Rev. 5:11 – Then I looked, and heard the voice of many angels around the throne, and also of the living creatures, and of the elders. Their number was countless thousands, plus thousands of thousand. 12They said with a loud voice: The Lamb who was slaughtered is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing! (HCSB).
In verses 9-10 we hear the song of the church, a song of redemption through the blood of the Lamb. Now, in verses 11-12, angels join in with the elders and the living creatures to proclaim the worthiness of the Lamb to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and blessing – seven possessions the Messiah most certainly had in His pre-incarnate life, all set aside and risked as the eternal Son of God became man. But because He is victorious on the cross and over the grave, He is worthy to redeem a sinful and lost human race and reclaim what is rightfully His – the former trappings of a great and righteous king.
Many angels around the throne
We don’t know how many angels there are, but John tells us there are “countless thousands,” or “myriads of myriads” as the Greek puts it. One commentary translates it “hundreds of millions.” In any case, there is an innumerable host of holy angels around the throne. And while angels do not experience personal redemption – the holy angels have no need of it and the demons are not offered it – they rejoice with the church in Christ’s work on behalf of sinful people.
The phrase “countless thousands” seems to be a reference to Dan. 7:9-10 in which Daniel is given a glimpse into heaven’s throne room: “As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of His head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from His presence. Thousands upon thousands served Him; ten thousand time ten thousand stood before Him. The court was convened, and the books were opened.”
While angels go obediently out of heaven’s throne room to fulfill God’s commands to protect, rescue and visit people, and even to battle demons in the unseen realm, they are most at home in the immediate presence of the Creator, joining with the saints around the throne in voicing praises to the Lamb who is worthy.
One interesting side note: John records that while the elders “sang” (Gr. adousin), the angels “said” (Gr. legontes). Some commentators argue that angels are never recorded singing in the Bible; this is a pleasure reserved for people. Whether that’s true is hard to know with certainty. Even if angels don’t sing in scripture, that doesn’t mean they never raise their voices in melodious praise.
Next: The Lamb is worthy (Rev. 5:12)
Rev. 5:8 – When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth (HCSB).
Once Jesus steps forward to take the scroll from the right hand of the Father, the four living creatures and the 24 elders respond immediately. As they had previously fallen down before God’s throne, they now prostrate themselves before the Lamb in worship, a clear acknowledgement of His deity. For the first time in Revelation, they are seen with harps and incense-filled golden bowls, which are the prayers of the saints. And, for the first time, they join voices in song – not just a familiar hymn, but a “new song” declaring the worthiness of the slaughtered Lamb who has redeemed people around the globe and made them kings and priests.
Let’s look more closely at the harps, the gold bowls and the song.
Verse 5 tells us that from God’s throne come “flashes of lightning, rumblings, and thunder.” These display the terrifying splendor of God’s glory and point us back to the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:16). Matthew Henry comments on the sights and sounds proceeding from the throne: “Thus he gave forth the law on mount Sinai; and the gospel has not less glory and authority than the law, though it be of a more spiritual nature” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Re 4:1–8).
Thunder is a recurring sound throughout Revelation. One of the four living creatures speaks with a voice like thunder when the Lamb opens the first seal (6:1). There are thunders, rumblings, lightning and an earthquake when an angel takes the incense burner, fills it with fire from the heavenly altar, and hurls it to the earth (8:5). When the Ark of the Covenant appears in the sanctuary in heaven there is lightning accompanied by rumblings, thunder, an earthquake, and severe hail (11:19). In Rev. 14:2 John hears a sound from heaven like cascading waters and the rumbling of loud thunder. When the seventh bowl is poured out, there are lightning, rumblings and thunder (16:18). And when the marriage of the Lamb is announced John hears something like the voice of a vast multitude, like cascading waters, and like the rumbling of loud thunder (19:6).
Warren Wiersbe observes, “These ‘storm signals’ [from Rev. 4:5] will be repeated during the time of judgment, always proceeding from the throne and temple of God. God has indeed prepared His throne for judgment (Ps. 9:7; note also 77:18). Our world does not like to think of God as a God of judgment. They prefer to look at the rainbow around the throne and ignore the lightning and thunder out of the throne. He certainly is a God of grace, but His grace reigns through righteousness (Rom. 5:21). This was made clear at the cross where God manifested both His love for sinners and His wrath against sin” (Re 4:1).
After the thunder, John notes, “Burning before the throne were seven fiery torches, which are the seven spirits of God” (v. 5). The phrase “seven spirits” ties back to Rev. 1:4 and to Rev. 3:1, where Jesus describes Himself as “[t]he One who has the seven spirits of God.” While some Bible commentators say the seven spirits are angels and others argue that they represent the seven churches of Asia Minor, it seems best to understand these fiery torches as the Holy Spirit, who at times in scripture is associated with fire and judgment.
For example, in Isa. 4:4 the citizens of Judah are told that all who remain there will be called holy “when the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the blood-guilt from the heart of Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of burning.” This is followed by the promise, “Then the Lord will create a cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night over the entire site of Mount Zion and over its assemblies” (v. 5). In Matt. 3:11 John the Baptist declares, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to take off His sandals. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Picking up on that prophecy, Jesus tells His followers after His resurrection, “This [the Father’s promise] is what you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4b-5).
The phrases “seven spirits” (or seven-fold Spirit) and “seven fiery torches” contain the number seven, which depicts fullness or completeness and is the number of God. The Spirit’s location before the throne of God illustrates His close relationship with the Father and the Son (who appears before the throne in chapter 5). It also may demonstrate His readiness to be sent out from the throne – to empower and equip the Lord’s servants for ministry. Since Yahweh appears in flames in the Old Testament (in a burning bush and a pillar of fire in the Old Testament, for example), and since Jesus appears with fiery eyes and feet like heated bronze (in Rev. 1), it should not surprise us that the Holy Spirit shares in the flaming qualities of holiness and judgment. One final thought: the seven fiery torches correspond to the seven-branch candlestick in the holy of holies, a further indication John sees a manifestation of the Holy Spirit before the throne in heaven.
John then records that “before the throne was something like a sea of glass, similar to crystal” (v. 6a). This may correspond to the brass vessel before the sanctuary, where the priests washed in preparation for service. The sea of glass also appears in prophetic visions of God’s throne room. For example, in Exodus 24, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and 70 of Israel’s elders see “something like a pavement made of sapphire stone, as clear as the sky itself” beneath God’s feet. Ezekiel sees “[T]he shape of an expanse, with a gleam like awe-inspiring crystal” spread out over the heads of the living creatures (Ezek. 1:22). And later in Revelation John sees “something like a sea of glass mixed with fire” in heaven (Rev. 15:2).
But what is this sea? Consider this note in the ESV Study Bible: “It is the ‘floor’ of heaven and the ‘ceiling’ of the created universe, and its transparent tranquility shows heaven’s peace in contrast to earthly turmoil” (Rev. 4:6-8). Matthew Henry adds this thought: “As in the temple there was a great vessel of brass filled with water, in which the priests were to wash when they went to minister before the Lord (and this was called a sea), so in the gospel church the sea or laver for purification is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, who cleanses from all sin, even from sanctuary-sins. In this all those must be washed that are admitted into the gracious presence of God on earth or his glorious presence in heaven” (Re 4:1-8). The sea of glass appears to be the only thing not active in the throne room, where lighting flashes, thunder booms, living creatures proclaim the holiness of God, and 24 elders fall down in worship. Perhaps in one sense the sea of glass represents the tranquility that comes from God’s work and His creature’s worship. For the one whose mind is fixed on the Creator, there is “perfect peace” (Isa. 26:3).
Next: Living creatures
Rev. 4:4 – Around that throne were 24 thrones, and on the thrones sat 24 elders dressed in white clothes, with gold crowns on their heads.
Around the throne in heaven John sees 24 thrones upon which are seated 24 elders wearing white clothes and gold crowns. There has been a great deal of speculation about the identity of the elders. The two major views are that they represent the church raptured prior to this time and rewarded in heaven, or that they are angels given great responsibility. Likely, these are not angels because angels are never numbered in scripture – although they are described as “myriads” in Heb. 12:22 – nor are they enthroned or given crowns. And there’s no evidence in scripture that angels receive rewards. In addition, the elders wear human garments that suggest endurance and victory. Therefore, it seems reasonable that they represent the redeemed of God – Old and New Testament saints.
That they are seated denotes honor, rest and satisfaction. That they are near the throne of God signifies intimacy with the Creator. Their robes represent the righteousness of the saints – the imputed righteousness of Christ as well as their righteous deeds. Their crowns depict authority and victory, and the fact that they so eagerly cast their crowns before the throne of God illustrates their clear understanding that the One seated on the throne has given them their righteousness and granted them their lofty position. These crowns are stephanos, similar to those given to victors in Greek games, not diadema, or crowns of sovereign rulers, suggesting the elders have been judged and rewarded.
The ESV Study Bible summarizes well the identity of the elders: “Their number may reflect the orders of priests serving in the OT temple (cf. 1 Chron. 24:7–19) but more likely they symbolize the unity of God’s people, encompassing OT Israel (led by the heads of the 12 tribes) and the NT church (led by the 12 apostles), like the new Jerusalem’s 12 gates and 12 foundations (Rev. 21:12, 14). Their thrones resemble those of God’s heavenly court in Dan. 7:9–10 (cf. Rev. 20:4).”
Notice how the elders relate to the four living creatures. John says, in verses 9-10, that whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the One seated on the throne, the 24 elders fall down before Him, cast their crowns before the throne, and praise Him:
Our Lord and God,
You are worthy to receive
Glory and honor and power,
Because You have created all things,
And because of Your will
They exist and were created.
The Book of Revelation is filled with hymns of praise, and many times it is the elders – sometimes with the four living creatures or the angels – leading in worship. For example:
- In Rev. 5:9-12 the four living creatures and 24 elders sing a new song, praising the worthiness of Jesus, while “countless” angels declare the worthiness of the Lamb.
- In Rev. 7:11-12 all the angels, the elders and the four living creatures fall on their faces before the throne and worship God.
- In Rev. 11:16-18 the 24 elders fall on their faces once again and worship God.
- In Rev. 19:4 the 24 elders and the four living creatures fall down and worship God, saying, “Amen! Hallelujah!”
Warren Wiersbe writes, “The theme of this hymn (Rev. 4:11) is God the Creator, while in Revelation 5 the elders praise God the Redeemer. The praise in Revelation 4 is given to the Father on the throne, while in Revelation 5 it is directed to the Son (the Lamb) before the throne. The closing hymn (Rev. 5:13) is expressed to both, another proof of the deity of Jesus Christ” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Re 4:1).
If the elders represent Israel and the church, are they actually the patriarchs and the apostles (presumably Paul in the place of Judas Iscariot)? Are they others chosen to represent the redeemed of God throughout the ages? Or are they merely symbols? We don’t know. The elders are never named. And in heaven the emphasis is on the One seated on the throne, on the Lamb of God, and on the seven-fold Spirit before the throne. Perhaps our focus should be less on the identity of these elders than on what they are telling us: that the One seated on the throne is worthy to receive glory and honor and power, because He has created all things, and because of His will they exist and were created.
Next: Flashes from the throne (Rev. 4:5)
Rev. 4:4 – Around that throne were 24 thrones, and on the thrones sat 24 elders dressed in white clothes, with gold crowns on their heads. 5From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings, and thunder. Burning before the throne were seven fiery torches, which are the seven spirits of God. 6Also before the throne was something like a sea of glass, similar to crystal. In the middle and around the throne were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back. 7The first living creature was like a lion; the second living creature was like a calf; the third living creature had a face like a man; and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8Each of the four living creatures had six wings; they were covered with eyes around and inside. Day and night they never stop, saying:
Lord God, the Almighty,
who was, who is, and who is coming.
9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the One seated on the throne, the One who lives forever and ever, 10 the 24 elders fall down before the One seated on the throne, worship the One who lives forever and ever, cast their crowns before the throne, and say:
11 Our Lord and God,
You are worthy to receive
glory and honor and power,
because You have created all things,
and because of Your will
they exist and were created (HCSB).
An overview of Rev. 4:4-11
These verses introduce us to some fascinating beings: 24 elders, the seven spirits of God, and four living creatures. Who are they? And what is the significance, if any, to their numbers? No doubt they are important beings, for they inhabit the throne room of heaven and are busy with their unique ministries. Bible students over the years have differed widely in their views about these heavenly occupants.
For example, some see the 24 elders as representing the church; others, the first 24 ancestors of Christ, from Adam to Pharez; still others, celestial representatives of all the redeemed. Some interpret the elders as angelic representatives of the 24 priestly and 24 Levitical orders, or the 12 patriarchs and 12 apostles.
There also is diversity in scholars’ views of the seven spirits of God. Some see these as angels, while others argue these are the seven churches of Asia Minor (chapters 2-3) now taken up into heaven. Most, however, see the seven spirits as the seven-fold Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit.
And what of the four living creatures? Some commentators argue that they represent the whole of creation, or the ministers of the gospel, or angels, archangels, cherubim or seraphim. Others say these heavenly beings symbolize the attributes or qualities of God. One writer compares the four faces with the middle signs in the four quarters of the zodiac, namely Leo (the lion), Taurus (the bull or calf), Aquarius (the man), and Scorpio (the eagle). Not that this scholar embraces astrology; rather, he argues that as the heavens declare the glory of God, so do these creatures (Ps. 19:1).
Next: 24 thrones, 24 elders