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Divine Council - 24 Elders|
Biblical Patterning - An Interpretive Tool
to Identify the Twenty-Four Elders of Revelation
"Around the throne were twenty four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting clothed in white robes and they had crowns of gold on their heads" Rev. 4:4 (NKJV).
Eschatological Models used as interpretive tools
Who are the Twenty Four Elders found in the book of the Revelation? Modern day answers frequently revolve around the eschatological models and biases held by those giving the answers. These biases have settled into two primary camps: Futurists who hold the elders to be the raptured church and Historicists who offer a variety of views including angels or an assembly of kingly priests, Old Testament (OT) patriarchs and/or New Testament (NT) Apostles.
The study of the Twenty-Four is at times, unfortunately reduced to the role of a support structure for one eschatological model or the other. If the Twenty-Four are the Church then the Pre-Tribulation Rapture is said to be affirmed. If the Twenty-Four are an assembly of OT and NT saints then the Pre-Tribulation Rapture is not affirmed.
Biblical Patterns used as interpretive tools
Biblical Patterning used as an interpretive tool yields a fascinating alternative insight to the identity of the Twenty-Four. Biblical Patterning, for the purpose of this paper, is defined as a method of exegesis starting with the following basic assumptions
The revelations given to John in 90 A.D. were grounded in OT patterns of the ancient Israelite religion, prophecy, imagery and motifs.
People, places, things and themes shown in the Revelation of Jesus Christ have direct correspondence to real people, places, things and themes described in the OT.
When using Biblical Pattering as an interpretive tool the reader deliberately looks for reoccurring OT themes or individuals (i.e. patterns) when identifying who or what John is referring to in his writings.
Biblical Patterns should not to be confused with Typology where the reader looks for OT symbols or images which then serve as anticipatory prototypes for realized NT revelations. For example the kinsman redeemer Boaz serving as type of Jesus.
Back to the Twenty-Four Elders
John makes numerous references to the Twenty-Four Elders. (Rev 4:4, 4:10, 5:5-14, 7:11-13, 11:16, 14:3, 19:4,). In these passages we see a group of high ranking heavenly beings who are in attendance in the very throne room of God. They each have their own throne and crowns which implies they hold some kind of authority, power or rule. They each submit their authority to God and Christ and give honor and glory to them. Thus the Twenty-Four can be seen as a great council or court of kings submitting to the greater and unique King. Honor and submission is also paid to the Lamb who is given full dominion and authority to rule. These attributes of the Twenty-Four are clearly stated in the text. What is not clearly stated in the text is what kind of beings these Elders are. Are they human or angels or something else?
Are the Twenty-Four Elders Human?
There are a significant number of scholars on both sides of the eschatological fence who insist that the Twenty-Four are indeed redeemed humans such as the Apostles, OT Patriarchs etc., or at least symbolize humans in the form of the Church. These include such authorities as the Scofield Study Bible & MacArthur Study Bible to cite only two.
Are the Twenty-Four Elders Angelic?
The Reformation Study Bible identifies the elders as angelic ministers who are wise and make up God's administrative cabinet, yet the RSB does not speculate further. We are thus left hanging as to the angelic ministers' identification or specific functions beyond a superficial explanation. As Bruce Metzger in his commentary on the Book of Revelation states regarding the elders, - it is anyone's guess.
The Divine Council
Making use of Biblical patterns in the OT with respect to the Twenty-Four yields an astonishing and exciting glimpse into a subject of the Bible that is well documented but seldom taught to Christians. This subject is known as the Divine Council or Divine Assembly spoken of in the Old Testament.
Simply stated the Divine Council is a specific group of created heavenly beings, (not angels) who sit in the throne room of Yahweh and hold council with Him. These beings have great power and were assigned stewardships by Yahweh over various portions of creation including specific parts of the earth and its inhabitants. There are many stories about these bene ha-elohim, or sons of God, gods or mighty ones in the OT. There is also a great deal of controversy concerning the identity of these individuals since the time of Augustine.
Biblical Patterns comparing the Divine Council and the Twenty-Four
The Twenty-Four Elders are introduced in Revelation chapter four. The scene is the throne room of God where great honor and glory is given to the Father. Now at this point, using Biblical Patterning, we begin looking in the Hebrew Scriptures to see if there are similar throne room scenes or motifs. Specifically we are looking for OT examples where Yahweh is seated on His throne surrounded by and addressing a group of heavenly beings engaged in council, judgment and or worship. There are in fact numerous places in the OT where just such patterns exist. The following Scriptures are given as examples.
Job 1: 6
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord.
Psalms 58: 1-2
Do you indeed speak rightly you gods?
Psalms 82: 1-8
God stands in the congregation of the mighty He judges among the gods.
1 Kings 22:19-23
Then Micaiah said, therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left....
A few points need to be stated at this juncture
1.The Divine Council is not a new idea or field of study.
2.There are many competent orthodox scholars who acknowledge the existence of the Divine Council as Biblically sound.
3.Numerous Hebrew language scholars recognize that the ancient Israelite religion believed in the Divine Council and wrote about the Council in the Hebrew Bible and other non-canonical writings. Stated another way there existed a pantheon of lesser gods (sons of God), in the ancient Israelite religion.
4.This pantheon of lesser gods was not understood to be polytheism, rather an affirmation of Israelite monotheism which held that Yahweh was unique, the one and only God who created all heavenly and earthly beings. No other heavenly being is like Him, nor were they to be worshiped by humans.
5.Identification of the Twenty-Four elders as the Divine Council is not new and is also supported by excellent Biblical Scholars.
Are the Twenty-Four Elders the Divine Council?
Based upon the OT patterns and descriptions of the Divine Council and John's description of the Twenty-Four Elders, it is not difficult to accept the possibility of the Twenty-Four being the Divine Council. This is no more difficult than seeing correspondence between the beasts of Revelation and the beasts of Daniel or other numerous correspondences between OT idiom and similar apocalyptic themes in John's writings. Are we saying categorically that the Twenty-Four are the Divine Council? No, however we do hold that this assertion has as much validity as stating the Twenty-Four are a group of ministering angels or the NT Church. This is especially true when the bias' of eschatological schools are removed from the debate and only the text is studied.
There is intriguing evidence to suggest the Twenty-Four Elders are the Divine Council described in the OT. The apostle John was a Jew. He was trained in and thought in terms of the Hebrew Scriptures. His bias' were grounded and formed in the Israelite religion and their ancient texts. It would be reasonable to assume that the content of those texts were on his mind as he penned his visions.
Looking for correspondence between the OT and NT writings is a valid tool for interpreting John's writings. Reading the Book of Revelation should not be restricted to viewing the book only through the lenses of the Christian eschatological debate - i.e. the debate between Dispensational Futurists and Reformed Historicists -Preterist or Semi-preterists.
Michael Heiser - Website articles on the Divine Council - www.michaelsheiser.com
Leyland Ryken - Biblical Imagery, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, 1998)
Bruce Metzger - Breaking the Code, (Abington Press, Nashville, 1993)
John Woolvard - The Revelation of Jesus Christ, (Moody Press, Chicago, 1966)
Scofield NKJV - (Oxford University Press, New York, 2002)
Reformation Study Bible ESV - (Ligonier Ministries - Ligonier, 2005)
Macarthur Study Bible NASB - (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 2006)
Author Ken Emilio holds an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University and a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
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