Four and Twenty Elders
Vol: 88 Issue: 24 Saturday, January 24, 2009
It was the Lord Himself that outlined the Book of His Revelation in three distinct parts; “that which thou [John] hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.” (Revelation 1:19)
The Apostle John had just recorded the messages to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor as given by Jesus when John was suddenly whisked in his vision from his cave on Patmos to a scene in heaven.
The Book is therefore divided thusly:
Revelation 1:1-20 – “the things which John hast seen” — the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ in Glory.
Revelation 2:1 – the things which are. “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write”, through to Revelation 3:22 — ” . . . let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”;
And finally, “the things which shall be hereafter”
This final division is the longest, since it covers the period from the Tribulation to eternity future. But let’s examine them in order.
The first two parts of the outline are essentially undisputed by scholars — for obvious reasons. The second outline concludes after the Churches have been addressed and evaluated and promises are made to “him that overcometh”:
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne.” (Revelation 3:21)
Let’s examine ‘him that overcometh” in context. Back up one verse with me — it would seem that “he that overcometh” is he that opens the door to the Lord and invites Him in to ‘sup with him and he with Me.”
No mention of overcoming persecution or hardship or trouble or tribulation here. The counsel is offered to those that the Lord says specifically that He loves, but “rebukes and chastens” to “be zealous therefore, and repent.”
So in context, those among the churches (His Bride) that are zealous and repent and invite Him in for fellowship, Jesus calls ‘overcomers’. But Jesus says that they are those ‘who overcame even as I overcame.’
Some argue this means that overcomers are those who suffer the Tribulation Period or those who refuse to take the Mark.
The problem with this view is that the Lord is still addressing those of the present tense second outline — “the things which are.” The Tribulation,” which must be hereafter,” hasn’t started yet.
Let’s connect the dots so far. The Lord overcame by dying and being resurrected. John is being addressed by the resurrected Jesus in His resurrection Body. And Paul says that we shall also receive a resurrection body just like it.
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. ”
There is a future event — the Rapture of the Church, which Paul describes this way. First, the dead in Christ are resurrected, then we who are alive and remain are immediately translated into our resurrection bodies, “and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
That is the only sense in which we human beings could EVER be said to have overcome even as Jesus overcame. Jesus never sinned. (I did and do) He paid the penalty for sin on my behalf at the Cross, (I cannot) then was resurrected and bodily ascended into heaven signifying the conquest of sin and death.
To argue that I must suffer as He did in order be an overcomer during the Church Age is to turn the doctrine of soteriology (salvation) on its head.
So the only similitude that logically fits the “overcomers” metaphor is that of the Lord’s bodily resurrection and ascension, and the Rapture’s bodily resurrection and ascension.
Finally, the angels present at the Lord’s ascension confirm that; “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.”
How was that? Quietly, and without fanfare, and witnessed only by the Apostles who represented the embryonic Church.
It makes no contextual sense to read ‘overcomers’ as those who come out of the Tribulation.
Chapter Three concludes with Jesus walking among the golden lampstands of the Church on the earth. At the beginning of Chapter four, a great thing has just transpired.
The third division of the outline of Revelation — that which must be hereafter — begins when John’s perspective shifts from that of the earthbound churches to that of heaven.
“After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.”
“Hereafter what?” can only have one logical answer. Hereafter is when the overcomers of the Church Age are taken up to heaven with Jesus in like manner as the Apostles had seen Him go.
“Hereafter” begins at the Throne Room of God:
“And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. 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.” (Revelation 4:2-4)
Who are these four and twenty elders? Let’s establish who they are not, first. They are not spirits. Spirits don’t sit. Spirits don’t wear clothes. Spirits don’t wear crowns.
They are not angels. “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders:” (Revelation 5:11)
Nowhere in Scripture are angels numbered specifically. Cherubim (living ‘beasts’) are numbered (there are four) but angels are ‘a multitude’ or an ‘innumerable company’ but never twenty-four. Angels don’t wear crowns. They don’t wear clothes and they NEVER sit in the presence of God.
“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;” (Revelation 5:9)
The twenty-four elders are the Blood-bought redeemed of mankind — the representatives of the saints of God. They number twenty-four, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, and one for each of the Twelve Apostles.
Together, they make up the redeemed society of mankind through the ages.
All twenty-four of them are seated before God’s Throne before even the FIRST of the seals has been broken. The twenty-four elders are in their places as they watch those who come out of great tribulation, their robes washed in the Blood of the Lamb, the Tribulation Saints martyred for their witness of Christ.
The outline of Revelation remains constant from the moment John arrives at heaven’s open door until it concludes in eternity future.
John’s perspective is that of heaven, where he is already in the company of the twenty-four elders when the very first seal is broken, bringing down the first of twenty-one judgments upon a sinful, Christ-rejecting world.
There is a clear division between that which is and that which shall be hereafter and the primary difference is that of perspective.
When talking about the Church, John is with Jesus is on earth, among the lampstands.
When speaking of the Tribulation judgments, John is in Heaven with Jesus and the twenty-four elders who are not spirits, not angels, but rather the redeemed of God, who wear crowns, clothes and sit in His Presence. They are already there and seated when the first of the seals are broken.
They are already there and seated long before the first of the Tribulation saints start to show up after the 144,000 Jewish evangelists are sealed and indwelt by Holy Spirit.
No matter how one slices and dices it, the twenty-four elders are in heaven with John long before the first Tribulation saints begin to arrive. And so is the Church.
“. . . and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.” (1st Thessalonians 4:17-18)