I am nearing the end of this study series as it pertains to the fourth chapter of the Apocalypse. In Revelation 4:4 we are told that around the throne, John saw twenty-four seats or thrones (G2362). These are provincial seats of authority, and upon them sat twenty-four elders. Who these elders might be has troubled Biblical scholars throughout the centuries, ever since John wrote the Apocalypse. What it comes down to is they are either human believers or angels. The evidence is this:
- Both men (Revelation 3:4-5, 18; 6:11; 7:9, 13) and angels (John 20:12; Revelation 15:6) are seen wearing white robes, which represents righteousness (Revelation 19:8).
- The elders are always identified with the four living creatures (Revelation 5:11, 14; 7:11; 19:3-4), which is supposed to imply they are one of three different orders of angels.
- Angels are called elders in Isaiah 24:23 (the only place in the Bible where this is understood).
- Men wear crowns and sit on thrones, but angels never do in the Bible.
- The elders are found in texts that specifically include angels, implying elders are not angels (Revelation 5:11; 7:11).
- The elders sing the song of redemption, but angles are not among the redeemed (Revelation 5:8-10).
- One of the elders acts as a revelator in Revelation 5:5, implying he is an angel.
I believe the best evidence is that they are men, and what follows is why I believe this is true. Some of what is considered evidence above is skewed. For example the elders are not always found with the four beasts. Revelation 11:16 does not specifically include any of the beasts or any of the angels with the elders. However, since they are seen before the throne, it may be ‘implied’ they are with the beasts. Nevertheless, this verse doesn’t specifically say so.
If angels are called elders, then Isaiah 24:23 would be the only verse in all the Bible where they are described as such. However, the verse, without doubt, projects the reader to the Day of the Lord, “when the LORD of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients (elders) gloriously” (emphasis and parenthesis mine). Are we to assume that the angels are in the new Jerusalem (Mount Zion)? If Revelation 21:12 indicates angelic spirit beings and not human messengers who might be the 12 Apostles (Matthew 19:28), then this is the only indication that angels will be there. The fact that Isaiah 24:23 depicts the Day of the Lord seems to imply that those sitting around the throne of Christ would be men who had labored with him throughout their lives.
Finally, if the elders are not singing the song of redemption in Revelation 5:8-10, then who is? The only ones present are the beasts (who have not been redeemed) and the twenty-four elders. The song is:
“You are worthy to take the book and to open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation. And You made us kings and priests to our God, and we will reign over the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).
If John didn’t know that Jesus was worthy to open the seals of the book (Revelation 5:3-5), then we can assume that no one who prayed (Revelation 5:8) knew of the book and its seals or that no one was worthy to open it. The only ones present who could have logically sung the Song of Redemption are the twenty-four elders. Moreover, it is precisely in this understanding, namely that God has made us kings and priests or a kingdom of priests that we are able to draw a conclusion about the number of the elders. The twenty-four elders most likely represent the twenty-four courses of priests set up by David, when he caused the Tabernacle to be brought to Jerusalem for its permanent place of residence (cf. 1Chronicles 24:1-19). Thus, if the elders are identified as priests, they cannot be angels.
The elders wore victor’s crowns (G4735 – stephanos), which are a kind of wreath worn by those who were victorious in the Greek games (cf. 1Cointhians 9:25). Not only are angels never seen wearing a crown of any kind, but no angel is ever pictured in the Bible in a struggle, where he is victorious. Therefore, the only logical conclusion concerning the identity of the elders is that they are men and not angels.
Before the throne were seven lamps of fire, which are the seven Spirits of God. As I have concluded in a previous study, the seven Lamps, or the seven Spirits of God (Revelation 4:5), or the seven Eyes of the Lamb (Revelation 5:6) represent Jesus, the Light, the Spirit and the Eyes of his church throughout the world, which is understood in the reading of the seven men who wrote the New Covenant Scriptures.
Out of the throne proceeded flashes of lightning, peals of thunder and voices or rumblings (Revelation 4:5). The same things are found occurring during the inauguration of the Old Covenant (Exodus 19:16-19; 20:18). If this is an accurate depiction, then the Lord was now ready to fully establish the New Covenant, by judging Jerusalem and bringing the Old Covenant to an end, because the New Covenant could not be fully in force, until the Old Covenant was taken out of the way (Hebrews 8:13; 9:8-10). Therefore, the scene, which John witnessed in the Spirit, was the scene of judgment that was about to take place in order that the covenant Jesus made with his disciples could be fully set in force.
 For crowns see: 1Cointhians 9:25; 2Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; 1Peter 5:4; Revelation 3:10-11; and for thrones see: Revelation 3:21.
 So the Vulgate, Peshitta and the Textus Receptus. However, the earliest Greek texts extant, which the critics conclude are the best texts, do not include the elders singing the song of redemption.