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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 4 - Verse 4

Verse 4. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats. Or rather thronesyronoi—the same word being used as that which is rendered throneyronov. The word, indeed, properly denotes a seat, but it came to be employed to denote particularly the seat on which a monarch sat, and is properly translated thus in Re 4:2-3. So it is rendered in Mt 5:34; 19:28; 23:22; 25:31; Lu 1:32; and uniformly elsewhere in the New Testament, (fifty-three places in all,) except in Lu 1:52; Re 2:13; 4:4; 11:16; 16:10

where it is rendered seat and seats. It should have been rendered thrones here, and is so translated by Professor Stuart. Coverdale and Tyndale render the word seat in each place in verses 2-5. It was undoubtedly the design of the writer to represent those who sat on those seats as, in some sense, kings— for they have on their heads crowns of gold—and that idea should have been retained in the translation of this word.

And upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting. Very various opinions have been entertained in respect to those who thus appeared sitting around the throne, and to the question why the number twenty-four is mentioned. Instead of examining those opinions at length, it will be better to present, in a summary manner, what seems to be probable in regard to the intended reference. The following points, then, would appear to embrace all that can be known on this subject:

(1.) These elders have a regal character, or are of a kingly order. This is apparent

(a) because they are represented as sitting on "thrones," and

(b) because they have on their heads "crowns of gold."

(2.) They are emblematic. They are designed to symbolize or represent some class of persons. This is clear

(a) because it cannot be supposed that so small a number would compose the whole of those who are in fact around the throne of God, and

(b) because there are other symbols there designed to represent something pertaining to the homage rendered to God, as the four living creatures and the angels, and this supposition is necessary in order to complete the symmetry and harmony of the representation.

(3.) They are human beings, and are designed to have some relation to the race of man, and somehow to connect the human race with the worship of heaven. The four living creatures have another design; the angels (chapter 5) have another; but these are manifestly of our race—persons from this world before the throne.

(4.) They are designed in some way to be symbolic of the church as redeemed. Thus they say, (Re 5:9) "Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood."

(5.) They are designed to represent the whole church in every land and every age of the world. Thus they say, (Re 5:9) "Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." This shows, further, that the whole representation is emblematic; for otherwise in so small a number— twenty-four—there could not be a representation out of every nation.

(6.) They represent the church triumphant; the church victorious. Thus they have crowns on their heads; they have harps in their hands, (Re 5:8) they say that they are "kings and priests," and that they will "reign on the earth," Re 5:10.

(7.) The design, therefore, is to represent the church triumphant— redeemed—saved—as rendering praise and honour to God; as uniting with the hosts of heaven in adoring him for his perfections and for the wonders of his grace. As representatives of the church, they are admitted near to him; they encircle his throne; they appear victorious over every foe; and they come, in unison with the living creatures, and the angels, and the whole universe, (Re 5:13) to ascribe powers and dominion to God.

(8.) As to the reason why the number "twenty-four" is mentioned, perhaps nothing certain can be determined. Ezekiel, in his vision, (Eze 8:16; 11:1) saw twenty-five men between the porch and the altar, with their backs toward the temple, and their faces toward the earth—supposed to be representations of the twenty-four "courses" into which the body of priests was divided, (1 Ch 24:3-19) with the high priest among them, making up the number twenty-five. It is possible that John in this vision may have designed to refer to the church considered as a priesthood, (See Barnes on "1 Pe 2:9") and to have alluded to the fact that the priesthood under the Jewish economy was divided into twenty-four courses, each with a presiding officer, and who was a representative of that portion of the priesthood over which he presided. If so, then the ideas which enter into the representation are these:

(a.) that the whole church may be represented as a priesthood, or a community of priests—an idea which frequently occurs in the New Testament.

(b.) That the church, as such a community of priests, is employed in the praise and worship of God—an idea, also, which finds abundant countenance in the New Testament.

(c.) That, in a series of visions having a designed reference to the church, it was natural to introduce some symbol or emblem representing the church, and representing the fact that this is its office and employment. And

(d.) that this would be well expressed by an allusion derived from the ancient dispensation—the division of the priesthood into classes, over each one of which there presided an individual who might be considered as the representative of his class. It is to be observed, indeed, that in one respect they are represented as "kings," but still this does not forbid the supposition that there might have been intermingled also another idea, that they were also "priests." Thus the two ideas are blended by these same elders in Re 5:10: "And hath made us unto our God kings and priests." Thus understood, the vision is designed to denote the fact that the representatives of the church, ultimately to be triumphant, are properly engaged in ascribing praise to God. The word elders here seems to be used in the sense of aged and venerable men, rather than as denoting office. They were such as by their age were qualified to preside over the different divisions of the priesthood.

Clothed in white raiment. Emblem of purity, and appropriate therefore to the representatives of the sanctified church. Compare Re 3:4; 6:11; 7:9.

 

And they had on their heads crowns of gold. Emblematic of the fact that they sustained a kingly office. There was blended in the representation the idea that they were both "kings and priests." Thus the idea is expressed by Peter, (1 Pe 2:9) "a royal priesthood" —basileion ierateuma.

{d} "four and twenty" Re 11:16 {e} "white raiment" Re 3:4,5 {f} "crowns" Re 4:10

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