Who Are The Twenty-Four Elders?

The book of Revelation makes several references to a group called the “twenty-four elders” (Rev 4:4, Rev 5:8, Rev 7:11, Rev 11:16, Rev 14:3, Rev 19:4). However, there is no verse in Revelation that tells us plainly who they are. Of course, this is no great problem because the identity of the twenty-four elders is probably not vital to the overall understanding of Revelation. Nevertheless, since they are mentioned rather prominently, it is only natural to ask who they are.

Are the Twenty Four Elders the “Judges on Thrones”?

This question pertains to the passage in Rev 20:4a :

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them.

This verse refers to a group of judges who sit upon thrones, and it appears to be describing the same scene as in the seventh chapter of the prophet Daniel. There, Daniel saw a courtroom-like setting where thrones are set in place, the court was seated for judgment (Dan 7:9, 7:26), the books opened, and finally the kingdom was given to the saints of God (Dan 7:27).

Although the identities of these “judges on thrones” in Revelation 20 are not stated, we observe that John simply said “they sat on them“, which is a manner of writing that suggests that their identities should be readily understood by the reader. In other words, it was not necessary for John to mention who they were, because they had already been identified earlier within this same context.

This prompts the question:  Did John recently (in the same context as this verse) make any mention about individuals who have thrones to sin upon?

The answer is yes. He mentioned the twenty-four elders in the previous chapter (chapter 19 – Rev 19:4), and the context of chapter 19 flows into chapter 20 where we see these “judges on thrones”. We already know from Rev 4:4 and Rev 11:16 that these twenty-four elders have thrones to sit upon.

Furthermore, the idea that the twenty-four elders might serve as judges is indicated in the seventh trumpet event in chapter 11, where it is announced that “The time has come for judging the dead” (Rev 11:18 NIV). The ones making this announcement are the twenty-four elders.

Conclusion: It appears that the twenty-four elders (whoever they are) are involved in judging, and there is some justification for believing that they are the “judges on thrones” referenced by Rev 20:4, and by Dan 7:9-10. This may help identify the twenty-four elders, as discussed below.

Identifying the Twenty Four Elders

There are three strong clues as to their identity:

  1. When the elders are first introduced in Rev 4:4, it says they were “clothed in white garments”. The term “white garment” or “white robe” appears seven other times in Revelation, and in every instance it refers to redeemed and glorified people. Furthermore, they are wearing “golden crowns on their heads“, and crowns are promised to redeemed people (2 Tim 4:8, James 1:12, Rev 2:10). So it’s reasonable to think that these elders are redeemed and glorified people also.
  2. In Matt 19:27-28, Peter asked Jesus, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”. Here, when Peter said “we”, he was referring to himself and the other disciples. Jesus gave Peter this answer: Truly, I say to you, 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.” So we see that the twelve apostles will be given thrones, and they will sit as judges. Based on the “judges on thrones” discussion above, it sounds like the twelve apostles account for half of the twenty-four elders. Also, the “judges on thrones” account in Matt 19:28 corresponds to the time “when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne“, which agrees with the timing of the “judges on thrones” account in Revelation 20 (Rev 20:11-12).
  3. In Revelation 21:12-14, where the new Jerusalem is being described, we see twenty-four people identified, or to be more precise — two groups of twelve: It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west.  And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. We see that the twelve apostles are mentioned here in addition to the twelve sons of Israel. If indeed the twelve Apostles are half of the twenty-four elders, the fact that they are mentioned here with the twelve sons of Israel suggests that the sons of Israel are the other half.

So I believe that we have good reason to think that the twenty-four elders are formed by combining two groups:

  • The twelve sons of Israel
  • The twelve apostles of Christ.

Parallels Between the Two Groups of Twelve

This idea that the twelve sons of Israel and the twelve apostles will be the twenty-four elders makes sense when we consider the parallels between these two groups of twelve.

  • Two groups (Israel and the church) have served as God’s representatives on earth.
  • Israel originated with Jacob and his twelve sons, while the church originated with Jesus and His twelve apostles.
  • In both cases, the twelve individuals, because of their status as originators, are the oldest members of their respective groups, and thus may rightfully be called “elders”.

Granted, this view is one opinion among several other possible opinions. But it strikes me that Revelation twice identifies a group of 24 highly honored individuals. First, we see the “24 elders” who are uniquely honored by sitting on thrones in the very presence of God. Later, we see 24 individuals uniquely honored by having their names inscribed on the gates and foundation stones of the eternal kingdom of God. I find it unlikely that Revelation should present us with two different groups of 24 highly honored individuals, which means that it’s best to see them as the same group in both cases.

Side note: Suppose that the twenty-four elders do include the twelve apostles. This would mean that when John sees the twenty-four elders in his vision, he may actually be seeing himself among them in glorified form. It’s even possible that when an elder speaks to John (e.g. Rev 5:5), it might be a case of John speaking to himself!

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