Friday, March 6, 2020

Twenty-four Elders

In Revelation, John paints a beautiful picture for us of how God's got things set up for redemption, of what things are going to look like in the eternity to come. Early on, he talks about twenty-four elders who dwell around the throne.

Naturally, our minds say these must be the 12 sons of Israel and the 12 disciples. (This creates an interesting conversation in itself, since there were actually 13 of both - which 12 made the cut? Remember that Levi was grafted out to become servants of God and Joseph was split into Ephraim and Manasseh, although it's actually Dan that is missing from the list of the 12 in Revelation 7. Remember also that Judas Iscariot hung himself and was replaced by Matthias, who we never heard a single other word about after that point. This doesn't really affect today's post, but it's a good discussion point and something to think about.)

So there are 24 elders, and our minds have broken them down into two 12s, one from each Testament. We don't know that we're right; we don't know if we're wrong. This is just where we're at. So let's just assume that we're right (we may not be) and that these are the 24 elders in eternity.

That gives us 12 sons under the law and 12 disciples under grace.

This is important. It's important for a couple of reasons.

First, it reminds us that there is room for both truth and grace, which is what we've been talking about for several days this week as we've looked at the churches. God has a place in His eternity for those under the law and those under grace, those with 600+ commandments to follow and those with just two.

It reminds us that both are necessary. These elders are leaders together on their thrones, not separately. They don't override one another; they complement each other. Twelve of them, if they are sons of the law, are going to judge based on truth; twelve of them, if they are disciples of grace, are going to judge based on grace. Whatever they are judging must pass muster on both accounts; it must be found favorable by both sets of eyes.

And I can just see this playing out, where the judges of truth become advocates for those living by the law and the judges of grace become advocates for those living by grace. Where they argue and defend whatever stands before them, approaching each from their own perspective and pushing for a ruling of faithfulness. (It's fantasy, of course, because we could not imagine for real that anyone in God's eternal Kingdom would not fully understand both grace and truth. No argument, no defense would be necessary.)

But I think what this also reminds us is that it's probably okay to lean one way or the other. Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it, but He also set us free from the letter of it to live in the heart of it. Still, we're each wired the way that we are and overwhelmingly, most of us will lean more toward grace or more toward truth. In fact, I'd say that's one of the greatest - if not the greatest - cause of tension within the church. It always has been; it probably always will be.

In having twelve elders over either, God reminds us that they are equal, but He also establishes that there is a judgment for both. That there is space for both. That there is room to be someone who leans more toward the law and room for someone who leans more toward grace. There are advocates for both. There is mercy for both. There is redemption for both.

We always talk about it as a "vs." - grace vs. truth, but they really aren't at odds with each other. They're not. Each expresses something essential about the nature of God, and both are necessary not only for a full understanding of Him but for a real, vital love of Him.

Maybe that's what the 24 elders teach us.

Maybe it's not. I don't know. 

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