The very center point of human history is punctuated by one man whose life had a greater effect on the human race than anyone who has ever lived. Although Jesus Christ was not born exactly in the year -0-, nor did He die in that year, the timeline of history wraps around His life. The time before Christ is traditionally designated B.C., whereas the years since the life of Christ are designated A.D. A poem written by Dr. James Allan in 1926 speaks of the impact of Christ’s life for mankind in:
ONE SOLITARY LIFE
He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty
He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never traveled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but himself
He was only thirty three
His friends ran away
One of them denied him
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
The only property he had on earth
When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend
Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind’s progress
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever wailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life
We have to ask: Why??
If we were to consider the belief systems of most religions in the world, including some of what we in the West would consider ‘cult’ belief systems, we would find that one of the main common denominators showing up within most of them is their denial of the true identity of Jesus Christ. Some will allow that he was a great teacher, others a great prophet, still others an antagonist of social and religious inequities, thus a great social reformer. Yet, how is it that, even though he lived a short 33 years, dying nearly 2,000 years ago, he is still today the central figure of humanity? Could it be that he truly was not just a man, and as such should be referred to as ‘He’, instead of ‘he’?
If we were to peruse the New Testament, we would find teachings about the coming Kingdom of God laced throughout His parables. It was an important subject to Him, important to pass on to His listeners. This very theme was carried on throughout the New Testament by the Apostles in the epistles they wrote.
It is important at this point to mention that God had covenanted with King David in 2 Samuel 7, 1,000 years before Christ, that the Anointed One, the Messiah, would come through David’s lineage. The entire Old Testament centered on the theme of this Anointed One who would arrive at some time in Israel’s future. This is what God instructed the prophet Samuel to tell David:
12 “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” 2 Samuel 7:12-13
The Jewish scholars believed in God’s covenant with their great King David and watched year after year for the arrival of this great Messiah King. The prophet Daniel was also shown the coming of the Anointed One and His kingdom that would destroy all others and establish itself as an eternal kingdom. Other prophets including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah and many others were shown the coming Kingdom of God and the Anointed One—the Messiah, who would become the King of Kings.
When John the Baptist prepared the way by preaching of the coming King and His Kingdom, the groundwork was well laid. As Jesus continued John’s theme, preaching that the Kingdom of God was near, and when the people witnessed the miracles He did, some tried to force Him to become king. Jesus continued to speak of the soon to come Kingdom after his death and resurrection. We find these words written by the physician Luke in the first few verses of the Book of Acts:
1The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. Acts 1:1-3
Knowing the abundance of Old Testament Scriptures providing intricate details of the birth of the Messiah, His daily ministry, and the ultimate rejection He would experience resulting in His prophetically foretold suffering and gruesome death at the hands of the Romans, it is amazing that the religious leaders still refused to recognize Him for who He really was. The Scribes and Pharisees were blinded by their own jealousy of the success of Jesus’ ministry among the people. One obvious proof of this was the fact that they wanted to kill Lazarus, whom Jesus had just raised from the dead! They were also insanely angry at Him for His criticism of their abuse of power, mistreatment of the people, and their phony piety. Yet these religious leaders of the people had a total lack of understanding of what God really expected of them. During Jesus’ last days of ministry before He was arrested, He had not held back in His criticism of the religious leaders. Matthew 23 records a long list of “woes” pronounced over the Scribes and Pharisees. He called them blind guides, hypocrites, serpents, and a brood of vipers!
One of the most telling events happened at the mock trial instigated by the Sanhedrin the night before Jesus was crucified. He was face to face with Caiaphas the high priest and refused to respond to the made-up accusations thrown at Him. Finally Caiphus could not withhold his anger:
63 “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” 64 Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! 66 What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is worthy of death!” Matthew 26:63-66
When Jesus was questioned by Pilate, the Roman governor, Pilate asked Him,
33 “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you to me, What have You done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews, but now My kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate therefore said to him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered: You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all…” John 18:33-38
Later, when the crowd refused to calm down having been driven into a frenzy by the Scribes and Pharisees, Pilate had Jesus severely scourged. Jesus was terribly abused by the Roman soldiers. They beat on Him with their fists and with rods. They put a purple robe on Him to mock Him and they forced a crown of thorns onto His head. After all this, Pilate had Him brought back in order to question Him:
9 “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Then Pilate said to him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” 12 From then on Pilate sought to release Him but the Jews cried out, saying, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.” 13 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!” 16 Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away. John 19:9-16
Most readers are likely familiar with this part of the story. There was of course much more to it. The spiritual battle behind the scenes was one none of us can really imagine. Satan and his malevolent cohorts thought that they had played the Son of God right into their well-laid trap. What they didn’t know was that they had fallen into a trap of their own. God had laid the plans for this event before the foundations of the earth were ever laid. Jesus was well aware of the spiritual battle going on behind the scenes and He had every intention of seeing this through to completion. After Jesus had been on the cross for about six hours, and knowing that all things had been completed, He spoke the words we all know so well, “It is finished” and yielded up His spirit. The phrase Jesus used when correctly translated says, “Paid In Full.” I believe this provides us with a much deeper connotation.
I would now like to bring some things into the storyline that many even from the West may not be totally familiar with.
We hear little about what happened in the interim between Jesus’ death and His resurrection. When we read the details of the crucifixion scene, we find that one of the thieves crucified next to Jesus ridiculed Him and scoffed at Him. The other thief excoriated him, telling him that they both were paying the price for what they were guilty of, but this man, Jesus, was being killed as an innocent man. He then said to Jesus:
“Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” Jesus answered him and said, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” Luke 23:42-43
This tells us that Jesus went into Paradise after dying—which from the beginning had been located in the center of the earth. Paradise and the abode of the damned were both located in the center of the earth somewhere, but Jesus described the two as separated by a great gulf. But then we find an interesting passage written by the Apostle Peter.
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 1 Peter 3:18-20
As stated earlier, both the righteous and unrighteous dead were located somewhere under the surface of the earth. Hades—at least until Jesus died and rose again, contained both Paradise and the abode of the damned. The great gulf Jesus spoke of in one of His parables prevented anyone from crossing over from one to the other. We find in this passage in 1 Peter that Jesus not only entered Paradise after His crucifixion but also the abode of the damned. Hades (hell) today only houses lost souls. Ever since Jesus’ death and resurrection, all the righteous dead go immediately into Paradise as before, but Paradise is now located somewhere in Heaven. These are souls who have not yet received their eternal glorified bodies but are nonetheless very much alive.
Let us look at two more passages of Scripture that will add another dimension to whom it was that Jesus visited during the time after His death and before His resurrection.
4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; 6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly…2 Peter 2:4-6
5 But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; 7 as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Jude verses 5-7
We find in these passages not only a reference to human beings who have chosen to rebel against God’s law and order, but also supernatural beings. I am aware that many theologians grimace if reference is made to the Genesis 6 account and the appearance of the Nephilim. Contrary to the teachings of many, the ‘Sons of God’ referred to in Genesis 6:4 are not the sons of Seth. They were the results of an evil union between fallen angels who mixed their genetics with human women, producing the Nephilim. The Nephilim were the giants referred to as being produced by this illegal and unnatural intermingling of two species. They were half-breeds or hybrids and became the source for the mythological tales of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and other ancient civilizations going all the way back to the Sumerians of Mesopotamia.
God judged the supernatural fallen angels in a special way. The passages above mention judgment on human rebels as being confined in Hades / Hell. Fallen angels—at least to a large extent, were confined to the lowest regions of Hell, often called the Abyss, Bottomless Pit, or in some translations, Tartarus. Tartarus was described as much below the regions of Hell as Hell is below Heaven. It is my opinion and some interesting Bible passages seem to indicate that Tartarus may not be confined to our three dimensional world. It likely extends way beyond it, but it is not that important for the subject matter of today’s discussion.
The bottom line is this: After his death, Jesus went to these places and proclaimed what He had now accomplished. His death paid in full the required price for the sins of the world. Now mankind had the free gift of salvation—all for the asking. Jesus also proclaimed the total defeat of the fallen Lucifer / Satan and all of his minions. After this had been accomplished, it was time for Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb.
Most of us know the story of what happened the morning of Jesus’ resurrection. We know about the large stone having been rolled away from the opening of the tomb. We also know about the angels sitting on either end of where Jesus had lain, and we know about the napkin which had been around His head laying there neatly folded. We also know about Mary and her conversation with the man she thought might be the gardener, then realizing that it was her beloved Jesus risen from the dead. It is the conversation between Mary and Jesus we are going to examine next. The passage reads like this:
11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She supposing Him to be the gardener, said to him, Sir, if You have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). 17 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 to My God and your God.’” John 20:11-17
There is something about verse 17 that must be looked at in more detail. It is a very important part of this storyline but is unfortunately usually missed. Often we hear in explanation that Jesus was trying to keep Mary from touching Him as if He might be defiled in some way because of His resurrection and still having to go into the Father’s presence first.
Jesus was not afraid of being defiled and He was not trying to keep her from touching Him. The sense here is that Mary was so overjoyed and overcome she would keep hanging on Him, not letting Him go. Jesus made a special appearance here just for Mary and then sent her on the errand of telling the disciples that He was going to go into the presence of the Father but that He would return to see them all shortly. The most important thing then was to appear in the Holy of Holies in the Throne Room of God.
This needs to be explored in some detail.
Revelation 4 and 5 are essential for understanding the Kingdom of God and the part Jesus has in it. The New Testament writers spoke of the Kingdom of God and there is no question about the fact that Jesus is the rightful King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The question is: What happened in those two chapters of Revelation? What was the outcome, and where is it going today?
Revelation 4 is a description of the Throne Room with Almighty God sitting upon His throne in all His brilliance. Before Him are 24 elders sitting on 24 smaller thrones, and four living creatures, called Seraphim. These Seraphim worship God continually, singing “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty Who was and is and is to come!” As they sing, the 24 elders fall down before God, casting their crowns before the throne, and worship Him in song.
The Throne Room scene is identical to what we find described by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6 when he was brought into God’s presence, except with less detail. Isaiah was commissioned as God’s prophet during his Throne-Room experience. We also find another Throne Room scene in Daniel 7 where some of the details vary but the description of the Throne is the same. In Daniel’s experience He was given a glimpse of future events, including the Antichrist, his defeat and demise. Daniel also saw one like the Son of Man being commissioned to take dominion and authority over all peoples and nations that they might serve Him for eternity.
As we begin Revelation chapter five, we find mention made of a seven-sealed scroll in the hand of Him who is sitting on the throne. A strong angel is questioning who is worthy to open this sealed scroll. There was no one found in heaven or on the earth or under the earth who could open it or even look at it. It brought John to tears. But then, in verses 5-7 we find these words:
5 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. 6 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. 7 Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.
I believe this is the very next event that happened right after Jesus freed himself from Mary’s clinging arms at the tomb. The price had been paid in full but the Lamb of God had an appearance to make in the Holy of Holies at the Throne. It was this that the Apostle John was taken to see. John was approximately 90 years old when he was confined on the Roman penal isle of Patmos. He was either shown this scene in a vision or was taken back in time to the actual event. The crucifixion most likely happened in the year 32 AD. when John was still a young man. As John was brought into the Throne room, Jesus, the crucified and resurrected One was nowhere to be seen. And because He was the only One worthy to open this scroll, it brought tears to John’s old eyes.
But then, there He was! Not in a glorified form but as a slaughtered Lamb. As He took the scroll containing earth’s future from the hands of the Father on His throne, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb and worshipped Him, singing a new song, and joined by all the angels of Heaven.
Question: Who were these “elders”?
Traditional teaching has been that these elders are representatives of humans in a resurrected state. This would mean that the future resurrection and catching up “harpazo, rapture” must already have taken place. However, these ‘elders’ or “presbuteros” are seated around the Throne of God and are not human, nor are they representative of humans, but rather a heavenly angelic representation of the Levitical priesthood there to serve the High Priest, Jesus Christ, in the eternal Melchizedekan priesthood in the heavenly temple.
I believe some of the details describing the reaction of the 24 elders and the four living creatures tell us if the elders are human beings—as well as when the events of Revelation 4 and 5 actually took place.
What is it that the elders were holding? Verse 8 tells us:
Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
If these ‘elders’ are truly human representatives, would they really be holding bowls containing the prayers of the saints, including their own? Are their prayers still needing to be answered at that point? On the other hand, if these 24 elders are an angelic order of priests it would make perfect sense for them to be holding these bowls of prayers of the saints in order to offer them up as incense before the Throne, where Jesus Christ, the High Priest, intercedes for them before the Father. This is what these ‘elders’ were waiting to do.
An interesting fact to insert into our discussion is that Moses was given strict instructions by the Lord to build the earthly tabernacle to His exact specifications because they are an exact representation of the Heavenly Tabernacle. We find 1 Chronicles 24 providing an exact list of the 24 Levitical priests that were to serve in the earthly tabernacle. They are an accurate numerical duplication of the angelic priesthood in the heavenly tabernacle. Those in the heavenly tabernacle are referred to as “Sons of God” and, at times, “God’s council.”
Another key to identifying the 24 elders and determining when this scene actually unfolded has to do with what they were singing. The 1611 King James Version of the Bible reads one way and most other translations another way. The difference is in just two of the words used: ‘Us’, ‘we’, versus ‘them’ and ‘they’. I have provided the script of both the KJV version of verses 9-10 as well as the New English Translation, which reads the same as the NIV, NASB, ASV, and others.
First, the King James Version:
9 And they sang 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; 10 and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. Revelation 5:9-10
Now, the New English Translation (which matches the NIV, NASB, ASV, and other translations)
9 They were singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were killed, and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. 10 You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
The seemingly insignificant difference between the little words ‘us’ and ‘we’ as opposed to ‘them’ and ‘they’ makes a great difference in determining the identity of the 24 elders. Who are the ‘us’ and ‘we’? Who are the “them’ and ‘they’? Fact is, the original manuscripts used the Greek words for ‘them’ and ‘they.’
We find the 24 elders and the four Living Creatures worshipping the Lamb, and in verse 9, it is stated that they are singing the song to the Lamb. If ‘we’ and ‘us’ is correct, then these four Living Creatures are also claiming to be members of the redeemed who were purchased by the Lamb. Not possible! They also claim to be part of the kingdom of priests that will reign on the earth. Also not possible! The four Living Creatures are not human and all scholars agree on this fact. It then makes no sense for them to be singing this song. Angels are also not part of the company of redeemed but they do rejoice greatly when the lost are redeemed and also have a wonderment about the Good News of the Gospel of Salvation as we see in 1 Peter 1:12:
To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven–things which angels desire to look into.
This means that the 24 elders and the four Living Creatures were not singing about themselves, nor did they claim to be members of those who were redeemed, purchased with the blood of Christ. This makes for a strong argument against the 24 elders being human, or even representatives of them. It is also proof that Revelation 5 provides a description of the appearance of the Lamb at the heavenly throne room for the first time after Jesus’ death and victorious resurrection.
Another detail needing to be examined has to do with the description of the song itself. Verse 9 tells us it is a new song. If it is in fact being sung 2,000 years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, how can it be a “new” song? The song wouldn’t be called a “new” song unless it were a description of what the Lamb had just accomplished. Traditional teaching tells us that believers will be singing this song in the future as they are gathered around the throne in heaven. Yet, the establishment of the royal priesthood through the redemption of mankind already happened nearly 2,000 years ago. Why wait so long to sing this song? We are told in 1 Peter 2:9 that believers are (already) a royal priesthood and John declared in Revelation 1:6 that believers are a kingdom of priests. Both were written in the first century.
So, I believe the accurate understanding of this new song is that it was sung in celebration of the new covenant that had been established at the death and resurrection of Christ—2,000 years ago, not sometime in the future.
Revelation 5 of course ends with all the angels and every creature in heaven singing high praises to the One on the throne and to the Lamb of God, our Savior and Lord.
11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders, and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches, and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing! 13 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” 14 Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshipped Him who lives forever and ever.” Revelation 5:11-14
This presents another question: When did the Lamb begin to open the seals of the scroll? That will be the subject of another writing…
Forever in His Service,