Who Are the Twenty-Four Elders of Revelation?

Who Are the Twenty-Four Elders of Revelation?

Revelation 4:4

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads

Much speculation has arisen as to who these twenty-four elders are: (1) a leader from each of the 12 tribes of Israel plus each of the 12 apostles, (2) twenty-four godly men from throughout biblical history and, (3) a special class of angels.

Matthew 19:28

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The men and women of corporate national Israel are not raptured. The twelve apostles will serve as the judges of Israel during the Millennium. According to the Lord’s promise, they are to sit on earthly thrones. In addition, John the Revelator is also John the Apostle. Did he see himself around the throne? Did he fail to recognize the other apostles? The text does not read twelve plus twelve; it speaks of twenty-four thrones. The twenty-four elders are not the tribal leaders of Israel and the twelve apostles.

Current established pre-tribulational models maintain that the Day of the Lord, and thus the Tribulation, begins with the breaking of the first seal. If this is the case, and the Church is raptured before the Tribulation, then it is understood that the Church must be found in heaven as Jesus prepares to open the seven-sealed scroll. The twenty-four elders, the men who John sees immediately after his vision begins in the fourth chapter of Revelation, are recognized as representative of the Church and as proof of the pre-tribulation rapture.

Here is how noted pre-trib scholar Arnold Fruchtenbaum explains it,

“The identity of these twenty-four elders has been much debated. Some take it to refer to celestial beings, while others take it to refer to and represent the church. While the text does not clearly state as to what these twenty-four elders refer, there are clues in the text by which their identity can be deduced. First, these elders are clothed with white garments which throughout the Revelation are symbols of salvation. Celestial beings before the throne of God do not need salvation for they were not lost to begin with. But these elders were at one time lost and at some point received salvation as is seen by their wearing of the white garments.

“The second clue is the fact that they are wearing crowns. These crowns are not diadem crowns worn by those who are royal by nature, which would have been the case had these been celestial beings. These crowns are the stephanos crowns, the crowns of an overcomer; the type of crown given as rewards to the members of the church at the Judgment Seat of Christ.”

“A third clue lies in their very title of elders. Nowhere else in Scripture is this term used to describe celestial or angelic beings. This term is used of humans in positions of authority either in the synagogue or church.”

“Hence, from these three clues, the twenty-four elders must represent the church saints. If this is true, then they provide further evidence for a pre-tribulation Rapture. The church is already in heaven in chapter four and five before the tribulation begins in chapter six.” (The Footsteps of the Messiah, p.114).

“First, these elders are clothed with white garments which throughout the Revelation are symbols of salvation.” Are white garments exclusively symbolic of salvation?

John 20:12

and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

Acts 1:10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.

White is a symbol of purity or sinlessness. Holy angels are also clothed in white.

“The second clue is the fact that they are wearing crowns.”

The second argument that can be made against Fruchtenbaum’s reasoning is that stephanos crowns, which Fruchtenbaum calls “overcomer” crowns are not worn exclusively by “overcomers” or church saints. In Revelation 6:2 the rider on the white horse wears a stephanos crown, in Revelation 9:7 the demon-locusts from the pit wear stephanos crowns, and in Revelation 12:1, the woman, who represents Israel, also wears a stephanos crown. Clearly these crowns do not exclusively refer to Church saints.

“A third clue lies in their very title of elders. Nowhere else in Scripture is this term used to describe celestial or angelic beings. This term is used of humans in positions of authority either in the synagogue or church.” But where did this office of elder originate?

Exodus 25:9

Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

Hebrews 8:5

They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”[Exodus 25:40]

Everything in the earthly tabernacle was patterned after the preexisting heavenly Temple. Did this pattern only encompass the utensils and furnishings of the tabernacle?

1 Chronicles 24:1-4

These were the divisions of the sons of Aaron:

The sons of Aaron were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.  But Nadab and Abihu died before their father did, and they had no sons; so Eleazar and Ithamar served as the priests.  With the help of Zadok a descendant of Eleazar and Ahimelech a descendant of Ithamar, David separated them into divisions for their appointed order of ministering. A larger number of leaders were found among Eleazar’s descendants than among Ithamar’s, and they were divided accordingly: sixteen heads of families from Eleazar’s descendants and eight heads of families from Ithamar’s descendants.

After Moses received the Torah by the hand of God, his brother Aaron was ordained as High Priest. Aaron had four sons. His oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, were struck dead for offering profane fire before the LORD.  Nadab and Abihu had no sons of their own. Aaron’s surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, served as priests. They and their male descendants after them served as priests before the LORD from the time that Israel wandered in the wilderness until the time of King David. There were a total of twenty-four heads of families from the tribe of Levi during the days of King David’s reign. The regulation of twenty-four courses of priests rotating to minister in the Tabernacle was established in the days when Solomon had the Temple constructed and continued to be observed until the Second Temple was destroyed by Rome in AD 70.

1 Chronicles: 24:19

This was their appointed order of ministering when they entered the temple of the LORD, according to the regulations prescribed for them by their forefather Aaron, as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded him.

This appointed order of ministering by rotating among twenty-four priests was commanded by the LORD. When Aaron received the regulations concerning the duties of the Levites, he wrote them down. Generations later, during the time of King David, the tribe of Levi had grown to twenty-four clans. The heads of these tribes served as priests in the Temple according to God’s commandment.

Revelation 4:4

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders.

The twenty-four courses of priests serving in the earthly Temple were patterned after the twenty-four priests who minister in the heavenly sanctuary.

Revelation 3:21

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

The promise for those who overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony is to sit on the Father’s throne.

When the saints are glorified at the rapture, they will not be sitting on 24 thrones around the Father’s throne, they will be sitting on the Father’s throne.

Revelation 5:11

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.

1) The heavenly tabernacle was the pattern for the earthly. Therefore the 24 elders, who are a priestly class of angels, were the pattern for the Levitical rotation of priests.

2) Angels wear white garments and crowns symbolize authority and position.

3) Each heavenly particular of John’s vision — the throne, four living creatures, and millions of angels are interpreted as literal. Therefore, there is no biblical precept for spiritualizing the 24 elders as anything but 24 elders.

Around God’s throne are four cherubim, twenty-four elders, and one hundred million angels. The twenty-four elders of Revelation are a priestly order of angels which served as a pattern for the priestly rotation who ministered in Solomon’s Temple.

Exodus 25:17-19

“Make an atonement cover of pure gold-two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends.

Everything associated with the earthly tabernacle was patterned after the heavenly sanctuary.

Revelation 4:7

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.

The atonement cover or mercy seat was patterned after the heavenly throne.

The golden cherubim were patterened after the living creatures.

1 Chronicles 24:19

This was their appointed order of ministering when they entered the temple of the LORD, according to the regulations prescribed for them by their forefather Aaron, as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded him.

The appointed order of ministering was pre (before) scribed (written down) by Aaron.

Who told Aaron to write down the order of ministering? The LORD, the God of Israel commanded him.

Where did the concept of 24 courses of Levitical priests ministering come from?

Hebrews 8:5

They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.

Who served at a sanctuary that was a copy of the heavenly sanctuary?

The 24 courses of Levitical priests.

Revelation 4:4

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders.

The mercy seat was patterned after the Father’s throne.

The golden cherubim were patterned after the living creatures.

The 24 courses of Levitical priests were patterned after the 24 elders.

There is a hierarchy of angels. There are angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim. Each of these classes of angels have different functions. The cherubim surround the throne of the Almighty, the twenty-four elders surround the throne and the cherubim, and beyond the inner circle are a myriad of angels.

Obviously, the 24 elders do not offer up atonement offerings or sacrifices for sin. But their function is related to the earthly priesthood patterned after them.

The Hebrew word for priest is “kohen” whose etymological root is connected to the Hebew word “qarab.” Qarab means, “draw near.”

Since the 24 elders surround the throne, I would conjecture that they have a role related to the priesthood in being able to “draw near” to the throne of God just as Aaron’s sons were able to draw near to the divine presence.

Numbers 16:8-10

Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the LORD’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too.

Numbers 16:5

Then he said to Korah and all his followers: “In the morning the LORD will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him.

The three basic elements of the priesthood are furnished from the above verses. They are:

1. Being chosen or set apart by the LORD.

2. Being holy.

3. Being allowed to come near.

Obviously, the 24 elders meet these three criteria of the priesthood!

Revelation 4:1-2

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.

It is poor hermeneutics to interpret everything in John’s vision as literal and then claim that the elders that are seated between the literal multitude of angels and the literal divine presence on the throne are a symbolic group that represent the supposed pretribulational raptured church.

John was called up to heaven. He was in the spirit. John then returned to earth to write down all that he had seen and heard. The twenty-four elders he witnessed are not glorified saints but a class of priestly angels. Therefore, there is no evidence of a pre-trib rapture of the church in Revelation chapters four or five.

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