Revelation Chapter 7
The 144,000 Servants of God
Before we get into Revelation chapter 7, let's review just a little. Revelation 4-6 is a section. The events of this section include the two most important questions in the book of Revelation. Chapter 4 just gives the setting, describing the scene in heaven and who is involved. Then the action starts with the question in Rev 5:2 "who is worthy to open the book?" We learn that Jesus was "found worthy" (Rev 5:4) to open the book. There must have been a "finding out;" an investigation - He has been judged (a decision) to be worthy.
Then in chapter 6, as Jesus opens the seals of this important book, the groups of people (symbolized by horses) involved in the judgment are briefly mentioned along with the riders - the ones controlling those groups of people. The sixth seal describes some of the earth-shaking events that will happen leading up to the Second Coming. The section ends with the question (Rev 6:17), "in light of these events ...
... who shall be able to stand?
... who will be able to make it through?
or, perhaps even,
... who will still be alive at the Second Coming?
The answer is given in chapter 7 - the 144,000 will be able to stand. There is no doubt, in the book of Revelation, that this will be a special and unique group. I believe that it is to this group that promises such as the following will be, in many cases, literally fulfilled:
"I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about." (Psa 3:6)
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." (Psa 23:4)
"Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;: (Psa 46:2)
"A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee." (Psa 91:7)
"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." (Isa 43:2)
"But there shall not an hair of your head perish." (Luke 21:18)
Not that it couldn't have been fulfilled previously, but these people will be living in 100% total dependence on their Saviour. It will come to the point where that is their only alternative. Chapter 7 brings us to the point that everything is about to start falling apart on planet Earth but these events are held in check so that something important can happen in regard to the 144,000. Let's get into our study of Revelation chapter 7.
Four Angels and Four Winds
"And 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." (Rev 7:1)
"Four" may just indicate the whole. Similar to the way several mentions of "a third" refers to "a part of" as in:
"And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise." (Rev 8:12)
Here are other uses of "four corners" or "four quarters" that may indicate the whole rather than a part of something:
"And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee." (Job 1:19)
"And upon Elam will I bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, and will scatter them toward all those winds; and there shall be no nation whither the outcasts of Elam shall not come." (Jer 49:36)
"And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea." (Rev 20:8)
These angels seem to be literal angels and the winds, as we continue getting the context of Revelation Chapter 7, seem to be winds of strife, commotion and great trials coming to the inhabitants of planet Earth. The
mentioned here is an example of how God restrains Satan's activities.
There are other symbols involved. A "tree" can be a symbol of people:
"Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;" (Jude 1:11-12)
"And he shall be a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." (Psa 1:3)
"But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever." (Psa 52:8)
"The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon." (Psa 92:12)
The fig tree symbolized the whole nation of Israel, Nebuchadnezzar was symbolized by a tree, Judges 9 uses trees as symbols of people in a parable etc. Winds blow on the earth, sea and trees all the time; this must be speaking of winds in a symbolic sense.
Earth and sea (at least, waters) are actually used symbolically of people as well:
"And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." (Rev 17:15)
"And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast." (Rev 13:3)
The word "world" in that verse is from the Greek word "ge" (G1093) the most common translation of which is "earth." Of course, it is not the world but the people of the world that are wondering after the beast.
So, while it seems that the earth, sea and trees certainly have a primarily-literal application in this passage, there can be a spiritual application as well.
"And 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, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." (Rev 7:2-3)
"From the east" the gate of the temple opened toward the east from which direction the Messiah was said to come. Jesus did descend from the Mount of Olives, east of the sanctuary when He entered Jerusalem several days before His death. The tribe of Judah camped on the east of the tabernacle.
"But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall." (Mal 4:2)
The sun arises in the east.
"And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared." (Rev 16:12)
Cyrus (a type of Christ) who crossed the dried-up Euphrates to defeat Babylon came from the east:
"Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? he gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow." (Isa 41:2)
"Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;" (Isa 45:12)
It is Christ Himself who is the sealing angel, who gives the command to the angels. The expression "given to hurt" seems to be a reference to allow the hurting to happen by releasing the restraint; by ceasing to hold the winds. The angels are to hold back the winds of strife (that will hurt the earth) until the job was done; until the 144,000 are all sealed.
Who are "the servants of our God"? - the answer is given in the following verses. Sealed "in their foreheads;" why foreheads? What does it mean to be sealed? The forehead, of course, refers to the mind, to mental assent; the forehead is where the frontal lobes are located, where rational thought happens and, most importantly, where decisions are made. The meaning of the sealing will be further explained when we get to Revelation 14.
"And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads." (Rev 14:1)
Some have pointed out that Paul indicated in Ephesians that believers were already sealed in his day:
"In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory." (Eph 1:13-14)
However, it seems that the sealing in Revelation 7 is different, being a sealing for a particular work; to give a certain message. The ones sealed there are a special group in an end-time setting.
"And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel." (Rev 7:4)
Is the 144,000 a literal or figurative number? How can we tell for sure? I would not try to defend a position on this. It seems to be relatively small group compared to another group called "the great multitude."
"Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. Of 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. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand" (Rev 7:5-8)
This list differs from the list of the twelve sons of Jacob. The tribe of Dan is missing and may be related to this characteristic:
"Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward." (Gen 49:17)
Jacob accepted Joseph's sons (Jacob's grandson's, who were half Egyptian) as his own:
"And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine." (Gen 48:5)
They were to be included in the 12 tribes. Thus it was that Mannaseh could be substituted for Dan. However, Ephraim which could have been included, according to Jacob's statement in the above verse, is also omitted:
"The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hid." (Hos 13:12)
So those are the twelve tribes that are included in the list but who are the individuals? Do they have to literal, full-blooded, direct descendents of the original father of the tribe? In fact, do they have to be Israelites at all? This question is examined in detail in my All Eyes On Israel Series. The very fact, as brought out above, that two tribes that were eligible by lineage, were excluded because of things they did shows that it is character more than lineage that determines who is accepted by God.
The Great Multitude
"After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;" (Rev 7:9)
The great multitude are described as innumerable as opposed to the 144,000 which are described by an definite number, so they must be a separate group. They are said to be from "all nations and kindreds and people and tongues." They are not selected on any ethnic or other basis but, rather, by the choices they have made.
Their white robes indicate that they have received salvation from the Lamb as verse 14 will say and also the following verse which equates a change of clothing with the removal of sins:
"And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment." (Zech 3:4)
"Palms" are a symbol of victory and overcoming:
"The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon." (Psa 92:12)
"Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord." (John 12:13)
It could be that in this scene in Revelation people are also greeting Jesus and acknowledging that He is their Saviour, the Messiah as seems to be indicated by Rev 7:10.
It is interesting that verse 9 is speaking of the great multitude, separate from the 144,000. In chapter 6, we identified the four horses as four groups of people which can also be connected with the four groups mentioned at the close of probation:
"He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still." (Rev 22:11)
In that section, the 144,000 who were sealed in their foreheads and had developed the character of Christ in their lives, were represented by the white horse. The great multitude who were clothed with white robes, while they had perhaps not perfected Christian character, were also covered by the righteousness of Christ and were represented by the black horse.
"And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." (Rev 7:10)
Most versions have something close to "salvation to our God" which seems like a strange wording but there are other versions that seem more clear:
"They called out in a loud voice: "Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!" (Rev 7:10, GNB)
"In loud voices they were exclaiming, "It is to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, that we owe our salvation!" (Rev 7:10, WNT)
"And 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 worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen." (Rev 7:11-12)
The elders and beasts are still around the throne after salvation is complete and they are giving all of the credit to God for what He has done.
"And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Rev 7:13-14)
A better wording is "who are these?" This question was, no doubt, already in John's mind. There are a few questions we could ask at this point that can't be definitely answered from the text.
The first would be: is "who are these?" a reference to the 144,000 or to the great multitude? Some say that since the scene shifted in verse 9 to the great multitude it is about them. Also, the great multitude are referred to in verse 9 as being arrayed in white robes whereas nothing is said about the garments of the 144,000. Others say John already knew who the great multitude were as they are identified in verse 9 so he must be asking about the 144,000.
The second is: does the "great tribulation" in verse 14 refer to only events in the last days or to tribulation throughout all of history? The term, as used by Jesus, seemed to be a reference to the last days:
"For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." (Matt 24:21)
The only other use of this phrase is in the message to the church of Thyatira:
"Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds." (Rev 2:22)
We have seen in our study of chapter two that the messages to the seven churches can also be seen to have an end-time application.
The third is: does the "great multitude" include the 144,000? If it does this would resolve the first question as those "arrayed in white robes" in verse 14 would then include both groups. Certainly the 144,000, whatever they have achieved in their battle against sin, also need to have their sins covered by the blood of the Lamb - there is only one way of salvation.
A number of distinctions can be made between the 144,000 and the great multitude. The following table does this.
The 144,000 and the Great Multitude Compared
The Great Multitude
|How many are there?
||No one could number
|Where are they from?
||12 spiritual tribes of Israel
||Every nation, tribe and people
|When are they sealed?
||Before the seven trumpets
||During the seven trumpets
|Are they part of Babylon?
||No, they are virgins
||Yes, but they come out of it
|What part of the harvest?
|What is their connection
to the 3 angel's messages?
|Give the messages
||Hear and obey messages
While there are questions about the meaning of Revelation that we can't definitely answer at this point, we can rejoice that a white robe is there for each one of us who are willing to follow the Lamb.
"Washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb"
Our robes are washed by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus as payment for our debt of sin. This removes our record of sin and enables us to stand before God as though we had never sinned. Our sin (even our righteousness is counted as filthy rags) is taken away and is replaced by the white robe of the righteousness of Christ.
"But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Isa 64:6)
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isa 1:18)
"Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them." (Rev 7:15)
This seems to parallel this verse:
"... These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth ..." (Rev 14:4)
One might ask about this: how can they be "before the throne ... day and night" and yet go wherever the Lamb goes? An investigation of scripture (especially Ezekiel) will show that God has a movable throne. Essentially, wherever He goes the throne goes too. But that is another topic.
"They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat." (Rev 7:16)
Here is a parallel verse that prophesied this back in the time of Isaiah:
"They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.' (Isa 49:10)
"For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Rev 7:17)We understand from the following verse that tears are not finally wiped away until after the millennium.
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Rev 21:4)
When the events of the millennium are understood the reason for this is clear.
Revelation chapter 7 answers the question of "who shall be able to stand." Revelation chapter 8 will then go on to describe the events associated with the release of the four winds described as being held at the start of chapter 8.
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Did you know: the Greek has multiple words for forgiveness? God forgives (charizomai
) if we ask or not. Receiving forgiveness (apheimi
) is our choice. God always forgives.