Note: This is a continuing evaluation of the book The Days of Vengeance written by David Chilton. Chilton at the time of writing this was a partial preterist who later in life (after a massive heart attack) turned to full preterism. Sections will be taken from the book and commented on to the fullest extent possible. A PDF of the book can be found here.
After a look at an introduction to the ethical requirements laid upon God's covenant people (both Israel and the church), we get to start investigating the heavenly vision of John in chapter four. A heavenly pattern of worship is laid before us but the passage remains within the covenantal paradigm of the book of Revelation. But before we get there, it is pertinent to let Chilton put to rest a couple rapture arguments,
This verse is used by advocates of Dispensationalism to support their “Rapture Theory,” the notion that the Church will be snatched away from this world before a coming Tribulation; indeed, this verse seems to be the main proof-text for a pre-Tribulation rapture. St. John’s “rapture” into heaven is regarded as a sign that the whole Church will disappear before the plagues recorded in the following chapters are poured out. Part of the rationale for this understanding is that the Voice John heard was like the sound of a trumpet, and St. Paul says that a trumpet will sound at the “rapture” (1 Thess. 4:16). Some advocates of this position seem oblivious to the fact that God uses a trumpet on numerous occasions. In fact, as we have seen in the first chapter, the connection between God’s Voice and the sound of a trumpet occurs throughout Scripture, beginning with the judgment in the Garden of Eden. For that matter, St. John heard the voice like a trumpet in the first vision (Rev. 1:10). (Does this indicate a possible “double rapture”?) (DOV, 69)
Chilton also briefly mentions the argument that the word "church" doesn't appear in the rest of the book. Dispensationalist have used this concept to defend a pre-tribulation rapture. For the easy refutation of this Chilton can be read directly. Instead Chilton takes the imagery of John's "rapture" to speak of the church's need for heavenly ascension in worship,
Nevertheless, we must also recognize that St. John does ascend to a worship service on the Lord’s Day; and this is a clear image of the weekly ascension of the Church into heaven every Lord’s Day where she joins in the communion of saints and angels “in festal array” (Heb. 12:22-23) for the heavenly liturgy. The Church acts out St. John’s experience every Sunday at the Sursum Corda, when the officiant (reflecting Christ’s Come up here!) cries out, Lift up your hearts! and the congregation sings in response, We lift them up to the Lord! ... John Calvin agreed: “In order that pious souls may duly apprehend Christ in the Supper, they must be raised up to heaven. . . . And for the same reason it was established of old that before consecration the people should be told in a loud voice to lift up their hearts.’” (DOV, 70)
I say this as respectfully as possible, but not all eschatological focus is made equal. Instead of focusing on the glories of worship now, there is a large school that continues to look for indications that things are future and non-events for the church. And yet for this very same reason preterism is accused of being "non-practical" to modern readers. It dumbfounds me. Alright off the soap box. Back to Chilton,
And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance: God is seen as in a blaze of unapproachable light (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16), for St. John has been caught up into the heavenly holy of holies, the inner Sanctuary of the cosmic Temple in the Cloud of glory. Underscoring this is the fact that John sees a rainbow around the Throne, like an emerald in appearance. It is worth noting that these three stones, jasper (perhaps an opal or a diamond), 12 sardius (a reddish stone), and emerald, represented three of the twelve tribes of Israel on the breastplate of the high priest (Ex. 28:17-19, LXX); they are also mentioned among the jewelry that littered the ground in the Garden of Eden (Ezek. 28:13, LXX).
St. John is thus in the true Temple, the heavenly archetype that formed the pattern for Moses’ construction of the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:40; Heb. 8:1-2, 5; 9:23-24). He sees the Throne, corresponding to the Mercy-Seat; the Seven Lamps, corresponding to the Seven-Branched Lamp; the Four Living Creatures, corresponding to the Cherubim; the Sea of Glass, corresponding to the Bronze “Sea”; and the Twenty- Four Elders, corresponding to the Twenty-Four Courses of Priests. (DOV, 71)
One of the great strengths of Chilton's commentary is his work to bring together the whole of Revelation to each verse under consideration. A balanced approach recognizes each verse is important in itself but is never to be interpreted by itself. On the vision of the twenty-four elders, Chilton provides valuable insight from other portions of Revelation,
These elders as representatives of the Church in heaven (or, as St. John progressively unfolds
throughout his prophecy, the earthly Church that worships in heaven). First, the mere name elders would indicate that these beings represent the Church, rather than a class of angels. Nowhere else in the Bible is the term elder given to anyone but men, and from earliest times it has stood for those who have rule and representation within the Church (see Ex. 12:21; 17:5-6; 18:12; 24:9-11; Num. 11:16-17; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9; Heb. 13:17; James 5:14-15). Thus, the elders in Revelation would appear, at face value, to be representatives of God’s people, the senate sitting in council around their bishop.
This consideration is reinforced by a second observation about these elders: They are seen sitting on thrones. We have already been told in this prophecy that Christians are reigning with Christ (1:6), that they wear crowns (2:10; 3:11), that they have been granted kingly authority with Him over the nations (2:26-27), that apostates will be forced to bow before them (3:9), and that they are seated with Christ on His Throne (3:21). Now, in chapter 4, we see elders seated on thrones; is this not a continuation of the teachings already presented? (DOV, 71)
Closing with some insight on why twenty-four elders, I hope that the book of Revelation is slowly becoming a more inviting book. As we enter into these symbolic and complicated visions, I pray that this study will begin to enlighten the book and remove confusions.
Since twenty-four is a multiple of twelve, there is again a prima facie reason to assume that this number has something to do with the Church. Twelve is a number Biblically associated with the people of God: Israel was divided into twelve tribes; and even the administration of the New Covenant Church is spoken of in terms of “twelve tribes,” because the Church is the New Israel (see Matt. 19:28; Mark 3:14-19; Acts 1:15-26; cf. James 1:1). St. John uses the word
elder twelve times in Revelation (4:4, 10; 5:5, 6, 7, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4). The number twenty-four is thus a “double portion” of twelve. Multiples of twelve are also built into the symbolic structure of the New Jerusalem, as we read in the final vision of the prophecy (21:12-14): It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are those of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel....
And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
But the picture of the twenty-four elders is based on something much more specific than the mere notion of multiplying twelve. In the worship of the Old Covenant there were twenty-four divisions of priests (1 Chron. 24) and twenty-four divisions of singers in the Temple (1 Chron. 25). Thus, the picture of twenty-four leaders of worship was not a new idea to those who first read the Revelation: It had been a feature of the worship of God’s people for over a thousand years. In fact, St. John has brought together two images that support our general conclusion: (1) The elders sit on thrones – they are kings; (2) The elders are twenty-four in number – they are priests.