Who are the twenty-four elders?
– SJR from Lincoln, Nebraska
A mystery yet to unfold (Part 1)
I believe you are referencing Revelation 4:4, which is a look into heaven viewed by the Apostle John. He describes the scene this way: “Around the throne were twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.” He goes on to describe further elements of the throne room and then four living creatures in the center that have a fantastic appearance, “full of eyes in front and behind.”
These creatures are clearly not human. That leads us to wonder if the twenty-four are angelic beings or human beings. No one has a definitive answer. But there is some good speculation and I’ll tell you what it is and then you can decide.
Many scholars believe the twenty-four elders are human and represent the twelve Israelite tribes and the twelve apostles. That would mean twelve from the Old and twelve from the New Testaments. It makes sense to me because of Revelation 4:10 which tells us that they “will cast their crowns before the throne….” We know that crowns are often spoken of as rewards for the redeemed of the Lord, not for angels. Another possibility is that the twenty-four represent the entire body of believers from all ages.
Further in Revelation we have another pair of twelve’s. In describing the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven we are told, “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.” (Revelation 21:12) Then also, “And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Verse 14)
It is often true in scripture that the ultimate meaning of a passage is both laid out there plainly and also veiled so that no final determination can be made as to it’s meaning. Sometimes that is because there are layers of meanings and it is only as the event actually unfolds that we can get it. Sometimes it is simply the inscrutable wisdom of God demonstrated.
For whatever reason, we have much to look forward to—as long as our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15) Now there’s a passage that’s clear enough!