Revelation Chapter Seven describes the 14,000 that are sealed and the great multitude that come out of the tribulation.
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Revelation Chapter Seven
1 The angels place a seal of protection upon the 144,000.
2 The 144,000 are described as being chosen from all the tribes of Israel.
3 The great multitude that no-one could count, are wearing the white robes of righteousness.
4 The multitude have come out of the tribulation.
5 God spreads his tent over them and wipes the tears from their eyes.
Revelation 7:1 ‘After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.’ Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea. Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God. Then I heard the number who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.
The expression ‘at the four corners of the earth’ is a figure of speech and not necessarily a scriptural proof of a cubic or flat earth! God’s judgements will affect the whole earth and not just a part of it.
The four angels were about to begin God’s judgement on this world but they were asked to first place a seal on the foreheads of the servants of God. The contemporary expression of this sealing would be a signet ring making its mark in wax to authenticate official documents so that they may not be tampered with.
The important point to note here is that God’s judgements have not yet begun. God’s winds of wrath have not yet begun to blow. Everything happens according to God’s sovereign timing.
The first six seals of Revelation 6 concerned the emergence of the Antichrist and the effects of his actions. In this chapter, judgement is about to be poured out on the world but in this parenthesis we find God mercifully protecting His servants.
A seal is placed on their foreheads to distinguish them and hence spare or protect them in the midst of the coming judgements.
Perhaps they are spared from death itself but more likely they are protected from demonic onslaught during the days ahead.
This distinguishing seal and subsequent protection from wrath has its roots in the Passover during the Exodus.
Exodus 12:7 ‘Then they are to take some blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door-frames of the houses…The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood I will pass over you’.
Walvoord describes them as being ‘a special divine remnant to be a testimony to God’s grace and mercy during this time of judgement.’
Ezekiel 9:3 records a man dressed in linen placing a mark on the forehead of God’s servants in a similar way.
Ezekiel 9:3 ‘Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, ‘Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.’
This protection of chosen individuals has scriptural precedent in Genesis 7:1 where God protects Noah and his family and Joshua 6:22 where God protects Rahab and her household.
This seal or mark is mentioned again in Revelation 14:1 where the same 144,000 servants have the name of the Lamb and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
Patterson comments: ‘The unusual expedient of placing a given mark on the forehead of the individual seems repulsive to moderns, but the marking of the body in various ways was common in the first-century world.’
This mark of protection from God stands in stark contrast to the mark of the Beast which brings persecution in Revelation 13:16.
The expression ‘coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God’ suggests that this angel has been sent directly by God to fulfill His commands. He has authority over the others showing that there is structure of command in the angelic world.
But who are the 144,000? We have two possible interpretations here and they are both hotly contested.
The first approach is simple, straightforward and literal.
Revelation 6:5 reads: ‘From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar, from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.’
The first interpretation is that they are the twelve tribes of Israel. Admittedly there are a couple of discrepancies but there are also variations in the lists of tribes described in the Old Testament.
Although the exact whereabouts of the twelve tribes of Israel is shrouded in mystery and genealogy, we can be confident that God, who knows every hair on our heads, also knows where His people dwell.
The second interpretation is to understand the 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel as representing the Gentile Church. I would strongly disagree with this option.
The expression ‘from all the tribes of Israel’ is the difficult one to deal with. Those who hold to Replacement Theology would contend that the Church has now become the true Israel but I would hold that this is an erroneous and dangerous teaching.
God is as passionately in love with Israel, despite her many faults, as when He first laid eyes upon her.
Isaiah 54:10 ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord who has compassion on you.’
Romans 11:1 ‘I ask, then, “Did God reject his people? By no means!”
Replacement theology, with its anti-Semitic connotations, simply does not agree with scripture.
Therefore the first interpretation is the correct option. The lengthy description of the tribes of Israel seem to describe exactly what they sound like…the tribes of Israel!
Patterson comments sensibly: ‘If, on the other hand, they constitute a reference to ‘spiritual Israel’ or the ‘church’ then the reader must figure out exactly why there is such a waste of verbiage in the enumeration of the tribes.’
Please appreciate that this debate runs much deeper than this brief description. It runs to the heart of God’s purpose for Israel in the days to come, as described by Paul in Romans 9-11.
David Pawson sums it up brilliantly when he writes: ‘God does not give up his ancient people like that.’
To conclude, the 144,000 are a remnant representative of the twelve tribes of Israel who are sealed for protection and who will pass through the Tribulation.
Revelation 7:9 ‘After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.’
This group differs from the first by virtue of being of every tribe and people on the earth rather than the distinct tribes of Israel.
They are also beyond enumeration. They are the perfect fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that his descendants would equal the number of stars in the night-time sky. Genesis 15:5.
Revelation 6:17 asked ‘who may stand on the day of God’s wrath?’. Certainly not the unrepentant who hide in their caves! But here we see the redeemed standing confidently and without fear before the throne of God and in front of the Lamb.
Alan Kurschner, who advocates a Pre-wrath Rapture standpoint comments: ‘This innumerable multitude can be none other than the resurrected and raptured people of God. It is perfectly fitting to see them taken out of the great tribulation with glorified bodies to heaven at this point because it happens just before the seventh seal is opened, triggering the day of the Lord’s wrath.’
Revelation 7:9a ‘They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.’
The white robes speak without ambivalence of the imputed righteousness of Christ.
Revelation 3:4 ‘They will walk with me, dressed in white for they are worthy.’
The palm branch represents victory and triumph, peace and eternal life. Palm Sunday reminds us of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem when palm branches were laid in his path and waved over him.
John 12:13 ‘They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel.’
The multitude beyond count will worship God and the Lamb and this is a perfect reflection of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem that John must have witnessed firsthand.
Revelation 7 could therefore describe two diverse groups: Israel and the Gentile Church. This agrees with the picture of the olive tree, with the natural branches of Israel and the wild branches of the Gentiles, both grafted onto the same nourishing root and stock.
There is distinction between the natural branch and the wild branch but yet they share the same root of Christ Jesus and God is bringing them together under one roof.
Ephesians 2;15a ‘His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostilities’.
The mathematical neatness of the first 144,000 group shows that God knows exactly how many are redeemed and that he knows each one as an individual. The inestimable value of the second group shows the number of the redeemed is beyond reckoning and limit.
Revelation 7:11 ‘All the angels were standing around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying, ‘Amen. Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’’
Luke 15:10 tells us that there is rejoicing amongst the angels when one sinner repents. Imagine the joy of the angels in the midst of this multitudinous throng of repentant and redeemed souls!
Revelation 7:13 ‘Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation, they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’
The Greek phrase ‘tes thilpseos tes megales’ which is translated as ‘the great tribulation’ described here equates precisely to the time of affliction forewarned by Christ Jesus in the Olivet Discourse.
Matthew 24:21 ‘For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again.’
The washing of the robes in blood sounds contrary to common-sense. Blood stains robes red. But this is the blood of the Lamb and his blood, shed on the cross for our sins, makes the robes white with his righteousness.
Exodus 19:10 ‘And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Make them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day…’
Martyrdom is inevitably contrary to common-sense but the history of the Christian Church teaches us again and again a different story: that the way to victory is through the defeat of the cross. In our study of Revelation we are now well and truly going through the times of persecution and many here will have laid down their lives rather than compromise their faith.
Revelation 7:15 ‘Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple.’
We now are led through one of the most gracious passages in the whole of scripture. The multitude that has endured the tribulation now find themselves in the very presence of their beloved. The Greek word ‘naos’ is used for ‘the temple’. This is the inner sanctuary rather than the outer courts and denotes a deep fellowship with God for each individual, despite the size of the multitude. They will delight in serving their precious Lord every moment of the day. The Greek word ‘latreuo’ used here speaks of serving with a heart of worship.
Revelation 7:15a ‘..and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.’
This Old Testament imagery provides a fatherly comfort to those who have endured so much. They will rest under the wings of His presence.
Psalm 91:1 ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’
Revelation 7:16 ‘Never again will they hunger, never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them nor any scorching heat.’
This verse is in sharp contrast to the deprivations they may have suffered under the persecution of the tribulation. The third rider on the black horse will have brought economic deprivation, especially to those who have refused to take the mark of the Beast.
God the Father comforts them and provides for their needs. The burden of scorching heat may not always mean much to those who live in cooler climes or work in air-conditioned offices. The Mediterranean reader though will appreciate the value of the coolness of shade.
Revelation 7:17 ‘For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd.’
Here is another upturn of common-sense. The shepherd is meant to tend the sheep, and not the other way round. The Lamb, by way of his sacrificial grace, tends to his flock.
1Peter 2:25 ‘For you were like sheep going astray but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.’
There is perhaps a consideration here that some of the redeemed would have been pastoral shepherds tending and guarding a flock of Christians, often giving up their lives in order to do so. Now their labours have come to an end.
Revelation 7:17a ‘…he will lead them to springs of living water.’
Nothing can match a glass of water after you have laboured in the fields all day in the burning heat. I speak with a certain amount of experience here!
However, this verse takes us to Revelation 21:6. ‘To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.’ These springs of water then allude to the joy of salvation that brings spiritual life in abundance.
John 7:37 ‘On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow within him’
Revelation 7:17b ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
This is such a precious verse. The Christian life has its fair share of tribulations and we are certainly not immune to the ravages of life. This speaks of a father finding his beloved child in tears. But when we stand at last in the very presence of our God and know His tender comfort then we will have no regrets.
Mounce comments, tenderly: ‘The purpose of this vision is to grant a glimpse of eternal blessedness to those about to enter the world’s darkest hour’. 3735