Chapter seven is a parenthesis or break between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals. Some suggest that it is intended to answer the question at the end of chapter 6, “Who is able to survive?”
The chapter contains two visions.
Vs 1: John sees four angels holding back the four winds of destruction. In apocalyptic writing angels are often depicted as beings in charge of the forces of nature.
“Four corners of the earth.” The Bible is not a science textbook, so this description does not insinuate that ancient people viewed the world as a rectangle. It probably is the same expression that we use today which means the four points of the compass. The winds are held in check by the four angels until the servants of God are sealed.
Vs 2 - 3: “another angel coming up from the east.” This angel has the authority to restrain the four angels from releasing destruction. This angel from the east holds the seal of the Living God. These seals or signet are different that the seals of the scroll because these seals mark the name of the Lord that seals the 144,000. This seal or signet is a sign of ownership and ownership entails protection. It is a seal of protection for the believers of the coming judgment.
Theologian Robert Mounce writes, “The servants of God are not a select group singled out from among the rest to receive the seal of God. They are the full number of faithful believers alive when that event takes place.”
Vs 4: This verse introduces us to a group known as the 144,000. According to John they are 144, 000 who are sealed from all tribes of Israel. The interpretation of this group is not as simple or as clear as one would think. There are varying interpretations as to who or what this group is. Before we do this, let’s remember who this prophecy is written to (seven churches in Asia Minor) and the temperature of society at the time (first century churches facing with persecution).
First, we should note that John does not see the 144,000 at this time, he HEARS the number of those sealed. John does not see the 144,000 until chapter 14. Second, we should establish what or who the 144,000 represent. They can be interpreted in two ways.
I wish we could stop right here and move on, but these two methods of interpretation are much more complex than they look. The literal method would be the simplest method, but unfortunately it is the least likely.
Literalists believe the 144,000 is a futuristic event that refers to the nation of Israel and the part it plays in the end-time scenario. This view believes that there are 12,000 evangelists from each of the twelve tribes of Israel who share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. This interpretation does bring up some issues because it brings in racial distinctions that no longer exist. This means it disregards the historical fact that ten of the twelve tribes disappeared in Assyria and the remaining two lost their individual identity when Jerusalem fell in 70 AD. Some do believe that the tribes were in hiding and would return before the end. We do need to keep in mind that apocalyptic writing is often not literal.
When we interpret this passage symbolically, we do not make it any easier. Yet, if we take the number 144,000 to be symbolic then as Mounce writes, “Twelve (the number of the tribes) is both squared and multiplied by a thousand – a twofold way of emphasizing completeness.”
Personally, I believe this group represents the complete church, made up of all believers. Thus, the Church in this chapter may be understood as the new Israel of God. I like what Stephen Smalley writes in his commentary of Revelation, “(John) is no doubt heightening and spiritualizing the term ‘Israel’. John is aware of the Judaic roots of the Christian church and affirms them. But he also knows that, since the coming of Christ, ‘Israel’ embodies an idea which is deeper than the national associations of the word and embraces the totality of the redeemed.”
The Twelve Tribes of Israel
Vs 5 – 8: There are some peculiar irregularities in the listing of the twelve tribes.
First, the tribe of Judah is listed first, instead of Reuben who was the first born. Judah was the fourth born son. The reason for this is because Jesus comes from the tribe of Judah.
Second, the omission of the tribe of Dan. It is believed this tribe is omitted because of their early connection with idolatry. This tribe migrated north and settled in the land of Laish, where they set up an idol. In early ancient Christian writings (latter part of second century) Irenaeus noted that Dan was omitted due to a tradition that the Antichrist was to come from the Tribe of Dan.
Third, the inclusion of Manasseh. Manasseh was the son of Joseph, and it is believed this tribe was added simply to bring the number of tribes back to twelve since the Tribe of Dan was omitted.
Vs 9 - 10: This is the beginning of the second vision of this chapter. This celebratory scene of a “vast crowd, too great to count” all dressed in white, waving palm branches and shouting praises, interrupts the flood of cataclysms that occurred with the opening of the first six seals. This second vision is intended to show the anticipation of the future day when those who were persecuted will enter eternal glory.
“white robes” symbolize victory in Jesus and the righteousness of Jesus.
“palm branches” signify festive joy (John 12:13)
The multitude was joyfully declaring their salvation from sin and its consequences.
Vs 11 - 12: In this verse the angels and elders from chapters 4 & 5 are part of this great multitude, and they respond to the joyful cries of those clothed in robes and they fall down, prostrate before God and offering him a seven-fold doxology of praise. (Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor and power and might).
Again, Robert Mounce writes in his commentary of Revelation, “If there is ‘joy before the angels of God over a sinner who repents (Luke 15:10), how unbelievably great will the joyful adoration of the heavenly host when all the redeemed stand before God!”
Vs 13 – 14: John has an interaction with one of the elders. He asks John the question that John is probably thinking to as well, “who are these, clothed in white? Where did they come from?” John replies, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”
The elder tells John that the robed ones are those who have come out of great tribulation and have washed their robes in the blood of Jesus. They may be individuals who are still arriving from persecution, or they represent a point in time when the complete number of the redeemed stand before God and the blessings of the eternal state are to be realized.
“great tribulation” indicates a time when the final series of woes which will immediately precede the end. This would be the final hour of trial that the Angel spoke of in Rev. 3:10 which is to come to the whole earth. Persecution has always been promised to those who follow Jesus and the final conflict of righteousness and evil will rise to intensity as it will become the great tribulation.
Vs 15: Since they are clothed in righteousness of Jesus, they will serve him without pause. The words “day and night” is an expression that means continuously. The Temple most likely is not a physical building in heaven. In Revelation heaven or God’s dwelling place is the temple.
Vs 16 – 17: This is the promise that God will be provider, protector, and comfort. The promise of never being hungry or thirsty is significant in an ancient area where famine was a continual threat. John uses the language of a shepherd as he tells how the LORD himself will guide his people to the springs of living water.
The tears that God wipes away are the tears like a child who is brought from sorrow to joy and the linger on the face of the redeemed.
I realize there is a lot going on in the passage and I am sure some of this is as clear as mud, but we must remember apocalyptic writing is not intended to be crystal clear. There are a lot of symbols, metaphors, and numbers that may have been easily understood to the churches John is writing, but only raise more questions for us today. All of this is ok, because I do not believe Revelation is intended to be a roadmap or screenplay for the end of the world. It has a much larger purpose and that is to show that God is sovereign, He keeps his promises, and He is worthy of all worship, honor, and praise. I think we would all do ourselves a favor if we would look at the text from a different perspective other than judgment, damnation, and hellfire. Instead, look at it as God’s promise to be our hope and salvation. It should also spur us to be proactive in being the light of Christ in this world and to be people of prayer as we intercede for loved ones to come and know our God who delights in showing grace, mercy, and compassion to all who openly receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ and live out their faith in Christ in this dark world and bring glory, honor, and praise to the Lamb who was slain for our iniquities and rose as the victorious Lion so that all who believe will receive the promise of life everlasting.
 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 157.
 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 158.
 Craig R. Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 92.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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