The Tribulation: The 24 Elders and the 144,000
By Nathan Jones
Who are the 24 Elders?
(Note: This and other questions sent in to Lamb & Lion Ministries about the Tribulation were answered by Dr. David Reagan, Nathan Jones, and Tim Moore on our television program Christ in Prophecy.)
Dr. Reagan: One of the questions people when reading Revelation often ask is, “Who are those mysterious 24 Elders mentioned in Revelation 4?” John is taken up to Heaven and he sees the 24 Elders. They are bowing down before God’s throne and casting their crowns at His feet.
Nathan Jones: There are a few theories about just who these 24 Elders really are. Revelation 4 tells how they sit upon little thrones that encircle God’s much larger throne. They take off their crowns and lay them at God’s feet as an eternal act of worship.
Most theologians I’ve read believe that the 24 Elders consist of the 12 New Testament Apostles and the 12 Old Testament tribal patriarchs, the sons of Israel. Although, when John saw the 24 Elders, being an Apostle himself, he should have seen an empty chair, right? But, he didn’t.
There are other theories as to who the 24 Elders could be. My own theory, and what I believe, is based on a number of verses where Jesus states that the Church will rule and reign with Him, even being allowed to sit on His throne of authority. Therefore, it very well could be that because the term “elders” is used that these thrones are for members of the Church who sit on them on a rotational basis. That means the 24 Elders could possibly be you and me at some point in the rotation. Just think of that! Today’s Christians may actually be the ones sitting on one of those little thrones in Heaven on a rotational basis. I sure hope so.
Dr. Reagan: I think that’s a very good interpretation that you’ve made. Sure, we cannot know for sure this side of Heaven, for we have to make an educated guess based upon the information that we’ve been given, but what you say is Scriptural.
Nathan Jones: My interpretation fits with what Jesus taught, that those who are saved during the Church Age will sit on Christ’s throne. He’s not talking about the actual throne of God per se, but one of the 24 thrones positioned in the heavenly throne complex.
Who are the 144,000 as described in Revelation 7 and 14?
Dr. Reagan: In Revelation 7 and 14, the 144,000 are described as those who during the Tribulation are going to be specially anointed by God. This topic has always been a point of controversy. The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that they are the 144,000.
Nathan Jones: How strange, for there are certainly more than 144,000 members in that cult.
Dr. Reagan: Way back in the 1980s, I traveled to a seminary called Texas Christian University, or TCU. I looked through all of their commentaries that their seminary offered about this particular series of verses. Roughly 85% of these commentaries claimed the subject of the 144,000 was in reference to the Church. These commentators believed the Church was going to be given a special anointing during the Tribulation in order to reach the world with the Gospel.
Tim Moore: I don’t know how anyone could spiritualize the meaning of these particular passages to be the Church. Revelation 7 very clearly says, “…of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed… from the tribe of Reuben… from the tribe of Gad…” On and on down the list Jewish tribes, not Gentile peoples or people groups or nations, but Jewish tribes are listed. Why in the world would anyone take that passage and conclude that the Jewish people are not what God really meant? That’s Replacement Theology run amuck!
Dr. Reagan: Those who hold to Replacement Theology believe that God has no purpose left for the Jewish people, and so, therefore, Revelation 7 cannot be talking about the Jews. These interpreters must then make a spiritual symbol out of the 144,000 to mean the Church.
Tim Moore: All of the passages in the Old Testament that point to the Tribulation talk about its purpose being towards the Jewish people. Tribulation and Millennial Kingdom passages prove that God is certainly not done with the Jewish people.
Dr. Reagan: I wonder sometimes what God would have to do to convince us He’s talking about 144,000 Jews. After all, Revelation says they’re Jews.
Tim Moore: These Jews are then anointed to become great evangelists. They are set apart for that special purpose. They are dedicated to preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who live during the Tribulation.
Dr. Reagan: Revelation 7 describes a group of people in white robes standing before the throne of God. There are so many people that they cannot be counted. When John asks who they are, he receives the reply that these are the ones who are coming out of the Tribulation, meaning the martyrs coming out of the Tribulation due to having been killed by the Antichrist. That means a whole lot of people will be accepting Jesus during the Tribulation.
How could these martyrs have accepted Jesus during the Tribulation with the Church going in the Rapture? How could they possibly then have heard the Gospel?
Nathan Jones: Those who don’t hold to the Pre-Tribulational view of the Rapture claim that the Church must be there during the Tribulation in order for the Gospel to spread. Well, the Church wasn’t there in the Old Testament, and God’s redemptive word still got out to the world through the Jewish people. God will yet again use the Jewish people to proclaim His message. He is going to send out the saved 144,000 young Jewish men as “super-Paul’s.”” They are going to evangelize the world for Christ, but since the Antichrist will seek to destroy them, God places a seal of protection on them so that they cannot be killed. They will spread the Gospel and not fear death.
Dr. Reagan: The famed Jewish evangelist Zola Levitt once told me, “The Jewish people are God’s super-salesman.”
Nathan Jones: He was absolutely right. And, besides the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, God also will send out the Gospel Angel. He’s an actual angel who goes around to everyone across the world proclaiming, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Rev. 14:7).
Other ways that the Tribulation Saints will come to salvation will be when they see the effects of the Rapture. Those who won’t fall for the great delusion will certainly know that there is a God upon seeing the Rapture.
Another insight the Bible gives us into the spiritual conditions during the Tribulation is how the results of the Gog and Magog War will cause the whole world to believe that there is a God. Ezekiel 38-39 prophesies that when God miraculously defeats Russia and her Islamic coalition as they attempt to destroy and plunder Israel at the onset of the Tribulation, the result will be that the whole world will be: “Thus I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek. 38:23).
In the fifth segment of answering questions about the Tribulation, the Christ in Prophecy team will explore who the Two Witnesses could be.