Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 7

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A Hundred and Forty-four Thousand Israelites Are Sealed[edit]

Verses 1-3[edit]

1And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. 2And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God, and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, 3saying, “Hurt not the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.”

Commentary: Chapter 7 is a pause in the chronology of Revelation. The interruption of the events that are transpiring in this revelation are interrupted to inform the reader of God's activity. It explains God's program of grace and salvation during the judgment period. The "winds" represent the already started judgment of the earth, and the four angels who "hold" them are "pausing" the Tribulation until God's special servants can be sealed. These servants are sealed just before the trumpeted judgement. The servants will then be martyred before the final judgement. The winds in this verse could also be referring to the four horseman of the apocalypse. Some scholars believe the "pause" actually occurs before the opening of the seals, others believe the chronology is literal and that the first six seals have already run their course. Either interpretation is possible and satisfactory. The reader is also provided with great insight into God's divine plan for the Jewish people during this first half of the Tribulation. His word to preserve the seed of Abraham is kept.

“Hurt not the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.” In 14:1, the 144,000 are described as “having His Father’s name written on their foreheads,” and 22:4 says that God’s servants “shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads.” Notice that this is a fixed number here and that he is referring to those who are already servants of God, not a form of baptism. To have the “seal of God” on their foreheads or the "Father's name" on their foreheads appears to be figurative language for the same thing. It is also thought that the servants had a X put upon their head as a symbol of the cross. For more on the possible significance of this, see the commentary on 3:12 [1].

Verses 4-8[edit]

4And I heard the number of those who were sealed, and there were 144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel.
5Of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.
6Of the tribe of Asher were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Manasseh were sealed twelve thousand.
7Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.
8Of the tribe of Zebulon were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.

Commentary: Compare 14:1-5 [2].

How literal is the 144,000 servants of God and who are they? Many answers have been offered including Israel, the most recent generation of Christians, all Christians, only Christians who were killed on account of their beliefs, or even Jewish Christians. Later John mentions an innumerable multitude instead of only 144,000. Perhaps confusion comes from using symbolism which is no longer easily accessible to modern day readers. When put in the context of the rest of the vision, it seems Christians are told they are not to fear as long as they remain faithful to Christ. The number 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1000) likely represents the complete quantity of believers. [1]

The seal shows ownership and security, just as a king's signet ring did for documents. God's protection from wrath is over this populace.

The tribe of Dan is omitted from John's list of tribes, but the list still totals the correct number of tribes. There are still twelve tribes because both the tribe of Joseph and the tribe of Manasseh are both listed despite the fact that the tribe of Joseph is traditionally described as the combination of Manasseh and Ephraim. The absence of the tribe of Dan has often led to speculation as to why Dan was omitted, even spawning suggestions that the Antichrist, or the False Prophet, was to come from the tribe of Dan, despite the fact that the author offers no explanation. This correlated with Genesis 49 vs 17 and it certainly seems to be the meaning of an ancient prophecy that Jacob had given about the tribes of Israel, "Dan will be a serpent in the way, a venomous viper by the path, that bites the horse's heels so that his rider falls backward".

However it is entirely possible that it was an honest omission, due to the confusion about the distinction between Joseph, Manasseh, and Ephraim.However, this omission cannot be fully deciphered since John gives no reason for their removal.

It is interesting that he notes the tribes as the literal twelve tribes of Israel, because at the time of writing the book John would have been aware that they did not exist. After being conquered by both the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the tribes were never again truly reunited. It may be reasoned that the author is suggested that there will be a great reunification that will undo the scattering of the tribes. This section also appeals distinctly to a Jewish tradition, perhaps to either maintain the connection to Judaism or in order to bring more Jews into Christianity. The next passage, however, extends the message of unity to Gentiles as well, which reflects Christianity's nature of including both insiders and outsiders to Judaism.

It is also worth noting that the hundred and forty-four thousand appear again later, in Chapter 14. [3].

A Great Multitude before the Throne of God[edit]

Verses 9-10[edit]

9After this I beheld, and a great multitude, which no one could number, of all nations, kindreds, peoples, and tongues stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes and with palms in their hands, 10and crying with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Commentary:

Interpretation 1: Through the evangelism of the sealed Jews, a great multitude of Gentiles are saved as well. These are given white robes to symbolize righteousness and palms to symbolize peace. The multitude praises God for their salvation. Note the final fulfilment of God's promise to Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed.

Interpretation 2: While some have speculated that the "great multitude" are converts resulting from an evangelistic campaign of the 144,000 in the previous passage, this is an interpretation which is imposed upon the text, rather than stated or implied within it, so such a view must be held with reservations. Similarly, the identification of the 144,000 as Jews, while not unusual, may also be a misinterpretation (see commentary on verses 4-8, above). Who, then, is this multitude? If the interpretation (see on 4-8) of the 144,000 as resurrected martyrs is correct, this multitude may be the rest of the resurrected people of God, who naturally would be far more numerous. The martyrs come first because they have a special status, but the two passages are possibly two parts of a single vision of the resurrected people of God.

It is possible that this great multitude, by extension of the above passage, completes the number of those who are "sealed." (With regard to the sealing of believers, see verses 1-3 above with link to cross-reference.)

Witherington hypothesizes the word salvation (soteria) in the Greek may have shades of rescue, portraying god as rescuer of his people. Unfortunately for the sufferers, the rescue party arrives after they're already dead.

These two verses also hold some special value because they are the first time that God's promise of salvation is discussed in light of the plagues and destructive forces unleashed upon the earth.

Verses 11-12[edit]

11And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshiped God, 12saying, “Amen. Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Commentary: The angels and the saved already present join in the praise, offering a sevenfold benediction to God. Since all in heaven agree with and participate in God's plan, all are thankful for its fulfillment. The angels standing around the throne represents the great quantity of "adorers of God" in heaven. Amen usually is a concluding statement in prayer or praise. But it is followed by a doxology. This doxology has seven powerful words. The seven words may be associated with completion in the end of time. These words describe God perfectly, but also may be a prayer for the end of time and the judgement. This may also show that God's plan and design of the end of time, as well as heaven is complete and perfect. The saved in heaven will experience complete and perfect happiness though God's design and his sacrifice of Christ Jesus.

A word on translation. The word Amen comes from the Hebrew root for firm, and by extension, truly, solidly, absolutely. It is an indication that this is an absolute. All Blessings, and all Glory, and all wisdom, and all thanksgiving, and all honor, and power and might be unto "our" God. Absolutely! Truly!

Verses 13-14[edit]

13And one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these who are dressed in white robes? And where did they come from? 14And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are those who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Commentary: These redeemed Gentiles are either saints martyred during the Tribulation, or those who survive and enter the Millennial Kingdom, or both. They have been washed of their sins and are fully acceptable to God.

An elder addresses John with a seemingly rhetorical question concerning the multitude "clothed with white robes" first seen in verse 9. This presents the reader with an interesting shifting of roles. One would expect John to be asking the questions, considering that he is the ignorant one, but instead it is the wise elder who poses a question to John. The effect of this role reversal is that the exchange appears staged and draws the reader's attention even more closely to the surrounding events. The answer given by the elder is that they are those who "came out of great tribulation." This may be a reference to the Rapture, or the Resurrection, or both, for they take place at the time of the Tribulation.

It is interesting to note the colorful contradiction within this verse. The elder states that the robes are washed with blood (a red substance), but somehow emerge white. Obviously, this is meant as a symbolic metaphor. This "blood of the Lamb" may be an allusion to the Crucifixion, though it may also refer to the Spirit of God which was embodied in Jesus, who used the metaphor of blood for the Spirit, saying, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jn 6:54).

Verse 15[edit]

15“Therefore they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple, and he that sits on the throne will dwell among them.”

Commentary: Because they went through this "Great Ordeal" and are and have been servants of God on Earth, they are presented as a righteous assembly before the Throne of God. Serving him day and night simply means to just worship God for all eternity similar to the elders in the throne room. In return, God will give them His love and all the blessings that entails including sparing them from the trials the rest of the Earthly inhabitants are facing since they have earned this right.

The "Therefore" could also refer back to Jesus' death on the cross. Because He died a martyr's death, the ultimate martyr's death, humans are able to bow before the throne of God. His cross has sealed the Lord's servants in righteousness. This is why they are around the throne, and serve Him day and night. This is also why He shall never leave nor forsake them.

Verses 16-17[edit]

16“They will hunger no more, nor thirst any more, nor will the sun shine on them, nor any heat, 17for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne will feed them, and will lead them to living fountains of waters, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Commentary: These people hunger no more because they have eaten the bread and therefore hunger no more. The bread that is being eaten is the bread of life, Jesus Chirst. Once one eats this bread, they hunger no more and live forever. And there will be no more suffering, no pain, no sorrow for all eternity. The heat here may be referring to the devil and Hell since it is often thought of being warm with many open flames. In the presence of God, there is only joy and light. He will give them all they need in every respect. The "living fountains of waters" are reminiscent of the "hidden manna" of 2:17 [4].

These verse feeds the martyr fetish seen throughout Revelation, portraying the final reward for enduring suffering on earth. It is a fantastic, but hopeful picture that presumably encouraged those in tribulation. Through the blood of God and Jesus Christ, they have been washed clean of their sins.

Although this verse seemingly ends the series of catastrophes wrought on Earth, this is not the case. Suffering is only over for those who are in heaven worshipping. Their tribulations on Earth have given them a special place in Heaven, but the judgements unleashed on Earth continue in the next few chapters which deal with the Seven Trumpets. Still, this verse serves to end the dramatic action of the Seven Seals. Although the seventh is not opened until the next verse, it serves a pause in the action before more judgement is inflicted upon the Earth with the blowing of the trumpets. Therefore, the seventh seal is in place mostly to serve as the completion of this section of Revelation.

Chapter 6 · Chapter 8

  1. Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge University Press, 2003.