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The twenty-four elders that John saw surrounding the throne of God in Revelation 4:4 are part of the Council of God. The Council (sode) is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. Job 15:8 says,
8 Do you hear the secret council [sode] of God, and limit wisdom to yourself?
Jeremiah 23:18, 22 chides the prophets in his day for following what was in their own hearts instead of going before the Council of the Lord:
18 But who has stood in the council [sode] of the Lord, that he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? … 22 But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds.
In Ezekiel 13:9 we find that “prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations” will “have no place in the council of My people.” This implies that the Council members are “My people,” rather than angels, although it is possible that angels may also participate in the Council. Furthermore, Jeremiah says plainly that prophets ought to be Council members, and if so, they would hear and participate in the court proceedings. As witnesses of the decrees in the divine court, they would know what to prophesy to the people on earth in order to turn their hearts from their evil ways.
In Psalm 89:7 it is called “the Council of the holy ones” (or saints).
7 A God greatly feared [reverenced] in the council [sode] of the holy ones, and awesome above all those who are around Him.
This reverence is pictured in Revelation 4:10, 11 and again in Revelation 5:8, where they worship the One on the throne. Though they are crowned, they “cast their crowns before the throne” to show that their authority is derived from the Sovereign One. The ultimate purpose of worship is to put on the mind of Christ. It is not for His benefit, as if He needs to be reminded of who He is with some positive reinforcement. Rather, it is for our benefit, so that we might become one with Him.
The Earthly Council
There was an earthly Council in Jerusalem that was patterned after the heavenly Council and which was supposed to reflect its decisions. In Jesus’ time it was called the Great Sanhedrin, consisting of the President (Nasi) and 69 elders, along with an Av Beit Din, who served as Vice-President and presided when the Nasi was absent. Each community, or city, also had a Council, which had a minimum of ten men, but normally 23 to 71 members, depending on the size of the community.
This tradition was said to be based on the judges that Moses set up in Exodus 18:25, 26. These were seventy in number. These ascended the mount with Moses on his fifth trip up the mount, where it seems that they were “in the Spirit” when they met with God. Exodus 24:9-11 says,
9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. 11 Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank.
While all of them went up the mount, only Moses was allowed to approach the throne. The others worshiped at a distance. Exodus 24:1, 2 says,
1 Then He said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance. 2 Moses alone, however, shall come near to the Lord, but they shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.”
Obviously, the throne of God was not physically located on Mount Horeb. It appears that at some point as they ascended the mount, they crossed over into a spiritual realm and saw the throne of God. At that point they had to stop, but Moses was allowed to proceed further. The 70 elders in this case may parallel the 24 elders in Revelation 4:4, though the numbers are different.
The main problem with the Council in Jesus’ day was that most of the elders, though they were scholars, did not have a proper revelation of the law. They had not stood in the Council of the Lord to hear the decrees being issued from the throne of God. Hence, their scholarship was based upon men’s understanding of the law, which Isaiah and Jesus called “the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:9). The law must be taught by revelation, for we are not to lean upon our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).
The Sapphire Throne
Exodus 24:10 says, “under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.” Clarity, of course, determines the value of such gemstones. Jewish tradition says that the two tablets of the law were cut from sapphire. Since no sapphires of this size have ever been mined anywhere or at any time in history, it is apparent that if this is so, then the stones were given by God Himself and taken from the same material as seen “under His feet.”
In Ezekiel 10:1, the prophet saw a throne resembling a sapphire:
1 Then I looked, and behold, in the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim something like a sapphire stone [sappiyr eben], in appearance resembling a throne, appeared above them.
It seems, then, that both the “pavement” and the throne upon it were like sapphire stone, blue as the sky, having perfect clarity. Blue indicates the law, for we know that the people were to include a blue cord in the tassels of their robes to remind them of the law (Numbers 15:38, 39, 40). Likewise, a throne itself is a symbol of law, for when a monarch sat upon a throne (or a judge upon “the bench”), He was judging in his capacity as a judge and administrator of the law.
Sapphire was also the stone of Dan in the breastplate (Exodus 28:18). Dan was the fifth son of Jacob, and the sapphire was the fifth stone, that is, the middle of the second row of stones. Dan means "judge," and in the departments of divine government, Dan represents the judicial system of the Kingdom.
So the throne and its foundation, or resting place, was made of blue sapphire. Ezekiel had seen this throne earlier as he wrote the first chapter of his book. However, here the NASB translators render eben sappiyr as “lapis lazuli,” which is a blue stone but lacking the clarity of sapphire. Ezekiel 1:26 says,
26 Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli [eben sappiyr, “sapphire stone”] in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man.
It appears that lapus lazuli was a substitute for sapphire, because sapphires were rare and considered in those times to be the most valuable gemstone. The difference, of course, was obvious, for lapus lazuli was dull, and light could not pass through it.
In the Garden of Eden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents the law as a path to immortality, or salvation. The tree of life represents Christ. Another way of looking at it is that the two trees represent the two covenants. When Adam and Eve ate of the first tree, they disobeyed God, and so the law could only judge them for their sin. The law, which was meant to promote life, turned out to be their sentence of death (Romans 7:10). One cannot achieve immortality by disobedience.
My friend, Mark Shoberg, wrote to me recently, saying,
This is taken from the Legends of the Jews, Volume 3 by Louis Ginzberg, page 118 and 119: “Moses departed from the heavens with the two tables on which the Ten Commandments were engraved and they were made of a sapphire-like stone.” That’s what the Jews had believed! Those Ten Commandments weren’t made out of some rock that Moses just found in the Sinai desert floor… They were carved out of a blue sapphire stone. Ginzberg [averred in] the Legends of the Jews, Volume 6 page 49: “Ancient Jewish scholars state that the sapphire employed for the tables was taken from the throne of Glory...”
Even the ancient traditions of Babylon believed that the tree of knowledge in the garden could not impart immortality to the people. This is seen in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which retained some knowledge seen in the Genesis story. According to the Epic, this tree had sapphire fruit on it. Mark Shoberg wrote also:
“The tree that Gilgamesh witnessed in the Jeweled Garden was not a tree of lapis-lazuli, but a tree of sapphires, for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was God’s covenant of the Law of Sin and Death that defined sin. The Epic of Gilgamesh was a story about a man in search of immortality who went so far as to invade the heavens, but his quest resulted in failure. It was the story of Adam attempting to ascend into heaven to become like God and usurp His sapphire throne where God ruled and administered the Law, but like Gilgamesh, Adam’s quest resulted in failure.
“Gilgamesh traveled through twelve leagues of darkness before he got to the Jeweled Garden, and when he finally got there, he immediately spied fruit that was costly to gaze upon. It was costly because it was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that demanded one’s life in exchange for its fruit. It was the tree that defined sin, crowned in none other than God’s authority and throne that judged sin.
"Even the Babylonians understood there was no life in that tree, for the Ninth Tablet of the epic ends with Gilgamesh being told by the god Shamash, “No mortal man has gone this way before, nor will, as long as the winds drive over the sea. You will never find the eternal life for which you are searching.” The sun-god, Shamash, told Gilgamesh the truth: he would never find immortal life in the beautiful sapphire tree, the fruit of which was the knowledge of good and evil that produced death."
Perhaps we might picture the tree of the knowledge of good and evil has bearing ten sapphire-like fruits, one for each of the Ten Commandments, each one derived from the throne of God. These fruits came from a tree in the Garden, which, along with all the other trees, was pronounced “very good” in Genesis 1:31. It was the misuse of that tree which brought sin into the world.
The difference between lapus lazuli and sapphire is primarily their clarity. Hence, one might think of lapus lazuli as the written law that is not clearly understood by the mind of God, while sapphires represent the full understanding of the law. Therefore, we may think of lapus lazuli as men’s traditional understanding of the law, while a sapphire represents the revelation of the law.
Like John—or even like the seventy elders in the days of Moses—if we are caught up in the Spirit to the throne, we have the potential of joining the Council. Such a state gives us a better position by which we may understand the mind of Christ, not only hearing His decrees, but also understanding them through revelation and group discussion. When the Council comes to full clarity of revelation, then they are able to bear witness to the decrees of Christ and thus establish things in the earth. By the power of the Amen, the New Heavens and the New Earth are created by the same pattern as was found at the beginning.