A thread which begins in Genesis and carries through the entire Bible has to do with God’s intervention on behalf of the fallen human race through the blood sacrifice of the Messiah. The story line which begins in the very first chapter of the Holy Scriptures is continued to its completion in the very last chapter of the last book of these same Scriptures. The story of the fall of mankind is given to us in the very early chapters of Genesis, but God’s remedy is immediately promised. The fallen Lucifer, who deceived Eve to believe his poisonous lie, was informed that a plan of redemption was launched which would be fulfilled by an Almighty Redeemer, thereby, not only providing eternal salvation for the human race, but also crush the kingdom of the evil one. Our Creator put it in these words:
“…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel.” Genesis 3:15
Referring to eternal paradise and Jerusalem, the eternal capital city of God’s Kingdom, we find these words in the last chapter of the Bible:
3 …and there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve him. 4 They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. 5 There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:3-5
In the last two article installments, we briefly examined a few passages of Scripture that mention a unique group of entities which surround the throne of God. They are referred to with a variety of titles: “sons of God”, “elohim”, “holy ones”, “God’s council”, and “elders.” These special individuals occupy a very unique location in God’s throne room, along with the four living creatures which surround the throne of God.
As I think about the heavenly Temple, I am reminded of a passage in the letter to the Hebrews which needs to be brought into the discussion at this point. The writer, who I believe was the Apostle Paul, made this comment concerning our High Priest and Messiah:
1 Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. 4 For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; 5 who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” 6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. Hebrews 8:1-6
Although these six verses include many crucial points for consideration concerning the Old Covenant, the New Covenant, and the functions of the Jewish priesthood, the points I would like us to recognize in relation to this study are these:
- This High Priest (Jesus) is like none other, and He is presently at the right hand of Almighty God on His Throne
- The Old Testament tabernacle was not in the least man-designed, nor man-invented
- As all priests were given gifts and sacrifices to offer, so this One also had something to offer…but, not according to the Old Testament law, because Old Testament priests could only serve as a shadow of heavenly things. Moses was strictly instructed by God how the temple was to be built in intricate detail. It was to be an exact pattern of the heavenly Tabernacle / Temple.
- Jesus, the ultimate High Priest became the Mediator of a much more excellent covenant
This passage, among others, makes it very clear that, in the perfect sovereign plan of God, the ultimate Seed of David was to become a High Priest like none other. It also makes a point to contrast the old and new covenants, with Jesus the true Messiah becoming Mediator of the New. It also makes clear that this High Priest is now sitting at the right hand of the Father—the Majesty on High. The Old Testament Tabernacle is an exact shadow or duplicate of the heavenly Tabernacle / Temple in every detail. Why is this important? Let’s see if the passage below provides us a hint.
There is a fascinating passage in Isaiah 24 that refers to a group of “exalted ones.” What was it He said to them and who could they be? Let’s see what Isaiah was inspired to write:
21 It shall come to pass in that day that the LORD will punish on high the host of exalted ones and on the earth the kings of the earth. 22 They will be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and will be shut up in the prison; after many days they will be punished. 23 Then the moon will be disgraced and the sun ashamed; for the LORD of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His elders, gloriously. Isaiah 24: 21-23
Here we have a clear distinction being made between a host of “exalted ones” on high, and on earth, the kings of the earth. The exalted ones being referred to here are not human entities. They are supernatural. The kings of the earth however are obviously human beings. As is shown to us in a number of other Biblical passages, there are supernatural entities that serve in God’s council. What is disturbing to many is the fact that there are fallen ones who have made a choice to join the “dark side!” These are not the ones surrounding the throne, but they are—or at least were, part of a hierarchy within God’s creation. Isaiah makes it clear that Almighty GOD is going to bring them to judgment just as He is the human kings who have chosen to rebel against His sovereign rule. The timing for this of course is in God’s perfect time—not ours.
We have another interesting detail left for us to find that most do not see as they read through this passage. This is the same Courtroom, same Throne Room scene—in intricate detail—that several Old Testament prophets had visions of—as did the Apostle John when he was given the visions of the Apocalypse which he was then told to put into writing. The Old Testament prophets described the very same Throne Room scene we now find in John’s description in chapters four and five in the Book of Revelation. What did John see? He saw the same Throne Room; the same four living creatures; and the same thrones surrounding God’s Throne, seating the “elders”.
Who are these “elders”? They are “senior officials” of God’s divine court. When Yahweh decrees judgment on His enemies, the members of the heavenly host report for duty…” See what David the psalmist had to say to these “senior officials:”
1 Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones, give unto the LORD glory and strength. 2 Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; worship the LORD in the beauty of–holiness. Psalm 29:1-2
Another passage brings light to the same:
20 Bless the LORD, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word. 21 Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, you ministers of his, who do His pleasure. 22 Bless the LORD, all His works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul! Psalm 103:20-22
Once again, we have a clear distinction being made between “entities”. We have angels, and we have God’s hosts. The hierarchy is once again made clear for us to see. The “messengers” (angels) are not to be confused with the “host.”
The identity of the “elders” in both Isaiah 24:23 and Revelation 4:4 and 10 is many times passed off as being human elders due to the reference to Zion and Jerusalem. The reference to Zion and Jerusalem many times in Scripture speaks to the temporal earthly Zion and Jerusalem as much as it does to the eternal state of both. In light of the fact that the “elders” obviously refer to a supernatural “host”, we must allow for the fact that a supernatural—”spiritual” scenario is being referred to in these passages. In Revelation 4, the purpose of the council meeting can be divided up into several important parts:
- Exaltation of the Lamb that was slain–Revelation 4:11; 5:11-12
- Celebration of the Lamb’s victory–Revelation 5:1-5
- Opening of the seals–Revelation 6
The divine council scene in Revelation 4-6 is where God’s final judgment on the earth begins—the very same judgment described in Isaiah 24:23. The final outcome of this judgment lines up with Daniel 7 where the son of man obtains everlasting dominion and shares it with the holy ones and the people of the holy ones loyal to Him and Yahweh. Revelation 4-6 has to do with the final conflict between Yahweh, His people, and the powers of evil. The Almighty will continue to be in total control of all things, and those who insist on rebelling against His sovereign rule will find themselves suffering the consequences of rejecting God’s free plan of salvation. How terribly sad!
As we go on in Revelation four, we find a scene of worship around the throne in the last few verses of the chapter:
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!” Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 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: “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 4:8-11
What we find here is very much like the scene in Isaiah 6. The song of worship is not lacking in its exaltation of the Almighty GOD on His throne. I find it interesting though, that nothing whatsoever is verbalized that refers to salvation that had been bought and paid for on the cross. There is also no sign of the Jesus within the verses of chapter four. For those who believe in the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church—as I do—many problems are caused by insisting that the 24 elders are part of the Church.
A legitimate question to ask is, “When was John taken to witness this throne room scene? Historically we know that John was already a very old man when he was confined on the isle of Patmos. Revelation was written somewhere between 86-96 AD. I believe that John was taken decades back in time, to just right after Jesus had been crucified, during the time when His body had been put in the tomb.
Wording in Scripture is always important. A phrase we find several times, but not always in the same order, had to do with Jesus being eternal. Scripture says several times, “…Who was, Who is, and Who is to come.” In another place Jesus said, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore…” When determining what the Bible is saying, if the same phrase is used multiple times, but in different order, the emphasis is always at the beginning of the phrase. The emphasis in verse 8 is on “was.” Why?
I believe the emphasis is on ”was” because John needed to be shown what “was” before he could ever be shown what “is” and also what was “yet” to come. John had lived perhaps sixty years or so after the crucifixion and resurrection without really knowing anything of what really transpired during the time when Jesus was in the grave. What has been provided for us in Revelation 4 is a whole chapter giving us the heavenly perspective of what it was like when Jesus Christ was in the grave. This is why the “was” is being emphasized in this passage.
During this scene, Jesus, the second Person of the Godhead, was not on the throne next to the Father. John was taken there prior to the resurrection of Christ, while His body was still in the grave. This is why John was weeping in chapter five. No one was present who was worthy to open the 7-sealed Book. But, that is when Jesus made His entrance into God’s Throne Room. Let’s read the account:
So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals. And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. Revelation 5:4-7
We find here that Jesus did not come into the Throne Room of God in all His glory but rather as a slain lamb. Throughout the entire Old Testament, sins could only be covered by the blood of a perfect slain animal, usually a lamb. God’s plan had been to provide one sacrifice that would not only cover sin, but eradicate sin entirely. This would cover sins in the past as well as forward in time until the end of the age—for anyone who accepted God’s free gift. This is why He appeared as a slain lamb. Once He appeared before the Father, He was able to take His place as the Messiah.
We find that there is always a clear distinction made between those in God’s Throne Room. God’s Throne was surrounded by the four living creatures, which in turn were circled about by the 24 elders sitting on their thrones. Then there are the innumerable multitudes outside of the inner circle. In Revelation 7, we find another scene where a very large multitude is before the throne of God crying out,
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 7:10-12
When John is approached and asked if he knew who these in the multitude were, he did not. The elder who had asked him then told him that this multitude had come out of great tribulation and had washed their robes, making them white in the blood of the Lamb. Again, a very clear distinction was made between the elders and the humans.
There is another scene in Revelation 14:1-5 where the 144,000 Jewish evangelists have been removed from the earth after their ministry during the first 3-1/2 years of the Great Tribulation have been completed. The third verse gives us these details:
They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders, and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousands, who were redeemed from the earth. Revelation 14:3
Again, there is a very clear distinction being made between the “elders” and the humans. They are described as “first fruits” to God and to the Lamb.
One of the problems for many of us is the use of the word “elder.” We immediately think of an office that someone holds in a church organization. This is not at all what is being referred to when the Bible gives this title to these entities. Remember how we described them earlier? They are “senior officials” in God’s Court. Are they angels? They could be but maybe not. They could be another type of entity that God has created for His own purposes. After all, God is the Almighty Creator and He can create whomever He chooses to. They are however not humans.
In ancient cultures, emperors ruled over lesser kings, and these kings laid their crowns at the emperor’s feet as a sign of submission. The emperor then gave the crowns to those he chose for leadership under his own supreme rule. The Bible does tell us that there is a time coming when we, the redeemed, will rule over angels as we rule and reign with Christ. The Apostle Paul put it in these words to the Corinthian Church: “Do you not know that we shall judge angels?” 1 Corinthians 6:3. Our own status as those who have chosen to love our Savior and Lord in this short life will find our whole status having changed when we enter eternity.
As we continue looking at the heavenly scene in Revelation 4 and 5, I am reminded that Solomon’s Temple duties included a priesthood that numbered 24. In light of the fact that God had very specific instructions for the Israelites to follow in the construction, layout, and staffing of the Temple by Levites; with their Temple duties and a priesthood of exactly 24 men; this is no coincidence. We find this detailed in 1 Chronicles 24:7-18. The Apostle Paul also confirmed God’s requirement of the intricate specifics of His earthly Tabernacle being fulfilled to the letter, details that God gave Moses on the mountain.
For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” Hebrews 8:4-5
I find it interesting that God had Moses write one chapter of the Bible giving the story of creation. The construction of the Tabernacle however took four chapters to detail. Amazing! This is because the earthly Tabernacle / Temple is, as the passage above tells us, a copy and shadow of the heavenly. What Moses saw, and what Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and other prophets saw, was the throne of God, the four living creatures, and the twenty four elders…the very same scene that the Apostle John saw in Revelation 4—including the same elders / council / elohim / sons of God / host of heaven, etc. They are one and the same!
Question: If Revelation 4:1 where it says: 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”, is a “picture” of the rapture of the Church, where is Jesus in the same chapter four? It is He who spoke to John with the voice like a trumpet! Instead of there being great joy, exaltation, and great celebration, there is grief and sadness! Why? Because the only One who is worthy to open the special 7-Sealed Book revealed in chapter five is not there!
Why is He not there? Because He had not yet ascended to the Father after the crucifixion. The Apostle John remembered this well because he had recorded in the Gospel of John a conversation between Jesus and Mary on resurrection morning:
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” John 20:17
Jesus had yet to present Himself to the Father as the sacrificial Lamb at the time He spoke with Mary. It was at this very time, as John was taken back in time to that date, that he was in God’s Throne Room where the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders were worshipping Him, but Jesus was not there yet.
We should also remember that when the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was dying, he saw Jesus at the right hand of the Father. In fact, he stood up to greet Stephen as he entered into his eternal reward and home. This event happened after Jesus had appeared as the Lamb of God, satisfying the requirement needed to pay for the sins of the entire world, and then taking His place at the right hand of the Father. This is where He is today, and will be until it is time to bring His Bride (the true Church) home with Him to His Father’s House. This explains what we find in the 110th psalm:
1 The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool. 2” The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies! Psalm 110:1-2
There are many passages in the Old Testament speaking to the fact that the Son of God; the Messiah; the second personage of the Triune God; the visible Yahweh, will rule the nations with a rod of iron, along with His faithful remnant Church—the Bride of Christ. The time of this kingdom being established is now very near! The last of the enemies of the Messiah on this earth will be dealt with in the Great Tribulation, the last seven years just prior to the Kingdom of God being set up on this planet.
As chapter four is looking backward in time, chapter five is focused on the scrolled seven-sealed book—a book of which not one single page can be opened until all seven seals are broken.
In verses 9 and 10, we find a “new” song being sung. It is not the same as the song of worship sung in the previous chapter. What is new about this song? It is “new” because it has to do with Redemption, the Redeemer, and the Redeemed. Just before the song is sung, the twenty-four elders took golden bowls full of incense, which were the prayers of the saints, and presented them. Question: Is it likely that twenty-four human elders offered the incense of prayers of the saints to God? I don’t think so. They were not human elders…The words of this song are:
“Worthy art Thou to take the book and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth”
After this we find that the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders, myriads of angels and an enormous crowd of the redeemed sing praise and worship to the One on the Throne and to the Lamb who was slain, saying:
12 “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!…13b Blessing and honor and glory and power be to him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Revelation 5:12, 13b
Verse 14 goes on to say:
Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the twenty-four elders fell down and worshipped him who lives forever and ever.
Continued in Part 14: where the seals of the scrolled book begin to be opened.