Chapter 7

Introduction

In this chapter, we shall depart momentarily from the narration of seal events. As explained in the Revelation Overview, this chapter is the first instance of (what I call) an interlude. Specifically, this is the interlude associated with the seals. Later, we will see that there are also interludes associated with the trumpets and the bowls.

This seal interlude complements the seal events by discussing things related to the time period of the seals as a whole. These are things which are too broad to fit within the context of any single seal event. As explained previously, this time period of the seals corresponds to the entire 70th Week of Daniel.

Therefore, even though this seal interlude is placed between the sixth and seventh seal events, we should not think that it is describing things that occur between the sixth and seventh seal events. This will become more evident below.

Commentary

The Seal Interlude

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.”

v1 After this I saw – This marks a transition. We just finished the sixth seal, but yet we are not beginning the seventh seal (which appears in Rev 8:1). Therefore, this body of text is not presented as another seal event, but as an additional body of information apart from and in addition to the seven seal events, and it’s what I call the “seal interlude“.

Side note: Throughout the book of Revelation, it is important to pay attention to the way John uses the word “after“. Sometimes he uses it with regard to the order in which events will occur as the prophecy is fulfilled (e.g. Rev 1:19, Rev 9:12, Rev 11:11, Rev 20:3), However, at other times he is merely describing the sequence by which the prophetic vision was revealed to him. Verse 1 above is an example of the latter case, and as such, it does not imply a chronological order of the prophesied events themselves (other examples are Rev 18:1 and Rev 19:1).

We can say with some confidence that the the things described in this seal interlude do not simply follow the sixth seal. For example, in the sixth seal, we see the earth being utterly devastated as a huge earthquake displaces every mountain and island. And yet, a few verses later (Rev 7:3) we see this command saying “Do not harm the earth or sea or trees“. This would be a rather ludicrous command if it really followed after that earthquake. It is much better to realize that at least part of this interlude must take place before the devastation of the sixth seal. In other words, this interlude is broadly describing the entire period in which the seal events occur.

v1 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 – This is a figurative use of “wind“. The implication is that the wind, when allowed to blow, will cause great harm to the earth, as indicated in verses 2 and 3. In the Old Testament, wind is often associated with calamity and harm (e.g. Gen 41:6, Job 1:19, Psalm 11:6, Isa 32:2, Jer 49:36).

v2 another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God – This fifth angel (in addition to the four holding back the wind) has “the seal of the living God”, which should be likened to a signet ring. In ancient times, kings often had a ring which had a special emblem engraved on it. This ring could be pressed into the wax used to seal a document so that the emblem appeared on the wax seal, confirming the authenticity of the document. There are references to signet rings in the Bible (e.g. Gen 41:41-42; Esther 8:8).

v3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads – The fifth angel with the seal clearly has a mission to accomplish before the harm is done on earth, and that mission is to use the seal of the living God to mark the special servants of God.

What is meant by “harm the earth”?

Before discussing these “sealed servants”, we should ask what this harming of the earth, sea and trees in verse 3 is all about. The answer is seen in the next chapter. There, we see that the first trumpet event harms the earth and the trees (Rev 8:7) and the second trumpet event harms the sea (Rev 8:8-9). In other words, the “harm” that the angels are holding back are the trumpet events!

Since the servants are sealed before the harm takes place, they must be sealed before the trumpet period. As discussed in Revelation Overview, the trumpet period is the “time, times, and half a time” period that describes the second half of the seven-year end times period. Therefore, we can conclude that the servants must be sealed during the first half of the seven-year end times period.

Knowing the timing of their sealing helps us understand the purpose of their sealing, as discussed below.

The 144,000 Jewish Servants Sealed

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:

5from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.

v4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel – I believe it is best to take this passage literally. That is, there will be 144,000 Jews sealed as God’s servants. The exact counting (12 times 12,000 = 144,000) and the specificity with which the tribes of Israel are listed make a figurative interpretation unlikely. Also, the context makes it natural to see that these 144,000 sealed servants are on earth (as opposed to heaven, as some commentators claim).

Side Note: Some commentators propose that these references to Israel, the tribes and their numbers are to be understood figuratively. One such view says that they represent Christians, and not the nation Israel. However, this is taking unwarranted liberties with what the text explicitly states. Furthermore, the idea that these are literally 144,000 Jews does not present any problems. On the contrary, it is in harmony with many prophecies in the Bible concerning the Final Restoration of Israel.

Other commentators argue that these cannot be literal tribes because the Jews lost their tribal identity when the records were destroyed by Rome in 70 AD. But this is a poor argument. First, the Jews didn’t “lose” their tribal identities just because records were destroyed. Some Jews may even know what tribe they descend from just by passing that information along from generation to generation. More importantly, it is God who is sealing these Jewish servants, and He has not lost His records.

v5-8 Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin – In reading the list of names, we see it is not simply the twelve sons of Jacob. There are three curiosities:

  1. Dan is not mentioned, and it’s not clear why. Some plausibly speculate that it represents some sort of judgment against Dan for its involvement with idolatry (Judg 18:1-31; 1 Kings 12:26-30). But it’s also possible that there simply won’t be 12,000 eligible members of Dan remaining on earth, for example if most of Dan’s descendants happened to settle a region most affected by Hitler’s Jewish extermination program. Nobody can say with certainty why Dan isn’t listed.
  2. Manasseh, one of the two sons of Joseph adopted by Jacob in order to give Joseph a double inheritance (Gen 48:5) is mentioned, while the other adopted son (Ephraim) is not, even though Jacob declared that Ephraim would be the greater of the two (Gen 48:17-19). Instead, Joseph himself is mentioned (which is curious because, for inheritance purposes, Joseph was replaced by his two sons). However, this creates no ambiguity, because it could only mean that Joseph’s name, being the original son, is being used to represent Ephraim, and that inheritance is not a factor in being named in this list of tribes.
  3. Levi is mentioned, even though his tribe did not receive an inheritance due to Levi’s special role as the governmental and priestly tribe, which was thus scattered among the other tribes. This isn’t a problem — it simply means, again, that this list has nothing to do with the system of inheritance in Old Testament Israel.

Elsewhere in scripture when we see the twelve tribes enumerated, the order does vary and in some cases a son is left out (e.g. Simeon is left out of Moses’ blessings in Deut 33). So, it’s quite possible that there is no special relevance to the presence or absence of specific names in this list of tribes. So, rather than draw any unsupportable conclusions about this, it’s best to simply accept that there will be 144,000 Jews unified in their service to God in the end times.

We will see these servants referenced again later: indirectly in Rev 9:4, and in detail in Rev 14:1-5.

The Purpose of Sealing the 144,000

The text doesn’t say why these Jews are sealed, but given that the sealing takes place before the trumpet period (as explained above), it would seem that they are being commissioned for a special purpose during the trumpet events, i.e. during the great tribulation (and note that Rev 9:4 mentions their presence during the trumpet events).

What could their special purpose be? As explained in chapter 8, I believe the trumpet period is primarily for the purpose of giving warning to the earth. If so, it makes sense that these servants will be going throughout the earth, issuing the final call for people to repent and hear the gospel before the coming of God’s wrath.

This is perhaps what Jesus spoke of in the Olivet discourse, Matt 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. This could also be the fulfillment Isaiah 49:6, in which God’s promises that a remnant of Israel will fulfill their calling to preach God’s redemption to the nations, He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

The idea that these servants will be speaking God’s truth to the earth gets some support from their description in Rev 14:5 “no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless“. Furthermore, the very fact that God calls them His servants implies that they will be doing what Christ commanded His servants to do in Matt 28:19-20: “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Scene in Heaven After Great Tribulation

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.”

v9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues – This marks another transition. The text that follows makes it clear that we’ve moved on from the sealing of the 144,000 to the appearance of redeemed saints in heaven. As mentioned above, the sealing of the 144,000 occurred before the great tribulation starts, whereas we shall see (in verse 14 below) that this multitude in heaven are those who come out of the great tribulation. Therefore, with verse 9 we have jumped forward to a time at the end of the great tribulation (or at least near the end).

However, the juxtaposition of these two passages (verses 1-8 with verses 9-17) may suggest some sort of cause and effect. Specifically, it may suggest that the work of the 144,000 was instrumental in leading a great multitude of people around the world to redemption, hence their appearance here in heaven. These redeemed people are discussed in the verses that follow.

It is important to note that this is an innumerable multitude of people, and they represent nations all over the earth. This is in stark contrast to the 144,000, who were obviously not innumerable and were strictly from nation Israel. Some commentators propose that these two groups are the same, but this seems to be an unsupportable (and unnecessary) stretch. On the other hand, it is scripturally sound to see this great multitude as being the fruit of the 144,000. It was always God’s purpose for Israel to be a light to the nations, and in the end times, they shall fulfill that role gloriously (Isa 42:6, Zech 8:23, Rom 3:2, Rom 11:24).

v9 standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes – It’s clear that John sees this multitude in heaven, not on earth. The white robes identify them as righteous.

v9 and palm branches were in their hands – Palm branches were used as a symbol for joy and victory. This scene alludes back to Christ’s “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday (John 12:13). At that time, the crowd with palms thought Jesus was coming as a victorious king, not understanding that he first needed to come as the sacrificial Lamb of God (see Why Two Comings of Christ?). In this scene, the crowd correctly understands that this time, Christ really will be coming to earth as a victorious king.

v10 they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” – The redeemed multitude knows why they are in heaven, and they praise God and the Lamb, who made it possible.

There is striking similarity between this account in chapter 7 and the account given in chapter 19, where we see Rev 19:1 After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God. In both accounts, we see (1) a great multitude, (2) they are in heaven, and (3) crying out praise to God for salvation. Could it be that these are two highly similar and yet different events? I will propose that these are in fact two accounts of essentially the same scene in heaven. This becomes more evident as we go forward.

v11-12 And 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, 12 saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” – Here, we see the the twenty-four elders, the four living creatures, and the rest of the heavenly host falling down to worship and praise God.

Again, notice how similar this is to chapter 19, which says, Rev 19:4-5 the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5And a voice came from the throne, saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great. In both accounts we have (1) the 24 elders, (2) the four living creatures, (3) all falling down before the throne, and (4) saying “Hallelujah!” in praise of God. The similarity with chapter 19 suggests that the same scene is in view in both passages. Having the same scene described in these two different contexts makes sense in view of the overlapping structure of Revelation (discussed in Revelation Overview).

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.

v13 Then 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?” – We are about to find out where this multitude came from.

v14 I 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 – We see that this multitude is (1) an innumerable body of people from all nations redeemed by Christ, and that (2) they have come out of the great tribulation. This is an important point because it argues against the view (held by some commentators) that the end times are only about God dealing just with the nation Israel. In chapter 7, we do see that Israel will have a special role, but a vast multitude of redeemed people from all nations will go through the great tribulation in the end times.

15“For 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. 16“They 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.”

v15 He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. – The word “them” refers to this great multitude now in heaven. Those who came out of the horrors of the great tribulation, will now — in great contrast to their last earthly moments — be eternally protected by God and He will dwell with them. This is a point elaborated upon in the next two verses.

v16 They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat – The mention of hunger, thirst and heat may be referring to specific sufferings experienced by believers during the end times. It’s also possible that this refers to the end of the curse on mankind in Gen 3:17,18,19. However, it seems more likely that this language is alluding to Isa 49:10, “They will not hunger or thirst, Nor will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; For He who has compassion on them will lead them And will guide them to springs of water“. Isaiah is describing the promise of God’s that His people would enter the eternal kingdom of God, in which all suffering will be eliminated. That promise certainly fits with this occasion seen here at the end of chapter 7.

v17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne – The “Lamb in the center of the throne” may symbolically represent the perfect unity between the kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom on earth upon Christ’s return. However, it also informs us that Christ is still present in heaven, meaning that He has not returned visibly to earth yet. Again, this is identical to the state of things in the first half of chapter 19, moments before Christ’s visible return (which is described in the second half of chapter 19).

v17 will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes – This identifies Christ as the one who will be their king in the soon-to-come kingdom of God. Notice how this description matches that of the new kingdom as it is described in Rev 21:4: and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed awayand in Rev 22:1 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb.

Perhaps verse 17, by mentioning of the righteous people being led by their “shepherd” to “springs of living water” is intended to recall 23rd Psalm, and it is remarkable how completely appropriate and comforting it will be for those Christians who must endure the great tribulation:

Psalm 23 – 1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Review of the Seals

We see that in the first half of the seven-year end times period, there will be 144,000 servants of God sealed by God on earth. During this time, we shall also see the first four seal events (the four horsemen events).

The 144,000 are sealed as God’s servants on earth for the purpose of leading people around the world to repentance during the second half of the end times period (the time of the trumpet events and the great tribulation). During that trumpet period, many saints will be killed for their faith, as summarized by the fifth seal event. Those who are killed will join the growing multitude in heaven that is coming out of the great tribulation, mentioned in Rev 7:14.

Next, we see a scene in heaven which appears to be at or near the conclusion of the great tribulation. In this scene, all those who had come out of the great tribulation receive comfort from God, and assurance that they will never experience pain or sorrow ever again. As pointed out above, this scene seems to lead into the very similarly-described scene at the start of chapter 19.

As we see in the context of chapter 19, this scene in heaven corresponds to the time just prior to the return of Christ. At this time, all of the redeemed people (represented by the bride in Rev 19:7) are before the throne in heaven. This indicates that the tribulation martyrs have been joined by the resurrected dead as wall as the tribulation saints who were not killed. In other words, the rapture event (described in 1 Thes 4:16-17) will have taken place during this time.

The unredeemed people, however, remain on earth, where they shall receive God’s wrath in the bowl judgments, and the bowls are summarized by the sixth seal event.

Because of this overlap between the seals and bowls, it makes sense then that we should see the visible return of Christ in wrath described at both places: first at the end of the sixth seal (Rev 6:16-17) and again at the end of the bowls (Rev 19:11-16).

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