The next thing that we see in this scene is the one that I believe concerns us as believers. “And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.” The twenty four elders seems to be an important piece of the mystery of this book. From this point forward we will see the twenty four elders involved in these heavenly scenes until Christ makes His triumphant return in the nineteenth chapter. They are represented as being present with God and present with Christ throughout the unfolding of the judgment of this earth until the coming of Christ to this earth. Remembering that this book deals with pictures and types we need to discover who the elders are or rather who they are meant to represent. Let us take a few minutes to try to un-package this mystery.
First, let us ask ourselves if there is any significance to the number twenty four. David did have twenty four courses of priests that he set in order in anticipation of the building of Solomon’s temple (I Chr. 24). We will discuss this again shortly when we discuss challenges to the view that I am defending tonight. Those twenty four courses of priests were to offer continual service in the temple when it was built. They were all representatives of the tribe of Levi who in turn represented the whole nation of Israel before God. But, those priests were never called elders and they never were sitting in rest, and they were not kings. It may be that they are a reference to Old Testament saints in a correlation with this one instant of the number twenty four. There does not seem to be any real significance to the number twenty four outside of this one instance. But, there is another significant number to consider and that is the number twelve. Any rudimentary perusal of the a Bible concordance concerning the number twelve will reveal the following: There are two separate Testaments that make up the Bible that have two separate significances to the number twelve. In the Old Testament the focus was on the twelve tribes of Israel whereas in the New Testament the focus is on twelve apostles. In the book of Revelation these two separate significance numbers are joined at the return of Christ. When Christ returns and the New Jerusalem comes down, of which Paul said was the mother of all that believe (Gal. 4:26), it will have twelve foundations upon which will be written the names of the twelve apostles and it will have twelve gates over which will be written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. It seems likely that if there is significance to the number twenty four, which there surely is, that it would be this: the union of Old and New Testament saints.
Secondly, the term elders could also be a clue to identity of this number. An elder in the Old and New Testaments was someone that led others such as a pastor in the church or a magistrate in the nation of Israel. They were representatives and leaders of the people due to their age, wisdom, and experience. There were elders in the Old Testament who have obtained a good report by faith; who were described by the writer of Hebrews as not being perfected (or completed) without us (Heb. 11). Elders are those who lead others as shepherds who will receive a crown for their reward (I Pet. 5:1-4). So it is not a stretch in the imagination, seeing that elders are representatives and shepherds who lead others, to see these elders as representing all who followed them. Further, it is interesting when we consider the following point. Major events in ancient history would surround an assembly of the elders of the people at the gates of the city. All the citizens that were represented by those elders would look on as those events and decisions were made by their representatives. An instance of such an assembly is found in the book of Ruth where the elders of Bethlehem gathered around when Boaz bargained for his bride, Ruth. The entire city rejoiced together at the transaction. The assembly of the elders was a big deal in ancient history with any kingdom. When the Kingdom of God comes from heaven to this earth it is interesting that we have an assembly of the elders. In fact such an assembly is part of prophecy. In the 107th psalm which asked men to praise God for His wonderful works toward the children of men and looks forward with great longing to that day which all things are made new we have a specific prophecy of such an assembly. “Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders (Ps. 107:32). Notice the congregation of the people, the long awaited congregation of the righteous in Ps. 1, is a synonymous event with the assembly of the elders.
Thirdly, after looking at their number and their name, let us finish deciphering these by looking at their description in this book. The number and name give us only hints at their identity but their description in my mind leaves their identity beyond doubt. There are seven specific dimensions of their description which prove their identity. Let us look at each one.
They are described first as worshippers of God. Time and time again we will see these elders falling down and worshipping God. Jesus said that the true worshippers of God are those that worship Him in spirit and in truth. These therefore are those who are wholly devoted to God in their spirits and are submitted to the truth of God in their minds.
They are in the second place described as being “clothed in white raiment….” We remember that to be clothed in white was one of those promises that belonged to those who over come (Rev. 3:5). So it is a promise that belongs specifically to the saved. It belongs to us to be made as white as snow. It belongs to us to put on the wedding garments of salvation. It is the likeness of Christ in His glory which all who are saved will be made like at their resurrection (Matt. 9:29, see also I John 3:1-3). We will see later that to be dressed in white is the righteousness of the saints (Rev. 19:8). These then are those who are fully made pure. They are freed forever from the stains and presence of sin (Dan. 12:10).
They are, in the third place, from this point, ever with the Lord. They have a permanent place before the throne of God. In fact, in our text, they completely encircle the throne of God; they are around about it. They are constantly mentioned throughout this book in connection with Christ and his coming. They represent people who according to the promise of Paul shall ever be with the Lord (I Thess. 4). They have a place around the throne of God and so shall all the saved.
They are, in the fourth place, described as wearing crowns. They had crowns of gold upon their head. These crowns were promised to the elders in the epistle of Peter (I Pet. 5:1-4, which is a clue that they at least represent some New Testament saints). We will talk about the royalty involved with the crown under a different dimension of this description. For now let us focus on the reward. These are rewarded saints. They have won the crowns that were promised to the saints (II Tim. 2:5, James 1:12). They are gold because they are precious, they have intrinsic value, and they have an enduring nature. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the same crown that is promised to those who endure (Rev. 2:10).
They are described, in the fifth place, as sitting on thrones. In our text it says that they have “seats” around the throne of God. A seat in this sense is a place of authority; an exalted place. To have a seat around the throne of God is to have a place of exaltation and authority that goes with it. We have the promise that we will sit with Christ and that we will be exalted in heaven. In reality there is only one throne but let us call these thrones in waiting. Christ sat down on the right hand of God. He has a seat with God where He waits for His coming throne on earth. That is the same throne that we wait on and I think that these are waiting on as well with their seats around the throne. What was said to Christ was said to all that are in Christ: “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Ps. 110:1). And the Lord shall bruise the head of our enemies soon under our feet. It is also important that they are sitting in those seats. Henry said this: “He saw four-and-twenty seats round about the throne, not empty, but filled with four-and-twenty elders, presbyters, representing, very probably, the whole church of God, both in the Old-Testament and in the New-Testament state; not the ministers of the church, but rather the representatives of the people. Their sitting denotes their honor, rest, and satisfaction; their sitting about the throne signifies their relation to God, their nearness to him, the sight and enjoyment they have of him.” There remains a rest for the people of God.
They are described in the sixth place as being redeemed by the blood of Christ. It says of them in the next chapter that they will sing that Christ has “redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation…” (Rev. 5:9). So these are saved individuals. They are not angels for they were saved. They were not limited to the nation of Israel but were saved out of every tongue and nation. They were then representing all those that were bought by the blood of Christ. The identity then becomes very clear to us. The elders represent the redeemed among men and I believe that all who have followed those shepherds are there as well.
Lastly they are described as being made kings and priests. They will again sing in the fifth chapter that Christ “made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10, so they are with Christ waiting to reign on this earth with Him). We remember that this is true of all that are saved (Rev. 1:6). We are kings to rule with Christ and priests to offer up our sacrifices unto God. Peter said this: “ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Pet. 2:9).
Based on the above mentioned observations concerning their number, their name, and their description I have come to believe the following about their identity: The twenty four elders in this book represent the whole of the redeemed. They represent all the Old and New Testament saints who will return to this earth to rule and reign with Christ. I believe then that you and I will be part of that number for they represent us (or we will at least be part of that same assembly).
I cannot leave this point though without pointing out that there are challenges to this view. I will just mention four challenges to that view real quickly. First, this view is challenged by any other view of the rapture. This is a strictly pre-tribulation rapture view and it does not fit with any other view of the rapture. I have pointed out that there are real strengths to some other views of the rapture. If any other view of the rapture is true than this view I have presented to you of the twenty four elders is false for it assumes that there has already been a resurrection, rapture, and removal of the saints. In fact it is the identity of the twenty four elders, or rather what they represent, that is one of the greatest reasons that I lean toward a pre-tribulation rapture. Secondly, this view is challenged by the identity of the great multitude of blood washed saints that appear in the seventh chapter of this book; assuming that those are the raptured and resurrected saints. We will talk about their identity when we get to the seventh chapter but if those represent the saints that are raised and gathered in the rapture than this view presented tonight would not be fully accurate. I believe when we see the identity of the multitude in the seventh chapter we will find that it is not contradictory to this view. I will just have to keep you in suspense until we get to chapter seventh. Thirdly, the most popular view is that the twenty four elders represent the twenty four courses of the priests set up by David in hope of the temple. Many people who hold that view would also agree with the identity of the elders that I have preached to you tonight but some would say that since that is the picture then the elders would only represent Old Testament saints saved before Christ. Based on the fact that these will sing that they saved from every nation and not just the nation of Israel, I personally disagree with that assessment. Lastly, some take the view of Barton Johnson that the twenty four elders are synonymous with angles. They would say that they always are seen in connection with the four beasts, which are obviously cherubim, and when they sing in the fifth chapter the cherubim sing with them. Christ though did not redeem angels but men so this view is indeed flawed. We will deal more with this in the fifth chapter. I am convinced that the view that I have presented to you tonight is the most consistent with the Scripture. Based on their number, their name, and their description I believe that they represent all of the saved to that point in history. The church is no longer mentioned because they are now represented in heaven. Therefore I have a great hope that since they are there for this grand scene in heaven so I will get to see and experience the things here written.