As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man in
front; the four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the
face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle at
the back. Ezekiel 1:4, 5 & 10
And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living
creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature
like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living
creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a
flying eagle. Revelation 4:6 & 7
These four living creatures are often likened to the qualities and
that belong to Jesus Christ our King. And we see in the presentation
of the Christ in the four gospels the same distinguishing characteristics.
Though, like human nature, it is impossible to separate out one feature to
the exclusion of the rest, and in the description of one you necessarily
get overlap from many more, yet it was important for God to present these
four portraits and qualities of His beloved Son, and to understand this as
a progressive revelation of Him.
- The Lion of Judah
He is first presented in Matthew as the King of Glory, or the Lion of
Judah. And within His first lengthy discourse He unfolds the majesty
of His kingdom and the divine, holy, prerequisites of its subjects in the
form of the "Be-Attitudes." It is in this book that we first
discover the Rock, the revelation from the Father through Peter that He is
the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
This is the only adequate support of life, and the true
foundation upon which He would build (or now is building) His Church. And
the Church is the pillar and bulwark of the Truth, or Jesus Himself being
her foundation. This book also reveals the
essence of God and the essence of our eternal hope, begun in this life and
continued forever, the summation of our purpose and duty which can only be
achieved through the Source, to love God with all our being, and to love
every other human as we love ourselves in sacrificial Agape. And
this presentation of Him is, in general, the first that most believers
come to, acknowledging Him as the new Lord of their lives. Our
salvation is dependent upon our submission to His Lordship over us, His
Kingly authority. Hence the command to "seek first His kingdom"
bears even greater importance, being also found in the heart of His first
sermon on the mountain. Jesus Christ as King is generally our
initial encounter with Him. Is it not surprising that this first
encounter with His Lordship produces the human, knee-jerk reaction of
legalism? Do not many saints begin their journey by working
arduously in their own strength, by their own power, to obey their new
So Matthew presents to us the first of the four portraits of Jesus Christ
that the eternal God felt it important enough to distinguish. Though
certainly all His Being, all that He is, all His blessed and holy
attributes are contained in every gospel, yet His Lordship and His Kingly
quality is predominate in Matthew.
- The Ox
The second glorious and most humbling portrait (very humbling to us
as our King humbles Himself for us) is the one presented by Mark.
Here we have the ox, the beast of burden. This is Jesus Christ, the
servant of God. He humbled Himself and took the form of a servant,
appeared in the likeness of sinful men, carried our sin upon His back to
the cross, and works our righteousness by it. His miracles are
profuse. Though certainly His primary work is the cross and
righteousness, we are humbled as He heals, cleanses and delivers from
sicknesses, diseases and oppression. He is a servant, a mighty
worker, performing all this service, despite His Lordship and His high and
exulted status, for us. And this, as we progress to know Him better,
and generally speaking, is our second revelation of Him. Despite our
gargantuan efforts at securing righteousness on our own, He works for our
behalf anyway, continuing to mediate between God and man.
Matthew presents the King of glory; the lion of Judah. Mark presents
the humble servant; the beast of burden; the ox. As an ox is
typically harnessed to a yoke, so our blessed Lord voluntarily took on the
role of burden-bearer, allowing to be harnessed to the cross and
carrying the tremendous weight of human sin to His death. And all
this work, all this divinely inspired servility was performed gratuitously
on our behalf. It cannot be earned. It cannot be
self-appropriated. Jesus Christ became Isaiah's "suffering servant".
He was the lamb of God offered up for us. God foreknew us. God
foreknew our sin. God foreknew our great and stupendous need.
God predestined us in Christ. He had prepared before time a sinless
lamb to be offered on the sacrificial altar. And He had
pre-announced the plan in types and shadows throughout Israeli history.
And we, in response to the gratuitous revelation given to us by the Holy
Spirit; when we are made aware of our great need for a Savior, for a
Redeemer; when we are awakened to the heavenly ordained fact that our
great weight of sin has been atoned for, that the burden of our guilt and
shame before a Holy God can be forever alleviated by faith in the
Burden-Bearer; we can do nothing to obtain right standing with God.
The work has already been done. Jesus Christ took upon Himself the
sin of the entire world and paid an incalculable price for it. Jesus
Christ has done all the work.
So the lesson from Mark, proceeding as it does from Matthew, as we humbly
submit to the Lordship, the Kingly authority of Jesus Christ and with much
self-effort attempt to be pleasing in His sight; as we proceed from
Matthew and advance in the Kingdom and in spiritual growth, we are exposed
to our carnal work of self-righteousness. The next logical step from
humble submission to our King is humble acceptance of the work performed
by Him to which we can add nothing. Kingdom righteousness is not
dependant on us. Kingdom righteousness can only be acquired in
Christ Jesus. We come to a revelation that WE are the
righteousness of God IN Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We had discovered that Jesus is our Lord. Now we discover that He
also is our righteousness.
The first two gospels clearly reveal two different aspects of Jesus
Christ. He is the lion. He is also the ox. However, it
is to be noticed that these two representations are merely symbolic.
Jesus of course is not a literal lion. Jesus of course is not a
literal ox. He is represented symbolically as taking on the
characteristics of both.
We move on to two other revelations of Jesus Christ. And these next
two revelations proceed from the symbolic to the real, though the portrait
of an eagle is equally symbolic. And these two
portraits have been greatly contested throughout Church history and remain
the pivotal orthodoxy for which the Church, the pillar and bulwark of the
Truth, has battled and has courageously fought for and has been relentless
in defending. These next two portraits, painted by God the Father
using Luke and John as His brushes; the Father presents to us Jesus the
Man and Jesus the divine Son of God. We have the complete and total
humanity of Jesus and the complete and total divinity of Jesus. He
is fully man. He is fully God.