The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 28

The Elders of the Redeemed

Revelation 4:4.    And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.

     The word “seats” is the Greek thronos, the same word as used for “throne.”  The elders were seen by John seated on thrones exactly as he had seen the divine presence seated on the throne (4:2).  The identity of these elders, sometimes mistakenly interpreted as angels, is very important.

     The elders are undoubtedly redeemed and glorified men, or, at the least, representative of such men, in view of the following considerations: (1) although there are principalities and powers in the angelic hierarchy, there can be no “elders,” since all angels are of the same age, created probably on the first day of creation; (2) the term “elder” is always used elsewhere in the Bible only of men; (3) elders are always chosen representatives and leaders of the people, both in Israel and in the church; (4) there are no elders in the visions of God’s throne in Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1 – 10, in consequence of the fact that prior to the cross the spirits of all the redeemed were still confined to Hades; (5) the elders were wearing white raiment (as promised to overcoming believers in Revelation 3:5) and victors’ crowns (Greek stephanos, “wreath,” as also promised to overcomers in Revelation 2:10 and 3:11); angels, being “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14) are never described in the Bible as wearing crowns of any kind; (6) in Revelation 5:8, 9, these elders sing a song of praise to the Lamb who had redeemed them by His blood.

     But why twenty-four elders?  The Israelites used seventy elders (Exodus 24:1) and no indication is given as to the number of elders in the early church.  There were twenty-four orders of priests in Israel (1 Chronicles 24:7-19), but these were not the elders and, even though believers are to be kings and priests (Revelation 1:6), there seems no reason why the office of the priest should be commingled with that of the elder in heaven.  The number twenty-four has often been held to be symbolic of the twelve patriarchs plus the twelve apostles.  The latter, however, are specifically assigned to the job of judging the twelve tribes of Israel on twelve thrones in the millennial kingdom (Revelation 19:28), whereas the twenty-four elders are at the throne in heaven.  If twelve of these are the twelve apostles, assigned to judging the twelve tribes, then the identity and function of the other twelve are left up in the air.  It is barely possible that they are the twelve sons of Jacob.

     There is one other interesting possibility as to their identity.  The term “elder” has both an administrative and a chronological connotation (note 1 Peter 1:1, 5).  That the elders in Revelation are individual men, and not just symbolic of all believers, is indicated by the individual conversations reported of individual elders (Revelation 5:5; 7:13).  They do represent all believers of all the ages, but they are also individual men, the elders of all redeemed humanity.  It is interesting, and possibly the answer to this question, that in the Book of Genesis there are twenty-four patriarchs listed in the line of the promised seed (Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, Shem, Arphaxad, Salah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Pharez).  These men could more properly be denoted the “elders” of God’s elect than anyone else.  Finally, another possibility is that, since the Lord did not choose to specify their identity, His method of selecting them is on the basis  of merit, and thus He cannot reveal their identity until after the assignment of rewards at the judgment seat of Christ.

Revelation 4:5.    And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices; and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God.

     Although the throne was encircled by the emerald rainbow, denoting grace overseeing judgment, as it were, from the throne itself came forth sounds of judgment.  Before the great Flood (following which the rainbow was established) there had been no rain on the earth (Genesis 2:5), a condition resulting from a worldwide canopy of invisible water vapor – the “waters above the firmament” – established by God on the second day of creation.  The greenhouse effect maintained by this thermal vapor blanket supported a pleasant and permanent universal subtropical climate in the antediluvian world, with no great winds and therefore no rains and snows.  The breaking up of the “fountains of the great deep” (Genesis 7:11) induced the condensation and precipitation of the canopy and resulted in the global cataclysm of the deluge.  Psalm 29 describes this great flood in words of poetic grandeur centered around events following the seven-times uttered “voice of the Lord.”  The first utterance released the waters, the second introduced the great thunderings from heaven, as the vapors condensed and began to move, generating the first and most violent atmospheric electrical storm in history.  These “lightnings and thunderings and voices” emanating from God’s throne mirror that great time of judgment in the past and betoken another great time of judgment about to break on the earth once more (though, in accordance with God’s promise to Noah, it would not “destroy the earth”).

     The sevenfold Holy Spirit (see comments on 1:4) now appears, in conformity with the scene of judgment, as seven lamps of fire.  Although the Holy Spirit is invisible and omnipresent, He does on occasion appear in visible manifestation – for example, as a dove at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22).  He had appeared on the day of Pentecost as “cloven tongues like as of fire” (Acts 2:3).  One of His ministries is to “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).  Although He is at the throne, with the elders, He will continue to exercise this convicting ministry on earth. 

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