Poole on Revelation 4:4: The Court of the Most High, Part 1

Verse 4:[1] (Rev. 11:16) And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, (Rev. 3:4, 5; 6:11; 7:9, 13, 14; 19:14) clothed in white raiment; (Rev. 4:10) and they had on their heads crowns of gold.


[And in the circuit, etc.] Namely, on both sides (Piscator); or, in the form of a semicircle, as it was wont to be done in Consistories, or Councils (Hammond). Thus the judgments seats of Kings were wont to be surrounded by great men, etc. (Cluverus). By their position were denoted their attentiveness, open vision, and easy access (Forbes).



[Seats, etc., θρόνοι, etc.] There were thrones (majestic, of which sort were those of Kings and Princes [Menochius]) twenty and four (Beza, Piscator).


[And upon the thrones, twenty and four elders] A definite number in the place of an indefinite (Durham). It alludes to the twenty-four courses into which the Priests, and the Levites, the Musicians, the Porters, and the royal ministers were distributed (Brightman, similarly Cluverus, Durham), by the institution of God, 1 Chronicles 24-27 (Brightman). Now, these elders denote, either, 1. the twenty-four books of the Old Testament[2] (Jerome and Ambrose in Ribera, Napier, Cotterius, Graser[3] in Cluverus), for so many there are; and by these especially God is glorified night and day, which is attributed to these elders in Revelation 4:10, 11. And whatever in this place is advanced by the name of elders, that is found in some place of the Old Testament books (Napier): now, the language of elders denotes, not only the antiquity of the Old Testament, but its antiquation, according to Hebrews 8:13. For, whom old age presses, finally it overwhelms. The thrones given to these denote the glory of the Old Testament, concerning which 2 Corinthians 3:7, etc. That they were around the throne teaches that God under the law was clothed by the veil of that Testament. The white mantles denote the perfection of works, which the Old Testament was urging in its singular manner. The crowns were a sign of Dominion: under the Old Testament the people were in servitude, Galatians 4 (Cotterius). But it hinders that to these elders are attributed in this place sitting, adoration, white garments, redemption, etc., which things are entirely alien to inanimate matter, of which sort is the Old Testament (Gomar, similarly Ribera). Or, 2. the entire Church (certain interpreters in Ribera, similarly Lightfoot’s Harmony, Chronicle, and Order of the New Testament 155, Piscator, Durham, Brightman, Forbes), or, all the elect (Forbes), and true professors of the faith in the militant Church of the New Testament, as it is evident from a comparison with Revelation 4:9, 10 (Durham). For these are out of the twelve tribes of Israel and Israelites indeed, and are built upon the foundation of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb, Ephesians 2:20; Hebrews 12:23 (Forbes). Now, they are said to be twenty-four in number (Durham), [either] because these are a symbol of the twelve Patriarchs and the twelve Apostles (Piscator): [or] because the Church of the New Testament is larger than that of the Old Testament. Now, they are not the Governors of the Churchs, both, because they are attendants of the four living Creatures, and, because no privileges are attributed to these that are not common to all the saints. They are called Elders here, as in Isaiah 24:23, just as also Kings and Priests, Revelation 1:6; 5:10, on account of their extraordinary dignity (Durham), their venerable majesty, and their mature understanding (Forbes), and because they are singular minsters and servants of God, as closest to Him, and sharers in His glory (Durham). But it is apparent that the whole Church is not here understood, partly, because the four living creatures are not numbered among them; partly, because they themselves offer the prayers of the saints, namely, of those that are on the earth; partly, from a comparison with Revelation 7:13, 14; 14:1-4 (Ribera). [These things concerning the second opinion.] Or, 3. the chorus of the Patriarchs, Prophets, etc., and the whole Prophetic Church of the Old Testament triumphant with Christ in the heavens. Who are here numbered as twenty-four, a lawful senate, as it were, which as full is wont to consist in this number (Pareus). Or, 4. the more illustrious saints of the Old and New Testaments (Menochius, similarly Gomar, Ribera), triumphant in the heavens, who, as if Elders of God the Father, are sharers and heralds of His glory (Gomar). This indicates, both, 1. that these were saints, yet not all the saints, but certain of them; and the same of every tribe, tongue, etc.; therefore, they are many more than twenty-four: and, 2. from the name elders, which is wont to be given to those that are honored more than the others (Ribera). They are called Elders on account of their antiquity, gravity, wisdom, and superiority in virtue (Menochius). Now, the thrones are said to be twenty-four, of which twelve are placed for the Apostles and Apostolic men (Ribera), who compose spiritual Israel (Victorinus[4] in Cluverus); and twelve are placed for the most select saints under the Old Testament (Ribera), for the twelve Patriarchs (Ribera out of Victorinus), who composed carnal Israel (Victorinus in Cluverus). Or, 5. the ministers and governors of the Catholic Church, Presbyters and Bishops. For to these agree all the duties and attributes of these elders, Revelation 4:10; 5:5, 6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13, 14; 14:3; 19:4. These judge and rule the Church, surround the throne of God, chant the praises of God, etc. (Cluverus). Here, he designates the Pastors, Bishops and Priests, who both in place and order correspond to the Levites and Priests in the camp of Israel, where they were surrounding the Tabernacle, which was the Throne of God; and their number is the same as the twenty-four courses of Priests and Levites. Whence, besides that they are closest to God, they also have their thrones; additionally they bear crowns, which are bestowed by God as emblems of dignity and power, and are notes of distinction and eminence above the rest of the assembly. For, although the body of the people are called Kings and Priests, yet that is not distinctive or comparative, but common to the Pastor and the people (Mede’s Works 541; 544; 738). But the article [τοὺς/the before πρεσβυτέρους/elders[5]] shows that certain Presbyters are here understood, namely, those of the Jerusalem Church, who at that time were twenty-four after the fashion of the equivalent number of principal Priests in the Temple, 1 Chronicles 24:4 and Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 7:11. Of these Presbyters, although the number be not expressed, there is mention in Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 23; 16:4. Now, the Presbyers were sitting around the throne of God, for they judge in the Church in the stead of God. Thus Clement receives it in Stromata 6. And note that in the Old Testament Angels stand before the throne; in the New Testament Presbyters sit. In a manuscript, it is only εἶδον πρεσβυτέρους καθημένους, I saw elders sitting (Grotius). Here, πρεσβύτεροι are not the Presbyters (as we now call them, as their golden crowns show, of which sort was that of Joshua the High Priest, Zechariah 6:11, that is, golden mitres, which are not able to pertain to Presbyers, but only to the Rectors, that is, the Bishops, in the Church), but the Bishops, of the province of Judea, whom I believe were exactly twenty-four (although the writings of those times do not prove it), who were sitting in Council with the Archbishop of Jerusalem, who we said was designated in the preceding verse (Hammond).



[Sitting] Namely, twelve on each side of the throne. Compare Matthew 19:28 (Grotius). Sitting indicates stable and secure happiness (Durham).


[In white garments] This is a symbol, either, of the imputed righteousness of Christ (Durham): or, of holiness (Piscator, Durham), innocence, joy, glory (Menochius, Ribera); of the highest dignity (Grotius), or of royal dignity (Piscator): or, of the priesthood (Zegers). It signifies that all are priests (Forbes).


[Crowns (that is, royal emblems [Grotius, similarly Piscator]: It conveys that they are kings, reigning together with Christ [Menochius out of Ribera, similarly Forbes], and the dominion that they have on the earth, Revelation 5:10, over their own cupidity and spiritual enemies [Durham]: See Revelation 2:10 and the things said there; and Psalm 8:5: The Hebrews also ascribe Crowns to the just in the next age [Grotius]: The Hebrews say, The just neither eat nor drink in the future age, but they sit having crowns upon their heads [Drusius]) of gold] Which signifies the excellence and opulence of that kingdom (Menochius).


Four and twenty elders:Some think (and not improbably) that here is an allusion to the twenty-four courses of the priests and Levites, established by God for his service in the sanctuary and temple of old, 1 Chronicles 24:18; 25:31; and that these twenty-four elders either typified the whole church under the New Testament, the number of the tribes of Israel (which made up the church under the Old Testament) being doubled to show the increase of the church’s territories under the gospel, or the heads of the church, either under the Old Testament or New, there being twelve patriarchs and twelve apostles. They are represented sitting, to denote their state of rest and ease; and clothed in white raiment, to denote their purity and holiness, or being clothed with Christ’s righteousness; and having crowns of gold on their heads, to denote that state of dignity and glory to which God had advanced them.

[1] Greek: καὶ κυκλόθεν τοῦ θρόνου θρόνοι εἴκοσι καὶ τέσσαρες· καὶ ἐπὶ τοὺς θρόνους εἶδον τοὺς εἴκοσι καὶ τέσσαρας πρεσβυτέρους καθημένους, περιβεβλημένους ἐν ἱματίοις λευκοῖς, καὶ ἔσχον ἐπὶ τὰς κεφαλὰς αὐτῶν στεφάνους χρυσοῦς. [2] In the English Bible, the Old Testament books are reckoned as thirty-nine. However, the Jews reckoned the books of Samuel as one, the books of Kings as one, the books of Chronicles as one, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as one, and the books of the minor prophets as one. [3] Conrad Graser (1557-1613) was a German Lutheran theologian. He wrote Historia Antichristi Magni, Apocalypseos Explicatio, and Explication in Caput 9 Danielis. [4] Gaius Marius Victorinus (fourth century) was a Roman rhetorician, who converted to Christianity late in life, possibly under the influence of Augustine. [5] Revelation 4:4b: “…and upon the seats I saw the four and twenty elders (τοὺς εἴκοσι καὶ τέσσαρας πρεσβυτέρους) sitting, clothed in white raiment…

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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