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by Steven Sherman
Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. Revelation 4:4
We find the Greek word presbuteros translated as elder or presbyter in our modern day English translations of the New Testament. In Old Testament times, scrolls and other written records of tribal customs and history were scarce. Oral tradition was important for preserving the historical record. Family patriarchs were esteemed for their matured wisdom, knowledge, and practical experience. The eldest male headed the family and exercised unquestioned authority over the junior members of the family. Elders also filled the official offices of the community at large. The term elder became synonymous with the office itself.
The twenty-four elders occupy an important position in the heavenly community. Their title of elder; the fact that they sit on thrones and wear crowns and their close proximity to the throne of God evidence the fact that they have been given certain authority by God.
Much speculation has arisen as to who these twenty-four elders are: (1) a leader from each of the 12 tribes of Israel plus each of the 12 apostles, (2) twenty-four godly men from throughout biblical history and, (3) a special class of angels.
Current established pre-tribulational models maintain that the Day of the Lord, and thus the Tribulation, begins with the breaking of the first seal. If this is the case, and the Church is raptured before the Tribulation, then it is understood that the Church must be found in heaven as Jesus prepares to open the seven-sealed scroll. The twenty-four elders, the beings who John sees immediately after his vision begins in the fourth chapter of Revelation, are recognized as representative of the Church and as proof of the pre-tribulation rapture.
Many of those who hold to a pretribulational view of the rapture identify the twenty-four as the leaders of the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles. They claim that the resurrection of the righteous has occurred and that the righteous dead have received their crowns having been judged for reward.
Matthew 19:28 records a promise that Jesus made to his apostles: The apostles were astonished to learn how difficult it would be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, since a young man of great wealth refused to sell what he had to follow Jesus. The apostles had left everything to follow the Master and they said, “What then will be for us?” In response to their question Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve of Israel.”
The men and women of corporate national Israel are not raptured. The twelve apostles will serve as the judges of Israel during the Millennium. According to the Lord's promise they are to sit on earthly thrones not on heavenly thrones. Revelation chapter four is a picture of twenty-four thrones not twelve thrones. The scene does not take place on the earth during the millennial reign of Christ, but in the heavenlies. The twenty-four are not judging Israel but are worshipping God.
John the Revelator is also John the Apostle. How could he be looking at himself? Did he fail to recognize the other apostles? The text does not read twelve plus twelve; it speaks of twenty-four thrones. The twenty-four elders are not the tribal leaders of Israel and the twelve apostles. John does identify the twelve tribes of Israel by name in chapter seven of Revelation (Rev 7:4-8). He also records that the names of the twelve tribes are written on the gates of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:12). In Revelation 21:14 we find that the names of the twelve apostles are written on the twelve foundations of the wall of the New Jerusalem. These twenty-four are simply referred to as elders. If John saw twelve tribal chieftains and the twelve apostles, he would have identified them.
Here is how noted pre-tribulation scholar Arnold Fruchtenbaum defends his position on the identity of the 24 elders as found on page 114 in his book, The Footsteps of the Messiah:
“The identity of these twenty-four elders has been much debated. Some take it to refer to celestial beings, while others take it to refer to and represent the church. While the text does not clearly state as to what these twenty-four elders refer, there are clues in the text by which their identity can be deduced.
First, these elders are clothed with white garments which throughout the Revelation are symbols of salvation. Celestial beings before the throne of God do not need salvation for they were not lost to begin with. But these elders were at one time lost and at some point received salvation as is seen by their wearing of the white garments.
The second clue is the fact that they are wearing crowns. These crowns are not diadem crowns worn by those who are royal by nature, which would have been the case had these been celestial beings. These crowns are the stephanos crowns, the crowns of an overcomer; the type of crown given as rewards to the members of the church at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
A third clue lies in their very title of elders. Nowhere else in Scripture is this term used to describe celestial or angelic beings. This term is used of humans in positions of authority either in the synagogue or church.”
Hence, from these three clues, the twenty-four elders must represent the church saints. If this is true, then they provide further evidence for a pre-tribulation Rapture. The church is already in heaven in chapter four and five before the tribulation begins in chapter six.”
“First, these elders are clothed with white garments which throughout the Revelation are symbols of salvation.” Are white garments exclusively symbolic of salvation?
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. John 20:11-12
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. Acts 1:10
White is a symbol of purity or sinlessness. Holy angels are also clothed in white.
“The second clue is the fact that they are wearing crowns.”
The second argument that can be made against Fruchtenbaum's reasoning is that stephanos crowns, which Fruchtenbaum calls "overcomer" crowns are not worn exclusively by "overcomers" or church saints. In Revelation 6:2 the rider on the white horse wears a stephanos crown, in Revelation 9:7 the demon-locusts from the pit wear stephanos crowns, and in Revelation 12:1, the woman, who represents Israel, also wears a stephanos crown. Clearly these crowns do not exclusively refer to Church saints.
“A third clue lies in their very title of elders. Nowhere else in Scripture is this term used to describe celestial or angelic beings. This term is used of humans in positions of authority either in the synagogue or church.” But where did this office of elder originate?
Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. Exodus 25:9
Everything in the earthly tabernacle was patterned after the pre-existing heavenly Temple. Did this pattern only encompass the utensils and furnishings of the tabernacle?
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.
The atonement cover or mercy seat was patterned after the pre-existing heavenly throne. The golden cherubim were patterened after the pre-existing living creatures.
1 Chronicles 24:1-4
After Moses received the Torah by the hand of God, his brother Aaron was ordained as High Priest. Aaron had four sons. His oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, were struck dead for offering profane fire before the LORD. Nadab and Abihu had no sons of their own. Aaron's surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, served as priests. They and their male descendants after them served as priests before the LORD from the time that Israel wandered in the wilderness until the time of King David. There were a total of twenty-four heads of families from the tribe of Levi during the days of King David's reign. The regulation of twenty-four courses of priests rotating to minister in the Tabernacle was established in the days when Solomon had the Temple constructed and continued to be observed until the Second Temple was destroyed by Rome in AD 70.
1 Chronicles: 24:19
The appointed order of ministering was pre (before) scribed (written down) by Aaron. This order of ministering by rotating among twenty-four priests was commanded by the LORD. When Aaron received the regulations concerning the duties of the Levites, he wrote them down. Generations later, during the time of King David, the tribe of Levi had grown to twenty-four clans. The heads of these tribes served as priests in the Temple according to God's commandment.
Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. Revelation 4:4
The twenty-four courses of priests serving in the earthly Temple were patterned after the twenty-four priests who minister in the heavenly sanctuary.
1) Angels wear white garments
The promise for those who overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony is to sit on the throne with the bridegroom.When the saints are glorified at the rapture they will not be sitting on 24 thrones around the Father's throne, they will be sitting on the Father's throne.
Around God's throne are four cherubim, twenty-four elders, and one hundred million angels. There is a hierarchy of angels. There are angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim. These classes of angels each have different functions. The cherubim surround the throne of the Almighty, the twenty-four elders surround the throne and the cherubim, and beyond the inner circle are a myriad of angels.
It is poor hermeneutics to interpret everything in John's vision as literal and then claim that the elders that are seated between the literal multitude of angels and the literal divine presence on the throne are a symbolic group that represent the supposed pretribulational raptured church.
Each heavenly particular of John's vision – the throne, four living creatures, and millions of angels are interpreted as literal. Therefore, there is no biblical precept for spiritualizing the 24 elders as anything but 24 elders.
Obviously, the 24 elders do not offer up atonement offerings or sacrifices for sin. But their function is related to the earthly priesthood patterned after them. The Hebrew word for priest is "kohen" whose etymological root is connected to the Hebew word "qarab." Qarab means "draw near."
Since the 24 elders surround the throne, I would conjecture that they have a role related to the priesthood in being able to "draw near" to the throne of God just as Aaron's sons were able to draw near to the divine presence.
The three basic elements of the priesthood are furnished from the above verses. They are:
1. Being chosen or set apart by the LORD
Obviously, the 24 elders meet these three criteria of the priesthood. The 24 elders are a priestly class of angels.
In chapter five of the Book of Revelation, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders are singing of the worthy Lamb.
The Authorized Version (King James) is in error in the translation of this passage. Note the four beasts (four living creatures or Cherubim) and the twenty four elders sung a new song saying that thou hast redeemed us to God. There is no redemption of angels. The NIV reads:
And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders are not singing of their own redemption. They are singing of the redemption of the saints – the Bride of Christ. The twenty-four are angelic beings. They are not glorified saints. The saints are persecuted and martyred during the time of great distress and are not raptured out until the sounding of the seventh trumpet.
To summarize, I have presented seven arguments for identifying the 24 elders as a priestly class of angels:
1. The original Apostles were promised twelve earthly thrones not 24.
2. John the Revelator was also John the Apostle. How could he be looking at himself?
3. If John saw twelve tribal chieftains and the twelve apostles, he most likely would have identified them as they are identified later on in his letter to the seven churches.
4. The twenty-four courses of priests serving in the earthly temple were patterned after the twenty-four priests who minister in the heavenly sanctuary.
5. When the saints are glorified at the rapture, they will not be sitting on 24 thrones around the Father's throne, they will be sitting on the Father's throne.
6. It is poor hermeneutics to interpret everything in John's vision as literal and then claim that the elders that are seated between the literal multitude of angels and the literal divine presence on the throne are a symbolic group.
7. The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders are not singing of their own redemption. They are singing of the redemption of the saints – the Bride of Christ.
John was called up to heaven. He was in the spirit. John then returned to earth to write down all that he had seen and heard. The twenty-four elders he witnessed are not glorified saints but a class of priestly angels. Therefore, there is no evidence of a pretribulation rapture of the church based on chapters four and five of Revelation.
THE LAST DAYS CALENDAR
Steven L. Sherman, 2003
Millions of Christians anticipate a secret and silent, pre-tribulation rapture, whisking them away to the glorious marriage supper of the Lamb. This concept is alluring. It would be a source of comfort to not pass through a coming great tribulation. Although this doctrine has wide appeal, does biblical evidence confirm it as truth? The author contends from biblical prophecy that in the foreseeable future even those who have enjoyed religious freedom with be persecuted for faith in Christ. 238 pages, paper.