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Previous: Revelation 4:3

The Elders 4:4

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. - Revelation 4:4

John's attention shifted from the great throne and its almighty occupant to some of the other items and beings in this heavenly court. He saw that around the throne were twenty-four thrones. This is symbolic of the fact that the God the Father, the ruler of the whole universe, has other kings under Him who rule certain portions of his earth. Thus He is King of Kings, a title that will be passed on to God the Son when He returns in glory toward the end of this vision (Revelation 19:11-16)

"King of Kings" was not a foreign concept in the First Century. When Jesus was born Augustus was the Roman Emperor (Luke 2:1), and under him were many local kings like Herod the Great in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1).

Of course the other thrones were occupied: and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting.

Who were these rulers who were subservient to the High King? They are called "elders" (Greek presbuteroi). Elders are mentioned often in both the Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament they were generally wise and mature leaders of the people (Exodus 12:21; Joshua 24:31; 1 Kings 8:1; Ezra 10:14; Proverbs 31:23). In the New Testament they were church leaders (1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-5).

It is not likely that the elders in this vision were angels. Angels are mighty, but the Bible does not indicate that they will rule over humans. In fact, though they are presently more powerful than we are in their spiritual existence, their role is to assist those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14). Furthermore, even though in our mortal state we are "a little lower than the angels" (Psalm 8:4-5; Hebrews 2:7, 9; 2 Peter 2:10-11), we Christians will someday rule (judge) over them (1 Corinthians 6:3).

Nor is it likely that the elders in Revelation represent the believers of the Tribulation Period, since the Tribulation is still future at this point.

The elders probably would not represent Old Testament saints either. Dr. Thomas Ice explains:

The reason the 24 elders cannot represent simply redeemed mankind as a whole, which would include Israel, is because the redemption of those people is not yet complete by Revelation 4. The 24 elders cannot include tribulation saints, since their group of redeemed individuals is not complete until the second coming. The same would be true of Israel. It would appear that tribulation saints are grouped with other Gentile believers down through history from Adam until the church and then the tribulation saints. Thus, they are not yet complete. The church alone will be the only complete redeemed people group by the time Revelation 4 occurs in history. (

Therefore it is most likely that these elders are representatives of the church, because the New Testament often mentions the fact that we will reign with Christ Jesus in His kingdom (Matthew 19:28-30; Luke 22:28-30; Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21; 5:10; 20:4-6).

The number of the elders is 24. Like everything else in this picture, the number is symbolic. The elders represent the whole redeemed church. To illustrate this, look ahead to Revelation Chapter 5, where these elders proclaim that they were redeemed by the blood of Jesus and were now kings and priests:

And they sang a new song, saying:
"You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth." - Revelation 5:9-10

The expression "kings and priests" has a very special meaning for Christians. Peter explained what a privilege it was to be a "royal priesthood:"

You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christů
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. - 1 Peter 2:5-9

In Israel, a person might be either a king or a priest under the right circumstances, but never both, because kings could only be chosen from the tribe of Judah, and priests were to come only from the tribe of Levi. In his commentary Albert Barnes compares these 24 elders to the 24 divisions of priests established by King David when he was old and was preparing Israel to build the Temple in Jerusalem under the direction of his son Solomon (1 Chronicles 24:1-9). (Albert Barnes, Barnes on the New Testament: Revelation [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954], 110-111.)

These groups of priests served on a rotating basis in the house of the Lord. When it was their turn, it was their great privilege and responsibility to intercede for the people: to plead on their behalf for the Lord's blessing.

During this Church Age, all believers enjoy the great privilege of interceding in prayer for those who are in need, and may do so at any time, not only on a rotating basis.

Thus these 24 kings in Revelation 4, who were also priests, would represent the church as a whole, which will no longer be on earth, but in heaven. They will be worshipping God and agreeing that He is holy and just in what must then be done on earth during the Tribulation Period.

In John's vision he saw that the elders were clothed in white robes. Victorious Christians are characterized in Revelation as those who wear white garments (3:4-5; 3:18; 7:9), symbolizing the cleansing result of salvation and the imputed righteousness of Christ to those who believe in Him (Isaiah 1:18; 61:10; Philippians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

One further evidence that these elders represent the redeemed church is the fact that they had crowns of gold on their heads. As considered before, victorious Christians are to receive various crowns for their faithful relationship and service to the Lord (See the notes about crowns in Chapter 2, verse 10). These crowns will be placed at the foot of the Lord's throne (Revelation 4:10), as a proof of our love and gratitude to Him.

Readers may wonder where Jesus is in this heavenly throne-room. We will see Him in the next chapter symbolized by the lamb who is worthy to open the scroll that describes the future. But we have also learned from our study of Revelation 3:21 that He sits with the Father on the His throne.

Next: Revelation 4:5-6b


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