By Linda A. Seeber

For many years I searched for God's meaning veiled in the four faces of the living creatures described in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4. I heard different interpretations through the years that I have come to believe are a part of the picture but not the full picture (i.e. the four gospels of Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit, etc.). Explanations I heard were general and the Lord impressed me that there was more meaning buried in the symbols. As I was led to dig deeper and deeper over the years, God opened a vein of precious truth that has brought great blessings into my life.

The four faces represented on the living creatures of the lion, the calf (or ox), the man and the eagle are four different faces (and phases) of Jesus' redemption of mankind. God has promised that through Jesus, He will make an end of sins and bring in everlasting righteousness (Dan. 9:24). These four areas of redemption are the four roles Jesus must perform in order to put away sin forever. These roles are displayed only to war against sin. Never before earth's history were they seen and never after sin is gone will they be needed again.

Historically, these faces first appeared on banners in the camp of Israel. Each of the twelve tribes had a banner symbolically representing their tribe to which they would rally. However, the tribes were divided into four groups (three tribes on each side of the tabernacle). The lead tribe for each group would use their banner to rally their three tribes.

The first group of tribes had Judah as their leader with Issachar and Zebulun following. The banner they marched under was a lion. Next came Reuben leading Simeon and Gad bearing their banner of a calf. After them came Ephraim with Manasseh and Benjamin having a man as their symbol. The last group was Dan leading Asher and Naphtali with their banner of an eagle. (The Camp Around by Arla M. Van Etten)

God revealed these symbols as He was beginning to form His people. He desired to display to them what He needed to do for mankind's salvation from sin.



To take a close look at the symbol of the lion, we need to start with the key text of Rev. 5:5 "The Lion of the tribe of Judah ... hath prevailed to open the book and to loose the seven seals." The word prevailed is "nikao" in the Greek translated to subdue, conquer, overcome, prevail, get the victory. Jesus overcame by condemning sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3) and destroying the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) by overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:21). Truly, Jesus could say at the end of His life on earth, "The prince of this world hath nothing in Me" (John 14:30). John 16:33 says that Jesus overcame the world. Through the omnipotent power poured forth into His life from the Father, He conquered sin in the flesh.

The word "prevailed" is connected with experiences of Judah and his descendants. It was said of Judah that he prevailed (overcame) above his brothers and of him came the chief ruler (1 Chr.5: 2). Also "the children of Judah prevailed because they relied upon the Lord God of their fathers" (2 Chr.13: 18). The Bible shows this prevailing or overcoming characteristic connected with Judah, the lion tribe.

The names of all three tribes under the lion banner have meanings veiled in their names:

Judah - celebrate, praise, worship, revere

Issachar - bring a reward, lift up, set up, advance

Zebulun - dwells with, resides, habitation

To put it altogether in a sentence, it can read: "When God dwells with and resides in a life, making it His habitation, it becomes a life of praise and worship, of celebration and reverence that will bring a reward, that will set up and advance the kingdom of God." A holy life that brings praise to God, a life where He resides and holds the reins is what God uses to gain the victory over the enemy.

When Jacob prophesied of Judah in Genesis 49:8-12, he mentioned the following:
a) brethren shall praise him
b) hands on enemies neck
c) as a lion's whelp gone up from the prey
d) having the scepter and the lawgiver
e) gathering of the people
f) washing his garments in wine

This prophecy points to an experience of gaining the victory over the enemy, going for the prey with the praise of a holy life washed clean of sin, receiving the scepter to rule by obeying the law, and gathering people for God's kingdom who will be overcomers also. Jesus’ life fulfilled all of these prophecies. Through Jesus the kingdom of heaven was set up on earth by overcoming sin in His human flesh. The perfect life formed in His divine/human existence has forever made the link between God and man.

Why is this step so critical in the plan of salvation? Step one in the atonement had to be the living of a perfect life. In Romans 5:10 it says, "We shall be saved by His life." His life is the proof that sin can be overcome in the flesh, that the law of God is just and good and that the pathway (through' His flesh - Hebrews 10:20) is accessible for others to pass over. Hebrews 5:8-9 says, Jesus "learned obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him."

A perfect character needed to be formed to be a perfect sacrifice. Step one had to happen to enable the next step to be worthy. "Christ...offered Himself without spot (without fault) (Hebrews 9:14). All the sacrifices of the Old Covenant had to be "without blemish" to illustrate that only a sinless life is sufficient to pay the debt of sin. Only perfect blood can go before God to atone for sin. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!"

To summarize concisely: The lion represents the overcoming of sin to set up and advance the kingdom of God on earth.



The Hebrew word "showr" in Ezekiel 1:10 can be translated bull, cow or ox. In Revelation 4:7 it is the Greek "moshos" meaning young bull or calf. (The Lexicon suggests the ox also.) Notice the differing translations:





Eze 1:10




Rev 4:7





Regardless which way it is translated, clearly all of these animals were used as sacrifices under the old covenant (Lev. 9:2, Num. 7:87-88 and Jer. 11:19). They were sin offerings without blemish being first-born male animals.

Without a doubt, Jesus fulfilled this portion of the salvation plan. Jesus said, "I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:15). Christ gave Himself for us as a sacrifice (Eph. 5:2). He "appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of bear the sins of many (Heb. 9:26,28).




The tribes under this banner had meanings veiled in their names:
Reuben - see a son, servant-born, young calf
Simeon - to listen attentively, to obey
Gad - a great company, pressing together, gathering in troops

Putting these thoughts together in a sentence, we could say: "A Son is born to be a servant (like a young calf is meant to be a sacrifice) to listen attentively and obey, so that a great company can press together and gather into one body (or troop)."

This insight shows that the calf is associated with being a servant. Obedience of a servant leads one to live his life as a sacrifice (Romans 12:1) as well as to lay down his life for another’s salvation if needed (1 John 3:16). The servant does not decide the calling; only God does. The call is to be obedient, no matter where God leads.

Another characteristic of the symbol of the calf is suffering. In Genesis 29:32 Leah said when she had given birth to Reuben, "Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction." Affliction and suffering must be a part of being a sacrifice. Christ "suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh" (I Peter 3:18). (Also read 2:21-24.) Isaiah 53 details the sufferings of Christ brought as a lamb to the slaughter. He was wounded and bruised, despised and rejected, smitten and afflicted. Because of His stripes, we are healed.

This second phase of salvation is the part that is most looked at by Christians. Jesus’ suffering and dying for our sins is our basic teaching of Christianity, as well as the most glorious teaching. Many understand more about this phase of salvation than the other phases; yet the depths of its meaning is still not fully uncovered. It will be looked at and studied for an eternity.

In focusing in on a few of the reasons for His sacrifice, let us first look at Hebrews 9:22 which says, "without shedding of blood" there is no remission of sins. Death is the just payment and natural result of sin (Rom.6:23). Jesus bore our sins in His body (1Peter 2:21-24) and died the eternal death for us (2Cor.5:21). Now we are forgiven and freed from the claims of sin upon our lives. A way of escape has been made. His substitution for us is the basic reason why this step is essential for our salvation.

Another reason for Jesus' death is in Hebrews 2:14 "that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." This step was the major death null to Satan and his demons. It pulled back the curtain for all to see the heinous evil in the heart of Satan to murder God’s Son. It showed up-close the extreme contrast between the ugly selfishness of Satan and the self-sacrificing love of God.

This leads us to the most moving, compelling reason Jesus became a sacrifice for us. In John 12:32 Jesus said, "If I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." Jesus, suffering and dying for us as He did, powerfully moves our hearts. It is the strongest pull there is towards the heart of God. It is "hereby that we perceive the love of God, because He laid down His life for us" 1 John 3:16. This demonstration of His self-sacrificing love melts our hard, selfish hearts to desire Him. His love is our motivation to go through the painful process of peeling off sin from our lives; so that we can be like Him.

To summarize in brief: The calf represents the sacrifice of a servant willing to suffer.



In Ezekiel 22:30 God is saying, "I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge and stand in the gap before Me." Isaiah 59:16 says, "He saw that there was no man and wondered that there was no intercessor, therefore His arm brought salvation." An intercessor was needed as a go-between, someone who understood both sides. Jesus was "made like unto His brethren that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest" (Hebrews 2:17). He became human to be "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" and "tempted like as we are" (Hebrews 4:15). Yet, at the same time being wholly divine (Hebrews 1:1-3) to worthily carry on the work in heaven. Jesus, the divine/human intercessor, is worthy to make up the hedge and to stand in the gap before God.


The meaning of the names for the three tribes under this banner is as follows:
Ephraim - double fruit, fruitful
Manasseh - to forget, remit, remove
Benjamin - son of right hand, strong, dexterous

This could be put together to read: "The Son is at the right hand of His Father to remit (meaning to pardon, forgive, refrain from punishing, set free, release, restore); so that He can remove the sins from the sinner and forget those sins (Hebrews 8:12) and cause the fruits of His Spirit to bountifully grow." This outlines the work of Jesus as High Priest up in heaven at the right hand of God (Hebrews 8:1). It is interesting to note that this priestly phase of salvation is not connected with the tribe of Levites. (Their tribe seems to represent all the steps of salvation.) Why would this role be connected with these three tribes? Since Ephraim and Manasseh's father Joseph received the birthright (1Chron.5:1-2) which incorporated the priestly role as part of the birthright blessing, it would make sense that these tribes would represent this phase.

Joseph's name means "let him add". His father Jacob prophesied of him that he would be a "fruitful bough" (Genesis 49:22). His tribe received a double portion of blessing which accounts for his tribe being split in two: Ephraim and Manasseh. It was also prophesied by Jacob that Ephraim's seed would become a multitude of nations (Genesis 48:19). This all points to the result of Jesus' intercessory work in heaven after the cross--to bring many sons unto glory (Hebrews 2:10).

Why is intercession so important for our salvation? Each phase of salvation is as important as the other phases. It progressively builds, one on another: 1) the perfect, righteous life formed, so that 2) a perfect sacrifice can be made, so that 3) perfect atonement for sin can be applied to each one that comes to God. The intercession part of salvation is the "present-tense", living connection with heaven. No one can be saved without Jesus' intercession. In Hebrews 7:25 Jesus says He is able to save all who come to God by Him because He is living to make intercession for them. Jesus is the "one mediator between God and men" (1 Timothy 2:5). Interacting with Him daily in the heavenly sanctuary is our only hope. He needs to be applying His blood to our account to cover our sins (Romans 3:25) and to credit our account with His righteousness (Romans 3:26; 4:22). At the cross Jesus' death for us was the complete remedy for sin; yet it must be applied to our lives by Jesus right now in heaven.

Many Christians can grasp the forgiveness and justification part of this step, but the other part of intercession does not seem to be understood as widely. Jesus says that He also wants to "purge your conscience from dead works" by His blood (Hebrews 9:14). This text goes on to say, "for this cause He is mediator of the New Testament (vs. 15). Jesus is working to sprinkle our hearts from an evil conscience and wash us with pure water (Hebrews 10:22). As intercessor He clears away our sinfulness and writes His law in our hearts and minds (Hebrews 10:16, 8:10). This is our new covenant promise. Jesus promises that not only will He apply His righteousness to our account in heaven, but also He will literally put it into our lives, so that we do not have to stay trapped in sin. Praise to God!

To summarize this phase of salvation: The symbol of the man represents intercession to remove sin and to bring forth fruits of righteousness in God's people.



An eagle can represent quite a few spiritual points. The most common theme of eagle-texts is as follows:

Hosea 8:1 "He shall come as an eagle against the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed my covenant."

Deut. 28:49 "The Lord shall bring a nation against swift as the eagle flieth."

Jer. 4:13 "He shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind, his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us."

Jer. 48:40 "He shall fly as an eagle and shall spread his wings over Moab."

Jer. 49:22 "He shall come up and fly as the eagle and spread his wings over Bozrah."

A picture develops in reading these texts that I had not realized before. God frequently uses the symbol of the eagle to describe His rising in judgment. When He says He spreads His wings over Moab or Bozrah in the previous texts, He goes on to describe the judgments that come as a result of spreading His wings.

The eagle is very swift in dealing with the prey, showing us that God's dealings will be in the same way. The eye of the eagle is extremely sharp, portraying God's clear discernment of hearts.

In looking at the tribes who were under this banner, we find the meaning of their names significant:
Dan - judge, vindicate
Asher- happy, blessed, straight, level, honest, relieve
Naphtali - wrestle, struggle

This could read: "To bring in judgment for God to be vindicated, there must be a wrestling time and an intense struggle in the world. But the end result will bring happiness and blessing, because at last all will be put straight and on the level. Judgment will bring in honesty and truth to relieve those on God's side."

History backs up the connection of the tribe of Dan and judgment. When Dan was born of Bilhah the handmaid, Rachael said, "God hath judged me" Genesis 30:3-6. When Jacob at his death blessed his son Dan, he declared, "Dan shall judge his people" Genesis 49:16. Clearly, this last phase of salvation is related to judgment.

Throughout earth's history, God has brought in judgment at various times on certain nations or individuals when their cup of iniquity had filled up to its limits. However, God has set aside a specific time for judgment or cleansing of His sanctuary at the end of the world known as the hour of His judgment (Rev. 14:7). Daniel's prophesies reveal that at the end of the 2300 days, the cleansing would begin (Daniel 8:14). In Daniel 7:9-14 the judgment scene is painted describing the thrones being set up and the books opened. This was begun in 1844 according to the dateline of the 2300 day/year prophecy (457 BC – 1844 AD). Daniel 7:13-14 shows Jesus as the Son of Man going before the Ancient of Days (the Father) to receive a kingdom of people that will serve Him forever. Jesus judges each case Himself to discern whether the individuals truly received His gift or not. John 5:22 says, "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." This judgment is still in process today in heaven.

What is involved in this fourth and final step of salvation? The judgment phase is necessary to close out the great controversy between the Almighty God of Heaven and Satan the accuser of God. This judgment is held for much the same reason that we hold court hearings: to show the issues involved, reveal the truth of these issues, make decisions and then reward or punish accordingly. Because of Satan’s accusations of God before the universe, it is truly God who is on trial more than humans. Yes, decisions regarding which humans are safe to save is a part of the judgment, but the heart of it is centered around: "Is God really the loving God that He has portrayed Himself to be?"

In the book Desire of Ages page 58 we read, "In the judgment of the universe, God will stand clear of blame for the existence or continuance of evil. It will be demonstrated that the divine decrees are not accessory to sin. There was no defect in God’s government, no cause for disaffection. When the thoughts of all hearts shall be revealed, both the loyal and the rebellious will unite in declaring ‘just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints. Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? . . . for They judgments are made manifest.’ Revelation 15:3-4." Praise God! The outcome of the judgment will be the final vindication for our righteous and holy God.

A concise summary of the meaning of this phase is: The eagle represents the judgment time when truth is revealed, decisions made, rewards and punishments given out and God is vindicated.


In each of these four critical steps of salvation we see a completeness, a perfect work thoroughly done. When each phase of salvation reaches its time of completion, Jesus declares before the universe that "it is done" or "finished". There are four declarations of this in the Bible since the fall of man. We will exclude the Genesis 2 declaration of God’s finished work of creation since it happened before sin entered this earth. Notice how the four declarations line up with the four phases of salvation:


1. In Gethsemane: "I have glorified Thee (shown God’s character) on earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do." John 17:4



2. On the cross: "He said, ‘It is finished’ and He bowed His head" and died. John 19:30



3. During the 7th plague: Jesus our High Priest ends His priesthood by transferring the confessed sins of His people onto the scapegoat Satan. Sin is now separated from His people forever. "Then came a great voice out of the temple of heaven from the throne saying, ‘It is done’." Revelation 16:17



4. After the great white throne judgment at the end of the 1000 years when sin is destroyed. Revelation 20:11-15 speaks of the wicked being judged and then receiving the final punishment of sin: the second death. Then God wipes away all tears from His children’s eyes and declares, "It is done." Revelation 21:6




When these phases are completed, there will be no more sin to deal with. It will have been judged and put away forever. Praise be to our holy and righteous God!


Worthy is Jesus to be worshiped and honored who has righteously overcome sin in human flesh, who has sacrificed His life for us, who is now interceding to prepare us for His presence and who is justly judging the case of each person.


God has and will continue to allow Satan to contest each of these phases as they near completion. Notice how the four greatest battles between Christ and Satan line up with the four stages of Christ’s work:

    1. In the wilderness (overcoming)
    2. Gethsemane and the cross (sacrifice)
    3. Armageddon (intercession)
    4. After the 1000 years outside the New Jerusalem (judgments)


Jesus is calling us to receive Him in each of these phases of salvation. We must receive:

    1. His righteous character – daily choose His righteousness.
    2. His death – that we deserved to die.
    3. His intercession – that cleanses from sin and re-creates a loving heart so we will want to intercede for others.
    4. His judgments – for the righteous and the wicked so that our affirmation of His judgments will further vindicate His character.


  • As we receive Jesus, these faces will appear in our lives and God will use us for putting away sin and bringing in righteousness forever and ever. "For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" 2 Corinthians 4:6-7, 10-11.

    Lion - His overcoming power of love

    Ox -His self-sacrificing display of love

    Vassal - His intercessory work of love

    Eagle - His judgment time of love


    The four faces of Jesus must be and will be seen through His church before Jesus returns. He has revealed these faces so that we can lay hold of these experiences through Him. He has paved the way down to us through these steps in order that He can lead His people out through this path. He will remove all sin as a result of establishing the qualities of overcoming, sacrificing, interceding and preparing ourselves and others for judgment.


    (Part 2 will address more specifically Jesus’ faces in His people.)

    Morning light