Dave: September 10, 2009/Adam: August 2011
Scripture text for this study: Revelation 7
Notes from Adam were edited into this post in November 2009, and again in August 2011, and are in red:
Background Note: Chapter 7 is an interlude between the sixth seal (6:12) and the seventh seal (8:1). Revelation 6 ends with a statement that the great day of the wrath of the Lord had come, along with a question about who could stand in that day. That question is answered here in this chapter.
Verses 1-3: Here we see that four different angels have been given power to harm the earth and sea. However, with more judgment about to come, another angel intervenes and strictly commands the four angels to hold back this judgment until God’s servants could first be sealed on their foreheads. This intervening angel is said to have “the seal of the living God.” He also comes from the east. Why is that?
One possibility relates to what we know from the history of the Jewish-Roman War (66-73 AD). During the 5-month siege on Jerusalem in 70 AD, Titus made his headquarters on the northern ridge of the Mount of Olives, which was on the eastern side of Jerusalem. Attack plans and strategies were made from this location, which Titus called “Lookout Hill” (Mount Scopus). From there he was able to look into the city over its fortified walls. It was also from there that the famous 10th Legion of Rome used catapults to launch huge stones weighing 75 – 100 pounds into the city (this will be discussed further in our study of Revelation 16), causing much devastation.
Arethas, the Bishop of Caesarea in the 10th century AD, gave an interesting commentary on these verses:
Here in a suitable manner are shown those evangelists which openly remained among the Jews in the war against the Romans in the avenging affliction of the Lord. For, the four angels saved the guards upon the four corners of the land of the Jews putting to flight their fear, whether it be fear of the certain sufferings and injuries or the unseasonable affliction of the country or of their beloved wives. These things, which were a near threat to Judea, are designated figuratively. But also the winds are to be prohibited from blowing upon the land or upon the sea . Upon the land indeed, lest either they find a small consolation in the time of war against the Romans or the vegetable farmers diligently arise rejoicing because their plants are being refreshed by the blowing of the winds. [Or the land or the sea may designate] the foot soldiers fighting in the war or the navy, since as Josephus says, ships also were used in the attack. For all these misfortunes happened to them.
Source: Francis Gumerlock, Revelation in the First Century, 2012
Verses 4-8: What do we know about the 144,000 from the text?
- They are “sealed” on their foreheads (verse 3; compare with Rev. 3:12, 13:16).
- There are 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.
- They have been protected from the wrath to be poured out on the earth (verse 3).
Q: Where else does the Bible talk about His people being sealed?
A: Ephesians 1:13-14, Ezekiel 9:4-6.
In Steve Gregg’s book, “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” he points to a remarkable parallel event, recorded by Ezekiel, which occurred shortly before Jerusalem fell the first time:
Jerusalem twice fell to invaders because of God’s judgment upon them: first, in 586 B.C., to the Babylonians; and second, in A.D. 70, to the Romans. Prior to the conquest in 586 B.C., God took care to identify His own and to separate them for safety during the holocaust. This fact was symbolically portrayed to Ezekiel in a vision of an angel marking God’s faithful with an ink mark on their foreheads. Following this marking, six angels with deadly weapons were dispatched against Jerusalem to slaughter its inhabitants (Ezekiel 9).
Here a similar vision is given to John prior to the second destruction of Jerusalem in his own day. This time, before the four winds (v. 1) are unleashed upon Israel, God’s servants are sealed on their foreheads for their preservation… Those who survived the holocaust of A.D. 70 were those who possessed the seal of God (Eph. 1:13), that is, the Jewish believers in Christ (pp. 126, 128).
Steve Gregg also wrote about the believers in Jerusalem successfully escaping before Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, just as Jesus warned them to do in Matthew 24:15-21 and Luke 21:20-24:
Just prior to the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Jewish Christians in that city were warned by a prophetic oracle to flee from the city (echoing Jesus’ own warning in Luke 21:20ff). Historian Eusebius (c. 325) wrote: “The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella.”
The normative view among evangelical preterists is that this 144,000 is a symbolic number representing the full number of Jewish Christians who escaped the doomed city before its destruction. That this group lived in the first century is confirmed in another passage, which calls them the “firstfruits to God” (Rev. 14:4). Since the church age has been one long harvest of souls (Matt. 9:37f; John 4:35-38), the “firstfruits” must have come in at the beginning of this time (compare James 1:1, 18, which speaks of the Jewish believers as “firstfruits”). If this 144,000 referred to some future group living in the end times (as the futurists believe), one would expect them to be called the “last fruits.”
Regarding the escape of believers to Pella (Jordan) before 70 AD, more is written about that here:
The 144,000 are mentioned again in Rev 14:1-4. What additional information about this group do we find there?
- They have the name of the Lamb and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.
- They were redeemed from the earth.
- They are virgins.
- They follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
- They are said to be redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb.
- In their mouth no lie was found.
Q: Who do scholars think that they are?
A: According to proponents of the Pre-tribulation rapture view, they are Jewish believers brought to faith after Jesus returns and removes (raptures) the church from the earth. Some view the 144,000 as the church. According to John M. Frame and Vern S. Poythress, for example, the visions of the 144,000 and the international multitude are “complementary perspectives” on the Church. This view holds that the 144,000 and the group in 9-17 are the same people. Why this view is problematic to the leader of this study (Dave):
- The group in 9-17 is “innumerable”; the group in 4-8 is numbered.
- The group in 4-8 is from the 12 tribes of Israel; the group in 9-17 is from “all tribes and peoples and languages.
Kenneth Gentry, in his book, Before Jerusalem Fell (1998), says (pp. 232ff), ” The 144,000 are Christians of Jewish extraction.”
- Jewish, because they are “in the land”
- Jewish, because they are from the twelve tribes of Israel
- Jewish, because they are contrasted with the multitude in 9-17
Verses 9-17: John then sees “a great multitude.” What do we know about this group from the text?
- They are innumerable.
- They come from all tribes and peoples and languages.
- They are clothed in white robes.
- They have palm branches in their hands.
- They extol God for His salvation.
- They are seen “coming out of the great tribulation”.
- They are purified by the blood of the Lamb.
- They are before the throne of God and serve Him night and day.
- They are sheltered by His presence.
- They no longer experience hunger or thirst.
- They are no longer able to be overcome by heat.
- The Lamb, who is said to be in the midst of the throne, is their shepherd.
- He guides them to springs of living water (see John 4:14, 7:37-38; Isaiah 49:10).
- God wipes away every tear from their eyes.
What is the great tribulation mentioned in verse 14?
A: Here are several views, depending on one’s interpretation of this term:
- Futurist Pre-Tribulationist view: Seven years of suffering for those “left behind” after a future Rapture of the Church
- Futurist Post-Tribulationist view: An “end-times” generation will suffer through a future 7-year outpouring of God’s wrath
- Historicist view: The sufferings of the church from its inception (John 16:33)
- Preterist view: A 3.5 year period that occurred in history, beginning with Nero’s declaration of war against Israel in February 67 AD until Jerusalem’s destruction in August 70 AD (Matthew 24:21; cf. Daniel 12:1, Jeremiah 30:7). This is our view, and more details can be seen in Part 3 of our series on the Olivet Discourse.
It may be helpful to further clarify our reasons for believing that the predicted judgments alluded to here in this chapter were to be poured out primarily on the land of Israel. As noted above, one of the reasons Kenneth Gentry gave for seeing the 144,000 as believers of Jewish extraction was that they were shown to be “in the land,” a reference to verse 3 (some translations say “earth”). In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subjectbeginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.
Our study of Revelation 8 can be found here.
All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.