Yesterday and today we are privileged to read the vision of what is happening at the throne of God! One of the first things we see around the thrown is this:
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.
At the Temple in Jerusalem there were twenty-four Priests, who took turns attending to the Holy of Holies. When it was there turn to approach the mercy seat (i.e., the thrown) they wore white robes. The Hebrews referred to these twenty-four Priests as the Elders. See the connection?
So these twenty-four elders are human beings living in glory in Heaven. We see later what one of their roles is:
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty- four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
So each elder, has a bowl of incense and we are explicitly told that incense is the prayers of the saints. Note, here “saints” is used in the way Paul often uses it, to describe the faithful on earth. Thus the elders in heaven are interceding (or mediating) the prayers of the faithful on earth. They bring the faithful’s prayers to the thrown of God. Presumably, they know that the incense is the prayers of the faithful (otherwise we on earth would know more than they do in heaven which seems unlikely). Also, presumably they know what each individual prayer is (because again otherwise the person who prayed the prayer on earth would know more than someone in heaven – again unlikely).
The “new song” they sing is the song of the New Covenant. Because these Elders are Priests and sing of the New Covenant we know there must be Priests in the New Covenant. Finally, we know that in the New Covenant we are joined together in the common priesthood of all believers, so we, when we die, must have a similar role to play in Heaven as these elders do. THEREFORE, we see that in Heaven, those who have gone before us are there, interceding for us, taking our prayers to the thrown of God. With this in mind, read the passage again!
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty- four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
Jesus stands BETWEEN the thrown of God and the rest of heaven. Thus he is quite literally the one final and unique mediator between God and Man. Here we see explicitly that we intercede for each other – the saints in heaven bring our prayers to the thrown of God – but ultimately those prayers are delivered to the lamb and all worship and praise goes through Jesus to the Father.
By the way, who are “the four living creatures”?
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight.
Traditionally, they are known to be the authors of the Gospels:
Matthew – the Man, whose Gospel starts with the genealogy of Jesus and in many ways emphasizes his humanity.
Mark – the Lion, whose Gospel begins with “a voice crying out in the wilderness” and which is the teaching of the bold Peter.
Luke – the Ox, whose Gospel begins in the temple and emphasizes sacrifice.
John – the Eagle, whose Gospel begins with the central soaring mystery, “… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and whose the Gospel is the most theological.
Finally, we see that the four living creatures, never cease to sing in worship:
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
And going back to the Nativity scene from Luke we see that the Angels also continually sang in praise and worship:
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”
The Church has combined these two great hymns of the heavens and sings this song just before the consecration of the Bread and Wine at every Mass:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest