Revelation is a book of symbols. For hundreds of years, God has hidden their symbolic meaning until it becomes time for them to be understood. To appreciate the book of Revelation, a good foundational understanding of the Old Testament is necessary. Romans 15:4 (CSB), “For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have…encouragement from the Scriptures.”
The verses previous to Revelation 4:4 establish Jehovah God as the one on the great throne.
Revelation 4:4 (NASB), “And around the throne were 24 thrones and upon the thrones, I saw 24 elders sitting clothed in white garments and golden crowns on their heads.”
The number 24 provides the key to understanding this scripture. King David set apart twenty-four groups of musicians to sing God’s prophecies.1 Chronicles 25:1, 6-8 (NIV), “David…set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres, and cymbals…All these men (24 groups identified in the chapter) were under the supervision of their father for the music of the temple of the LORD, with cymbals, lyres, and harps, for the ministry at the house of God.”
Thus, the 24 elders of Revelation 4:4 refer back to the harmony and joy of ancient prophecies found in the Old Testament. The prophecies testify about God’s divine plan for mankind. They are sitting on thrones showing the prophecies are by God’s authority and judgment. These ancient elders (prophecies) wear white garments that represent the righteousness and holiness of God’s will. The golden crowns emphasize the divine authority of revelation.
1 Peter 1:10-11 explains that the prophecies point to the promise of our salvation. “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” By Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, we can identify Jesus as the foretold Messiah. By Old Testament prophecies, we also learn of God’s plan and of the kingdom for which we pray.
The ancient elders are mentioned again in chapter 5:8. They now have harps symbolizing that the prophecies of God’s grand plan bring praises to Him. In the same verse, we are told the incense is the prayers of the saints. Through the ages, the prayers of the saints have been for God’s plan to be fulfilled and His kingdom established.
The desire to understand the book of Revelation is a good thing and to obey God’s revelation will surely bring a blessing. “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it, for the time is near.” Revelation 1:3.
For a more detailed study of Revelation, download the free PDF: "Revelation: How to Study & Have it Make Sense"