Revelation 7

In last week’s sermon on Revelation 7, as usual Pastor Matt capably explained all the relevant terms. However, as he is often forced by time constraints to do, he also acknowledged that a couple of the more complex terms warranted further explanation. Therefore, Matt has asked me to write blogs on “The 144,000” and “Tribulation Saints,” the two groups of future believers.

NAS Revelation 7:4-8 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: 5 from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6 from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7 from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.

Exactly Who Are the 144,000? – “This is a vital question, in the right interpretation of this part of the holy writ. But very conflicting and uncertain have been the answers generally given to it. Man writers are so perplexed and confounded with it that they scarcely presume to answer it, and seek to quiet inquiry by saying that the subject is too difficult for man to handle.  Would that people only keep themselves to the plain reading of the words as they are, they would save themselves much perplexity, and their readers much confusion. So long as men will keep thinking of the present church in chapters 5-18, and the location of these events in the past, or in what is now transpiring; just so long they will remain bewildered in the fog, and fail to find any solid way through these wonderful revelations. If we only take to heart that when John writes ‘children of Israel,’ he means ‘children of Israel,’ we will at once have the subjects of this apocalyptic sealing unmistakably identified. But many are so morbidly prejudiced against everything Jewish, that it is concluded in advance that anything merciful referring to the Jews, must be understood in some other way than as the words that are Jew. Though all the prophets were Jews, and Jesus was a Jew, and the writer of this Apocalypse was a Jew, and all the Apostles were Jews, and salvation itself is of the Jews, and the Jews as a distinct people are everywhere spoken of as destined to continue to the world’s end, it is regarded as the next thing to apostasy from the faith to apply anything hopeful that God has said to this particular race. As I read the Bible, when God says ‘children of Israel,’ I do not understand Him to mean any but people of Jewish blood, be they Christians or not. And when He speaks of the twelve tribes of the sons of Jacob, and gives the names of the tribes, it is impossible for me to believe that He means the Gentiles in any sense or degree, whether they be believers or not. And this would seem to be so plain and self-evident a rule of interpretation, that I can conceive of no legitimate variation from it” {Seiss}.

(This is so fundamental and critical a truth that it deserves additional comment. Pastor Matt alluded to how essential to right interpretation is the elementary, seemingly inarguable literal approach to Scripture. As Seiss clearly points out and as Matt pointedly noted, a simple, straightforward reading of the biblical text of chapter 7 underscores the chapter’s distinctive Jewishness, while at the same time never mentioning or even suggesting the church. A knowledge of Dispensationalism also enormously aids the understanding of this passage. You are invited to check out my recent blog on Dispensationalism.)

The Prominence of Israel – “The prominence given to Israel implies that the church period is over and that the last week of seven years (Daniel 9:24-27) is now running its course. The times of the church age and the times of Israel cannot overlap. Israel was cut off before the church had her origin on the Day of Pentecost when the Gentiles were ‘grafted (Rom 11:17-24), and so at the end ‘the fullness of the Gentiles will have come in before Israel is ‘grafted in’ again (Rom 11:23-24). But not all of Israel yet, for later these are called the ‘firstfruits unto God’ (14:4). It is not until they will look upon Him whom they have pierced, that all Israel (nationally), that is, ‘those that are left,’ will be saved” {Smith}.

Helpful Analogy – “As God literally reserved 7,000 in the days of Ahab (1 Kings 19:18; Rom 11:4), He will literally reserve 144,000 for Himself during the Great Tribulation” {Robert Thomas}.

NKJ 1 Kings 19:18 “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

NKJ Romans 11:4 But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

Chapter 7 Is About Israel! Israel! Israel! – “The term ‘Israel is never used outside the descendants of Jacob himself. The remnant of Israel as portrayed here in the book of Revelation should not therefore be taken as meaning the church. This passage is a clear indication of God’s continued purpose for the nation of Israel and their preservation through this awful time of trouble” {Walvoord}.

Servants of God – “Those sealed are the servants of God (v. 3). These do not constitute the church, for they are upon the earth while the church is already in glory at this time (chapters 4 and 5) and as such they are never called servants. One purpose of the sealing is ostensibly that the servants of God may be exempt from the torment which is to come upon all men not having the seal of God in their foreheads (9:4). But sealing also implies possession, and security, and service. They belong to God – that is possession; they have the seal of God – that is security; they are servants – that is loyalty and service” {Smith}.

Lists of the Tribes of Israel in Scripture – “There are no fewer than 29 lists of the tribes of Israel throughout the Scriptures, thus showing the prominence accorded them in the sacred page. The first list is found in Genesis 29. However, this does not include Benjamin, and so the first list of all names occurs in Genesis 35. In the present list, the names of Dan and Ephraim are omitted. This omission apparently is due to the fact that these two tribes were notorious for their fickleness and proclivity to idol Worship. The children of Dan were the first of all the tribes of Israel to fall into idolatry” (cf. Judges 18:30; 1 Kings 12:28). In Hosea 4:17, we read, “Ephraim is joined to idols” {Smith}.

Irregularities in the Lists – “Irregularities in this listing of the 12 tribes are undeniable. Aside from those mentioned, other peculiarities are the unusual inclusions of the tribes of Levi, Manasseh, and Joseph” {Thomas}.

Will There Be More than 12,000 from Each Tribe? – “The question has been raised whether the ‘12,000’ in each tribe means literally 12, 000. There seems to be indication that more than 12,000 from each tribe will actually be saved. There will be other Israelites saved besides these 144,000, but many of these will die martyrs’ deaths and give up their lives for their faith” {Walvoord}.

Are There Actually “Ten Lost Tribes”? – “While the tribal records were lost when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70, God knows who belongs to each tribe. This passage clearly teaches that the so-called ‘Ten Lost Tribes’ were, in fact, never lost (cf. 21:12; Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30; James 1:1).  Instead, representatives from the ten northern tribes filtered south and intermingled with the two southern tribes (cf. 2 Chron 30:1-11; 34:1-9) and thus were preserved” {MacArthur}.

A Second Group of People Appear in Verse 9 – A careful reading of chapter 7 will confirm that beginning with v. 9, John is discussing a second multitu of people – not the 144,000. Though the term itself is not mentioned either here or throughout Scripture, conservative scholars are in general agreement that “Tribulation Saints” correctly identifies this second group:

NKJ Revelation 7:9-14 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”14 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.” 13 And one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?” 14  And 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.

“Tribulation Saints” – It seems evident that these “who have come out of the Great Tribulation” have been martyred and were then safe in heaven. They were given the special privilege of being before God’s throne and serving Him day and night in His temple. They were protected by God Himself and never again would they experience hunger … thirst, or scorching heat, with the implication that this was their experience of suffering on earth. They were under the special shepherd-care of the Lamb and were drinking from springs of living water. The narration concludes with the comforting truth that all their tears would be wiped away {Bible Knowledge Commentary}

Who Are the Tribulation Saints? – The tribulation saints are, quite simply, saints living during the tribulation. We believe that the church will be raptured before the tribulation, but the Bible indicates that a great number of people during the tribulation will place their faith in Jesus Christ. In his vision of heaven, John sees a vast number of these tribulation saints who have been martyred by the Antichrist: “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9). When John asks who they are, he is told, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (verse 14) {}.

There Will Be Many Saved During the Tribulation – “There is coming in the future a worldwide response to the gospel that will far exceed any other in history and maybe all others combined. It will sweep the globe in just a few short years and produce a vast multitude of redeemed people from all the nations (Pastor Matt said his sermon this event should be seen as the ultimate fulfillment of Matthew’s Great Commission [Matthew 28:16-20] – TAR). In the future, God will put His spiritual and eternal salvation on display at a most Satan’s fury, as he and his demon hosts ravage the world. It will be the time of unparalleled wickedness, as the Holy Spirit removes His restraining influence (2 Thess 2:7). It will be the time when Antichrist’s worldwide reign of terror is occurring alongside the pouring out of God’s wrath and the Day of the Lord in a historically unequaled series of powerful, devastating judgments. It will be in the midst of that time of horrors and fear that God will save people to an extent previously unknown” {MacArthur}.

NAS Revelation 6:9 And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls (Tribulations Saints – TAR) of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained;

Not Only Jews, but Also Gentiles – “The second half of chapter 7 of Revelation demonstrates that not only many will be saved in Israel but also many Gentiles will come to Christ in the Great Tribulation. In his vision, John sees a great multitude (cf. 6:9; 19:1) beyond human computation coming from all nations, kindred (closeness to somebody based either on relation or affinity – TAR), people, and tongues standing before the throne (cf. 4:2), clothed with white robes, with palms in their hands, ascribing salvation to God and the Lamb. In contrast to those coming from the twelve tribes of Israel as pictured earlier in the chapter, this throng comes from all nations. The white robes mentioned seem to refer to 6:11, and the palms indicate their triumph. This great multitude is heard by John in a great symphony of praise as they ascribe (to believe that something belongs to or characterizes a person or group – TAR) salvation to God. The fact they are martyrs is stated later in the chapter (vv. 13-14)” {Walvoord}. “In v. 15 they attribute their happy state to their appropriation of the merits of the blood of the Lamb; they ascribe their heavenly bliss to the efficacy of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” {Smith}.

Chapter 7 Pictures God’s Future Twofold Salvation – “God’s saving work during this future time will be twofold. First, it will be the time of Israel’s national salvation, which Zechariah (12:10ff.) in the O.T., and Paul (Rom 11:25-27) in the N.T. predicted. The firstfruits of Israel’s salvation will be the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (7:1-8), who preach the gospel both to their countrymen and to the Gentiles. It is the salvation of those Gentiles that is in view in 7:9-17 – a salvation promised in Scripture. The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3 [the promise of the Covenant, not the Covenant itself; 12:7; 13:14- 17; 15:1-21; 17:1-21; 22:17-18 – TAR)], in which God promised to bless Israel, also promised salvation to the Gentiles” {MacArthur}.

Chapter 7 Summary – Two groups are in view: In vv. 4-8, the 144,000, all Jews; in vv. 9-14 (primarily), the Tribulation Saints, Jews but mainly Gentiles. “In 7:1-8, the number of people is definite, but 7:9-17 it is indefinite. In the earlier vision the group is from the 12 tribes of Israel, but in the latter one, from every nation. In the former case, the people are prepared for imminent peril, but in the latter, they are victorious and secure” {Swete, from Thomas}.

Professor Thomas A. Rohm