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