3: The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow.
4: Twenty-four thrones surrounded him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads.
5: From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. And in front of the throne were seven torches with burning flames. This is the sevenfold Spirit of God. 6a: In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal.
6b: In the centre and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out.Revelation 4:3-8
As Ross asked in the Comments on Gem 2223:
- Who are the 24 Elders?
- What do they represent?
- Why 24?
- Is that all who were good enough?
Add to that more questions:
- Why are the 24 Elders before the 4 Living Beings in the list?
- Aren’t the Elders subordinate to the four Living Beings? Shouldn’t the list be in reverse order?
- Four Living Beings
- Twenty-Four Elders
Some commentators think verse 4 (Rev 4:4) is a later addition. Many commentators think this verse presents a great difficulty. If you think that, wait until you come to the 4 Living Beings / Creatures / Beasts. If the 24 Elders are problematic, then the 4 Living Beings are more so. Together these visions give us a Confusing Combo which requires unpacking. Notice how I arranged these verses in the above quote, with verses 3, then 5 with 6a positioned as introductory verses for what follows. It strikes me that verses 3 and 5+6a are used to set the scene introducing the Elders and the Living Beings respectively. More on that later. For the moment let’s unpack the first of these visions beginning with
The 24 Elders
The debate over the role of the Elders concerns whether they are heavenly beings, a superior order of angels or human representatives of the people of God. If they are human representatives of the people of God, then the most natural assumption is that they symbolize the Messianic people of both Testimental periods of time: Old and New Testament. if that is the case the symbolism must surely stem from the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. That then answers the question as to why twenty-four? The earliest possible Old Testament source for the ‘twenty-four’.
Shemaiah son of Nethanel, a Levite, acted as secretary and wrote down the names and assignments in the presence of the king, the officials, Zadok the priest, Ahimelech son of Abiathar, and the family leaders of the priests and Levites. The descendants of Eleazar and Ithamar took turns casting lots. The first lot fell to Jehoiarib. The second lot fell to Jedaiah. The third lot fell to Harim. The fourth lot fell to Seorim. The fifth lot fell to Malkijah. The sixth lot fell to Mijamin. The seventh lot fell to Hakkoz. The eighth lot fell to Abijah. The ninth lot fell to Jeshua. The tenth lot fell to Shecaniah. The eleventh lot fell to Eliashib. The twelfth lot fell to Jakim. The thirteenth lot fell to Huppah. The fourteenth lot fell to Jeshebeab. The fifteenth lot fell to Bilgah. The sixteenth lot fell to Immer. The seventeenth lot fell to Hezir. The eighteenth lot fell to Happizzez. The nineteenth lot fell to Pethahiah. The twentieth lot fell to Jehezkel. The twenty-first lot fell to Jakin. The twenty-second lot fell to Gamul. The twenty-third lot fell to Delaiah. The twenty-fourth lot fell to Maaziah.
Each group carried out its appointed duties in the house of the LORD according to the procedures established by their ancestor Aaron in obedience to the commands of the LORD, the God of Israel.1 Chronicles 24:6-19
The word used in the text of Revelation 4:4 is [πρεσβύτερος] presbyteros which refers to an elder or senior person advanced in years. It can even have the sense of the ‘ancients’, ‘ancestors’, for ‘forefathers’. It is an appellation of dignity or a dignitary. It’s a Greek term used even for a member of the Jewish Sanhedrim or an elder or presbyter of the Christian church. We may not fully understand the symbolism but the quote above clearly points to the 24 divisions of the Aaronic priesthood. In Revelation these elders have high status and authority. They sit in God’s presence and are clothed in white with gold crowns on their heads. This relates to their purity and holiness which seems to clearly combine the role of kings and priests.
The question some have posed is whether these 24 Elders mentioned in Revelation are part of God’s Privy Council and whether this group of Elders and Living Beings include angelic beings as part of this so-called Privy Council? I don’t go along with that thinking. The verses that come immediately to mind are:
For who can know the LORD’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.Romans 11:34-36
I think this statement of Paul’s fits well in the context of Revelation. Let me also clarify this with two more witnesses connected with this dilemma. Namely John and one of the Elders in question. Surely one of these two are able to give us a definitive answer.
Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.Revelation 7:13-14
I conclude John himself didn’t know and the Elder questioned makes it clear these elders are certainly not angelic beings. Rather they are human beings, ‘the ones who died in the great tribulation’. But this answer appears to add another level of complexity, namely the fluid nature of time: past, present and future, in this letter, the Book of Revelation. I think it is more likely we should look at the verbal tenses in Revelation as being more akin to the use of the Hebrew Imperfect verb than chronological sequencing of events in a past, present and future sense. To say the least it is fluid. I will come back to this point later when we have unpacked the Four Living Beings. To make some sense of the Four Living Beings we will need all our wits about us so I won’t cloud the issue anymore than is necessary at this point. Besides I want to make it clear that my understanding is evolving as I tackle this rather daunting task and am certainly not coming at this from the point of view of having worked it all out. What mere human is worthy of that accolade?
I will hold any further comment until we have looked together at the ‘Four Living Beings’ or the ‘Four Living Creatures’ or the ‘Four Living Beasts’. Ah, you are getting the message. This is complicated. I personally favour the use of “Four Living Beings”.
Now is the time to come up with any questions you may have related to the second image.