The Way It Happened

Revelation 4:4, The Twenty-four Elders

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.

//Revelation paints a magnificent picture of the throne of God and, around it, twenty-four elders. 1 Chronicles 24 describes these twenty-four elders in detail. They comprise the governors of the house of God, of the tribe of Levi. King David gave them their priestly duties a long time ago, and the Chronicles list their names.

Ezekiel also experienced a vision of twenty-five men, representing the heads of these twenty-four orders and the high priest. Jesus, of course, serves as high priest in Revelation’s version.

In Revelation, the actions of these twenty-four elders form a couple of sly innuendos. These innuendos can only be appreciated in the light of Revelation’s denunciation of Nero Caesar, whom it refers to as the Beast of the Sea.

The elders are all wearing crowns, so the first thing they do (Revelation 4:10) is lay their crowns down at the feet of Jesus. First-century readers would be reminded of the Parthian prince Tiridates, whom Nero crowned king of Armenia. Tiridates once fell down before Nero publicly in worship, saying, “I have come to thee, my God, to worship thee as I do Mithras.” Then he laid down his crown at Nero’s feet. So, the twenty-four elders make a point of laying theirs at Jesus’ feet.

Then in the next chapter (Revelation 5:8) the elders are seen holding a harp in one hand and a bowl of incense in the other.  An image of the Greek god Apollo in a similar libation stance, holding a lyre (harp) in one hand and a bowl in the other, would also be known to Revelation’s first readers. Nero, as you might guess, played the lyre and thought of himself as the god Apollo. In Revelation, immediately after mimicking Nero, the elders fall down and worship Jesus.

The lesson, of course, is that Nero Caesar is not to be worshiped; Jesus is. Revelation is a fascinating book of deep symbolism, much of which is lost on current-day readers.


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  2. I agree with the lesson of that reading. I would love to read the whole book of Revelation so I may learn a lot of good stuff.

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  3. Thanks for the kind words, Sam! It might be that the book I wrote about Revelation is what you’re looking for; it’s a verse-by-verse treatment of Revelation, from a first-century perspective.

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