3 And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.
As we begin considering the vision that John wrote down for the benefit of others who would read his apocalypse, we must go to the text that parallels this one and read this truly fascinating description in Ezekiel 1:26-27:
26 Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man. 27 Then I noticed from the appearance of His loins and upward something like glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it, and from the appearance of His loins and downward I saw something like fire; and there was a radiance around Him. 28 As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.
The parallels are close and fascinating. What is striking is that they do not give an impression of literary dependence – meaning that John read what Ezekiel wrote and rewrote his own material somewhat differently. Instead the level of perception of what they saw and the language is so different (although it is clear they are describing something extremely similar) that the strong impression the (religious) reader gets is that the same type of vision may have been experienced by both Ezekiel and the author of Revelation.
4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.
The throne of God was surrounded by another twenty-four thrones with the elders crowned (crown represents legitimacy) and dressed in white (white garments represent absolute purity and holiness). This feature is unparalleled in any other Jewish apocalyptic works. The big question here, however, is not really the meaning of the crowns and the garments, but the number of elders. Who are the 24 persons making up God’s heavenly council? In the text that we will consider in more detail in Revelation 11:15-19, the 24 elders seem to function as God’s chief worshipers with the authority of the mediating priests:
15 Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. 18 And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” 19 And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.
Another text that shows us the 24 elders in action is found in Revelation 19:3-5. There we read that the 24 elders were a very important part of the polyphony of heavenly voices, whether priestly or not is not clear:
3 And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever.” 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”
While this is not certain, the best possible candidate for the 24 elders around God’s throne is the unity government of the original and now renewed Israel, i.e. twelve heads of tribes of Israel plus twelve new heads of Israel – the apostles of Christ Jesus.
If, however, the joint Jewish and Roman Imperial background is in view, then it is possible that 24 elders could also parallel 24 lictors (civil servants with right and power to command the Roman Emperor). Given the addresses of the seven letters to the assemblies and their largely non-Jewish background (former Roman God-fearers, now followers of the Jewish Christ) this may be an attractive proposition.
Whether the beginning of the night visions of Daniel in chapter 7 can shed any light on the heavenly courtroom throne (vs. 9) motif is not clear, since we do not know if the 24 thrones (the elders) are in view or if only two personages are in view (the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man).
We read in Daniel 7:9:
“I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire.”
Since in Daniel 7:13-14 we are told about the crowning ceremony of the Son of Man, it stands to reason to assume that the plurality of the thrones in Daniel 7:9 refers to two thrones only:
“I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days. And was presented before Him. 14 “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which will not pass away. And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.
There is one caveat that deserves a note here. Modern translations translate the twenty-four thrones as we are used to reading the number “twenty four,” but the Greek manuscripts preserve the ancient Hebraic reversed numbering “four and twenty.” It means the same thing, but the Hebraism is preserved in some translations (see King James Version for example):
“And round about the throne were four and twenty seats and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold” (Rev.4:4).
5 Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; 6 and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal;
This text is extremely close to the description given in the above-quoted passage in Ezekiel 1:26-27. The heavenly menorah (the seven lamps of fire) is shown here to be a symbol of the seven Spirits of God (see earlier discussion on Revelation of John 1:4 where the Spirits are first mentioned). The glory of the Ancient of Days is described in terms of the magnificence of the heavenly throne and the heavenly throne room, if we can speak of it in such a way, since God’s throne is not stationary. It seems to exist in one particular place, but it is essentially a traveling throne-chariot of Israel’s God. This area of discussion in Jewish studies is usually referred to as Merkavah (chariot) mysticism – the experience of seeing the heavenly, in this case the traveling throne of the LORD God himself.