Revelation 11:16 – “And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before Our Most High, fell on their faces and worshiped Yahushua…”
This passage describes a song in heaven when yahushua’s project is complete – when messiah returns and establishes his throne on earth. It also teaches some deep lessons for Christians today.
Twenty-four elders – The 24 elders appear throughout the book of Revelation. They sit on thrones surrounding the throne of our Most High in heaven; dressed in white and wearing gold crowns (Revelation 4:4). Eternal worship of yahushua is their primary activity – as the Four Living Creatures finish a song of worship, these elders lay down their own crowns before the Lord, and lie face down before yahushua in an act of completely humble adoration (Revelation 4:7-11). They also fall prostrate in worship when special events occur in yahushua’s project of salvation (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 5:24; Revelation 7:11; Revelation 11:16; Revelation 19:4). Worship is not all they can do; on two occasions, one of the elders turns to John, who is seeing them in a vision, and speaks to him (Revelation 5:5; Revelation 7:13-14).
Who are the twenty-four elders in Revelation? Traditionally, Bible scholars have assumed that these represent the twelve Patriarchs of the Old Testament (that is, the sons of Israel, whose descendants became the Twelve Tribes of Israel) combined with the Twelve Apostles of the New Testament (with Matthias replacing Judas, see Acts 1:26). The Bible does not say whether these are the actual departed brethren themselves (i.e., the souls of the Patriarchs and Apostles), as many think, or if these are heavenly beings representing them symbolically. Yahushua chose not to reveal this detail, so we must not speculate about it. There are some hints in the Bible that not all the sons of Israel actually went to heaven – some of them committed very serious sins and had deep character flaws – but the point is uncertain. Numerically, however, twelve has clear symbolic meaning – twelve usually represents foundations in yahushua’s project, such as spiritual governance and the foundational doctrines in the New Testament. In both the Old and New Testaments, “elder” refers to those who could settle important matters of policy or doctrine for the entire community. The point of twenty-four elders seems to be to tie together both the Old and New Testaments – to show that Christianity is the culmination of a continuous project of yahushua throughout the entire Bible. The twenty-four elders teach us that the same yahushua is working in both ancient Israel and the faithful ministry today, that the whole Bible is useful for our Christian lives today, and that everything in the Bible is supposed to point us toward our messiah.
Fell on their faces and worshiped – Biblically, however, lying face down in subjection before the Lord is one of the common postures for worship, so we should not rule this out in our minds. Biblical worship is supposed to be reverent, focused on what yahushua wants, not on what the worshipers want or feel right then.
Worship is the only activity that the Bible describes as constantly occurring in heaven, at every moment (Revelation 4:8-11). It is, therefore, perhaps the only activity done on heaven and earth at the same time – whenever we worship, we are doing the very thing that is happening in heaven right then