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.
The 144,000

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.

There has, of course, been much debate over the identity of the 144,000.

Aune lists the following possibilities: ‘(1) the faithful remnant of Israel, (2) Jewish Christians, (3) Christian martyrs, (4) Christians generally, the Israel of God, consisting of both Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:11–19), or (5) primarily gentile Christians, since the Jews have rejected their place.’

I shall present the main alternatives, but beginning with a brief mention of an ‘outlier’.

1. The ‘little flock’

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is the literal number of Jehovah’s Witness who will reign with Christ in heaven.  David Reed (Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses) cites from a JW publication:’ “Jehovah has established a limited number, 144,000, to make up the little flock, and has been gathering it since Pentecost 33 C.E. … the general gathering of these specially blessed ones ended in 1935.”  The idea of a ‘little flock’ is picked up from Lk 12:32; but the context makes it clear that our Lord is referring to his ‘disciples’, consisting of all who prove faithful (Lk 12:41-53).

2. Jewish Christians

Some teach that this number refers to Jewish Christians who who were spared at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Rev 14:4 is appealed to as showing that the group lived in the first century, for in that verse they are referred to as the ‘firstfruits to God’.

Matthew Henry inclines to this view, although he allows that it could be ‘more generally applied to God’s chosen remnant in the world’.

According to some futurists, the number refers to a godly remnant of Jews who are protected after the Rapture of the church (i.e., during the Great Tribulation).  This would be in fulfilment of Scriptures such as Zech 12:10-13 and Rom 11:26-32, which speak of Israel being brought to repentance in the last days.  Many proponents of this view think that these Jewish believers will be involved in zealous evangelism.  The preach ‘the Gospel of the Kingdom’ (thought to be distinct from ‘the Gospel of Grace’) as a witness to the nations before the end (Mt 24:14).

Zuck (Basic Bible Interpretation) argues that the number should be understood literally: ‘The prophecy of the 144,000 in 7:4–8 need not be considered a symbolic number. The number is to be taken in its normal, literal sense because 12,000 people are said to be sealed from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Since the tribal names are literal and not symbolic, there is no reason to take the numbers symbolically.’

Wiersbe argues that the reference here is to a literal number of Jewish Christians who will be protected (‘sealed’) during the time of Tribulation.  He arrives at this conclusion partly from his own prior theological commitments (and who does not have prior theological commitments?!), and partly from the naming of the 12 tribes.  Wiersbe recognises some of the problems with this literal and futuristic interpretation, and also allows a secondary application of this passage to all of God’s people – both Jews and Gentiles.

Vlach writes: ‘The specific mentioning of each of the 12 tribes of Israel emphasizes the continuing role of the tribes of Israel in the plan of God. This is not a reference to Gentiles or the “church militant” as some assert. Immediately after this section, Rev 7:9 states, “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”. John distinguishes Jews (Rev 7:4–8) and Gentiles (Rev 7:9). The group in 7:4–8 is made of ethnic Jews while the group in 7:9 is a multitude from “every nation.” Also, the group in 7:4–8 is finite; it is a group of 144,000, while the group in 7:9 is “a great multitude which no one could count.” These are not the same groups of people.’  (Vlach, Michael. Has the Church Replaced Israel? (p. 198). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Schnabel critiques the view that this passage refers to literal (i.e. biological) Jews on a number of grounds, including: ‘While the distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers was indeed a continuing issue in the early church, at least Paul regarded such distinctions as a problem since Jews and Gentiles were reconciled through Jesus Christ who “has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall” (Eph. 2:14). Paul asserts that God through Jesus Christ created “one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace” reconciling “both groups to God in one body through the cross” (vv. 15–16). All who belong to Jesus Christ are “children of God through faith” with the result that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile” because “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:26, 28, 29 NIV; see Col. 3:11).’

Wall mentions the view that ‘if we are to take the phrase more literally as referring to the saints of “old” Israel, then the 144,000 would form a “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1; cf. Heb. 11:4–38) whose faithfulness to God established the first stage of Israel’s exodus from sin (Heb. 11:39–40) and movement toward their eventual destination (cf. Heb. 11:13–16), the new Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22–27). Their pilgrimage to promise is suggested by the exodus symbolism that lies behind the act of sealing the 144,000, which prepares for and awaits the coronation of the eschatological Israel as depicted in the second half of this interlude.’

3. The Church generally, consisting of Jewish and Gentile believers.

(a) For some, who do not hold to a pre-tribulation Rapture, the number refers to church as a whole (i.e. Jewish and Gentile believers) during the time of the final Tribulation.  So Ladd, Mounce.

This appears to have been the view of Matthew Poole:

‘By the tribes of Israel mentioned here, are to be understood the several gospel churches of the Gentiles, who are now God’s Israel ingrafted into the true olive.’

For Poole, the meaning of the passage as a whole is that ‘although within that period of time which is signified under the seventh seal, there should be great persecutions of the church, yet God would preserve unto himself a great number in all his churches, which should not apostatize, and who in the persecutions should not be hurt; so as his church should not fail, though the archers should shoot sore at it; for though men raged, yet it was by God’s permission; and his angels overruled it, who should take notice of those numbers that he had sealed, and marked in their foreheads.’

Wall inclines to the view that ‘if one assumes that the phrase refers to a spiritual Israel as elsewhere in the NT (e.g., James 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1; cf. Rom. 9–11) including Revelation (14:1), then the 144,000 could refer to an “extra special” remnant within the church, perhaps to its martyrs who exemplify fearless devotion to God of the sort John encourages. While there is no indication in the text that the 144,000 enumerate the remnant of martyrs, it does make sense of the immediate context to identify this group with those who earlier cry out for vindication (6:10). This first part of the visionary interlude, then, responds directly to the martyrs’ earlier question, “How long?” (6:10).’

(b) Still others teach that the number refers to the entire church, represented here (as in other places in the NT) as the true Israel.  Proponents of this view urge that it is consistent with the highly symbolic nature of the book of Revelation.  In the present case, the symbolism is highlight by the way the tribes are listed.  As Wilson observes: ‘Judah is placed first as the Messiah’s own tribe, Dan is omitted, Levi is included as an ordinary tribe and Joseph replaces Ephraim.’

‘In Rev 14:3–4, the 144,000 are said to have been purchased “from the earth” and purchased “from among men.” The almost identical language suggests that the two are the same group—the church of all ages. This would explain why, immediately after the vision of the sealing, John sees a great multitude of people from every nation and tribe and people and tongue (Rev 7:9).’ (Beale, Shorter Commentary)

They have already been identified: they are ‘the servants of God’, v3, and will later be described as those who have been ‘redeemed from the earth’, Rev 14:3. The number, like everything else in the Apocalypse, is symbolic; but even though symbolic, it is still a number, for God is, as it were, carrying out a census of his people, so that each and all should be accounted for. This stylized number represents ‘the company of God’s people across the centuries’. (Bewes)

Wilcock calls this number ‘a diagram of the Church’.

Ian Paul unpacks the numerical symbolism:

‘If twelve is the number associated with the people of God, ten is a natural number (not least because it is the base for our number system), a square suggests the completeness of God’s people (the plan of the New Jerusalem) and a cube suggests the Holy of Holies and the presence of God, then the number 144,000 has a powerful symbolic meaning. It is the complete people of God, representing his holy presence in the world, a meaning which correlates with the idea of God’s people as the body of Christ and as the temple in Pauline theology.’

But why are they referred to as coming from all the tribes of Israel?

According to Mounce: ‘That there are 144,000 (12,000 from each tribe of Israel) is a symbolic way of stressing that the church is the eschatological people of God who have taken up Israel’s inheritance.’

In v9, we read of ‘a great multitude that no-one could number’.  While, at first sight, this seems to be a different, and still vaster crowd of people, there are good reasons for thinking that this is a simply an alternative way of expressing the same group of people who make up the 144,000.  ‘A. M. Farrer considered that this contrast gives expression to two complementary themes of the Scriptures: on the one hand that God knows the number of his elect, and on the other, that those who inherit the blessing of Abraham are numberless as the stars’ (NBC).

Wright takes a similar view to the one just mentioned, as does Ian Paul.  Both note that John ‘heard’, and then turned to ‘see’, strongly suggesting that both groups are the same.

But the most likely answer is not difficult to find once we remember the symbolic nature of this book. Here is Morris’ summary:-

The church can be referred to as “the twelve tribes” (Jas 1:1; cf. Mt 19:28; Lk 22:30), and this is probably the thought when a letter is sent to “the Dispersion,” 1 Pet 1:1, mg. The Christian appears to be the true Jew, Rom 2:29 and the church “the Israel of God,” Gal 6:16. Descriptions of the old Israel are piled up and applied to the church, 1 Pet 2:9-10, cf. Eph 1:11,14. It is the church which is God’s “peculiar people,” Tit 2:14, and Christ’s own who are “Abraham’s seed,” Gal 3:29 and “the circumcision,” Php 3:3. Many hold that “Israel after the flesh,” 1 Cor 10:18 implies an “Israel after the Spirit”.’ Here is Revelation, John in the same way ‘speaks of those “which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan,” Rev 2:9; cf. Rev 3:9. He regards the new Jerusalem as the spiritual home of Christians, Rev 21:2, etc., and it has on its gates the names of the twelve tribes, Rev 21:12.

See Kevin DeYoung’s discussion here.

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)

A gender trajectory?
Megan DeFranza cites this verse as the climax of a scriptural trajectory which she applies especially to gender.  In Genesis 1 and 2, she says, male and female are distinguished, and nothing different, or ‘in-between’, is contemplated.  In Deuteronomy, eunuchs are excluded from the gathered community of God.  In Isaiah, there is a promise that they (along with foreigners) will be included in God’s kingdom.  This is affirmed by Jesus, who speaks (Mt 19) approvingly of three kinds of eunuch (including those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom).  It is affirmed again in Acts 8, when a man who is both a foreigner and a eunuch believes and it baptised.

Genesis, according to DeFranza, gives us God’s first word, but not his last word on the question of gender.  It is the beginning, but not the end, of the story.  As far as the present passage is concerned, it ‘describes human identities that had no place in the garden of Eden. There was no diversity of nations, tribes, peoples, and languages in the garden, yet these differences are preserved at the End. Eunuchs are promised a place in God’s house as they are, not after some kind of restoration to an Edenic pattern (Isa. 56:5).’ (In Understanding Transgender Identities)

We note that the diversities mentioned in the present passage arise from natural human reproduction.  It should not be assumed, therefore, that all expressions of diversity are to be equally welcomed.

We agree with both DeFranza’s premise (that the biblical revelation is progressive in nature), and also with her general conclusion (that ‘as God’s revelation unfolds, more and more outsiders are brought in’).  However, this does not settle the question of whether gender differences are a matter of indifference.  To the extent to which these are unchosen (as might be the case in some intersex conditions) they might be regarded as disabilities amenable to care in this life and wholeness in the life to come.  To the extent to which they are chosen (as might be the case in some instances of transgender) they might within moral categories amenable to repentance and faith.

“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.’)

The Lamb in Revelation

  1. Wrath of the Lamb, Rev 6:16
  2. Blood of the Lamb, Rev 7:14
  3. Book of life of the Lamb, Rev 13:8
  4. Song of the Lamb, Rev 15:3
  5. Marriage of the Lamb, Rev 19:7
  6. Supper of the Lamb, Rev 19:9
  7. 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.

Won't heaven's joy be spoiled by our awareness of unsaved loved ones in hell? (Rev 7:17)

‘Significantly, this is not a Bible problem; instead, Scripture rules out all thought of it ever becoming anyone’s problem. For it tells us that God the Father (who now pleads with mankind to accept the reconciliation that Christ’s death secured for all) and God the Son (our appointed Judge, who wept over Jerusalem) will in a final judgment express “wrath” and administer justice against rebellious humans. God’s holy righteousness will hereby be revealed; God will be doing the right thing, vindicating himself at last against all who have defied him, and there is no hint that this hurts the Judge more than it hurts the sinner. (Read through Mt 25 Jn 5:22-29 Rom 2:5-16,12:19 2 Thess 1:7-9 Rev 18:1-19:3,20:11-35, and you will see that clearly.) God will judge justly, and all angels, saints, and martyrs will praise him for it. So it seems inescapable that we shall, with them, approve the judgment of persons rebels whom we have known and loved.

That sounds appalling; how can it be? Remember, in heaven our minds, hearts, motives, and feelings will be sanctified, so that we are fully conformed to the character and outlook of Jesus our Lord. This will happen at or before our bodily resurrection. How we shall then think and feel is really beyond our knowing, just as a chrysalis could not know what it feels like to be a butterfly till it becomes one.

But certainly the promise that God will wipe away every tear from believers’ eyes (Rev 7:17) will find its fulfillment as one aspect of this transformation. In heaven, glorifying God and thanking him for everything will always absorb us. All our love for and joy in others who are with us in heaven will spring from their doing the same, and love and pity for hell’s occupants will not enter our hearts. Their hell will not veto our heaven.

Granted, this sounds to us more like hard-heartedness than Christlikeness, yet Christlikeness is precisely what it will be. Our difficulty is that we cannot now conceive the heavenly condition in a full way.

Wrote Richard Baxter: “My knowledge of that life is small, / The eye of faith is dim; / But it’s enough that Christ knows all, / And I shall be with him.”‘

(J.I Packer, Christianity Today, April 22, 2002. See http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/005/27.84.html)

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)