7

In Revelation 4-5, John pictures a scene of worship around God's throne in heaven. Around the throne are twenty-four other thrones on which are seated twenty-four elders (πρεσβυτέρους). I've always assumed that the elders were humans, but recently I was reading an interpretation wherein the angels pattern worship in heaven with a song in chapter 4, and then in chapter 5 the Lamb redeems a people from every nation to worship in the same manner, but with a new song. For this interpretation to even possibly work, however, the elders must be angels.

Verse 5:5 seems to support this idea. In books like Daniel, Zechariah, and in the rest of Revelation, the people guiding the authors through their visions are typically angels. However, the elders are also dressed in white, which is typical of the saints in Revelation. Furthermore the number 24 suggests to me 2*12 matching the tribes and apostles; though, they could be angels over them perhaps.

What type of creature are the twenty-four elders?

5
  • 2
    I'm not prepared to give a full answer (time restrictions), but don't discount the possibility that the 24 elders represent a group (i.e. not a group of exactly 24 people), just as the 7 Spirits of Revelation 1:4-5 are not necessarily signifying that there are 7 Holy Spirits in the Trinity. In other words, Revelation is a series of symbolic visions. (A) John literally saw the visions, and (B) God had a divine purpose behind the visions. That is not to say the visions were literal.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 19 '12 at 4:15
  • Yes, thanks Jas. Despite the title, it's not my intention to limit interpretations to a binary set.
    – Soldarnal
    Jul 19 '12 at 12:36
  • also consider that the visions are not necessarily linear in their portrayal of events
    – warren
    Jul 31 '12 at 15:13
  • Just a quickie, but I would say the elders are human, as the vision is a mash-up of a kingly throne room (throne; worship of the king; judgements being passed; opening of sealed documents) and the temple (the holy sea, lampstands; creatures depicted in solomon's temple and on the ark of the covenant; 24 priestly divisions in the temple). In 5:11, the implication is that the angels are distinct from the elders - although they are also distinct in that case from the 4 living creatures(?) Sep 13 at 18:26
  • But it's all symbolic, really, right? What category of creation the creatures / elders / angels (even) might be as irrelevant on one level as asking what category of creature is the dragon, or the beast. Acknowledging that you know that of course, though ;-) For what it's worth, I think the takeaway of Ch. 4/5 is that God is, at once, priest, king, judge, creator and saviour. Sep 13 at 18:29

10 Answers 10

3

I think it is quite common for expositors to consider these 24 elders as all the saints who are a royal priesthood reigning in heaven, including us. The symbolic representation of 12 tribes of Israel and 12 Apostles representing the entire church from Adam to the end of the world is very easy to ascribe to. Besides the winged creatures are often thought as angels so all the more reason to consider the 24 elders (a name given to church members) as symbolic of humans, not angels. The only objection I am aware of is when Revelation is put on a time scale as though the church is not before the throne until a later vision but I do not think this lends itself to a strong argument. There is no time scale in Revelation rather various visions repeat elements in previous visions, so there should be no surprise to see the redeemed with Christ right at the opening view. In fact if the church was not there seated before the throne, something would be terribly wrong with that picture.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (NIV Ephesians 2:6)

7
  • 1
    Amen, and thank God for your excellent answer. I was ecstatic to hear someone other than myself pointing out the fallacy in considering Revelation a chronological account. (A hermeneutical pet peeve of mine.)
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 19 '12 at 16:51
  • 1
    According to Revelation 5:8-10, notice the praise to the LAMB is not personalized. It does not say "us" but "them" and "they" (verse 10) (ESV). How can these elders represent the church unless the text is spiritualized? This is my opinion. I do not know who the elders are. Oct 27 '13 at 6:44
  • @JesusSaves: That all depends on which Greek manuscript your English translation is based upon.
    – user862
    Mar 31 '15 at 2:27
  • In the Greek of Eph 2:6 the idea is not that believers are raised to sit next to Jesus but rather that the believers are "in Christ" and share his experience. They die in union with him, are raised in union with him and sit with him. The Greek has "co-crucified", "co-raised" and "co-seated" because the believer is part of Christ's body: biblehub.com/text/ephesians/2-6.htm
    – Ruminator
    Sep 29 '18 at 12:12
  • These are the Jews, not the Christians that are seated alongside Christ. The Jews were promised to be part of the Melchizedekian priesthood - a nation of royal priests. These elders of the People thank God for making it so.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 29 '18 at 12:16
3

For anyone open to the Catholic interpretation...

The Church has definitively taught from very ancient times that the 24 elders represent the 12 tribes of Israel of the Old Testament, and the 12 Apostles of the New Testament. This doctrine is actually so close to the heart of the Church that it is incorporated into the Mass.

Many non-Catholic as well as Catholic scholars have noticed that the whole structure of Revelation is a big Passover liturgy where Christ, the Priest King, the firstborn Son and the Lamb looking as though it's been slain conducts and celebrates the heavenly liturgy. And the earthly liturgy is meant to be a reflection in that, a participation in that, and the early Church took it for granted.

In Chapter 4, verse 8 of Revelation we read:

8 Each of the four figures had six wings, with eyes everywhere looking outwards and inwards; day and night they cried unceasingly, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who ever was, and is, and is still to come. 9 And as often as these figures gave glory and honour and blessing to him who sat on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fell down in worship before him who sat on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, and threw down their crowns before the throne, crying out,3 11 Thou, our Lord God, claimest as thy due glory and honour and power; by thee all things were created; nothing ever was, nothing was ever created, but in obedience to thy will.

Notice that it says:

…[A]s often as these figures gave glory and honour… the twenty-four elders fell down in worship

This scene is acted out practically verbatim during the Catholic Mass. Each Mass, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist the following transpires:

Priest: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.

Priest: Lift up your hearts.
All: We lift them up to the Lord.

Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.
All: It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Holy, Holy (Sanctus):

All: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!

Immediately after this prayer is prayed, all who are gathered around the Eucharist on the altar kneels down in reverence, just as the 24 elders do in St. John’s vision. This eternally symbolic adoration is again echoed in chapter 5 of St. John’s vision:

…[T]he 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.

As stated above, Catholic theology understands the number of the elders (24) to be both the 12 tribes of Israel, as well as the 12 Apostles. The 12 tribes are symbolic of all of God’s children in the Old Testament, or before Christ. It obviously follows that the 12 Apostles represent all of God’s elect until the end of the world. This is a perfect example of how St. John uses numeric signs and symbols throughout his Apocalypse.

The footnote entry for Revelation 4:8 in the New American Version (Catholic bible) is as follows:

[4:1–11] The seer now describes a vision of the heavenly court in worship of God enthroned. He reverently avoids naming or describing God but pictures twenty-four elders in priestly and regal attire (Rev 4:4) and God’s throne and its surroundings made of precious gems and other symbols that traditionally express the majesty of God (Rev 4:5–6). Universal creation is represented by the four living creatures (Rev 4:6–7). Along with the twenty-four elders, they praise God unceasingly in humble adoration (Rev 4:8–11).

Twenty-four elders: these represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles; cf. Rev 21:12–14.

In his General Audience of Jan. 12, 2005, Blessed John Paul the Great preaches a sermon entitled By the Blood of the Lamb. He begins his edifying exposition of this perennial Catholic doctrine by commenting on how the 24 elders represent the worship of God’s chosen people:

  1. The hymn that has just resounded ideally comes down from heaven. In fact, the Book of Revelation that presents it links the first part (cf. 11: 17-18) to the "twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God" (11: 16), and in the second strophe (cf. 12: 10-12) to "a loud voice in heaven" (12: 10). We are thus involved in a grandiose portrayal of the divine court where God and the Lamb, that is, Christ, surrounded by the "Council of the Crown", judge human history in good and in evil but also reveal history's ultimate end of salvation and glory. The role of the Canticles that spangle the Book of Revelation is to illustrate the topic of the divine lordship that controls the often bewildering flow of human events.

  2. In this regard, the first passage of our Canticle is significant. It is set on the lips of the 24 elders who seem to symbolize God's Chosen People in their two historical phases, the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles of the Church. Now, the almighty and eternal Lord God "has taken [his] great power and begun to reign" (11: 17). His entry into history does not only aim to curb the violent reactions of rebels (cf. Ps 2: 1, 5), but above all to exalt and reward the just. These are defined with a series of words used to describe the spiritual features of Christians. They are "servants" who comply faithfully with the divine law; they are "prophets", endowed with the revealed word that interprets and judges history; they are "saints", consecrated to God, who revere his name, that is, they are ready to adore him and to do his will. Among them there are "small and great", an expression dear to the author of the Book of Revelation (cf. 13: 16; 19: 5, 18; 20: 12) which he uses to designate the People of God in its unity and variety.

1

1st Angels are not Kings as the 24 are:-

NWT Revelation 5:6-10" "And I saw standing in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and in the midst of the elders a lamb that seemed to have been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, and the eyes mean the seven spirits of God that have been sent out into the whole earth. 7 At once he came forward and took it out of the right hand of the One seated on the throne. 8 When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb, and each one had a harp and golden bowls that were full of incense. (The incense means the prayers of the holy ones.) 9 And they sing a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slaughtered and with your blood you bought people for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings* over the earth.”

2nd The above text show that the 24 are also priests and kings (VS 10) services angels do not preform. added to that they are out of tribes and peoples so they are the Elect who have been resurrected into heaven to serve on the behalf of humankind as king-priests:-

[] Added

NWT 1 Peter 2:9 "But you [the Christian elect] are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies” of the One who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."

&

NWT Colossians 1:13 "He rescued us [the elect] from the authority of the darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,

0

The link to the Administration of the Temple in Jerusalem is supported by the fact that there were 24 priestly divisions to serve in the Temple as scheduled by the Law. (Whether the 24 is better than the 12 or perhaps weaker, so that the number has to be doubled, the earlier 12 of sons of Israel and tribes and 12 of apostles and 12 of tribes again (in Revelation) may be indicating.)

The casting of crowns gives further support to the repeated announcement that something new regarding kingship and might is to come.

As well brought out and put far better than I can, the visions in Revelation were symbolic (in a sense like parables) and not to be understood as literal views of things in heaven or on earth. In the end the 24 elders may represent neither humans nor angels but an established concept (and even established by God just as the Torah was given through angels) that was about to be overturned and replaced by what was to come. In the same way Moses had spoken of a teacher that was to come after him, and to him they should then all listen.

In connection with the Temple and Priesthood the Law had ruled, but with the Messiah Sacrificed there was to be expected at least some kind of a change. If not, why announce a Messiah and a sacrifice that would be infinitely more than bulls and rams?

1
  • Can you please cite your sources? For example, the authoritative source for the idea of 24 priestly divisions? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Oct 31 '17 at 0:39
0

The 4 creatures are the 4 Gospels and the 24 elders are the 24 books of the old testaments that always talks about the coming of the messiah. John 3:13 No one has ever gone up to Heaven.

Firstly, I'll start with the four creatures . Let's see Numbers 2-3. It states the arrangements of the children of Israel per Taim mipla bin holim sios wok blo pastime sios, wanpla man bin kam na kamap smart stret Olsm em save lo mekim olgeta samtin na aninit lo lukout blo em, em start lo tok smart Olsm wok bai Flo orait but taim Bikpla rausim mitupla go lo Narapla hap, trutru bikman humblim na rausim man blo paitim bross ya. He will do the same for anyone who tries to act and talk smart, after all work blo Bikpla why paitim bross in the Camp that time. On the EAST was to the 3 tribes of which JUDAH is the lead tribe, Gen 49:9 states that JUDAH is a Lion. On the SOUTH is the tribe of REUBEN, Gen 49: 3 states REUBEN is my flesh and blood born of my strength and child of my Manhood. On the WEST is the tribe of EPHRAIM , Hosea 10:11 states EPHRAIM is a little Bull. NORTH side is DAN, Gen 49:16 states Dan will be a Ruler of his people. God is seen and talks about more often as an EAGLE whose a ruler of all in the Birds kingdom. Jesus will be our Ruler in the order of Melchizedek, a King whose existence is not known to Men, a mysterious King and Priest at the same time. With that in Mind, let's look at how the 4 Gospels arrange themselves. MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE & JOHN. let's see Revelation 4:7- it's follows the same line-up as that of the 4 Gospel books. First is LION, BULL, HUMAN & EAGLE. LION IS MATTHEW, BULL IS MARK, HUMAN IS LUKE & EAGLE IS JOHN FOR THE BOOK OF JOHN TALKS ABOUT JESUS AS THE SON OF GOD -JOHN 20:30. THIS HELPS US TO COME TO CONCLUSIONS THAT THE 24 ELDERS ARE NONE OTHER THAN THE BOOKS THAT WAS WRITTEN BEFORE THE BOOKS OF THE NEW TESTAMENTS. ELDERS MEAN THE ONES THAT WERE BEFORE THE ONES THAT NOW HERE SO NOW WE KNOW THAT THE 24 ELDERS ARE THE 5 BOOKS OF MOSES, 5 MAJOR PROPHETS BOOKS, 12 MINOR PROPHET BOOKS, PSALMS -Matt 5:17, AND THE BOOK OF JOSHUA BECAUSE THIS BOOK GIVES THE EARTHS LAST GENERATION VERY CLOSE TO THE EARTH HISTORY THE CLUE OF HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE BATTLE BEFORE GOING INTO THE LAND OF CANAAN enter image description here

1
  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for taking the time to answer. Please use English and NOT pidgin in your explanation otherwise this answer will be deleted.
    – user25930
    Mar 4 '19 at 4:37
-1

We are grafted in to the olive tree as wild olive branches adopted sons and daughters and have become part of the twelve tribes. Jews are from the House of Judah one tribe only. Benjamin included. The other Ten Tribes makes up the House of Israel. Abba made His everlasting covenants with the House of Judah and the House of Israel only. In the New Kingdom there are only twelve gates for the twelve Tribes. No church gates. We are one body in Messiah. Same Father, same family. Paul actually went to those from the ten Tribes (House of Israel) who went off to Assyria in captivity and then was scattered into all the other nations and loss their identity. These lost ten Tribes never came back to the Land like the House of Judah did after Babylonia and Judah are in the Land to this day. Paul didn’t go to the pagans and heathens but those of the lost Tribes of Israel who lost their identity. Yes! The 24 elders are the Twelve Tribes and Apostles correct.
Resource is The Bible

-2

24 elders I believe was selected from the multitude of captives by death bit raised from the dead at the resurrection of Christ see: Matt.27: 52,53 and taken up to heaven at His (Christ) ascension also see : Eph. 4:8 Is a.26:19 (fist fruits) they have been redeemed from the earth see: rev.5:8-10

1
  • Welcome to BHSE! We're a little different here, please read our Site Directives as you ask and answer questions. Thank you!
    – Tau
    Mar 31 '15 at 6:31
-2

"Elders" in tribal societies are the "alpha males." These are generally the oldest living male of the family, (extended) family, or "tribe." Sometimes the alpha is not actually the oldest, if, for example, the oldest is incapacitated due to sickness or is in prison.

Here are examples of the operation of the elders in the Ancient Near East:

Ge 50:7 And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt,

Ex 3:16 Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt:

Ex 3:18 And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.

Ex 4:29 And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel:

Ex 12:21 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them, Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the passover.

The elder, or "alpha male" of a family, acted as the representative for that family in societal matters.

Ergo: The elders were not "rulers". They are the elders of the Jews thanking God for not only fulfilling his promise made long ago but doing more than promised:

Exo_19:6  And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

Israel, under messianic King Jesus' rule will not only be a kingdom where every person is a priest but also a king!

Recap

  • "Revelation" is a Jewish apocalypse.
  • The elders are representing the People (the Jews)
  • The elders are not saying "Thanks for making us 24 kings and priests!" but rather "On behalf of the People: Praise you for making us kings and priests, fulfilling and more your promise".

Update

The Revelation is a Jewish apocalypse concerned with Jewish things. There is another somewhat parallel passage regarding representation in the sky via Jesus:

Eph 2:4  But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,  Eph 2:5  Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)  Eph 2:6  And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

The assembly is baptized by the spirit INTO Christ so since Jesus is seated at God's right hand the believers are well represented. They are "in Christ" seated in heavenly places.

KJV unless otherwise noted.

-3

The 24 elders are the angels who administered the Old Covenant. They remove their crowns as warriors who have completed their vows (just as Nazirites offered up their hair). Observing the Covenantal/liturgical structure of the book (which recapitulates a common Old Testament process), the Lamb who is worthy is the "firstfruits" Lamb, who ascends and opens the New Covenant scroll. So, this is a vision of the ascension of Christ.

His first mission is to install a new government to replace the retiring angels, a human government (which explains the use of the term "angel" for church pastors in chapters 2 and 3). Opening the seals brings the release of the 4 Gospels (as horsemen), the cry of the Old Covenant saints for vengeance (which would include Abel, whose blood would soon be avenged, as Christ promised) and the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost as the seventh seal.

The saints (Jews and Gentiles) are "sealed" as little scrolls, little books or epistles, and seals are to be broken. They, as the "body" of the sacrifice, would pass through great tribulation, be martyred, and then ascend as a new government to call down the curses upon Jerusalem (Egypt/Sodom/Babylon), sitting on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel and give the Covenant Succession to the New Israel, the Church of Christ.

What is interesting is that the old angelic government carries out its final twenty-four tasks (trumpets, bowls, etc.) and each angel seems to vacate the heavenly tent. Once the final task is completed, the Holy Place is empty, prepared for the new government of glorified humans in heaven.

"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." Jn 14:3

The reason we often haven't a clue what's going on here is because we are ignorant of the common "processes and procedures" of the Old Testament. This exact pattern is very common in the OT Scriptures. Think of Solomon dealing with David's enemies and installing a new government, for instance.

1
  • Can you please cite sources for your assertions? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Oct 31 '17 at 0:36
-4

My research has shown me that the 24 or 4 and 20 Elders are what they say. They are Elders. Elders on earth are the Eldest of tribes and the keepers of wisdom of said tribes.

Looking at the bigger picture the Elders in Rev, Are the Ancient ones. They have existed before humanity was created, They are Elders of universal civilizations. The guardians of Gods universe of earth and humanity. The universal Elders assist the Christ implementing the salvation of all Humanity.

2
  • 1
    Can you please cite your sources? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Oct 31 '17 at 0:37
  • Under the definition of "Elders" G4245 it includes "specifically an Israelite Sanhedrist (also figuratively member of the celestial council). The Greek word for Elders, if taken literally, refers to an old man, but if understood figuratively it would refer to a special group of angelic beings. In that case, the golden crowns and white robes would also be figurative. Oct 2 at 7:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.