One time at a summer youth camp I was assigned to lead a group Bible quiz session. The minute I settled down in my seat I asked them to give me one of the names of the twenty four elders mentioned in Revelation chapter 4. The reaction I got from the young people was heavenly. It was as if I had asked them to tell me how many stars there are in the sky.
Many times, though, just like these young people, we fail to realize that heaven is about us. We think that heaven is a far-flung place that has nothing to do with us as humans!
So, who are the twenty four elders mentioned in Revelation 4? What are their names?
They are the men that we know of so well in the Bible. They are the twelve sons of Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin; and the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, namely, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, the sons of Zebedee; Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James Alphaeus, Simon Zelotes, Judas the brother of James, and Matthias (Genesis 29:32-30:24; 35:18; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:26).
These are the men of whom Jesus said,
“Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Mat. 19:28)
In all humility, I submit that in heaven these men might be having new names, different from the ones they had when they were down here on earth; but about who they are there is no question: the twenty four elders who constantly fall down and worship God in heaven with golden vials are the men whose lives the Bible is full of. The golden vials that they hold in heaven talk of perfection; and yet, when you look at the ‘honor roll’ of these men while they were here on earth, in some areas they were not the greatest examples of godliness.
Reuben slept with Bilhah, his father’s wife.
And then there is Simeon and Levi, whose anger is legendary. They went and killed the entire male population of the Shechemite tribe on account of their sister Dinah, who had been defiled.
Judah went in to his daughter-in-law mistaking her for a harlot.
Those are the ones we know of of the sons of Jacob. Except for Joseph and Benjamin, the rest were no better.
Of the apostles of Jesus, none could be more famous than Simon Peter, the man of whom Jesus said,
“17 Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I say also unto thee, That thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail upon it. 19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth hall be loosed in heaven.” (Mat. 16:24)
Peter was truly a great man according to the picture that Jesus painted of him here. He was a great symbol of the heavens. But this was the same man who would go on and cut off another man’s ear with a sword.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Jesus called “The sons of thunder” (Mk. 3:17). They had a temper like Hitler’s, and equally great and dark designs. They are famously known to have asked Jesus to allow them to call fire from heaven to consume an entire village (Luke 9:54). They harbored grand thoughts of power and control.
About the rest, whom not much is written, we can only imagine the worst.
Even after Jesus had ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit had come and the power of God was being revealed through them, the apostles still exhibited streaks of imperfection especially with regard to their seeming unwillingness to part ways with the Law of Moses (Gal. 2:11-12; Acts 21:18-21).
But all these men, whose weaknesses we are so well acquainted with, these are the men whom God has chosen to first sit with Christ in heaven.
How about us? Who is the strong man among us? Who does not sin? Who can stand before God on his own merit?
The great Apostle Paul wrote:
“But by the grace of God I am what I am… I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10)
Let’s all relax. Take a big breathe. Realize you are as mortal as these twenty four men whom God has elevated to behold His face. None are where they are by their own merit. They are all there by the grace of God. Thank God for His grace. And desire to know God’s grace rather than any strength or virtue you think you might possess.
Yes, we are to strive for perfection; but don’t think perfection is just around the bend. It is more about God’s grace than your striving. In fact, take more time to thank God for His grace above anything else that you do. God’s grace ALONE makes us who we are, and gives us any righteousness that we might have. There is NOTHING about us in all this. It is all of God’s grace, mercy and love to us.
No wonder Jesus said that when we kneel down to pray, the very first words that ought to come from our lips are words of praise and thanksgiving to God!!
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” (Mat. 6:9)
Take all the time in the world to thank and glorify God for His grace and mercy.