Who Are the 24 Elders in the Heavenly Temple?

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.  Revelation 4:4

The appearance of the 24 Elders in the Heavenly Temple is a bit of a mystery.  It’s not a critical puzzle piece, but it’s an interesting one to ponder.

Do the 24 Elders represent the raptured Church? The traditional pretribulation view identifies the elders as human representatives of the raptured Church, perhaps including the apostles.  Other views consider they may be the 12 sons of Israel and the 12 apostles.  The reasoning is their description as “elders” (angels do not age), wearing white garments (typically representing righteousness, although angels also wear white so I don’t find this very convincing – Rev 3:5, 3:18, 19:8) and crowns of reward (perhaps suggesting they have gone through the Bema Judgment of Christ – Rev 2:10, 2 Tim 4:8, James 1:12).  Before we get any further, this view is easily debunked.  The Elders appear in the throne room of God before the Lamb appears.  There is no way that the raptured Church would appear in heaven before the Lamb.  As David Lowe asks in his book Earthquake Resurrection, Where is Jesus?  We know that Jesus is the firstborn of the resurrected, therefore no humans could have been resurrected from the dead and glorified before Him.

Let’s look at the word Elders – presbyterous.  This word is used in the New Testament to describe older men, yes, but it is also an office in the temple (“rulers and elders and scribes”), and later in the church (“appointed elders”).  So the elders could be human, but they also could be angels serving in an official temple role.  We know that the earthly Temple was a parallel to the heavenly Temple.

What about their white robes?  Yes, the saved elect will receive white robes of righteousness.  Are these the same?  “Peribeblemenous” or to be clothed, is used in this instance to describe the elders.  This word is also used in Revelation 7 to describe the Lamb, who is clothed in white robes. The garments, or “himatiois”, describe what the elders wear, what the overcomers will wear {Rev 3:5}, as well as the fine garments of the wealthy in Luke 7:25.  It appears that the garments are a type of soft, luxurious fabric.  Angels are always seen clothed in white in their heavenly dwelling.  While the redeemed will wear white robes, we are not the only ones who wear white robes in heaven.  Again, the robes do not definitively identify the elders.

The crowns they are wearing are “stephanous”, which is specifically used only for the elders in Revelation.  It is used to describe the crowns they wear as well as the crowns they cast before the Lamb.  Closely related crowns are the “stephanoi” – which is worn by the demon locust horde in Revelation 9; the “stephanon” – which is the crown of thorns worn by Jesus at the crucifixion, the golden crown worn by Jesus when he comes to reap the world in Revelation 14, as well as the crowns of glory and life given to us as rewards in heaven; “stephanos” – which is a crown of rejoicing or righteousness, also the crown worn by the first rider when Seal 1 is opened, and the crown of stars worn in the sun/moon/star sign in Revelation 12.  As we can see, related “crowns” are worn by demons, Jesus, anti-Christ type political figures, constellations, and humans.  It is safe to say that the specific crown worn by the 24 elders is unique to them, since the specific word “stephanous” is only used to describe their crowns.  The crowns are not definitively associated with the Bema seat crowns, and do not identify the elders specifically as human or angelic.

There are two options, and I believe both are equally conceivable.  The first, is an angelic order.  This is described by David Lowe.  The second, is that the 24 elders represent the age of conscience (pre-Law, pre-Grace), during the first approximately 2000 years of humanity.  This is detailed by Douglas Berner.  Let’s examine both of these further.

In Earthquake Resurrection, David Lowe presents a fascinating discussion on the transfer of the Levitical Priesthood to the Order of Melchizedek.  In 1 Chronicles 24, King David establishes 24 divisions of the priesthood under Aaron’s sons Eleazar and Ithamar – these were to be officials of the holy place, designated by God.  These 24 men were to carry out priestly duties in support of the high priest in the new temple that would be built by David’s son Solomon.  The Levitical priesthood was a shadow, or “type”, of what was to come and of what is in heaven.  Hebrews 7:11 – “So if perfection had in fact been possible through the Levitical priesthood – for on that basis the people received the law – what further need would there have been for another priest to arise, said to be in the order of Melchizedek and not in Aaron’s order?”  And Hebrews 8:6 – “but now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises”. And Hebrews 5:9-10 “And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, and he was designated by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek”.

So, when did this transfer of priesthood occur?  At Jesus’ baptism.  John the Baptist was from the priestly line of Aaron and Levi through both his parents.  In Leviticus, the transfer of priesthood from father to son occurred with a washing of water and an anointing with oil on the son’s head.  At Jesus’ baptism, he was submerged in water by a Levitical priest (John did not serve in the corrupt temple priesthood, but in the wilderness as a voice crying – prepare the way of the Lord).  His Father was present, and the Holy Spirit anointed him.  At the point of this transfer, 24 elders (an order of angels, separate from the 4 cherubim and other ministering angels) would now be appointed ministers in the heavenly temple to serve the Melchizedek high priest – Jesus Christ.  Their absence from OT visions of the heavenly Temple was because the transfer of the priesthood had not yet occurred.  One challenge to this view is that Douglas Berner points out that the Levitical priesthood rotated through these 24 positions, whereas the 24 Elders seem permanently appointed to their position.

Lowe also correctly identifies the issue with the 24 elders being human – when they praise God, they are always grouped alongside the cherubim, separate from the humans.  Revelation 5:8-10 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.  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, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”  The 24 elders and the cherubim together praise Jesus for ransoming people and making them a kingdom and priests who will reign on the earth with Him.  The 24 elders will not reign with Jesus, but are stationed around God’s heavenly throne along with the four living creatures.

In When God Intervenes, Douglas Berner presents another fascinating option.  He discusses that the 24 elders are seated on thrones surrounding God.  The apostles and the overcomers will sit with Jesus on His throne in the Messianic Kingdom, not in the heavenly temple.  The thrones the 24 elders sit on suggest judgment (Dan 7:9-10).  They comment throughout the book of Revelation how God’s actions are just and true.  As judges, the elders are witnesses against mankind and the fallen angels.  They say “Amen” to the judgments of God as they are unleashed.

For John to call the “elders”, the elders must have seniority over John – they are not his contemporaries or peers.  He does not recognize them, so he can’t be one of them.   They are a type of first-born or ancestor – not Israel, nor the Church, but preceding both of these.  In Matthew 27:51-53, alongside the resurrection of Jesus, there is a resurrection of “many saints” into resurrection bodies.  We aren’t given details of how many or the identities of these OT saints (too bad!), but the Bible is clear that after after our resurrection we will face the judgment seat of Christ and it is reasonable to assume that these “many saints” did as well.  This could have happened in the interim between the resurrection and the ascension, which explains how they are seen in heaven with their rewards (crowns, thrones, and robes of righteousness) before the Lamb appears to take the scroll (at the ascension, where Jesus has remained ever since).  Jesus makes many appearances on earth in this 40 day period, but nothing states He didn’t spend much of His time in heaven.  Are the “many saints” that were resurrected alongside Jesus as firstfruits these 24 elders?  There was a lengthy history of mankind before God established Israel as a nation, and representatives from this group have not been seen elsewhere.  In support of this view, there are 24 Patriarchs listed in the line of the promised seed between Adam and the 12 tribes of Israel: Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, Shem, Arphaxad, Salah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah, Abram, Isaac, Jacob, and then either Judah and Pharez or Japheth and Ham.  (Berner gives rationale for the choices in his book).  These 24 elders are God’s human record of the history of mankind before the written word of the Bible – they can attest to God’s dealings with mankind from the very beginning of creation.

I believe Berner’s case is very strong.

Main Menu – God’s Mosaic Prophecy Model

A Disclaimer:    The Bible is infallible.  I am not.  Be a Berean – examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!

 

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