Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Elders Around & Judgments Out Of The Throne - Revelation 4:4-5a

As we continue our study of Revelation chapter four we come to verse four where John next tells us that he saw twenty-four thrones that surrounded another throne and that seated upon these twenty-four thrones were twenty-four elders. John then describes how these twenty-four elders were dressed; he tells us they were clothed in white garments and wearing golden crowns.
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.
Revelation 4:4 (NASB)
This verse leaves us with one obvious question; who are these twenty-four elders?

There has been much debate as to the identity of the twenty-four elders mentioned here in Revelation 4:4, so let’s look at what several Bible scholars have had to say:
These elders probably symbolize the people of God in heaven, enthroned and rewarded.1

There has been much speculation on the identity of the elders. The two major views are (1) that they represent the church raptured prior to this time and rewarded in heaven, or (2) that they are angels who have been given large responsibilities.2

We cannot say with certainty who the twenty-four elders are. They are variously understood as angelic beings, as the redeemed people of both the Old Testament and New Testament, and as New Testament saints only. 3

Some think that they represent the church or believers in heaven, but it seems preferable to view the elders as angels who comprise a heavenly ruling council. 4

They are not angels, for they have white robes and crowns of victory, implying a conflict and endurance… 5

Their joint rule with Christ, their white garments, and their golden crowns all seem to indicate that these 24 represent the redeemed.6

The twenty-four elders may refer to the twenty-four priestly divisions who conducted the worship of Israel according to the tradition of the Levites. The elders in the vision seem to represent the saints of God in their act of worship, just as the Levitical priests represented Israel in the worship of the temple.7

These twenty-four elders stand for the church from Pentecost to the Rapture. Therefore, I can say categorically and dogmatically that here is the church in heaven.8
As you can see there are as many interpretations of who these elders are as there are commentaries in print, so let’s look at the Scriptures, since that is the best way to interpret difficult passages, and see what we can discover.

In his commentary on Revelation, Robert Van Kampen writes that there are nine things we know from Scripture about these beings, these are:
  1. They from a circle around the throne of God (Revelation 4:4a)
  2. They are called elders (Revelation 4:4b)
  3. They are twenty-four seated on twenty-four thrones (Revelation 4:4c)
  4. They wear white garments and golden crowns (Revelation 4:4d)
  5. They fall down and worship God (Revelation 4:10)
  6. They sing hymns to God (Revelation 4:11)
  7. They make comments to John (Revelation 5:5)
  8. They have harps and censers full of incense that are said to represent the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8)
  9. They explain things to John (Revelation 7:14-17)9
By looking at these other Scriptures where these elders are mentioned it is easy to see that they are not Old Testament saints, or New Testament believers, or representatives of the church; these twenty-four elders are some form of angelic being. We can see this clearly by looking at Revelation 5:9-10 where we read:
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
Revelation 5:9-10 (NASB)
Notice that in these verses, when the elders sing their new song to God they say, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” If these were the redeemed this verse would read entirely differently; it would say, “You have made us to be a kingdom and priests to our God and we will reign upon the earth.” This leaves then as the only possible conclusion that the twenty-four elders are angelic beings.

However, it is not that easy to end this debate, Warren Wiersbe points out:
It is unlikely that they are angels, because angels are not numbered (Heb. 12:22), crowned, or enthroned. Besides, in Revelation 7:11, the elders are distinguished from the angels. The crowns they wear are the ‘victor’s crowns’ (the Greek word stephanos; see Rev. 2:10); and we have no evidence that angels receive rewards.10
John MacArthur also points out several reasons why these elders are not likely to be angels, he writes:
First, the reference to the twenty-four thrones on which the twenty-four elders sat indicates that they reign with Christ. Nowhere in Scripture do angels sit on thrones, nor are they pictured ruling or reigning.

Presbuteroi [The Greek word translated as Elder here in Revelation 4:4] is never used in Scripture to refer to angels, but always to men.

While angels do appear in white (e.g., John 20:12; Acts 1:10), white garments more commonly are the dress of believers.

That the elders wore golden crowns on their heads provides further evidence that they were humans. Crowns are never promised in Scripture to angels, nor are angels ever seen wearing them.11
So, we cannot be dogmatic either way; these elders could be angels, or they could be human. But if they are human, which humans do they represent? The truth is that we just don’t know. As has already been pointed out: they could represent the Nation of Israel, they could represent Old Testament believers, or they could represent the church, but this is one of the mysteries of the Bible where we are just not given the answer. As I have pointed out there is evidence to support many different views, but the bottom line here is that we will just not know until we reach heaven.

Next we see that:
Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.
Revelation 4:5a (NASB)
In Psalm 9:7 we read that “God has established His throne for judgment” and that is exactly what we are seeing here. This is not the throne of grace; this is the throne of judgment.

When we see lightning and we hear thunder we know that a storm is coming. God is preparing to judge the world that has rejected Him, and here John sees the storm of that judgment coming. This picture is reminiscent of God giving His law to Moses on mount Sinai, we read:
So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.
Exodus 9:16 (NASB)
It is also reminiscent of the plagues of judgment sent against Egypt:
When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation.
Exodus 9:23-24 (NASB)
We quite often take for granted that God is a holy God and that He will judge sin. The writer of Hebrews warns us that we are not to reject the grace of God, and in doing so he reminds us that we are to serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, because our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29). Judgment is coming to the earth, and it is coming from the very throne of God.

1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 4:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
2 Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary: An exposition of the scriptures (2:943). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
3 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Re 4:4). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
4 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson's new illustrated Bible commentary (Re 4:4). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
5 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Re 4:4). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
6 MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Re 4:4). Nashville: Word Pub.
7 Palmer, E. F., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 35: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 35 : 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (152). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.
8 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.5 1 Corinthians–Revelation Pg.931. Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
9 Van Kampen, Robert. Revelation Commentary Ch4 Pg1 (© www.revelationcommentry.org). Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
10 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 4:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
11 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (148-149). Chicago: Moody Press.

Next time we will look at verses 5b -11 and the object before the throne.
Print This Post

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The elders around the throne are ANGELS! Don't let the crowns slip you up. At Re 20:4, Israels sit on thrones but the "power of judging was given them." The 24 elders never receiving this power. You shouldn't assume they do. Also note the following:

There are 4 living creatures and 24 elders. This adds up to 28. There are 7 each of seals, trumpets, thunders, and plagues. This adds up to 28. If you count all the angels as they are called to service. I know you are asking, what about the 7 thunders? Read Re 14:6-20. Here are the 7 thunders with th 7 angels. I know. John was told not to write it down. He didn't then but he was shown it here.

Another point to makes is this. The 7's of Revelation speak of the same event. So in actuality, the 7 seals, trumpets, thunders, and plagues are the 4 corners of the same event. They happen simulataneouly not consecutively as some think.

The 4 living creature after the opening of the first four seals take their station at the four corners of the earth. At this time 12 elders executing their message with them. Any questions?