Why, when, in Revelation 4, we read of the twenty-four heavenly elders, are we to assume they are anything but what we read, viz., the leaders of the heavenly worship? Why seek to make them redeemed men, or the symbolical representation of redeemed men? Why not leave them alone? It is by such additions as these to what is written that the people of God are divided up into so many schools and parties.
Those who regard them as representing the redeemed in the Bible have done so on the supposed authority of Revelation 5:9; but they have been misled by some scribe who, in copying Revelation 5:9, altered certain words either to make the passage conform to Revelation 1:5, 6 (which is somewhat similar), or to support this very view. Thus it has been handed down that these twenty-four elders were redeemed, and are therefore glorified human beings.
But it is now known that the ancient and true reading was very different. That reading is given in the Revised Version thus:
"And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for Thou wast slain and dist purchase unto God men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests: and they reign upon the earth."
Thus the ancient and true reading takes away all ground for making these elders redeemed men, and leaves them the angelic leaders of the heavenly worship.
Additional commentary on the Biblical Meaning of 24 *
The number 24 is associated with the priesthood. There were 24 courses of priests and singers at the temple.
Around God’s heavenly throne are 24 elders, each wearing crowns and sitting on thrones, who apparently assist God in the governing of the universe:
"After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, 'Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.' Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.
"And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads." (Revelation 4:1-4)
Psalm 72 lists 24 things that Jesus Christ — as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek — will do when He sits upon His throne and rules as King and Priest during the Millennium.