It seems that the twenty-four elders are a different group from the 144’000. In this topic we’ll try to demonstrate it the old fashioned way: “Concordance” in hand, we will read all the verses of Revelation which contains the expression “twenty-four elders” and, without prejudice, we will accept what the Bible says. The sole purpose of this topic is to show that the two concerned groups do not represent the same people. Moreover, as a matter of a marginal reflexion, we will give a probable interpretation of the identity of these twenty-four elders.
Commonly Jehovah's Witnesses, according to their current understanding, believe that:
Why is it that these anointed overcomers are referred to as the symbolic twenty-four elders as well as the 144'000? It is because Revelation views this one group from two different standpoints. The twenty-four elders are always shown in their ultimate position around Jehovah’s throne, installed as kings and priests in the heavens. They symbolize the entire group of 144'000 in their heavenly position, although at present a small remnant of these is still on earth. (Revelation 4:4, 10; 5: 5-14; 7:11-13; 11:16-18) Revelation chapter 7, however, focuses on the 144'000 as brought forth from humankind, and it stresses Jehovah’s grand purpose to seal the complete number of individual spiritual Israelites and to grant salvation to an unnumbered great crowd. Revelation chapter 14 provides a picture confirming that the complete Kingdom class of 144'000 individual overcomers will be assembled with the Lamb on Mount Zion. The qualifications to be met in order to be numbered with the 144'000 are also made known, as we shall now see. *
* The situation may be compared to that of the faithful and discreet slave that gives food to the domestics at the proper time. (Matthew 24:45) The slave as a body is responsible for supplying the food, but the domestics, the individual members of that body, are sustained by partaking of that spiritual provision. They are the same group but described in different terms—collectively and individually. – Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand! Chapter 29, page 201, par. 11
This explanation, as can be seen by reading all the verses mentioned here, has no support in the Scriptures. The juxtaposition between the two groups is an arbitrary interpretation. No Scripture suggests that they are the same group or that they perform the same functions. On the contrary, the Scriptures realistically help us to understand that the two groups are different. It is important to approach the Scriptures with the utmost humility, without wanting to adulterate the simple words. And if we can not find any explanation? It will mean that it is not time yet to have them.
Here is the list of all the Biblical references to the twenty-four elders:
All around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on these thrones I saw seated twenty-four elders dressed in white garments, and on their heads golden crowns. – Revelation 4:4
The twenty-four elders fall down before the One seated on the throne and worship the One who lives forever and ever, and they cast their crowns before the throne, saying… – Revelation 4:10
But one of the elders said to me: “Stop weeping. Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered so as to open the scroll and its seven seals.” And I saw standing in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and in the midst of the elders a lamb that seemed to have been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, and the eyes mean the seven spirits of God that have been sent out into the whole earth. At once he came forward and took it out of the right hand of the One seated on the throne. When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, and each one had a harp and golden bowls that were full of incense. (The incense means the prayers of the holy ones.) And they sing a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slaughtered and with your blood you bought people for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.” And I saw, and I heard a voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders, and the number of them was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, and they were saying with a loud voice: “The Lamb who was slaughtered is worthy to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and underneath the earth and on the sea, and all the things in them, saying: “To the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing and the honor and the glory and the might forever and ever.” The four living creatures were saying: “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshipped. – Revelation 5:5-14
All the angels were standing around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell facedown before the throne and worshipped God, saying: “Amen! Let the praise and the glory and the wisdom and the thanksgiving and the honor and the power and the strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” In response one of the elders said to me: “These who are dressed in the white robes, who are they and where did they come from?” – Revelation 7:11-13
And the twenty-four elders who were seated before God on their thrones fell upon their faces and worshipped God. – Revelation 11:16
And they are singing what seems to be a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, and no one was able to master that song except the 144'000, who have been bought from the earth. – Revelation 14:3
And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God who sits on the throne and said: “Amen! Praise Jah!” – Revelation 19:4
Analysis verse by verse
Twenty-four thrones and twenty-four crowns
The first mention to the twenty-four elders is that of Revelation 4:4. What do we discover about them? They sit on twenty-four thrones and have golden crowns. What significant thing the Bible says about “thrones” and “crowns”? In relation to the thrones, we read:
Jesus said to them: “Truly I say to you, in the re-creation, when the Son of man sits down on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel. – Matthew 19:28
Obviously, what Jesus promised the apostles is heavenly life as judges. But he mentioned twelves thrones and not twenty-four. Only an arbitrary interpretation of the Scriptures allows us to double the number of the thrones. Consequently, the apostles are no part of the twenty-four elders. (by the way, the apostles are mentioned as twelve in Revelation 21:14) Later, we’ll understand that the statement of Jesus that we have barely examined has a profound meaning that allow us to identify the 144’000 rather than the twenty-four elders.
And what about crowns? It is true that the apostles have expressly spoken of crowns, but if we want to to be specific, they never spoke about golden crowns as in the case of the twenty-four! They talk of “crown that can’t perish”, “crown of righteousness”, “crown of life” and “crown of glory” (1 Corinthians 9:25; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4). None of these crowns are expressly called as golden crown. Rather, they symbolize the fact that who receive it will have the royal power, just like the 144’000.
Humble adoration to God
In the second verse that we’ll take in examination, Revelation 4:10, the twenty-four elders perform the action most frequently attributed to them, namely worshiping god. (we can read the same thing in Revelation 5:14; 11:16 & 19:4) And once again it is said of them that they had crowns. Curiously, in Revelation the 144’000 are never seen with crowns on head or in hand.
Harps and bowls
Revelation 5:5-14 mentions the elders five times. What do we understand from these references? For the apostle John the elders are often superior guides who can give him the right understanding of what he sees. In this passage we can see how one of the elders gives comfort to the apostle by revealing him that Christ could open the scroll and the seals. Then, the twenty-four fall down before the lamb. What characteristic object they do possess? “Each one had a harp and golden bowls that were full of incense.” Are they the only to have a harp? When analyzing the other two references to the harp in Revelation, we see that the 144’000 have a harp too (Revelation 14:1-3; 15:2) This would be the only element in common with the twenty-four elders. It is not enough to prove that they represent the same people. On the contrary, other verses demonstrate that the two groups are different.
What can we say about the “golden bowls that were full of incense”? The 144’000 are never correlated to the incense which, as we know, represents “the prayers of the holy ones”. (cf. Psalm 141:2) In addition to praising God and serve as guides to the apostle John, this is the only special task attributed to the twenty-four elders who obviously have close relationships with prayers. May it be that their task consist in transmitting the prayers of men to God, much as a postman delivers letters? It is impossible to say it with certainty. But we can say that the 144’000 have nothing to do with that.
Lord, but not prophets or saints
On several occasion we have said that the twenty-four elders are considered as guides for the apostle John in all his visions. For example, in Revelation 7:13 we read that one of the elders ask a question to John: “These who are dressed in the white robes, who are they and where did they come from?” John’s answer is instructive: “My lord, you are the one who knows”. (Revelation 7:14) If the 144’000 are the same persons as the twenty-four elders, we can get the conclusion that John is part of both groups and that these two groups are formed by persons of the same rank, no? In this case, why does John call the elder “my Lord”? Is it wrong to do so? No, because the elder does not rebuke him (see Revelation 19:10; 22:9) Therefore, the twenty-four elders represent a category superior to the 144’000.
Is there another passage that helps us to understand? We read:
And the twenty-four elders who were seated before God on their thrones fell upon their faces and worshipped God, saying: “We thank you, Jehovah God, the Almighty … and your own wrath came, and the appointed time came for the dead to be judged and to reward your slaves the prophets and the holy ones and those fearing your name, the small and the great, and to bring to ruin those ruining the earth. – Revelation 11:16-18
What do we see? That the twenty-four are distinguished from prophets, holy ones and those who are fearing God, typically human attributes.
Something that they do not know
If we still have doubts, Revelation 14:3 can help us to dispel them completely. It says: “And they are singing what seems to be a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, and no one was able to master that song except the 144'000, who have been bought from the earth”. If they represent the same people, how is it possible that the 144’000 know a song that no one else is able to master, not even the twenty-four elders? Reflect: what is one of the arguments that we use to demonstrate that Jehovah and Jesus are not the same persons? Here is what the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ main study manual says:
Consider what was written by Matthew, for example. Regarding the end of this system of things, he quotes Jesus as saying: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) How do these words confirm that Jesus is not Almighty God? Jesus says that the Father knows more than the Son does. If Jesus were part of Almighty God, however, he would know the same facts as his Father. So, then, the Son and the Father cannot be equal. – What Does the Bible Really Teach? page 203 par. 2 - 204 par. 1
It is an argument of compelling logic. If Jehovah knows things that Jesus does not know, it is obvious that they can not be the same persons. Similarly, if the 144’000 know something that the twenty-four elders do not know, it is also clear that they cannot represent the same people.
Who are they and where did they come from?
Revelation 14:3 gives another clear indication. About the 144’000 it is clearly said that they are “bought from the earth”. The origin of the twenty-four elders, on the other hand, is absolutely silenced. And as we have already demonstrate, the twenty-four are distinguished from humans beings.
So, who are really the twenty-four elders? The answer is simple: we do not know. We have only been able to show that they are not the 144’000. But do we have anything that gives us some indication of their identity? Perhaps. We have already seen that they differ from God’s human servants and that a terrestrial origin is not explicit. (Revelation 11:18) Moreover, we have seen that they are related with prayer. (Revelation 5:8) John recognized their superiority by addressing them by the expression “my Lord”. (Revelation 7:14) Finally, they are kings with golden crowns. (Revelation 4:4) Is it then possible that they are high-ranking angelic creatures? Spiritual persons especially charged with delivering prayers to Jehovah? These are only hypotheses. Certainly, their assignments are different from those of the 144’000 who are given the power to judge and who will reign with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4) Nothing similar is said or implied of the twenty-four elders.
In an upcoming article, in the light of the Scriptures, we will try to understand better the identity of the 144’000.