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C. Supplementary revelation of salvation in the Great Tribulation ch. 7
God led John to record what he saw between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals to explain how God would be merciful during this period of judgment. Wiersbe divided chapters 6-7 into three parts: retribution (Revelation 6:1-8), response (Revelation 6:8-17), and redemption (ch. 7). [Note: Wiersbe, 2:587.] John received two new visions that corrected the possible impression that no one would survive the "beginning of birth-pangs" (Revelation 6:17). God will deliver two groups of people during the first half of the Tribulation (cf. Matthew 24:14). He will preserve 144,000 Israelites alive on the earth, and He will take to heaven a multitude of people from all nations who will die then. John saw both groups in this chapter. It contrasts the security of believers in Jesus with the panic of unbelievers during the period just described (ch. 6). [Note: Swete, p. 95.] It also answers the question posed in Revelation 6:17: "Who is able to stand?" Furthermore it serves as a dramatic literary interlude delaying briefly the disclosure of what will follow in the seventh seal to heighten expectation.
The phrase "after this" (Gr. meta touto) indicates that what follows is a new vision (cf. Revelation 4:1). The general chronological progression of the visions suggests that the events John saw now will happen at the end of the first half of the Tribulation. What John saw in this vision supports that conclusion. [Note: Moffatt, 5:394.]
The angels described here were God’s agents (cf. Hebrews 1:14). They appear to be different from the four living creatures and the 24 elder-angels (if they are angels). Four of them received the task of keeping the wind from blowing. God stationed them at the four "corners" (i.e., compass points) of the earth for this purpose (cf. Revelation 20:8; Isaiah 11:12; Jeremiah 49:36; Matthew 24:31). The winds represent God’s judgments coming on the world (Revelation 7:3; cf. Jeremiah 49:36-38; Daniel 7:2; Hosea 13:15), specifically those about to follow during the remainder of the Tribulation (cf. Ezekiel 9:4-8). The threefold repetition of "four" probably stresses the universal control of these angels. [Note: Scott, p. 163; Smith, A Revelation . . ., p. 128.] We should probably understand the "sea" and any "tree" literally in view of what follows (cf. Revelation 7:3).
1. The sealing of 144,000 Israelites 7:1-8
The scene continues to be on earth.
Another (Gr. allon, another of the same kind) angelic messenger appeared in the East. In Scripture divine salvation often comes from the East (cf. Genesis 2:8; Ezekiel 43:2; Matthew 2:1). He possessed a seal from "the living God," the title adding solemnity and vitality to the seal. [Note: Alford, 4:623.] A seal was a symbol of ownership (2 Corinthians 1:22), authentication (John 6:27), and protection leading to final salvation (Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30). A signet ring typically made the distinctive impression on the seal in John’s day. [Note: Mounce, p. 167.] This seal is probably the name of the Lamb and His Father (cf. Revelation 14:1; Isaiah 44:5). The angel instructed the four angels to withhold their judgment on the earth until he had finished sealing God’s servants on their foreheads (cf. Ezekiel 9:4). The servants in view are believers in Jesus Christ (cf. Philippians 1:1, et al.) who are Jews (Revelation 7:4-8).
". . . they, like Saul [the apostle Paul], will be set apart to be God’s messengers to the Gentiles." [Note: Pentecost, Thy Kingdom . . ., p. 252.]
The seal could be visible (Ezekiel 9:4) or invisible (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30), but the mention of their foreheads suggests a visible seal (cf. Revelation 14:1). Some take the seal as a metaphor of salvation. [Note: E.g., Beale, p. 410.]
"It was not uncommon for a soldier or a guild member to receive such a mark as a religious devotee. The mark was a sign of consecration to deity . . . The forehead was chosen because it was the most conspicuous, the most noble, and the part by which a person is usually identified . . ." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 473. Cf. Lange, p. 189.]
Their sealing marks these believers off as God’s redeemed people and guarantees their protection from divine judgment while they carry out their service for God on the earth during the Great Tribulation (Revelation 14:1; Revelation 14:3-4; cf. Revelation 13:16-18; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30). Their seals may not protect them from harm that other people inflict on them (cf. Revelation 13:7; Revelation 13:15; Revelation 20:4) but from the divine judgments sent on unbelievers in the last half of the Tribulation (cf. Revelation 16:2). Evidently God will give these 144,000 believers special protection in the last half of the Tribulation because its calamities will be much more severe than those in the first half. Antichrist will also mark his followers in a similar way (Revelation 13:16-18; Revelation 14:9; Revelation 14:11; Revelation 16:2; Revelation 19:20).
The specific references to Israel and the names of the 12 Israelite tribes strongly suggest that the nation of Israel is in view rather than the church. [Note: For a discussion of the accuracy of the number 144,000, see Christopher R. Smith, "The Tribes of Revelation 7 and the Literary Competence of John the Seer," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38:2 (June 1995):213-18.] Most posttribulationists and amillennialists believe the 144,000 are members of "spiritual Israel," a title of theirs for the church. [Note: E.g., Mounce, p. 168; Morris, p. 175; Beasley-Murray, p. 140; Ladd, p. 114-16; Swete, p. 99; and Beale, p. 413.] Gundry called them "’orthodox’ [though unconverted] Jews who will resist the seduction of the Antichrist." [Note: Gundry, p. 82.] He believed God will supernaturally keep them from dying during the Tribulation. He also believed they will accept Jesus Christ when He returns at the Second Coming, and they will populate the millennial kingdom. The problem with this view is that these witnesses appear to be believers in Jesus Christ. Many interpreters take the number 144,000 as symbolic of all God’s servants in the Tribulation. [Note: E.g., Johnson, pp. 463 and 481; and Ladd, p. 117.]
"Though admittedly ingenious, the case for symbolism is exegetically weak. The principal reason for the view is a predisposition to make the 144,000 into a group representative of the church with which no possible numerical connection exists. No justification can be found for understanding the simple statement of fact in Revelation 7:4 as a figure of speech. It is a definite number in contrast with the indefinite number of Revelation 7:9. If it is taken symbolically, no number in the book can be taken literally." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 474.]
God will deal with Israel as a nation in the future (cf. Romans 11). Though an Israelite may not know from which tribe he or she comes, or even that he or she is an Israelite, God does. God, or His angelic agent, will select each person for sealing.
There are at least 19 lists of Jacob’s sons in the Old Testament (Genesis 35:22-26; Genesis 46:8-25; Genesis 49:3-27; Exodus 1:2-5; Numbers 1:5-15; Numbers 2:3-31; Numbers 13:4-15; Numbers 26:4-51; Numbers 34:19-28; Deuteronomy 27:12-13; Deuteronomy 33:6-25; Joshua 13:7-22; Judges 5:12-18; 1 Chronicles 2:1 to 1 Chronicles 8:40; 1 Chronicles 12:24-37; 1 Chronicles 27:16-22; Ezekiel 48:1-7; Ezekiel 48:23-28; Ezekiel 48:31-34). Not one of them is the same as the list here.
The tribe of Judah was usually first in such lists, as it is here, due to the prophecies that it would lead the other tribes and that Messiah would come from Judah (Genesis 49:10; 1 Chronicles 2:3 to 1 Chronicles 4:43). "The lion that is from the tribe of Judah" is the Lamb (Revelation 5:5; cf. Revelation 6:16-17; Hebrews 7:13-14).
The tribe of Dan is absent in this list perhaps because that tribe was the first to establish idolatry in Israel (Judges 18:30; cf. 1 Kings 12:29-30). However the Danites will receive a portion of land in the Millennium (Ezekiel 48:1-2).
"Joseph" represents Ephraim (Revelation 7:8; cf. Revelation 7:6). Ephraim was also "notorious for . . . fickleness and proclivity to idol worship." [Note: Smith, A Revelation . . ., p. 130. Cf. Deuteronomy 29:18-21; Hosea 4:17.] Ephraim was the head of the Northern Kingdom of Israel that apostatized under King Jeroboam I’s leadership. Ephraim will also be in the millennial kingdom (Ezekiel 48:5). Perhaps Ephraim’s name does not appear in this list, though he is included in the reference to Joseph, to avoid the unpleasant connotations of his name. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 481.]
The listing of Manasseh’s name (Revelation 7:6) is unusual since his father Joseph’s name also appears. Perhaps this honors Manasseh’s faithfulness in contrast to Ephraim’s unfaithfulness.
References such as the one in this passage argue strongly for the continuance of Israel as a nation in the future and for God’s dealing with ethnic Jews again as His chosen people (cf. Romans 11). This is a major assertion of dispensational theology. Jehovah’s Witnesses or any other Gentiles who claim to be part of this group today fail to recognize that these witnesses will be the physical descendants of Jacob. When God seals them they will know their tribal roots. The sealing will take place after the Rapture.
The sealing of the 144,000 Jewish servants of God in the Tribulation raises the question of the Holy Spirit’s relationship to these believers. Will the Spirit baptize them? Evidently He will not since the baptizing work of the Spirit joins believers to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). The body of Christ (i.e., the church) will be in heaven during the Tribulation, not on earth. None of the references to the church in Revelation refer to its being on the earth during the Tribulation. The saints who are on the earth during the Tribulation and the great multitude of Revelation 7 are not the church. This implies that the church will not be on the earth during any part of the Tribulation. [Note: See Showers, Maranatha . . ., pp. 245-51.]
Will the Spirit indwell Tribulation saints? Probably He will not. In the church age Spirit indwelling takes place at the same instant as Spirit baptism, namely, at the moment of salvation (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13). The Spirit’s indwelling is probably unique to the church age as is His baptizing ministry. Probably the Holy Spirit will come upon and influence Tribulation saints as He did in Old Testament times. [Note: See John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, pp. 151, 230.] The sealing of these witnesses therefore probably indicates God’s special selection and protection of them during this time of unprecedented global catastrophes.
John next saw another vision (cf. Revelation 7:1; Revelation 4:1). This vision seems to reveal things happening in heaven at the same time as what John saw happening on earth in Revelation 7:1-8.
John saw an innumerable multitude of people in heaven before God’s throne. They came from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue on earth-Gentiles and Jews (cf. Revelation 5:9; Revelation 11:9; Revelation 13:7; Revelation 14:6; Revelation 17:15; Genesis 17:4-6; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 48:19). They stood clothed in white robes (flowing stoles, cf. Revelation 6:11) symbolic of their righteousness and purity (Revelation 7:14). This group appears to be the same as the one referred to earlier in Revelation 6:9-11 (cf. Revelation 7:14). These believers died either natural or violent deaths during the first half of the Tribulation. They have joined the angels in the heavenly throne-room that John saw previously (chs. 4-5; cf. Revelation 7:11). Now they hold palm branches symbolizing their victory and joy (cf. John 12:13). They are worshipping and serving God in heaven before the Millennium. Amillennialists typically view this group as including the whole church, including the last generation of Christians, in heaven. [Note: E.g., Charles, 1:202; Beale, pp. 426-30; and Beasley-Murray, p. 145.]
2. The salvation of the great multitude 7:9-17
There are a number of significant contrasts between the 144,000 and this great multitude that argue for two different groups even though some scholars have considered the two groups as one viewed from different perspectives. [Note: E.g., Beale, p. 424.] The number of the first group is not only smaller but definite whereas the number of the second group is larger and indefinite. People from the 12 tribes of Israel make up the first group, but people from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue compose the second. God prepares the first group for imminent peril on the earth, but the second group is victorious, secure, and at rest in heaven.
"This group, like the 144,000, is unhurt by the effects of God’s wrath, but for a different reason. They have at this point been removed from the earthly scene of the wrath and have no need of protective sealing. Someone might ask, ’Are the 144,000 the only ones who have maintained their composure under the first six seals?’ This vision responds to such a question negatively. A vast throng has turned to God during this period and have now passed into His immediate presence through death [cf. Revelation 6:8]." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 482.]
This pericope describes events transpiring in heaven.
"Without doubt it is one of the most exalted portrayals of the heavenly state to be found anywhere in Scripture." [Note: Mounce, p. 171.]
Together they praise God and the Lamb for their salvation, specifically their physical deliverance from the Tribulation scene and their consequent victory (cf. Revelation 12:10; Revelation 19:1). John never used "I save" (Gr. sozo) to denote salvation from sin, and it is questionable whether he ever used "salvation" (soteria) in this sense either. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 489-90.] Rather, he used it of other forms of deliverance. Probably the feast of Tabernacles is in the background of what John saw here (cf. Revelation 7:15). This multitude has entered into its rest, something that the feast of Tabernacles anticipated (cf. Deuteronomy 16:13-15; Nehemiah 8:15). The Jews also used palm branches in the celebration of this feast, which was a time of great joy.
Other angels, beside the four living beasts and the 24 elders, gathered around the throne. The angelic host assembled joined these Tribulation saints in prostrating themselves before God in worship (cf. Luke 15:8-10).
This is one of many doxologies in Revelation. "Blessing" or "praise" (Gr. eulogia) is what God deserves because of what he will do for these people (cf. Revelation 5:12-13). It is "that spontaneous act of thanks which men utter when they realize more vividly than ever before their happiness." [Note: R. H. Preston and A. T. Hanson, The Revelation of Saint John the Divine, p. 47.] "Glory" (doxa) is the honor due Him because of His good reputation, specifically for delivering them (cf. Revelation 1:6; Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:12-13; Revelation 19:1). [Note: W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 158.] "Wisdom" (sophia) is God’s infinite knowledge displayed in His plan of deliverance (cf. Revelation 5:12). "Thanksgiving" (eucharistia) literally means "well" and "to give freely," but it denotes an expression of gratitude for a favor rendered (Revelation 4:9). [Note: G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 190.] "Honor" or "esteem" (time) is what God deserves because He has planned and provided this salvation (Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:12-13). [Note: F. C. Jennings, Studies in Revelation, p. 230.] "Power" (dynamis) reflects God’s omnipotence that enables Him to overcome all opposition (Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:12; Revelation 19:1). "Might" or "strength" (ischys) refers to God’s inherent power that enabled Him to deliver this multitude from their enemies (Revelation 5:12). [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 491-92.] God is worthy of this worship throughout eternity. "Amen" underlines the truthfulness of this sevenfold ascription (cf. Revelation 5:13).
Occasionally in prophetic visions a dialogue takes place involving one of the characters in the vision and the person receiving it (cf. Jeremiah 1:11; Jeremiah 1:13; Amos 7:8; Amos 8:2; Zechariah 4:2; Zechariah 4:5). Here one of the elders asked John a question anticipating the question that was in John’s mind. This led to a clarification of the identity of the multitude in this vision (cf. Revelation 5:5; Joshua 9:8; Jonah 1:8).
John did not know the identity of these individuals, so the elder told him who they were. They are "those who are coming out from the great tribulation." Jesus coined the term "the Great Tribulation" (Matthew 24:15; Matthew 24:21) and identified it as the second half of Daniel’s seventieth week (Matthew 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20; cf. Daniel 9:27). Positioned as this vision is just before the midpoint of the Tribulation, before the Great Tribulation begins, the elder must have meant that this multitude came out of the Great Tribulation before it began. The Greek preposition ek ("out of") permits such an interpretation. Another possibility is that the elder meant that these saints came out during the Great Tribulation, which the Greek preposition allows but the placement of this vision between the sixth and seventh seals does not favor. A third view is that they departed after the Great Tribulation was complete. [Note: Rosenthal, p. 185.] This is unacceptable for two reasons. First, the Greek verb erchomenoi ("are coming") is a present participle indicating an ongoing departure. Second, this view makes an unwarranted distinction between the Great Tribulation and the outpouring of God’s wrath. God promised to keep Christians completely out of the Tribulation (Revelation 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; et al.), but these Tribulation saints come out of the first part of it while it is in progress. [Note: Smith, A Revelation . . ., p. 135.]
Washing their robes in the Lamb’s blood is a figure of speech for salvation (Revelation 22:14; cf. Zechariah 3:4-5). Another interpretation is that "washed their robes" is a figurative expression picturing that they had purified their deeds (Revelation 22:14; cf. Revelation 19:8). This would make the entire passage (Revelation 7:14-17) a description of faithful Tribulation saints instead of all Tribulation saints. The issue hinges on whether "robe" represents the believer’s garment of salvation or his good works here. Scripture uses "robe" both ways elsewhere. Since all the redeemed will eventually go into God’s presence, it seems unwarranted to limit this innumerable multitude to faithful saints. The fact that they died during the first half of the Tribulation does not necessarily mean that they were all martyrs who died for their testimony as believers. An amillennial interpretation is that this as a picture of all Christians who suffer in various ways for their faith. [Note: Beale, p. 433. See Richard Shalom Yates, "Studies on the Tribulation Saints," Bibliotheca Sacra 163:649 (January-March 2006)79-93; 163:650 (April-June 2006):215-33; 163:651 (July-September 2006):322-34, for a thorough study of Tribulation saints.]
"In modern thought, making anything white by washing it in blood is paradoxical and even shocking, but it was not so with John and those with an OT background. To them such washing denoted spiritual purity. Not just any blood would accomplish the cleansing. The blood of martyrs shed for the Lamb’s sake would not even do it. It had to be the blood of the Lamb’s great sacrifice to produce the whiteness (Revelation 1:5; Revelation 5:9; cf. Romans 3:25; Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Peter 1:19; 1 John 1:7) . . ." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 498.]
The en ("in") has instrumental force here; Christ’s blood is what made their robes white. Contrast Revelation 12:11 where dia ("because of") expresses the means of victory, namely, His blood and their faithfulness. Blood is a metaphor for violent death.
These saints are in God’s presence because they have believed in Jesus Christ and have died in the first half of the Tribulation. Evidently they will have intermediate bodies until their resurrections (cf. Matthew 17:1-3; Luke 16:19-25; Revelation 6:9-11). This appears to be the condition of Christians who die before the Rapture too (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:2-3). These Tribulation saints will serve God continually in His present heavenly sanctuary. There will be no temple in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:22), so what John saw here was not a vision of the new Jerusalem. God will protect them and share fellowship with them there. The elder’s description of God spreading His tabernacle over them recalls Old Testament instances of God dwelling among and protecting His people (cf. Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 40:34-38; 2 Chronicles 7:1-3) and His promises to do so (cf. Leviticus 26:11-12; Isaiah 4:5-6; Ezekiel 37:27; Zechariah 2:10-11; Zechariah 8:3; Zechariah 8:8; cf. Revelation 13:6; Revelation 21:3).
They will no longer experience the privations and discomforts of their earthly existence (cf. Isaiah 49:10, LXX; John 4:14; John 6:35; John 7:37). The Lamb, now seen standing before the middle of the throne, will provide for them as a good shepherd takes care of his sheep (cf. Psalms 23:1-4; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:23; John 10:11; John 10:14; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 5:2-4). He will refresh them as well as protect them (cf. Exodus 15:13; Deuteronomy 1:33; Psalms 5:11-12; Psalms 85:11; John 16:13). The Lamb will lead these sheep to God who is the fountain of life (Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:1; Revelation 22:17; cf. Psalms 35:10; John 4:12; John 4:14; John 7:38-39). As a loving parent, he will wipe away the tears they shed because of their sufferings (cf. Revelation 21:4).
"The ultimate fulfillment of these seven promises (Revelation 7:15-17) will come in the eternal state described more fully in Revelation 21-22, but John’s ’snapshot’ of the innumerable multitude catches them in heaven at a point just before the beginning of the last half of the seven years of Daniel’s seventieth week." [Note: Ibid., p. 504.]
"While each of the seven rewards contains some aspect of literal fulfillment, each one also figuratively pictures God’s pledge to be present with Tribulation saints to protect, shepherd, and comfort them in the eternal state (Revelation 7:15-17). These rewards are also promised for today’s believers in order to encourage them to be faithful (Revelation 21:1-5)." [Note: Yates, p. 333.]
The location of this revelation in the context of John’s visions is significant. It strongly argues for these two groups, the 144,000 living Jewish believers and the multitude of dead believers, existing during the Tribulation after Christians have gone to heaven at the Rapture. God will save multitudes of people during this time. It will be harder for all people to believe the gospel after the Rapture than it is now. However it may not be impossible for people who have rejected it before the Rapture to believe it from then on (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
|The Literary Structure of Chapters 6-18|
(Revelation 10:1 to Revelation 11:14)
(Revelation 11:15 to Revelation 16:21)
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20