Words and Phrases
The Twenty Four Elders
“Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders ...” (Rev 4:4)
A quick search of the internet will reveal that there are various opinions held as to who precisely these elders are; in fact on this very forum we have found several.
While the predominant view appears to be that they are the raptured (?) or glorified saints, i.e. the church, others suggest they are the twelve Patriarchs or tribal leaders of Israel and the twelve Apostles. Still others suggest that the elders represent the total N.T. church from Pentecost to the rapture, as well as the O.T. believers, one even suggested that they were merely 24 distinct (saved) individuals taken from the various stages of the church throughout the Gospel age.
It appears the majority believe them to be literal beings; however we believe this to be out of harmony with the general flow of this vision that it’s more likely that they have a special symbolic significance or importance, just as the rest of the beings and items described in this vision do.
Think about it for a moment, if as shown thus far the “door”, the “throne” and the one sitting upon the throne are only meant to be symbolic representations why should we now consider the twenty four elders as being anything less?
Remember the book of Revelation is a symbolic prophecy, NOT a literal prophecy. What is being described is a portrayal or picture of what was, is and is to come. This vision was deliberately portrayed in a symbolic form, which is in symbols, “signs” so as to hide its true meaning and understanding from the world and the worldly church (the nominal Christian). The vision was only meant for the true John class (the spirit begotten) to understand, and then only in its “due time”. To all others it still remains a “sealed book”, a great mystery, which is clearly made manifest by the abundance of conflicting interpretations being published on the subject, especially of note amongst our literalist friends.
In this study we will take a look at the five of the most prevalent views (which we believe covers most of the views held on the forum with the addition of two not considered), one of which we believe fits perfectly the symbolic nature of this prophecy as well as meeting all the necessary criteria mentioned in the description of the twenty four elders.
1) Of the five most prevalent views held by many, one not mentioned on the forum is the idea that they are angels, angelic beings. This interpretation, however, cannot be correct, because the angels are mentioned separately in the vision as residing in the outer circle, surrounding the throne, the living creatures and the elders. See Rev 5:11.
2) Our next suggestion is one which was mention on the forum that they represent the twelve Patriarchs or tribal leaders of Israel and the twelve Apostles.
Although it’s true that these two groups together do add up to 24, nevertheless we cannot accept this view for several reasons. First of all there is nothing in the vision with which to substantiate such a conclusion, nothing which differentiates between the supposed two groups in fact there is nothing in the text which in anyway implies that the 24 elders were divided into two groups at all. Furthermore it is merely an assumption that there were 12 elders positioned on one side of the throne and 12 on the other. Verse 4 seems to imply that they were positioned in a circular pattern “around” the throne, with no indication of a division of the number. The angels likewise are said to be located in a similar fashion.
However the most important reason why we cannot accept this interpretation, why this cannot be a depiction of the 12 tribal leaders of Israel sitting on thrones in heaven is because the 12 sons of Jacob like that of all the faithful patriarchs of the past from John the Baptist back to Abel all lived and died prior to the death of our Lord, prior Pentecost and the begettal of the Holy Spirit. Therefore they never experienced a change of nature, and as the Apostle makes clear “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom,” therefore we must all be changed from the earthly nature to the spiritual nature if we would inherit the Kingdom (the spiritual or heavenly phase of the kingdom). 1 Cor 15:50
The Scriptures draw a clear distinction between the reward of the Patriarchs and that of the Church. In Hebrews Chapter 11 we are informed that the faithful of the past having obtained a good testimony all died in faith (the faith of Abraham) not yet having received the promise (the promise of a “better resurrection” Verse 35, an earthly reward, an instantaneous resurrection to human perfection), “God having provided something better for us (the “First Resurrection”, a heavenly reward Verse 39, an instantaneous resurrection to spirit perfection), that they should not be made perfect (should not receive their reward), apart from us (i.e. before us, before the Church is completed and glorified).”
We will take a look at the third and most predominantly held view in our next post.
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