When the Apostle John was caught up to Heaven, he revealed that God’s throne does not stand alone. Rather, it is situated at the center of a circle of lesser thrones.
He wrote, “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads” (Revelation 4:4). John, calling himself the Elder, had met the 24 Elders, and in doing so, presented a great mystery. Just who are the 24 Elders?
The first impulse is to identify the 24 Elders as angels, particularly a special elevated class of angels. Such a conclusion is problematic, though. The ancient origins of angels could have certainly earned them the title Elder, but then this would have been the only time in the Bible where angels are called elders.
If not angels, could the 24 Elders be members of humanity? And, if so, which humans? Some theorize that the 24 Elders could be comprised of the 12 sons of Jacob, Israel’s tribal patriarchs, plus the 12 Apostles, with the two groups representing God’s Old and New Covenants. That configuration has a certain logic to it. But, as the last living Apostle, John’s seat should have remained vacant, yet he still counted 24 Elders present.
If not a Patriarch-Apostle combo, what about the 24 Elders being comprised of still another group of men, ones unknown to us? I leave out women only because women were not allowed to serve as elders in the Early Church, and so John would never have recognized a woman with the title of Elder.
I believe in solving this mystery we would be getting warmer if referring to these unknown men as representatives of the Church due to how John described the rewards these men hold, rewards promised only to the raptured Church.
After believers in Christ are raptured up to Heaven, the Bible explains we will undergo the Judgment of the Just. It’s a form of graduation ceremony where we will be rewarded for the good deeds the Holy Spirit performed through our lives.
Some of the rewards Christ will bestow upon the faithful will be immaterial, available to all no matter what the result of the Judgment of the Just. For example, those saved will live forever with their Creator in a loving relationship on the New Earth.
But there will also be rewards that will relate to levels of position, as gloried believers will be granted different degrees of ruling authority during Christ’s millennial reign (Luke 19:11-27). Some of the rewards will be so wonderful that, as the Apostle Paul exclaimed, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Other rewards will be material in nature, such as special white robes that demonstrate the purity and holiness of “the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 6:11; 19:8). And, the Bible describes five different crowns, called in the Greek stephanos, which will be bestowed on Christians for meritorious spiritual achievements.
Notice, too, that John described the Elders as casting their crowns in worship before the One on the throne while singing a “new song.” They sang, “You have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10). Their song reveals the origins of the 24 Elders as coming from all the peoples of the world.
Their song certainly proves the 24 Elders are not angels, for these elders needed to be redeemed by Christ’s shed blood, and there is no redemption for angels. Also, angels are never portrayed as wearing crowns.
The 24 Elders had been missing in Isaiah and Jeremiah’s visits to Heaven centuries earlier, showing the Elders had not even been born or given their thrones yet. Once finally in Heaven, the Elders had been given white robes, indicating their newfound purity, and they were also granted ruling authority over the earth. These rewards were promised explicitly to the Church (Revelation 1:6). Therefore, what John was witnessing with the 24 Elders could only be the Church Age saints. I’ll go even further, one of them could even be you!
During King David’s time, 24 elders had been appointed to divide the priesthood into 24 courses with each elder serving two weeks at a time in the Temple. The huge number of priests required a rotation in order to allow all of them their time to fulfill their priestly duties. Skip ahead to Jesus’ promise that those who “overcome” (meaning those who are saved), will get the chance “to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21).
Could it be that these overcomers, in order to get their turn, will be granted a rotational seat upon the heavenly throne? If so, that means you’ll be the one wearing a pure white robe. You’ll be the one wearing a golden crown. You’ll be the one casting your crown in an eternal act of joyous worship towards your Savior who sits upon the very seat over all authority. You may be, at least for a time, one of the 24 Elders!