In the ongoing debate about the Post-Tribulation versus the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, many of the proponents of the Post-Trib view often ask us Pre-Tribbers to “show” them where the Church is gone before the Tribulation period begins. In response, most of us Pre-Trib prophecy students point to the Twenty-Four Elders of Revelation chapters 4 and 5, who are seated before the Throne, wearing white robes with crowns on their heads (Revelation 4:4).
We then show them that they are representing the Church seated in heaven (because our work is finished), clothed in white (because they are wearing the clothing of righteousness that Jesus promised would be given to overcomers in Revelation 3:21), and they are wearing crowns (to which the Church will receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ that occurs at, or after, the Rapture).
As convincing as this already sounds, many still do not see that this is showing the Church in heaven before any of the seals are opened to begin the Judgment Period. This is mainly because too many people are more concerned about who the twenty-four elders are, rather than who they represent! With that said, I think we need to dig a little deeper into exactly what an elder is and who these heavenly elders are representing!
Let’s first begin by defining what an elder is. If we look up the word “elder” in a standard dictionary, we will get a definition that will say something like this:
elder – of one or more out of a group of associated people, of a greater age.
So right away we see that an elder is a representative of a larger group of people associated with themselves.
Now let’s look at the Biblical definition of an elder:
elder – (Greek: Presbuteros; Episkopos). These two words combine to mean an “overseer” and has two applications: the first being an overseer in the form of a person; the latter meaning “overseer” as a function of that office. So an elder is also an overseer of a larger group of people.
In the Old Testament, 70 elders of Israel were appointed in Exodus 24 and Numbers 11:16-17 to oversee the children of Israel as Moses went up and down the mountain to meet with the Lord. In the New Testament, elders are initially appointed by the Holy Spirit (see Acts 20:28), and are to lead and guide the Church by means of ruling and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17), and are to guard the truth of God’s word and keep it from error (Titus 1:5-9).
Since Acts 20:28 tells us that the Holy Spirit is involved in the appointing of elders, then anyone that has not received the Holy Spirit cannot be an elder of the Church. It’s a prerequisite. All of us who are saved and have received the Holy Spirit are elders in some form or another, (whether it be over our families, new converts, as church leaders, etc.).
So Old Testament elders were to represent and oversee the nation of Israel, and New Testament elders are to represent Christ and oversee the Church. They are distinctly different offices, and both of them were the offices of an “earthly” elder. John sees twenty-four heavenly elders in Revelation chapter 4, right after he is “caught up” to heaven.
Before I continue, I want to point out that the Book of Revelation is in perfect sequence, with chapters 2 and 3 representing the Church Age that we are still currently living in. Then chapter 4 starts off with “after this,” and then John is called up to heaven through an open door at the sound of a trumpet voice, to which John is immediately in the spirit just like how we will immediately be changed (1 Corinthians 15:52) in the twinkling of an eye at the trumpet call for the Rapture of the Church. He then sees the twenty-four elders in heaven, before the Lamb opens the scroll and any of the Judgments begin.
The twenty-four elders are seen seated around the Throne of God. Ephesians 2:6 tells us that the Lord already sees the Church “seated” in heaven from His eternal perspective. The fact that they “surround the Throne” implies they are assisting and ruling with the Lord, and 2 Timothy 2:12 says that we (the Church) will one day reign with Christ. When that day comes, then our work on earth will be finished, as is also implied by the elders being seated.
It is interesting that one of the last things that Christ said to the Church of Laodicea (which represents the last age of the Churches in which we are living in now) is:
“To him that overcomes I will grant to SIT WITH ME in My throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father in His throne” (Revelation 3:21).
Keeping in mind that the original Greek manuscripts didn’t have chapter breaks, a mere five sentences later John sees these twenty-four elders seated in heaven after Christ just promised that we, the Church, would sit with Him in heaven. Talk about an immediate revelation!
The next thing that John says about them is that they are dressed in white raiment. White raiment always represents righteousness, and the Church is told that we are made righteous unto God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Furthermore, in Revelation 3:5, Christ Himself said that “he who overcomes will be clothed in white raiment,” as a promise to the faithful Church member.
This leads to the next attribute, the crowns they are wearing! The crowns they are wearing are the victor’s crowns (stephanos in the Greek). This is the Crown of Life reward spoken of in both James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10. This is one of the five rewards described in the New Testament that will be given to the Church at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:12-14) after the entire church is gathered together at the Rapture (Ephesians 1:10). The Judgment Seat of Christ will be an all-inclusive event!
According to Revelation 2:11, the Crown of Life reward will be given to those that are overcomers, and 1 John 5:4-5 says that an overcomer is one that has overcome the world by their faith in Christ. It just so happens that an overcomer is part of the definition of an elder!
I’d like to also point out an often overlooked fact. Throughout the entire Bible, only the Church in the New Testament are promised to receive crowns in heaven (other than Christ, of course). There is no one in the Old Testament Scriptures promised to be wearing a crown in heaven! I’m not saying that any Old Testament saints won’t get a crown or any rewards, but the Bible only records the Church having that distinction.
In 1 Peter 5:1-4, it mentions the Crown of Glory that is literally given to the elders! And it says that this crown will be given when the Chief Shepherd appears. The Rapture is an “appearing” of Christ, since His feet are not touching the ground. Similar in the way that Christ “appeared” to Paul on the road to Damascus.
The Crown of Righteousness is also said to be given at His “appearing” in 2 Timothy 4:8:
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
Another crown is the Crown of Rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19), which is a crown given to soul winners; and, according to Paul, it will also be given to us when we meet with them at His coming. And the fifth crown is the Incorruptible Crown (1 Corinthians 9:25) that we will receive when we are judged for the things we did while we were in our corruptible bodies (2 Corinthians 5:10).
So we can see that all the five crowns promised to the Church are associated with the Rapture and the Judgment Seat of Christ that most likely occurs immediately after. These elders bear the characteristics of those rewards!
In Revelation 4:10 it says that the elders cast their crowns before the throne. This scene is a reflection of their humble gratitude of His grace towards us, and anything we did to glorify our Lord after we got saved was all done by His power and not our own. This scene is a manifestation of our Lord receiving all the glory for all that we did in His name.
When Christ returns at the Second Coming, it says in Revelation 19:12 that He will be wearing many crowns on His head. Those “many crowns” may very well be these crowns that the elders cast before the throne before He opens the scroll. Everywhere else the elders are mentioned throughout the rest of the book of Revelation, there is no mention of the crowns being with them again.
Some try to explain these twenty-four elders as angelic rulers but angels are never mentioned as being crowned or enthroned, and Revelation 7:11 clearly distinguishes the elders separately from the angels. Furthermore, Revelation 5:9 says that these elders came from the earth. So this rules out these beings as being angels.
In all of the Old Testament accounts where prophets had visions of the Throne of God, none of them mention seeing these twenty-four elders, indicating that they weren’t present in Old Testament times. This is consistent with the fact that the Church was hidden from the Old Testament prophets (see 1 Peter 1:10-11).
The twenty-four elders also cannot be patriarchs from Israel because it says in Revelation 5:9 that they are redeemed from “every nation,” and Israel is always described as a distinct entity separated from all the other nations (see Numbers 23:9). Furthermore, the Lord had originally called Israel to be a kingdom of priests in Exodus 19:1-6, but the Jews failed God, and Jesus declared in Matthew 21:43 that their kingdom would be taken from them and given to a nation that would bear the proper fruit. So Israel lost their priestly privilege.
Lastly, we know also know that these elders can’t be representing Israel because, according to Luke 9:22, Christ was rejected by the elders of Israel, and that has not changed to this day, completely disqualifying national Israel as being represented by these heavenly rewarded elders.
Revelation 5:9 does mention that the elders are also redeemed from “every tribe.” This is because the Church is made up of both Jew and Gentile believers (Galatians 3:28; Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 3:11). So the fact that the elders come from both the nations (Gentiles) and the tribes (Jews) points to the unique distinction of the Church’s universal characteristic.
Peter ascribes the Church as being both a “royal priesthood” and a “holy nation” in 1 Peter 2:9. However, our nation is not on earth; our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:21); and when we are gathered together at the Rapture, then we will have our national residence – in heaven!
That brings us to the next attribute of the elders paralleling the Church, and that is that they are called “kings and priests.” In Revelation 5:10, the twenty-four elders are praising God for making them “kings and priests” in their song of worship. In 1 Peter 2:9, when Peter is declaring the Church to be a royal priesthood, he then says in the second part of that verse:
“…that you should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9b). These twenty-four elders are in His marvelous light, giving Him praise just like that Peter verse says.
To further confirm that the elder’s description of being kings and priests is describing them as representing the Church, we only need to go back to Revelation 1:4-6 where John literally describes the churches as being washed in the blood of Christ and being made “kings and priests.” Notice the use of the word “us” in John’s greeting to the churches in verses 5 and 6 that I’ve emphasized:
“And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6).
In Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders in Acts chapter 20, he is exhorting them to “feed the church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). This too matches what the twenty-four elders are singing around the Throne when they say in Revelation 5:9:
“…thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and has redeemed us to God by thy blood…” (Revelation 5:9a).
Only the Church has the distinction of being “purchased by His blood,” as it is worded in Acts 20:28. It is a title of our identity! We are the blood-bought Church of Christ, and the song that the twenty-four elders sing in Revelation 5:6-10 is a redemption song! The entire Church will sing this song in heaven AFTER the Day of Redemption has occurred (Ephesians 4:30 & Ephesians 1:13-14). The Day of Redemption is the Rapture of the Church; and since we will all be gathered together for the first time ever, this is why Revelation 5:9 calls it a NEW song!
Israel has not yet been redeemed and won’t be until after the sealed scroll is opened, they go through Daniel’s 70th week, and then Christ returns to earth to give them their earthly kingdom inheritance (Ezekiel chapters 40 – 48).
So, by process of elimination, we have used the Scriptures to eliminate angels, Israel and unsaved Gentiles as being represented by the twenty-four elders. Other than the Church, the only other people that some people say they could represent is the Tribulation saints as being seen in heaven. However, according to Revelation 5:5, the elders are actually involved in the heavenly debate as to “who is worthy to open the scroll”!
“And one of the elders saith unto me, weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof” (Revelation 5:5).
If the twenty-four elders are taking part in the heavenly congressional scene of Revelation 5:1-6, which in the sequence of events is after the Rapture but before Daniel’s 70th week begins, then the elders cannot be representing the Tribulation saints because the Tribulation period has not yet begun. So that clearly rules out the elders as representing them also. That leaves ONLY the Church left.
Now that we’ve identified the twenty-four elders as representatives for the Church, it makes complete sense why it would be one of the elders confirming to John who is worthy to open the scroll. Again, the last promise made to the Church in Revelation 3:21 was that those who are overcomers would sit with Him who overcame (prevailed):
“To him that overcomes I will grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame and sat down with My Father in His throne” (Revelation 3:21).
When Jesus said, “as I also overcame,” He is talking about His death, burial, and resurrection. We, the Church, are overcomers through faith in Christ as declared in 1 John 5:4-5. Therefore, John is being told by an overcomer (elder) that He who overcame is the One that is worthy. We, the Church, are the benefactors of He who overcame and prevailed! And we are the only ones that recognize and declare that Truth (other than angels). We declare it now on earth as our witness and testimony, and we will declare it in heaven as praise and worship.
In closing, I hope and pray that this Biblical evaluation of the twenty-four elders helps to put to rest both the debate about the timing of the Rapture and who the twenty-four elders are. If the Lord wanted us to know their exact names, He would have simply told us. Who the individual twenty-four elders are obviously is not what the Lord sees as being important for us to know. It is who they REPRESENT that the Lord finds important for us to know, and He has given us ample amount of information throughout His Word, as I’ve just outlined.
The last question about these heavenly elders that many ponder about is, why are there twenty- four of them? The number twenty-four in the Bible represents divine government and worship, which is precisely what these elders are doing. They take part in the heavenly congressional debate of who is worthy to open the scroll in Revelation 5:1-6, which then gives way to a glorious worship and praise service for the rest of that chapter.
In the same manner that King David appointed twenty-four priests to represent all of Israel before the Lord in 1 Chronicles 24, these twenty-four elders are representing all of the Church reigning with Christ before the throne of God.
It is also interesting to note that in 1 Chronicles 24, the twenty-four priests were all sons of Aaron, who was Israel’s first high priest. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is our High Priest; and, according to Galatians 4:7, we have been made heirs to God through Christ; and this is also confirmed in Romans 8:16-17 where it literally says that we are joint-heirs WITH Christ:
“The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17).
Being that we have been made “joint-heirs” with Christ, who is both King and High Priest, we the Church fit the same description of these elders who declare themselves as being made kings and priests. When we trust in Christ for our salvation, He not only saves us from hell and wrath, but He even shares His glory and majesty with us.
So rejoice, Church; we will soon all be gathered together singing our redemption song of praise and worship before our great King. But we don’t even have to wait until then; we can sing that wonderful song right now!
To His praise and His glory! Amen.