The 24 Elders Revisited
A couple of years ago I wrote an article about the 24 elders, an enigmatic group that is introduced in Revelation 4, and in that article I laid out about as thoroughly as I could why I believe they can be no one but the raptured Church—home and dry and in heaven before the Tribulation starts in Revelation 6. Identifying the 24 elders as the raptured Church (not to mention viewing the Tribulation as beginning with the seal judgments in chapter 6) has been the predominant view within dispensational theology for nearly two centuries, and it puts a stone-cold stranglehold on the fact that the Rapture occurs prior to the Tribulation.
I was recently taken to task over what I wrote in that article by a very nice young woman who has a somewhat different view of these transitional chapters of the book of Revelation, a view that has the seal judgments preceding the Tribulation proper. She has the dead in Christ rising at the fifth seal (Rev. 6:9–11), the catching away of those who are alive and remain at the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12–17), and the Tribulation actually beginning with the first trumpet judgment (Rev. 8:7). I was mildly surprised that she still had it worked out so that the Rapture is pre-trib, because this notion that the seal judgments of chapter 6 are merely a prelude to Daniel's 70th Week has been kicked around for decades and is typically fodder for pre-wrath/post-trib cannons.
At any rate, she insisted that the 24 elders are not the raptured Church (they can't be—it would mess up her theory). I admit that identifying the 24 elders as someone or something other than the raptured Church opens the door to a variety of interesting interpretations of John's vision, but I am still convinced that's exactly who they are.
Now, I am loath to admit it because I know it's pure flesh, but the instant someone hits me with something that is contrary to what I am reasonably certain is biblically correct, I have flashbacks to my Navy days. I hear a voice with that familiar controlled urgency barking over the 1MC:
(BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG) "General quarters, general quarters. All hands man your battle stations. This is not a drill. I say again, this is not a drill. Away the Interpretational Defense Team."
My first knee-jerk reaction is to prepare to vigorously defend my view before even considering the opposing view or its implications. It warms my heart to know that none of you dear readers out there suffer from this problem, but I still feel that impulse surge through my synapses.
Her view that the 24 elders are not the raptured Church was based on the controversial issue of the rendering of Revelation 5:9–10, where it appears the 24 elders are singing the song of the redeemed:
9And they sung 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 [or is it them?] to God by your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10And have made us [or is it them?] to our God kings and priests: and we [or is it they?] shall reign on the earth.
(Revelation 5:9–10 AKJV / emphasis & comments added)
If you have read my original article (and if not, I recommend you do so before continuing in order to establish some background and peruse a laundry list of other reasons why I am convinced the 24 elders are the raptured Church), you know that I devoted an entire section of that article to the issue of whether the 24 elders are singing about themselves as being redeemed to God, or if they are singing about someone else.
In that article, I argued that the verses should read with the first-person pronouns in all three spots (us/us/we) as per the King James Version, which is based on the Textus Receptus. This would put an exclamation point on the already lengthy list of compelling scriptural reasons to understand that the 24 elders can be no one but the raptured Church—rewarded and in heaven before the Tribulation begins.
This very nice young woman argued (correctly) that there is indeed some question about the choice of pronouns in these two verses, and she doubled down on this doubt to support her position that the pronouns in both verses could possibly be in the third person, an assumption that allows one to argue the 24 elders are not the raptured Church and thus postpone the catching away of the body of Christ to some unspecified point after Revelation 4. Like, say, the sixth seal in Revelation 6.
Although I sincerely and respectfully disagree with her view, in the process of discussing the 24 elders, she did the unthinkable...the unimaginable:
She showed me that I was wrong.
Let's face it—nobody likes to be wrong, and I am certainly no different from anyone else in this regard. I hate being wrong. Believe me, no one wants to be right with more maniacal intensity than I do. But when I discover or am shown that I am positively, undeniably wrong about something—especially biblical interpretation, I am quick to admit it so that I can fix it and get back to being right. (And sadly, I am different from many people in this regard.)
Hence this article.
I considered going back and simply rewriting the pertinent section of my original article, but in the end I decided I had enough to say to justify a follow up piece. In this article, I want to revisit the subject of the 24 elders and their relationship with the song of the redeemed in Revelation 5:9–10 so that I can do two things: (a) point out my mistakes, and (b) fix them.
OK, so how was I wrong? This very nice young woman succeeded in bringing to my attention two fundamental mistakes I made in my first article:
1. When I wrote my original article two years ago, one thing I did in regard to the pronoun issue of verses 9–10 was to focus exclusively on those two verses. The problem with that, of course, is it caused me to miss some important context that impacts the issues pertaining to those two verses.
2. I also made the mistake of assuming that whatever applied to verse 9 automatically applied to verse 10. In other words, I argued from the position that if verse 9 reads "us," then it follows logically that verse 10 must read "us" and "we"—a pronominal package deal, as it were.
But the simple truth is that the truth is not that simple.
If you've read my most recent article, you may recall that I was pleased to admit I was wrong about a couple of aspects of the REV12 sign, and made an effort to explain how I had adjusted my thinking about those points—and I'm glad I did. Now here I am again, freely admitting that I made a couple of mistakes in my article about the 24 elders and seeking to go back and fix them—and I'm very glad I did. And why is that, you ask.
I am happy that I successfully squelched my Sixth Fleet flashback and carefully considered what this very nice young woman had to say, instead of just stubbornly continuing to defend my viewpoint in the face of clear scriptural evidence I was wrong. This is because in the process of admitting and then seeking to fix my mistakes, I learned some things that make me even more certain that the 24 elders must be the raptured Church, and that arguments to the contrary are even weaker than I previously believed.
Had I followed my flesh and simply stuck to my guns and defended my position, I never would have learned what I did about the issues concerning Revelation 5:9–10.
In other words, being willing to admit I was wrong led me to discover that I was righter than I thought.
(Excuse me while I do my happy dance...)
Context is king
Speaking of missing context... It will be helpful to take a closer look at the throne room scene of chapter 5 to see what context I missed the first time:
1I saw, in the right hand of him who sat on the throne, a book written inside and outside, sealed shut with seven seals. 2I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book, and to break its seals?" 3No one in heaven above, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look in it. 4And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look in it.
5One of the elders said to me, "Don't weep. Behold, the Lion who is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome; he who opens the book and its seven seals."
6I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7Then he came, and he took it out of the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8And when he had taken the book, the four beasts [or "living creatures"] and four and twenty elders [v. 8 clearly refers to the four living creatures and the 24 elders together as a group] fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them [i.e., each living creature and each elder] harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints.
(Revelation 5:1–8 AKJV / emphasis & comments added)
In the throne room scene, we see God the Father on His throne with the scroll. An angel asks "Who is worthy to open the scroll and loose its seals?" Of course, no man whatsoever is able. John weeps, and an elder says to him that the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David is able to open the seals. Then Jesus appears as the Lamb who had been slain, and takes the scroll from the Father and prepares to open the seals, which initiates a devastating series of judgments on those who dwell upon the earth.
Before He opens the first seal, however, quite the celestial shindig breaks out in chapter 5, and it seems to unfold in stages.
In the first stage (vv. 8–10), we see the four living creatures and the 24 elders fall down before the Lamb, with apparently all 28 of them having a harp and a vial of incense which are the prayers of the saints. Then in verses 9–10 it seems the four living creatures and the 24 elders belt out a two-verse refrain:
"You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain, and have redeemed us/them to God by your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
"And have made us/them to our God kings and priests: and we/they shall reign on the earth."
One thing that this very nice young woman pointed out to me, however, was the fact that verse 8 indicates the four living creatures join in the singing of verses 9–10 in at least some manner, which is a key point I totally overlooked the first time. This is a game-changer, to say the least.
As far as the identity of the four living creatures is concerned, various people have various theories about who or what they may be. But whoever or whatever they are, one thing is reasonably clear:
They certainly do not appear to be men.
That's really all we need to know at this point—there is no obvious reason to believe they are human. But the point is that by focusing exclusively on verses 9 and 10, I missed the context of verse 8 that indicates the four living creatures, whoever or whatever they are, join in with the singing of verses 9 and 10 in some way. Because I was focusing myopically on verses 9–10 alone, I jumped to the conclusion that it was only the 24 elders doing the singing—but like it or not (and at first blush I didn't like it one little bit), the grammar of verse 8 indicates otherwise.
And there lies the problem:
Human men are the only ones who ever have or ever will be capable of being redeemed to God by the blood of Jesus and being made kings and priests who will rule on earth. And the four living creatures are clearly not men—and to attempt to make them so is to leave the world of biblical interpretation and enter the Theater of the Absurd. If we presume to have the four living creatures singing in verse 9 that "you...have redeemed us to God" or singing in verse 10 "you...have made us to our God kings and priests" and "we shall reign on the earth," we have utter nonsense.
Verse 8 tells us the four living creatures are singing, but the four living creatures cannot sing "us" or "we" in either verse 9 or 10 because the pronouns in those two verses can only refer to men —redeemed men to be precise.
So, the context of verse 8 tells me loud and clear that my interpretation of verses 9 and 10 was wrong—and I have to make it right.
Let's step away from this celestial songfest for a moment and take a closer look at just the three pronouns in verses 9–10.
In my original article, I argued that within the Majority Text, or the collection of manuscripts and manuscript fragments that formed the basis of what ultimately gave rise to the Textus Receptus (which was used to produce the King James Version of the Bible), there exist a total of 23 manuscripts or manuscript fragments that contain Revelation 5:9–10. I stated that every single one of those 23 manuscripts reads "us" in verse 9.
I was wrong.
Although I didn't count that as one of my "fundamental mistakes," it is factually incorrect. The truth is that they all read "us" in verse 9 except one, and it is one of the oldest manuscripts of the lot, dating back to the fifth century.
Well, there you go! Older is better, right? That means that one single manuscript must be the most accurate, and all the ones that came after it must have been mistakes or copies of a mistake. So it's not "us"! Yay! Hey, we may have no clue who the 24 elders are, but it doesn't matter because that proves they can't be the raptured Church! Woo hoo!
Not so fast...save your woo-hooing until the end of the article. That one single manuscript is the Codex Alexandrinus, and no, it doesn't say "us" in Revelation 5:9—but neither does it say "we."
Wait a second...if it doesn't say "us," it has to say "we"!
Wrong answer. The Codex Alexandrinus leaves out the pronoun entirely!
Like many of the early manuscripts, the Codex Alexandrinus was hand-copied in a style that featured two columns per page. And as you would expect, when the copyist reached the bottom of the left column, he would pick right up where he left off at the top of the right column.
Here is an image of the actual page in question, which contains Revelation 4:8–6:7. I have taken the liberty of highlighting the passage consisting of Revelation 5:9–10, which begins near the bottom of the left column and continues at the top of the right:
Now, let's blow things up and move in for a closer look. Here are the last four words at the bottom of the left column:
Here are the first four words at the top of the right column:
And here is how the entire eight-word phrase reads (using modern Greek):
...καί ήγόρασας τῷ θεῷ / (?) έν τῷ αϊματί σου...
...kai egorasas to Theo / (?) en to haimati sou...
...and you redeemed / (?) to God by your blood...
The slash indicates the break from the bottom of the left column to the top of the right, and the red question marks indicate where every single other manuscript in the Majority Text that contains Revelation 5:9–10 reads as follows:
...καί ήγόρασας τῷ θεῷ ήμᾱς έν τῷ αϊματί σου...
...kai egorasas to Theo hemas en to haimati sou...
...and you redeemed us to God by your blood...
Every single other manuscript in the Majority Text that contains these two verses reads "us" in verse 9; but in this one particular manuscript, it is widely believed that the copyist simply had a momentary lapse of attention and simply forgot to write the word hemas (us) when he transitioned from the bottom of the left column to the top of the right:
"In other words, the scribe ended a line of text on the bottom of one column. Then, he started at the top of the next column. The word hēmas should have been the first word on the top of the second column, but the scribe suffered a mental lapse. The likelihood of a scribal lapse is so great that Alexandrinus cannot be trusted here. The fact that no other Greek manuscript supports it reinforces the impression that the scribe just blundered."
— Dr. John Niemelä
"Revelation 5, the Twenty-Four Elders, and the Rapture" [Source]
Oopsy. The bottom line is that the manuscript evidence for reading "us" in verse 9 is almost overwhelming:
"Some critics and expositors have rejected this ήμᾱς [hēmas] (us), for the reason that it is omitted in the Codex Alexandrinus, and in the Ethiopic version; though the latter is not much more than a loose paraphrase. The Codex Sinaiticus, however, which was discovered in 1860, and which is of equal antiquity and authority with the Codex Alexandrinus, contains it. The Codex Basilianus, in the Vatican, contains it. The Latin, Coptic or Memphitic, and Armenian, which are of great value, contain it. And so do all other manuscripts and versions. And to discredit it simply and only because it does not appear in that one single Codex of Alexandria, is most unreasonable and unjust to the weight of authority for its retention."
— Joseph A. Seiss
The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation
In other words, there is widespread agreement that those who insist on omitting the "us" in verse 9 (or worse, changing it to "them") do so on scant authority. Some translations that omit the "us" in verse 9 go so far as to insert the word [men] or [people] in square brackets where the "us" should be in a misguided attempt to "correct" the text and bring it into prima facie agreement with verse 10's third person pronouns.
Dr. Tony Garland was written a superb commentary on the book of Revelation, and he expounds on the pronoun issue of Revelation 5:9–10 about as well as anyone I have read. I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in pursuing this topic further. Garland cuts to the chase as to why some have sought to delete or change the "us" in verse 9:
"Part of the motivation for expunging 'us' from this verse comes from a desire, possibly misplaced, to bring verse 9 into conformity with the majority of manuscripts which have 'them' rather than 'us' in verse 10." (emphasis in original)
— Dr. Tony Garland
A Testimony of Jesus Christ: A Commentary on the Book of Revelation [Source]
OK, so the manuscript evidence strongly points to verse 9 reading "us." But what about verse 10?
Same or different?
This was my second mistake: I blithely assumed, as have many before me and as do many today, that both verses 9 and 10 should obviously agree in person, and I argued for the First-Person-in-Both-Verses viewpoint.
While most of the controversy swirls around the "us" in verse 9, there has actually been somewhat less controversy swirling around verse 10. The manuscript evidence points quite clearly to verse 10 being rendered in the third person, and most Bible scholars agree that the third person reading is original.
What controversy there is stems from the fact that the venerated Textus Receptus is the one and only source rendering verse 10 in the first person, and that is arguably due to a well-intentioned effort to arbitrarily force agreement with the first person "us" in verse 9.
Yes, with all due apologies to the KJV-Only gang, the venerable King James Version got it wrong on this one, if a mountain of manuscript evidence is worth the parchment it's written on.
Many Bible scholars share the view of Bruce Metzger, one of the greatest and most influential New Testament scholars of the twentieth century, who had this to say concerning Revelation 5:10 and the issue of whether it should first or third person:
"The third person pronoun, which is overwhelmingly supported, was replaced by ήμᾱς [hemas (us) Ed.] in several versional and patristic witnesses, followed by the Textus Receptus."
— Bruce Metzger
Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.)
And there you basically have it. There is strong manuscript support for first person "us" in verse 9, and strong manuscript support for third person "them" and "they"* in verse 10.
*Note: To be precise, the word "they" (αὐτοὺς [autous]) doesn't appear in the Greek in the second part of verse 10—it's implied by the ending on the verb translated "they shall reign" (βασιλευσουσιν [basileusousin]).
The primary reason so many versions have them both in the first person or both in the third person is due to uncertainty that arose over a fifth-century copyist's blunder that resulted in influencing well-intentioned people to change verse 9 (or in the case of the Textus Receptus, verse 10) in order to force the two verses into a presupposed agreement.
The Notes and Comments contained in the NET (New English Translation) version of the Bible serve as a quintessential example of why so many modern translations of the Bible have reached the point where it is normal to see Revelation 5:9–10 rendered entirely in the third person:
In Revelation 5:9, the NET Bible inserts the word "persons" (with no square brackets to indicate that it is an addition) into verse 9 in the place of "us," and it has a Translator's Note that reads as follows:
"The word 'persons' is not in the Greek text, but is implied. Direct objects were often omitted in Greek when clear from the context."
In other words, rather than following the manuscript evidence where it clearly leads and using "us" in verse 9, they felt the need to "fix" the verse and make it conform to the third person of verse 10. The reason? The third person in verse 9 is "implied" and "clear from the context." Oh really. Sez who?
Then in Revelation 5:10, the NET Bible uses third person "them" and "they," with the following Translator's Comment:
"The vast majority of witnesses have αὐτοὺς (autous, 'them') here, while the Textus Receptus reads ήμᾱς (Jhmas, 'us') with insignificant support (pc gig vgcl sa Prim Bea). There is no question that the original text read αὐτοὺς here."
In other words, they (correctly) acknowledge the validity of the third person in verse 10, and then massage verse 9 to read third person as well out of a need to make it conform to verse 10.
And voilà: It's adios to "us" and hello to a third person clean sweep. Although they are certainly well intentioned in their efforts, the unfortunate result is that anyone who tries to make the 24 elders out to be the raptured Church can be made to appear as if he were desperately clinging to a spurious textual variant.
The point is they made the same mistake I made by assuming verses 9 and 10 should agree in person. On the surface, that seems to make sense. Reading verse 9 as "us" and verse 10 as "them" and "they" presents us with what seems to be a jarring incongruity that people instinctively mistrust and invariably seek to mollify.
There's just one small problem:
That's exactly what the manuscript evidence points to.
• Every single manuscript in the Majority Text containing Revelation 5:9–10 reads first person "us" in Revelation 5:9 except Codex Alexandrinus, which is widely believed to be the result of a simple copyist's error.
• Every single manuscript in the Majority Text containing Revelation 5:9–10 reads third person "them" and "they" in Revelation 5:10, with only the Textus Receptus reading first person "us" and "we." Many believe this is simply due to a sincere but misguided effort to force verse 10 to agree with verse 9.
Finally, please understand one thing: No one, I repeat, no one will ever be able to prove with absolute, 100 percent ironclad certainty whether verses 9 and 10 should read both in the first person, both in the third person, or in the first person in verse 9 followed by the third person in verse 10...at least not until someone posts a YouTube video showing the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos actually penning that part of his vision in AD 95. The greatest Bible scholars in history can do no more than present their best scholarly opinions based on the preponderance of evidence, but in the end we are left to form our own judgments—and I have formed mine:
I am convinced the evidence points to verse 9 being in the first person, and verse 10 being in the third person.
Which begs the question:
What on earth do we do with that?
Before we continue, let's pause for a moment to briefly address two key but contentious issue that invariably arise in regard to the 24 elders:
1. Are the 24 elders men or something else?
As far as I'm concerned, no heavyweight debate is required to settle this one. All we have to do is be willing to follow one of the most basic, most fundamental principles of biblical interpretation there is:
Let Scripture interpret Scripture.
The Greek word translated "elders" is a form of presbuteros, and before we ever get to the book of Revelation and are first introduced to the 24 elders, this word is used a total of 54 times in the preceding 26 books of the New Testament. Surprise...it refers to men every single time. Case closed—that is, unless letting Scripture interpret Scripture is a problem.
What's in a number: By the way, I know it doesn't prove anything, but it struck me as interesting when I noticed that in addition to the 54 usages of the word presbuteros prior to it, the book of Revelation contains 12 usages of the word in reference to the 24 elders. That means the word presbuteros is used a total of 54 + 12 = 66 times in the New Testament:
66 = 6 x 11
In the Bible, 6 is the number of man and 11 represents sin or disorder. To me, this speaks to the fact that all those who have been redeemed to God by the blood of Jesus—even those elevated to the position of elder in whatever specific sense the word is used—are saddled with a sin nature while on earth. After we are raptured and arrive in heaven, however (and notice that the usage of presbuteros for the 24 elders are the final 12 usages of the word in the Bible), we will finally be perfected, clothed in the sparkling white robes of His righteousness, rewarded with crowns (stephanos), made kings and priests, seated with Christ in the heavenlies, and we will rule and reign with Christ on earth in the Millennial Kingdom.
Now maybe it's just me, but after studying Revelation 5:9–10, some of that sounds strangely familiar.
2. Is there anything meaningful about the fact that there are 24 of them?
Well...that depends: Would you care to let Scripture interpret Scripture again?
Yes, let's. First of all, make no mistake: numbers in the Bible always mean something. 'Nuff said. I might also add that a reference to 12 and 12 is not a reference to 24. It's a reference to 12 and 12. Unless, of course, you doubt the Holy Spirit's ability to choose His words carefully.
Although there are a handful of miscellaneous references to the number 24 scattered throughout the Old Testament, there are only two usages of the number that are pertinent to the 24 elders because these two references are intimately related to service, praise, and worship in the temple. That's what the 24 elders are involved in.
The design of and the activites in the earthly temple were a model of the throne room in heaven and what transpires therein, and so the following two usages of the number 24 are especially sigificant to the 24 elders around the throne in the book of Revelation, where John has the opportunity to visit the real deal:
(a) In 1 Chronicles 24, King David divided all the priests who worked in the temple into 24 divisions called "courses." There were no doubt hundreds of priests, but they were all represented in these 24 courses. Thus, the number 24 signifies a completed group. There wasn't a twenty-fifth division in some other location.
(b) In 1 Chronicles 25, David did something along the same lines with the musicians and singers who led praise in the temple. There were hundreds of musicians and singers, but he divided them all into 24 divisions. Again, 24 signifies a completed group. Same deal: There wasn't a twenty-fifth division somewhere else.
So, if we are willing to let Scripture interpret Scripture, the fact that there are 24 elders signifies that whoever or whatever they are, they represent a completed group.
"Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
We are faced with a puzzle, and here are some clues:
• Verse 8 makes it clear that both the four living creatures and the 24 elders participate in the singing of the song of the redeemed in verses 9 and 10.
• Verse 9 is in the first person, and is about being redeemed to God by the blood of Jesus—a line that obviously only men can sing.
• Verse 10 is in the third person, and is about some group of redeemed individuals who have been made kings and priests and who will rule on earth (and note that only men are promised such a thing in Scripture).
So, what can we logically conclude?
First of all, since the four living creatures are not human, they cannot sing verse 9...but somebody has to sing it, and that means it must be the 24 elders.
But if the 24 elders sing verse 9, they are singing of their own redemption as a completed group of saints. They cannot be Israel, because in Revelation 5 the redemption of the Jewish remnant hasn't even started yet—the redeemed of Israel are not a completed group. Tribulation saints, or people saved after the Rapture, are a separate group from the Church, and that group isn't complete in chapter 5 either. Our options are dropping fast.
So, only the 24 elders
can sing verse 9, only the
four living creatures can
sing verse 10, and the 24
elders must be the Church.
If the 24 elders are a completed group of saints in heaven that are not Israel and are not the Tribulation saints, they must be the Church. There are no other reasonable choices. And if the complete Church is in heaven in Revelation 5, they certainly cannot be singing in verse 10 about the redemption of other Church Age saints on earth preparing to go through the Tribulation—that would imply the 24 elders are not a completed group, but they are. And like I just said, the 24 elders can't be singing about Israel, they can't be singing about Tribulation saints because those saved after the Rapture are nowhere promised to be made kings and priests who will rule on earth. So, if the 24 elders sing verse 10, just exactly who are they singing about?? Again, somebody has to sing verse 10, and it cannot be the 24 elders and so it must be the four living creatures.
So, only the 24 elders can sing verse 9, only the four living creatures can sing verse 10, and the 24 elders must be the Church. And if the Church—as a completed group of redeemed men—is in heaven, that means none of them are on earth going through the Tribulation. That can only mean one thing: The Rapture has occurred, and it must have already occurred by Revelation 5, before a single seal has been opened.
Thus the assumption that the four living creatures and the 24 elders all sing the same lines at the same time simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
When different segments of a singing group sing different lines of a song at different times in a sort of back-and-forth or call-and-response manner, it's called an antiphonal arrangement. Evidently that's what we have here in Revelation 5, and if we consider the context of the entire chapter, we see that this idea fits perfectly. There is ample precedence for antiphonal singing in the Bible: The Song of Moses in Exodus 15 is antiphonal in nature, as is Psalm 136.
Let's take a closer look at what transpires in the celestial celebration in chapter 5 and see how it lends itself quite naturally to an antiphonal arrangement:
9And they sung 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; 10And have made us to our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. 11And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; 12Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. 13And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be to him that sits on the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever. 14And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that lives for ever and ever.
(Revelation 5:9–14 AKJV)
Here is an outline of the action:
1. The 24 elders sing verse 9 (about themselves).
2. The four living creatures sing verse 10 (about the 24 elders).
3. A huge host of angels join the 24 elders and the four living creatures in the last part of verse 12.
4. Every creature in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and in the sea (that's everybody!) all join together for the latter part of verse 13.
5. The four living creatures say "amen."
6. The 24 elders fall down and worship before the throne.
As you can see, this whole scene lends itself quite nicely to an antiphonal arrangement, and so it's really not so startling after all that the four living creatures and the 24 elders sing two different verses at different times. Best of all, viewing verses 9 and 10 as part of an antiphonal arrangement neatly dispenses with all the pesky problems traditionally associated with who sings what about whom in these two verses, and the translation that best follows the manuscript evidence, rather than impinging on one's sensibilities, suddenly makes perfect sense.
On a side note, I think it's worth noting that in reality we don't even need Revelation 5:9–10 to help us determine the identity of the 24 elders—a proper interpretation of their participation in the song of the redeemed merely puts yet another exclamation point on their identity as the Church. If we're simply willing to let Scripture interpret Scripture in regard to two basic facts (i.e., that they are men and represent a completed group), we can immediately establish that the 24 elders are the raptured Church in Revelation 4:4, where they are first introduced:
If the 24 elders are men, we don't need to hear them sing about their own redemption in Revelation 5:9 to know they are redeemed by the blood of Jesus...they're in heaven...duh. And if they are a completed group of redeemed men in Revelation 4, we know they can't be Israel or the Tribulation Saints because neither is a completed group at that point. Thus they must be the Church, and if they are the complete Church in heaven, that means the Rapture has occurred. The point is that nothing anyone sings in Revelation 5 changes that. The four living creatures and the 24 elders could be singing a medley of Hank Williams' greatest hits in chapter 5 and the elders would still represent the body of Christ: redeemed, raptured, rewarded, and ready to rule.
So, with all due respect to that very nice young woman and everyone else who may disagree, I personally am more convinced than ever that the 24 elders represent the raptured Church in heaven before the Tribulation ever begins, even though I made my fair share of missteps on my way to that conclusion.
"If I had a hammer..."
Every single month for the past six years, I have posted a full-length article on my little website, and in those articles I do my level best to hammer out various doctrinal and interpretive issues in ways that I sincerely believe are right and true and scripturally sound and that honor God and His Word.
Of course, I'm not stupid. I'm not naive. I know many believers have many different views and opinions of many things in Scripture, and I believe that's the way the Father ordained for it to be. It keeps us honest. It keeps us studying the Word. It keeps us reliant on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It keeps us digging and piecing things together—an insight here, a connection there. As a result, none of us has any business allowing ourselves to get puffed up with pride over how much we fancy we know about the Bible, and that goes for people who happen to know a lot and what they know is mostly right.
The point is that none of us has it all—God hasn't revealed every detail of His Word to any of us. That's why we not only should, but must remain open to correction and be willing to admit we are wrong sometimes.
Because we are wrong sometimes.
But there's a fine line at work here. I have witnessed a growing trend in the Church in the last few years that in many ways is a reflection of the trends of modern society, especially in America. Yes, America—the land of the politically correct and the home of the tolerant and inclusive. Where everyone's opinions must be given equal weight. Where everyone's views must be respectfully considered. Where everyone's ideas must be celebrated and embraced. And heaven forbid anyone have the attitude that their opinion is right and someone else's is wrong. How exclusive. How intolerant.
It seems that over the past decade, I have seen more and more examples of how Satan is using this stifling cloak of political correctness to create an environment in some circles within the Church where people can freely advance teachings that are clearly in error, but no one raises a whisper in protest. No one lifts a finger in correction. Why? Simple—they don't dare. As a result, I've seen people whose knowledge of eschatology has apparently been garnered from a handful of YouTube videos spinning their theories and spewing forth their opinions that often fly in the face of centuries of solid biblical scholarship, and then genuinely expect to receive a group hug and a shiny gold star, all while humbly reassuring everyone they are "open to correction."
Oh yeah? Try correcting them.
Let me know how that works out for you. Look, I'm not trying to hammer anyone here (although I openly admit it's hardwired into my DNA). It's just that it's a bit frustrating when I get accused of being less than gracious by people who failed to get their hug and their gold star from me for their hip new theory that the Tribulation actually started in 2014 2015 2016. Or that only elite Christians (like them) will go in the Rapture while most of the Church (i.e., slugs like me) will have to suffer through the Tribulation to get whipped into shape. Or that the 24 elders are really a gaggle of über-angels or a squad of celestial X-Men.
The fact is that I do have a hammer...but I'm trying to use it in the right way because the Holy Spirit has been steadily showing me that I don't know all the answers, and I don't have it all figured out, and I don't always have a 100 percent correct interpretation of things.
"So quit talking like you do, hoss. Or do we need to take another walk out to the woodshed?"
OK, so I admit that I wasn't peeking over John's shoulder when he wrote Revelation 5:9–10 in AD 95 (and neither were you). Or maybe there's an exception to this idea of letting Scripture interpret Scripture buried somewhere in all of this. Or maybe the antiphonal arrangement idea is a bridge too far. And I can't say the idea that the 24 elders represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles is completely without merit...it's just that I'm not inclined to view it that way.
Who knows? In the end, all I can do is keep hammering out my articles month after month and share what I am deeply and strongly convinced is true and right, and honor His Word to the best of my ability, mistakes and all. And I say this before God—that's what I will continue to do as long as the Father blesses me with the ability and the opportunity to do so. Time is short—how can I do less?
And that means, knowing me—cold, hard-bitten, rapscallion me, that some sensitive, well-meaning soul out there with a theory that thumbs its nose at two hundred years of well-established dispensational theology may not get the requisite hug and gold star from me they feel entitled to. If so, you have my sincerest, humblest, and most heart-felt apologies in advance. Visualize me giving you a shoulder to cry on.
Yes, time is short. We are in the season of the Rapture, and so for the time being I will continue doing what I've always done: do my utmost to write whatever the Lord lays on my heart month after month, and I will continue to be open to the possibility that I've made mistakes here and there. And I will continue to give God the glory for everything He allows me to write that honors Him and His Word, edifies the body of Christ in some small way, and imparts a little strength to someone out there who is in need of it.
I give God all the glory for that, and Him alone.
The misteaks are all mine.
Greg Lauer / November 2017
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1. Deriv. of "Sunset Over Grass Field" © AOosthuizen at Can Stock Photo
2. Deriv. of "Magnifying Glass Illustration" © smarques27 at Fotolia.com
3. "Wrong" © chrisdorney at Fotolia.com
4. Deriv. of "Page From Codex Alexendrinus" courtesy of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
5. Deriv. of "Page From Codex Alexendrinus" courtesy of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
6. Deriv. of "Page From Codex Alexendrinus" courtesy of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
7. Deriv. of "St. John on Patmos" by Gaspar de Crayer (photo by Szilas) [PD]
8. Deriv. of "Cartoon Illustration of Choir Men" © anggar3ind at Fotolia.com
All Scripture is taken from the World English Bible, unless annotated as KJV (King James Version) or AKJV (American King James Version).