4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.
The image above is “God’s answer to Job,” Adriaen Collaert, after Jan van der Straet, 1587 – 1591 Rijksmuseum.nl” (see Seraphim below) Note there is only a Hebrew word at the center and not an attempt to picture God himself.
vs. 4 comments—The idea is that of a circular throne room, not a rectangular one. “Around” is kuklothen in Greek = “surrounding entirely.” The beings that sit on these 24 thrones are obviously an angelic order involved in the worship of God in heaven and involved in the fulfilling of his purposes on the earth.
Dr. Hendriksen’s Explanation of his Diagram
“Diagram of the vision described in Revelation 4 and 5: The Universe Governed by the Throne. The vision consists of one single picture and teaches one main lesson. The square at the center represents the throne with steps leading up to it. In the center of the throne sits the Father (Rev. 4:2).
The innermost circle 1 represents the sparkling white diamond (4:3); circle 2 the sardius (4:3); circle 3 the emerald rainbow (4:3);
The Attendants before the throne: circle 4 the four living ones or cherubim (4:6); circle 5 the twenty-four thrones with their elders (4:4); circle 6 the many angels (5:11); and circle 7 all other creatures in the entire universe (5:13). The seven lamps and the sea of glass are also before the throne (4:5, 6).”
This part of the diagram refers to chapter 5: “The Lamb (L) stands between the throne and the living ones on the one side, and the twenty-four elders on the other (5:6). But the Lamb later advances to the throne (5:7), and is now seated on it with the Father (22:1). The throne rules over all. Take this lesson to heart!” (see Hendriksen, p. 84, below).
Why 24?—The number twenty-four is suggestive of the twenty-four courses of priests in I Chronicles 24. (Click on link to read.)
In addition, many commentators think that the elders represent God’s people of all ages. Just as the courses of Priests represented the totality of the Priesthood (pictured right), the twenty four elders represent the totality of God’s people of all ages. Some of the elect have already died and are already there in heaven. Some are still unborn, but these angels represent them all. This “symbolic view” is possible, but it is important not to over-interpret the details here.
This passage teaches one lesson! God’s throne is the center of created reality. It is only accessible by us with the eye of faith at present, but it is real!
The Atmosphere of Heaven Pervades the Hearts of Praying Christians
“There is a story about a new submarine that was being tested. As part of its test, the submarine had to remain submerged beneath the ocean’s surface for a long time. While the submarine was submerged for its test, a powerful storm passed through the area, causing a great deal of damage.
“When the submarine returned to the harbor, the head of the team that was evaluating the submarine asked the captain, “How did that terrible storm affect you?” The captain looked at the man in surprise and exclaimed, “Storm? We didn’t even know there was one!”
“The reason for the captain’s surprise was that his submarine had been so far beneath the ocean’s surface that it reached the area known to sailors as “the cushion of the sea.” Although a storm’s high winds may whip the surface into huge waves, the waters in the “cushion” are not even stirred. So while vessels up above were being subjected to turmoil and damage, the submarine down below was not affected. It remained safely in the “cushion.” (see Cushion of the Sea, below)
Having our lives here on earth centered on the unseen throne of God gives us “cushion” against life’s alarms here on earth! Psalm 91:1 “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” (KJV) Nothing centered on that throne is disturbed by anything in space and time. Philippians 4:5-7—
5 The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The question we should all constantly ask is: “Am I centered on God and His worship in my daily life?” “Do I begin each day with Bible Study, worship, and prayer?” If so we are under the shadow of the Almighty’s throne. The peace promised in Philippians 4 garrisons our hearts in all circumstance!
The Shadow of the Almighty and Martyrdom and Death
Most older folks are familiar with Jim Elliot’s (pictured right) death as a martyr in 1956 in Ecuador, SA. It was the defining moment for my mother’s generation. Many were called to serve God on the missions field as a result of Elliot’s death. She told me of it often.
Jim and his wife, Elisabeth, had been married less than 2 years. She held a baby in her arms as she waited for his return. She recalls he and the other men sang a hymn based on Psalm 91 the night before they flew to their deaths—”We Rest on Thee.”
We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender;
We go not forth alone against the foe;
Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender.
We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.
Yea, in Thy Name, O Captain of salvation!
In Thy dear Name, all other names above;
Jesus our Righteousness, our sure Foundation,
Our Prince of glory and our King of love.
We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know:
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing;
We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.
We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender:
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise
When reigning in the Kingdom of Thy splendor;
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.
“So clearly the seemingly face-value meaning of Psalm 91 did not come true for the five missionaries who were martyred with spears in January, 1956 in Ecuador. So why did Elisabeth Elliot title her book about Jim Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty? That’s a quotation from Psalm 91:1. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (verse 1). Jim was killed.
Elisabeth Elliot answered like this: “The world called it a nightmare of tragedy. The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in Jim Elliot’s credo: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” (Harper, 1958, p. 19).” (see Piper below).
All of us have to die. Like George Whitefield said, “We are immortal until our work on earth is done.” This is the meaning of Psalm 91 and of Revelation’s scenes around God’s throne.
God’s rule over all time and eternity means we can safely carry on for him in the face of danger and persecution.
More next time.
Cushion of the Sea. (n.d.). Accessed 25 September 2019 from http://www.sermonillustrator.org/illustrator/sermon1/cushion.htm I first encountered the story years ago in Our Daily Bread.
Hendriksen, William. (1939). More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Piper, John. (2012). Accessed 25 September 2019 from “Desiring God” Blog at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/your-executioner-may-laugh-you-to-scorn-for-quoting-psalm-91
Seraphim. (2019). Accessed 25 September 2019 from https://www.thetorah.com/ article/the-seraphim
© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved