In Ex. 19:5,6 God gives Israel a special promise: "you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (NKJV). However, this reward was promised on the condition of obedience, which most Israel failed to show by rejecting the high priest of this confession - Jesus Christ, so the same hope was repeated to believers from among pagans: "you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:9 NKJV). This is not a promise of temporary earthly reign, but "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Pet. 1:3,4 NKJV). Who is the addressee of these words, Peter writes one verse earlier - the elect who follow Jesus Christ in receiving the spirit of consecration for the purpose of the antitypical priestly service, i.e. presenting their bodies as a living sacrifice as part of the "reasonable service" (Jn. 18:37; Rom. 1:1-4, 12:1). In this sense the calling to the priestly service under the New Covenant was given to everyone who received the spirit of love for the truth (Rom. 5:5; 2 Thess. 2:10).
The priesthood of the New Covenant consists in a special kind of service shown under the Law Covenant in attending to the equipment of the Holy. Shewbread that the priest ate by the light of the lampstand showed the need to feed on the Scripture in the light of the spirit; the altar of incense represented the work of teaching and evangelisation that the apostle Peter defines as a special task of the royal priesthood: "that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9 NKJV; 2 Cor. 2:14-17). The new creation born of the spirit, which is occupied in the Holy, carries out the priestly duties to which it has been called and is thus the royal priesthood. The ones born of the spirit who do not engage in this work are shown in the levites and the people, depending on the degree to which they carry out their consecration. None of these three groups, however - the people, levites and priests - in the antitype for the Gospel Age, does not possess the royal position. Nonetheless, placing the 'royal' attribute before the 'priesthood' does mean that only priests - the most faithful new creation - have the hope to attain to the position of co-kings with Jesus Christ.
Presently the Church does not occupy the royal position, which clearly follows from the apostle Paul's words in 1 Cor. 4:8. There the apostle scolds the view apparently held by some in the congregation that their royal reign has already started. The only person who received royal position simultaneously with the priestly office is our Lord, which he himself confirms in Mt. 11:27, Jn. 3:35 and Jn. 17:1,2. If Jesus could introduce himself as a king over Israel, that was becasue he actually was a king (Lk. 19:36-40; Jn. 1:49-50, 12:15, 18:36-37). Only our Lord is described in the Scripture as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:1-17). The same thing was shown in the Tabernacle: priests did their service in the Holy. Access to the Holy of Holies belonged to the high priest, who could nevertheless enter there only once a year. In the antitype, priests of the New Covenant do their service in the antitypical Holy; access to the antitypical Holy of Holies belonged only to our Lord Jesus - the high priest of our confession. This, however, is the fulfillment during the Gospel Age.
During Christ's millennial reign positions with our Lord will be given to a group of his followers from among today's royal priesthood. It seems that they will occupy the antitypical Holy of Holies at that time, which is corroborated by the apostle John in 1 Jn. 3:2. The Greek homoios used here, sometimes translated as 'similar' or 'likened', actually means repetition of a given characteristic - "the same". We will be with the Lord and we will be like him. When he takes his reign over the earth, his most faithful followers will be sitting around him on the thrones (Mk. 10:35-45). The throne is a traditional attribute of the royal power and so it appears in Rev. 4:4. Here, too, we find our Lord in the centre and 24 trones around him. Even though the ones sitting on the thrones are called elders, the attributes they possess clearly point to the royal position. Obviously the throne is such an attribute, as already mentioned. 'Crowns of gold' that the elders have on their heads, is another. The apostle Paul obviously links it with victory and the reward of immortality (1 Cor. 9:24,25).
Further characteristics that identify 24 elders with the winners of the Gospel calling include: white robes they wear representing righteousness (Job. 29:14; Ps. 132:9,16; Is. 61:10; Zech. 3:4; Rev. 4:4); homage they pay to God and the Lamb a few times in the book of Revelation (Rev. 4:10, 5:8,14, 11:16, 19:4); golden bowls in their hands, "which are the prayers of the saints" (Rev. 5:8 NKJV). An especially interesting element is shown in the harps which the elders use to 'sing a new song' (Rev. 5:8). In Rev. 19:10 John hears that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (NKJV) - the spirit of finding new meanings in the Scripture. It therefore follows that 24 elders are in the process of continuous 'knowing'/ development of understanding, as our Lord puts it (Jn. 17:3). The spirit they possess allows them to penetrate ever new areas of reality and link it to the Scriptural presentation. Thus their 'song' - the truths and interpretations brought forth by them - are ever new and enriched with new spiritual vistas.
It is worth noticing that in the elders' song the positions of kings and priests are separate - unlike at the present time when all Church members are called 'royal priesthood'. It stems from the fact that during the Gospel Age all new creatures enjoy the perspective of attaining to royal positions, even though finally few of them will reach this goal. Those few will join our Lord in the highest glory and will have access to the heavenly Holy of Holies. Many more will find themselves at the level of the Holy - they will gain divine, immortal nature, but with no direct access to God. Presently we are at the end of the Gospel Age. The prophecy suggests the royal class was already completed in the year 1977 (see commentary on Mt. 25:1-13 and the lecture Abraham's parallels). Still, just as after Elijah's departure Elisha received a twofold measure of the spirit to continue the work of prophecy in Israel, so after 1977 God gives the antitypical Elisha a twofold measure of the spirit to understand the prophecies related to the coming Kingdom.