"And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth." (Rev 5:6-10)
When considering who these 24 elders are there are a handful of things to take note of. First is the faithfulness of the translation. The matter between the received text and critical text is whether it is "us" or "them" in verse 9. If it is "them" it would indicate that it is likely some angels who are singing because there is no Scripture indicating that angels (spirit beings) are ever redeemed. If the CT is correct they could be the divine council of elohim that is refferenced within the Scriptures. This would also make sense of the 4 beasts singing this song. However, I'm inclined to believe that the RT is the correct text and that the translation "us" is correct. So, who are these that are saying they are redeemed and are kings and priests? It appears that they share in the reward of reigning (kings) with Christ, like every believer who suffers with Him (2Tim 2:12). That is cooborating evidence, making a good case for them being redeemed men.
What else can we learn from the context? It is good to consider the "when" of John's catching up in spirit to the throne of God (see the previous article on the significance of the seals). The 24 elders are there, before the throne of God, at the end of the first century when John is caught up in spirit. So, the question for us is who could be there at least 1900 years before the return of Christ. There were many who lived before Christ came the first time who were declared righteous by God on the basis of their faith in God's promise of a Saviour. These were the patriarchs of the faith. Men like Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, et al.
We also know that many of the saints which slept arose after Jesus' resurrection. Whoever they were, maybe they were already taken to be with Christ as we shall be at the coming resurrection/rapture. Maybe they are the elders in question. Notice Paul's language when speaking to the Roman believers concerning the salvation that is had in Christ. He speaks as if there are some whose experience may be pointed to as examples of the total salvation package (predestinated, called, justified, glorified) that will be true of all who put their faith in Christ. "Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." (Rom 8:30) Has this glorification already taken place for some?
Both Moses and Elijah appeared to have glorified bodies when seen on the mount of transfiguration, but that was even before Jesus' resurrection. Jesus also appeared in glory on the Mount, and it was before His resurrection and glorification. How could that be. We need to be careful not to buy into any system of theological understanding that fails to consider and incorporate all that the Scriptures have to say. I don't know how they appear glorified prior to the first resurrection. Yet that is exactly what we see in the text. There are many things that we will never know this side of glory. What is important is that we believe what the Scriptures say even when we lack full understanding of what is taking place.
The word "Elders" has significance also. Paul speaks of the elders when providing those fainting Hebrew believers with many past examples of continuing faith. "For by it the elders obtained a good report." (Heb 11:2).
There remain many questions, however, they do nothing to derail the explicit statements of Scripture which place the rapture and the beginning of the day of the Lord after what John sees at the opening of the sixth seal. Therefore, although I'm not very dogmatic on it, I'm inclined to believe that these are Great men of the Faith (Heb 11:2) who suffered for Christ's sake (Moses Heb 11:26) giving them right to rule, and that as elders rule over and are representatives of the one eternal redeemed people of God. So, in a sense, they are representative of the church, the one new man (Eph 2:11-22). However, Revelation 4, 5 describes them in God's presence before the throne of God in John’s day not after the future rapture of the church.
Concerning all the possibilities of who these 24 Elders are, to say that they are the future raptured church is a giant leap of wishfull thinking without any necessary supporting evidence.