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Who Are The 24 Elders?
Posted on 08/30/2018 9:15:18 AM PDT by amessenger4god
There has been a lot of discussion of late concerning the identity of the 24 Elders first introduced in Revelation 4. Who are they? What are they doing in Heaven? The answer is surprisingly important, because, if they in fact represent the glorified Church, Revelation 45 suddenly becomes another overwhelmingly powerful, if not definitive proof-text for the pre-tribulational rapture of the Church.
Even within the pre-trib community there is a substantial difference of opinion regarding these two chapters as it pertains to the timing of the opening of the seals and the identity of the elders. I respect both views, but am persuaded on the preponderance of evidence by the traditional, pre-millennial, pre-tribulational view which teaches that Christ begins unsealing the seven-sealed scroll after the rapture (you can read my general teaching on the subject here).
So who are the elders? I see some offering opinions based almost exclusively on patterns and foreshadows, but I want to know if Scripture gives a more definitive answer. Scripture is replete with patterns and incredible symmetry and we must be careful not to turn those patterns into something they are not. Jacob had 12 sons and Jesus had 12 apostles, but that doesn't mean Jesus' 12 apostles are the re-incarnation of Jacob's 12 sons. It just means that the Sovereign God we worship is orchestrating everything into an incredible symphony of eternal significance. He is the God of order, not disorder. Likewise, King David established 24 priestly courses in 1 Chronicles 24, but that doesn't mean the 24 elders are Israelite priests or Jewish saints of old. It's just a pattern (but an important one as you'll see in a minute).
Keeping patterns in mind, but setting them aside to first see if God's Word gives a more definitive, literal answer is, in my humble opinion, the proper way to properly divide Scripture. So what do we know about the 24 elders?
- They are first introduced in Revelation 4:4, just after John is raptured to Heaven at the sound of a trumpet (Rev. 4:1; c.f. 1 Thess. 4:1617; 1 Cor. 15:5152; see also regarding the door in Heaven Jn. 10:7, 9; 14:16).
- The Greek word for elder, presbuteros, is used exclusively of men in Scripture (54 times before Revelation and 12 times in Revelation). These are not angels or some other sort of creature. In fact, there is no scholarly debate that I am aware of to the contrary. The elders are human beings. But more than just human beings, elders are rulersin the gospels, members of the Sanhedrin; and in the epistles, leaders of local churches.
- When we first encounter the elders in Revelation 4:4 we see that they are 1. seated on thrones, 2. dressed in white, and 3. wearing victor's crowns.
- We also see that the elders are glorified and enthroned before the Lamb begins to unseal the scroll in Revelation 6:1.
Regarding the first and fourth points above, one might argue these are not very relevant to identifying the elders. After all, perhaps the seals began opening shortly after Jesus ascended to Heaven and the elders were already seated way back then. And perhaps the elders were seated before John was raptured to Heaven. I won't argue those points because I believe they fall into place on their own once the other evidence is investigated.
So we are left with the 24 elders being a group of glorified human beings who 1. wear victor's crowns, 2. rule, 3. wear white raiment, and 4. sit on thrones.
These four pieces of evidence come just four verses after Jesus' messages to the seven churches. Well guess what? These four attributes are the exact things promised by Jesus to the members of the churches who overcome the world through faith alone:
...Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
- Revelation 2:10
To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nationsthat one will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like potteryjust as I have received authority from my Father.
- Revelation 2:2627
The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
- Revelation 3:5
The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
- Revelation 3:21
- - -
Side Note: Christians are promised white garments and the elders are also wearing white garments (himation). These are not robes, whereas the Tribulation Saints in Revelation 7:9, who come out of the Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:14) and are resurrected after the Church is reigning on thrones, after the Tribulation (Rev. 20:4), are wearing white robes (stolé). This is an important distinguishing factor between the elders and the Tribulation Saints. Furthermore, the fact that those ruling on thrones are already seated before Tribulation Saints are resurrected, as Revelation 20:4 explicitly says, is another important piece of evidence supporting the pre-tribulational rapture.
Also, compare the 5th Seal Martyrs (Rev. 6:11) with Revelation 7:14 and Revelation 20:4. The 5th Seal Martyrs (a.k.a. Tribulation Saints) are a unique group of mostly Gentiles, distinct from the Church, who are exclusively killed via beheading. These are not the Church of the Firstborn. The Scriptures are explicit.
And here's the real clincher: whereas overcoming members of the Church are promised white garments (himation) in Revelation 3:5, the 5th Seal Martyrs are promised white robes (stolé) in Revelation 6:11! And then in the following chapter we see those same 5th Seal Martyrs resurrected and wearing their promised white robes (Rev. 7:9).
The distinction between the Church and the 5th Seal Martyrs/Tribulation Saints is further amplified by these two verses:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
- Matthew 16:1718
Also it [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation.
- Revelation 13:7
The Holy Spirit-indwelt Church is the current restraining force in the affairs of man and will never be conquered. That's why no matter how bad things seem to get, the Church keeps spreading and lawlessness is never given absolute free reign. Just think about the 2016 election. Many thought it was all over. A Clinton win would have sealed the Supreme Court indefinitely and we would be well on our way to true U.S. and global tyranny... but evangelicals showed up at the polls by the millions. The male child of Revelation 12:5 is the restrainer and satan can't have his way until we're gone.
The saints and elect of the Tribulation, with the exception of the remnant of Israel in hiding, are a different matter. They will be conquered and all beheaded.
The elders have himation, crowns, and thrones, and are seated before the Tribulation Saints are resurrected. The Tribulation Saints have stolé, palm branches, no crowns, no thrones, are all killed via beheading, and are resurrected after the elders are seated. Scripture is explicit.
God is not a uni-personal god of homogeneity and Babel brick-making. No, He is the tri-personal God of diversity and family. He makes kinds. He uses stoneseach one being unique. Within the Church Jews and Gentiles are one, but this group is composed of Jews and Gentiles from the present age only. Israel is not the Church and the Tribulation Saints are not the Church, either. There are three different groups. We are all grafted into the same family of faith, with Christ Himself the head, but in any family there are different members and roles.
- - -
Based on the aforementioned Scriptural evidence we must clearly distinguish between the elders and the resurrected multitude in Revelation 7. And most importantly, the specific promises and context clearly identify the elders with the Church. That just leaves two final questions and I'll deal with them one-by-one. Once we answer these, the evidence becomes overwhelming:
1. Is there anything else that more explicitly connects the elders with the Church?
YES. While the previously discussed passages offer strong circumstantial evidence that is perhaps stronger than any arguments to the contrary, there is still one passage that I've saved for last because it is conclusive: Revelation 5:810. After John is raptured in Chapter 4 and the 24 elders are introduced, we then learn about the four living creatures and the Lamb is given the seven-sealed scroll. In response to the only-one-who-is-worthy Lamb being given the scroll, the four living creatures in unison with the 24 elders sing an antiphonal song in worship to the Lamb. The song identifies the elders with the Church in verses 910.
Many English translations get the original Greek wrong by presumptuously mistranslating the pronouns, but here is how the original text almost definitely reads (based on the vast majority of ancient manuscripts):
8 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 incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sung a new song, saying,
"You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain, and have redeemed US to God by your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
10 And have made THEM unto our God kings and priests: and THEY shall reign on the earth."
Verse 8 tells us that both the four living creatures and the 24 elders are together and given harps. Verse 9 opens with both groups singing a song to the Lamb. The manuscript evidence suggests the elders sing verse 9 because of the pronoun hemas ("us") and the living creatures sing verse 10 because of the plural third person pronoun autous ("they"). This is an antiphonal symphony of worship. The King James Version and Young's Literal Translation are more accurate than modern English translations in this passage, correctly translating "us" in verse 9, but they make a mishap in verse 10 by adding "us" there, as wellfailing to notice that the living creatures are also part of the song.
Either way you slice it, the 24 elders positively identify themselves as those who have been redeemed by Christ's blood "out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." To take this verse literally we must conclude that 1. The 24 elders constitute both Jews and Gentiles, 2. The 24 elders represent a group of far more than just 24 individuals, and 3. The 24 elders are a blood-bought group of believers.
Furthermore, the living creatures positively identify the 24 elders as both kings and priestsfrom the heavenly perspective, aside from God Himself, rights reserved for the Church alone (e.g. 1 Pt. 2:9; Rev. 2:2627; 3:21; 12:5).
2. Do the 24 elders represent more than just 24 individuals?
It's already been explained in Revelation 5:9 that the 24 elders must necessarily represent a far larger group than just 24 individual persons since they are redeemed "out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." But there are three interesting patterns or foreshadows that suggest the same:
First, the Church is a unique group composed of both Jews and Gentiles. The Jews come from the 12 sons of Jacob and Gentile believers came to faith through the preaching of the 12 apostles of the Lamb. Jews and Gentiles together can therefore be symbolized by 12 + 12 = 24. We see this pattern in Revelation 21 with New Jerusalem which has 12 foundations and 12 gates. The 12 foundations are inscribed with the names of the apostles and the gates are inscribed with the names of the sons of Jacob. The number 24 is thus a perfect symbol of the collective Church.
Second, in 1 Chronicles 24 we learn that King David created 24 divisions or courses of priestly duty in the Temple. The positions were held on a rotating basis so that no one priest held the position indefinitely. In other words, over the course of time, everyone would get a turn.
Third, in 1 Chronicles 25 King David did a similar dividing into 24 of the singers and musicians who would perform worship in the Temple. There were 288 musicians total and King David had them divided into 24 divisions, so similar to the previous chapter, 24 symbolizes the whole group.
It could be that the 24 elders symbolize the entire Church, or it could be that John literally saw 24 elders appointed from the Church and a similar rotating service takes place in Heaven as what happened in the Temple in King David's day. Either way, the 24 elders represent the entire Church of the Firstborn (of which you and I, by God's grace, are a part).
Finally, since the 24 elders must necessarily include Gentiles (Rev. 5:9), and the resurrection and glorification of Gentiles first occurs at the rapture, we can conclude that the 24 elders were not seated prior to the rapture. However, they are clearly seated prior to the resurrection of the 5th Seal Martyrs/Tribulation Saints per Revelation 20:4.
So while there is no Scripture that plainly says "the 24 elders are the Church," just as there is no Scripture that plainly says "God is a Trinity of persons," the evidence is inescapable, in my humble opinion. Here is what we can plainly garner from a literal reading of Scripture:
1. The 24 elders are not angels.
2. The 24 elders are not a group exclusively composed of Jews.
3. The 24 elders are a group of redeemed Jews and Gentiles distinct from the primarily Gentile multitude of Revelation 7:9.
4. The 24 elders, redeemed from the earth by the blood of the Lamb, are resurrected, raptured, and reigning in Heaven before the resurrection of the 5th Seal Martyrs/Tribulation Saints.
5. The 24 elders, constituting a group "from every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation," can be redeemed and enthroned no sooner than the pre-tribulational rapture.
Since I believe in a prima facie reading of Scripture, I believe John literally saw a vision of 24 members of Christ's mystical body seated on thrones in New Jerusalem. They were seated shortly after the rapture and the rapture is pictured in Revelation 4:1. As many have noticed, the ekklesia (church) is mentioned 19 times in the first three chapters of Revelation, but is strangely absent from Revelation 4:1 on to the very end of the book, with a single mention at the very end (Rev. 22:16). The reason is obvious enough: because John caught a glimpse of the end of the Church Age in Revelation 4:1 and the Church on earth was raptured and glorified and henceforth pictured as the reigning elders (who happen to be pictured possessing the things promised by Christ to the overcoming believers in Revelation 23). They make heavenly appearances throughout the rest of the book, appearing in chapters 4, 5, 7, 11, 14, 19, and by inference in chapter 20 verse 4.
And consider this: in Chapter 15 of my 2011 book Some Things You Should Know, I calculated a rough estimate of the number of Christians who have lived and died over the last 2,000 years to be about nine billion. This estimate doesn't factor in apostates, false converts, and pseudo-Christian sectarians from before 1950, so the real number is closer to half of that. Considering again that the 24 elders represent the Church, it just so happens that 24^7 = 4.5 billion, right in line with my estimate.
- - -
All I can say is I can only imagine what it will be like when we first get there and our faith becomes sight. Standing, seated, or bowing before the manifest and unveiled glory of God and our Savior, the LORD Jesus Christ. I can't fathom or even comprehend the glory that awaits us. I long for that day, which is coming so soon, when we first get to see the glorious face of our Redeemer. I know what I'll be singing with a myriad of angels as I fall to the ethereal gemstone floor in awestruck wonder:
This Is Holy Ground
Or maybe this:
Standing On The Promises
- - -
The 24 Elders Revisited
Church of the Firstborn (Part I)
Church of the Firstborn (Part II)
The Day of the LORD
The Blessed Hope
The Letters to the Seven Churches
TOPICS: Apologetics; Evangelical Christian; Other Christian; Theology
KEYWORDS: bible; prophecy; rapture; revelation
This is exactly what I needed to read this morning. Thank you. You have helped me more than you realize.
Excellent, biblical analysis and expository conclusion. The 24 elders represent the raptured church, the glorified “bride of Christ” in heaven.
posted on 08/30/2018 9:43:20 AM PDT
(Lord God Almighty, deliver us from this evil in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, amen.)
posted on 08/30/2018 10:15:45 AM PDT
(I see puppy dogs in the clouds)
I always thought it was the Jacob’s twelve sons, (the 12 tribes of Israel), plus the 12 Apostles, (minus Judas and plus Paul). BTW, I assume the 4 beasts are added to the 24 to make 28, which is a multiple of 7.
posted on 08/30/2018 12:30:48 PM PDT
(Being offended is a choice.)
Could it be possible that the 24 Elders are actually 24 Elders? Nothing more, nothing less?
It is truly amazing how people shoehorn and connect verses in the Bible to fit their theories.
Revelation was mentioned in the first verse as a revealing, not a riddle.
posted on 08/30/2018 2:18:49 PM PDT
Just what we need. 24 more of these.
So, where in scripture are we instructed figure out all the prophecies in advance?
posted on 08/30/2018 7:12:29 PM PDT
(1 John 3:23)
Jesus told the disciples Mark 13:23 But take ye heed: Behold, I have foretold you all things.
To: Just mythoughts
Jesus told the disciples Mark 13:23 But take ye heed: Behold, I have foretold you all things.
But He didn't tell them to figure them all out. He told them to watch.
posted on 08/30/2018 7:40:06 PM PDT
(1 John 3:23)
He told then what and who to watch for. He gave them the signs of His return. And quoted some of the prophets. He told them that war and rumors of war was not the end. He told them that many would come in His name and deceive the majority. He even told what the deception would be.
To: Jess Kitting
You post that pic, but there is talk of former and latter rains in the bible. (A prophetic picture of outpourings of His Holy Spirit)
The former rain began with the first 11 disciples.
Maybe there will be a latter rain that begins with 12 different disciples.
That would total 23 of the required 24 elders- sitting in the presence of the Father and the Lamb.
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