Questions From Readers
● At Revelation 14:1, 3 (NW) we read: “And I saw, and look! the Lamb standing upon the mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand having his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads. And they are singing as if a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the persons of advanced age; and no one was able to master that song but the hundred and forty-four thousand, who have been purchased from the earth.” Who are the persons of advanced age here mentioned?—C. F., United States.
We are still at agreement with what the book Light, Volumes I and II (published in 1930), had to say on the matter. Since these “elders” or “persons of advanced age” are part of a symbolic vision and are symbolic in their meaning, we can determine whom they picture only by noting features that mark them and by comparing these with scriptures that identify the ones who are to bear these features.
The first mention of them, at Revelation 4:4, 10, states that they are twenty-four in number, that they are in heaven and sit on thrones around God’s throne, that they are dressed in white outer garments, and wear golden crowns on their heads, and that they worship God, falling down from their thrones before him and ascribing the source of rulership to him by casting their crowns before him.
These features argue that they picture the 144,000 followers of Jesus Christ the Lamb of God, although symbolically these persons of advanced age are only twenty-four in number. This number is twice twelve, and, as illustrated in the twelve tribes of Israel, the number twelve stands for a completeness of nationhood and of organization theocratically. Twice that number, twenty-four, would stand for that same thing in twofold measure or in a higher degree. Revelation 21:14 speaks of the “twelve apostles of the Lamb,” but there are twenty-four persons of advanced age and so there is no reason to confuse the two. In other words, although the twelve apostles were promised to sit with Christ in heaven on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28), the twenty-four persons of advanced age stand for more than the Lamb’s twelve apostles. They include the twelve apostles and stand for the complete nation of spiritual Israel, under the King Jesus Christ, the complete theocratic government under the King of kings, Jesus Christ.
In the ancient typical nation of Israel there was a priesthood composed of the male descendants of its first high priest Aaron. These priests did not all serve together at the temple continuously, all the time, but only at the great national festivals appointed by God. Otherwise they served in divisions, each division a week at a time each half year. Now note that King David established twenty-four divisions of these priests to serve in their turn at the temple. John the Baptist’s forefather Abijah belonged to the eighth division; the sons of Maaziah made up the twenty-fourth division. (1 Chron. 24:1-19, NW; Luke 1:5-24, 57-67, NW) The twenty-four divisions of the priests under Israel’s high priest argues that the twenty-four persons of advanced age picture the 144,000, for these not only reign with Christ but will also be “priests of God and of the Christ.” They form a “royal priesthood.”—Rev. 20:6 and; 1 Pet. 2:9, NW.
Like the twenty-four elderly persons they will sit on thrones in heaven before God, not merely the twelve apostles but all the 144,000 members of Christ’s body. “And I saw thrones, and there were those who sat on them, and power of judging was given them. . . . And they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for a thousand years.” Jesus Christ promised all the 144,000 followers who would overcome that they would sit with him in his throne as he sat with his heavenly Father in his throne. (Rev. 20:4; 3:21 and Luke 22:28-30, NW) As kings on thrones they would properly wear crowns on their heads as Jesus Christ does and just as the twenty-four elderly persons are pictured as doing. (Rev. 6:2; 14:14, 15; Ps. 21:1-3) The 144,000 while on earth are warned to hold fast what they have, that no one may take their crown. They are promised the crown of life, of glory and of righteousness for proving faithful to the end. (Rev. 3:11; 2:10; 2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Pet. 5:4) We know of no others who are promised crowns in heaven; so the twenty-four elderly persons must as a symbol restrict itself to the 144,000 overcomers.
Since it is granted to the bride class of the Lamb of God to be “arrayed in bright, clean, fine linen, for the fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the holy ones,” the twenty-four elderly persons well picture that fact by themselves being “dressed in white outer garments,” to depict a righteous, holy group. (Rev. 19:7, 8, NW) In being elderly or persons of advanced age they are not older than the Lamb of God, for he is the oldest of God’s creations and was used to create all other creatures, including the symbolic twenty-four persons of advanced age. But by becoming mature Christians and brothers of God’s oldest creation they take on an outstanding eldership or advancement of age or special degree of maturity just like experienced judges and like senators in a lawmaking body.
According to Revelation 5:6-10 (NW), when the Lamb of God took the scroll out of the hand of God to open it and to cause remarkable revelations “the four living creatures and the twenty-four persons of advanced age fell down before the Lamb,” and these elderly persons had each a harp and “golden bowls that were full of incense, and 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, because you were slaughtered and with your blood you bought persons 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 will rule as kings over the earth.’”
In the Greek text the masculine gender of the participle used shows that the having of the harps and golden bowls applies to the persons of advanced age and not to the four living creatures (neuter). Revelation 14:1-3 shows that it is the 144,000 who, like the twenty-four elderly persons, sing a new song and accompany themselves on the harp. In Israel the twenty-four courses of priests offered up incense at the temple at the time of prayer; which fact identifies the twenty-four persons of advanced age with the 144,000 kings and priests, for their bowls are full of incense, which incense is the prayers of the 144,000 holy ones.
And who is it that, like the twenty-four elderly persons, sing the new song about the Lamb’s death and his purchasing followers out of the earth to make them kings and priests more than the 144,000 themselves do? No one on earth can master that new song before the 144,000 royal priests do. They heartily agree with all faithful ones in heaven and earth in ascribing worthy things to the Lamb of God and they fall down and worship God in appreciation.—Rev. 5:13, 14.
After Jehovah God takes his rightful power to himself and the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of the Lord Jehovah and of his Christ the members of the 144,000 Christians do just the same as the twenty-four persons of advanced age are pictured as doing, fall down from their enthroned position and worship God and thank him for taking over his universal sovereignty and beginning to rule as king toward the earth and then declare his day of wrath against the wrathful nations and his day of judgment concerning the living and the dead.
Hence the prophetic picture of Revelation 11:15-18 concerning the twenty-four elderly persons is fulfilled in the members of Christ’s body, his holy congregation, including the remnant of it yet on earth. They are promoting this proclamation of the message of God’s kingdom by Christ and of his day of vengeance and of his time of judgment. The fact is that they, like Jesus Christ, have been anointed with Jehovah’s spirit to proclaim this very message.—Isa. 61:1-3, AS.
It is one of these persons of advanced age or presbyters that comforted the apostle John with the assurance that the Lamb of God had conquered so as to open the scroll in God’s hand and its seven seals. (Rev. 5:5, NW) It is also one of these twenty-four elderly persons or presbyters that informed John that the “great crowd” with palm branches ascribing their salvation to God and his Lamb were a growing class of the present “time of the end,” namely, the “other sheep” of the lamblike Shepherd Jesus Christ.—Rev. 7:13, NW.
This informant elderly person or presbyter pictured in his action how the remnant on earth of the 144,000 were privileged in the year 1935 to disclose through the columns of The Watchtower that the long-misunderstood “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9, 10 are the “other sheep” with an earthly destiny, whom Jehovah’s Right Shepherd must now begin to gather, bringing them to a oneness with the remnant of the spiritual “little flock.” This disclosure in 1935 made the remnant rejoice very much and, like the twenty-four presbyters in Revelation 7:11, 12, the remnant fell down gratefully and worshiped God, agreeing with a hearty Amen to what the “great crowd” were ascribing to God and Christ.—Rev. 7:13-17, NW.
Finally, at the fall of Great Babylon, the twenty-four presbyters fall down with the four living creatures and worship the enthroned Jehovah God and take up the call to praise Jehovah and say: “Amen! Praise Jah, you people!” So they take up the great Hallelujah chorus that is sung by all holy creation represented by the four living creatures. (Rev. 19:4, NW) And the remnant of the 144,000, who were themselves once captive to Great Babylon, will also take up the Hallelujah chorus and will lead in it on earth when Jehovah executes his final judgments on that wicked organization of Satan the Devil.
So viewed from all the circumstances and actions of the twenty-four persons of advanced age in The Revelation, they must represent the 144,000 faithful members of Christ’s body. A place was reserved for them in heaven from the Edenic time when Jehovah God spoke of the seed of his woman, which seed is to bruise the Serpent in his head. (Gen. 3:15) Jesus Christ told his disciples that he was to ascend to heaven to prepare that place up there for them. (John 14:1-3) So all these thousands of years there has been a reservation for them up there, although scripture and fact show none of the 144,000 began to take a position in that reserved place above until 1918.
Everything had to be done with that reservation for the 144,000 in mind. Whatever the 144,000 have done down here on this earth has been done in the face of that heavenly reservation, hence before the twenty-four persons of advanced age, as it were. Just as the two-horned beast (the British-American dual power) performed before the great sea beast with seven heads (Satan’s visible organization under seven successive world powers, including the two-horned beast), so the 144,000 on earth have performed before their symbolic representation, the twenty-four persons of advanced age. (Rev. 13:1-14; 19:20, NW) But even while on earth, the 144,000 faithful members of Christ’s body have been “seated . . . together in the heavenly places in union with Christ Jesus.” There is where the remnant thereof finds itself today.—Eph. 2:4-7, NW.