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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books
Revelation 7

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-17

Chapter Seven The 144,000 And The Multitude Of Gentiles

In the last chapter we were occupied with the first half of the seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy: “the beginning of sorrows” when “the wrath of the Lamb” will be poured out on guilty Christendom and apostate Judaism. All this is yet in the future. Now we find that before the Lord gave John the vision of the opening of the seventh seal (which introduces the great tribulation in all its intensity), He gave him this parenthetic seventh chapter in which are recorded two important visions. In the first, John sees a hundred and forty-four thousand Israelites sealed by an angel. In the second, he beholds a great multitude of Gentiles, led in triumph by the Lamb, taking possession of the millennial earth.

I am sure that many readers have often been perplexed by conflicting theories regarding the hundred and forty-four thousand. The way in which so many unscriptural sects arrogate to themselves this title would be amusing if it were not so sad. The Seventh-Day Adventists apply it to the faithful of their communion, who will be found observing the Jewish sabbath at the Lord’s return. They suppose that these will be raptured when the Lord descends and judgment is poured out on the rest of the church. Then we have the followers of Charles Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses) who teach that the hundred and forty-four thousand include only the “overcomers” of their persuasion who continue faithful to the end, following the teaching of the system commonly called “Millennial Dawnism.” Another cult also claims that the hundred and forty-four thousand are those who will have their blood so cleansed that they cannot die, but will have immortal life on this earth! There are many other sects whose leaders claim that their own followers will be the hundred and forty-four thousand sealed ones at the time of the end. All of these, however, overlook a very simple fact that, if observed, would save them from their error. The hundred and forty-four thousand are composed of twelve thousand from each tribe of the children of Israel. There is not a Gentile among them, nor is there confusion as to tribe. Whenever I meet people who tell me they belong to the hundred and forty-four thousand, I always ask them, “Which tribe, please?” They are invariably confused for lack of an answer.

The Sealed Israelites (Revelation 7:1-8)

John saw “four angels [four is the world number] standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree” (1). In Daniel’s vision, as recorded in the seventh chapter of his prophecy, he beholds “the four winds of the heaven” striving on the great sea. As a result you have the various world empires coming forth like wild beasts from beneath the restless waves. Here we have the angels holding back these four winds until a certain event takes place. It is very evident that they are restraining the last wild beast from making his appearance. In Revelation 13, the beast with seven heads and ten horns-the Roman Empire in its final form- comes forth from the sea, symbolizing the nations in unrest. This is the great federation of nations which God’s Word predicts for the very near future. It is a federation of Satanic origin, which will not be developed until after the church is gone. Even then certain events must transpire before it assumes its final diabolical form.

Verses 2-3 make clear what this event is that must first take place. John saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: “and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads” (2-3). The point is that God has chosen a remnant of Israel to inherit the kingdom under the Son of man, which is so soon to be established. Before the final form of the Roman Empire is fully developed, these are sealed, marked out for God’s protecting care. So all the power of the beast and all the hatred of his ally the antichrist will not be able to destroy them and thus prevent the carrying out of God’s purpose.

Verses four to eight leave no doubt as to the identity of these sealed ones. John “heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.” As you go over the list note that the tribe of Dan is absent. Instead you have two tribes from Joseph-Manasseh and Ephraim. Ephraim, however, bears Joseph’s name. Why is Dan omitted from the twelve and the twelfth made up in another way? I cannot positively tell you. The rabbis used to say that the false messiah (the antichrist) would arise from Dan. They based the supposition on Jacob’s words in Genesis 49:17: “Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.” We note from the historical record in the book of Judges, that Dan was the first tribe to go into idolatry. It would not be surprising if Dan would be the leader in the last great idolatry-the worship of antichrist. But we may leave this where faith leaves every other difficulty-resting in the infinite wisdom of God and knowing that He has revealed all that is necessary for us to know in the present age.

The balance of the chapter brings before us an entirely different company.

The Gentile Multitude (Revelation 7:9-17)

It seems very strange that some have taught that in this great multitude we have the raptured church. They have supposed that the Lord would not come for His church until the middle of the tribulation period. But a careful study of the passage makes it very evident that we are gazing here on an earthly, not a heavenly, company. This great multitude embraces the Gentile nations who will enter into millennial blessing. It is the great ingathering of the coming dispensation. From all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, a vast throng from all parts of the earth will be redeemed to God by the blood of the Lamb and will enter into the earthly kingdom of our Lord. During the dark days of the great tribulation they will heed the testimony which will be carried to the ends of the earth by Jewish missionaries. These wise among the people will instruct many in righteousness (see Daniel 12). They are identical with the “sheep” of Matthew 25, who are placed on the right hand of the Son of man when He comes in His glory and all His holy angels with Him. They will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the earth.

Verse 14 says these people “came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” But nowhere does it say they are taken away to Heaven- quite the contrary. They are in a scene where it is necessary for the Lamb to feed them, lead them, and spread His tabernacle over them. Verse 15 plainly tells us: “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple”-that is, the millennial temple, which is to be built in the land in that coming day. There will be no day and night in Heaven. The expression can only refer, in this connection, to the temple on earth. Then we read, “He who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence” (rsv). The reference is undoubtedly to the Lord’s covering His people when He led them through the wilderness. The pillar of cloud by day and fire by night not only guided them through the wilderness but sheltered them from the fierce rays of the desert sun. Thus will He protect and shield His redeemed ones in the age to come.

We are also told that “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (16-17). It is probably because people have not realized the blessedness of the millennial day that these verses are made to refer to Heaven. But they agree with the prediction of Isaiah and other prophets, in regard to the blessing that the saved nations will enjoy when the Lamb Himself reigns. The struggle for daily bread will be over-they will hunger no more; the often vain effort to quench their thirst will be at an end-they will thirst no more. Even the unpleasant and disagreeable things with which men have been afflicted because of the way sin has jarred God’s creation will be at an end. The sun will not light on them, nor any heat.

In that day all the saved of the nations will be able to take up, in the fullest sense, the beautiful words of the Psalmist, which we only feebly enter into now: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalms 23:1-3).

The church of God will be in a far better scene. While our hope is heavenly, not earthly, we can indeed rejoice to think of the blessing awaiting the earth and its inhabitants. God has promised it and will fulfill all that He has caused to be written by His holy prophets in the sacred Scriptures, for “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

What a long, dreary night, with frightful nightmares this world has known, since sin and its attendant evils came in to wreck man’s hopes of joy and gladness! But how precious to know that evil will not always have the upper hand. A time is coming when the curse will be lifted. The desert will rejoice and blossom like the rose and even the lower creation will be changed and revert to former habits before sin entered. “The lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 11:7). The little child need not fear the most savage of beasts, for they will not hurt nor destroy in that day. Then government will be righteously regulated and abuses of every kind will be stopped. For a thousand glorious years our Lord Himself will reign in righteousness.

I wish to impress on both saved and unsaved this one thing: Whether in dispensations past, in the present age, in the period of judgment, or in that glorious millennial age, every one who is saved at all will be saved through the precious blood of Christ. God has never had any other way of reconciling man to Himself than through the blood of His Son. In Old Testament times, men were saved, if I may say, on credit. The Lord Jesus Christ had already pledged Himself to pay the fearful debt with His own most precious blood. In every dispensation, all who owned their guilt and believed the record God had given were justified by faith on the basis of the work that Christ was yet to accomplish. That work having now been completed, God has demonstrated His righteousness by passing over these sins done in the days of His forbearance. Now He shows Himself to be just and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus. Dear unsaved one, if you confess your guilt and put your heart’s trust in that blessed One, who on Calvary’s cross gave Himself for you, then you will be justified and accepted with God in all the value of that precious blood. In the coming hour of tribulation, the hundred and forty-four thousand of Israel and all the Gentiles who receive their message will be saved in exactly the same way; but they will be saved for earth, not for Heaven. To the very end of the millennium, that precious blood will still have the same cleansing effectiveness. The last soul who trusts in Christ will have an unimpeachable standing before the throne of God through its infinite value.

So all blessing for time and eternity rests on the cross of Christ. The reason the nations have missed their way in the past nineteen hundred years, and are struggling in vain for peace and a government in righteousness, is because they have ignored the blood of that cross. There alone, peace was made both in relation to time and eternity.

And now in closing, let me emphasize one thing that I believe needs to be emphasized in these days. I have run across the error in many books on the coming of the Lord that after the rapture of the church there will be a great revival; during this unprecedented spiritual awakening in Christendom, vast numbers of people who have been undecided during the present dispensation of grace will turn to the Lord. It is being widely taught that these will form the great multitude of which we have been speaking. Let me say that I have searched my Bible diligently for any confirmation of such teaching, but I fail to find it. On the contrary, we are distinctly told in 2 Thessalonians 2:10 that God is going to give up those who, during the present age, do not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved. They will be given up to hardness of heart and perversity of spirit. We read in verses 11-12, “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Now, there is no intimation here that people who refuse the gospel in this dispensation will have another opportunity to be saved if they are still living when the dispensation of judgment begins. A careful reading of the entire passage will show that the time referred to is when the mystery of iniquity is fully developed and the wicked one revealed-that is, the man of sin. In that age, the Holy Spirit will have been withdrawn. He will go up with the church at the Lord’s return to the air.

This is not to say that the Holy Spirit will not act during the tribulation period, but His operations will be similar to His activities in Old Testament times. From Heaven He will influence the hearts of men, opening the eyes of the remnant of Israel, and through them reach an innumerable multitude of Gentiles. But there is no promise that He will operate for blessing on the hearts of those who have had the opportunity to be saved and have refused it. They will be given up to the strong delusion of the last days. They will believe the lie of the antichrist. Consequently they will go into judgment because they deliberately refused the truth when it was offered to them, choosing instead error and sin.

It is a very solemn thing to harden one’s heart against God and His message of grace. Pharaoh is the standing example of what strong delusion really means. He hardened himself against the message that Moses brought, and afterwards God Himself confirmed him in his course. Light rejected brings abiding night. Darkness may be natural: in this all are born. It may be willful: in this men deliberately choose darkness in place of light. It may be and often is, judicial: in this men are given up to darkness because of their own perversity. So we read in Jeremiah 13:16, “Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness.”

No man need be lost for lack of light. He who will follow the slightest gleam that God gives may be sure of increasing light and light sufficient to lead him to the knowledge of sins forgiven. But, I repeat, light rejected brings night! Therefore, let me plead with anyone who has not accepted God’s offer of grace in Christ Jesus. Receive now the gift of His love and be assured of a place with Christ in that coming day. For if the Lord should descend from Heaven to call His church away, you who have heard the gospel and are rejecting it, abiding in your sins, your doom will be eternally sealed.

In the neglected parts of the world where the gospel has not yet been fully proclaimed and the grace of God is as yet unknown, a vast number will receive the message of the Israelite remnant. As they flee from antichrist’s persecutions they will proclaim to all the world the gospel of the kingdom. But you will not be numbered among them if the coming of the Lord finds you still unsaved. You will be in exactly the same condition of soul and position of condemnation before God as if you had died in your sins. Jesus said, “When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door” (Luke 13:25)-who is there that shall open it? The five foolish virgins, left outside when the Bridegroom came, knocked in vain for admittance later. They picture those who will be on the wrong side of the door that will be closed for all eternity.

Yet, strangely enough, this very parable of the ten virgins has been used by certain teachers to support their unsound theory of a second chance for Christ-rejecters after the Savior calls His church away. These teachers say that the foolish virgins represent persons afterwards gathered in, but who miss the heavenly blessing. Others have based on this parable the equally unscriptural hypothesis that only the more spiritual saints will be caught up at the rapture; the weaker ones will be left behind to be purified during the great tribulation. This is a virtual denial of the truth of the unity of the body of Christ. The weakest member of that body is as dear to the Head as the strongest. All who are Christ’s will have their part in the rapture, irrespective of their more or less advanced stage in the Christian life. It is the perfection of the work of redemption that gives anyone the right to claim the promises of God. Salvation is not a reward for service or merit.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Revelation 7:4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/isn/revelation-7.html. 1914.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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