The popular figurative interpretation that the 24 elders represent the raptured Church could be wrong. Consider this literal interpretation explaining how they really can be 24 elders in Heaven.
I received this emailed question about the 24 elders recently:
Hello, I am a disciple of Christ who has been studying prophecy for about the last ten years. I was taught all my life that there was a pre-tribulation rapture.
However after years of study I now have a problem with this doctrine, it does not seem to fit the end time scenario. I have one question that I have never heard addressed that is puzzling me. If there is no pre-trib rapture then who is the multicultural group of persons in Revelation 5:9-10 [the 24 elders]. This group in their song of praise says that they have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and are present in heaven before the seals are opened.
Your brother in Christ,
I think the question of who the 24 elders are is a question a lot of people have wondered, including me. And I think I finally deduced the most reasonable literal scriptural "allegory-free" answer to the question a few years ago.
By the way, I think the question stands whether you believe in a pretrib rapture or not. Because John is seeing the 24 elders and four creatures in Heaven in his time. There's nothing indicating that it is a future scene. It's simply the throne room in Heaven. Later we do get a scene of the same throne room in the future, but this time with many souls standing on it singing the song of Moses and the song of the lamb. That appears to be after the rapture, or gathering of the Firstfruits to Heaven for sure. It happens after the 7th trumpet and the seven bowl angels are seen parading out to deliver their deadly payload (Rev 15:1-6).
So how did the 24 elders get there back in the First Century when John received the apocalyptic vision after Jesus' death? Well, first, let's make sure that they are men and not angels so we do not solve a problem that does not exist.
24 Elders Men, Not 24 "Elder Angels"
Revelation 4:4-And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones: and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
Here's why I feel these cannot be angels but must be men as it seems (although glorified men).
- It says they are elders - I cannot find the word ever applied to angels. This makes sense since angels apparently are all the same age anyway.
- They sit on thrones and wear crowns - Again you never will find an angel wearing a crown or destined to rule as the thrones imply. On the other hand we are told throughout the Bible that the righteous shall inherit and rule the earth, including the twelve apostles sitting on twelve thrones ruling each of the twelve tribes (Lk 22:30).
- White Raiment - If they are righteous glorified men in Heaven, this is what they ought to be wearing according to Rev 19:8 as the clothing of the Bride of Christ at the Marriage Supper will be, in addition to many parables of Jesus.
Is 24 Figurative?
Ok, we've established that they are men. But are they really 24 men or are they representative somehow of all of the righteous who had died up to this point and taken up to heaven? Well, the problem with that idea is that Scripture teaches people do not go to heaven immediately when they die, but they must wait until later to "rise", that is, be resurrected. Even the righteous prophet Daniel was told he would sleep in the grave from which he would only rise at the end of the age to receive his reward:
Daniel 12:13 As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.
When are these times of rising? Scripture teaches three:
1 Corinthians 15:22-24-22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Messiah shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Messiah the firstfruits; afterward they that are Messiah's at his coming.
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
Notice there is the obvious resurrection/rapture of the righteous at Messiah's coming that all of us today hope to be part of, as well as the one at "the end" that Revelation 20:5 (and Ezekiel 37) speaks of as when the rest of the (unrighteous) dead are raised. However what we often gloss over is the the fact that at Messiah's resurrection there were also "firstfruits" plural.
Who are "the firstfruits"?
These firstfruits were pictured and predicted in the Torah/Law by the Feast of the Firstfruits rehearsal done each year on the Sunday morning after Passover by a wave sheaf of barley being waved to God by the high priest:
Leviticus 23:10-11-10 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest.
11 He is to wave the sheaf before the LORD so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath.
And we find that just as Jesus was raised on that day, so were several firstfruits saints:
Matthew 27:50-53-50 Y'shua, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
Notice that although the graves were opened at the moment that the earthquake of Jesus's death happened, the inhabitants did not wake up from their "sleep" (the same "rest" that Daniel still is in) and emerge until after Jesus' resurrection. As it happens, in Jewish tradition, the wave sheaf was first marked on Passover before it was cut and waved on Firstfruits. So if all those who had their graves marked were then resurrected with Jesus on the same day, then it would perfectly fulfill the Torah rehearsals as they were performed.
And it would give us a reasonable answer for who the 24 elders in Heaven are. They are the glorified saints who were raised in the "First of the Firstfruits" resurrection of the Messiah. It's the best answer I have-so far =) Drop me a line and share yours if you have a better one.