Previous Section: Chapter Six - The First Six Seals



Revelation 7:1

(1) After this I saw (2) four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back (3) the four winds of the earth, (4) so that no wind should blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.

1. After this I saw = a popular formula used by John to introduce a new unit of material. It indicates a new sequence, but not necessarily a new time factor. In sequence, the fact that the sixth seal renders the earth absent of all light demands a temporary darkness.

There is no justification on the part of those who attempt to assign a permanent end to sun, moon, and stars at the sixth seal. Only by ignoring textual details and/or maximizing textual similarities with regards to seal six, trumpet four and bowl four can one make a case against a limited cessation of light during the sixth seal. The use of the sun to scorch men on the earth at the fourth bowl judgment demands that whatever happens at the sixth seals, it is limited in duration.

2. Four angels = we are not told who these angles are. We are told that they are positioned at the four corners of the earth. The significance of their position is seen in the fact that they control the whole earth.

3. The four winds of the earth = refers to the directions North, South, East and West (Eze 37:9; Jer 49:36 and Dan 7:2; 8:8 and 11:4).

4. So that = indicates the purpose of the restraining angels. They are holding back the wind. We are not told why the wind needs to be restrained, but the implication is danger. That is, these winds will cause great destruction on the earth once let lose. By implication, only those divinely protected will be safe from the blowing wind.

Revelation 7:2-3

And I saw another angel ascending (1) from the rising of the sun, having (2) the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted (3) to harm the earth and the sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until (4) we have sealed (5) the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads."

1. From the rising of the sun = is a figure of speech that means the East.

2. The seal of the living God = is not explicitly defined at this point. Neither are we told what the sealing is for. Later in the book, we will see that God divinely protects Israel by giving her seclusion in a special place from the wrath of Satan/Antichrist. However, those sealed by the angelic beings will not be secluded. This marks a distinction between the wrath of God and the wrath of man. Seclusion will not be a defense against the wrath of God.

3. To harm = this Greek verb means "to hurt or harm, with the implication of doing something which is wrong or undeserved (Louw & Nida, § 20:25). This is an appropriate verb to use at this point. The earth, sea and trees will very much receive undeserved wrath. Nature, locked in a perpetual fallen state since Adam’s sin (Rom 8:18-22), finally begins her journey to rebirth. Like Christ, she must suffer before ultimate freedom comes.

4. We have sealed = "we" implies multiple angles are involved in the sealing process. Given the number to be sealed, this is understandable. The context clearly indicates what will be done. Each person will receive a special mark on his or her forehead, which will clearly identify said person as God’s property. The context also demonstrates what the purpose of the mark or brand is. Some argue that the seal is salvation, but there is no evidence of this claim. Those who take this position are reading into this passage ideas taken from the writings of the apostle Paul (Eph 1:13). In context, the sealing is to prevent harm. It is a sealing of protection. Revelation 9:4 explicitly declares that those who have the seal of God are protected from the fallout of the fifth trumpet.

5. The bond-servants = the context will eventually designate the bond-servants explicitly. However, it is strange that this term is used to designate the 144, 000 Jews. Strange because this term in the New Testament is usually used to refer to believers. However, clearly the folk who are sealed are not believers. The primary argument against the notion that the sealed are believers is the fact that only a limited number are sealed. Only by spiritualizing the number 144, 000 can one argue that this number refers to the whole Church. Slave or bond-servant is used here in the true sense of ownership. God owns, claims, and seals His property. Such a view is not inconsistent with the long held biblical notion that Israel is God’s unique people.

Revelation 7:4-8

And (1) I heard the number of those who were sealed, (2) one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from (3) every tribe of the sons of (4) Israel: from Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben… Gad… Asher… Naphtali… Manasseh… Simeon… Levi… Issachar… Zebulun… Joseph… Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.

1. I heard = is an important textual detail. Many would suspect John of making up this material if it were not clear that he got this information from a direct source. As with everything else in the book, this information is given by a voice, which is not defined explicitly!

2. One hundred and forty-four thousand = this number has received great consideration. Speculations abound. It is sad that commentators do not take this number literally. To denominate the number by 12, 000 adds to the literal nature of this figure. We are not told why 12, 000 are chosen, but that twelve thousand are chosen is clear.

There is no textual basis to support those who claim that the 144, 000 are any entity other than physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To spiritualize the 144, 000 into a Christian group violates the plain sense of the text. John gives the reader every detail necessary to correctly identify this group. The critical phrase "from every tribe of the sons of Israel" should settle any debate about their identity. This phrase always refers to physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Out of six hundred and thirty-five occurrences of this phrase throughout the Scriptures, Revelation 7:4 would be the only exception. There is no compelling reason to spiritualize away the literal sense. Every tribe of the sons of Israel has solid biblical support as a referent of Jews only.

3. Every = would seem to suggest that all twelve sons of Jacob are intended here. However, Manasseh is included and Dan is left out. Manasseh’s inclusion and Dan’s exclusion are interesting. Who is included or excluded from a list of Jacob’s sons is determined by the author’s intent.

A biological list of Jacob’s sons would include Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. A land grant list would include Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, and Benjamin. Joseph and Levi would be excluded and Manasseh and Ephraim would be included reflecting that Joseph received the double portion of his father’s inheritance. A blessing/curse list would include or exclude those not affected by it. In the case of Moses’ blessings list of Deuteronomy 33, Simeon is not included.

A change in the list of Jacob’s sons occurs after Genesis 49. There, Jacob stripped Reuben of his rights as first-born. The right of the first-born to receive a double portion of the father’s inheritance passed to Joseph. The reason Reuben lost it is that he defiled Jacob by sleeping with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine. This is how Ephraim and Manasseh received land grants from Joshua. Judah prevailed over his brothers and from him came the leader (king) of Israel (1 Chr 5:1-2).

It is clear that the list of Revelation 7 is not based on the land grant, which would exclude Joseph and Levi. The list is not based on physical lineage, for Manasseh is not the biological child of Jacob, but is adopted. Like the list of those blessed by Moses in Deuteronomy 33, this list is based on blessings/curses. As Simeon was left out of that list, Dan is left out of this list. Dan is left out of the list because he is not blessed. The purpose of the sealing is to prevent harm to those sealed. The fact that no members of the tribe of Dan receive this special protection is at first surprising. However, the selection of only twelve thousand from each tribe indicates that only a few of the larger group receives this special protection. That not a single Danite receives this special protection indicates an unfavorable attitude towards him. Some have suggested that Dan’s idolatry is the reason for his exclusion at this point. There is no explicit biblical basis to be dogmatic either way.

Joseph can substitute for either Ephraim, Manasseh or both and in the Revelation list he is a substitute for Ephraim (Eze 37:16-19). The name Ephraim became synonymous with sin. Joseph is a substitute for Ephraim for two reasons. First, the name Ephraim became a substitute for Israel (the ten northern tribes) during the time of the prophets. Since that time, the name had an unfavorable connotation—willful rebellion. Second, the name Ephraim represents the 10 northern tribes and therefore was not fitting in the Revelation list, which is focusing on individual tribes.

4. Israel = refers to the father of the twelve tribes. It is amazing how many commentators attempt to argue that this is a reference to the church. Yet, the context screams against such a conclusion. For John to list out twelve historical sons of Jacob from which twelve thousand individuals are protected and yet be so misunderstood is mind numbing! There is but one passage in the whole Bible where the term Israel is disputed—Galatians 6:16. Given the hundreds of other clear passage, Galatians 6:16 should be interpreted in light of them. Israel always stands for a historical place; a man named Jacob or his physical descendants. There is not one clear biblical passage that uses the term Israel for spiritual descendants of Abraham. Therefore, the one hundred and forty-four thousand protected individuals are a divinely chosen remnant, physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

With John’s depiction of God’s mercy to a divinely chosen remnant of Israel, the second major series of visions are finished.

Revelation 7:9-10

(1) After these things I looked, and behold, (2) a great multitude, (3) which no one could count, (4) from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, (5) standing (6) before the throne and before the Lamb, (7) clothed in white robes, and (8) palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, (9) "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb."

1. After these things = this is the second occurrence of this phrase in the Revelation to mark the beginning of a new vision sequence. How much time elapses between these two visions is not known. This vision sequence begins at Revelation 7:9 and will continue through Revelation 15:4.

2. A great multitude = the Greek literally says a much or many group or multitude. We would say "a huge crowd."

3. Which no one could count = this phrase is obviously a figure of speech. It is not intended to be taken literally. Logic requires this conclusion. If the language is forced to be literal, then John has lied. A man could certainly number the multitude given the time and cooperation of those to be counted. The author is emphasizing the vast number of individuals that compose this group. The contrast between the specific number of sealed Jews and the unlimited nature of the great multitude should not be missed. This is the first important contrastive point that we should glean from this text.

4. From every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues = points out the second important contrastive point to be gleaned from this text. This innumerable multitude is Gentile and Jew in composition. This innumerable multitude represents a universal gathering unlike the 144, 000 who are specifically identified as Jewish.

5. Standing = is a perfect participle. This is very important because it indicates that the universally innumerable multitude is one group. In other words, they are not assembling, but have assembled. John sees the finished product. The importance of this point will become evident later.

6. Before the throne and before the Lamb = gives us the location of the standing universally innumerable multitude. This is the third important contrastive point John gives us. Unlike the earth bound 144, 000, this group is in heaven.

7. Clothed in white robes = signals a change in the status of these earthly beings who are in heaven in contrast to martyrs of the fifth seal. These individuals have bodies and are clothed. The fifth seal martyrs did not have bodies and were given robes to be worn later.

8. Palm branches in their hands = immediately reminds of us of the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem days before His death. The palm frond is an ancient symbol of victory. That these individuals are no doubt waving them before God the Father and God the Son suggests a celebration is taking place. John 12:13 records a similar event. The multitude waved palm fronds before the Lord as He rode into Jerusalem. They said, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (God the Father), even the King of Israel."

Hosanna is an Aramaic transliteration that means possibly, "save, I pray." That it was a term of supplication is without debate--a call to God for salvation. Yet, the universally innumerable multitude is not asking for salvation. They are praising God for salvation completed.

9. Salvation = is a strange term to associate with God the Father and God the Son. However, the universally innumerable multitude is not indicating God’s need for salvation, rather, they are stating a fact: salvation or victory belongs to God. Their experience bears this out. God the Father and God the Son are both recognized as the source of deliverance for the universally innumerable multitude.

Revelation 7:11-12

And (1) 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, saying, (2) "Amen, (3) blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen."

1. All the angels were standing around the throne = indicates that the universally innumerable multitude has joined the "adorers of God" in heaven. In the fashion of a "round," first the universally innumerable multitude offers words of adoration. Then, "all the angels" follow. Closer yet to the throne of God, the elders and the closest group of all—the four living creatures join the heavenly praise session.

2. Amen = concludes the praise statement of the universally innumerable multitude. Then follows the praise statement of the angels, the elders and the four living creatures.

3. Blessing…glory…wisdom…thanksgiving…honor…power and might = is a unique sevenfold doxological predicate. This is another example of the author’s heavy use of the number seven to indicate the perfected nature of the end-time events.

Revelation 7:13

And (1) one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white robes, (2) who are they, and from where have they come?"

1. One of the elders answered = argues against any attempt to identify the twenty-four elders with the church as some pretribulationists attempt to do. The elders are not a monolith. They act as individuals as well as a group.

2. Who are they, and from where have they come? = indicates two important questions. First, the identity of the group is questioned. The second issue concerns their point of origination. These two questions will be answered in reverse order beginning in verse 14b. This is typical NT methodology. In Matthew 24:3, two questions are asked and Matthew 24:4-31 records the Lord’s answer in reverse order, i.e. the last question is answered first.

Revelation 7:14

And I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, (1) "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and (2) they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

1. These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation = is full of interpretive insights. First, the elder is answering the second question asked in verse 13b, "from where have they come?" In English, a "where" question usually anticipates a specific location. However, a specific place is not given but a specific time is indicated. The great tribulation has one parallel in Scripture—Matthew 24:21. In that specific passage, the definite article the is not used. As one of the original recipients of the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:3), John, the apostle, heard Jesus use this very specific term. Therefore, his use reflects previous knowledge. The great tribulation is not a place, but a specific time. This is reflected in the translation of NASB, which states, "For those days will be a time of tribulation…(Mark 13:19)." This is in harmony with Daniel 12:1, which also calls this period "a time of distress." This universally innumerable multitude will arrive in heaven during the period of the great tribulation.

Out of suggests that this universally innumerable multitude come out of the midst of the great tribulation. The phrase, the ones who come translates a Greek substantival participle. In the context, the universally innumerable multitude is composed of "the ones who come." The participle in and of itself does not speak to issue of the timing of their arrival. However, this group is not in the process of coming one by one, but they come as a group. This is supported by the following statement.

2. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb = answers the second question posted in verse 13b above. The fact that the Lord states that overcomers "shall be clothed in white garments (Rev 3:5)," and that the Laodiceans should purchase "white garments, that the shame [of their] nakedness may not be revealed…(Rev 3:18)," limits the interpretation of Revelation 7:14b. The fact that every member of the universally innumerable multitude has "washed and made white" his robes removes any possibility that martyrdom is the action described here. While some members of the universally innumerable multitude did die the death of a martyr, this cannot be said for the entire group. Yet, every single member "washed and made white" his or her robe.

The fact that both the "washing" and the "making white" are described as past tense forces the participle "the ones who come" to be past tense as well. The Greek language works this way. This supports our conclusion that the universally innumerable multitude arrives in heaven as a group and not as individuals over a period of time.

Blood will not make anything white. Therefore, we know this is a figure of speech. The literal blood of Jesus is not intended here. Rather, the blood of Jesus is a metaphor for his life. Equally, literal white robes are not intended here either. Literally, the atoning death of Jesus has secured the eternal life of the universally innumerable multitude. These people are saved by the life of Jesus Christ.

Revelation 7:15

(1) For this reason, they are (2) before the throne of God; and (3) they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne (4) shall spread His tabernacle over them.

1. For this reason = explains why the universally innumerable multitude is before the throne of God. The reason they can stand before the throne of God is because of their salvation, which they owe to the Lamb.

2. Before the throne of God = refers to God the Father.

3. They serve Him day and night in His temple = focuses on two issues. Day and night refers to the unceasing nature of praise and worship in heaven. The universally innumerable multitude joins in the eternal activity of the adorers of heaven. His temple refers to God’s dwelling place in heaven.

4. Shall spread His tabernacle over them = refers to God’s presence among the universally innumerable multitude.

Revelation 7:16-17

(1) They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; (2) neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; (3) for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of (4) the water of life; and (5) God shall wipe every tear from their eyes."

1. They shall hunger…neither thirst any more = indicates the removal of physical discomforts. This is a clear sign of their resurrection.

2. Neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat = indicates the removal of environmental discomforts.

3. For = indicates the reason for the removal of physical and environmental discomforts. The Lamb shepherds and guides the universally innumerable multitude.

4. Water of life = stands for the abundant life of glorified people. There will be no needs.

5. God will wipe every tear from their eyes = indicates the removal of all emotional discomforts.


Next Section: Chapter Eight - Seventh Seal Events [Trumpet Judgments 1-4]
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