The Worthy One…The Lamb of GOD
As we continue our study, we look at a heavenly scene that is difficult for us as earthbound mortals to imagine—yet, God chose to give us a glimpse. Chapter 4 of the Book of Revelation describes a scene that John the Revelator was given with Almighty GOD sitting on His throne. Then, in Chapter 5, we are introduced to the Lamb of God, the only One found to be worthy to open a Book which is sealed with seven seals. Before we begin to review the details of what John was shown, let’s take a look at the text of Chapter 4:
1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. 3 And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.
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. 5 And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. 6 Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8 The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”
9 Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: 11 “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” Revelation 4:1-11
The heavenly view we are given here has several important things to notice:
- A door is opened in heaven
- The first voice heard is a voice like a trumpet, saying:
- “Come up here and see…”
- John is going to be shown things which must come to pass in the future
The first three words of this passage, “After these things” comes from the Greek, “meta touta.” The translation literally refers to things which must come afterward, but after what? Is it after the Church Age? Is it simply “after the fulfillment of the things John has already been shown concerning the outline of the Age of the Church? I do believe it is referring to things that are to come after the Church Age, but not exclusively. It is often said that the Church is not mentioned again after the end of chapter 3 until chapter 19 when the Church returns to the earth with the Messiah. By stating this, this heavenly scene is chronologically placed at the end of the Church Age and at the beginning of the Day of the LORD…the Great Tribulation.
Having been a strong adherent of the true Church being removed from the planet before the wrath of God is poured out, I find the traditional understanding of this heavenly scene referring to the time when the Church is “raptured” into God’s presence. causes difficulties in fitting all of the events together in such a very short period of time. In this writing, I hope to explain why this is a problem and also what I believe is the scriptural solution.
Chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation are transitional chapters. The previous two chapters contain the the letters dictated by the Messiah to the seven churches that would not only be present in the first century but also represented throughout the Church Age. As I read chapters four and five, I see a heavenly scene that establishes some crucial facts that must be solidified in the mind of the reader in order to be able to make sense of some of the happenings to be described in the chapters afterward.
As we look at verses 2-5 of Revelation 4, we should be reminded of what the prophet Isaiah saw in the Old Testament. What was it that Isaiah saw?
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above it stood Seraphim; each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” 4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. Isaiah 6:1-4
Although Isaiah offered some additional details in his description of God’s throne room, it was the same basic scene the Apostle John was shown. When I see the Throne in verse two, I am reminded that this throne is occupied. God is not dead and He is not on a vacation. He has not left the world on its own while He runs the rest of the universe—although Satan is temporarily the usurper god of this world. True believers and followers of Jesus Christ serve a God who truly is in control of all things and, as His plan unfolds, all things will be be made new. He is all powerful. It has been said that the only things that limit God are His own promises. There are those who think that God does not see all and is not really in control of all things, but they are sadly mistaken and soon there will be no one that will deny who He really is—whether they accept His provision for an eternity in His Kingdom or not.
In verse 3 we are told that the Almighty resembled a jasper and sardine stone. That is a fascinating fact in that the Old Testament Jewish high priests had twelve gems in their breastplate, with these two stones being the first and last of the twelve. We also are given a description of a rainbow around the throne, resembling a great emerald. What John was privileged to see in this scene was the absolute epicenter of everything that exists…Almighty GOD in place on His throne!
In verse four, we are introduced to twenty-four elders who are sitting on twenty-four thrones. John saw them wearing white robes and carrying gold crowns on their heads. Later in verse nine they are found worshipping the Almighty on the throne, declaring Him worthy to receive glory, honor, and power due Him because all things exist through Him. There has always been some question as to the identity of these elders. Theologians over the centuries have given them a number of identities, either angelic, or human–whether Old Testament saints, the redeemed from this age, or a combination of both. Arguments in favor of these twenty-four being human as opposed to angelic, refer to their white robes, the crowns on their heads, and the fact that they are singing worship to the One on the throne.
My contention is that the “proofs” offered to show that these are human redeemed men are not sufficient to confirm the fact. For example: The white robes, although often used as a symbol of righteousness, as with the white robes worn by saints who have come out of the great tribulation in Revelation 7—robes which had been stained but now washed and made spotless and clean by the Blood of the Lamb—are not exclusively worn by the redeemed. A Biblical example of this is the two “men” who were present at the ascension of Jesus back to Heaven. These “men” were angels and the context makes it abundantly clear. Then, we have the angel who, on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection, rolled back the great stone from the mouth of the tomb where Jesus had been laid. He was also dressed in brilliant white clothing. We have additional prophecies in the Book of Revelation describing the last of the plagues poured down upon the earth. These plagues will be delivered by angels—once again—in white raiment. And, there are other examples. This goes a long way to proving that it is not exclusively redeemed men who wear white robes or white raiment.
We are also offered the fact that the crowns worn by the elders are “victor’s crowns.” This is because of the usage of the Greek word, “stephanos” in the text. This Greek word is actually used quite a number of times in the Scriptures in a variety of ways, most often as a symbol of authority, royalty, or exalted rank, although included in the usage of the word is a descriptor of a victor’s crown. Again, not exclusively a “proof” of the twenty-four elders being a representation of human victors, Old Testament, New Testament, or both.
The song of praise, adoration, and worship being sung by the twenty-four elders is also not a proof that these are redeemed men. This song recorded in Chapter 4 glorifies God for His greatness in the creation of all things and because it was through His will and His power that they were created, and it is with and by His continued sovereignty that they exist. This song and the reason for it existed long before the Church ever came into existence; in fact, the reason for this song existed long before mankind was created. The angels exalted Almighty God in the long eons of time before Adam walked the earth.
The reason that I am going into some detail on the subject of the identity of the twenty-four elders is because I believe there is sufficient evidence that this very unique scene in Revelation 4-5 has possibly been mistaught as unfolding just prior to the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week—the seven year Great Tribulation. I suggest that this scene actually happened right after the death of Jesus on the cross. The timing of Revelation 4 and 5 has much to do with the proper understanding of how other events unfold, past and future. Accuracy of understanding is what we are looking for and sometimes that takes a great deal of searching—and sometimes even being willing to take another look at traditional theological explanations of the past in order to confirm whether they are truly accurate. This can be an uncomfortable process but it would be wrong of us to claim that the biblical writers read and understood the text the same way you and I do in our modern world. We are also often guilty of conforming to theological assumptions or theories written centuries after the original texts were written. Our context was not their context. It becomes necessary at times to shed the filters of our traditions and presumptions if we are to see the Bible through the eyes of the ancients authors who penned it. Rather than processing what we read in the Scriptures through our mixture of creeds, denominational preferences and modern rationalization, we need to get some idea of the supernatural worldview of the biblical writers.
One of the mistakes made is that we assume that the word “elders” means the same as it does in our church world today. We are going to take a look at some of the passages in our Bible that give us a glimpse of an entourage or “family” that God has positioned around Himself. I believe it will become quite clear that these twenty-four who sit on thrones in God’s throne room cannot be representatives of the soon-to-be raptured Church.
The first passage that we will look at is found in the 38th chapter of the Old Testament Book of Job. In this passage we find a discussion between God and his servant Job.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, 7 when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Job 38:4-7
Who were these “sons of God”? This scripture tells us that they were present when God laid the foundations of the earth. They can’t possibly be humans because God is describing a scene to his servant Job which was long before Adam was created. We will see that they were probably not even angels.
One of the difficulties we have as modern man is that we look at most everything through the lens of 20th to 21st century life on this earth. We know very little about the unseen world around us, yet, we know it exists because the Bible makes numerous references to it. The unseen world has a hierarchy, something that we can notice by the difference in terms like angel and archangel. A “hierarchy” is a difficult concept for us to discern or even accept. An Israelite however is accustomed to viewing the unseen world like a dynastic household because the ancient Hebrew texts used certain terms to describe this hierarchy. In the ancient Semitic world, sons of God (Hebrew: beney elohim) is a phrase used to identify divine beings with higher-level responsibilities or jurisdictions. The term angel (Hebrew: mal’ak) describes an important but still lesser task: delivering messages.
In Job 38, the sons of God are referred to as “morning stars.” The ancients believed that divine beings lived far away from humans, in remote places where human habitation was not possible. In their eyes, this was in the heavens. The stars we see over the horizon in the sky just before the sun comes up in the morning are the morning stars. To us, they are a sign of new life—a new day. This label conveys the right thought. The original morning stars, the sons of God, saw the beginning of life as we know it—the creation of earth.
This shows us that right from the very start, God is accompanied by other divine beings…the sons of God. Most theological teachings and discussions leave out the members of the heavenly host. This is unfortunate, because God and the sons of God, “the divine family”, are an integral part of the greater story of creation and eternity. The realization of this opens several thoughts for us to consider.
First, we know that these beings spoken of are not human. The sons of God witnessed creation long before there were any people. They are intelligent non-human beings. Because scripture refers to them as “stars” also makes it clear to us that they are divine. While it may seem that using the descriptor “stars” is a metaphor, it is much more than that. These sons of God are real, divine entities created by Yahweh, the God of Israel.
Second, it is noteworthy that the label “sons” is used. This is a family term that is not by accident, nor is it without consequence. God has a “family”, unseen to us. The fact that we are not able to see them does not mean they do not exist. Humans are able to see very little in the scope of total reality. We are very limited in our knowledge and in what we are able to see. God has created a host of nonhuman divine beings whose domain is (to the human eye) an unseen realm. And, because He created them, He claims them as His sons, not much different than how we claim our own children as sons and daughters because we had something to do with their coming to existence. They are our family.
Whatever the entirety of God’s universe or universes consists of, He has chosen to have administrators over it. Does God need help? No. Does He need a council to give Him advice? No. He has however chosen to rule His entire creation with the help of specially created divine beings, often referred to as His council. One of the clearest passages of scripture describing this administrative structure existing in the heavenly realm, is found in Psalm 82. This psalm speaks of Yahweh’s administration as a council. Let’s look at verse one:
God (elohim) stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods (elohim).
Twice within this one verse we have the word “elohim” used in the original text. Most of us will recognize that “elohim” is one of the names used for God. In Hebrew, elohim can be either singular or plural in its usage, even though the word is plural in its form. Most often (over 2,000 times) in the Hebrew Bible it is singular, referring to the God of Israel.
Psalm 82:1 is especially interesting since elohim appears twice in this one verse. The first usage of elohim is singular and the second usage is plural. The verse tells us that the singular elohim of Israel presides over an assembly of elohim.
A quick reading of this psalm indicates that God has called this council meeting in order to judge the elohim for bringing corruption into their rule over the nations. Verse six of the psalm declares that these elohim are sons of God. God says to them:
“I said, ‘You are gods.’ And all of you are children of the Most High.”
To any biblical writer, the Most High (elyon) was referring to the God of Israel. There are many passages in the Old Testament in which He is referred to as, Most High. (Genesis 14:18-22; Numbers 24:16; Psalm 7:17; Psalm 18:13; Psalm 47:2). The Most High refers to these sons of God as elohim and they are clearly under the authority of the God of Israel.
To some, this will sound like a pantheon—something we associate with polytheism and mythology. It is for this reason many English translations hide the Hebrew in this verse. For instance, the New American Standard Bible translates it as: “God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers.”
It should not be necessary to camouflage what the Hebrew text says. The biblical writers were not polytheists. But, since Psalm 82 is the source of many questions and seems to create a controversy, we will look into it a bit further by bringing in a few more passages that provide us information about the divine council. One fact becomes very clear; they cannot be human.
Psalm 89 is another passage in which we find reference to the divine council. We find these words written by a man named Ethan, the Ezrahite:
5 And the heavens will praise Your wonders, O LORD; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the saints. 6 For who in the heavens can be compared to the LORD? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened to the LORD? 7 God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those around Him. Psalm 89:5-7
In another version, called the “Lexam English Bible” the same passage is worded like this:
5 And so the heavens will praise your wonderful deeds, O Yahweh, even your faithfulness, in the assembly of the holy ones. 6 For who in the sky is equal to Yahweh? 7 Who is like Yahweh among the sons of God, a God feared greatly in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all surrounding him?
There is no missing the fact that this divine council is an assembly in the heavens, not on earth. We wouldn’t expect any different if we understand that the elohim are divine beings. To see these beings as humans of any kind, Jews or Gentile, brings confusion to the picture. We have no scriptural references to a council of human beings serving Yahweh in the skies. What we find in Psalm 82, Psalm 89, and Job 38, are references to the same entities—a group of heavenly sons of God, a group of beings, the elohim.
Early in the Book of Job, we have additional references to this same group of “sons of God.”
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD and Satan also came among them. Job 1:6
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD. Job 2:1
Both of these passages are describing a meeting of God / Yahweh and His special council, that He calls the sons of God / elohim. A reading of the context of the early chapters of Job tells us that the discussion matter of the elohim, specifically Yahweh and his great adversary, Satan, is the man Job. It would be nonsensical to say that God’s discussion was with any human council at this time, not even a Jewish religious council. These are non-human beings summoned into God’s presence.
To Be Continued in Part 12