After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 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, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have 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 shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
This chapter contains the third and fourth sections of Revelation. The third section begins in verse 1. Verse 9 begins the fourth section. The phrase “after this” marks the beginning of each. That phrase signals a change. Something has ended and something else is beginning.
Every vision ends in a catastrophe. Every catastrophe in this book has two parts. Part 1, judgment inflicted upon the enemies of Christ. Part 2 blessing on God’s servants.
Many have a hard time thinking of God as harsh. They do not believe God can or will judge His own people. You may have heard it, “God is love.” But a basic tenant of God’s covenant with the Jews was, if they obeyed Him, He would bless them. But if the forsook Him, He would judge them. (Deuteronomy 28)
Some may argue Jesus is love. Jesus spoke more of hell than heaven. Jesus spoke of the coming destruction.
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous bloodshed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23 33-39)
They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 23:24)
The first Jewish holocaust occurred in the first century. I recommend you read Josephus The War of the Jews. After four months of starvation and torture, the Romans killed over a million Jews. The Romans crucified thousands of them.
This is what John describes in Revelation 7-11
Before the devastation, God told the angels to wait until. They were to wait until God’s servants were sealed on their foreheads. The first-century reader understood this as God’s marking His people. He marked them for their protection. This is like the blood the Hebrews placed on the doorpost before the exodus.
The number 144,000 was a number that represented a multitude. We are not to understand this in a wooden literal sense. It is a literary device. It is similar to “God owns the cattle on the thousand hills.” (Psalms 50:10). It is an expression to indicate God owns everything. The psalmist is not saying God owns cattle on an actual thousand hills.
First-century readers did no understand 144000 in a strict sense. There were 12000 from each tribe. Twelve represents totality, wholeness, and the completion of God’s purpose. There are 12 tribes of Israel, 12 months in the year. Jesus had 12 disciples. A thousand represent a lot. A lot of a lot.
The first-century reader understood it as God not favoring a tribe. They were all included. This represented the Jewish church.
Western readers take numbers in a strict wooden sense. They accuse those who read it as the original audience as “spiritualizing the text.” The reality is they are “Westernizing” the text. We need to understand the scripture as the author intended it. We need to read it as the original audience read it.
We need to see it through John’s eyes. He was in the throne room of God. He has already told us, twice, he was in the Spirit. He is watching spiritual events unfold. These spiritual events correlate to natural events.
Remember the prophet, Elisha. A vast army surrounded him and his servant. Elisha prayed that God opened the servant’s eyes. God did. And what did the servant see? “So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17).
This story shows how the spiritual realm appears to someone who can see into it. God communicates through visions. He communicates via images relate to. We do not understand the spiritual world, so God relates it to through analogy.
Elisha’s servant saw horses and chariots. If God wanted to communicate His power to us He might show armies with the latest most military equipment. After all one tank could handle thousands of chariots.
God suspended the crisis until He marked His servants for safety.
Now begins a new section in verse 9. There is another break. “After this.” John turns and sees a great multitude. This group was larger than the first. The number was so vast no one could number them. This group represented the Gentile church of the apostolic period. They were from every nation. They were people who spoke other languages.
Notice their activity. They were standing before God’s throne and the Lamb. They had white robes and palm branches. White robes were a sign of cleanliness and righteousness. Palm branches were a sign of peace. They were shouting “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They were allowed to join the angels in praising God.