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Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the Bible

Revelation 7

Revelation 6:1-17

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4NKJVNRSVTEVNJB
The SealsFirst Seal: the ConquerorThe Opening of the First Six SealsThe SealsThe Lamb Breaks the Seven Seals
Revelation 6:1-2Revelation 6:1-2Revelation 6:1-2Revelation 6:1-2Revelation 6:1-2
Second Seal: Conflict on Earth
Revelation 6:3-4Revelation 6:3-4Revelation 6:3-4Revelation 6:3-4Revelation 6:3-4
Third Seal: Scarcity on Earth
Revelation 6:5-6Revelation 6:5-6Revelation 6:5-6Revelation 6:5-6Revelation 6:5-6
Fourth Seal: Widespread Death on Earth
Revelation 6:7-8Revelation 6:7-8Revelation 6:7-8Revelation 6:7-8Revelation 6:7-8
Fifth Seal: The Cry of the Martyrs
Revelation 6:9-11Revelation 6:9-11Revelation 6:9-11Revelation 6:9-11Revelation 6:9-11
Sixth Seal: Cosmic Disturbances
Revelation 6:12-17Revelation 6:12-17Revelation 6:12-17Revelation 6:12-17Revelation 6:12-17
The 144,000 of Israel SealedThe Sealed of IsraelAn InterludeThe 144,000 People of IsraelGod's Servants will be Preserved
Revelation 7:1-8Revelation 7:1-8Revelation 7:1-8Revelation 7:1-8Revelation 7:1-8
The Multitude from Every NationA Multitude from the Great TribulationThe Enormous CrowdThe Rewarding of the Saints
Revelation 7:9-12Revelation 7:9-17Revelation 7:9-12Revelation 7:9-12Revelation 7:9-12
Revelation 7:13-17Revelation 7:13-17Revelation 7:13Revelation 7:13-17
Revelation 7:14a
Revelation 7:14-17

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This section relates contextually to chapters 4 and 5. Chapters 4 and 5 describe events in heaven, while Revelation 6:1-1 describes the unfolding judgments of God on the earth. As a matter of fact, Revelation 4:1-21 forms one literary unit.

B. The identity of the first rider (cf. Revelation 6:2) is difficult, but assuming it is a symbol of evil, the four riders are symbolic of the persecutions believers face in a fallen, hostile world (cf. Matthew 24:6-7). The term "tribulation" (thlipsis) is used consistently and solely of the persecution of Christians by unbelievers.

The sixth seal beginning in Revelation 6:12 describes God's wrath on unbelievers. Believers are exempt from the wrath (orgç, cf. Revelation 6:16) of God, but they do face the persecution and rage of the unbelieving world.

C. There are three major interpretive problems in this section.

1. how do the seals, trumpets, and bowls relate to each other in history

2. who are the 144,000 of Revelation 7:4 and how do they relate to the second group mentioned in Revelation 7:9

3. to which period of tribulation and which type of tribulation does the group in Revelation 7:14 refer

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Who are the 144,000? Explain your answer from the text of Revelation.

2. How do the 144,000 relate to the large group in Revelation 7:9?

3. Why are these symbols so hard for us to interpret?

4. What is the major thrust of chapters 6 and 7?

5. What is meant when it is said that chapter 7 is an interlude? Where are other interludes found in the book?

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 7:1-3 1After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. 2And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads."

Revelation 7:1 "I saw four angels. . .standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth" In OT number symbolism, four referred to the whole earth (cf. Isaiah 11:12; Jeremiah 49:36; Daniel 7:2; Zechariah 1:8; Zechariah 6:1, Zechariah 6:5; Matthew 24:31, see Special Topic at Revelation 1:4).

There have been several interpretations of these four winds.

1. the rabbis viewed the quarterly winds as evil (cf. Acts 27:14)

2. some refer it to the evil winds or possibly the judgments of God of Jeremiah 49:36 and Daniel 7:2

3. some see it as an allusion to the number four in Zechariah 1:8 and Revelation 6:5, where the four horsemen and four chariots are servants of God throughout the world (cf. Matthew 24:31)

"no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree" This, like Revelation 6:6 and 8, shows a limited judgment (cf. Revelation 7:3; Revelation 9:4).

Revelation 7:2 "saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun" The east (sun) was a symbol of life, health, or a new day.

"having the seal of the living God" God's seal is referred to again in Revelation 7:4 and 14:1 and probably Revelation 22:4. Satan's seal is mentioned in Revelation 13:16; Revelation 14:9; and Revelation 20:4. The purpose of this seal is to identify God's people so that the wrath of God will not affect them. Satan's seal identifies his people, who are the object of God's wrath.

In Revelation "tribulation" (i.e., thlipsis) is always unbelievers persecuting believers, while wrath/anger (i.e., orgç or thumos) is always God's judgment on unbelievers so that they might repent and turn to faith in Christ. This positive purpose of judgment can be seen in covenant curses/blessings of Deuteronomy 27-28.

The phrase "the living God" is a word play on the title YHWH (cf. Exodus 3:14; Psalms 42:4; Psalms 84:2; Matthew 16:16, see Special Topic at Revelation 1:8). This same word play is often found in biblical oaths, "as the Lord lives."

SPECIAL TOPIC: SEAL

"the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea" This is an aorist passive indicative. God is in control of the judgments on the earth and unbelievers. His limits on judgment have two purposes:

1. that believers will not be hurt by them

2. that unbelievers might repent, call upon His name, and give Him glory (cf. Revelation 9:20-21; Revelation 14:6-7; Revelation 16:9, Revelation 16:11; Revelation 21:7; Revelation 22:17)

Revelation 7:3 "until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads" This is an allusion to Ezekiel 9:4, Ezekiel 9:6 (cf. Revelation 9:4; Revelation 14:1). The opposite of this sealing is Satan's sealing, the mark of the beast (cf. Revelation 13:16, Revelation 13:17; Revelation 14:9, Revelation 14:11; Revelation 16:2; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:4).

Verse 4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 7:4 4And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

Revelation 7:4 "one hundred and forty-four thousand" This same mysterious group is mentioned in Revelation 14:1, Revelation 14:3. There has been much discussion about this number and who it represents. This number is symbolic, not literal, for the following reasons.

1. the number itself is a round number and all the tribes have an equal number (which they never did in the OT)

2. the number is a multiple of twelve which is the biblical number of organization (or possible the people of God) and ten, which is the biblical number of completion (see Special Topic at Revelation 1:4)

3. chapter 7 is in apocalyptic language

4. the list of the tribes of Israel is slightly altered (Dan is omitted, and Ephraim is replaced by Joseph). A Jew would know that it was not meant to be taken literally.

Some of the possible interpretations of this group have been:

1. that it is literally end-time believing Israel (cf. Zechariah 12:10)

2. that it is those newly-converted believers present after the secret rapture of the Church

3. that it is the believing Jewish remnant (cf. Romans 11:0)

4. that it is a title for the NT Church (cf. Revelation 1:6)

The sealing is not limited in Revelation to one group, but represents God's ownership and protection of His people (cf. Revelation 2:20; Revelation 11:18; Revelation 19:2, Revelation 19:5; 22:36). Satan seals all of his followers (cf. Revelation 13:16, Revelation 13:17; Revelation 14:9, Revelation 14:11; Revelation 16:2; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:4), mimicking God (cf. Revelation 3:12; Revelation 7:3; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 22:4).

The NT often describes the Church in terms which were used of Israel (cf. Romans 2:28-29; Romans 4:11; Romans 9:6, Romans 9:8; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:3) and particularly in the book of the Revelation where in Revelation 1:6 the Church is addressed by a title used of Israel in Exodus 19:4-6 (cf. 1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9). In the books of James (cf. Revelation 1:1) and 1 Peter (cf. Revelation 1:1) the Church is also described as the "Diaspora," the name for scattered Jews who were not living in Palestine.

It seems best to me at this point in my study of this book to identify the 144,000 in Revelation 7:4 and "the great multitude" of Revelation 7:9 as the NT people of Godthose who trust Christ, but viewed in two different senses (believing Jews and believing Gentiles).

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE NUMBER TWELVE

Verses 5-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 7:5-8 5from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.

Revelation 7:5 "from the tribe of Judah" The list of tribes in Revelation 7:5 does not agree with any of the twenty-plus lists found in the OT. It especially does not agree with Ezekiel 48:2-7, which lists the eschatological people of God. Dan is omitted, Judah is listed first, Ephraim is left out, but Joseph is listed in its place and Levi is included with the other tribes. Any Jew would recognize that this list is irregular and meant to be taken symbolically.

F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p. 139, mentions that the reason the tribe of Dan was omitted from the list in Church tradition goes back to Irenaeus' interpretation of Jeremiah 8:16 in the Septuagint. It reads:

"We shall hear the neighing of his swift horses out of Dan: the whole land quaked at the sound of the neighing of his horses; and he shall come, and devour the land and the fulness of it; the city, and they that dwell in it."

Irenaeus saw the coming Antichrist as coming out of the tribe of Dan. This is mere speculation, not exegesis!

Verses 9-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 7:9-12 9After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying, "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen."

Revelation 7:9 The great multitude mentioned in this verse is obviously different from the one hundred forty-four thousand which are mentioned in Revelation 7:4. As the first group came from different tribes of Israel, this group comes from every tribe of the earth. It seems that these two groups represent the same group of people in two different senses. If Revelation 7:1-8 refer to believing Jews, then Revelation 7:9 refers to the people of God of all people groups (cf. Revelation 5:9; Revelation 11:9; Revelation 13:7; Revelation 14:6; Revelation 17:15).

However, the fact that they are said to (1) have come out of the great tribulation (cf. Revelation 7:14); (2) were standing before the throne (cf. Revelation 7:9); and (3) they have white robes (cf. Revelation 6:11) may identify them as the complete number of martyrs (cf. Revelation 6:11; Revelation 17:6; Revelation 18:24; Revelation 19:2; Revelation 20:4).

"which no one could count" This may be an allusion to the promises to Abraham of abundant descendants.

1. dust of the earth Genesis 13:16; Genesis 28:14; Numbers 23:10

2. stars of heaven Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:17; Genesis 26:4; Deuteronomy 1:10

3. sand on the seashore Genesis 22:17; Genesis 32:12

4. a general statement Genesis 16:10

"palm branches were in their hands" Some try to identify this with Leviticus 23:40 or Nehemiah 8:15 as a sign of joy and triumph. Others relate it to the rituals of the Feast of Passover as in John 12:13 and still others, because this passage is linked to the Wilderness Wandering Period (cf. Revelation 7:15-16), with the Feast of Tabernacles. The palm branches may simply be a symbol of victory.

Revelation 7:10 "Salvation to our God" This is the normal Greek term for "salvation" (sôteria from sôzô), but it may be used in the sense of "victory" (NEB) or "have completely overcome." Therefore, it could refer to (1) deliverance from the problems of life on earth or (2) spiritual, eternal salvation. The OT term (yasha) meant physical deliverance (cf. James 5:15). This same term is used in a series of blessings to God three times in Revelation (cf. Revelation 7:10; Revelation 12:10; Revelation 19:1).

"and to the Lamb" Notice that the Messiah is blessed in the same way as YHWH. This stresses the divine essence of the Son.

Revelation 7:11 Notice that several groups are differentiated.

1. the angels

2. the elders

3. the four living creatures

These groups are all connected to the throne room of God in heaven. They are separate from the 144,000 and the great multitude.

For "the elders" see SPECIAL TOPIC: ELDER at Revelation 4:4.

Revelation 7:12 "saying" Notice the sevenfold blessing to God (and Messiah, cf. Revelation 7:10), which is similar to the sevenfold blessing of the slain lamb of Revelation 5:12.

"Amen" Notice how it starts and concludes the blessing. See Special Topic at Revelation 1:6.

Verses 13-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 7:13-17 13Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?" 14I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. 16They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."

Revelation 7:14 "I said to him, 'My Lord, you know'" This is a common human response to angelic messengers (cf. Zechariah 4:5, Zechariah 4:13; Daniel 10:16), which reinforces the identification of the elders with a group of angelic beings.

Apocalyptic literature is characterized by angelic mediation and interpretation. These interpretations become crucial (as are the choir's songs) in defining and understanding the symbolic language.

"these are the ones who come out of the great tribulation" This is a present participle and is an allusion to the persecuted churches in John's day (cf. Revelation 1:9; Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:10, Revelation 2:22). However, it is obvious that the historical allusions in the Revelation address the persecution of the saints in every age and also point to an end-time intensification of persecution (cf. Daniel 12:1). This is related to

1. the persecution of God's children (cf. Matthew 24:21-22; Mark 13:19; 2 Thessalonians 2:3ff; Revelation 2:10; Daniel 12:1)

2. God's coming wrath on unbelievers (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9; Revelation 3:10; Revelation 6:17; Revelation 8:2ff; Revelation 16:1ff)

These problems, to some degree, have been associated with every age. Christians have often suffered in Jesus' name (cf. John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Romans 5:3; 1 Peter 4:12-16). Both of these events are often called the birth pangs of the new age of righteousness (cf. Mark 13:8 and the apocryphal book of II Baruch, chapters 25-30).

The Greek term thlipsis (tribulation) in Revelation is always used of believers' suffering persecution at the hands of unbelievers (cf. Revelation 1:9; Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:10, Revelation 2:22; Revelation 7:14). The Greek terms thumos (cf. Revelation 12:12; Revelation 14:8, Revelation 14:10, Revelation 14:19; Revelation 15:1, Revelation 15:7; Revelation 16:1; Revelation 18:3; Revelation 19:15) and orgç (cf. Revelation 6:16, Revelation 6:17; Revelation 11:18; Revelation 14:10; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 19:15) are always used of the Father's or the Son's wrath on rebellious, stubborn unbelievers.

As a theological aside, if the book was written to encourage believers going through tribulations, why do some interpreters insist on a secret rapture to spare some future generation of believers persecution? Persecution was the lot of most of the Church's first leaders, and every generation of believers. Why then should one future group be spared?

"they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" This apparently refers to martyrs who die for their faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation. What a striking metaphor of redemption (cf. Revelation 22:14)! This idea of cleansing by means of the sacrificial death of Christ can be seen in Romans 3:25; Romans 5:9; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19; and 1 John 1:7. The truth of the cross is often alluded to in Revelation (cf. Revelation 1:5; Revelation 5:12; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 14:4; Revelation 15:3; Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:9, Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:3).

Notice the combination of Christ's provision and mankind's need to respond to God's invitation. The covenantal aspect of both Testaments asserts God's initiation and provision, but the sovereign God has also chosen that fallen mankind must respond (cf. John 1:12; Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16, Acts 3:19; Acts 20:21; Romans 10:9-13).

Revelation 7:15-16 A future time of bliss and heavenly peace is described in OT terms. This is an allusion to the wilderness wandering period and the Tabernacle (cf. Exodus 40:34-38; Numbers 9:15-23). It is an additional allusion to the Shekinah cloud of glory, which symbolized God's presence with the people (cf. Isaiah 49:10; Matthew 5:6; John 4:14; John 6:35; John 7:37). This period of Israel's history was in reality a period of judgment. However, YHWH was never closer and more attentive than during this period of judgment. It is often referred to by the rabbis as YHWH and Israel's honeymoon.

Revelation 7:15 "they serve Him day and night" In the OT this referred to Levitical priests (cf. Psalms 134:1; 1 Chronicles 9:33). The access to God and the service of God has been expanded to (1) persecuted believers and (2) all believers. There is no longer a Jewish elite priesthood! All believers are priests (cf. 1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).

The phrase "day and night" is a metaphor for continuance. It is found several times in Revelation (cf. Revelation 4:8; Revelation 7:15; Revelation 12:10; Revelation 14:11; Revelation 20:10).

"in His temple" It is somewhat difficult to relate this passage (and Ezekiel 40-48) to Revelation 21:22 which says there will be no temple in heaven. Some try to make a distinction between a temporal millennial reign and the eternal reign. Obviously, the metaphors and time frame in this book are fluid. This may refer to the spiritual Tabernacle in heaven (cf. Hebrews 9:23).

"will spread His tabernacle over them" This is a verbal metaphor of God's dwelling intimately with His people. God's tent represents His permanent presence with His new people from every kindred and tribe. The initial purpose of the Garden of Eden is restored. Humanity is redeemed (cf. Genesis 3:15). Intimate fellowship with God is again possible (i.e., Genesis 3:8).

Revelation 7:16-17 These are blessings (from the OT) for all believers, not just martyrs.

Revelation 7:16 "they will hunger no more, nor thirst anymore" Verse Revelation 7:16 is an allusion to Isaiah 49:10-13. God's physical provisions are used as a symbol of God's spiritual provisions (cf. Matthew 5:6; John 4:14; John 6:35; John 7:37).

"nor will the sun beat down on them; nor any heat" This is an allusion to the shade provided by the Shekinah cloud of glory during the 38 year Wilderness Wandering Period (cf. Psalms 121:5-7).

Revelation 7:17 "for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd" This is an OT allusion to Ezekiel 34:23. Notice that the slain but risen Redeemer is the focal point of God's redemptive activity. The Good Shepherd of John 10:11 is now the Shepherd of all the sheep (cf. John 10:16).

"and will guide them to springs of the water of life" For desert people water has always been a symbol of abundance and life. This is an allusion to Isaiah 49:10 (cf. Psalms 23:2), which is repeated at the close of the book in Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:1.

"and God will wipe every tear from their eyes" This allusion is to the Messianic banquet and new city of God in Isaiah 25:6-9 (cf. Revelation 21:4). What a comfort this must have been to the persecuted believers of John's day and every age!

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Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Revelation 7". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/revelation-7.html. 2021.