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The 24 Elders of Revelation
- Who are They?

The 24 elders first appear in Revelation 4 and are described as sitting around the throne in heaven. Their identity is not given directly but much can be learned by the clues provided. There are seven references in Revelation to this group and what they are doing:

  1. Rev 4:4,10-11 - praising the Creator (in verse 4 they are just seen sitting)
  2. Rev 5:5 - telling John that the Lamb was found worthy
  3. Rev 5:8 - singing praise to the Redeemer
  4. Rev 5:14 - worshipping the Father
  5. Rev 7:13 - asking about the great multitude
  6. Rev 11:16-17 - giving thanks that God is reigning on earth
  7. Rev 14:3 - witnessing the song of the 144,000
  8. Rev 19:4 - worshipping God that sat on the throne

This page, the first in a series of four, will begin to explore the identity of the 24 elders and give evidence of who they are. It starts on this page by narrowing down the possibilities.

The 24 Elder's are Not the Four Beasts

They are separate from the four beasts as they are distinguished from them by their numbers and in a few places in Revelation:

"And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, 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," (Rev 4:9-10)

Since they are listed as two groups and one group is reacting to what the other group does they must be separate. The same thing happens in chapter 5:

"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)

Again, at the end of chapter 5, they are mentioned as two groups:

"And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever." (Rev 5:14)
The 24 Elders are Not Angels

They are distinguished from angels in this verse:

"And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;" (Rev 5:11)

They are also distinguished from the angels by their number - only 24 - whereas the angels are there in the many millions.

The 24 Elders are Not Part of the 144,000

The 144,000 are pictured as singing before the elders and therefore must be distinct from them:

"And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand ... And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders ..." (Rev 14:1,3)
The 24 Elders are Not Part of the Great Multitude

In Revelation 7, the great multitude are described and one of the elders asked who there are:

"After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; ...And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?" (Rev 7:9, 13)

An elder wouldn't ask who the great multitude were if he was one of them. The great multitude is described as being "of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues." A mere 24 individuals could not be the same as that group as it would include far more than 24 nations etc.

The 24 Elders are Not the People Resurrected with Jesus

A very common interpretation is that the 24 elders are the people or some of the people who were resurrected after Jesus and taken to heaven with him. So far, this is the most plausible explanation and the following passage is used in support of it:

"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)

Notice that, as the 24 elders (along with the four beasts) are singing, they say they have been made "kings and priests." Earlier in Revelation, John includes himself among a group who have been washed from their sins and made to be kings and priests:

"And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." (Rev 1:5-6)

However, as commonly accepted as this interpretation is, there are some difficulties with it. It reads that both the four beasts and the 24 elders are singing the song and it would seem strange that both of these groups would be equivalent to those raised with Jesus as they are so often mentioned as two groups separate from each other. Its hard to imagine the description of the four beasts ("full of eyes before and behind ... six wings" - Rev 4:6,8) as applying to people that Jesus took with Him to heaven.

It turns out that there is also a translation issue here in the King James Version that is corrected in most modern versions. (As good as the KJV is, it is not without its own challenges.) Some of the phrases in Rev 5:9-10 would be more accurately translated (according to commentaries examining the textual evidence) as follows:

King James
Modern Translations
hast redeemed us has redeemed men (v9)
hast made us hast made them (v10)
we shall reign they shall reign (v10)

Here are some examples of versions using the more-correct third person pronouns:

"And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou was slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon earth." (Rev 5:9-10, ASV)
"And their voices are sounding in a new song, saying, It is right for you to take the book and to make it open: for you were put to death and have made an offering to God of your blood for men of every tribe, and language, and people, and nation, And have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are ruling on the earth." (Rev 5:9-10, BBE)
"Then they sang a new song, "You are worthy to receive the scroll and open its seals, because you were killed. And with your own blood you bought for God people from every tribe, language, nation, and race. You let them become kings and serve God as priests, and they will rule on earth." (Rev 5:9-10, CEV)

Another point to make in regards to the identity of the 24 elders is that when they are first described in Revelation 4 they already "had on their heads crowns of gold (verse4)" - they are already rulers. This is in contrast to the group described in Rev 5:9-10 who "shall reign on the earth" indicating a future reign.

So if the 24 elders are not the four beasts or angels or the 144,000 or the great multitude or those raised at Jesus' resurrection who are they? What is left? The following page about the sons of God will explore another possibility.

 
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