The 24 Elders?

Who are the “24 elders”?
by John Accomando

The 24 elders cannot be the church. Please allow me to explain why:

(KJV)Revelation 5:9,10- “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”

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:

Revelation 5:8-10: “8 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures AND the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men fromevery tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 “You have made THEM to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and THEY will reign upon the earth.”

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:

Revelation 5:8- “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts AND four [and] twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.”

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:

Revelation 4:6-8: “And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. 7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. 8 And the four beasts had each of them SIX WINGS about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”

These are not “church saints”. They’re angelic beings, and most likely seraphim:

Isaiah 6:2-3: “Above it stood the seraphims: each one had SIX WINGS; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Are angelic beings redeemable? No:

2 Peter 2:4- “For if God spared NOT the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;”
Jude 1:6- “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”

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:

Luke 9:33- “And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said.”

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:

1 Thessalonians 2:19- “For what is our hope, or joy, or CROWN OF REJOICING? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?”

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.

Revelation 3:11- “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”

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:

Revelation 7:9-10: “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”

White robes? Check. Palms? Check. Crowns? Nope.

Lastly, when do we REALLY get our rewards? At the 7th trump:

Revelation 11:18- “And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give REWARD unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.”

…which is at His literal second coming:

Revelation 22:12- “And, behold, I come quickly; and my REWARD is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”

…just like He told us in Matthew 24:

Matthew 24:29-31: “Immediately AFTER the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a TRUMPET, and they shall gather together his ELECT from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

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”:

Revelation 3:21- “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”

2)The Lord isn’t the only One who wears “diadēma” crowns:

Here is the Lord:

Revelation 19:12- “His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns (“diadēma”); and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.”

Here is the beast:

Revelation 13:1- “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns (“diadēma”) and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.”

3)”Overcomers” aren’t the only ones who wear “stephanos” crowns:

Revelation 9:7: – “The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns (“stephanos”) of something like gold, and their faces [were] like the faces of men.”

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:

Revelation 5:8-9: “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And THEY sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;”

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).

Post Categories: Guest post, study

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