By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist).
In the Book of Revelation, the inspired Apostle John is told something fascinating by an angel who had been ministering to him:
Revelation 19:10-And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am YOUR FELLOW SERVANT, and OF YOUR BRETHREN who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
Through this statement to the Apostle, the angel speaks of some kind of connection between humans and angels.
What is the basis of this connection?
In what sense may it be stated that angels are of “our brethren?”
To answer these questions, we will carefully investigate another text of Scripture which is found earlier in the Book of Revelation.
In Revelation 4, John describes the throne room of Heaven. Among other things, he describes a powerful image of “four living creatures.”
Revelation 4:6-8-6 Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back.
7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.
8 The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”
Notice that there are “four living creatures” surrounding the throne of God.
The first is like a lion;
the second like a calf;
the third like a man;
and the fourth like a flying eagle.
What does it mean?
The answer to this question (and to understanding the connection between angels and humans) is found in studying the Old Testament Scriptures, from which much of the Book of Revelation is derived.
“As noted in volume 1 (239, n. 160), the pages of the New Testament are filled with citations from the Hebrew Scriptures, with as many as three hundred direct quotations from the Tanakh and several thousand allusions to the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament. In fact, some scholars claim that almost one out of three verses in the New Testament-2,500 out of a total of 8,000 verses-contains an Old Testament quote or general allusion, while, quite solidly, it can be demonstrated that “more than ten percent of the New Testament text is made up of citation or direct allusions to the Old Testament.”‘ More than 10 percent! The Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, contains 404 verses, most of which (as many as 331 verses) are drawn from the imagery of the Hebrew Scriptures, although Revelation hardly ever directly quotes a specific verse from the Tanakh. All this indicates how deeply the Hebrew Scriptures are intertwined in the New Covenant Scriptures.2” (Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections To Jesus: Volume Four-New Testament Objections, 3 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
Hebrew Christians would understand the imagery of John, for they had been raised with the Old Testament.
With this in mind, let us turn our attention to the Old Testament.
We will begin with a study of the “flags” of the twelve tribes of Israel.
The Tribal Flags Of The Twelve Tribes
Each of the twelve tribes of Israel had a specific “standard” or “insignia” which represented their particular tribe. We find references to this throughout the Old Testament.
One of the most relevant is found in the Book of Numbers:
Numbers 2:2-Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father’s house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting.
Numbers 2:2 (CEV)-how the Israelites should arrange their camp: Each tribe must set up camp under its own banner and under the flags of its ancestral families. These camps will be arranged around the sacred tent, but not close to it.
The symbols on these flags were drawn from the blessings which Jacob gave to his children (the twelve sons which became the twelve tribes) on his deathbed (Genesis 49). Each of the tribes had a specific “flag” with a descriptive emblem, which was made to represent that particular flag.
In describing how the people of Israel were to camp around the Tabernacle (Numbers 2), the Lord gave specific instructions that the Hebrews were to assemble in the four cardinal directions.
There were to be three tribes in each group, with a particular tribe facing towards the Tabernacle. The tribal insignia or flag of the main tribe was to face towards the Tabernacle. (The capitalized tribe in each of the following lists was the one which was in the middle of the three tribes in its’ group, and its’ flag faced towards the Tabernacle).
To The North: Issachar, JUDAH, Zebulon
To The West: Asher, DAN, Naphtali
To The South: Manasseh, EPHRAIM,
To The East: Gad, REUBEN, Simeon
In The Middle: The Tabernacle
What does this have to do with our study?
Well, notice with me what the tribal flags were (especially of Judah, Dan, Ephraim, and Reuben):
“EACH of the tribes of ancient Israel appears to have had a distinctive emblem….Each tribe of Israel had a primary emblem (a banner) and one or more secondary emblems to remind them of their unique patriarchal blessing received from Father Jacob (Israel). Jacob called his sons together a short time before he died, and gave to each a blessing….The second chapter in the Book of Numbers tells us that Jehovah had directed the twelve tribes to camp around the tabernacle in specific areas. This configuration is shown in Figure 11. Four brigade leaders were appointed: Judah, reuben, Ephraim, and Dan. Both tribal and brigade standards were adopted. The tribal flags with their unique emblems were displayed when camped around the tabernacle and when moving to a new location. “Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father’s house” (Numbers 2:2)….The four brigade emblems are shown in Figure 25. JUDAH IS REPRESENTED BY THE LION, REUBEN BY THE MAN, EPHRAIM BY THE OX, AND DAN BY THE EAGLE. Relatively few emblems of other tribes are used in national heraldry, because they were usually identified by the emblem of the brigade to which they belonged. Thus Benjamin, as a member of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, would frequently be identified by the Lion, the emblem of the Brigade of Judah. The more frequent use of brigade emblems does not necessarily indicate that the other tribes of the brigade were not in the country. Heraldry related to provinces and municipalities usually includes more emblems of individual tribes than does national heraldry. Two visions, one seen by Ezekiel and the other by John the revelator, each mention the four brigade emblems, adding credibility to them. Ezekiel 1:5–10 records four living creatures, each having the faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. John, in revelations 4:7, also records four beasts, like a lion, a calf, a man, and an eagle.” (Vaughn E. Hansen, PhD, Israel’s Lost Ten Tribes: Migrations To Britain And The United States, 961-1022 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added, M.T.); Springville, Utah; CFI)
Notice that the tribal insignias of Judah, Dan, Ephraim, and Reuben line up perfectly with the four living creatures identified in Revelation:
Tribe And Insignia
Four Living Creatures
Remember that these four specifically mentioned tribes actually represent all of the twelve tribes (each aforementioned tribe having two other tribes in its’ group).
Why were there such specific instructions about how the people were to camp?
One author has explained that (from an aerial view), the tribes formed a gigantic cross!
“Each of the camps, of three tribes each, were to encamp on one of the four cardinal compass directions (N, S, E, or W) with respect to the camp of the Levites enclosing the Tabernacle. 98 We can only guess at how much space was required by the Levites, whether it was 100 ft. on a side, 100 yards, or whatever. But whatever it was, we’ll assume that length as a basic unit. To fully appreciate all of the implications, you must try to think like a rabbi: you need to maintain an extremely high respect for the precise details of the instructions. They resorted to heroic measures in their attempt to comply with the letter of the law. The tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun—collectively called the Camp of Judah—had to encamp east of the Levites. This poses a technical problem. Notice that if the breadth of their camp was larger than that of the Levites, the excess would be southeast or northeast, not east. Therefore, if they were to strictly comply with their instructions, their camp could only be as wide as that of the Levites, and they then would have to extend eastward to obtain the required space. The camps of Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan had the same constraint on the south, west, and north respectively. The length of each leg would thus be proportional to the total population in each camp….If we assemble what we can infer from the Torah account, we can imagine what the camp of Israel looked like from above: the Tabernacle and the Levites in the center, surrounded by the four faces of the tribal standards, and each of the four camps of Judah, Ephraim, Reuben, and Dan, stretching out in the four cardinal directions. We can also tally the approximate size of each tribe to determine the relative length of each camp as they stretched out in each of the four cardinal directions. The startling results are on the next page….It would appear that when the Israelites encamped, they formed a giant cross! This is a graphic macrocode, indeed! And this is from the Torah, not the New Testament! The New Testament is, indeed, in the Old Testament concealed; the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed.” (Chuck Missler, Hidden Treasures In The Biblical Text, 925-947 (Kindle Edition); Coeur d’Alene, ID 83816-0347 http://www.khouse.org; Koinonia House)
Thus, we see that the “living creatures” which surrounded the throne of God are identifiable with the saints of God throughout the Old Testament.
Further, we learn that there is a mysterious foreshadowing of the Cross of Jesus in the camping arrangement of these Hebrews.
The Cherubim Of Ezekiel
Our second clue in the investigation of the mysterious bond between humans and angels is found in the Book of Ezekiel.
Long before the time of Christ, the Prophet Ezekiel had two terrifying visions of the glory of God.
Ezekiel 1:5-10-5 Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man.
6 Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings.
7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze.
8 The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings.
9 Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward.
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.
Notice that the “four living creatures” are again associated with the tribal insignias of the people of God (lion, man, ox, eagle).
Later in Ezekiel, we read of a similar vision which Ezekiel has. In it, he again describes the four living creatures. He also shows that the four living creatures that he sees in that vision are identical with those of the vision described in chapter one:
Ezekiel 10:14-15-14 Each one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, the second face the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
15 And the cherubim were lifted up. This was the living creature I saw by the River Chebar.
Ezekiel 10:20-22-20 This is the living creature I saw under the God of Israel by the River Chebar, and I knew they were cherubim.
21 Each one had four faces and each one four wings, and the likeness of the hands of a man was under their wings.
22 And the likeness of their faces was the same as the faces which I had seen by the River Chebar, their appearance and their persons. They each went straight forward.
Further, we are told that these “four living creatures” are “cherubim.” What exactly does this mean?
“The next group is the cherubim. The word “cherub” is used twenty-seven times in Scripture and the plural form “cherubim” occurs sixty-four times. The cherubim are special angels whose responsibilities are (1) to guard the entrance of Paradise (Gen. 3:24); (2) gaze upon the mercy seat (Exod. 2:18; Ps. 80:1; 99:1; Isa. 37:16); and (3) to constitute the chariot on which God descends to the earth (2 Sam. 22:11; Ps. 18:10). They are first mentioned in Genesis 3:24. “After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” In 2 Kings 19:15, Hezekiah mentions the cherubim in his prayer. “And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: ‘O Lord, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth….They are also referred to in Ezekiel 10:1-20; 28:1416. There is an interesting analogy between the Bible’s description of cherubim and the winged bulls and lions of Babylon and Assyria—colossal figures that are often found in the ruins of these places.1” (Edward P Myers, A Study Of Angels, 28-29 (Kindle Editions); New York, NY; Howard Books)
So, these four living creatures are angels, and yet are identified also as the people of God.
The Mystery Deepens
It is by turning to a final clue in the Book of Revelation that our investigation will be concluded.
In chapter five of the Book of Revelation, we see that the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders join together and sing a song of praise to the Lamb of God (i.e., Jesus).
In this song, they identify themselves and explain who they are:
Revelation 5:8-10-8 Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
9 And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have REDEEMED US to God by Your blood, OUT OF EVERY TRIBE AND TONGUE AND PEOPLE AND NATION,
10 And have MADE US KINGS AND PRIESTS to our God; And we shall REIGN ON THE EARTH.”
The “four living creatures” (i.e., the cherubim of Ezekiel 1 and 10) thus identify themselves as being:
The Ones Redeemed By The Blood Of The Lamb;
The Ones From Every Tribe And Tongue And People And Nation;
The Ones Who (By Virtue Of Their Redemption By The Blood Of Christ) Are Now Kings And Priests To God Who Will One Day Reign On The Earth
In every way, the description of the “four living creatures” shows that they are dead Christians.
So, what is the connection between humans and angels?
Very simply, at least some of the angels of God (i.e., cherubim) are dead Christians (or at least some of them).
All of my life, I had been told that angels and humans are completely separate beings. Yet here in the Word of God, we see indications that some dead Christians actually become angels of God.
With this in mind, let me share some concluding thoughts.
First, just because we have been taught something all of our lives does not make our belief true. We must be willing to continually study with an open and objective mind. The Word of God will help us to grow into new understanding, but only if we are willing to seek God with all of our hearts (Jeremiah 29:13; Hebrews 11:6).
Second, there is a great deal more to learn from the Word of God regarding the afterlife. In Scripture, we are continually reminded that God’s people who have died have entered into peace with Him.
Isaiah 57:1-2-1 The righteous perishes, And no man takes it to heart; Merciful men are taken away, While no one considers That the righteous is taken away from evil.
2 He shall enter into peace; They shall rest in their beds, Each one walking in his uprightness.
Third, when I think of these “four living creatures,” and their connection to the Old Testament people of God, I am amazed at the implications regarding the Cross of Jesus.
Remember that we noticed the camping directions of the Hebrews meant that they would form a huge cross.
In the middle of the camp (in the middle of the cross), the Tabernacle was located.
Within the Tabernacle was located the Ark of the Covenant, which is where God promised to meet with His people (Exodus 25:16-22).
In considering the camping arrangements of the Hebrews, where was fellowship with God found?
In the center of the cross.
If we want to be in fellowship with God, we must be one of His people, or in His church.
How do we become one of His people?
Only through the cross.
Ephesians 2:16-and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.
Finally, there is another possible interpretation that I would like to consider with you about this passage.
The text also mentions the “24 elders.” Many scholars believe this is a reference to the combined redeemed people of God, symbolically portrayed by the doubling of the number 12 (the “twelve tribes” of the Old Testament people of God, combined with the “twelve tribes” of the New Testament people of God).
This interpretation is strengthened by the fact that the New Testament teaches the people of God today is the church (cf. Romans 2:28-29; 9:1-6; Galatians 3:26-29).
If that is the case, then the redeemed saints would be the ones who are pictured as the twenty-four elders.
What then, should we make of the four living creatures?
The Bible teaches that at one time, there was a race of angelic and human hybrids known as the “nephilim.” Their lineage is recorded in Genesis 6:1-4, and they are referenced several times throughout the Old Testament Scriptures.
One day, as my wife and I were studying this text in Revelation, she asked me, “Mark, why couldn’t these be the nephilim that were redeemed? After all, the text says the living creatures are both human and angelic in nature-so isn’t that possible?”
The more I have thought about her observations, the more I am convinced that is a definite possibility.
In any case, the Scriptures are clear that at least some of the dead Christians are identifiable as the “living creatures” or “cherubim.”
This helps us to understand at least part of the mysterious connection between “them” and “us.”
The more I study the Word of God, the more I am amazed at its’ depths and riches of meaning. One of the most profound themes throughout Scripture is that God does not want any to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He has sacrificed more then we can imagine to make this possible! “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The Son of God came to this world, and suffered and died in our place on the Cross of Calvary (1 Timothy 2:6). He did this because God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) desires that all people will be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). Jesus died for us, was buried, and arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
As the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures sing, He is worthy!!
Will you not today accept His gracious offer of salvation? Will you not glorify Him today by turning your life to the Lord? God has declared that the person who hears His Word (Romans 10:17), believes in Jesus Christ (John 8:24), repents of sin (Luke 13:3), confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God (Acts 8:37), is baptized into Him (Acts 2:38), and who lives faithfully to Him will receive all spiritual blessings in Christ and an eternal Home in Heaven (Ephesians 1:3, 7; Revelation 2:10).
When believers thus obey God’s plan of salvation (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10), they are set free from sin (Romans 6:17-18), made children of God (Galatians 4:6), and are added by God Himself to His church (Acts 2:47).
If you haven’t obeyed Him, why not do so today?
If you are a child of God who has left the Lord, He promises forgiveness to all of His people who will turn back to Him and will confess their sins to Him in prayer (1 John 1:9).
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.