“Twenty-four thrones surrounded Him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads.”
Revelation 4:4 NLT
John’s vision expands, as though he was seeing through a lens with an increasing field of view. And he sees thrones and people sat on them. The scene’s detail is such that he can count the number of thrones. And he notices that each of the people who were sitting on the thrones – he calls them elders – were wearing white with gold crowns on their heads. The fact that he could identify them as being elders in the church must have meant he had some extra-visionary revelation, something that allowed him to identify them. So we must ask ourselves why were they there, was there anything significant about the number twenty four, and why were they dressed that way.
The easy answer is – we don’t know. But there are perhaps a few hints. Taking the crown first, the Apostle Paul said we would receive a crown of righteousness one day. In 2 Timothy 4:8 we read, “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing”. James takes up the same theme in James 1:12, referring to a crown of life. There are also several Old Testament references to crowns. So we shouldn’t be puzzled if we receive a crown when we get to Heaven. And it will be a presentation to us from Jesus Himself (think about receiving an honour from the British Queen, a knighthood or something – it will be an infinitely greater occasion than that!).
And then we have the white clothes. References to white garments appear throughout the Book of Revelation, so I think white is the colour (is white a colour?) that will be almost ubiquitous in Heaven. It signifies purity, and is the opposite to the devil’s favourite – a black darkness. Jesus promised the church in Sardis clothes of white if they overcame what was holding them back in their faith. The words of Jesus in Revelation 3:5, “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments…”. Another enigmatic Scripture that comes to mind is from Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” 1 John 1:7 reads, “But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin”. When we repent of our sins and believe in faith that Jesus shed His blood for us, then our sins are washed away and we are left white and pure.
So why were there twenty four elders and why were they sitting on thrones surrounding God’s throne? We don’t really know for sure, though theologians over the centuries have tried to come up with a few theories. But I’m wondering if the “24” refers to the universality and inclusiveness of the Gospel. God’s grace extends both to the twelve tribes of Israel and to everyone else, non-Jews represented by the second twelve. 1 Corinthians 12:13-14 reads, “For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. And so the body is not made up of one part but of many”.
So to today’s pilgrims, this glimpse into Heaven showing the twenty four elders, and reveals the importance of perseverance, because there awaits for each one of us a personalised reward, and an eternity close to God’s throne. We won’t all be elders I’m sure but there will be a role for each one of us, as eternity plays out in boundless lives of purity.
Dear Lord. Thank You once again for this glimpse inside Heaven, Please help us to keep our final goal, our final home, firmly in our sights. Amen.