Who are actually the 24 elders? The popular Christian interpretation says that the 24 elders represent the raptured Church. But is that figurative reading backed up by literal Scripture? Why not just take the passage as it is plainly written? There really can be 24 elders in Heaven if you comprehend their origin in an overlooked passage in connection with the day of Jesus’ death. In the process, you will learn something about the three planned mass resurrections of the righteous.
I received this emailed question about the 24 elders recently:
Hello, I am a disciple of Christ who has been studying prophecy for about the last ten years. I was taught all my life that there was a pre-tribulation rapture.
However after years of study I now have a problem with this doctrine, it does not seem to fit the end time scenario. I have one question that I have never heard addressed that is puzzling me. If there is no pre-trib rapture then who is the multicultural group of persons in Revelation 5:9-10 [the 24 elders]. This group in their song of praise says that they have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and are present in heaven before the seals are opened.
Your brother in Christ,
Who the 24 elders are is a question a lot of people have wondered, including me. I think I finally came to the most reasonable scriptural answer to the question a few years ago, only after rejecting the popular notion that 24 is not a literal number.
This question exists whether you believe in a pretrib rapture or not.John is seeing the 24 elders and four creatures in Heaven in his time. There’s nothing indicating that it is a future scene. It’s simply the throne room in Heaven. Later we do get a scene of the same throne room in the future (Rev 15), but this time with many souls standing on it singing the song of Moses and the song of the lamb. That would indeed take place only after the rapture, or gathering of the firstfruits to Heaven. It happens after the 7th trumpet (Rev 11:15) and the seven bowl angels are seen parading out to deliver their deadly payload (Rev 15:1-6).
So how did the 24 elders get there back in the first century sometime after Jesus death when John received the apocalyptic vision?
First, let’s make sure we know what we’re talking about. Who are these elders: men or angels?
24 Elders Men, Not 24 “Elder Angels”
Let’s look at the key passage:
Revelation 4:4 — And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones: and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
Here’s why I feel these cannot be angels but must be men as it seems (although glorified men).
It says they are elders — I cannot find the word ever applied to angels. This makes sense since angels don’t age and probably are all the same age anyway, created together in the beginning.
They sit on thrones and wear crowns — Again, you never will find an angel wearing a crown or destined to rule as the thrones imply. On the other hand, we are told throughout the Bible that the righteous shall inherit and rule the earth (Rev 2:26-27; 3:21; 5:10; 20:4; Mt 19:28; 1Co 6:2-3; 2Tim 2:12), including the twelve apostles sitting on twelve thrones ruling each of the twelve tribes (Luke 22:30).
White Raiment — If they are righteous glorified men in Heaven, this is what they ought to be wearing according to Revelation 19:8 as the clothing of the Bride of Christ at the Marriage Supper will be, in addition to many parables of Jesus.
Crowns — Angels never wear crowns in Scripture, nor are they promised them. Believers are promised crowns (Rev 2:10; 1Co 9:25; 2Ti 4:8; Jas 1:12; 1Pt 5:4).
Is the Number 24 Literal or Symbolic?
We’ve established that the elders are men. But are they really 24 men or is 24 representative somehow of all of the righteous who had died up to this point and taken up to heaven? Is it plain and literal or symbolic and figurative?
The problem with that idea is that Scripture teaches people do not go to heaven immediately when they die. They must wait until later to “rise,” that is, be resurrected. Even the righteous prophet Daniel was told he would sleep in the grave until the end of the age when he would rise to receive his reward:
Daniel 12:13 As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.
When are these times of “rising?” Scripture teaches three resurrections to eternal life (not counting one to a second physical life mentioned only in Revelation 20:5=Eze 37:1-14):
1 Corinthians 15:22-24 — 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Messiah shall all be made alive. 23But every man in his own order: Messiah the firstfruits; afterward they that are Messiah’s at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
Notice that there is the obvious resurrection/rapture of the righteous at Messiah’s coming that all of us today hope to be part of. After that is another at “the end” when all the rest after the Millennium get their chance at eternal life, also called the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15). However, what we often gloss over is the fact that at Messiah’s resurrection there were also “firstfruits” plural being resurrected, according to Paul.