Living creatures (Bible)

The living creatures, living beings, or hayyoth are a class of heavenly beings described in the prophet Ezekiel's vision of the heavenly chariot in the first and tenth chapters of the Book of Ezekiel. References to the creatures recur in texts of Second Temple Judaism, in rabbinical merkabah literature, and in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.

Ezekiel's four living creatures

Ezekiel's vision of the four living creatures in are identified as cherubim in who are God's throne bearers. Cherubim as minor guardian deities of temple or palace thresholds are known all over the Ancient East. Each of Ezekiel's cherubim have four faces, that of a man, a lion, a cherub, and an eagle. However, their human shape appearances set them apart from the griffin-like cherubs and lamassu of Babylonia and Assyria. In their ability to move, Ezekiel's cherubim do not need to turn, since they face all compass points simultaneously. This description of movement differs from the seraphim in Isaiah's vision who have an extra set of wings for their ability to fly.

Revelation's four living beings

In, four living beings are seen in John's vision. These appear as a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle, much as in Ezekiel but in a different order. They have six wings, whereas Ezekiel's four living creatures are described as only having four. In verse 6, they are said to have "eyes all over, front and back", suggesting that they are alert and knowledgeable, that nothing escapes their notice. The description parallels the wheels that are beside the living creatures in Ezekiel 1.18; 10.12, which are said to be "full of eyes all around". The Hebrew word for "wheel" was also used in later Jewish literature to indicate a member of the angelic orders. In this passage in Revelation, the four beasts surround "the one" on the red throne, which is contrasted with the white throne in and.
Comparing the living creatures in Ezekiel with Revelation's is a prominent apocalyptic study in Western Christianity. An example is the 18th Century works of Jonathan Edwards' recorded interpretation of 1722/23. The four living creatures that John of Patmos sees in the Book of Revelation, is the author's reworking of the living creatures in the visions of Ezekiel and Isaiah. William D. Mounce noted a belief that the living creatures may have been associated with the four principal signs of the zodiac, but other scholars have doubted this interpretation.
In a critical analysis of John's vision, April De Conick's 2006 essay outlines that the hayyot in Ezekiel are perhaps not original with the author of Revelation. De Conick suggests that John may have drawn from other merkabah-related texts and by subtly working with images already known to his audience, he reshaped them for his own purposes. With John blending and transforming the images of his sources, it has given way to different interpretations.

Religious views

In Judaism, the living beings are considered angels of fire, who hold up the throne of God and the earth itself. They are ranked first in Maimonides' Jewish angelic hierarchy.
In Christianity, the four living creatures are Cherubim. A prominent early interpretation, variously modified by different interpreters, has been to equate the four creatures as a tetramorph of the Four Evangelists. Throughout church history, the most common interpretation, but not the original or the only, is that the lion represents Mark, the calf Luke, the man Matthew, and the eagle John. Irenaeus was the first to make the association with the evangelists, but the interpretation laid out by Victorinus and adopted by Jerome, Gregory the Great, and the Book of Kells became dominant. Its influence has been on art and sculpture and is still prevalent in Catholicism and Anglicanism. A view held by many modern commentators is that the four living creatures of Revelation are agents of God and heavenly representatives of the created order, who call every living thing to worship the Creator. The four living creatures are identified by some scholars as hybrids. On this interpretation, the creatures merge traits of the world above with character traits from this world. They represent the world above and this world in complete harmony with its Creator. By contrast, the locusts from the abyss combine traits of the world below with this world and represent the creation in rebellion from its Creator.