In Revelation chapter 4, John describes certain animals that inhabit the throne room of God. What are these animals and what is their function?

by Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes

The description of the animals with their various faces like a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle is highly symbolic. John seems to epitomize the orders of beings—mankind, domestic animals, wild animals, and fowl, and thus all living things—through the representation of the creatures’ faces. The living creatures, as the text of Revelation stands, form the first of the concentric circles around God’s throne, the Elders the second. John portrays these beasts as honoring and reverencing God. As John saw real Elders, he saw actual animals, or, better, living creatures. Joseph Smith taught that these creatures had probably “lived on another planet than ours.”[1]  Expanding this idea the Prophet stated “that John’s vision was very different from Daniel’s prophecy–one referring to things actually existing in heaven; the other being a figure of things which are on earth.”[2] Joseph Smith’s information was based on revelation. He had asked the Lord, “Are the four beasts limited to individual beasts, or do they represent classes or orders?” The Lord had responded, “They are limited to four individual beasts, which were shown to John, to represent the glory of the classes of beings in their destined order or sphere or creation, in the enjoyment of their eternal felicity” (D&C 77:3). Thus, like the Elders, they are real but also stand as symbols: “They are figurative [i.e., symbolic] expressions, used by the Revelator, John, in describing heaven, the paradise of God, the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things” (D&C 77:2). Besides praising God, these living creatures may have another important function. In other apocalyptic literature such creatures, the Cherubim, act as guardians of the throne of God and at times as guides. As sentinels, they symbolically “protect God’s holiness from the unauthorized trespass of unworthy, or unclean things, or individuals.”[3] It is as guides, however, that they seem to work with the Seer. At specific points they open up portions of the vision for him to view.

This post is an except from The Revelation of John the Apostle.

[1] Willard Richards, Joseph Smith Diary, April 2, 1842, in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith (Orem, Utah: Grandin, 1991), 171.

[2] History of the Church 5:325. See Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 170.

[3] Jay A. Parry and Donald W. Parry, Understanding the Book of Revelation, 56.