The 24 elders in God’s throne room are humans from all ages.

This is an article in the series on the vision of the book with the seven seals (Rev 4:1-8:1). The first part of the article is a summary.

Summary

In Revelation 4, 24 elders sit on 24 thrones all around God’s throne (Rev 4:4). Since thrones symbolize authority, it means that they share in God’s rule of this world. The purpose of this article is to identify them.

The elders are people.

For the following reasons, the 24 elders are people; rather than angels:

1) The title “elder”

Elder” is a familiar Biblical title for the leaders of God’s people. Angels are never called elders.

2) Sit on Thrones

They sit on thrones and Revelation promises that THOSE WHO OVERCOME will sit on thrones (Rev 3:21; 20:4). Angels are never depicted as sitting on thrones.

3) White Garments

The 24 elders are “clothed in white garments” (Rev 4:4) and Revelation promises white garments only to God’s people (Rev 3:4-5; 3:18; 6:11; 7:9; 7:14).

4) Victory Crowns

On their heads, the 24 elders have victory crowns (Greek: stephanois) as opposed to the royal crowns (Greek: diadêma) worn by rulers. Stephanos is best known today as the crown received by the winner in the Olympic games. In Revelation, the stephanos is the reward for OVERCOMERS (Rev 2:10; 3:11) and symbolizes eternal life (Rev 2:10; cf. 2 Tim 4:8). Therefore, the pure woman also has a stephanos on her head (Rev 12:1). Nowhere do angels wear crowns of any kind.

5) The Number 24

In the book of Revelation, numbers are symbolic. Since the number 24 is equal to 12 + 12, the root number for the 24 elders is 12, and the number 12 is associated with the PEOPLE OF GOD, implying that they represent God’s people. For example:

      • The pure woman has “twelve stars” on her head (Rev 12:1).
      • The New Jerusalem,” which is another symbol for “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9-10), has 12 gates, and 12 foundation stones, and on them are written the names of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles (Rev 21:12, 14).

From both Israel and the Church

It is further proposed that the 12+12=24 elders represent the people of God from BOTH the times of the Old and New Testaments because Revelation merges Old Testament Israel and the Church into a single entity. We see this in the following:

1) The New Jerusalem—the eternal home of God’s people in the new heavens and new earth—has written on it “the names of the twelve tribes … of Israel” as well as the “names of the twelve apostles” on its “twelve foundation stones” (Rev 21:12, 14).

2) The “seven lampstands“—an ornament in the Jewish temple—become a symbol for the church of God (Rev 1:20).

3) The overcomers sing the song of Moses AND OF the Lamb; combining the main figures of the Old and New Testaments (Rev 15:3).

4) At first, the woman of Revelation 12 is pregnant; expecting Christ (Rev 12:1-5). Here, she represents God’s Old Testament people. However, after Christ was “caught up to God and to His throne” (Rev 12:5) she continues to exist and to be persecuted by the dragon (Rev 12:6, 12:14). Now, she represents the church. Therefore, she represents God’s people from both dispensations.

5) Lastly, Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, becomes a symbol for the bride of Christ (Rev 21:2; cf. 19:7; 21:27).

Similarly, Jesus said to His disciples:

In the new world,
when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne,
you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel
” (Matt 19:28).

In other words, the twelve disciples became the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel.

It is proposed that the 24 elders, similar to the 24 names that are written on the New Jerusalem, are not 24 literal people, but symbolize the leaders of God’s people from both the times of the Old and New Testaments:

Those who have insight will shine brightly
like the brightness of the expanse of heaven,
and those who lead the many to righteousness,
like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3).

Conclusion

It is wonderful to think that human beings, that love God with their whole heart and their fellow human beings like themselves, are, in the control room of the universe, in charge of the affairs of this world.

– End of Summary – 

This is the end of the summary. If you would like to skip the detailed discussion below, the next article in this series is – Worship sounds and songs in God’s throne room. Alternatively, see the list of the articles in the series on the sealed book.


The elders are people.

Around the throne (of God) were twenty-four thrones;
and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting,
clothed in white garments,
and golden crowns on their heads
” (Rev 4:4).

Since thrones symbolize authority, this means that the 24 elders share in God’s rule.

Revelation sometimes explains what different things mean (e.g., Rev 5:5; 7:13) but it never explains WHO the elders are. So, we have to examine the available evidence and make the most appropriate judgment.

There are two major views. Some see the 24 elders as a special class of angels, much like the four living creatures. The other view is that they are representatives of redeemed humanity.

There are several problems with the angel-view:

      • Angels are never called elders.
      • Neither are they ever depicted as sitting on thrones.
      • Nowhere do angels wear crowns of any kind.

But “elder” is a familiar term for the leaders of God’s people and God’s people are promised to sit on thrones and to receive victory crowns, as discussed below. This provides strong evidence that the 24 elders are human beings:

Sit on Thrones

Revelation tends to embed an outline of the next vision in the climax of the previous vision. As discussed elsewhere, Revelation 3:21 is the climax of the messages to the seven churches and also provides an outline of the next four chapters. It, therefore, helps to explain Revelation 4. It reads:

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
” (NIV).

In other words, it promises that those who overcome will sit on thrones (cf. Rev 20:4). This implies that the 24 elders, sitting on thrones around God’s throne, are overcomers.

White Garments

The 24 elders are “clothed in white garments” (Rev 4:4). Revelation consistently relates white robes to the people of God on earth during the Christian era:

      • White garments are promised to the overcomers in Sardis (Rev 3:4-5).
      • Laodicea is invited to “buy” white garments (Rev 3:18).
      • The martyrs of the fifth seal receive white “robes” (Rev 6:11).
      • The great multitude is “clothed in white robes” (Rev 7:9) for they “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14).

A related passage is, that during the seven last plagues, every Christian will be warned to keep “his clothes” (Rev 16:15).

Golden Crowns

The 24 elders wear golden victory crowns (Greek: stephanois) as opposed to the royal crowns (Greek: diadêma) of rulers.

In the ancient world, the stephanos was not an emblem of royal authority but a symbol of victory or a reward for exceptional conduct, for instance, the crown that goes to the winning general. It was often a wreath made of foliage. It is best known today as the crown received by the winner in the Olympic games.

In Revelation, the stephanos is always worn by God’s people:

The locusts of Revelation 9:7 also wear golden victory crowns. This supports the interpretation that the trumpets generally and the locusts specifically are God’s messengers to the world. For example, the two prophets “have the power … to strike the earth with every plague” (Rev 11:6). Therefore, “these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth” (cf. Rev 11:10).

Elsewhere in the New Testament, the stephanos is also associated with God’s people:

      • The word stephanos is also used for the crown of thorns that Jesus wore on the cross (Matt 27:29; Mark 15:17; John 19:2 and 5).
      • Paul anticipates a stephanos crown on the day when Jesus returns (2 Tim 4:8). Here, as in Revelation 2:10, it seems to represent eternal life.

In conclusion, in Revelation, and also in the New Testament more broadly, the “stephanos” crown is a reward of the overcomer and associated with eternal life. This supports the conclusion that the 24 elders, who also have stephanois on their heads, are the overcomers and, therefore, people.

The Number 24

The number 24 could be drawn from the fact that the Old Testament priests were organized into 24 divisions, each of which served consecutively in the temple for a week at a time (1 Chr 24:1-19). In Revelation 5:8, “the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding … golden bowls full of incense.” The incense implies that they function as priests. So, associating the elders with the 24 divisions of the Israelite priesthood is certainly possible.

But it is more likely that the number 24 arises from a doubling of the number 12, which is the number symbolizing God’s people. In the book of Revelation, numbers often have a symbolic role:

      • The number 4 signifies the whole earth (e.g. Rev 7:1; 10:11).
      • The number 7 signifies completeness in time (seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, etc.). For example, the seven Spirits of God signify that God’s Spirit will ALWAYS be with us.
      • The number 12 is associated with the people of God, for example:
          • The pure woman has “twelve stars” on her head (Rev 12:1).
          • The New Jerusalem,” which is another symbol for “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9-10), has 12 gates and 12 foundation stones, and on them are written the names of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles (Rev 21:12, 14). Furthermore, in the Greek, the height of the walls of the city is 144 = 12 x 12 cubits (Rev 21:17).
          • The number 144000 (Rev 7:4-8) is also derived from the number 12, being equal to 12 x 12 x 1000. (See – Who are the 144000?)

In conclusion, since 24 is equal to 12 + 12, the root number for the 24 elders is 12, which is the number symbolizing God’s people, implying that they represent God’s people.

The evidence that the 24 elders are people, therefore, includes:

    • The title “elders,”
    • The thrones on which they sit,
    • Their white garments and gold crowns, and
    • The number 24.

For a further discussion, see – What do the numbers in the Book of Revelation mean?

From both Israel and the Church

The names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel” as well as the “names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” are written on the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:12, 14). The New Jerusalem, therefore, is the eternal home of the totality of Israel; symbolically, twelve each from the times of the Old and the New Testaments. This is one example of how Revelation merges Old Testament Israel and the Church. The following are further examples:

1) The “seven lampstands“—an ornament in the Jewish temple—become a symbol for the church of God (Rev 1:20).

2) The overcomers sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb; combining the main figures of the Old and New Testaments (Rev 15:3).

3) At first, the woman of Revelation 12 is pregnant; expecting Christ (Rev 12:1-5). Here, she represents God’s Old Testament people. However, after Christ was “caught up to God and to His throne” (Rev 12:5) she continues to exist and to be persecuted by the dragon (Rev 12:6, 12:14). Hence, this “woman” represents God’s people from both dispensations.

4) Lastly, as discussed, Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, becomes a symbol for the bride of Christ (Rev 21:2; cf. 19:7; 21:27).

Jesus similarly said to His disciples:

In the new world,
when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne,
you who have followed me
will also sit on twelve thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel

(Matt 19:28, ESV, see also Luke 22:30).

In other words, the twelve disciples become the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Since it was concluded above that the 24 elders represent God’s people, and since the number 24 is equal to 12+12, and since Revelation merges God’s people from before and after Christ, it is proposed that the 24 elders represent God’s people from BOTH the time before AND after Christ.

The names of the 12 tribes of Israel and the names of the 12 apostles written on the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:12, 14) are not the names of specific individuals. It would not, for example, include the name, Judas Iscariot. And the list of tribes in Revelation 7:4-8 excludes Dan and Ephraim and includes both Joseph and his son Manasseh. It is proposed that the 24 elders, similar to the 24 names that are written on the New Jerusalem, are not 24 literal people, but symbolize the leaders of God’s people from both the times of the Old and New Testaments:

Those who have insight will shine brightly
like the brightness of the expanse of heaven,
and those who lead the many to righteousness,
like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3).

How did they get there?

Another article concludes that Revelation 5 describes what happens in heaven when Jesus arrives after His ascension. Since Revelation 4 describes the time BEFORE Revelation 5, if the 24 elders represent redeemed humanity, at what point did they enter into heavenly places? My response is that we should not interpret the vision too literally.

Another possible approach is that evidence in the New Testament suggests that the elders can be associated with events that occurred at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. At the moment that Jesus died:

The earth shook and the rocks split.
The tombs broke open and the bodies
of many holy people who had died
were raised to life
” (Matt 27:51-53, NIV).

Their existence was noticed as they wandered through Jerusalem’s streets after His resurrection (Matt 27:53). It is unlikely that these resurrected saints remained on earth afterward because their witness would have been powerful and widely noticed but none of that is reported in the Bible. Neither would they have died again. Paul gave us a small clue.

When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives
” (Eph 4:8).

This might mean that, at His ascension, Jesus was accompanied by those who were raised from death at the time of His crucifixion. They might be among the 24 elders around the throne of God.

But then the question may arise, why are they seen in the heavenly throne room (Rev 4:4) BEFORE Jesus Himself appears there (Rev 5:5)?

The CrossJesus ascended 40 days after His crucifixion (Acts 1:3). Revelation 5:6 implies that Christ arrived in the heavenly court AFTER the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, which was 50 days after the cross. So, these resurrected saints could have arrived in God’s throne room at least 10 days before the great event of Revelation 5.

But, as I indicated, this is all too literally interpreted for my taste. Furthermore:

1) The people who ascended with Jesus all lived in the old dispensation while it was concluded above that the 24 elders are from both dispensations.

2) It was also already concluded that Revelation 4 provides a TIMELESS description of God’s throne room; not a specific event.

Conclusions

It is wonderful to think that human beings, that love God with their whole heart and their fellow human beings like themselves, reign with God and take part in the activities of the control room of the universe.

Final Conclusions

    • The 24 elders in God’s throne room are people; not angels.
    • The number 12 is associated with God’s people.
    • The 24 elders represent God’s people from all dispensations.
    • Revelation merges the church into the Jewish symbols of the Old Testament.
    • God appoints human beings to reign over the creation under Him.

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One Reply to “The 24 elders in God’s throne room are humans from all ages.”

  1. Interesting.
    24 is the number of the priesthood as established by David.
    The Elders surround God’s throne as did the Levites surround the tabernacle.
    Each of the 4 living creatures can be identified with one of the 4 standards before each of the 4 groupings of the tribes of Israel beyond the Levites.
    God is Amazing.

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