The four living creatures are found in Revelation 4:6–9; 5:6–14; 6:1–8; 14:3; 15:7; and 19:4. The texts that describe these creatures do not indicate that they are figurative—they are real, actual beings. The four living creatures (literally “beings”) are a special, exalted order of angelic being or cherubim. This is clear by their close proximity to the throne of God. Ezekiel 1:12–20 suggests that they are in constant motion around the throne.
Revelation 5:6–14 describes the duties or purposes of the four living creatures. They fall down and worship the Lamb, Jesus the Christ, offering the same reverence to Him that they do to the Father (Revelation 4:6–9), substantiating the deity of Jesus. Along with the twenty-four elders, they have “harps and golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8). Harps are frequently associated with worship in the Old Testament, as well as with prophecy (2 Kings 3:15; 1 Chronicles 25:1). Incense represents the prayers of the saints. Therefore, taken together, the four living creatures and twenty-four elders hold in their hands all that prophets ever prophesied and believers ever prayed for—all about to come to pass.
The purpose of the four living creatures also has to do with declaring the holiness of God and leading in worship and adoration of God, and they are involved in some way with God’s justice, for when Jesus opens the first four seals and sends out the four horsemen to destroy, their powerful voices, like thunder, command “come” (Revelation 6:1–8). The horsemen respond to the summons of the four creatures, indicating the power the creatures possess. That power is seen again in Revelation 15:7 when one of the four unleashes the last seven plagues of God’s wrath on mankind.
The four living creatures are very similar, if not the same, beings as those in Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10 and Isaiah 6:1–3. They are four in number, full of eyes, have faces like the beings in Ezekiel 1:10, have six wings (Isaiah 6:2), and offer worship as the beings in Isaiah 6:3, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.” They may not be the exact same beings, but they definitely are comparable and probably of the same order.
In summary, these beings are an exalted order of angels whose purpose is primarily that of worship (Revelation 19:4). They are very similar to the beings in Ezekiel 1 and 10 and Isaiah 6:1-3, and they are in some ways involved in God’s divine justice.