[A tip of the hat to Yehorakam for bringing this understanding to my attention.]
First, is the number 24, literal or symbolic? Let’s assume it’s symbolic for a moment. (This is only for the sake of argument as there is no way to know for sure whether the number is literal or not.) That would allow the 24 elders to represent a group of beings, such as all the angels or the 144,000 taken from the 12 tribes, and the Great Crowd who come out of the great tribulation.
Does it represent all God’s angels? Apparently not, since they are depicted as being together with, but distinct from, the 24 elders.
“. . .And all the angels were standing around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell upon their faces before the throne and worshiped God. . .” (Re 7:11)
We can likewise eliminate the 144,000 since these are depicted standing before [distinct and apart from] the throne, the living creatures, and the 24 elders, singing a new song which no one was able to master.
“And they are singing what seems to be a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, and no one was able to master that song except the 144,000, who have been bought from the earth.” (Re 14:3)
As for the great crowd, they too are shown to be distinct from the 24 elders, because it is one of the elders that asks John to identify the great crowd, and when he cannot, the elder provides the origin of these ones, referring to them in the third person.
“. . .And in response one of the elders said to me: “These who are dressed in the white robes, who are they and where did they come from?” 14 So right away I said to him: “My lord, you are the one that knows.” And he said to me: “These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Re 7:13, 14)
Another factor that eliminates either the 144,000 or the great crowd from being represented by the 24 elders is that these elders are present during the birth of the kingdom, before the reward to anointed Christians [those making up the 144,000 and the Great Crowd] is paid out.
“. . .And the twenty-four elders who were seated before God upon their thrones fell upon their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying: “We thank you, Jehovah God, the Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and begun ruling as king. 18 But the nations became wrathful, and your own wrath came, and the appointed time for the dead to be judged, and to give [their] reward to your slaves the prophets and to the holy ones . . .” (Re 11:16-18)
What do we know about these elders? Whether the number is literal or representative is immaterial at this point. What we can say is that it is finite. We do know that these occupy thrones, wear crowns and are seated around the throne of God.
“. . .And round about the throne [there are] twenty-four thrones, and upon these thrones [I saw] seated twenty-four elders dressed in white outer garments, and upon their heads golden crowns.” (Re 4:4)
“. . .And the twenty-four elders who were seated before God upon their thrones fell upon their faces and worshiped God,” (Re 11:16)
So these are royal personages. Kings under God, or we could refer to them as princes.
If we go to the book of Daniel, we read about a similar vision.
“I kept on beholding until there were thrones placed and the Ancient of Days sat down. His clothing was white just like snow, and the hair of his head was like clean wool. His throne was flames of fire; its wheels were a burning fire. 10 There was a stream of fire flowing and going out from before him. There were a thousand thousands that kept ministering to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand that kept standing right before him. The Court took its seat, and there were books that were opened….13 “I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there! with the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. 14 And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. His rulership is an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be brought to ruin.” (Da 7:9-11; 13-14)
Again we see Jehovah, as the Ancient of Days, taking his throne while other thrones are placed. He holds court. The court contains God’s throne and the other thrones that were placed around him. Around the court of thrones are one hundred million angels. Then someone with the appearance of the Son of man [Jesus] appears before God. All rulership is granted to him. This reminds us of the elder’s reassuring words to John at Revelation 5:5 as well as those found at Revelation 11:15-17.
Who occupy the thrones in Daniel’s vision? Daniel speaks of the archangel Michael who is “one of the foremost princes”. Evidently, there are angelic princes. So it fits that these crowned princes would sit on thrones overseeing each one his particular area of authority. They would sit in the heavenly court, around the throne of God.
While we cannot speak with absolute certainly, it does seem that the 24 elders represent positions of authority held by angelic princes (archangels).