And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
There’s a reason Revelation is the last book of the Bible and the last book which was likely written by the inspired authors other than perhaps the gospel of John. It’s a book which was “signified” (Revelation 1:1), meaning that it’s chock full of symbolism and figurative language which confound many. Yet I propose the key to understanding Revelation is by turning first and foremost to the rest of the Bible for clues as to what these symbols mean. I’ve found that doing so makes Revelation not only relevant to both its original readers in the church two thousand years ago, but also relevant to my own spiritual walk and thus very encouraging.
Take the passage under consideration above, for example. John was taken spiritually into God’s throne room (vs. 1-3). Around God’s throne were twenty-four other thrones on which sat twenty-four elders, clothed in white with golden crowns on their heads (v. 4). Remembering that this is “signified” language, the twenty-four elders symbolize something…but what? They were clothed in white, which Isaiah would say indicates spiritual purity (Isaiah 1:18). Crowns generally make us think of authority. The fact that there are twenty-four of them reminds me of the fact that God made two major covenants with man, the Old Testament Law of Moses given to twelve tribes of Israel and the New Testament Law of Christ given through twelve apostles. Thus, the twenty-four elders signify the spiritual authority and purity of the two major covenants of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments.
John then wrote of how lightning, rumblings and thunder came from God’s throne (v. 5), which brings to mind how lightning and thunder oftentimes announced the presence of God throughout the Bible (cf. Exodus 19:16-17). He also recorded how seven torches of fire burned before the throne, which he specifically defines as “the seven spirits of God” (v. 6). Since this is “signified” language, we know there aren’t seven Holy Spirits. The number 7 in the Bible, used figuratively, always symbolized completeness. The creation was complete by the seventh day. God through Amos figuratively told sinful cities and countries that their iniquities were complete by citing “for three transgressions and for four” (cf. Amos 1:3). Thus, John was saying that the complete Holy Spirit was before God’s throne, symbolized by those burning torches…which also makes sense since the Spirit inspired Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21) and God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).
He then writes of four creatures on each side of the throne; one like a lion, one like an ox, one with a human face and the fourth like an eagle (vs. 6-7). The number 4 is used figuratively in Scripture in connection with the things of the world (cf. Isaiah 11:12; Jeremiah 49:36). The four creatures each represent the fourfold division of animal life as also described in Genesis 1:21b-27: wildlife (lion), domestic animal life (ox), humanity (man), winged life (eagle).
They spend day and night praising God (vs. 8-9), and while doing so the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before God’s throne and praise him for his worthiness to receive glory, honor and power, acknowledging that he created everything to serve his will (vs. 10-11). By casting their crowns before his throne, the elders who represent the spiritual law-givers of both Testaments show that the authority of the commands and principles found throughout Scripture ultimately comes from the One who sits on God’s throne. The four creatures symbolize everything physical and the twenty-four elders signify everything spiritual; both of them praise God continually. Thus, the chapter ends with a reminder to us of how God is worthy of the praise of all he has created…including us.