps of Israel and forward to the four gospels of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is this just “coincidence”? Well…?? Israel
But let’s not stop here! In Ezekiel 10 the prophet is given a vision of these same “living creatures” again [10:22], except that in this chapter he refers to them as “cherubim.” A careful study of the Scriptures makes it clear that the “cherubim” are angelic beings which usually are seen around the very throne of God Himself. In verse 14 of this chapter Ezekiel describes these “cherubim” by stating, “And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.” It is obvious that here again are the same four symbols set forth in the four camps of
and in the four gospels, with the exception that in this passage the “cherub” is substituted for the “calf or ox.” Why? Israel
I don’t know that I can Scripturally answer that question for our readers. All I can say is that the calf or ox was both a beast of burden and an animal used for sacrifice, all of which are identified with the nation and people of
in God’s Word. There might be a possible connection given in Acts 6:15 where the face of Stephen, the first Jewish Christian martyr, was transformed as “the face of an angel.” Israel
But this is still not the end of the matter. In Ezekiel 40 through 42 the beloved prophet was given a vision of the
Millennial Templewhich is to be erected during the following the Tribulation period. In Ezekiel 41:17-20 the decorations or adornments around the door of the Millennial Kingdom are described. Ezekiel states that “cherubim [plural] and palm trees” were [apparently] carved or engraved around the door and on the wall, and that each “cherub had two faces,” 41:18. In verse 19 it is explicitly stated that one of the faces was “the face of a man” and the other was “the face of a young lion.” It appears that at that future time the other faces will have been replaced by only two, both of which apparently represent the Lord Jesus Christ Himself dwelling among the children of Temple . Read Ezekiel 43:1-7 and 43:9. Israel
John’s Vision of Heaven
Now let’s go to John’s vision of Heaven beginning in Revelation 4. It is obvious to those who know how to “rightly divide the Word of truth” [2 Timothy 2:15] that this chapter begins in 4:1-2 with John being caught up [raptured] to Heaven.
Immediately John began describing what he saw in Heaven. He first described the throne of God and the ONE who sat upon it, 4:2-3. Then John described twenty four more thrones and those who sat upon them “round about” the throne of God, 4:4. Next John described the “lightnings and thunderings and voices” coming forth from the throne of God and the “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God,” 4:5.
But then in verses 6 – 9 John describes a “sea of glass” before the throne of God, and
states that “in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne were four beasts [Greek…living creatures]….,” 4:6. In verse 7 John describes these “living creatures” by saying, “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.” The description of these “four beasts” continues through verse 9.
So here in Heaven around the throne of God are found the exact same “living creatures” whose symbols represented the four camps of
some 3,500 years ago. Now isn’t this interesting? So who do these “four living creatures” represent in Heaven around the throne of God? Isn’t it obvious that they represent the redeemed of Israel ? But let’s just verify this truth….. Israel
The Four and Twenty Elders
Before dealing with the “four living creatures” let’s first look at the “four and twenty elders” whom John saw in Heaven. I have often been asked about the identity of these elders. Who are they? Or, who do they represent?
It should be easy for any true believer who accepts the Word of God as literal truth to identify these elders. In 5:9-10 the elders themselves explicitly state, “…for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” This explicit statement makes it clear that these twenty four elders are redeemed believers, redeemed from among the Gentile nations of the earth. At that point in time [the future Tribulation] they will have been resurrected and raptured from the earth. It should be obvious to any reader that there are far more than 24 kindreds, tongues, peoples, and nations on the earth. Therefore the number of elders  is only symbolic of all of the redeemed Gentiles up to that point in time, who have obviously been resurrected and raptured from off of the earth.
Number “24” is a composite of the numbers “5” and “19.” Five is the Bible number for “grace,” and nineteen is the Bible number for “faith.” In Ephesians 2:8 the inspired Word explicitly states, “For by grace  are ye saved, through faith , and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God…” There is the number “24” seen in this passage of Scripture dealing with salvation. This is exactly why there are 24 elders in Heaven representing the redeemed from among the Gentiles; because they are there only by the grace of God through faith in the Son of God. Read Ephesians 2:11-22.
The Four Living Creatures
I pointed out what the Scriptures say about the 24 elders in order to likewise point out the truth about the “four living creatures.”
Carefully notice that in 5:7-10, when the “Lamb” [the Lord Jesus Christ] takes “the book” out of the hand of the Father sitting upon the throne, then…..
“the four beasts [living creatures] and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints.
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”
Are you paying attention? The context and statement made in these verses clearly reveals the “four living creatures” joining with the 24 elders in singing the “new song” of redemption. In other words, just like the 24 elders these “four living creatures” have been redeemed from the earth. They have “harps” just like the 24 elders. They have “golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints” just like the 24 elders. They join the 24 elders in singing the “new song” of redemption. Therefore these “four living creatures,” just like the 24 elders, are [or symbolize] obviously redeemed believers. This truth should be obvious to anyone willing to dealing honestly with the Scriptures.
Further, these “four living creatures” are mentioned in Revelation exactly 20 times. “20” is the Bible number for “redemption.” Take your Bible and Concordance and count the times they are mentioned for yourself. By carefully studying each of the references mentioning them, it is obvious that they will have an active role to play in the Tribulation judgments poured out upon the earth.
Since the 24 elders represent or symbolize the redeemed Gentiles, then it should also be obvious that these “four living creatures” represent or symbolize the redeemed of
. Glory hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Now where are they seen in Heaven in this vision given to John? They are seen around the throne of God, with God Himself in their midst, exactly as the camps of ancient Israel were arranged. Israel
Positive proof of this truth are the symbols which have been connected with the camps of
Israelsince the Jews left some 3,500 years ago. These exact same symbols are explicitly connected with these “four living creatures” in Revelation 4:7. Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! Glory to God! Egypt
What this whole study points out is that the four “ensigns” [symbols] which were displayed on the flags that stood before the camps of
Israelcan be traced from ancient to the courts of Heaven itself. How could this possibly be unless each of the writers, living in different centuries, was indeed inspired of God? Praise the Lord! Israel
It is therefore no “accident” that the personal ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ in the four gospels is portrayed by these same four symbols. Our wonderful Jewish Savior was indeed “the Lion of the tribe of
.” He was the sacrificial beast of burden, the “calf or ox,” who bore the burdens of our sin in His own body and paid for our sin by the sacrifice of Himself at Judah Calvary. He was [and is] the “Son of man” who gave up His glory with His Father to become man; THE SINLESS MAN needed to pay the sin debt of fallen mankind and redeem Adam’s fallen race. He was “the eagle,” who after having paid for man’s sin on Calvaryrose from the dead and then soared back to His rightful position at His Father’s right hand in Heaven. Glory to God! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
Thank you Lord Jesus, our precious and beloved Savior!
Thank you Holy Father, for the love for our souls which you displayed at
Calvarywhen you allowed your own Son to die for us and pay our sin debt.
Thank you blessed Holy Spirit, for revealing the true and only WAY of salvation to us when we were still poor lost sinners, thereby enabling us to come to Christ as hungering, seeking, souls, and be saved with such a great salvation.
Dear reader, are YOU truly saved? I am not asking if you believe in God, or are a member of some church or religious organization. I am asking if you truly know the Lord Jesus Christ as your own personal Savior? The inspired Word admonishes every one of us to examine ourselves to see whether we really are “in the faith,” or whether we are just deceiving ourselves by our own vain “religion,” 2 Corinthians 13:5; 2 Peter 1:10.
If any reader has doubts, or if any reader wants to be saved, then I urge you to read John 3:1-7, 3:16, 3:36, 5:24, 14:6, Acts 4:12, 16:30-31, 20:21, Romans 10:8-13, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5-6, and 1 John 5:12-13. If any reader needs spiritual help, please feel free to contact me. I DO KNOW HIM who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and I will do whatever I can to help you find salvation and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless His Word to your heart, mind, and soul.
“Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.” Psalm 150:6.
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NOTICE: Permission is granted to any true believer or Christian ministry to reproduce this study to share with others or to quote from it in context as written.
Please address all questions, comments, and correspondence to: Pastor F. M. Riley,
184 County Road108, . I can also be contact by email at: Harrisburg, Missouri 65256
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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