The Twenty-four Elders: Who are they?
Three men are definitely already in heaven: Enoch, Moses, and Elijah. Question: Are they perhaps part of the twenty-four elders (Rev. 4: 4, 10; 5: 5, 6, 8, 11, 14 7: 11,13; 11:16; 14: 3; 19: 4) included in the session of the investigative or pre-advent judgment began in 1844, the termination of the 2300-day prophecy of Daniel 8:14?
Uriah Smith in his Daniel and the Revelation, pp. 409-10 says this regarding the 24 elders:
“Who are these beings who surround the throne of glory? It will be observed that they are clothed in white raiment and have on their heads crowns of gold, which are tokens of both a conflict completed and a victory gained. From this we conclude that they were once participants in the Christian warfare, they once trod the earthly way with all saints; but they have been overcomers, and in advance of the great multitude of the redeemed, are wearing their victor crowns in the heavenly world. Indeed, they plainly tell us this in the song of praise which they ascribe to the Lamb [Rev. 5: 9 quoted]. . . .
Do we in any other place read of such a class of redeemed ones? We think Paul refers to the same company when he writes to the Ephesians thus: ‘Wherefore He saith, When He [Christ] ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.’ The marginal reading is, ‘He led a multitude of captives.’ Eph. 4:8. Going back to the events that occurred in connection with the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ, we read: ‘The graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.’ Matt. 27: 52, 53.
Thus the answer to our question comes unmistakably from the sacred page. There are some of those who came out of their graves at the resurrection of Christ, and who were numbered with the illustrious multitude which Jesus led up from the captivity of Death’s dark domain when He ascended in triumph on high. Matthew records their resurrection, Paul their ascension, and John beholds them in heaven, performing the sacred duties which they were raised to accomplish.
In this view we are not alone. John Wesley spoke as follows concerning the four and twenty elders: ‘Clothed in white raiment’—This and their golden crowns show that they had already finished their course, and taken their places among the citizens of heaven. They are never termed souls, and hence it is probable that they had glorified bodies already. Compare Matthew 27: 52.’ (John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, p. 695, comment on Revelation 4:4).
Particular attention must be given to the fact that the four and twenty elders are said to be seated on thrones. Our translation reads ‘seats;’ but the Greek is thrones, the same word as is used three times in verses 2 and 3 and once in verse 4 immediately preceeding. Thus the Revised Version reads: ‘Round about the throne were four and twenty elders sitting.’ Consequently this passage throws light on the expression found in Daniel 7: 9, ‘I beheld till the thrones were cast down.’ These are the same thrones, and as has been shown in comments upon that passage, the meaning is not that the thrones were overturned, or cast down, in the ordinary sense of that expression, but placed, or set.
The figure is taken from the Eastern custom of placing mats or divans for distinguished guests to sit upon. These four and twenty elders (see comments on Revelation 5) are evidently assistants of Christ in His mediatorial work in the sanctuary on high. When the judgment scene described in Daniel 7:9 began in the most holy place, their thrones were place there, according to the testimony of the passage.”
These twenty-four elders, those who came up with Christ at His resurrection, those who come up at the special resurrection, the unnumbered multitude who come up at the general resurrection, and of course, Christ’s resurrection itself all testify to the truth that when a person dies he, the “soul” itself, goes to the grave, returns to dust, not ascends to heaven. This is one of the most important truths all these resurrections teach!
2.The Special Resurrection
This particular resurrection takes place at the opening of the seventh plague at the voice of God, saying, “It is done,” (Rev. 16:17), which causes that “great earthquake such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great” (verse 18) which opens the graves of two classes of people here. Daniel 12: 1, 2. The first 6 plagues are works of Satan and evil angels but only as God allows. He takes over at the seventh, seven being His number.
The context of the following quote below places these events within the sixth plague and the beginning of the seventh plague—which opens with the voice of God described above. The falling of the “great hailstones weighting about a talent” is the particular plague of this seventh and last. Thus, “the people of God,” “God’s people,” or “the Israel of God,” “the righteous” being referred to, at this time, is not the remnant church that emerged after 1844, nor the overcomers who die in Christ but the 144,000 who live through the plagues and those who come up in the special resurrection, that is, the 144,000 plus the special resurrectees. Combined, they are the ones to hear God delivering the everlasting covenant to those who have kept His law when it was made void, and the announcement of the precise day and hour of Christ’s glorious advent.
“It is at midnight that God manifests His power for the deliverance of His people. The sun appears shining in its strength. Startling signs and wonders follow in quick succession. The wicked look with terror and amazement upon the scene, while the righteous behold with solemn joy the tokens of their deliverance. Everything in nature seems turned out of its course. The streams cease to flow. Dark, heavy clouds come up, and clash against each other. In the midst of the angry heavens is one clear space of indescribable glory, whence comes the voice of God like the sound of many waters, saying, ‘It is done.’ – Vol. 4, Spirit of Prophecy, p. 453, 1884.
“That voice shakes the heavens and the earth. There is a mighty earthquake. The firmament appears to open and shut. The glory from the throne of God seems flashing through. The mountains shake like a reed in the wind, and ragged rocks are scattered on every side. There is a roar as of a coming tempest. The sea is lashed into fury. There is heard the shriek of the hurricane, like the voice of demons upon a mission of destruction. The whole earth heaves and swells like the waves of the sea. Its surface is breaking up.
Its very foundations seems to be giving way. Mountain chains are sinking. Inhabited islands disappear with their living freight. The seaports that have become like Sodom for wickedness are swallowed up by the angry waters. Great hailstones, every one ‘about the weight of a talent’ (Rev. 16:21), are doing their work of destruction. The proudest cities of the earth are laid low. The costly palaces, upon which the world’s great men have lavished their wealth in order to glorify themselves, are crumbling to ruin before their eyes. Prison walls are rent asunder, and God’s people who have been held in bondage for their faith, are set free.
“Graves are opened, and ‘many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth’ ‘awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.’ Dan. 12:2. All who have died in faith under the third angel’s message come forth from the tomb glorified, to hear God’s covenant of peace with those who have kept His law. ‘They also which pierced Him,’ those that mocked and derided Christ’s dying agonies, and the most violent opposers of His truth and His people, are raised to behold Him in His glory, and to see the honor placed upon the loyal and obedient. . . .” –Ibid, p. 454.
“Then there was a mighty earthquake. The graves opened, and the dead came up clothed with immortality. The 144,000 shouted hallelujah! as they recognized their friends who had been torn from them by death. We all entered the cloud together, and were seven days ascending to the sea of glass.”—E.G. White, “To the Remnant Scattered Abroad,” p. 7, Christian Experience and Views, 1851, published by James White.
“There was a mighty earthquake. The graves were opened, and those who had died in faith under the third angel’s message, keeping the Sabbath, came forth from their dusty beds, glorified, to hear the covenant of peace that God was to make with those who had kept His law.”- Early Writings, p. 285, “Deliverance of the Saints” chapter.
It is exciting to know that if we are included among the saved of the ages we shall all be traveling towards heaven through space for seven days! One of these days has to be the seventh-day Sabbath so that those who died, trusting in Jesus but never heard about the Sabbath truth during their lifetime in their generation, may keep it with all the rest before entering heaven. On what day do you think we shall enter in through the gates of the New Jerusalem?
From these passages, and such others, it readily appears that the righteous dead who come up in the special resurrection, at the voice of God that brings on the real “great earthquake” and starts the seventh and last plague, are the following:
- All who died in faith under the third angel’s message, keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. The Sabbath truth is the focus of the third angel’s message that begun to be proclaimed only after 1844. It is obvious then that no Sunday-keeper, especially after the outpouring of the latter rain and hearing the very last message still mingled with mercy, can be included in this special resurrection, much less be numbered with the 144,000. Of the 50,000 who withdrew from their churches in response to the Midnight Cry of the summer of 1844, only 50 remained faithful to study why Christ did not come as expected. It was the sanctuary message that explained their disappointment. Might not these fifty be included in the special resurrection—since they were truly prepared to meet Christ—if He came at that time?
- “Those who have kept His law.” The obvious context here is when it was made void by legislation, beginning in America and immediately adapted throughout the nations of the world. This is when the passage, “It is time for Thee to work for they have made void Thy law” (Ps. 119: 126) applies. Then these saints must be those who are still alive and remain faithful after the enactment and enforcement of the future Sunday Law—the man-made Sabbath which is only by authority of the papacy; at which time Sunday-keeping becomes the mark of the beast. Up to this time, however, no one has yet taken the mark of the beast in the forehead or in the hand. There are countless Christians keeping Sunday, not excluding Roman Catholics, who do not yet see or understand the Sabbath truth.
- Inspiration tells us that there were those “who desired to see Christ come, more eagerly than the dawn of the next day” in the time just before 1844. Like the first point above, these would likely include those who remained faithful after the Great Disappointment. They would almost unquestionably include E.G. White, James White, and the godly pioneers of the Advent Movement such as Joseph Bates, Hiram Edson, Bro. Pierce, etc. A certain Mrs. Hastings was shown to E.G. White as having received the seal of God before her death, and that she would be coming up at the special resurrection. Although William Miller was God’s chosen one to herald the judgment hour message in America, as did Elijah in his time, Miller did not accept the Sabbath truth of the third angel’s message largely because of the pressure of close friends. God had to lay him to sleep in order to save him. He must be coming up at the general resurrection of “the great multitude.” Rev. 7: 9.
- The 144,000, who, alone of the righteous, live through the six plagues, will recognize these friends who were torn from them by death— e., either through natural means or martyrdom, who come up at the special resurrection. Note: the seven last plagues will be of a very short duration, cumulative, and very intense but not universal else no one be left alive to see Jesus coming.
- While many of these are in prison, there are those who are martyred during the time the final loud cry is proclaimed that takes only after the outpouring of the latter rain—the “fourth angel” of Revelation 18—describing the work of the Holy Spirit and the final movement itself. Many, who never heard these truths will join the faithful remnant, while “a majority of those who professed faith in the third angel’s message but were not sanctified by obedience to the truth will abandon their position and join the ranks of the opposition. . . against the Sabbath-keepers. . . They become the worst enemies of their former brethren.” The “fourth angel” joins the third angel—those proclaiming the final warning—at the right time, even as the Midnight Cry joined the second angel’s message in the summer of 1844. Notice the following:
“When this grand work is to take place in the battle, prior to the last closing conflict , many will be imprisoned, many will flee for their lives from cities and towns, and many will be martyrs for Christ’s sake in standing in defense of the truth.” —Maranatha, p. 199
Notice, too, that “many will yet flee for their lives from cities and towns”—meaning, they were living in cities and towns even up to this time and had not yet moved earlier to “country living.” Could this be made of the last-minute converts?