The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were createdRevelation 4:10
The book of Revelation is full of both dark and bright mysteries. Often, we get caught up very easily in any number of its symbols and metaphors. Some time ago, in North America, we had the May 21st prophecy of Harold Camping come and go. Where I live, there were billboards, posters, and media messages along many important corridors of New Jersey and New York, claiming that God was about to come for the Judgment Day. Perhaps you also felt the impact of this false prophecy here in the UK. All along the East Coast, as May 21st approached, people became enamoured with the end times. Phone calls from wayward sons and daughters of the church came to their parents, wanting to know if this event was real, and if so, what to do. I had the pleasure of placing Thomas Watson’s book, The Doctrine of Repentance, into the hands of one young man who was wanting something to read that would help him during this time. I had phone calls, dropins, and emails from complete strangers, wondering if this would be the end. There was much talk of the rapture, the mark of the beast, Armageddon and the Antichrist. The East Coast of the USA was in a tizzy over the end times. For a moment. Once the deadline passed, everyone went back to their regular ways. Yet in all of the talk of the end of days, and the book of Revelation, there was hardly any mention whatsoever of Christ. It became clear to me again that if the devil cannot get us to forget the Bible altogether, he will gladly have us sidetracked by secondary matters. What he wants us to stay away from is the first clause of the first line in the first verse, in the first chapter of the book of Revelation, ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ’. If we miss this, we miss the point of the book completely, not only in its complexities, but also in its simplicities.
The verse I want to draw your attention to is all about Jesus Christ. Revelation 4:10: ‘The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created’. It is really the third clause I wish to focus on for a moment, ‘and cast their crowns before the throne’.
I’m no novelist, that is I don’t claim any new insight into this passage. I like to take the safe roads in interpretation. As James Durham rightly explained in his Commentary on the Book of Revelation, the elders here are none other than the elect in all ages; a part representing the whole. An elder (as it were) for each tribe, or a representative for each of the whole of the bride of Christ. It is the church once militant, now triumphant, represented by this semicircle around the throne. Sitting on it is the Lamb of God now described to look upon as ‘jasper and a sardine stone’.
And these elect are doing something in this text, most remarkable. They are giving two things to the enthroned Lamb; the only two things they possess in eternity, their crowns and themselves. Now a crown in the Bible, as you all well know, represents a kingdom. Without getting into a lengthy apology of this principle, this is the fulfilment of the Lord’s words, ‘I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me’ (Luke 22:29). Paul furthers this thought by saying in 2 Timothy 4:8, ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing’. The Lord and Paul are saying that the rewards of heaven are tangible, and they consist of a kingdom and a crown.
And as we read the passage, and peer as it were through a window into heaven, it seems a spontaneous act, doesn’t it? We see here in this action an unprompted will. No script needs to be given. No prodding or reminding, ‘Hey, place your crown there’. It seems there is a collective spontaneity in this act of worship. And my question this morning to us is, what is motivating it? As an assembly of elders this morning, is there something we can learn? Here, like those in heaven, we are a gathered assembly of representatives of the church of Christ. Is this not some good lesson for us today?
What prompted this act of casting crowns in our text? It is hard for us to know for sure, but I think we are safe to itemise three:
- Perfect Meekness
- Perfect Love
- Perfect Thankfulness
In the first place, this act was prompted by perfect meekness. Oh, what that must look like. When I wake up in the morning, and look at myself in the mirror, I do not see much of this quality. Do you? No one since the fall has ever demonstrated this quality perfectly on earth, besides Christ. Our first parents were not content with the crown given to them in the garden. They wanted His crown, and in so doing, took part in the same sin as the devil himself. Thomas Boston said, ‘Pride is the very image of the Devil’. Ever since that sad and dark day, pride has made up a principal part of our fallen nature. From that day, there has been a constant struggle among us for preeminence.
Oh, we love the chief places and the uppermost seats, don’t we, brothers? And when a little success comes with our office, be it in preaching, teaching, or by the sick bed; pride so often forms the greatest obstacle in the heart. Sometimes our people look at us as super-Christians. But we know better, don’t we? We are not given a pass from the sin of pride, are we? No. Even for the heart won by the meek and lowly Christ, pride is the very last, and often our greatest enemy. And if we are given momentary victory over this enemy, sadly, it is only after many victories it previously obtained over us. Our Lord’s own disciples fell victim to this sin. Pride prompted frequent debates over who should be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In fact, it made two of them so bold as to ask to sit on either side of the Lord in His kingdom. And are we unlike the disciples? No. If their Lord is kind enough to grant us any peculiar manifestations of His favour; if He is pleased to visit us with unusual help in preaching or prayer; if He is pleased to crown our efforts with some slight modicum of success, immediately this deep and busy sin begins to rise up. Self worth begins to increase. Quiet whispers enter the heart of ‘gifted’, ‘brilliant’, ‘successful’, and the Spirit Himself must withdraw. We find Elihu’s words, echoing through our current experience, ‘That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man’ (Job 33:17). Even Paul, after being favoured with a transport to the third heaven, was given a thorn; a messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be exalted above measure. And here we are, men of much smaller gifts, finding in us, far too easily, things sufficient to exalt us above measure.
In New Jersey you can walk through the Princeton Seminary Graveyard, and pause at the plots of J A and A W Alexander, Jonathan Edwards, and the Hodges. A few years ago I visited the grave sites of Halyburton and Rutherford in St. Andrews Kirkyard. So many men that dwarf us in every conceivable manifestation of gifts. Their lights will continue to shine in succeeding generations, but ours will go out. I walked on many unknown graves to get to theirs and others will walk on ours. Yet where are these bright lights now? Casting crowns. Oh, we often overrate our own attainments and fall prey to the pride of the heart. We conceal our deficiencies, find fault in others, and in many other ways, quench the Spirit of God. Why should He give more gifts to those who are so proud already of the little we have? So often, we are like a servant being told by the master to go and give food to the poor. And when we do it, we act as if the provisions came from our own riches. And can we wonder that God should withhold his gifts from those who often make use of them to nourish pride and who take part of the glory to themselves? Oh, my dear brothers, I feel that this is the chief reason why we receive so little. The Spirit is able to give, He is willing to give, and inclined to give far more than we receive; but He must withhold His blessings, even hide His face from us, lest our pride should be increased.
But my dear brothers, is it not a wonder, that this pride will be left behind forever? What a glorious day that will be! For those we have read about this morning, there they are, even this morning, casting their crowns in perfect humility! This must be one of their motives, perfect humility at last! There they have no desire for the chief place before the throne. They are no longer concerned that one crown differs from another in splendour. There, we see no desire for admiration or applause. There, they don’t keep back any part of the glory that belongs to their Saviour. It is perfect humility. As if in this act, they are saying, ‘I have nothing. And even that which I now possess does not belong to me’. Oh, the cry of every heart will be, ‘My salvation was wholly of the Lord. Jesus is the author, the finisher and rewarder of my faith. There, my Lord; there my dear Saviour; there is my crown!’ Perfect meekness. What will that be like?
The second thing I believe motivates these souls is perfect love. In this life we always crown the objects we love the most, don’t we? And by nature the object we love the most is self. So we crown, we adorn, we exalt self. Pride springs from selfishness, and the one is always in exact proportion to the other. But when the heart is changed by Christ, when he is proven to be loved by Christ, he begins to love Christ supremely. But it is only the beginning. In the present life we live this love, and of course, its effects are never perfect. As there is some pride here on earth, so there is some selfishness, even in the heart of the most holy man among us. Our hearts are often divided. Divided between this world, and the world to come. We preach to others to not regard the world around us, but we do not always preach this to ourselves. Is it your prayer, dear brothers, to love Christ more? In heaven that prayer is finally answered, perfectly. The ones before the throne this morning, finally love Christ perfectly. Oh, what that must be like! For the first time, they love Him with all their heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. For the first time, they love him far better than they love themselves. Bishop Ryle says, ‘Of all the things that will surprise us in the resurrection, this, I believe, will surprise us the most; that we did not love Christ more before we died’. Oh, to have that perfect love! As ministers, as elders. No, as men, as sinners.
Dear brothers, the natural effect of gratitude for love received is a desire to make some return on that love. And the greater the love known, the greater the love given in return. Oh there, before the throne, they bring themselves, their crowns, all that they are, and all that they have, and cast it at Christ’s feet. By this action they are saying, ‘Lord, we desire to give something in return for all Thy goodness. Yet, we have nothing except what Thou hast given us. So the very reward of salvation, these crowns given to us by Thee, they are Thine. If we had more, we would give more’. And they cast their crowns at his feet.
But there is one more motive, as I imagine, behind all of this.
I would like to point out something that you all probably already know. The Greek for ‘casting’ here, is better translated ‘shall cast’. ‘And shall cast their crowns before the throne’. It is the future active verb tense, which means it is a repeated act, over and over. There is an eternity in the action. And the word is ‘cast’, not ‘place or set’. That is, they did not place their crowns at the feet of the Lamb or set them there, but they threw them. That is what the word means. Casting it here means that the object is so worthy, that giving it becomes an imperative, a must. So walking over and placing it would take too long. The heart is too thankful. It is spontaneous. It must go now, and not wait to walk it over. ‘Here it is, Lord, for all Thy love, and saving benefit’. So the last motive is perfect thankfulness for sins forgiven.
And oh how far short we come in all of this. Do we reflect on this today to discourage our heart in these things? No. I believe that the redeemed soul here on earth greatly desires, though imperfectly, to resemble those in heaven. So they differ from them only in degree. And you, dear brothers, can you listen to these things and not desire to reflect, to some degree, the motives now perfected in heaven? Something of the same love to a redeeming Christ, something of the same meekness, love and thankfulness for all His saving benefits? This short span of existence here on earth is our place of practice. This world is the kindergarten of the School of Christ. And we will not graduate until the day we die. But we can practise, can’t we? Casting our crowns. Until this course be completed, the race run, and we are finally raised to join those who have passed through Christ’s School; whose education for heaven is finished. Dear brothers, fellow labourers; is this not a good place for us to practise casting crowns? At this General Assembly, for that General Assembly.