Q: Please explain the twenty-four elders standing around the throne of God.
It is most important to realize that the book of Revelation is purely spiritual symbolism and not prophecy at all. Rather, it is a book of mystical teaching, relating especially to the esoteric experiences of the evolving consciousness. Paramhansa Yogananda stated that it is a book of yogic wisdom, and he wrote a (yet unpublished) commentary of several hundred manuscript pages to expound that fact.
One of the symbolic pictures given in Revelation is that of a throne in heaven around which twenty-four venerable persons known as presbyters are seated. The Greek word presbyter literally means “elder,” but in original Christianity it referred exclusively to a priest. The elders are mentioned in chapters four, five, eleven and nineteen of Revelation.
Before I begin to tell what I consider their meaning to be, I want to point out that spiritual symbolism can usually be interpreted in many ways that are accurate and were intended to be applied. So what I am going to say is not the only way to understand this subject.
“Heaven” is the sahasrara chakra, the thousand-petalled lotus of the astral and causal brain. This is the highest center of consciousness in the human being and is the point where Cosmic Consciousness is first experienced. The sahasrara is a reflection of creation, a miniature universe containing many levels of consciousness (existence). Consciousness Itself or Spirit is the core of existence and is “he that sits upon the throne.”
The twenty-four presbyters are the twenty-four cosmic principles of creation that are expounded in the original philosophy of India: the Sankhya philosophy on which yoga is based. They are also the twenty-four basic forms which consciousness can take in relative existence, and no doubt correspond to twenty-four intelligences that are the creators, supervisors and maintainers of all that is.
They are given several names, none of which is sufficient to indicate their nature. This is because they are as ineffable as God whom they “sit around.” In our present level of evolution it is impossible for us to comprehend anything about them any more than we can comprehend God. But the ancient yogis of India, particularly Guru Gorakhnath insisted that eventually every yogi will attain perfect comprehension of them as well as all else in creation. (See Philosophy of Gorakhnath by Akshaya Kumar Bannerjea.)
The Elders in us
The twenty-four elders exist in in each one of us as twenty-four centers of consciousness-power, or chakras, in the sahasrara chakra. In their midst is our spirit-self, the atman, the divinity in each one of us, the jiva (individual spirit) that is essentially Shiva (infinite, cosmic Spirit).
Therefore repetition of and meditation on the Pranava, done with the awareness centered in the sahasrara, is the way to enlightenment according to Patanjali (Yoga Sutras 1:28). That will bring about our own personal Revelation, the realization of the Self.