“And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold” (Revelation 4:4).
Some commentators suggest that the twenty-four elders are angels, but since the Bible never uses this title to describe them, it is unsound reasoning. Since there are twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles, the twenty-four elders are representatives of all the redeemed people of God from both Testaments. Revelation 21:12-14 gives us an indication that this is true; “And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” King David had appointed twenty-four Levites to represent the entire priesthood (1 Chronicles 23, 28), therefore these elders seem to represent the countless billions who had true faith in God. We are told three things about these elders in our text.
What they are doing
Notice first that they are “sitting” on “seats”. It is interesting that the word is translated as “throne” in Revelation 4:2, so we see that the twenty-four are reigning with the Lord. This is exactly what the Scripture promises for all the saints of God. “We shall also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12) … “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:6) … “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father” (Revelation 2:26-27) … “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6).
The fact that the elders are “sitting” signifies that they are in a state of rest in the presence of God. The apostle Paul writes that God has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). This of course, while we are on earth, is our positional situation, but one day it will be literally true when we see Him face to face. On that day our labours, pains and sufferings will be over and we will enter our new home, the place of rest, in Heaven. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The twenty-four elders, being the fathers of the faith, are seated there already and await our arrival before God’s Throne.
What they are wearing
Their attire is the only acceptable fashion of Heaven, for all who enter must be clothed in “fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Revelation 19:8). It is clear that what they are clothed in speaks of salvation through the blood of Christ. Those who have been redeemed are cleansed from every stain of sin and stand forgiven and justified before the Lord. “Ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11) … “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:1,9).
Once again, this speaks to us of our positional standing, for we all know that we often fail the Lord and are far from perfect. Though we strive to walk in holiness and righteousness, to please God by living as He intended, we allow the flesh and sin to throw us off course. There is coming a day when we will no longer have to strive for perfection, instead we will be made perfect. Here on earth we constantly battle to keep our raiment “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27), but let us remind ourselves that soon we “shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52-53).
What they have been awarded
The New Testament uses two words for “crown”. One Greek word ‘diadem’ is used to describe a crown made up of several other crowns. This will be the one King Jesus will wear when He returns to this earth to reign. “On his head were many crowns … KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:12,16). The other word is ‘stephanos’ and refers to a crown given to someone who triumphs over hardship. It was used to award those who were victorious in athletic contests. It is this second crown that all the redeemed of the Lord will wear. Nevertheless, the Bible reveals that there are at least five other crowns that the saints will receive, but maybe the single crown on the elders’ heads represent all the others.
1. There is the crown of life that is given to those who truly love the Lord and endure all the trials and tribulations on earth. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12) … “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
2. There is the crown of righteousness that is given to those who await the appearing of Christ. “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
3. There is the crown of glory that is given to those who faithfully minister to the church. “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:4).
4. There is the crown of rejoicing that is given to those who share the gospel of salvation with the lost and encourage other believers to live for the Lord. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
5. There is the incorruptible crown that is given to those who desire to live a holy life. “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Corinthians 9:25).
Have we ever felt that no one takes any notice of our service for the Lord and His people? We can be assured that the Lord Himself is fully aware of all we do and will reward us for our faithfulness. He takes note of every sacrifice, prayer, witness and battle. We might not receive recognition here on earth, but there is an “exceeding and eternal weight of glory” ready to be revealed (2 Corinthians 4:17)! Anyway, if we want the praise of men, then we already have our reward (Matthew 6:1-6). Revelation 4:4 teaches us that the twenty-four elders represent all who are truly born again and one day we will enjoy the blessings around God’s Throne too.