The Little Book of the Revelation - Fifth in a series
After the Lord breaks the sixth seal, we expect final blows to fall. Instead, in Chapter 7, the actions slows; no seal is opened. Two groups of people are revealed, one on earth, one in heaven.
The winds of God’s judgment are temporarily restrained (Rev 7:1-3) while the first group, 144,000 of God’s servants, are sealed in their foreheads. Later, in Chapter 14, we learn that this seal is the “Father’s name written in their foreheads.” (Rev 14:1)
This sealing reminds of Ezekiel’s mark upon those who sighed and cried because of all the abominations in Jerusalem. (Eze 9:4-6) These servants are the Israel of God (Gal 6:16; Mat 22:32).
Their number is comprised of 12,000 men from certain tribes of Israel (Rev 7:5-8), excluding Dan and Ephraim— representing the worst of the idolators? (Hos 4:17; Amos 8:14)
In Ephraim’s place is Joseph who, with his oldest son Manasseh, retains the double portion among the tribes even as Ephraim is removed. In Dan’s place is Levi.
Levi was not historically numbered among the children of Israel (Num 1:49) because the Lord was his portion as his tribe performed the sacred duties. His inclusion in this accounting shows we have entered into a new time. Yet the tribes are presented in four groups of three (Rev. 7:4-8), which is reminiscent of the configuration commanded in Numbers (Num 2).
John travels in an instant from earth to heaven to see another group:
- After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb. (Rev 7:9-10)
We are back at God’s throne with his beasts, elders and angels, now joined by the saints “which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:14)
Differences between the groups
Some commentators say the 144,000 represent Jews living in the end-times who have not yet discovered that Christ is their Messiah, but are soon to arrive at that realization.
This is supported by Paul’s insight:
- For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceits, that a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in; (Rom 11:25)
Would the “fulness of the Gentiles” be the “great multitude which no man could number”? (Rev 7:9) Perhaps these are the fellow-helpers of the martyrs of the fifth seal, who would be killed like their brothers before arriving in the throne room. (Rev 6:11)
Commentators who subscribe to the ‘dispensational’ construct in theological understanding (ref) view the arrival of this multitude in heaven as marking the end of the ‘church age.’ (ref) After this, God’s attention turns to the Jews.
Some theologians who study the Bible to explain its message in a ‘covenantal’ framework* (ref), interpret Revelation 7 as two views of the same group, that is, the 144,000 are the ‘called, chosen and faithful’ (Rev 17:14) on earth who are assured of a heavenly welcome, in God’s timing, and they are assured of persecution. (2 Tim 3:12)
Other ‘covenantal’ expositors understand Paul’s words in Romans 11 as predictive of salvation for a remnant of Jews, and do not think the Church will be removed before the Resurrection.
Reading various commentaries one sees numerous perspectives. The Revelation is a book that all would agree defies complete understanding.
If Chapter 7 is read as a sequence of events, then we would view the Jews remaining on earth though the church is ‘removed’, but it is not possible to read the Revelation as relying on an orderly framework.
As we have noted previously, the chronology of the Revelation is always puzzling. Which events are sequential and which ones are concurrent? Which chapters or portions give further explanation or details of previously reported events?
Clues in Scripture
We cannot understand the Revelation without seeing its prophecies by the light of related Bible passages. “Let Scripture explain Scripture” is a foundational rule for the Christian who honors the whole Word of God.
Paul’s word in Romans 11 are the key to understanding some scenarios in John’s Revelation. Of the Jews and the mysteries of the two groups’ influence upon each other, Paul wrote:
- As touching the gospel, they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake.
- For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of.
- For as ye in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience,
- even so have these also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they also may now obtain mercy.
- For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.
- O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!
- For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
- or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
- For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen. (Rom 11:28-36)
Will the Jews be alone among the heathen as the end-time terrors pick up speed? Will the Church be removed, leaving them without a witness in the world?
* See Westminster Confession, Chapter 7