Chapter 7

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Pattern Recognition in the Apocalypse

Chapter 7

The 144,000

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The 144,000

 

The interpretive crux of Rev 7 is the identity of the twelve tribes and the great multitude. Osborne  1    summarises the range of opinions as follows: 

 

“Are the [saints sealed on earth in 7:1-8 and the multitudes worshiping in heaven in 7:9-17] two distinct groups (Walvoord, Gundry, Glasson, Kraft, Thomas) or one and the same (Beckwith, Beasley-Murray, Sweet, Metzger, Chilton, Roloff, Lohse, Giesen, Beale, Aune, [LaVerdiere 1999: 546)? [p.302]...A sub-issue of this is whether the multitude of 7:9-17 should be restricted to martyrs (Caird, Harrington, Bauckham), extended to all Christians (R. Charles, Lohmeyer, Prigent, Beasley-Murray, Mounce, Aune), or perhaps be seen as the Gentiles gathered into the church (Farrer, Glasson, Kraft, Chilton, Geyser) [p.303].... Finally, the question must be raised as to whether these constitute believers of all ages (Beale 1999:416-23; Aune 1998a: 440-45) or just those of this final period of history (so Beasley-Murray 1978: 139-40). This must be answered by identifying the 144,000 in 7:1-8 (all believers or those in this final period) and asking how closely linked verses 1-8 and verses 9-17 are. I would agree with Mounce (1998: 154) that those sealed in verses 1-8 are then part of the multitude in verses 9-17, so that they constitute all believers of every age”. [p.303]

 

The 144,000   2    from the tribes of Israel and the great multitude are distinguished as two separate groups through the literary convention of visions and auditions – John “heard” the number of the 144,000 and “saw” the great multitude. In itself this indicates that the two groups are somehow different. Moreover, the 144,000 are numbered and the great multitude is without number –they cannot be counted.

 

This suggests that the 144,000 are a subset of the great multitude which is an as yet undisclosed number still to be realized. However, John “sees” and “hears” both groups as if he is dealing with a fait accompli even though certain aspects are still future.  Rev 7 seemingly contrasts faithful Jews and faithful gentiles (from many nations) and this is supported by the chiastic structure which has the great multitude as a parenthetical element that anticipates the preaching to the gentiles  3    encountered in Rev 10.7;

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chiasim

The chiastic structure commences with the sixth seal in Rev 6, traverses the seventh seal (which includes the trumpets, the Biblaridion interruption and chapters 12-13 ) and terminates in Rev 14 – it is a macro chiasm expanding over several chapters – beginning in the sixth seal with the question “Who can stand?”  (Before the throne) and ending with a depiction of the “firstfruits” standing before the throne in Rev 14.4-5. Margaret Barker  4    observes the following;

 

“Chapter 14 is based on a sequence of temple festivals: the 144,000 who are the ‘firstfruits’, the reaper on the white cloud and then the vintage of the earth. With the ‘frstfruits’ already gathered on Zion, the seer watches as angels emerge from the temple to harvest the earth. These scenes correspond to the annual sequence of temple festivals: the Passover, the Feast of Weeks and then the Offering of the New Wine [p.242]....The sequence of harvests and oracles, read in the light of Josephus, suggests that chapter 14 is an account of the last months in Jerusalem before the temple was burned, from Passover to 10th Ab in 70 CE”. [p.243]

 

The essential Jewish flavour of the context of the 144,000 in Rev 14 effectively rules out that Rev 7.1-8 is referencing Gentiles – especially Gentiles of a later age such as continuous historic interpreters are wont to propose, or to the evangelical end time “rapture” or to the Jehovah’s Witnesses assigning of their church elders to positions within the 144,000.

 

However, is it correct to make a distinction between Jews and Gentiles? The NT argues for the unity of the church and therefore the “New Israel” consists of Jews and Gentiles without distinction.  Osborne (Ad. Loc) comments;

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“In 21:12-14 the names of the twelve tribes are on the gates of the New Jerusalem and the names of the twelve apostles are on the foundations. There it signifies the unity of the OT and the NT people of God in the New Jerusalem. Throughout the book, the emphasis is on one group, the faithful overcomers, and they are linked inextricably with the believers in the seven churches of chapters 2-3, composed of Gentile (probably predominant) and Jewish Christians. Moreover, the NT as a whole has a great deal of material on the church as the new or true Israel. Jesus most likely chose twelve disciples to signify the righteous remnant embodying true Israel and promised that they would “sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). In Gal. 6:16 Paul says, “Peace and mercy to all who Follow this rule, even to the Israel of God” [p.311]……Three other passages demonstrate Paul’s view: Gal. 3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you Abraham’s seed”; Rom. 2:29; “a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly, and circumcision is circumcision of the heart by the Spirit”; and Phil. 3:3, “it is we who are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God.” Finally, Peter describes the church as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9) in terms drawn from Isa. 43:20; 61:6; and Deut. 28:9. It is probable that Rev.7:4-8 falls into this category, describing the church as a whole is the true Israel. The purpose here is to stress the perfect completeness of the whole (note ‘every tribe’) “number” of the persevering faithful in the church [p.312]….Another issue is whether these are the saints of the final period or the saints throughout history (again, see the introduction). Certainly the thrust of chapters 6 and 7 would favour that these are the believers of this final chapter in history, those who have refused to follow the beast”. [p.312]

 

Osborne and other commentators are certainly correct in pointing out the essential unity of the church (not differentiating between Jew and Gentile) a singular body that becomes the “New Israel” but in so doing they lose sight of the national element. The Olivet prophecy makes it clear that judgement must first begin with the nation of Israel – “your house” (the temple) left desolate (Matt 23.38). The question (even in the seven letters) was; “who were the true Jews?” –were true “Jews” followers of Christ (and this group of Jews also included Gentiles who were “Jews inwardly” cf. Rom 2.29) or were they followers of Moses (if they were followers of Moses they should also have been followers of Christ cf. John 5.46);   “Them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2.9).  

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Jesus had stood before Caiaphas and intimated that judgement was coming against the nation (and Caiaphas himself thought it expedient that one man should die to prevent the nation from perishing).  There is only one mother church and that church was in the first instance the nation of Israel who was the repository of the covenant promises and the ancestral home of the messiah. Within that nation there resided a remnant of faithful Jews -recipients of the, “new covenant.”

 

Initially, that remnant consisted of only twelve disciples but in John’s vision it has expanded to become a thousandfold the quadratic of twelve; symbolising the perfect Israel of God which is but a subset of an even greater multitude from “all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” (Rev 7.9).  The inclusion into the stock of Israel of Gentiles as an “in-grafted branch” began with Paul as an ongoing process, but first Israel would be judged (and this included the corrupt churches warned in Rev 2-3). The nation would be cast off and trampled by Gentiles (Rev 11.1-2) while the true Israel would be sealed and preserved.

 

This does not mean that all the sealed would survive the coming purge. Those in Jerusalem who heeded Christ’s warning would have survived; however, many had been previously martyred in the Nero pogrom. Therefore sealing did not always mean exemption from suffering or death but rather the winds of destruction were restrained until the “number” of the faithful was full. The sealing of the 144,000 in their “foreheads” (Rev 7.3) anticipates and contrasts with those who receive the mark of the beast in their foreheads (Rev 13.16). However, at this juncture (Rev 7) the beast worshipers have not yet been introduced. 

 

The judgement of Israel occurred in two stages and is a repeat pattern (as this exposition will demonstrate).  The first stage was the removal of the temple in 70 CE and the second stage occurred about 66 years later with Jerusalem becoming a Gentile city (in 135/6 CE).  The second stage was the Bar Kochba revolt; he was declared the messiah by the chief rabbi and he attempted to reintroduce temple worship. Jewish-Christians could not “buy or sell” without his coinage and were persecuted because they did not support his messianic claims, or his temple aspirations.

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Bar Kochba

The importance of the Kochba revolt will be clarified in the following chapters but the point is that the sealing of the 144,000 also anticipates the second judgement against Israel.  This can be represented diagrammatically as follows:

kochba

The above schema is an over simplification which will become apparent as the exposition progresses. For example, the kingdom does not arrive until the sounding of the seventh trump which obviously did not occur in the period 94-136 CE. Preaching to the Gentiles, witnessing and the persecution of the church occurred in the first century, however, it would be a mistake to understand the trumpets and the Biblaridion interlude as fully realized. Only a partial fulfilment is achieved in the first and second century with the pattern set to repeat at some future stage (including the witnessing). Only at that stage will the number of the faithful (Jews and Gentiles) be realized and the prophetic commission given to John (in Rev 10) be fulfilled.  Both Jewish wars are thematically linked by their judgement of temple worship. The temple is destroyed in 70 and the attempt to restore temple worship is thwarted in 132-136.

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So, the 144,000 that are sealed during the events leading up to the first Jewish War are seen as standing victorious with the Lamb on Mt Zion when Jerusalem is again judged during the Bar Kochba revolt. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes and this must mean that they represent the saints that are martyred during this period like those during the Nero persecution who are told that “they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled” (Rev 6.11).

 

There is every indication that the Nero persecution was a result of Jewish manipulation and it is therefore fitting that the number of the sealed faithful is heard before the first judgement against Judaism and is seen as standing victorious during the second judgement against the nation. The Jewish nation is judged and cast off and trampled by the Gentiles but faithful Jews (the firstfruits of the New Israel) are preserved (sealed). However, the 144,000 are but a subset of an even greater multitude from all nations that is yet to be revealed and that multitude only comes into existence because of the casting-away of the nation; but that casting away is not permanent as Paul indicates that their ingathering will mean life from the dead (Rom 11.15) which is the fulfilment of the seventh trumpet (Rev 11.18).

 

The appearance of the 144,000 on Mount Zion with the Lamb in Rev 14 has militant overtones (more on this anon) and echoes the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem when the Jewish multitude waved palms (Matt 21.9 cf. Rev 7.9) and cried out Hosanna (John 12.13 cf. Rev 7.10; “cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God”).  5     Thus the King enters Jerusalem in triumph because the city has been judged and the saints (many of whom have died) are depicted waving palms and singing Hosanna before the throne. This is obviously symbolic as is the number 144,000 but the intent is clear; the judgement of Jerusalem was a partial realization of the parousia – it vindicated Jewish-Christians and fulfilled the prophecy given by Jesus at his trial (Matt 26.64) and is repeated in Rev 1.7 (which is a conflation of Daniel and Zech). Particularly important is the phrase “and all the tribes of the earth shall wail because of him” (Rev 1.7) which is a reference to the tribes of Israel alluding to Zech 12.12-14. As noted by commentators such as Whittaker and Gentry  6     the use of “land” or “earth” in Revelation alludes to the land of Israel.  Gentry comments as follows;

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The Land (Earth) is Israel

 

In Revelation 7:1-8 we find an interesting temporary divine protection of “the land” (γῆ 7    where four angels are seen holding back the winds of destruction:

 

Then follows the sealing of the 144,000 from the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The language and the manner in which the whole thing is stated could hardly more distinctly imply that the Jewish nation was still existing, and occupying its own land, — a land exposed to some impending desolation, from which the sealed, the one hundred and forty-four thousand, were to be exempt. The twelve tribes are named, not with-standing so many of them had been lost, because the destruction revealed in connection with the sealing was to overtake the whole land of Judaea, once the inheritance of and partitioned among these twelve tribes. It was a destruction that was to overtake Judaea; thereforeJewish Christians are alone selected.  8    

 

Clearly the reference to the Twelve Tribes is to Christians (as noted previously), for: (1) God intervenes to protect them, and (2) they are called “bond-servants of our God.” Just as certainly may we under-stand that these are Christians of Jewish extraction, for: (1) they are in “the land” (v. 1, 2), and (2) they are contrasted with the “great multitude” from “every nation” who praise God (v.9). The designation “Twelve Tribes” is another common means by which to refer to “the tribes of the land” (cp. Rev. 1:7). Here, however, it is not the entirety of the Twelve Tribes that is protected (the whole race of Israel, as such), but only 144,000 of them, i.e., “the cream of the crop,” a perfect number,   9     those who have converted to Christ. Stuart presents a very logical question; “Why were these 144,000 designated by Jewish tribes?” His answer is most reasonable: it was because the pending destruction was threatened against Judea; “if not, why should Jewish Christians alone be here mentioned and selected?”  10    

 

The fact that an angel intervenes before they are destroyed in the land surely indicates the era prior to the final and total devastation of the land in A.D.70.  11    Were “the land” already destroyed (as it was in A.D.70), such a protection would have been embarrassingly anachronistic. While speaking in the Olivet Discourse of the destruction of the very Temple to which the disciples could physically point (i.e., “Herod’s Temple,” Matt. 24:1-2), Jesus warned His followers that they should flee Judea (24:16) when it was time for these things to come to pass (which occurred in A.D.70). He added further that they should accept His promise that these horrendous events would be cut short (24:22), and that he who endured to the end would be saved through it all (24:13). He also clearly taught that all of these things would happen to “this generation” (Matt.24:32). Indeed, this coming event was to be “the great tribulation” (Matt.24:21) – the very tribulation in which John finds himself enmeshed even as he writes (Rev. 1:9; 2:22; cp. 7:14).

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Citing Desprez’s [p.128] Gentry says;

 

The words ή γῆ   meaning, making it evident that no particular land is pointed out, but earth generally. . . .But the words in question are sometimes found qualified by governing considerations which define and determine their meaning, and this k always the case, when they are  found in connection with the governing clauses “they that dwell,” οἱ κατοικούντες. Then they have, and can have, only one meaning; then they refer only to one land and to one people, and this land and this people must be the land and the people of Judea.  12    

 

The significance of this translation of ή γη can be discerned from spiritual-cultural situations, such as noted by Edersheim: “For, to the Rabbis the precise limits of Palestine were chiefly interesting so far as they affected the religious obligations or privileges of a district. And in this respect the fact that a city was in heathen possession exercised a decisive influence. Thus the environs of Ascalon, the wall of Caesarea, and that of Acco, were reckoned within the boundaries of Palestine, though the cities themselves were not. Indeed, viewing the question from this point, Palestine was to the Rabbis simply ‘the land,’ all other countries being summed up under the designation of ‘outside the land.’”  13    

 

Osborne notes the retrospective nature of the vision;

 

The “four winds of heaven” there take their place in front of each of the chariot horses and lead them in the four directions of the compass. For this reason several (e.g., Farrer, Caird, Morris, Beasley-Murray, Johnson, Beale) believe that the four winds are identical with the four horsemen, a very real possibility in light of the retrospective look of this scene. This is further evidence that this scene occurs before the four horsemen of 6:1-8, during the days that they were kept back from their destructive mission until the saints could be sealed by God.  14    

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The Sealing

 

“And after these things I saw four angels 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. And I 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.”.(Rev 7.1-3)

 

The winds that blow upon the earth are based on the natural phenomenon of the Sirocco – a hot south –easterly wind like a furnace, which withered all vegetation. We have already observed the chariot winds of Zechariah 6.1-5. Nahum speaks of the Lord who has his way in the whirlwind (the Sirocco) and the storm (Nah.1.3) they are his chariots (Jer.4.13; Isa.66.15) and his breath (Job 37.9-10). The mountains are rent by it (1 Kings 19.11) and the grass withered (Isa.40.7, 24). It dries up the stream, the river and the sea (Nah 1.4; Ps 18.15).God would destroy his enemies as stubble before the wind (Ps 83.13) God’s day would be the day of the whirlwind (Amos 1.14), which in its fury falls on the head of the wicked (Jer. 23.19, 30.23). The Sirocco comes from the wilderness and destroys the fertility of the land (Hos. 13.15) – and finally the mighty wind (Rev 6.14) blows upon the house built on sand, and “great was the fall of it.” (Matt 7.27).

 

From what danger does the seal protect them, since clearly it does not protect them from a martyr’s death? (This is the implication of the fifth seal, they were told to rest until they were joined by their fellow martyrs). This is one question to which John supplies an unambiguous answer: The angel rising out of the east – where the Sun of Righteousness himself rises – tells the four restraining angels not to unleash the destructive winds until the sealing is affected. The sealing therefore must be protection from the disasters which the winds, who are the same agents as the four horsemen, are permitted to inflict upon the earth. Others may die in these disasters, but not the martyrs; not because their persons are inviolate, but because God has another more significant death in store for them. We are reminded of Jesus, confident in his immunity from any threat of Herod, because Jerusalem has first claim on the blood of God’s prophets (Luke 13.33) including that of the two witnesses, or that of Paul, assured that he cannot be allowed to die in a mere shipwreck, because God has determined that he should stand before Caesar (Acts 27.24). For the man who knows himself to be designated for martyrdom war, famine, pestilence and earthquake have no terrors.  15    

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The Twelve Tribes

 

“And I 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. Of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand.Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand.Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand .Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.”.(Rev 7.4-8)

 

Much has been written about the 144,000 and the order of the tribes, some commentators suggests that displacement has occurred. The order of the tribes, which would seem almost random to some, is determined in the first instance by birthright.

 

birth order

 

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Firstly we notice that Reuben has lost the right of the firstborn because he slept with his father’s concubine (Gen 49.3-4) Bilhah (Gen 35.22), and as a consequence the concubine tribes of Dan and Naphtali were demoted below the concubine tribes of Leah’s maid (with Dan being omitted altogether).  Simeon and Levi fell out of favour for killing a man in their anger (Gen 49.5-7) and it was the priests (Levites) and scribes (Simeonites) that conspired to put Jesus to death.  16      Their fall from grace demonstrates the demotion of the Law as a means of salvation. They are grouped with the other sons of Leah, but still have priority over them because of their birth order.

 

The tribe of Manasseh (Rachel’s firstborn grandchild – Gen 48.14) replaces Dan (the firstborn of Rachel’s maid) but, placed below the tribe of Naphtali, who has birth priority in the original list of children. Judah obtained overall priority of the tribes, not simply by default, but because of the love displayed towards his father in the matter of Benjamin. Having himself experienced the loss of sons (Gen 38.7-10) he demonstrated his love by offering himself as a hostage in Egypt (Gen 44.32-34) It was this change of character that caused Joseph to reveal himself to his brethren.

 

Similarly, Reuben was not relegated to the same depths as Simeon and Levi, for although he lost the primogeniture he redeemed himself by pleading for Joseph’s life (Gen.37. 21-22). In contrast, Simeon and Levi did not change their cruel behaviour, which was subsequently directed at their half–brother Joseph and eventually at Christ. As we have observed, the tribe of Dan is omitted altogether, and replaced with Manasseh another firstborn. Dan means judgment, and is not appropriate to the 144,000 who have been (or will be) redeemed.

 

Moreover the tribe of Dan failed in two aspects; (1) They were slothful (neglected) to take up their inheritance in the land; (2) They were the first tribe to introduce idolatry. The book of Proverbs says; “The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be put under tribute.” (Prov.12: 24) and also; “The slothful man catcheth not his prey (R.V.mg), but the substance of a diligent man is precious” (Prov. 12.27). The first reference is applicable to the tribe of Dan, and the latter to Esau. The tribe of Dan did not take up their inheritance and were put under tribute by the Amorites (Judges 1.34-35). In Judges 18.1, the Danites had still not taken up their inheritance, note especially verse 9, “Be not slothful to go, and to enter to posses the land.”  Esau also despised his inheritance, and because he was faint after his hunting expedition, he sold his birthright for a mess of red pottage (Gen 25.27-34).

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The promises, and blessings of the firstborn were, however, precious to Jacob (Jacob was diligent, and the substance of the promise precious to him). Those who despise the covenants and promises of God, embodied in his firstborn, will not obtain the inheritance. Dan was also the first tribe to introduce false religion – a graven image and a rival priesthood (Judges 18.30-31) that endured until the Babylonian captivity and this situation provided fertile ground for the apostasy of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had one of his golden calves installed in the territory of Dan. (1 Kings 12.28-33).

 

It is instructive to note that the rival priesthood was Levitical – Jonathan the son of Gershom the son of Moses (Judges.18.30). The Jews changed the name of Moses (MSS) to Manasseh (MNSSH) in the Masoretic text. One presumes that this was done in order not to tarnish the memory of Moses.  Manasseh means, “Forgetting my father’s house” (Gen.41.51), in a similar vein, the name of Dan is now replaced with that of Manasseh. Revelation makes it abundantly clear, that those Jews who worship the “graven image” (image of the beast. Rev 13.5) will find no place amongst the 144,000.

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The Great Multitude

 

“ After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands”.(Rev 7.9)

 

“In the multitude of the people is the kings’ honour” (Prov.14.28). God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be innumerable, “as the dust of the earth”, “as the stars of the sky”, or “as the sand of the sea” (Gen.13.1b; 15.15, 16.10), a promise repeated to Isaac (Gen 26.4) and to Jacob (Gen 28.14, 32.12). This promise is frequently repeated in later contexts (Exod. 32.13; Deut 1.10, 10.22; 28. 62; 2 Sam 17.11; 1 Kings 3.8, 4.20; Neh. 9.23; Isa 10.20, 48.19, 51.2, Hos. 1.10).  He was also promised that he would be the Father of many nations (Gen 17.4-6, 11.12) – this was indicated by his change of name from Abram to Abraham. This promise was also repeated to Isaac and Jacob (Gen 28.14, 32.12, 35.11, 48.19); “In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies (cf. Rev.1.18); and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen 22.17-18).

 

This promise was given to Abraham on Mt. Moriah, after his obedience to the call to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. On this mountain was the site of the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, which David purchased for the erection of the Temple. It has now been appropriated by the Muslims, who have erected their sanctuary, the, “dome of the rock” above this sacred place. Mt. Moriah is then, one of the prominences of Mt. Zion – the etymology suggests the meaning, “the vision of Yah”, and it was this place that Abraham named “Yahweh-Jireh” (22.14).

 

Once again the name implies that on this mountain, “The Lord will be seen” (R.V.mg. i.e. – his salvation will be seen or provided at this place). Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.” (John 8.56). Now the apostle John sees the outworking of that day.

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Rev 7 and 14 Genesis 22

And I  looked, and behold (14.1)

Yahweh – Jireh = The Lord will be seen (22.14)

 

A Lamb (14.1)

And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, behind him a ram. (22.13)

On Mt. Zion (14.1)

Mt. Moriah (22.2)

 

 

With him 144,000 (14.1)

I will multiply thy seed (22.17)

A great multitude which no man could number from all nations (7.4)

In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed (22.18)

 

 

This comparison confirms our belief that the two multitudes are distinct. We see in Rev 7 and 14 the fulfilment of the promises to the patriarchs. This was because; “I know that thou (Abraham) fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only, from me” (Gen 22.12). Similarly these martyrs had not withheld “their only” from him, for their very lives were sacrificed in faith, witnessing to Jesus, the beloved Son. The 144,000 are now joined to the “great multitude” for there is only one body in Christ. Here we have then the beginning of the vision of the future blessedness of the martyrs. They are now one with their “fellow servants and brethren” and have become part of the heavenly Jerusalem, encompassing old and new covenants, past, present and future – they have joined “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb 12.23), those, who, although they have not received the outworking of the promises, are nevertheless, “written in heaven.” John is setting out how infinitely worthwhile it is in the long run to accept everything in the martyrdom which faith must undergo. The great multitude is also found in Matthew 25: 31-37 – these parallels have been documented by H.A.W. (1989: 100) of his Revelation, and are worthwhile reproducing:  

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Rev 7.9,11,16,17 Matt 25.31,32,37

A great multitude out of all nations.

Before him shall be gathered all nations.

Before the throne, and before the Lamb.

Then shall he sit on the throne of his glory, and before him…

All the angels round about the throne.

All the holy angels with him.

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more.

I was hungered, and ye gave me meat…thirsty, and ye gave me drink.

The Lamb shall be their shepherd

As a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.

 

To these may be added v.10: “Salvation (Hosanna) to our God” and v.9: “palms in their hands” with their echoes of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – which, as already mentioned, was itself a “dress rehearsal” of the Second Coming ( Zech 9.9-11).  The palm branches of verse 9 also have associations with the Feast of Tabernacles.

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The Doxology

“ And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before. Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.”(Rev 7.10-12)

 

 

 

The doxology in Jude (written after Revelation) also bears many similarities with Revelation chapter seven --

Jude Revelation 7

Hating the garment spotted     with the flesh

washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the lamb (v.14)

unto him that is able to keep you from falling

shall be their shepherd and shall guide them(v.17)

present you faultless before the presence of his glory

stood before the throne (v.9)

without blemish

arrayed in white (v.13)

in exceeding joy

thanksgiving (v.12)

to the only wise God

wisdom (v.12)

our Saviour,

Salvation (victory) to our God, which sitteth on the throne,

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

and unto the Lamb (v.10)

be glory

glory (v.12)

and majesty, dominion and power,

power and might be unto our God.

Both now, And for evermore

for ever and ever

Amen

Amen (v.12)

 

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The great Tribulation

“And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”.(Rev 7.13-14)

 

Jacob’s Wrestling Gen 32 Rev 7 & 14

He called the name of the place Mahanaim. (the two hosts or companies) (32.1)

-the 144,000 (v.4)

-the great multitude (v.9)

Jacob (deceiver) renamed Israel (God rules)

No guile (Jacob) in their mouth (14.5)

Whose are these before thee? (32.17)

What are these arrayed in white robes? And whence came they? (v.13)

Then was Jacob greatly afraid and distressed. (32.7)

Alas! For the day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacobs trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. (Jer.30.7)

At that time, saith the Lord, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. (Jer.31.1)

These are they which came out of the great tribulation (v.14)

144,000 sealed of all the tribes of the children of Israel (v.4)

They shall come with weeping and supplications (Jer.31:1)

Jacob wept and made supplication to the angel (Hos.12.4)

God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes (v.17)

Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude (32.2)

A great multitude, which no man could number (v.9)

And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built them an house, and made booths for his cattle; and therefore the name of the place is called Succoth (33.17)

He shall spread his tabernacle over them. (v.15) (Succoth = Feast of Tabernacles or booths)

The Lamb will be their shepherd (v.17)

 

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Comparisons between the wrestling of Jacob and the great tribulation of Rev 7 make it apparent that it concerns the Jews. The time of Jacob’s distress was his looming confrontation with his brother Esau, the father of the Edomites. Herod (the Edomite) and his dynasty persecuted the early church. The prophet Jeremiah describes the looming destruction of Judah by Babylon as the time of Jacob’s trouble.  The great tribulation was therefore the period leading up to and including the First Jewish War resulting in the fall of the temple – but the pattern was repeated again in the period leading up and including the Bar Kochba revolt resulting in the casting away of Jerusalem.

 

Matthew 24:21-22 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.

 

Jesus is alluding to the “time of trouble” of Dan 12.1; “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation”. The nation in question is obviously the Jewish nation – Jesus alters this to “since the world (kosmos) began”, the reference being the “Jewish world” which began with the founder Abraham who was promised that he would become a great nation. Taken together with the allusions to Jacob’s time of trouble the conclusion is inevitable that the 144,000 refers to faithful Jews (Jewish-Christians).

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The service and the bliss of the Blessed

 

“Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 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”.(Rev 7.15-17)

 

The description of the state of blessedness is one that actually belongs to a time yet to come. So it is that almost every verb in these verses is in the future tense. We are being given a preview here of a scene which is, in fact, chronologically post resurrection and judgment. Notice these correspondences with the state of affairs that exist in the New Jerusalem of the kingdom age;  17    

 

they shall serve (latreuo) him (7:15)

his servants shall serve (latreuo) him (22:3)

in his temple (naos)  (7:15)

its temple (naos) is the Lord (21:22)

will tabernacle (skenoo) over them (7:15)

tabernacle (skene) of God is with men (21:3)

neither thirst (dipso) any more (7:16)

to the thirsty (dipso)  I will give …. (21:6)

the sun shall not fall upon them (7:16)

the city has no need of sun (21:22, 22:5)

fountains (pege) of living water (7:17)

the fountain (pege) of the water of life (21:6)

God will wipe (exaleipo) every tear (7:17)         

he will wipe away (exaleipo) every tear (21:4)

 

These parallels demonstrate that the multitudes of righteous saints do not receive their reward until after the Lord returns (c.f. Rev 22.12 – “my reward is with me”). Most of the details outlined above are self–explanatory. Some are quite literal – the service of the saints, for instance. The wiping away of tears may not be strictly literal but its meaning is readily grasped. The living water obviously denotes the water of life; i.e., eternal life through the gospel, thus those who thirst after salvation and righteousness will be satisfied. The only detail which might cause some difference of opinion is that of the sun. Is it literal or figurative? It is hard to accept that the literal sun could be such a problem to these people, so a figurative sense is probable. There is an allusion to Ps 121, “The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night” (v.6)  This is a reference to the cloud and the pillar of fire, during the wilderness wanderings (Exod 40: 34-38) – “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” (Ps 91.1) This is the language of God’s protective care.

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The purpose of this passage is obviously to comfort the generation of the last days with the thought that the generation of believers who suffered such severe persecution in the first century were assured of their place in the New Jerusalem. This assumes its relevance when we learn from the Apocalypse that the generation of the last days is to undergo a similar experience of suffering at the hands of the beast.

 

In contrast to the old covenant, where not even the Levitical High Priest was permitted to see God – the saints are able to approach before the throne. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt 5.8).  There are no distinctions of race or status anymore, only one great multitude that encompasses the 144,000 as well. This is a vision of eternal bliss, where God dwells among his people. The Greek for to dwell is skenoo, from skene which means a tent,  the same word as is used when John says the word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1.14). The Jews always connected this with a certain Hebrew word which was somewhat similar in sound although quite unrelated in meaning. This was the word shekinah, the visible presence of the glory of God. Usually that presence took the form of a luminous cloud. So when the Ten Commandments were given, “the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days….. And the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain” (Exod 24.16-18). It was the same with the Tabernacle.  The cloud covered the tent of congregation and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

 

Moses could not enter into the Tabernacle because of the glory of the Lord. This was the cloud which guided the Israelites by day and the fire that guided them by night. At the dedication of Solomon’s temple the glory of the Lord filled it so that the priest could not enter (2 Chron.7.1-3). Skenoo always turned the thoughts of a Jew to shekinah: and to say that God dwelt in any place was to say that his glory was there. This was always so for a Jew, but as time went on it became more and more so. The Jews came to think of God as increasingly remote from the world. They did not even think it right to speak of him as being in the world; that was to speak in terms which were  too human; and so they took to substituting the shekinah, for the name of God. We read Jacob’s words at Bethel: “Surely the Lord is in this place.” (Gen 28.16); the Rabbis changed that to: “The shekinah is in this place”.  In Habakkuk we read: “The Lord is in his holy temple” (Hab. 2. 20); but later Jews said: “God was pleased to cause his shekinah to dwell in the temple.”

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In Isaiah we read: “My eyes have seen the King the Lord of Hosts.” (Isa.6.5) the later Jews altered it to: “My eyes have seen the shekinah, of the King of the world.”  No Jew cold hear the word skenoo (dwell) without thinking of shekinah (presence of glory); and the real meaning of the passage is that God’s blessed ones would serve and live in the very sheen of his glory. It can be so on earth. He who faithfully witnesses for God has always the glory of God upon his work.

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Conclusion

 

The sealing by God of the 144,000 is in contrast to sealing with the mark of the beast and this was literally a question of choosing either life or death. The “seal” is based on the shape of a cross such as occurred in Ezekiel’s time.  18    The order of the list is determined by two factors: (1); the natural birth order (2); the order of blessing or cursing by Jacob in Gen 49.It is to be noted that the birth order is still preserved, even when a tribe is omitted or replaced. i.e., Manasseh is placed under Naphtali even though it substitutes Dan. This is because Naphtali has priority over Manasseh in the original birth order of tribes. Even Simeon and Levi retain priority over Leah’s other sons, despite their demotion.

 

The number 144,000 is not literal, nor is the tribal distribution – the lessons are spiritual. It does not mean, for example that no Jews from the tribe of Dan will be in the kingdom. The lesson to be drawn from the tribes is that it is the Jewish attitude to their father and half-brother, and their eagerness to take up the inheritance that will determine their position in the eschaton. 

The blessings of Jacob are a prophecy – “That I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days” (Gen.49.1).  The contrast is between the “natural birth order” and the revised order found in Rev 7, which can be termed the “spiritual birth order”. The names can be paraphrased as follows:

 

Natural birth order -Genesis

 

See a [firstborn] Son (Reuben), who heard (Simeon) Yah, and joined (Levi) himself to Yah.  Praise Yah! (Judah)  The judgment (Dan) of his flesh and his wrestling (Naphtali) brought to the birth  a company (Gad) of blessed (Asher) ones. They are the reward (Issachar) of his travail, and they will dwell (Zebulon) with and increase (Joseph) the Son of the right hand. (Benjamin)

 

Spiritual birth order (Rev.chpt.7)

 

Praise Yah! (Judah)[Rev 14.3, 7.12, 19.1 etc.]  See the Son (Reuben)[ I looked, and, lo, a Lamb – Rev 14.1] and with him a company (Gad)[with him 144,000- Rev 14.1] of blessed (Asher) [Blessed are the dead…Rev.14.13]  who having finished the wrestling [these are they which came out of the great tribulation – Rev 7.14] having forgotten their father’s [Adam’s] house (Manasseh) [God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, or sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away – Rev 7.16-17, 21.4].

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They heard Yah (Simeon) [I heard the number – Rev 7.4 - I heard a voice from heaven- Rev.14.2] and were joined to him (Levi) [follow the lamb- Rev 14.4] and were rewarded (Issachar) [my reward is with me- Rev 22.12] by dwelling with (Zebulon) [the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them –Rev 21.3] and so increasing (Joseph) [After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude which no man could number- Rev 7.9] the son of the right hand (Benjamin) [the Lamb in the midst of the throne – Rev 7.17]