Are they a higher order of angels? If they are symbols, what do they mean?
Ezekiel 1:5-10 Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. 6 And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. 7 And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. 8 And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. 9 Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. 10 As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.
Ezekiel says that the four creatures were cherubims.
Ezekiel 10:20 This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar; and I knew that they were the cherubims.
From Easton’s Bible Dictionary:
Cherub — plural cherubim, the name of certain symbolical figures frequently mentioned in Scripture. They are first mentioned in connection with the expulsion of our first parents from Eden (Gen. 3:24). There is no intimation given of their shape or form. They are next mentioned when Moses was commanded to provide furniture for the tabernacle (Ex. 25:17–20; 26:1, 31). God promised to commune with Moses “from between the cherubim” (25:22). This expression was afterwards used to denote the Divine abode and presence (Num. 7:89; 1 Sam. 4:4; Isa. 37:16; Ps. 80:1; 99:1). In Ezekiel’s vision (10:1–20) they appear as living creatures supporting the throne of God. From Ezekiel’s description of them (1;10; 41:18, 19), they appear to have been compound figures, unlike any real object in nature; artificial images possessing the features and properties of several animals. Two cherubim were placed on the mercy-seat of the ark; two of colossal size overshadowed it in Solomon’s temple. Ezekiel (1:4–14) speaks of four; and this number of “living creatures” is mentioned in Rev. 4:6. Those on the ark are called the “cherubim of glory” (Heb. 9:5), i.e., of the Shechinah, or cloud of glory, for on them the visible glory of God rested. They were placed one at each end of the mercy-seat, with wings stretched upward, and their faces “toward each other and toward the mercy-seat.” They were anointed with holy oil, like the ark itself and the other sacred furniture.
The cherubim were symbolical. They were intended to represent spiritual existences in immediate contact with Jehovah. Some have regarded them as symbolical of the chief ruling power by which God carries on his operations in providence (Ps. 18:10). Others interpret them as having reference to the redemption of men, and as symbolizing the great rulers or ministers of the church. Many other opinions have been held regarding them which need not be referred to here. On the whole, it seems to be most satisfactory to regard the interpretation of the symbol to be variable, as is the symbol itself.
Their office was, (1) on the expulsion of our first parents from Eden, to prevent all access to the tree of life; and (2) to form the throne and chariot of Jehovah in his manifestation of himself on earth. He dwelleth between and sitteth on the cherubim (1 Sam. 4:4; Ps. 80:1; Ezek. 1:26, 28).
In my opinion, the cherubim represent the vehicle of God’s glory with respect to his character. His character is revealed in the faces of the cherubim. These faces are believed to have been depicted on the four standards of Israel’s encampment around the tabernacle (Num.2).
Man – priest – compassion.
Lion – king – courage.
Ox – servant – service to others.
Eagle – nests on high, far sighted.
These characteristics are seen in Jesus Christ who portrayed perfectly the characteristics of his Father.
John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
Each of the four gospels highlights one of these characteristics.
Matthew – lion – king.
Mark – ox – servant.
Luke – man – priest.
John – eagle – spiritual insight.
God’s declared purpose is to live with and in his people.
1 Corinthians 15:28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
Those who in their lifetime have striven to develop the character manifested in God’s Son will be raised to the divine nature in the kingdom of God.
2 Corinthians 6:16 …for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Revelation 21:3-4 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
The cherubim depicted as the chariot of God represent the people of God who will become vehicles of his Glory for eternity.
Numbers 14:21 But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.
I hope you find this helpful.