In the Lord’s Day
By Arlen L. Chitwood
Crowns before the Throne
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.
And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. . . .
the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:
“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:1-4, 10, 11)
In Revelation 1:9, 10; 4:1, 2a John was removed from the earth and placed in heaven in the future Day of the Lord. Both sections of Scripture describe the same event. That which John saw in heaven in the Day of the Lord in chapter one though is different than that which he saw in chapter four. In chapter one He saw Christ as Judge, with the Church (the complete Church — all Christians — represented by the seven churches) in His presence to be judged. Then in chapter four John saw God seated upon His throne and twenty-four crowned elders seated upon surrounding thrones. At the same time John also saw four “living creatures” in God’s presence who worshipped Him continuously, day and night (vv. 2b-9).
Chapter four concludes with a scene depicting the twenty-four elders casting their crowns before the throne and, as the four living creatures, worshipping the One seated on the throne (vv. 10, 11). And with this act by the twenty-four elders, a sequence of events is brought to a close in this book.
The next sequence of events is introduced by John seeing a seven-sealed scroll in the right hand of the One seated on the throne. This sequence of events has to do, not with the Church in heaven, but with Israel and the Gentile nations on earth during the seven-year Tribulation period (cf. 5:1ff; 6:1ff). Attention at this point (and for the next fourteen chapters) is channeled in a different direction entirely. Events having to do with the Church in heaven are no longer in view, and the situation remains as such — with revelation focused strictly upon Israel and the nations — until immediately preceding Christ’s return at the end of the Tribulation in the chapter 19 (vv. 7, 8).
The events that John saw following his removal into heaven in chapter four would appear to follow the events that he saw following his removal into heaven in chapter one. That is, events surrounding Christ’s judgment seat will occur first; then, after decisions and determinations have been made at the judgment seat — decisions and determinations affecting every Christian — the twenty-four elders come into view.
They are introduced as individuals wearing crowns of gold, clothed in white raiment, and seated on thrones surrounding God’s throne. Then, after a description of God’s throne and the four living creatures worshipping in God’s presence, the twenty-four elders once again are brought to the forefront. They are seen falling down before God, worshipping God, and casting their crowns before God’s throne, saying, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”
This is the way the first part of the book of Revelation closes, and it closes after this fashion for a particular reason. This act by the twenty-four elders must be understood in the light of not only its contextual setting in the book but also in the light of biblical history and prophecy. Only after this fashion can one understand the identity of the twenty-four elders, the reason why they cast their crowns before God’s throne, and the reason why this act and their ensuing worship of and statement concerning God bring to a close the first section of the book of Revelation.
Crowns, Government under God
That which was revealed to John in the future Day of the Lord, comprising the book of Revelation, all moves toward a dual goal.
Events surrounding the Church on earth during the present dispensation (chapters 2, 3), the Church in heaven at the end of the dispensation (chapters 1, 4), and Israel and the Gentile nations on earth during the Tribulation (chapters 6-18 [introduced in chapter 5]) all have to do with the first part of this goal — the ushering in of the Messianic Era (cf. Revelation 19:11-20:6). The Messianic Era follows 6,000 years of human history, with the Tribulation comprising the last seven years of the 6,000. It will comprise the seventh millennium of time, or the seventh day in the pattern set forth in the opening two chapters of Genesis (cf. Hebrews 4:4-9; see the author’s book, What Time Is It? chapter 3).
The second part of this goal will be realized after the Messianic Era is over. God’s Son and His companions are going to reign over the earth with a rod of iron for a revealed purpose. The purpose will be to bring “all things” in subjection to Christ, and this will take 1,000 years. After this has been accomplished, the kingdom will then be “delivered up” to the Father that “God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Then the eternal ages that follow the Messianic Era will be ushered in (Revelation 21, 22).
All these things have to do with government within God’s kingdom. God rules over the entire universe, comprised of billions of galaxies; and the earth is one province within one of these galaxies, with possibly billions of other provinces in just our galaxy alone. By comparison, the earth could be looked upon as a grain of sand upon the seashore.
This one grain of sand would seemingly be insignificant, but not so at all in God’s sight.
God focuses His attention upon the earth, a province where rebellion entered into the ranks of one of the Messianic angels who rule under Him in different places in the universe (Isaiah 14:12-14; cf. Ezekiel 28:14, 15). Because of this God-dishonoring act by one Messianic angel (by the one we know today as Satan), God brought the province over which he ruled (the earth) into a state of ruin (Genesis 1:2a). Then, at a later time the province was restored, made habitable once again, though not for Satan and his angels (Genesis 1:2b-25). Man, an entirely new creation in the universe, created in God’s image, after His likeness, was then brought on the scene to take the scepter held by the Messianic angel who had rebelled against God’s supreme authority (Genesis 1:26-28).
Then Satan, by causing man to sin, brought about man’s disqualification to take the scepter (Genesis 3:1ff). And from that point forward, God’s program relative to this earth centers around man’s redemption with a view to man one day being able to realize the purpose for his creation. God even sent His own Son to pay redemption’s price; and man must one day hold the scepter, else the purpose for creation and the purpose for redemption would fall short of that which God had in mind when He brought both to pass.
The original pattern concerning how God restores a ruined creation has forever been set forth in the opening verses of Genesis. God took six days to restore the earth for man, and He rested on the seventh day (Genesis 1:2b-2:3). And the restoration of man (a subsequent ruined creation) must follow the original pattern, with God once again resting on the seventh day, the day following man’s restoration. Each of the days in the latter restoration though is 1,000 years in length. God is going to work for 6,000 years to bring man back into the position for which he was created, and He will then rest the seventh 1,000-year period, which will be the Messianic Era, wherein man will hold the scepter.
The preceding is known as the septenary arrangement of Scripture. The whole of Scripture, save a very minute portion that deals with events either before or after the 7,000 years, fits within this framework. God not only provided redemption for man but He provided His redeemed creature a revelation of Himself, His plans, and His purposes.
And this revelation, consisting of numerous parts given through different men at different times, concludes with a climactic section outlining exactly what is going to transpire — relative to Christians, Jews, and Gentiles — surrounding that time at the end of the 6,000 years when “the kingdom of the world” becomes “the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15, ASV). And not only so, but the latter two chapters of the book move beyond the millennium — the seventh one-thousand-year period — and provide a glimpse into certain things having to do with the eternal ages that follow.
Thus, what we have in the book of Revelation is a sequence of end-time events having to do with Christians, Jews, and Gentiles, anticipating man coming into a realization of the purpose for his creation 6,000 years earlier.
And when “crowns” are mentioned prior to the closing two chapters, these crowns must, contextually, have to do with the government of this earth. They must have to do with either the present world government under Satan (cf. Revelation 12:3; 13:1) or the coming world government under Christ (cf. Revelation 14:14; 19:12).
And when twenty-four crowned elders appear and cast their crowns before God’s throne at the end of the section of this book in which Christians are being dealt with before the judgment seat of Christ, there’s only one thing that could possibly be in view. Angels, up to this time, have held the scepter; but man, having been shown qualified at the judgment seat, is about to assume the scepter. These crowns are relinquished by those who can only be identified as angelic beings (for only angels would possess crowns at this point in the book) in view of those having been shown qualified at the judgment seat (chapter 1; cf. chapters 2, 3) wearing these crowns during the Messianic Era (chapters 19, 20).
(A principle of biblical government necessitates an incumbent ruler retaining his crown until he is actually replaced. Whether or not he continues to reign while retaining the crown would be of no moment. He could not relinquish his crown until his successor actually appeared and was ready to take the scepter.)
All angels associated with a rule over this earth under Satan — whether preceding or following his fall — will have to relinquish their crowns, for God has decreed that the “world [‘inhabited world’] to come” will be ruled by man, not by angels (Hebrews 2:5).
A segment of the angels presently possessing crowns will relinquish their crowns willingly (as shown by the act of the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4:10, 11), but crowns worn by the remaining segment of angels will have to be taken by force (cf. Revelation 13:1, 2; 19:11-20:3).
There are two words in the Greek text of the New Testament that are translated “crown” in English versions of Scripture; and an understanding of the distinctions between these two words, how they are used in the Greek New Testament, and which one of the two words is used relative to crowns worn by the twenty-four elders is vital to a correct understanding of the text.
The first and most widely used word is stephanos (or the verb form, stephanoo), referring to a “victor’s crown” or a crown denoting certain types of “worth” or “valor.” The other word is diadema, referring to “regal authority,” “kingly power.”
Stephanos (or stephanoo) is the only word used for “crown” in the New Testament outside the book of Revelation. This, for example, is the word used referring to the “crown of thorns” placed upon Christ’s head immediately preceding His crucifixion (Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:17; John 19:2, 5). This is also the word used throughout the Pauline epistles referring to “crowns” awaiting faithful Christians (1 Corinthians 9:25; Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 2:5; 4:8). James, Peter, and John also used stephanos in the same sense (James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10; 3:11).
The writer of Hebrews used this word (the verb form, stephanoo) referring to positions that will ultimately be occupied by Christ and His co-heirs in “the world [‘inhabited world’] to come” (2:7, 9). Then John used the word six additional times in the book of Revelation in several different senses (4:4, 10; 6:2; 9:7; 12:1; 14:14).
Diadema, the other word used for “crown” in the New Testament, appears only three times; and all three occurrences are in the latter half of the book of Revelation (12:3; 13:1; 19:12). The first two references have to do with power and authority possessed by incumbent earthly rulers immediately preceding and within the kingdom of Antichrist, and the latter reference has to do with power and authority that Christ will possess at the time He takes the kingdom.
The distinction between the way these two words are used in the New Testament must be borne in mind if one is to properly understand the subject of “crowns.” Diadema (referring to the monarch’s crown) is used only where one has actually entered into and is presently exercising regal power. Stephanos is never used in this respect; it appears in all other occurrences in the New Testament, covering any instance where the word “crown” is used apart from the present possession of regal power. The possession of such power at a future date can be in view through the use of stephanos, but diadema cannot be used until one actually comes into possession of this power.
In this respect, overcoming Christians have been promised a stephanos (victor’s crown), never a diadema (monarch’s crown); but the promised stephanos will become a diadema at the time overcoming Christians assume positions on the throne with Christ. There can be no such thing as either Christ or His co-heirs wearing a stephanos in that day. They can only wear the type crown referred to by the word diadema.
To illustrate the matter, note how stephanos and diadema are used relative to Antichrist and his kingdom. Stephanos is used of the type crown worn by Antichrist when he is first introduced in the book of Revelation (6:2), but later diadema is used relative to his exercise of delegated power (12:3; 13:1, 2).
Antichrist is seen wearing a “crown,” as he goes forth “conquering, and to conquer” in Revelation, chapter six. He is crowned and moves after the described fashion in view of ultimately attaining regal power over the earth; but, at this time, as shown by both the context and the word stephanos, he has not attained such power. Then, in chapter twelve he is once again seen wearing a “crown” (all seven heads are crowned at this point in the book.
The Antichrist will be the seventh head [seventh ruler] in a succession of rulers), and in chapter thirteen those ruling with him (the ten horns) are also crowned. As shown by both the context and the word diadema, the matter is completely different at this point in the book. The Antichrist has now attained regal power over the earth, and he has subordinate rulers exercising power with him. Thus, diadema, not stephanos, is used in these passages.
The use of stephanos relative to crowns in connection with Israel in Revelation 12:1 illustrates the same truth. Israel today is not occupying the position for which the nation was called into existence — “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Israel is to one day rule upon the earth at the head of the nations, and the nations are to be blessed through Israel; but Israel will not come into this position until after the time of Revelation 12:1. Thus, stephanos is the only word that could be used relative to crowns in connection with Israel at this point in time. The use of diadema in this same sense awaits events of the coming age.
Then note the type crowns on Christ's head — past and future — in Matthew 27:29; Revelation 14:14; 19:12. Matthew 27:29 refers to the time Christ was arrayed as a mock King. The word used is stephanos. Diadema could not be used in this instance, for this word would show Christ actually exercising regal power and authority; and this is something that He did not do at all.
The same is true in Revelation 14:14 where the word stephanos is used once again, and for the last time, relative to a crown upon Christ’s head. Christ, at this point, will not yet have assumed His regal position.
In Revelation 19:12 though, the entire matter changes. All at once diadems are in view. Christ is seen with “many crowns [‘diadems’]” upon His head, and He is declared to be “King of kings and Lord of lords” (v. 16). He, at this time, will have entered into His long-awaited regal position; and the first order of business will be the putting down of the beast, the kings of the earth, and Satan and his angels (Revelation 19:17-20:3). They cannot be allowed to reign beyond the point Christ assumes regal power. Their crowns (diadems) must, at this time, be taken and given to others — those to whom they will then rightfully belong.
An understanding of the distinction between stephanos and diadema will also reveal certain things in our text about the twenty-four elders that could not otherwise be known. They each cast a stephanos before the throne, not a diadema. This shows that they were not then occupying regal positions. At one time they undoubtedly occupied such positions (wearing diadems); but with the disarray in the structure of the earth’s government, resulting from Satan’s rebellion, they ceased exercising regal power (for, not participating in his rebellion, they no longer retained active positions in his rule). Their crowns could then be referred to only through the use of the word stephanos; and these crowns would, of necessity, be retained until the time of Revelation 4:10.
God’s system of government (an incumbent remaining in office until he has been replaced by his successor) would necessitate the twenty-four elders retaining their crowns until the time Christ and His co-heirs were ready to move in and take the kingdom (which will be following events surrounding the judgment seat depicted in Revelation, chapter one).
Once this has occurred, each stephanos that had been cast before the throne would later, once again, become a diadema, as seen in Revelation 19:12.
Numbers are very important in Scripture. The book of Genesis opens with a numeric system, establishing a septenary arrangement for all of God’s subsequent revelation to man; and Scripture closes with a book that is filled with numbers.
When God uses a number, it is for a definite and specific purpose. God does nothing in a haphazard manner. All numbers that God uses in His revelation to man carry spiritual significance, and the book of Revelation is filled with such numbers. This book is actually built around a numeric system, and this must be recognized in order to properly understand that which God has made known in the closing portion of His revelation to man.
The book of Revelation deals with seven churches (chapters 1-3), seven years of climactic judgment awaiting the earth-dwellers (described under seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls of wrath [chapters 6-18]), seven particular angels who will be instrumental in God’s judgments upon the earth-dwellers (1:4; 4:5; 8:2; 16:1), and a seventh day of rest (the Messianic Era) awaiting man (20:4-6; cf. Genesis 2:2, 3; Exodus 31:17; Hebrews 4:4, 9).
The book also deals with twenty-four elders (a number divisible by twelve [4:4, 10, 11]), with the nation of Israel (a nation comprised of twelve tribes [chapters 11, 12]), with 144,000 Jews out of this nation (another number divisible by twelve [7:4-8; 12:17; 14:1-5]), and with the kingdom of Antichrist (shown by a beast having seven heads and ten horns [12:3; 13:1; 17:8-13]).
When twenty-four elders are introduced at the end of the first section of the book, one should immediately note the place where they appear in the book and the figure that God uses to designate their number. They appear at the end of the section wherein God deals with Christians prior to turning to and dealing with the earth-dwellers, and there are twenty-four elders — two sets of twelve’s — and “twelve” is the number in Scripture showing governmental perfection.
Then, seeing where these elders appear elsewhere in the book is quite revealing. They appear five other places, and that which occurs in each place is intimately connected with that which has already occurred in chapter four — a relinquishment of their crowns in view of others wearing these crowns during the coming age.
Their first and last appearances in the book beyond chapter four have to do with God’s judgments upon the earth-dwellers, resulting in “the kingdom of the world” becoming “the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15, ASV). They appear first in chapter five (vv. 5, 6, 8, 11, 14) surrounding the search for and revelation of the One found worthy to loose the seven seals of the scroll held in God’s hand (containing all of God’s judgments about to befall the earth-dwellers [the subsequent seven trumpet judgments and seven bowls of wrath are judgments under the seventh seal]). Then they appear last in chapter nineteen (v. 4) after all these judgments have been concluded, immediately before attention is called to the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven and Christ's return to the earth as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:7ff).
Their second and fourth appearances in the book beyond chapter four have to do with the ministry of the 144,000 Jewish evangels during the last half of the seven-year Tribulation. They appear in chapter seven in connection with the numerous Gentiles saved as a result of the ministry of the 144,000 but martyred under the reign of Antichrist because of their faith (vv. 11, 13). These individuals will rule and reign with Christ from the heavens, wearing crowns previously worn by angels ruling under Satan (Revelation 20:4).
Then the elders appear in chapter fourteen (v. 3) in connection with the 144,000 at the time they are removed from the earth preceding their ministry. The 144,000 will also rule from the heavens with Christ, wearing crowns previously worn by angels (cf. Revelation 12:4, 5, 17; ref. the author’s book, Prophecy on Mount Olivet, chapter 2).
Their third appearance in the book beyond chapter four is in chapter eleven immediately following the announcement by the seventh angel, “The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ: and he shall reign forever and ever” (vv. 15, 16, ASV). This announcement is made by the angel who blows the seventh trumpet and pours out the seventh bowl (16:17).
The seven bowls of wrath are within the seventh trumpet, which was under the seventh seal; and the announcement by this angel in Revelation 11:15 anticipates the pouring out of the bowls of wrath in chapter sixteen (vv. 1-16) and the announcement from God’s throne immediately after these judgments have occurred (v. 17) — “It is done [lit., ‘It has been done’; a perfect tense in the Greek text, indicating action completed in past time with the results of this action existing during present time in a finished state].” All of God’s judgments in the seven-sealed scroll will have been completed at this time, and the announcements in Revelation 11:15 and Revelation 16:17 can then be made.
Thus, at every appearance in the book of Revelation the twenty-four elders are intimately connected, after some fashion, with that time when Christ and His co-heirs take the kingdom. Three times they are seen in contextual settings having to do with the overthrow of the present world system (they, at one time [prior to Satan’s fall], occupied a place in this system). Then three other times they are seen in contextual settings having to do with others (redeemed man) coming into positions of power and authority in the kingdom of Christ that they at one time occupied in the kingdom under Satan.
The place that the twenty-four elders occupy in the book of Revelation leaves no room to question their identity. They are crowned individuals seated on thrones (Revelation 4:4), something that could not be said at this time of redeemed man at all. Such a view would allow redeemed man to wear a crown prior to the time Christ actually takes the kingdom and wears a crown Himself — an impossibility.
The fact that the twenty-four elders are crowned connects them with both angelic beings and the government of this earth. Only angels could be seen wearing crowns at this point in the book, and the only government with which they could possibly have a connection is the government under Satan.
They would have to be identified as representing, at least in part, angels placed by God in positions of power and authority with Satan over the earth in the beginning; and since they cannot be identified with the angels actively ruling at the present time in Satan’s kingdom (cf. Hebrews 1:14), there is only one other group of angels left — those angels who refused to follow Satan in his attempt to exalt his throne. Thus, ascertaining their identity is really a very simple matter.
(Also note the pronouns in the song that the twenty-four elders sing in Revelation 5:9, 10. The pronoun “us” in v. 9 is not in the Greek text, and the better Greek manuscripts have “them” and “they” rather than “us” and “we” in v. 10, further distinguishing the twenty-four elders from redeemed man [ref. ASV].)
Why though does Scripture show the two-thirds contingent of angels who refused to follow Satan as represented by the number “twenty-four”? Note that there are “two” sets of twelve’s, one set short of “three,” the number of divine perfection. That is, “three sets of twelve’s” would show divine perfection within a governmental structure, which is the only way God would have established the government of this earth in the beginning; and, beyond that, viewing three sets of “twelve’s,” He apparently established this government in accord with His own triune Being.
Remaining within this framework, there is a missing set of “twelve” in Revelation 4:4, 10. And this is exactly what is shown, for these twenty-four elders represent only two-thirds of the original group. The other one-third, the other set of “twelve,” remained with Satan (Revelation 12:4). “Two” is the number of division in Scripture. Two sets of twelve’s separated themselves from Satan. “One” though is the number of unity. The other set of twelve remained with Satan.
As a consequence of Satan’s attempt to exalt his throne, divine perfection ceased to exist in his kingdom in more ways than one. Not only was the domain over which he ruled brought into a state of ruin (Genesis 1:2a), but the governmental administration within his kingdom ceased to exist in its previous perfect triune state.
All of this brings us to a point concerning the coming kingdom of Christ and how it will be structured. Angels represented by the twenty-four elders will relinquish their crowns willingly in view of Christians wearing these crowns during the coming age. But these are not all of the crowns, either presently worn by angels or which Christians will wear in that future day. The full complement must be shown by three sets of twelve’s, not two sets.
The other one-third, presently ruling under Satan, must also relinquish their crowns, along with Satan himself. Only then can Christ and His co-heirs assume regal positions on His throne, allowing divine perfection to once again be set forth in the government of this earth, with the government established after God’s own triune Being.
Redeemed man will inherit with God’s Son within a restored governmental order that will be both perfect and established after God’s own triune Being. It is clear from Scripture that this is the manner in which the past government of the earth was originally established; and in the “restoration of all things” the future government under God’s Son could not, it will not, be established after any other fashion (Acts 3:21).