Let me very briefly give you the background leading up to the seventh chapter. In Revelation 1, we see One like the Son of Man walking among the lampstands or the candlesticks and, according to Revelation's own interpretation; we are seeing Jesus walking among His churches. Then, in chapter 2 and 3, we see seven typical churches; seven churches of Asia Minor. These are churches like God's churches have been through the ages. They have had their ups and downs, their joys and sorrows, their tribulations, their triumphs, their victories, their defeats, their difficulties and hardships. They have suffered death so that they might receive the crown of life. It is very difficult to live that life.
We are constantly faced with temptations. Sometimes persecutions come and the Christian may very well be inclined to say: “What is the use? It looks like Satan is in charge of this world and we might as well give up.” And so, lest the Christian become, and continue to be, discouraged, we come to chapter 4 of Revelation and we see a door opened in heaven and we see the throne of God and the majesty of the scene. Then we are made to realize that God is, in fact, on His throne and that He is in charge of the world. He has things under control and He knows what He is doing.
In chapter 5, we see that marvelous scene when one, who looks like a Lamb that has been slain, comes to the throne of the One who sits on it and He takes a book and loosens the seals. The seven seals that on the book are loosed in order that we might see Jesus bringing about the things that are to come to pass. Jesus is seen having ascended to the Father, and having come to the throne, where He reigns with the Father. We are told that the heavenly beings fall down and worship Him. They worship Him even as they worship the One who is already on the throne. And then, as we see the first seal opened in chapter 6, we see Jesus Christ going forth conquering, and to conquer.
And I think we should point out that there is no kind of time limit placed on this. We have simply seen that when the seal is loosened, Jesus goes forth conquering, and to conquer. He shall
Continue to do so until every enemy has been put under His feet, even until the last enemy, death, has been conquered. What we see as the seals are opened is the entire period of history from the time Jesus ascended to the throne to the time when He comes again. We see that during that period of time as Jesus goes forth, conquering, and to conquer, there will always be those who oppose Jesus and His people. We see religious persecution as we see the second seal loosed. Then, the third seal is loosed and this reveals economic hardship that comes to God's people through the injustice of the world. When the fourth seal is loosed we see God's people suffering the calamities that befall mankind in general, death caused through famine and sword and pestilence, etc. However, when the fifth seal is loosed, we see that those who have been slain for the word of God are in the presence of God, preserved and saved by the power of God. But finally as the sixth seal is loosed, we see calamity being brought on the whole world.
Apparently, the final judgment of God is coming on the whole world. We see the wicked of the earth crying out for the mountains and the rocks to fall on them, to hide them from Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, as this terrifying scene is described for us at the end of Revelation 6:12–17. Then we have, finally, the question asked at the end of chapter 6: “... and who is able to stand?” When the wrath of God is poured out on our world, who is able to stand? We need to read chapter 7, which will provide the answer to that question. Along with the above reading, also read Ezekiel 9:4–6 and 21:2–4, which will serve somewhat as a background to what you have read in Revelation 7.
In Revelation 7:1–3, we see a scene of four angels. “After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. Then, 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 granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’ ” I believe that the only connection that we might draw between this passage from Revelation 7 and that in Ezekiel 9 is the base thought of the significance of marking on the forehead. In Ezekiel 9:4–6, we
are told by God that one was to “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.” Eventually, He said that others were to kill all of the people except those who had received the mark, and those who received the mark were righteous.
Yet when we come to the book of Revelation we see that when the sword actually comes on the land, it slays both the righteous and the unrighteous. One would get the impression that it did not do any good to put the mark on the forehead of the righteous because they were slain, too. But I believe to understand both Ezekiel and Revelation we have to understand that the protection that God gives to His people is not necessarily protection against physical harm. We are told continually throughout the scriptures that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Jesus said in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
You are not exempt from physical harm by God. That is not His concern. That is not to say that He does not care if you suffer pain, but the point is that God is concerned to preserve your life so you can enjoy the presence of God eternally. So, when you see people who are being sealed in Revelation 7, let us not think that it is to indicate God's people are not going to suffer the same kinds of hardships, calamities and pestilence that the world suffers, because that is part of what we were being shown in Revelation 6. Believers and unbelievers alike share in many of the misfortunes that occur in this world. It is for that very reason that the Christian might cry out and say, “What advantage does the believer have?” That is why we have the fifth seal loosed, to let us know that those believers who are slain by the sword are going to enjoy the presence of God. They are simply going to be relieved of their suffering, the pain and sorrow of this life to enjoy life in the presence of God. The same thing happens as we come to Revelation 7. We see a picture of the angels holding back the winds that are to come upon the earth and bring destruction to the earth. But, first, there is a pause while they are holding the wicked back so that God can put His seal on the foreheads of the righteous, on the servants of God.
What is the significance of sealing the servants of our God on their foreheads? There are three other references in the book of Revelation that I think shed light on the significance of this. The first is in Revelation 3:12 where Jesus said; “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” Jesus said that he would write on those who overcome, those who are conquerors with Jesus. He did not specify where He would write on them as He did elsewhere.
As we turn to Revelation 14:1, we are going to see the 144,000 there that we will be looking at in Revelation 7. Revelation 14:1 says: “Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty–four thousand, having His Father's name written on their forehead.” Now we move to Revelation 22., where we see the final scene of the redeemed in heaven, where they shall be with God forever and ever. It says of them in verse 3 and 4; “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face and His name shall be on their foreheads.” ”
To have the name of Christ and God on your forehead is a symbolic way of saying that you are owned by God. Your mind has been brought into captivity to Christ. In the Old Testament, the high priest wore a gold plate on his forehead engraved with the words, “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” (Exodus 28:26). Just as during the old dispensation, the name of Jehovah was written on the forehead of the high priest to indicate that he was the specially consecrated servant of Jehovah. So believers in our age, who are called priests in the book of Revelation, now have a new name written on their foreheads, the name of Jesus.
A seal certifies and signifies ownership and it protects. The point is that Christ owns us, having purchased us with His own blood, and having done so He protects us throughout life. This is not protection against physical harm, but protection against spiritual destruction by Satan. No one can snatch us out of the Father's hand. You are protected by God, and to have a seal placed on your forehead bearing the name of Christ and God is
simply a symbolic way of saying that you are owned by Him. We are just like people who used to be branded by the slave owner. We are servants and the word that is used in Revelation for servant is the Greek word that literally means a bondservant or a slave. We are slaves of God and of Christ and we bear the mark of slavery to Him. We have the brand of slavery engraved on our forehead saying, in essence, we are His. We belong to God.
That, obviously, does not mean that God is literally going to scrawl His name on your forehead with some kind of a ball point pen. This is symbolism, but it is a way of suggesting that we belong to God. The point is that the calamities, the judgments of God that come upon mankind, are not going to do us eternal harm because we have been sealed by Him.
This thought is suggested in Ephesians 1:13–14. There, Paul speaks of Christ, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Why? Because according to Acts 5:32, God gives His Spirit to all those who obey Him. This occurred according to Acts 2:38 when you believed and repented and were baptized. You received the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is yours. He is sealing you. He is protecting you from Satan so that Satan cannot destroy you as long as you choose to remain faithful to God. So we are seeing a beautiful picture in Revelation 7, the sealing of God's people so that they cannot be overcome by Satan. God's people will be victorious.
In Revelation 7:4–5, John said, “And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed; of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand.” What is the significance of that 144,000? Who are they? In Revelation 4, something similar was seen. Around the throne in heaven there were twenty-four elders. This naturally suggest the twelve sons of Israel added to the twelve apostles of Christ whose names are on the foundation of the wall of the new Jerusalem which was in heaven (Revelation 21:2–14). These were representatives of the redeemed of all ages. What better way would there be to symbolically present, not merely their representatives, but all
of God's people than by multiplying the twelve by twelve and then multiplying that by one thousand, a symbol of completeness and fullness, thus giving us 144,000. Notice that the wall of New Jerusalem, the city of all God's people, described in Revelation 21:17, was 144 cubits. This number is clearly associated with the redeemed of all ages. These then are those who dwell with God forever and ever, the righteous, those who have been saved.
Now we come to this expression, “... of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” The tribes of literal Israel are symbolic here of spiritual Israel. There are some who think that the writer of Revelation is referring just to the Jews, that is, just to the fleshly descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose name was Israel. But he is not speaking here about fleshly Israel. He is using Israel as a symbol because, at one time in a special sense, Israel represented the people of God. But now, in Revelation, Israel represents not the Jewish nation, the Hebrew nation, but it represents those who are the true Israel.
I want to give you ten reasons why I am convinced that is the case. I want to take time to give you ten reasons because I think it is extremely important for you to understand that you are one of the 144,000 because there are people who try to convince you that you can not be among this 144,000. Some say that is a very special exclusive group that has already been picked out, and you can not be part of it. That is not the case.
Reason number one: Spiritual Israel is meant, is implied by the strange arrangement of the twelve tribes. Reuben would normally be listed first, as he is in Genesis 49, because Reuben was the first–born of the sons of Israel. But here Judah is first in the list and that is undoubtedly because, as we have already seen in chapter 5 of Revelation, Jesus was the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Judah now takes preeminence because Judah is the tribe that produced our Lord and, therefore, Judah comes before even Reuben, the first–born of fleshly Israel.
Also, if this were referring to literal Israel, one would expect to see the tribes of Ephraim and Dan listed here, but they are missing. You look at that list again and you may be surprised because, if you were in Sunday school as a child, you were taught the twelve tribes of Israel and you learned about
Ephraim and Dan, but they are not mentioned. Dan is missing and Joseph is substituted for Ephraim. Manasseh is included, but Ephraim and Manasseh were the two sons of Joseph who took the place of Joseph in previous listings of the tribes. But, here you have a strange arrangement. It seems that God is wanting us to see that this Israel is not to be identified as the fleshly Israel of the Old Testament.
The second reason I believe this is referring to spiritual Israel is the fact that exactly 12,000 from each tribe are listed. Would it not be strange that their should be exactly 12,000 saved from the tribe Manasseh, exactly 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, exactly 12,000 from Issachar and so forth, although these tribes were greatly disparate in their populations? And would it not be stranger yet that not one person from the tribes of Dan and Ephriam would be saved? I think it obvious that here we have a symbolic number. He is not talking about exactly 11,999 plus 1 in each of these tribes. So even the very nature of the listing of these tribes is suggestive of the fact that we are not looking now at fleshly Israel, at the physical descendants of Abraham, but we are looking at spiritual Israel, that is, God's true Israel.
Let us look at our third reason. In Revelation 14:3 where we have the second discussion of the 144,000 they are said to have been “... redeemed from the earth.” This is an expression for God's people found in the new covenant, not in the old covenant. In Acts 20:28, Paul said to the Ephesian elders, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” In I Corinthians 6:20, Paul said in speaking to Christians, “For you were bought at a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.” You were purchased. Those who are in the church have been purchased from all the earth.
In the fourth place, I believe that this 144,000 included Christians, not just fleshly Israel, because those who were sealed with the name of God on their foreheads in Revelation 22:1-4, are spoken of as servants of God and the Lamb, and the Lamb is Jesus Christ. So we are looking at those who are servants of Jesus Christ when we see those who have the seal on their foreheads, the name written on their foreheads. So this has to include more than just those of fleshly Israel.
The fifth reason for believing this is that the New Testament refers to the church as the true Israel of God. For example, in Romans 2:28–29, Paul said, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Throughout the New Testament we are taught repeatedly that those who are the true Jews are not those who are the fleshly descendants of Abraham. Even during Jesus' earthly ministry when the Jews spoke up and said they were descendants of Abraham, Jesus said, in essence, “So what?” “For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Luke 3:8). In other words, their fleshly descent from Abraham gave them no merit in the sight of God. And here in Romans 2:28, Paul, who himself was a fleshly descendant of Abraham, had the courage to say, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly.”
What is in the heart determines whether or not you are a Jew and truly of Israel. Then, in Galatians 3:29, Paul said: “And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” If you are Christ's, then you are of the Israel of God. In Galatians 6:16, Paul said to the church, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” The church is the Israel of God. In Philippians 3:3, Paul said in speaking of Christians, “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” Fleshly Israel does not mean a thing any more to God. The question is “Are you one of the servants of Jesus Christ?” If you are, then you are the circumcision. “Circumcision” was a term used to refer to the Jews as opposed to Christians.
And Paul said, “You are the true circumcision if you belong to and glorify in Jesus Christ.” And, then, in James 1:1, James, who is writing a letter to Christians, addresses them this way: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: ‘Greetings.’ ” He addresses Christians as the twelve tribes. It is not unreasonable, then, to regard the listing of the tribes of Israel in Revelation 7, as a reference to Christians. Further confirmation of this is found in I Peter 2:9 where Peter said to Christians “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own
special people.” Palestine is no longer in God's purpose. The Hebrew race has given way to a new elect race. The Jewish nation has given way to a new holy nation. In I Peter 2:10, Peter refers to this new nation as those “Who once were not a people, but now are the people of God.” These were the Gentiles. To the Jews, the Gentiles were nothing; Israel was God's chosen people. But Peter goes on to say that those who in times past were no people, “... but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” It is reasonable to believe that Revelation invests “Israel” with the new meaning suggested throughout the New Testament.
The sixth reason I believe Revelation 7 refers to spiritual Israel rather than fleshly Israel is that the expression “servants of God,” is the expression used of those who were sealed. It is the term describing those to whom the book of Revelation was written. Revelation was written to Christians who are referred to in Revelation 1:1 as God's servants. Christians, then, are the ones who were sealed in Revelation 7, and those who were sealed were the 144,000.
The seventh reason: The sealing of God is in contrast to the mark of the beast. We are going to talk about the mark of the beast when we get to chapter 13, but I will just anticipate a bit and say that the sealing of those on the forehead with the name of Christ applies to all of God's people. Those who had the mark of the beast represent all those who have refused to submit their lives to Jesus Christ.
The eight reason: In Revelation 14:4, where there is a further description of the 144,000, they are called virgins, and there is not a commentator on the face of this earth who believes the 144,000 were all literally virgins. It is no more reasonable nor necessary to believe they are literally fleshly Israel. This is a symbol. “Virgins” is symbolic of a people who are pure, a people who have not committed spiritual adultery by forsaking their allegiance to Christ.
In the ninth place, when the 144,000 are referred to in Revelation 14:4, they are spoken of as “the first fruits to God.” But James 1:18 speaks of Christians as being the first fruits of God.
In the tenth place, in Revelation 14:5, where the 144,000 are mentioned, they are described as those “without blemish.” That is the term Paul uses of Christians in Ephesians 1:3–4 and 5:24–27. What we have said, in summary, is that the 144,000 who are mention in Revelation 7, are all of God's people.
Now we come to Revelation 7:9–10: “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, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ ” Who is this great multitude? I am convinced that the great multitude is exactly the same group of people that we mentioned when we spoke about the 144,000. That is a great multitude! You get 144,000 people together and you have a great multitude. John said he merely heard the number of 144,000. But what he saw when he looked at them was a great multitude.
I am convinced they are the same people because if you look very carefully at the description given of the great multitude and then look at the description of the 144,000, particularly as it is elaborated in Revelation 14, the description is the same. I believer there is general agreement among commentators that the great multitude refers to the church, Christians, God's people. And we have already demonstrated that the 144,000 represents the same people. Both are before the throne of God and the same expressions are used throughout Revelation 7 and 14 to refer to both of these.
What is John trying to tell us about this great multitude? The point is that we have seen them sealed and now we have seen them in the very presence of God. In other words, the judgment of God is not against these people. The judgment and wrath of God is poured out against those who have rebelled against God and refuse to submit themselves to the reign of God and the Lamb. It answers the question, “Who is able to stand?” It is those who are in the church, those who are Christians, and those who are God's people. And what a scene of rejoicing there is when, finally, after all of the tribulations and turmoil, we see God's people victorious at the throne. The scene continues with Revelation 7:11: “All the angels stood around
the throne and the elders and the four living creatures and fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’ Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ ” Elsewhere in Revelation, people in white robes are God's redeemed. “And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation’ ” (Revelation 7:14).
What is the great tribulation? Jesus told us in John 16:33: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” In Acts 14:22, we are told “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” God's people always suffer tribulation. The tribulation can properly be called “great” because its duration is from the time Jesus began to go forth conquering, and to conquer, until the end of time. But these are they that come out of the great tribulation. They are conquerors. They are the overcomers. They are the victors. We see them at the throne of God.
John continues: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
It is the same kind of description we find in Revelation 22 at the end of time with the redeemed at the throne of God. These are the servants of God, sealed on their forehead with the name of God and of the Lamb because they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. You can be washed in the blood of the Lamb and have the cleansing of your sins if you will only respond to God's invitation.