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Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. (Revelation 4:4–5a).


The Apostle John has been admitted to the throne-room of the kingdom by means of the vision given him while under the influence of the Holy Spirit. He first saw the throne and the magnificence of the One sitting on the throne. We recognize this personage as none other than the Glorified Christ sitting as the king in the kingdom of God. Within the scope of his vision, John sees some more thrones, some lamps, a sea of glass and four living creatures. We will consider the twenty-four elders first and then look at the living creatures in the next chapter.


Twenty-four Thrones Around the Throne


The twenty-four elders on the thrones are not specific persons; they are representations of divinely appointed authority in the kingdom of God. Because their thrones surround the throne of the king, it denotes that their authority stems from the king and only the king.

There are two aspects of the kingdom of God: the Old Testament and the New Testament, or the Law Dispensation and the Gospel Dispensation. The twenty-four elders represent God’s delegated authority in each dispensation.

Under the Law Dispensation, the kingdom of God was represented by the nation Israel, which was organized in tribes descended from each of the twelve sons of Jacob, whom God renamed Israel. These tribes were the literal fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation through whom God would bless all the families of the earth.

Under the Gospel Dispensation, the kingdom of God is represented by the church, the body of Christ, over which Christ gave the twelve Apostles authority to lead the church into the truths and the experience of true redemption and salvation from sin. The church in turn was given the command and authority to make disciples of all the nations.

In placing the two side by side, we see the entire scope of the kingdom of God on earth and in human history. Matthew Henry comments on the twenty-four elders:


He saw four-and-twenty seats round about the throne, not empty, but filled with four-and-twenty elders, presbyters, representing, very probably, the whole church of God, both in the Old-Testament and in the New-Testament state; not the ministers of the church, but rather the representatives of the people. Their sitting denotes their honour, rest, and satisfaction; their sitting about the throne signifies their relation to God, their nearness to him, the sight and enjoyment they have of him.


In the simplest of terms we can say that the twenty-four elders sitting on their thrones represent the redeemed of all ages. Peeking ahead into chapter five, we see these elders singing a new song, saying, “For you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood”.

Under the Law innocent animals were slain and their blood poured out at the base of the brazen altar; this blood foreshadowing the blood of Christ. Under the Gospel, the blood of Christ, our Perfect Savior, was poured out at Calvary to truly redeem mankind from sin. Regardless of which dispensation, redemption has always been through the blood of Christ.

The twenty-four elders, the redeemed of all ages, are clothed in white robes. We are told in Revelation 19:8 that these robes are the righteousness of the saints. Under the Law, righteousness was imputed to the people of God through their obedience to the Law. Under the Gospel, righteousness is imparted to the people of God through the grace of God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The twenty-four elders also wore crowns of gold on their heads. The crown is a symbol of that righteousness and the power it gives to the people of God to reign over sin. James tells us about such a crown in his epistle.


Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12).


The blood of Christ purchased, not just forgiveness from sin, but the cleansing of all sin. With the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit, no one needs to sin; so we see it is possible to endure temptation and come out on the victory side. This is how we can reign over sin and wear that crown of life, spiritual life, which epitomizes the righteousness of God.

In 2 Timothy 2:12 we are given the promise, “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him”. So in enduring and overcoming temptation we are privileged to sit on our throne in the presence of Christ, who sits on the throne of the kingdom; and we reign with Him over sin.

Not only is our crown valid in this life, it is the symbol of our eternal life. The Apostle Paul assures us in 2 Timothy 4:8,


Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.


Christ allows our righteousness to be tested through temptation in this life. But, one day, this life will be over and we will enjoy our eternal reign with Christ.

The Apostle Peter assures us of this great blessing and honor in 1 Peter 5:4 “and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”

So, while we enjoy the crown of righteousness in this life, we must earnestly guard that crown by means of faithfulness to Christ. Remember what Christ said to the church at Philadelphia in Revelation 3:11, “Hold fast to what you have, that no one may take your crown”.


Lightnings, Thunderings, and Voices


From the throne of the Glorified Christ proceed lightnings, thunderings, and voices. As God manifested Himself and spoke under these manifestations to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai, we see here the Word of God, the Glorified Christ, speaking through the gospel pronouncing His judgment on sin and His grace for salvation. Matthew Henry comments similarly:


He perceived lightnings and voices proceeding out of the throne; that is, the awful declarations that God makes to his church of his sovereign will and pleasure. Thus he gave forth the law on mount Sinai; and the gospel has not less glory and authority than the law, though it be of a more spiritual nature.


In John 6:63 Jesus tells us, “It is the Spirit who gives life . . . The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life”. The message of God’s love and the redemption He made possible through Christ gives life to the soul dead in sin.


Seven Lamps


The lightnings, thunderings and voices call John’s attention to seven lamps of fire that were burning in front of the throne of the Glorified Christ. He identifies these as the seven Spirits of God.

We encountered the seven Spirits of God in chapter one, identifying the manifestation there as the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. We also learned in chapter one that the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Inasmuch as the fire is in the lamps, and the lamps represent the church, the vision shows the intended and proper relationship is for the church, the people of God, to be indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can God’s people be righteous and reign over sin. While the lampstands originally were introduced as the seven churches of Asia, the symbolism is carried over here in the presence of the throne-room of the kingdom of God to represent the church throughout the rest of time. As seen here, the church is the representative of the kingdom and the means by which Christ, through the Holy Spirit, brings the light of salvation to the world.


A Sea of Glass


Not only are there seven lampstands before the throne, there is also a sea of glass that appears as crystal—they are inseparable. The sea is first introduced as part of the kingdom by King Solomon when he built the furnishings for the temple in Jerusalem. 1 Kings 7:23 tells us about this Sea, “And he made the Sea of cast bronze, ten cubits from one brim to the other. This was a large vessel, being about 15 feet across and containing about 500 barrels of water. A barrel is actually a pitcher as used by women to carry water from the well to the home. If the pitcher contained 5 gallons, the Sea would have contained 2500 gallons of water. The Sea replaced the laver of the tabernacle, but was used for the same purposes of the priests washing themselves and the sacrifices.

The work of cleansing is represented by the crystal clarity of the sea, and being that the sea is in front of the throne of the Glorified Christ, it can be nothing less than pure. The sea of glass lies at the foot of the Glorified Christ showing us that the only way into the kingdom of God, the church, is by means of the cleansing blood of Christ. Matthew Henry affirms this understanding as he wrote:


He saw before the throne a sea of glass, like unto crystal. As in the temple there was a great vessel of brass filled with water, in which the priests were to wash when they went to minister before the Lord (and this was called a sea), so in the gospel church the sea or laver for purification is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, who cleanses from all sin. . . . In this all those must be washed that are admitted into the gracious presence of God on earth or his glorious presence in heaven.


Having seen the splendor of the heavenly throne-room and its meaning as applied to gospel salvation and the kingdom of God, John seems to step back and refocus his eyes on the entire vision. Having seen the details, they all appear to merge into a vision of four peculiar creatures. The King James Version, true to its Elizabethan heritage, calls them beasts; however, in modern usage of the English language, this term is rather derogatory. John Wyclif used the word beasts when he made his English translation from the Latin Vulgate. Translators following Wyclif continued to use the word beasts through the 1850 revision of the KJV. Since then translators translated the Greek word dzō-on as living creatures, which is the literal meaning of the word; a live thing, an animal. We will look at these living creatures in our next chapter.