God on the Throne, Part 3 of 6 (series: Lessons on Revelations)
by John Lowe
And there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. “There was a rainbow,” or a halo, around “the throne.” This is reminiscent of the rainbow that signified the eternal covenant that God made with Noah that He would never again destroy the earth by water (Genesis 9:11-17). God has another covenant, and this one is with His Son, and He is about to fulfill it. He promised that one day the earth would be Christ’s “footstool,” a word denoting that which is under one’s feet, or that which is in subjection to someone (Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:34-35; Hebrews 1:13; 10:13). For God’s children, the storm is over, since Christ bore the judgment for all their sins. The sun hid in darkness when Christ, the mighty Maker, died for man’s sin. But the throne in Heaven is encircled by a rainbow as the pledge of God’s faithfulness (This rainbow was a complete circle, not merely an ark, for in heaven all things are completed.). This unbroken circle symbolizes the absolute sovereignty of God . . . the unbroken power of God, the unbroken love, and mercy of God.
The “rainbow around the throne” is to remind all of God’s creatures of the goodness, mercy, and longsuffering of God toward His creatures. “His mercy endureth forever.” God’s mercy is unbroken. He is about to begin judgment against all who have rejected His Son, thereby preparing the earth for Christ’s reign. The rainbow will also serve to remind us that judgment, when it comes, will be in keeping with God’s covenant with the earth (Genesis 9:12-17). It is easy enough for unscrupulous men to subvert human justice and make a mockery of the courts, but God’s judgment will be flawless.
The rainbow around the throne is like nothing ever seen before. Instead of the usual combination of colors we witness in the rainbow today, the bow John saw around the throne was like an emerald in appearance, which is one of the colors most pleasing to the human eye. Caesar's pomp and splendor were nothing compared to the glow of an Emerald that circled God’s throne like a rainbow. The glorified saints of God will have constantly before their eyes the rainbow in the beautiful color of green, in remembrance of God’s grace to the earth even when He is about to deal with the human race in judgment (Habakkuk 3:2). Usually, a rainbow appears after the storm; but here, we see it before the storm. The object of the rainbow is primarily to conceal the form of God; yet it is significant that a rainbow and not an ordinary cloud performs this service, for the bow is a perpetual reminder of God’s covenant to restrain His wrath from man on earth (Genesis 9:13); the memorial of the covenant in heaven is nothing less than the glory of God which hides Him from angelic view.
The “Emerald” is most likely the green Emerald which we know.
4 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.
In verses 4 and 5, John paints a picture of worship. The first picture is twenty-four Elders sitting on thrones around God. There are many interpretations of this picture, ranging from the elders as a special class of angels to the elders as the church before God.
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. There has been much speculation on the identity of the Elders. The two major views are (1) that they represent the church raptured prior to this time and rewarded in heaven, or (2) that they are angels who have been given large responsibilities. The number 24 is the number of representation, illustrated in the fact that in the Law of Moses there were 24 orders of the priesthood.
For those who make a case that these elders represent the church, John’s description, then, is of the redeemed—they have white robes (19:8), they are wearing crowns (James 1:12), and they reign with God (2 Timothy 2:12). These dazzling “white” garments speak of perfect righteousness, “the righteousness of saints” (Revelation 19:8). The redeemed and the raptured are now with Jesus and are like Jesus (1 John 3:2); fashioned like unto Him (Philippians 3:20-21), saved from the presence and possibility of sin. They are in Heaven, forever free from that constant struggle against evil which characterized their earthly stay.
Why are there twenty-four? Some say there were twenty-four priests that represented the entire nation of Israel. And some have said that the elders represent the 12 tribes plus the 12 apostles. Each interpretation includes its own difficulties. However the specifics are interpreted, this vision reveals the majesty of worship.
We find the twenty-four Elders frequently appearing in the Revelation. They sit around the throne, clothed in white robes and wearing crowns (14:3); they cast their crowns before the throne (4:10); they continually worship and praise (5:11, 14; 7:11; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4); they bring to God the prayers of the saints (5:8); one of them encourages the apostle, when he is sad (5:5); and one of them acts as interpreter of one of the visions (7:13). The white robes speak of victory (Revelation 7:9). These are the “overcomers” who have conquered because of their faith in Christ (1 John 5:4-5).
Moreover, they function as a jury, only their role is not to decide whether or not men are guilty, but to approve, by acts of deepest obeisance, the righteous acts of the judge. In olden days, kings found it useful to surround their office with every form of pomp and ceremony to impress upon those brought before them the dignity and awesomeness of the throne. God likewise surrounds His throne with due formality. He insists that things be done decently and in order in His church, and He insists that they must be done decently and in order in His court. There will be no contempt of court here. The sincere formality of things, and the impressive dignity of the proceedings are calculated to strike a proper reverence in every heart.
We think that the likeliest explanation is that the twenty-four elders are the symbolic representatives of the faithful people of God. Their white robes are the robes promised to the faithful (Revelation 3:4), and their crowns are those promised to those who are faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10). The thrones are those which Jesus promised to those who forsook all and followed Him (Matthew 19:27-29). The description of the twenty-four elders fits well with the promises made to the faithful.
The question will then be, “why twenty-four?” the answer is because the Church is composed of Jews and Gentiles. There were the original twelve tribes, but now it is as if the number of the tribes were doubled. The twenty-four elders stand for the Church in its totality. We remember that this is a vision not of what is, but of what shall be; and the twenty-four elders stand as representatives of the whole Church which one day in Glory will worship in the presence of God Himself.
There is one thing we know for certain about the twenty-four elders—that they are not angels, but human beings—for the song they sing shows them to be redeemed—“And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation’” (Revelation 5:9, NIV). The fact that they give honor to Christ for redeeming them shows that they are redeemed sinners gathered from every part of the earth. Their association with Deity is a royal one. Actually, they are reigning with Christ even as Paul wrote to Timothy—“If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us” (2 Timothy 2:12, NIV). It is unlikely that they are angels because angels are not numbered (Hebrews 12:22), crowned, or enthroned. Besides, in Revelation 7:11, the elders are distinguished from the angels (see also Revelation 5:8-11). The crowns they wear are the “victor’s crown” and we have no evidence that angels receive rewards.
The Greek word translated “seats” is also translated “throne” so that actually there were twenty-four thrones. In the center, there was a majestic throne of Deity, and in a circle around it were twenty-four other thrones, or royal seats. Those setting on the twenty-four individual thrones represent the Church, the redeemed, the glorified saints after they have raptured out of the earth to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). There are some who disagreed with this truth, but the vast majority of outstanding Bible teachers of the past agree that these elders represent the royal priesthood of believers.