The 24 elders of Revelation, who are they?
In the book of Revelation Chapter 4 we are introduced to the 24 elders. It’s interesting that we read about these 24 elders nowhere else in the Bible. These 24 elders are sitting on thrones before the Throne of God. For centuries believers have asked, “Who are the 24 Elders?” And, does the number 24 have any significance for the church, the body of Christ?
The word “elders” is used 179 times in the King James Bible mostly in reference to Israel. The apostle Paul uses the term only twice in his epistles.
Church tradition holds that the 24 elders of Revelation represent the church. If that is true then the number 24 would have some significance to us, the body of Christ.
Let’s examine the passage to garner some clues as to their identity.
“Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.” – Rev 4:4 NKJV
White robes and gold crowns.
The 24 elders are sitting on thrones before God are clothed in white robes. Most of the scriptures mentioning white robes or white linen or white raiment are found in the book of Revelation.
In the Old Testament the singers of the tribe of Levi were clothed with “white linen” in 2 Chronicles 5:12. That’s the only time the term is used.
In the book of Revelation there are white horses, white raiment, a white stone, white robes, a white cloud and a great white throne. Each time the characteristic is purity.
Gold crowns were popular in the days of Israel’s kings but were exclusive to the king. The 24 elders of Revelation are wearing gold crowns and also the locust creatures in chapter 9. So far, not a lot of solid references to formulate an answer to the question of the elders identity.
Church Tradition – The 24 Elders of Revelation are Us, the Church
For centuries the church has taught that the 24 elders represent the church, the body of Christ. Using passages like the one below to show that “church saints” are clothed in white linen and gold.
“He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. … I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see.” – Rev 3:5, 18 KJV
These words were written by the Apostle John to the churches at Sardis and Laodicea to the overcomers. Church tradition claims these are Christians, during the Church Age, that overcome the world, the flesh and the devil. So, the giving of white robes by the Lord Jesus Christ is to true Christians, according to church tradition.
Well, you probably know how I feel about church tradition. Most of it is bogus doctrines of error passed down from the church of Rome.
But our apostle Paul never singles out any person or group as overcomers. There is nothing we must do to overcome as we already have eternal life in Christ. The same is said for gold crowns and white robes. There are no scriptures associating those articles with the church.
The overcomers in Revelation receive salvation and a reward. When reading chapters 2 and 3 it’s obvious that not everyone is an overcomer. Many do not overcome and suffer a terrible fate, they are lost forever.
But no such scenario exists today in the church, the body of Christ.
“Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.” – 2Co 2:14 KJV
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” – 2Co 5:17 KJV
“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” – Gal 3:26 KJV
“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1Co 15:57 KJV
Do those passages read like only a certain group of “overcomers” will be blesses or saved? No, of course not. All true Christians have eternal life. We all will triumph in the end. We are all new creatures in Christ and children of God. All real Christians have victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:” – Eph 1:3 KJV
“And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:” – Eph 2:6 KJV
The Christian is already seated in heavenly places in Christ from God’s perspective. We are already citizens of heaven.
“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:” – Phl 3:20 KJV
The word conversation in that context means citizenship.
In the church, the body of Christ, we are all overcomers. There is no special group that can be called “overcomers” receiving a special reward.
More Church Traditions
It is taught that crowns are given as rewards to Christians by our Lord Jesus Christ. The so-called Christians at the church of Philadelphia were instructed to hold fast to their faith that no one steal their crown.
“Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” – Rev 3:11 KJV
Crowns in the Bible
- Crown of Righteousness – given to those that love the Lord’s appearing
- Crown of Glory – Exceptional pastors and teachers
- Crown of Life – Martyrs crown
- Crown of Rejoicing – Soul winners crown
- Incorruptible Crown – Victory over the flesh
These crowns are rewards to the faithful but the only crown the apostle Paul mentions with respect to the body of Christ is the crown of righteousness.
“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.” – 2Ti 4:8 KJV
The Greek word for “crown” in the above verse is stephanos. That crown is a victor’s crown or wreath awarded at the public games for example. The crown that Jesus wears is a diadema, a Kings crown of royalty. The 24 elders are wearing the stephanos or victor’s crown. That means they must have done something to earn it.
Even though many Christians, certainly more than 24, will receive the crown of righteousness, that does not answer the question of “who are the 24 elders.”
“The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever 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.” – Rev 4:10-11 KJV
Creator of All Things
Here we see the 24 elders speaking to the Lord. They declare the Lord worthy to receive glory, honor and power. That the Lord “created all things” for His “pleasure”. The apostle John made a similar statement in his gospel.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. … He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” – John 1:1-3, 10 KJV
John clearly states that everything was made by the Lord Jesus Christ. Both Old Testament Jews and the church both worship the Lord as the creator of all things. So, this is inconclusive as to help identity of the 24 elders of Revelation.
“And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” – Rev 5:4-5 KJV
Here the apostle John is bitterly weeping because no one can be found to open the book and break its 7 seals. However, the elders are not so distraught as they immediately know who is qualified to open the book. They reference Jesus as the “lion of the tribe of Juda, the root of David.” These names are Jewish as only a Jew would care about the lineage of Jesus and His relationship to King David. That information would not have any significance for Gentiles. So, this is a clue that the 24 elders might be Jews? I can see some evangelicals rolling their eyes but keep reading.
“And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” – Rev 5:8-10 KJV
The 24 Elders of Revelation Sing a New Song of Salvation
Very revealing passage. The 24 elders sing a new song. Not the old song of Moses but a new song of Jesus Christ. The 24 elders loudly proclaim that Jesus was slain on the cross and redeemed them out of every nation by His Blood. The believing remnant of Jews believed that Jesus would redeem His people Israel as shown in the following verses.
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” – Mat 1:21 KJV
“Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” – Act 5:31 KJV
These verses speak to Jesus redeeming and forgiving his people Israel. Even our apostle Paul wrote that Jesus came to redeem them that were under the law, Jews. So the new song of redemption sung by the elders is not unique to the church, the body of Christ and is not supportive of the 24 elders being the church.
“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” – Gal 4:4-5 KJV
“Them that were under the law,” was Israel.
So far, we have no conclusive evidence that the 24 elders represent the church, the body of Christ.
Let’s consider the number 24. Here again, there is not much to go on. Moses offered 24 bullocks as a peace offering after the Exodus from Egypt.
The Nephilim had a total of 24 toes and fingers, 6 on each foot and hand.
But instead of 24, what if we searched for 12 plus 12. That sheds a whole new light on the subject. 12 plus 12 immediately brings to mind the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry. I could probably stop right there but let’s look at some scriptures. Starting with Jesus’ disciples.
“And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” – Mat 19:28 KJV
The 12 disciples will sit on 12 thrones judging Israel. Ok, now we are getting somewhere. That verse accounts for 12 or the 24 thrones and elders. They sit on these thrones on earth during the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ. But when John sees them, they are still in heaven waiting for the second coming of Jesus which happens in Revelation chapter 19.
The 12 remaining thrones could easily be filled by the 12 patriarchs of Israel.
“And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.” – Act 7:8 KJV
The 12 patriarchs are the 12 sons of Jacob from whom arose the 12 tribes of Israel. They are the original elders of Israel. An elder is one of age and authority. They are a good match for the remaining 12 thrones. If the 12 disciples warrant thrones, surely the 12 patriarchs do also.
An important consideration for the 24 elders is the New Jerusalem.
“And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:” – Rev 21:10-12 KJV
The new Jerusalem has twelve gates named for the twelve tribes or Israel, the 12 patriarchs.
“And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” – Rev 21:14 KJV
The city also has 12 foundations named after Jesus’ 12 apostles.
So, that totals 24. The 12 patriarchs of Israel and the 12 apostles to Israel.
Now, I know some of you are sad, some angry and some in denial. I used to believe and teach that the 24 elders were the church. But God opened my eyes to the apostles Paul’s passage:
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2Ti 2:15 KJV
Understanding how and why we must rightly divide the word changed my insight into God’s word unraveling many issues and inconsistencies in scripture.
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