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:
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).
The "seven lampstands"—an ornament in the Jewish temple—become a
symbol for the church of God (Rev 1:20).
The overcomers sing the song of Moses AND OF the Lamb; combining
the main figures of the Old and New Testaments (Rev 15:3).
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). Now, she represents the church. Therefore, she
represents God's people from both dispensations.
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).
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. See 24 elders for a more detailed discussion.