After I wrote a blog about meeting the Lord in the air, a pastor friend, Dave, asked me the following questions:
If the 24 elders represent rewarded saints, then I’ve assumed that the Bema would take place in the clouds following the Rapture since the 24 elders are worshiping around the throne during the events in seven year Tribulation (Rev 11:16-18).
Do you think the 24 elders represent rewarded/rewardable saints who will one day rule with Christ? How will there be rewarded saints if the Bema hasn’t occurred yet?
Or maybe perhaps John is seeing a preview of some of these rewarded believers’ activity in worship after they are judged and rewarded at the Bema, which would not have yet actually occurred (if the Bema is awaiting the 75 days between the Tribulation and start of Millennium)?
I didn’t get into questions related to Revelation 4-5 in the blog. But now I will.
The 24 elders first appear in Rev 4:10. The text says, “the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne…”
Many miss the fact that Rev 4:10 is not a new sentence. It is in the middle of a sentence that starts with “Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him…worship Him…and cast their crowns…”
The word whenever shows that the crown-casting of Rev 4:10 is an ongoing event. Indeed the four living creatures are angels who “do not rest day and night saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev 4:8). So whenever at the start of the next verse means repeatedly, day and night, over and over again.
I believe the 24 elders represent Israel (12 tribes) and the Church (12 Apostles). But I do not believe the 24 elders are humans. They are found in Revelation associated with angels. Compare Rev 7:9-12.
The crowns symbolize rulership with Christ that will be done by the Church and Israel. Revelation 4:10 does not say that we will give back our rulership, our crowns, our treasure. The crowns are imperishable (1 Cor 9:24-25). The one who endures will reign with Him (2 Tim 2:12). Those who try to see in Rev 4:10 proof that there will be no lasting rewards are not reading the text, or the rest of the Bible, carefully enough.
In Rev 5:9-10 the four living creatures (angels) and the 24 elders (angels IMO) sang a new song. That song includes the words, “You have redeemed us [Critical Text says “You have redeemed them…,” but I believe the Majority Text reading is correct] to God by your blood…” John Niemelä and others see in those words proof that the 24 elders are human, not angels, and the Bema has already occurred (see here).
I see multiple problems with this view.
First, if the 24 elders are angels elsewhere in Revelation—and I believe the evidence is overwhelming, the argument evaporates.
At Bible.org Pastor Keith Krell lays out 10 reasons why the 24 elders are humans and 19 reasons why they are angels (https://bible.org/seriespage/13-glimpse-glory-revelation-41-11).
Second, there is no reason why an angel cannot say or sing something which relates to others. I think of the song in Rev 5:9-10 as worship music. The angels are performing before the Lord. They represent Israel and the Church.
Third, it is even possible, as Dave suggests, that Revelation 5 is not reporting an event which was occurring right then. Ken Yates, who has been editing the Revelation class notes of Zane Hodges, said that Zane understood Revelation 5 as being a picture of worship, but one which did not occur then.
If the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Bema, occurs during the Tribulation, where is it mentioned in Revelation? The Great White Throne Judgment is found in Rev 20:11-15. The Bema is not mentioned or even alluded to. That is quite strange if it occurs during the time period spoken of in Revelation 4-19.
Anyhow, I hope that helps. It doesn’t much matter to me whether the Bema occurs during the Tribulation or in the 75 days after, in the third heaven or on earth. But I am convinced from Scripture that it occurs on earth after the Tribulation, so that is why I say so.