The Sealing of the 144,000, 1-17
7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so no wind could blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. 7:2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, who had the seal of the living God. He shouted out with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given permission to damage the earth and the sea: 7:3 “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees until we have put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
After this I saw – John is not describing what happened next, but what he saw next. The events of ch 7 would appear to be concurrent with this of ch 6, but seen from a different, and more heavenly, perspective. The four horses and their riders are paralleled by the four angels and the four winds.
‘John saw four angels who were standing at the four corners of the earth (referring to the whole earth, the four points of the compass). The sudden silence and the angels holding back the four winds from blowing upon the earth picture God’s protection from harm; they contrast the peace and security of the believers with the terror of those hiding in the rocks (Rev 6:16). The winds described here picture harmful winds as agents of God bringing destruction (see Daniel 7:2). The four angels hold back the winds so that not a leaf rustled in the trees, and the sea became as smooth as glass. This scene contrasts with the earthquakes and meteor showers that had just occurred (Rev 6:12-13).’
“Until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God” – the mark ‘of divine ownership and protection’ (Wilson). See Eze 9:1-4; Eph 4:30; 2 Tim 2:19. We think also of Paul’s reference in Eph 1:13-14 to the sealing of believers with the promised Holy Spirit when we first put our faith in Christ.
This sealing does not render them immune from suffering, but guarantees their ultimate safety.
‘From that moment forward, our ultimate safety was guaranteed. So when the searing winds begin to blow, the servant of God is found to have been sealed already against their power. The horsemen ride out on their career of destruction; but the church has been made indestructible.’ (Wilcock)
Here, according to Bewes, we have a picture of the Church militant. ‘We are out in the arena, exposed and vulnerable – and yet sealed by God.’ This sealing is indicative of ownership, of authenticity, and security. See also Eph 1:13; 4:30.
Lenski observes that the two parts of the chapter represent the church as sealed and glorified.
7:4 Now I heard the number of those who were marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed from all the tribes of the people of Israel:
7:5 From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed,
from the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand,
7:6 from the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand,
7:7 from the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand,
7:8 from the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
Why is Judah mentioned first? According to Beale, ‘this emphasizes Christ’s descent from Judah (see Rev 5:5), as prophesied in Gen. 49:8–10 and elsewhere in the OT where a descendent of David (and thus of Judah) is prophesied to arise as Messiah in the latter days (Ezek. 34:23; 37:24–26; Ps. 16:8–11; together with Acts 2:25–28). Therefore, this is a continuation of Rev 5:5, where Jesus is identified as the fulfillment of the promised leader from Judah.’ Furthermore, Gen 49:10 ‘predicts that the coming leader of Judah will bring about “the obedience of the peoples”’ (LXX: ‘he is the expectation of the nations’; cf. Rom 1:5). Accordingly, ‘the tribe of Judah is mentioned first because the Messiah from Judah is the king who represents Israel, and through its new king Judah has become the door of blessing to the nations (so Rev 5:5, 9).’ (Shorter Commentary)
…from the tribe of... – Bauckham (cited by Beale) has argued that this military language, echoing the census lists of Num 1:21,23, etc.
‘The church is thus depicted in military terms as a remnant called out of the world to do battle for God. This force is ready to fight, and v. 14 interprets the manner of their fighting. They conquer their enemy ironically in the same way in which the kingly Lamb from Judah ironically conquered at the cross: by maintaining their faith and witness through suffering, they overcome their foe, the devil and his hosts…Consequently, they are those “who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Rev 14:4).’ (Beale, Shorter Commentary)
7:9 After these things I looked, and here was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands. 7:10 They were shouting out in a loud voice,
“Salvation belongs to our God,
to the one seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation – Compare this with v4, which records what John heard God say, and which indicates a kind of census of God’s people, that each was know to God and that all should be accounted for and sealed. The present passage records what John saw, which was that this definite number of people, known to God, is from a human perspective a vast numberless multitude. From God’s point of view, they are ‘Israel’, God’s people; from the human ponit of view, they are drawn from every nature under heaven.
Here in vv 9-17 we have a picture of the Church triumphant. This is the great multitude who have ‘come through the great tribulation’, v14.
‘I believe there will be more in heaven that in hell. If you ask me why I think so, I answer, because Christ in everything is to have the preeminence, Col 1:18, and I cannot conceive how he could have the preeminence if there are to be more in the dominions of Satan than in paradise. Moreover, it is said there is to be a multitude that no man can number in heaven, Rev 7:9. I have never read that there is to be a multitude that no man can number in hell. I rejoice to know that the souls of all infants, as soon as they die, speed their way to paradise. Think what a multitude there is of them! And then there are the just and the redeemed of all nations up till now. And there are better times coming, when the religion of Christ shall be universal. And in the thousand years of the great millennial state there will be enough saved to make up all the deficiencies of the thousands of years that have gone before.’ (Spurgeon at his Best, 95)
Consider the caricature suggested by Robert Burns in Holy Willie’s Prayer:
O thou that in the Heavens does dwell,
Wha, as it pleases best Thysel,
Sends ane to Heaven an’ ten to Hell
A’ for thy glory!
This does not do justice to the proportions of the saved and unsaved, as hinted at in this verse. Moreover, it suggests that God’s takes pleasure in the death of the wicked, which is simply not so, Eze 33:11.
‘Christ’s kingdom, while not incompatible with patriotism, tolerates no narrow nationalisms. He rules over an international community in which race, nation, rank and sex are no barriers to fellowship. And when his kingdom is consummated at the end, the countless redeemed company will be seen to be drawn “from every nations, tribe, people and language, Rev 7:9.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 46)
‘It is of course a fact people like to worship with their own kith and kin, and with their own kind, as experts in church growth remind us; and it may be necessary to acquiesce in different congregations according to language, which is the most formidable barrier of all. But heterogeneity is of the essence of the church, since it is the one and only community in the world in which Christ has broken down all dividing walls. The vision we have been given of the church triumphant is of a company drawn from “every nation, tribe, people and language,” who are all singing God’s praises in unison. (Rev 7:9ff) So we must declare that a homogeneous church is a defective church, which must work pertinently and perseveringly towards heterogeneity.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, p305)
‘I have always derived much comfort from the statement of Rev 7:9 that the company of the redeemed in heaven will be “a great multitude which no man could number.” I do not profess to know how this can be, since Christians have always seemed to be a rather small minority. But Scripture states it for our comfort. Although no biblical Christian can be a universalist (believing that all mankind will ultimately be saved), since Scripture teaches the awful reality and eternity of hell, yet a biblical Christian can – even must – assert that the redeemed will somehow be an international throng so immense as to be countless. For God’s promise is going to be fulfilled, and Abraham’s seed is going to be as innumerable as the dust of the earth, the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 404)
“Salvation belongs to our God” – This means that ‘the praise and honour due for our salvation belongs to God’ (Plummer).
7:11 And all the angels stood there in a circle around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they threw themselves down with their faces to the ground before the throne and worshiped God, 7:12 saying,
“Amen! Praise and glory,
and wisdom and thanksgiving,
and honor and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
All the angels – cf. Rev 5:11.
The elders – cf. Rev 4:4. These represent God’s people.
The four living creatures – cf. Rev 4:6. These represent God’s world, ‘which could not be hurt until its own final redemption had been assured by that same sealing.’ (Wilcock).
7:13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These dressed in long white robes—who are they and where have they come from?” 7:14 So I said to him, “My lord, you know the answer.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb! 7:15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. 7:16 They will never go hungry or be thirsty again, and the sun will not beat down on them, nor any burning heat, 7:17 because the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Verses 13-17 – This vision ‘refers not only to the glory of the blessed ones in heaven, but to the life of the Christian soul in the world here and now. And who that, in this present pilgrimage, has been granted some glimpse of the “unsearchable riches of Christ” will affirm that the language of the seer is extravagant?’ (Maycock, quoted by Wilcock, who adds, ‘Indeed the whole point of this Scene is that God’s people are safe amidst the troubles of this life.’)
- Wrath of the Lamb, Rev 6:16
- Blood of the Lamb, Rev 7:14
- Book of life of the Lamb, Rev 13:8
- Song of the Lamb, Rev 15:3
- Marriage of the Lamb, Rev 19:7
- Supper of the Lamb, Rev 19:9
- Throne of the Lamb, Rev 22:1
(Pickering, Subjects for Speakers and Students)
“These are they who have come out of the great tribulation” – They are not just those who have been martyred (or otherwise persecuted) for the faith; nor does this refer to some specific future period of persecution. They are, as outlined above, God’s people in totality. In the present verse, they have two characteristics: they ‘have come out of the great tribulation’, and ‘they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’
‘It is doubtful if the Tribulation refers to any one single episode in Christian history. More likely, it embraces the whole period of the church’s existence. We live in ‘the sufferings of this present time’, (Rom 8:18) when ‘all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution’. (2 Tim 3:12) Yet this persecution did not begin with real intensity immediately after Pentecost. There was a brief breathing-space, during which the church was highly esteemed in Jerusalem (Ac 2:47) and Paul could speak in glowing terms of the imperial power. (Rom 13:1-7) But shortly afterwards, the ‘crushing’ began and there were three terrible centuries for the church. In many ways that has been the pattern ever since. In every age of the church, God’s children, somewhere, have been in that same crucible of persecution. Once it was the turn of Scotland. In our own day it has been the turn of Uganda, Eastern Europe, China, Manchuria and Iran.’ (McLeod, A Faith To Live By)
‘Many identify the “great tribulation” with a final period of persecution shortly before the Second Coming. But tribulations for Christians occur throughout the church age, so that the whole age can also be characterized as a time of tribulation. (2 Thess 1:5,6 2 Tim 3:1,12) The passage was intended to comfort first-century Christians as well as those in the final crisis.’ (New Geneva)
‘He who is numbered among that multitude is the man who has been cleansed from his old life of sin (a past event) and been given an irrepressible new life which no tribulation can quench (a present experience).’ (Wilcock)
“They are before the throne of God and serve him…” – They are in a place not only of safety, but service.
“He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them” – Cf. Ps 91:1,5,6. God’s ‘tent’ is his tabernacle, his abiding presence.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes – ‘The figure is a maternal one: the mother wiping away the tears, every last one, with meticulous tenderness. Why the tears? Because the children have been in the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:14) and it’s almost as if when they get to heaven the tears are still there and God the Father is saying with such tenderness, `It’s all right, it’s all over now!’ Not only are the pain and sorrow over. God Himself comes so close. We feel his touch upon our souls.’ (MacLeod)
‘The Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water’ (Revelation 7:17). Christ, too, is active in heaven. Here He is, entitled to His own Sabbath, His work done, and yet what is He doing? It’s so beautiful! The Authorised Version says that He will feed them. The New International Version captures it more precisely: the Lamb will shepherd them. Technically, He will be their pastor. The flock is to be shepherded by a Lamb! He knows what being a sheep is like. He has taken our nature. He has been in our situation. He has been in the crushing. He has been in the valley of the shadow of death. He has been at the very storm-centre of death itself. He remembers.’ (MacLeod)
‘Who are going to be there? They are pictured for us in Revelation 7:9-17. Three things stand out.
First, they have been in the Great Tribulation. They have been crushed. It seems unavoidable. They have been martyrs for Christ. They’ve been persecuted by the secular and religious powers. They’ve been pursued by Satan and plotted against by the Parliament of Hell. They’ve been in the depths. They’ve sat under juniper trees and prayed to die. They’ve been depressed beyond measure and sometimes despaired of their very lives. Time and again they wrote themselves off as worthless. But now, there they are, standing before the Throne.
Secondly, they’ve washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. How splendid it is! They’ve been in the crucible of pain and in the laver of affliction, but they didn’t wash their robes there. They washed them in the blood of the Lamb. They hungered and thirsted after righteousness and they found it in Christ. Now they see God (Matthew 5:8). Human, and erstwhile sinners, yet they threaten heaven with no defilement. They are as righteous as Christ and as spotless as the Lamb. They are pure as God is pure.
And they are, finally, a multitude too great to number. Burns caricatured grace, `sending ane to heaven and ten to hell, a’ for thy glory’. On the contrary, where sin was abundant grace was even more abundant (Romans 5:20). How many stars are there in the sky? How many grains of sand are there on the shore? Not half as many as the number saved by grace. And the whole of mankind is represented: every language, every nation, every culture, every type of personality and every level of wealth and ability.’ (MacLeod)