The 24 Elders?
Who are the “24 elders”?
by John Accomando
The 24 elders cannot be the church. Please allow me to explain why:
Many popular writers teach that the 24 elders are “representative of the church”, and base it largely on the KJV rendering. The KJV is derived primarily from the Textus Receptus (TR). However, what most don’t realize is that there are actually three renderings of Revelation 5:9,10 based on three different Greek manuscripts: The TR, the Byzantine Majority, and the Alexandrian manuscripts.
Close examination of the manuscripts reveals that the Alexandrian manuscripts have the elders and beasts singing about the redeemed in 3rd person plural (“them”; “they shall reign”) in both Revelation 5:9 and 10. The Byzantine majority has the elders singing about the redeemed in 1st person plural (“us”) in verse 9, but 3rd person plural (“βασιλευσουσιν”–> “they shall reign”) in verse 10. Here is the NIV/NAS rendering:
So again, the TR has 1st person plural in both verses; The Alexandrian manuscripts have 3rd person plural in both verses; and the Byzantine Majority has 1st person plural in verse 9, but 3rd person plural in verse 10.
So who is right? There IS a way to know.
The Alexandrian manuscripts are actually the most likely to be correct in rendering here, with the Byzantine majority coming in a close second, and I’ll explain why. Look who’s singing the new song:
So it’s not just the elders who are singing the new song. It’s the 4 beasts as well.
Now look at a description of the 4 beasts:
These are not “church saints”. They’re angelic beings, and most likely seraphim:
Are angelic beings redeemable? No:
There is no debating this. Fallen angels stay fallen. There is no hope for them. They are NOT redeemable, and therefore can NOT be washed by the blood of Jesus.
So if the 4 beasts are angelic beings, and we know that angels are not redeemable beings, AND we know that the 4 beasts are ALSO singing the “new song” about the redeemed, then they cannot be singing about themselves. If that’s the case, then the 24 elders also cannot be redeemable beings, because all 28 are singing the song TOGETHER. This is a point which most people miss completely, but can’t be stressed enough. They are all singing the new song together, so it’s an all-or-none effect. If the beasts can’t be calling themselves “redeemed”, then neither can the 24 elders, because they’re all singing it TOGETHER. So the Textus Receptus (and therefore, the KJV) rendering cannot be the correct one. So knowing context AND the Greek are both crucial.
Despite the above, some teachers will STILL insist that the elders “represent the church”, and are comprised of the 12 apostles as well as some OT saints or prophets. However, one has to realize that John didn’t claim to recognize the “elders”. Remember how when Peter, James, and John were at the Mount of Transfiguration, Elijah and Moses appeared to them, and they instantly knew who these two were, even though they appeared in a glorified form:
So if Peter, James, and John were able to instantly recognize Moses and Elijah, how is it that John wasn’t able to recognize any of the elders, including the other apostles, or even himself? How could this be, when John wrote with such detail in Revelation?
Aside from all of the above, why would we need “representatives”, when the Lord Jesus is our only mediator, and the veil in the Temple was torn in two? For that matter, there is a “multitude” before the throne described in Revelation 7 (in addition to the beasts, elders, and angels), and this scene is after the 6th seal. Why, then, isn’t this “multitude” described in Revelation 5:11? Why aren’t they worshipping around the throne with the rest of Heaven?
Aside from the reasons already given, there are other clues. Some assume that they’re church saints because they’re wearing “crowns”, but we’re never told that we get literal golden crowns. The crowns we’re promised if we’re faithful are figurative ones:
2 Timothy 4:8- “Henceforth there is laid up for me a CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
James 1:12- “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the CROWN OF LIFE, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”
1 Peter 5:4- “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a CROWN OF GLORY that fadeth not away.”
Revelation 2:10- “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a CROWN OF LIFE.”
Again, these are figurative crowns.
Do we have literal golden crowns which a man can take from us in this life?
Furthermore, notice that the multitude in Revelation 7 have no crowns:
White robes? Check. Palms? Check. Crowns? Nope.
Lastly, when do we REALLY get our rewards? At the 7th trump:
…which is at His literal second coming:
…just like He told us in Matthew 24:
Some argue that the elders are wearing “stephanos” crowns, which are crowns of victory, so the elders must be saints. That argument of “stephanos” crowns versus “diadēma” crowns is a non sequitur, however. The argument goes that only the Lord wears a “diadēma” crown, because He’s royalty, and saints wear “stephanos” crowns because we’re “overcomers”. Let me make three points:
1)The Lord also “overcame”:
2)The Lord isn’t the only One who wears “diadēma” crowns:
Here is the Lord:
Here is the beast:
3)”Overcomers” aren’t the only ones who wear “stephanos” crowns:
These are simply other problems, but a review of the Greek manuscripts as well as the context effectively eliminates the possibility that the 24 elders are “church saints”. On the contrary, it proves that they are indeed angelic beings. Therefore, the Alexandrian manuscripts (and thus the NIV and NAS renderings) are correct here.
There is one caveat, however, but even in this scenario, the 24 elders are still angelic beings.
Could the “new song” the “prayers of saints” which are in the golden vials? Let me quote the verse:
If the “new song” is actually the “prayers of saints” which are in the golden vials, then there’s still no reason to assume that the 24 elders are human. The “they sung” in such a scenario would be pertaining to saints on Earth.
Again, in this scenario, the 24 elders are still angelic beings, but it would make the TR the correct rendering (1st person plural, because it’s the saints’ prayers in the golden vials, referring to themselves as redeemed).