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Revelation identifies 24 elders:

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. (Revelation 4:4 NKJV)

There is no agreement on the identity of the 24 elders. Gerald L. Stevens notes:

The real problem is the meaning of the number twenty four, which is debated as stars, angels, patriarchs, apostles, Levite orders and so forth. The meaning of the attire, on the other hand, is more clear as reigning believers, due to the immediately preceding material in the seven letters. (Revelation p.381)

The difficulty with identifying the elders as reigning believers is finding a criteria to choose 24. Surely 12 would be apostles, but who is included in that group? Is Judas Iscariot, or Mathias, or Paul included? Who make up the other 12? As a result some see the 24 elders as symbolic. Yet that understanding brings difficulties as the elders are always described as acting like specific individuals:

the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, Saying: “You are worthy, O Lord. To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” (4:10-11 NKJV)

The initial worship is based on creation. This is more OT than NT.

The first thing the elders do is cast away their crowns and in the end their thrones are gone:

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” (Revelation 19:4 ESV)

This paints a picture of declining authority. Revelation is symbolic and the sequence of casting away crowns and giving up thrones is symbolic of relinquishing authority and is a sequence which is inconsistent with a representation of/as reigning NT believers.

This suggests their identity is to be found in the OT. If they are 24 specific individuals, they must all have a criteria common to the group which is not found in any other person outside the group.

There are 24 individuals in the OT who all have the epitaph: "Slept with his fathers…":

David (1 Kings 2:10), Solomon (1 Kings 11:43), Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:20), Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:31), Abijam (1 Kings 15:8), Asa (1 Kings 15:24), Baasha (1 Kings 16:6), Omri (1 Kings 16:28), Ahab (1 Kings 22:40), Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:50), Joram (2 Kings 8:24), Jehu (2 Kings 10:35), Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:9), Joash (2 Kings 13:13), Jehoash (2 Kings 14:16), Amaziah/Azariah (2 Kings 14:22), Jeroboam (2 Kings 14:29), Azariah (2 Kings 15:7), Menahem (2 Kings 15:22), Jotham (2 Kings 15:38), Ahaz (21 Kings 16:20), Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:21), Manasseh (2 Kings 21:18), Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:6)

There are 24 individuals in the Old Testament who can be considered as elders, wearing crowns of gold, sitting on thrones, and whose death share the epitaph “Slept with his fathers…”

Is there any other individual who has the epitaph "slept with his fathers" or something comparable who should be included?

  • Why are you identifying the 24 elders (πρεσβυτερους) as 24 kings (βασιλεύς)? They aren't kings, they're elders. ? – user10231 May 2 '16 at 7:12
  • They are elders who are seated on thrones. The idea they are reigning NT believers is based on the thrones and crowns. It is true they are not described using the word for kings, but in other ways they are distinguished in ways associated with kings. So their qualifications for being selected as the 24 who John sees seated on thrones in heaven are kings who actually reigned on earth and who slept with their fathers. – Revelation Lad May 2 '16 at 14:58
  • @RevelationLad You would have to exclude quite a few of that list, which would pretty well shred that argument. My thought was the 12 Prophets;(2 Pet. 3:2/Eph. 2:20) As far the theme goes, both Old and New Testament are represented by the elders, who represent the Church of God for all ages. – Tau May 3 '16 at 3:34
  • @Tau If prophets, which 12? If apostles which 12? With any list there will be reasons to include or exclude - ex. if apostles is Judas, or Matthias, or Paul included? If John the writer is the apostle, then he is not 1 of the 24. So my thought is to look for 24 that can be included on the basis of the same exact criteria. "Slept with his fathers" identifies 24 individuals in OT. This is the defining element for inclusion. Their evil nature is not a consideration since in NT terms all have sinned and fall short.. – Revelation Lad May 4 '16 at 6:08
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    "Their evil nature is not a consideration since in NT terms all have sinned and fall short" - this is a dramatic over-simplification, worthy of its own question. If you have really been taught that 'all have sinned' is a get-out-of-jail free card for some of the most evil, unrepentant individuals in the OT, I'd suggest to you that your teacher took those words wildly out of the context of the rest of Romans. Consider Ahab, who was so accursed that the Lord caused his blood to be licked up by dogs after his death... and you're suggesting he now sits on a throne before God? – Steve Taylor May 5 '16 at 7:14
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Cases for a 'kingly' identification

  1. There are 24 kings linked using a single phrase, and 24 'elders'. Therefore there may be a correlation between the two.

  2. They elders have 'crowns' and are sat on 'thrones', which may suggest a royal disposition.

Cases against a 'kingly' identification

  1. The author expressly describes the men as elders and not kings, and we should consider this a significant, chosen descriptor, considering he described them with thrones and crowns. The author intended to describe them as elders, and so we need a lot of evidence if we're to explain that away as really meaning 'kings'.

  2. Several of the 24 kings identified were expressly described as bad kings (Ahab committed "more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him": 1 Kings 16:30; Jeroboam II is also primarily described as doing "evil": 2 Kings 14:24), and so we would not expect to see them in heaven, in God's presence.

  3. Properly speaking, a 'crown' or stephanos in Greek is not strictly a kingly thing, and is often an award which was won in their sporting events, as Paul alludes to in his letters:

"Every competitor in the games goes into serious training. Athletes will take tremendous pains - for a fading crown of leaves. But our contest is for an eternal crown that will never fade." - 1 Corinthians 9:2

"Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing." - 2 Timothy 4:8

"And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away." - 1 Peter 5:3-4

It is therefore very normal New Testament theology for deceased Christians to receive a crown after their death, and so it should not be remarkable that the elders have these. In Revelation 2:10 such crowns were promised to the believers of Smyrna who were faithful.

  1. The elders are not wearing kingly robes. In Mark 15:17 we see the soldiers dress Jesus in a robe - a purple robe - which was symbolic of kingship. Our elders are wearing white robes, akin to those given to believers in Revelation 3:5.

  2. This isn't the most likely conclusion for a 24, if we absolutely had to draw one. We could consider these to represent the 24 divisions of priests who stood before the presence of God in the Temple (1 Chronicles 24), or the 12 Apostles and 12 tribal representatives as we see represented by the gates in Revelation 21:12-14. This latter one would be a more natural analogy in the context of Revelation, but is still not obviously stated or implied by the author in our passage.

  3. The '24 kings' in question have been linked together by an arbitrary phrase, which is not used with significance anywhere else in the Bible. They have nothing else significant in common with one another. If the phrase was used by John in this passage or elsewhere, or indeed by any other author as a linking phrase of any significance, then perhaps there may be a case for some linkage. But as it stands, the author of Revelation gives no obvious reason to link together these 24 kings in such a way with his 24 elders.


Conclusion

Exegesis is about reading meaning out of a passage, and not into it. In this case we are beginning with a co-incidental number we find twice, and we then examine the two cases in order to see if a link is stated or implied by the author.

Given the lack of obvious reference by the author, and multiple compelling reasons we should not suspect to find multiple evil-doing kings in front of the throne of God, the exegetical case suggests the 24 elders of Revelation are not the 24 kings the OP has identified.

So no, the '24 elders' are not the 24 kings who "slept with their fathers" in the Old Testament.

  • “The author expressly describes the men as elders and not kings.” In a book which is highly symbolic, I question the demand to impose such a restrictive interpretation on the language. If that is the approach, then Elders could not be prophets or apostles. Also David must be eliminated since he is a king. I believe the accepted understanding is to see the word as encompassing a range of possible earthly positions. So an elder (in heaven) could be a prophet or an apostle, or other NT believer, but the same word does not extend to include one who was (past tense) a king? – Revelation Lad May 4 '16 at 21:03
  • The stephanos was awarded for other than athletic achievement. It is given for public service, for victory in battle. Moreover the point of the stephanos is not that it is worn but they are cast away. As in Matt 13:41-42 things that offend are gathered and cast (same word) into a furnace of fire. Who better qualified to cast away a heavenly stephanos than one who wore an earthly diadem? Both are meaningless in the presence of the One True King. Also stephanos are worn by the locusts (9:7) so there is no warrant to claim they must only be given to those who are good. – Revelation Lad May 4 '16 at 21:04
  • "if that is the approach, then elders could not be prophets or apostles": Agreed, I'd personally suggest they are not Kings or apostles or priests, but rather an array of faithful elders, who have received the sorts of crowns told by Paul and Peter. To search out an identity not named or hinted at by the author is not exegesis. I'll be very interested to see if anybody can present a hermeneutical case for the link you're looking for. Sure, Revelation is full of symbolism, but that's exactly why we need to rigorously apply hermeneutic principles to help separate true symbolism from human ideas. – Steve Taylor May 4 '16 at 21:21
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The 24 elders (πρεσβυτερους) are misidentified as 24 kings (βασιλεύς) because of a misunderstanding of what an "elder" is in a semitic society, that leads people to think that these 24 elders are actually kings. What I have repeatedly pointed out (to a chorus of downvotes) is that elders are representatives of the tribes of the People, not kings over them. Notice that the elders bear the prayers of the People and they say that the People have been made "a kingdom of priests" and "shall reign on the land":

Rev 5:8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Rev 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, Rev 5:10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."

So to properly understand what is going on you have to abandon the idea of the elders as "kings over the people" and embrace the clear teaching of the passage that the People are made kings and priest and that the elders are both part of the People and representing them.

We have a related passage in Ephesians:

Eph 2:6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

In other words, all of the People are seated in the sky by representation. "Seating" refers to being given authority. Obviously Paul himself is not in the sky except by representation.

All of this goes back to the promise:

Exo 19:5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; Exo 19:6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel." Exo 19:7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him.

Peter, speaking to Jewish believers says that this is now true of them;

1Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1Pe 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

It isn't totally incongruous with this main imagery to allude to the 24 named kings (if that is an accurate number; I didn't do the math) as being displaced by the new-found royalty of the People so it could provide another layer as an allusion.

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    In support of your analysis is the progression of casting away their crowns and eventually being described without thrones. But that does not address the question of whether there are 24 specific individuals who can be identified as the 24. Nor does the fact they were kings in the past mean they must be excluded as elders in Revelation. In fact if they were once kings who now sleep with their fathers, then they are no longer rulers but elders. Once they see the Lamb who was slain they cast away their crowns, symbolically renouncing their right to rule (and yet they remain elders). – Revelation Lad May 2 '16 at 17:30
  • @RevelationLad I suppose the uncrowning of the historic kings could add another layer to the image without destroying the fundamental image so I won't object and will meditate on it. – user10231 May 2 '16 at 18:22
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    (+1) I think you're spot-on that the question misappropriates the idea of an 'elder'. Several of the kings @RevelationLad is asking about are individuals like Ahaz and Jeroboam who are vile and rebellious kings, so to even suggest that such men would be 'elders' around the throne of God would be utterly contemptible for any biblical author who wrote of them. Your answer is more faithful to the concept of 'elder' as outlined throughout the Bible. – Steve Taylor May 4 '16 at 7:54
  • @SteveTaylor If the number of kings is 24 I could see it being an allusion to the kings, but not an identification. – user10231 May 4 '16 at 9:24

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