The 24 Elders: Angels or Men?

The following is a copy of the notes I took as I studied the 24 elders in the book of Revelation. The study was the result of a discussion about whether the 24 elders are angels or men. If you have difficulty understanding, or if you have any questions, please get in touch with us by using the “contact us” link at the top of this page.

1. The Bible never states that the Elders will be seen sitting on thrones ruling with Christ. The Saints, however, are promised thrones.

Revelation 4:4 (KJV)
4 And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.

  • The Greek word for seats in Rev. 4:4 is thronos, the same word used to describe the throne of Jesus.

Matthew 19:28
28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Luke 22:30
30 That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Revelation 20:4
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them:
2. The Elders had crowns upon their heads (Rev. 4:4 & 4:10). The Saints are promised crowns.

  • The Greek word for crown in all of the following passages is stephanos, which is similar to the crown/wreath that would be given to victors in public games.

 

2 Timothy 4:8
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
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 Corinthians 9:25
25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

3. The Elders are wearing white robes (Rev. 4:4). Likewise, the Saints are clothed in white.

Revelation 19:8
8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

  • This point may not seem to be as solid as the others because the Bible tells us that some of the angels also dress in white robes (Rev. 15:6). However, the fact that the elders are clothed in white coupled with the fact that they wear crowns makes their humanity more evident.

4. The 24 Elders sing a song of praise to the Lamb for redeeming them by His blood (Rev. 5:8-10).

  • The elders are holding musical instruments; music usually accompanies singing.
  • I disagree with the notion that the “they” in Rev. 5:9 is somehow referring back to the word “saints” in verse 8. The word “saints” in v9 is not referring to the person of the saints but rather the prayers of the saints that are contained in the vials. So, if one holds to the view that the “they” in v9 is in reference to the saints, an important question arises: can prayers sing? It’s obvious to me that the elders are the ones singing.
  • Furthermore, in the same chapter a strong angel asked, “who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?” (Revelation 5:2). Whoever is singing the song tells Jesus that He is “worthy to take the book, and to open the seals” (Revelation 5:9). Who is in the heavenly sanctuary with the Lamb when both of those statements are made? According to chapters 4 & 5, the only beings that are present are the 4 beasts, the 24 elders, a great multitude of angels, and the apostle John (in Spirit). How can the saints pray/sing about the opening of the seals when they are not directly involved in the dialogue or even present in the sanctuary?

5. Can an angel really be called an Elder?

  • As far as we know, the angels were all created at the same time.
  • The word Elder denotes maturity.

6. The Greek word for Elders in Revelation 4 & 5 is presbyteros

  • From presbyteros (Greek) we get the word presbyter (English)
  • Encyclopedia Britannica
    1. presbyter, (from Greek presbyteros, “elder”), an officer or minister in the early Christian Church intermediate between bishop and deacon or, in modern Presbyterianism, an alternative name for elder. The word presbyter is etymologically the original form of “priest.” The word presbyteros is never used in reference to angels. It is only used in reference to human leaders/authority figures.
  • A few references to presbyteros in the NT:
  • Matthew 27:20 – But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
  • Hebrews 11:1-2 – Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.
  • James 5:14 – Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
  • 2 John 1:1 – The elder unto the elect lady and her children,

7. Mistranslation of Revelation 5:9, 10

  • The Revised Standard Version’s interpretation of “them” in Rev. 5:9 should be rejected.
  • All Greek manuscripts read “us” with a single exception: the Codex Alexandrinus
  • There are, however, manuscripts that are just as old that read “us” in Rev. 5:9
  • All Greek manuscripts read “made them” except for the Textus Receptus.
  • All Greek manuscripts read “they shall reign” except Textus Receptus.
  • King James Version was translated using the Textus Receptus.
  • Many scholars see the fact that the Greek text uses 1st person (us) and 3rd person (them) in the same text as a problem.
  • It could be that since the beasts and elders are singing, they sing different parts of the song.
  • “hast redeemed [us] –Elders- to God by the blood…hast made [them] –beasts- kings and priests.

8. Does the word “saints” have to be the antecedent of “they” in Rev. 5:8-9?

  • No, pronouns do not always refer back to the previous noun.
  • Example: Revelation 5:11
  • Does the pronoun them refer to the elders? No, there are only 24 elders.
  • Does it refer to beasts? No, there are only 4 beasts.
  • The pronoun “them” skips over 2 nouns and finds its place in the antecedent “angel”; or it refers to the 4, 24, and thousands all together.

9. The Levites used harps in their worship – Elders in the Old Testament?

  • 2 Chronicles 5:12 (KJV) Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:)
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