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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.

I've always believed these to be the 12 tribes & the 12 disciples. If this is the 12 disciples, who would be the 12th disciple? So, I began reading commentaries & read various interpretations. Man, did I open up a can of worms. Here are several of them.

1) 12 Tribes & 12 Disciples In this case, who would be the 12th disciple?

2) Sanhedrin at Jerusalem composed of 23 elders (not sure where the 24th one is in this case) Guessing the Lamb replaces the high priest like it says in #3

3) Ez 8:16, 11:1, 1 Chr 24:7-19 - represents the heads of the 24 orders of priest where the Lamb replaces the high priest. These elders in heaven render to God that perfect worship of which the priestly worship on earth is but an imperfect copy.

4) Stars from an astrological background. (1) Babylonian astral deities. Some have thought that the origin of the twenty-four elders is traceable to Jewish apocalyptic, which itself was indebted ultimately to the Babylonian astrological belief in twenty-four star gods and which relegated these gods to the status of angels. This is unlikely since there is no evidence of twenty-four orders of angels in Jewish apocalyptic or in the OT, or of the Babylonian mythology being held by pagan religions contemporary with John.Even if John unconsciously utilized such a tradition, there are closer parallels in the OT from which he could have drawn.

5) Twenty-four elders as symbolic of the church in its totality—a combination of the twelve patriarchs and the twelve apostles—but this seems unlikely in that their song of praise (Rev 5:9–10) definitely sets them apart from those who were purchased by the blood of Christ (most certainly the church!).

An OT background in 1 Chronicles confirms an identification of the elders as saints. The number twenty-four is perhaps based on David’s organization of the cult of temple servants into twenty-four orders of priests (1 Chron. 24:3–19), twenty-four Levitical gatekeepers (26:17–19), and twenty-four orders of Levites commissioned to “prophesy in giving thanks and praising the Lord” by singing to the accompaniment of “lyres, harps (!), and cymbals” (25:6–31; cf. Josephus Ant. 7.363–67). These priests represented the people of Israel in their appointed service in the temple. (4QpIsa explains the precious stones in Isa 54:11–12 as symbols of the twelve priests and of the heads of the twelve tribes, which could also be relevant background for Rev. 4:4.) The twenty-four elders may represent the same group (it is significant that the chief priests were sometimes referred to in Jewish writings as “elders” (e.g., m. Yoma 1.5; m. Tamid 1.1; m. Middoth 1.8). This background may be the best explanation why the elders perform mediatorial functions (e.g., 5:8) and participate in a heavenly liturgy in a cultic temple setting throughout Revelation (Rev. 4:10; 5:11–14; 11:16–18; 19:4). In addition, πρεσβύτερος (“elder”) is used in Heb. 11:2 of the great OT saints.

Also in support of the elders being OT saints, and not angels, is the likelihood that Isa. 24:23 and Exod. 24:9–10 partly stand behind the mention of the elders in Rev. 4:4. Jewish tradition understood the former as referring to Israel’s human “elders” (so Targ. Isa. 24:23: “the elders of his people”; Sifre Num. §92; m. Aboth 6.8; b. Baba Bathra 10b; b. ’Aboth 6.8; Kallah Rabbati 54a–b). That Isa. 24:23 forms part of the background for Rev. 4:4 is apparent from noticing that in both the elders are witnesses to God’s end-time triumph and are in the presence of his glory. The link to Exod. 24:9–10 in Rev. 4:3–4 is obvious: “Then Moses went up … and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel, and under his feet [Targ. Onk. Exod. 24:10: “the throne of his glory”] there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself”; they saw God’s glory (24:16) and they worshiped (24:1). B. Berakoth 17a asserts that in “the future world … the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads, feasting on the brightness of the divine presence,” and cites in support Exod. 24:11.

Possibly the Exodus 24–Isaiah 24 background could have been transformed to apply to the true, end-time Israel composed of both OT and NT saints. In Midr. Rab. Exod. 5.12; Midr. Rab. Lev. 11.8; and Midr. Rab. Eccles. 1.11, §1, Isa. 24:23 is compared to Exod. 24:1 and is applied to the messianic time to come, when Israel’s elders will sit as part of God’s court. Indeed, one of the major roles of the elders in the remainder of Revelation is to announce reward (11:18) and judgment (11:18; 14:7; cf. 19:3–4).

Ford suggests that the list of twenty-four OT “famous fathers” in Sirach 44–49 stands behind the number of elders in Rev. 4:4, which is possible but unlikely, though perhaps it could have added to the significant background of twenty-four as an important number in relation to God’s people.

Patriarchs and apostles. Some have identified these beings exclusively as heads of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles who together represent the saints of all ages. This identification is made because the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the names of the apostles are together identified with the wall of the new Jerusalem in Rev. 21:12–14. But, again, it would seem unusual to distinguish the elders from the Christian multitudes in 7:9–17, if the apostles are generally to be identified with those multitudes. Nevertheless, as noted above, this is not a fatal objection.

6) Since no exact counterparts are to be located in Jewish literature, it seems best to take the twenty-four elders as an exalted angelic order who serve and adore God as the heavenly counterpart to the twenty-four priestly and twenty-four Levitical orders (1 Chron 24:4; 25:9–13). Their function is both royal and sacerdotal, and may be judicial as well (cf. 20:4). Their white garments speak of holiness, and their golden crowns of royalty.

(7) Angelic, heavenly representatives of all saints.

The elders certainly include reference to OT and NT saints. They are either angels representing all saints or the heads of the twelve tribes together with the twelve apostles, representing thus all the people of God. Identification of them as angels is consonant with some of our earlier observations that many of the traits and functions characteristic of angels are likewise applicable to humans (see on 1:20b). Probably the elders are angels who are identified with the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles, thus representing the entire community of the redeemed of both testaments (the songs in 15:3–4 may also point to the inclusion of OT and NT saints).

Also suggesting this conclusion is the fact that the angel who reveals the visions of the book to John is referred to as “a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book,” all of whom are to worship together (22:8–9). If the four living creatures (v 6) are heavenly representatives of all animate life throughout creation, as most interpreters think, then the elders are probably heavenly representatives of God’s people (in 1 En. 60:2 both “angels and the righteous stand around” God’s throne). The four creatures represent general creation and the elders the elect of God’s special creation.

In this light v 4 is a development of the ideas of the previous chapters concerning the saints’ crowns, white clothing, and dominion, which will be granted to them if they persevere (2:10, 26–27; 3:4–5, 11, 18, 21). The readers are given a look into heaven to see that the saints of old together with deceased Christians who have persevered have received the heavenly reward of crowns, white clothing, and kingship (in this regard, “my Lord” in 7:14 may not be a title exclusively suitable for angels but also applicable to deceased saints who have been exalted to a more consummate stage of “kingship and priesthood”; cf. 1:6 and 5:10 with 20:4–6). And the readers can be assured that they too will receive a like reward, if they are faithful to the end. This assurance is intensified since the vision actually portrays the reward of saints of all ages, including those yet to die.

As in chs. 1–3, the church is pictured in angelic guise to remind its members that already a dimension of their existence is heavenly, that their real home is not with the unbelieving “earth-dwellers,” and that they have heavenly help and protection in their struggle to obtain their reward and not be conformed to their pagan environment. One of the purposes of the church meeting on earth in its weekly gatherings (as in 1:3, 9) is to be reminded of its heavenly existence and identity by modeling its worship and liturgy on the angels’ and the heavenly church’s worship of the exalted lamb, as vividly portrayed in chs. 4–5. This is why scenes of heavenly liturgy are woven throughout the Apocalypse (see further on 1:20).

Heavenly beings around the divine throne in these visions are clearly angels (so especially Ezekiel 1, Daniel 7, and Isaiah 6). And we have seen how “stars” are metaphorical for angels in the OT, Jewish apocalyptic, and Revelation 1 itself (see on 1:20). In addition, the elders have a typical angelic mediating function in presenting the saints’ prayers to God (5:8; cf. 8:3; Tob. 12:12, 15; Test. Levi 3:5–7; Test. Dan 6:2; 1 En. 9:3; 40:6; 47:2; 104:1; 3 Bar. 11:4; Apoc. Paul 7–10) and in interpreting heavenly visions (Rev. 5:5; 7:13; cf. 10:4, 8; 17:1ff.; 19:9; 22:8; Dan. 9:22; 1 En. 19:1; 21:5; 22:6; 71; 4 Ezra; 2 Baruch). Also, they are closely associated with and perform the same functions as the angelic beings in various passages of Revelation (4:9–10; 5:8, 14; 7:11)

Angels who corporately represent OT and NT saints. However, in the light of our corporate representative understanding of the “angels” in chs. 1–3 (see on 1:20), it is quite possible that the elders could be angelic representatives of both OT and NT saints, especially since the number twenty-four could be representative and may result from addition of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. The dominant background of Dan. 7:9ff. in Revelation 4–5 also connotes an angelic identification, since the heavenly beings who sit on “thrones” there are angels, and the broader Danielic context (chs. 7–12) includes reference to heavenly beings who represent nations (see further on 1:20; Midr. Ps. 4.4 identifies the heavenly beings in Dan. 7:10 as the “heavenly Sanhedrin” representing the “earthly Sanhedrin”; cf. 2Q24 frag. 4, which may reflect the scene of Dan. 7:9–18 and in which “elders” apparently refer to heavenly beings). Philo, Conf. 146–47, refers in the following manner to the highest heavenly being, who apparently is angelic, yet who is identified with saints: “God’s firstborn, … who holds the eldership (πρεσβύτατον) among the angels … the man after his image, … Israel.”

Feuillet has argued against identifying the angels of Revelation 1–3 with the elders of 4:4ff. because the latter always act in their own name, whereas the former share the name of the churches and their blame. But this is not in itself a decisive objection, since the very question at issue is whether or not the elders could be associated with angels even though the actual word “angels” is not applied to them. Furthermore, the idea of corporate representation in the OT, NT, or the letters in the Apocalypse does not require that the one representing or the represented always be mentioned together. But if the elders are angels who represent all saints, they should not be distinguished as they are from the saved multitude of Christians mentioned in 7:9–17 and 19:4–9, since presumably the apostles, and perhaps true Israel, would be understood as a part of this multitude. And the fact that they present the prayers of the saints in 5:8 and sing of the redeemed in the third person also distinguishes them from believers. On the other hand, the distinction may be made because, even though these beings represent the church of all ages, they are angels (this may also account for the seer’s reference to one of the elders as “my Lord” in 7:14). Furthermore, to sing in the third person may not imply a distinction of identity since this is a natural phenomenon in liturgical contexts.

It is also improbable that the elders were meant to be understood only as apostles, since they would probably have been twelve in number (cf. 21:14); they also should not be distinguished, as they sometimes are, from the Christian multitudes in 7:9–17. It would appear unlikely that these elders are deceased Christians, since they are distinguished from the redeemed multitude of Christians throughout the ages in 7:9–17 (cf. 15:2–4). However, the fact that all the above identifications of the “elders” refer to groups distinguished from the Christian multitude of 7:9–17 is not necessarily fatal to the viability of these views, since apocalyptic visions are not always neatly systematic. This is notably the case with the representative angels view, since we have seen that the angels of the churches in Revelation 1–3 are both to be identified with and yet distinguished from the churches, so that it would not be unexpected that they be identified with the saints in 4:4 and yet distinguished from them in the later visions. This is consistent with the observation that a key function of “elders” in the OT, NT, and early Fathers is to rule and represent the people of God (e.g., Exod. 12:21; 24:9; Num. 11:16–17; 1 Kgs. 8:1; 2 Kgs. 23:1; Ezra 5:5, 9; 6:7, 14; 10:8; Ezek. 14:1; 20:1; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1–5). However, some have argued that the representative aspect would be even more applicable to deceased or idealized saints in heaven, since, with few exceptions, the term “elders” in the above literature is reserved for humans (Sifre Num. §92 affirms with respect to members of the Sanhedrin that no “elder” “sits in the assembly below [on earth], unless he sits [also] in the assembly above [in heaven]”).

Another perspective also understands the elders to be associated with OT saints but concludes that the number twenty-four is based on a Jewish tradition that there were twenty-four books in the OT and, therefore, twenty-four authors. The talmudic and midrashic texts typically refer to the OT as “the twenty-four holy scriptures.”55 Although this was not a dominant idea in early Christian tradition, it is attested there (e.g., Clement and Jerome). Perhaps the earliest attestation is Gospel of Thomas 52: the disciples say to Jesus, “Twenty-four prophets spoke in Israel, and they all spoke about you.” This is an especially attractive view if the “book” in Rev. 5:1ff. is identified as the OT itself (see on 5:1). These elders would then be the authors of and the witnesses to the prophecy that has finally been fulfilled by Christ. At the least, this Jewish tradition may have been an additional spark further influencing John to associate the elders with the OT saints.

The structural order of Dan. 7:9ff. and Ezek. 1:26ff. now lies in the background, since both portray fire metaphors following the mention of a throne and its occupant. The actual wording of v 5a is influenced by the description of fiery theophanies in Ezek. 1:13 (cf. LXX), although the similar scene in Exod. 19:16 is evident to a secondary extent.

The first phrase, “lightnings and sounds and thunders,” is repeated virtually verbatim in 8:5; 11:19; and 16:18, which all appear at the conclusion of each series of seven judgments. Therefore, the phrase in 4:5 implicitly identifies God as the source of these later judgments (note that here the heavenly convulsions “proceed from the throne”). This then may serve as assurance to Christians who suffer that their God is sovereign and has not forgotten them because he has not forgotten their persecutors, whom he will surely judge by fire (e.g., 19:20; 20:9–10; 21:8).

(8) Representatives of the prophetic revelation of the twenty-four books of the Old Testament.

Thought this would be a simple answer

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