Before I go forward to IDENTIFY some personages at God's throne in heaven, I must ask this question: WHERE ARE THE CHURCHES?
In the first THREE chapters of Revelation, the word "Church" or "Churches" is recorded 19 times. But from chapter 4 onward, WHERE'S THE CHURCH?
We can easily say that the CHURCH is CONSPICUOUS (because of its ABSENCE)--from the end of chapter 3 until Revelation 22:16 (where the word "Churches" is used once again). WHY is there such an OMISSION? What's happening here?
If the CHURCH was still UPON THE EARTH during "the Tribulation"--(and IS INCLUDED in Revelation's chapters which DESCRIBE that terrible TIME), we'd expect to see it NAMED. But it isn't. WHY?
And consider this--if the CHURCH is SEEN in heaven in Revelation 4 and 5, WHY isn't it called "the Church"?
Here is a possibility: We must remember that THE HOUR of the Rapture is a GREAT UNKNOWN--yet the times and the seasons CAN BE DISCERNED. Therefore, the Rapture is a MYSTERY. It's a MYSTERY which happens to another MYSTERY known as the CHURCH. (See 1 Corinthians 15:51 and Colossians 1:24-27)
Two things occur as a RESULT of this MYSTERY:
One, the RAPTURE and the CHURCH is VEILED and HIDDEN within symbols, structures and TYPES (especially in the Old Testament--where God did NOT CLEARLY reveal the CHURCH to the Old Testament saints).
Two, MOST of the book of Revelation is written as INSTRUCTION to Jews and the Tribulation saints. God has RETURNED to HOW He GOVERNED in Old Testament times (as He fulfills the 70th week--YET determined upon Israel). Therefore, the MYSTERY of the RAPTURE and the MYSTERY of CHURCH is maintained throughout this portion of Revelation--where the book details "a time" AFTER the CHURCH has proceeded to our MANSIONS (which Jesus promised to us).
Here's another fact! From Revelation 4 onward, the symbol of LAMPSTANDS are not seen again either. WHY?
The LAMPSTANDS are THE CHURCHES, and are CLEARLY DEFINED as such in Revelation 1:20. Therefore, LAMPSTANDS don't appear BECAUSE this would DEFINITELY picture THE CHURCH. So that SYMBOL is eliminated, too!
There's yet another INTERESTING FACT: Jesus, in speaking to the CHURCHES in Revelation 1 through 3 NEVER called Himself THE LAMB OF GOD. WHY?
Also, in the New Testament, there are ONLY FOUR other places where He's referred to as THE LAMB OF GOD (See John 1:29, John 1:36, Acts 8:32 and 1 Peter 1:19.)
By careful reading and CONTEXT, we see the term "LAMB OF GOD" is used in relationship to Israel--it's NOT an IDIOM of the CHURCH AGE (except in showing HOW Jesus FULFILLED three Jewish feasts as He died for us!)
In investigating the CONCEPT of THE LAMB OF GOD, we discover that the SYMBOL is LEVITICAL! It HARKENS BACK to the Old Testament system of animal sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people. The USE of the term, "LAMB OF GOD," pointed FORWARD to the work of the "true" LAMB OF GOD, Who is Jesus. (Please don't take me wrong. Jesus was INDEED the SACRIFICE for ALL OF US--and that includes the CHURCH--BUT, Jesus Christ as a PASSOVER LAMB is a JEWISH CONCEPT.)
What's REALLY INTERESTING is that in the FIRST THREE chapters of Revelation, where the CHURCH is mentioned over and over, Jesus NEVER used the term "LAMB OF GOD."
BUT, from Revelation 5 (where the term "Lamb of God" FIRST appears), and throughout the rest of Revelation, THE LAMB is a DOMINANT image. WHY?
From Revelation 5 ONWARD to chapter 20, the FOCUS of the Revelation is upon God dealing with His Jewish people, the NATION OF ISRAEL. This STRUCTURE is APPARENT in the VERY WORDS which are used!
So where is the CHURCH when we arrive at Revelation 4? Can we discern WHO represents the CHURCH in heaven, AFTER the RAPTURE, which is shown by TYPE in Revelation 4:1-2?
Sure we can!
If the RAPTURE of the CHURCH is indeed hidden in the wording of Revelation 4:1-2, we could EXPECT to SEE the Church in THE REMAINDER of chapter 4 (and in also in chapter 5). There are indeed SEVERAL very powerful and PROVOCATIVE clues--and we'll turn to these things in a few paragraphs.
We've seen the DIFFERENCES in the SYMBOLS that are used--when we look at the CHURCH as compared to the NATION OF ISRAEL. I want to expand upon that idea. Let's look at Romans 11:25.
"For I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this MYSTERY, lest you should be wise in your own conceits; that BLINDNESS in part is happened to ISRAEL, until the FULLNESS of the Gentiles (the CHURCH) are come in."
At the time of the "HEREAFTER"--that FUTURE TENSE part of Revelation (from chapter 4 ONWARD), the CHURCH is NOT CLEARLY shown BECAUSE IT'S COMPLETED, and because it's a MYSTERY--like it was in Old Testament times. The FULLNESS of the Gentile members of the CHURCH is finished IN NUMBER (at the end of Revelation 3)--and the CHURCH has been CAUGHT UP and REMOVED from earth in the RAPTURE at Revelation 4:1-2. The time is quickly approaching for the "Tribulation"--the 70th week of Daniel--to be fulfilled in ISRAEL.
Therefore, the EMPHASIS from Revelation 4 ONWARD is upon a STRONG Old Testament, Jewish, Levitical symbolism. At this point, the BLINDNESS (in part) is LIFTED away from Israel as God DEALS with them during the "time of Jacob's trouble."
The VERY wording and structure of the book of Revelation indicates this fact! THE CHURCH IS COMPLETE AT THE END OF CHAPTER THREE! The CHURCH has entered our MANSIONS in heaven, the DOOR is shut around about us--we're in a place of safety while God pours out His indignation. This FACT is revealed, even in the Old Testament. (See Isaiah 26:19-21.)
WHAT IS THE SYMBOL OF THE RAPTURED CHURCH AS SEEN IN REVELATION?
Let's look at the 24 ELDERS.
"And around about the throne were four and twenty SEATS (thrones): and upon them I saw four and twenty ELDERS sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads CROWNS of gold." Revelation 4:4.
"And when He (Jesus) had taken the book (the seven-sealed scroll), the four living creatures (angels called cherubim) and four and twenty ELDERS fell down before the Lamb, having everyone of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof, for You were slain, and have REDEEMED US to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people and nation; and (You) have made US unto our God KINGS and PRIESTS; and WE shall reign on the earth." Revelation 5:8-10.
Can you see it? Do you discern it? Are you as excited as I am at this point?
If you're familiar with your Bibles, you SHOULD SEE wonderful PARALLELS in the DESCRIPTION of these 24 ELDERS.
Who ARE these heavenly PEOPLE? Are they REALLY a RAPTURED and GLORIFIED CHURCH?
Yes! Let's take a closer look at them!
1. They are called ELDERS. ELDERS is a term used of the leadership in a CHURCH. These are spiritually MATURE ones--having obtained GROWTH in the things of the Lord. (See Acts 15:22. In Acts 20, ELDERS receive Paul's farewell address. Also see: 2 John 1-3, 3 John 1, 1 Timothy 5:17, Titus 1:5, James 5:14, 1 Peter 5:1.)
2. The term ELDER in the Greek is "presbuteros," a word with a strong CHURCH application. Have you heard of the Presbytery? There's even a denomination called Presbyterian!
The fact that the 24 in Revelation are called ELDERS is interesting, since this is such a profound CHURCH-ORIENTED word. But standing by itself, the argument can be weak that the 24 are actually a picture of the CHURCH in heaven after the RAPTURE.
Is there more? Oh, definitely yes!
3. Why are there 24 ELDERS? One of the ways to determine NUMERICAL meanings in scripture is TO SEE how the number is used ELSEWHERE.
Looking at the number 24, we see that it's mentioned in ONE OTHER place, and that's all. We find the number 24 again in 1 Chronicles 24. In that chapter, King David separated the PRIESTHOOD in Israel into 24 COURSES, or groups, because the assembly of Israel was simply TOO HUGE to gather before David's throne. Each COURSE had a HEAD (or a LEADER). When the 24 were called to assemble BEFORE the throne, the WHOLE PRIESTHOOD was represented in that number.
What does this mean? In heaven, the number of the CHURCH is so vast, they they are portioned into 24 groups. When the leaders (the 24 ELDERS) gather at the THRONE of God, the WHOLE ASSEMBLY of the CHURCH is REPRESENTED by them!
4. A SECOND application to the MEANING of 24.
The CHURCH contains both JEWS (in part) and GENTILES who have come to faith in Jesus Christ. In ISRAEL, we see 12 tribes. In the CHURCH, 12 apostles. The CHURCH, made-up of believers from both ISRAEL (in part) and GENTILES, contains a TOTAL number of 24.
5. The 24 ELDERS are RULERS. They SIT upon THRONES. (The Old Testament PRIESTHOOD never sat upon thrones.) In the CHURCH, we find that BELIEVERS in Jesus are called both PRIESTS and KINGS. In the number 24, the ELDERS represent an assembled PRIESTHOOD. By SITTING upon THRONES, they represent a KINGSHIP, too. Priests and Kings in ONE people, the Church.
In the Old Testament, we find ONLY ONE person who is BOTH a PRIEST and a KING. Melchizadek. Jesus Christ is a PRIEST in the order of Melchizadek, and He is also a KING! The Church is PROMISED the very same distinction! (See Revelation 1:6, 1 Peter 2:9.) The CHURCH is NOT just a PRIESTHOOD--it is a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD--KING and PRIEST, together.
The 24 ELDERS are COURSES of the PRIESTHOOD, and by sitting on THRONES, they are KINGS, too--the ACCURATE description of the CHURCH.
Are we done yet? No, there's more!
6. The 24 ELDERS are clothed in WHITE RAIMENT. The CHURCH is promised WHITE RAIMENT. (See Revelation 3:4-5, Revelation 3:18, Ephesians 5:26-27. (The 24 ELDERS wear SPECIFIC WHITE RAIMENT--not a robe or some other garment!)
7. The 24 ELDERS have upon their heads CROWNS OF GOLD. These "crowns" are NOT the "diadem" associated with a MONARCH. These are STEPHANOS CROWNS. These CROWNS are given for OVERCOMING or GAINING A VICTORY! The CHURCH is PROMISED "stephanos crowns" for obtaining the VICTORY through faith in Jesus. (See 1 Corinthians 9:25- 27, 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:8, 1 Peter 5:4, Revelation 2:10, Revelation 3:11.) [By the way, NO WHERE in scripture are crowns promised to angels. Plus angels are NOT ones who must OVERCOME. These are SPECIFIC descriptions of THE CHURCH.]
8. The GOLD of these "stephanos crowns" shows RULERSHIP or KINGSHIP. We saw earlier how the 24 ELDERS sit as RULERS upon THRONES. So, this is another STRONG CLUE to the IDENTITY of the 24 ELDERS. SITTING on THRONES, they RULE. The CHURCH is PROMISED to RULE and REIGN with Jesus Christ (in His Millennial Kingdom and throughout eternity). (See Luke 22:30, Revelation 2:26-27, Revelation 3:21, Matthew 19:28, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, Ephesians 2:6-7.)
9. The 24 ELDERS sing of THEIR REDEMPTION (angels are NOT redeemed). The 24 ELDERS are REDEEMED, bought by the BLOOD OF JESUS--from out of EVERY kindred, tongue, people and nation--they are GENTILES (as well as "the number" of Jews--in part--who accept Jesus by faith). The CHURCH, represented by these 24 ELDERS, are God's REDEEMED people. The ELDERS proclaimed in the FIRST PERSON--using the personal pronouns of "us" and "we." "WE have been REDEEMED." (They are NOT singing about another group of people. They are NOT using third person pronouns!).
[I'll make note here--there's a translation discrepancy in SOME of the versions of the Bible. In the original King James translation, the use of the first person "us" and "we" goes back to the earliest existing manuscripts (the CODEX SINAITICUS). It's considered to be the most ACCURATE translation of Revelation 5:8-10.]
10. In the book of Ezekiel, chapters 1 and 10, the prophet saw an IDENTICAL VISION of the THRONE OF GOD--same as the Apostle John recorded in the Revelation. Except for ONE detail. Ezekiel did NOT mention the 24 ELDERS.
WHY? Because the CHURCH was a MYSTERY which was NOT openly revealed in the Old Testament.
Isaiah also saw the THRONE OF GOD, although NOT as highly detailed as Ezekiel's vision. In Isaiah 6:3, Isaiah saw seraphim which cried "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory"--nearly the same as the living creatures in Revelation that the Apostle John heard and saw, who said, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty." Isaiah did NOT describe any 24 ELDERS for the SAME REASON that Ezekiel did NOT. The CHURCH was a MYSTERY not clearly revealed in Old Testament times.
Daniel saw into heaven, too, and his vision pointed to the time of the VERY END. He recorded in chapter 7:9: "I beheld till the THRONES (plural) were cast (placed) down, and the Ancient of Days (Jesus) did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head pure wool (remember Jesus' white hair in Revelation 1:14?): His throne was like the FIERY FLAME (judgment), and His wheels of BURNING FIRE."
Daniel describes a scene so similar to what the Apostle John saw in Revelation, but Daniel also, made NO mention of the 24 ELDERS. The LORD did NOT reveal the CHURCH to Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel, because the CHURCH was still a MYSTERY then.
I ask you a question: With all of this BIBLICAL evidence and description, are the 24 ELDERS a picture of the RAPTURED CHURCH in heaven in Revelation 4 and 5?
I say "yes." And FURTHERMORE, this picture VALIDATES a PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE of the CHURCH. It's AFTER the scene IN HEAVEN of Revelation 4 and 5 that "the Tribulation" starts with the opening of the seven-sealed scroll in Revelation 6.
What about the Great Multitude in Revelation 7? Who are these people?
(Some teachers mistake them for the CHURCH in a MID-TRIBULATION RAPTURE [after enduring three and a half years of that terrible time of trouble].) Is this REALLY TRUE?
We'll discover the answer in the next blog.
This post, of necessity, had to be lengthy. The subject was too important to divide into sections. I want you to discern the FULL picture.
Have an abundantly blessed day.
EVEN SO, COME QUICKLY, LORD JESUS!