Dr. Richard L. Strauss
January 28, 1979
When the sixth seal on the scroll sealed with seven seals in Revelation 6 was opened, the great day of God's wrath was under way. After six successive seals have been broken, we fully expect the immediate opening of the seventh seal, and an increased intensity of tribulation on earth. But the seventh seal is not opened until chapter 8, where the narrative resumes. Instead the progress of judgment is interrupted for a moment.
Chapter 7 of Revelation introduces a parenthetical pause in God's punishment on sin, a suspension of the outpouring of God's wrath against sin. And right in the midst of this great tribulation our minds are directed to the picture of mercy and grace, a scene of triumph and rejoicing. The triumph relates to two groups of people, one group whom God graciously protects and preserves through the Tribulation, the other group whom God graciously removes from the Tribulation. In either case it is victory in a time of vengeance, triumph in a time of tribulation. The first group we shall call the sealed servants of Israel, and the second group is the saved saints of all nations.
The scene before us with this first group is a scene on earth.
a. The Introduction of the Seal
We have already seen a sealed scroll in this book, but a different kind of seal is before us now. It is introduced in a vision of five angels. The first four are seen in verse 1 standing at the four points of the compass, called the four corners of the earth. Their position indicates the world-wide significance of the scene. They are holding back the four winds of the earth from blowing.
"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" (Revelation 7:1).
Wind in Scripture is often associated with destruction and judgment (see Job 1:19; Jeremiah 4:11-14; 18:17; Jonah 1:4). And now right after the commencement of a judgment so great that the men of the earth have fled to caves and cried out to the mountains and rocks to hide them, the messengers of the Lord are suddenly seen holding back the judgment for a moment. The reason for this temporary suspension of judgment is revealed in verse 2 as we meet a fifth angel, this one ascending from the east and holding the seal of the living God.
"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'" (Revelation 7:2-3).
This angel cries with a loud voice to the other four angels who hold in their power the destructive forces that shall hurt the earth, and tells them not to release those forces yet because he's got a job to do first. He must apply a seal to the servants of God on their foreheads. The word "servants" means literally "slaves" or "bondslaves." We have not yet been told who these folks are that will be sealed, but we do know this much: They will have a job to do for God. They are His bondslaves, and they're going to be marked so that everyone knows they are God's bondslaves.
b. The Identity of the Sealed
The ones who are sealed are made known to us in verses 4-8. John hears the number of them in verse 4, and there were 144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel. The term "Israel" is never applied to anyone in the Scripture except physical descendents of Jacob whom God called Israel. While the Apostle Paul distinguishes lost and saved Israelites, that is pure physical Israelites as compared to those who are spiritual as well as physical Israelites, nowhere does the Bible call Gentiles Israelites, nor is the church ever called spiritual Israel. (Galatians 6:16 refers to saved Jews not the church).
My point is simply this: The 144,000 sealed persons in Revelation 7 are Jews. The normal understanding of language can permit no other interpretation. This is not the church, for in the church the middle wall of partition has been broken down and Jew and Gentile are not distinguished from one another any longer (Ephesians 2:11-18). In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:27-28).
But God has a future for the nation Israel as a nation, as this passage of Scripture makes perfectly clear. After the church of Jesus Christ has been caught up to be with the Lord, the nation Israel will once again occupy the most prominent place in God's program on earth. It would be absurd to insist this group of 144,000 is the church, when in the four verses to follow the 12 tribes of Israel are listed by name with 12,000 being sealed from each tribe. That would be allegorical to a ridiculous extreme.
There are several comments that should be made concerning this enumeration of the tribes in verses 5-8. Normally, when the 12 tribes are listed, Levi--the priestly tribe--is not listed (see Numbers 1). You say, well, if Levi is missing, that's 11, so how can there be 12 tribes? God replaced Levi with the two sons of Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh. So Levi and Joseph are removed from the list, and the 12 then include Ephraim and Manasseh.
But when you come to this list in Revelation, Levi is listed, but the tribe of Dan is missing. I can't really tell you why Dan is missing. Some have suggested that because of Dan's bold disobedience in refusing to occupy his inheritance, and because of his brazen idolatry (Jude 18; 1 Kings 12:28-30) he will be separated from the rest of the tribes just as the Lord warned in Deuteronomy 29:18-21.
Somebody else is missing: Ephraim, one of Joseph's sons. And look who takes his place in verse 8: the tribe of Joseph. One of Joseph's sons is here: Manasseh. But Ephraim is not. Why? We don't know that one either for sure. Like Dan, this may be because of Ephraim's guilt in matters of idolatry. He was also known to be the leader of the northern 10 tribes.
But in spite of the slight variations, the twelve tribes of Israel are here, identifiable, in the last days. This certainly refutes the notion that 10 of the tribes were lost. While Jews today do not typically know to what tribe they belong, God knows. God knows what tribe every Jew living on this earth today belongs to. And He shall seal 12,000 from each tribe during the Great Tribulation.
The existence of the 12 literal tribes at this future period of time, likewise refutes the foolish notion that the so-called 10 lost tribes are present today in the person of the English speaking peoples of the world, which is a false doctrine propagated today known as British Israelism made popular by Herbert W. Armstrong. I can't accept that! These are Jews. They aren't Gentiles. They aren't Englishmen. They are Jews, and God's Word indicates that they are not lost. They will be clearly identified during the Great Tribulation. The false claims of other cults to be the 144,000 also fade away as we look at the plain words of the Scripture. These are Jews. It says so right there in verse 4. Not one Gentile is among their number.
What is the seal which these Israelites receive? We're not told in this context, but I'd like you to turn over to Revelation 14, where we see this 144,000 again. Now, there are some Bible commentators who think that the 144,000 in Revelation 14 are different from the 144,000 in chapter 7. I happen to believe they're the same group. There are some differences but they're really not contradictory. They're simply supplementary. We learn other things about them here than we learned in chapter 7. That doesn't make them a different group. I don't get nasty about that--I still love the people who think they're different--but I just happen to think they're the same.
So let's look at Revelation 14:1. "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 foreheads."
These Jews belong to the Lord. They are His purchased possession. And the seal is His name. In His mercy and grace He reveals Himself to them, and they trust Him. They bear the name of God.
But why are they sealed? Again, this context does not tell us clearly, but we learn of one reason in Revelation 9:4. This verse has nothing to do with the 144,000 directly, but we learn a principle here that helps us understand why they were sealed.
"They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads" (Revelation 9:4).
The plague of this fifth trumpet could not harm those who were sealed. So, you see, this seal is the mark of protection and preservation. This group of 144,000 cannot be destroyed by the judgments of the Great Tribulation. They shall successfully pass through the period unscathed, and we see them in triumph at the day of Christ's return, having come through Great Tribulation, and ready to enter Christ's kingdom in earth (Revelation 14:1-5).
But there is another reason for their seal, and while not clearly stated, it is implied both in Revelation 7 and 14. Since they are servants, they have a job to do for God. What is that job? I think it's more than coincidental that right after their description in Revelation 7, there is the great multitude of all nations, kindreds, peoples, and tongues standing before God who came out of the great tribulation (vv. 9, 14). How did they hear the gospel during the Tribulation? Could their presence in this context imply that the sealed servants of Israel told them?
Look again at Revelation 14. The first five verses concern the 144,000. Immediately following in verse 6 we read, "And I saw another fly in the midst of heaven having the everlasting gospel to preach onto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred and tongue, and people."
Isn't that interesting that associated with the 144,000 is a word about the gospel that is to be preached to the people on the earth. There is no doubt in my mind that the 144,000 are not only sealed as a mark of possession by God, and as an indication of preservation and protection by God, but also as an indication of the propagation of the Gospel. They are witnesses to God's saving power.
Could not this angel be sharing with us the message which the 144,000 will preach throughout the earth during the Great Tribulation? We know the good news that Christ will soon establish His kingdom of righteousness and peace on earth will be preached during the Great Tribulation. The many converts in Revelation 7 from every part of the globe had to hear the message somehow. The Lord Jesus Himself predicted that this gospel of the kingdom would be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations in Matthew 24:14. That verse has no reference at all to this present age as some have suggested. It is in the context of Tribulation.
Who will do that preaching? I think the evidence makes it plain that this 144,000 are sealed for the propagation of the gospel to the ends of the earth. There will be 144,000 Billy Grahams, as Hal Lindsey says in his book on Revelation.
And what a wonderful time it will be to preach! It will be the greatest age of all time to preach the Gospel. Even with all that Satanic opposition, there will be fantastic results (Revelation 7:9 says they couldn't be numbered!). For men will detect the futility of following the Antichrist, and they will be feeling the wrath of Almighty God as divine judgment falls all around them. This period will be more conducive to evangelism than almost any period in human history that preceded it. And while the great majority of Jews and Gentiles alike who trust Christ through the ministry of the 144,000 will die for their faith (Revelation 13:15), death will mean deliverance from the tribulation of earth, and triumphant entrance into the presence of God.
2. The Saved Saints of All Nations
The scene before us with this second group is a scene in heaven. Let's look at that triumphant multitude, now as the scene changes from earth to heaven. Keep in mind that the group from verses 9-17 is different from the group in verses 1-8. The first one is numbered; the second innumerable (verse 9). The first is from Israel; the second from all peoples (verse 9). The first is on earth; the second is heaven ("before the throne"--obviously the same throne as chapters 4 and 5). The first is preserved through the tribulation; the second removed from it (verse 14). Note first of all their appearance.
a. The Appearance of the Multitude
"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!'" (Revelation 7:9-10).
They were from all nations, kindreds, peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Even though John saw the souls of this group in Revelation 6:9 under the altar and these are standing before the throne, I believe they are the same people. It is simply a different scene, and that accounts for the differences. The white robes they wore help us make this identification. Both the white robes they wore and the palms they hold in their hands seem to be symbolic of their triumph (see John 12:12-13) and as we might expect, there is praise on their lips. Not one of them can be silent, so thrilled are they with the inexpressible joy of entering the presence of God. They have been saved by the grace of God and by the blood of the Lamb, and so they gratefully attribute their salvation to God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb (verse 10).
b. The Adoration over the Multitude
The praise of the multitude causes the angelic host around the throne to break forth in praise as they fall on their faces in worship. "Saying, Amen! Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might be unto our God forever and ever, Amen" (Revelation 7:12). These are unfallen angels who cannot experience the joy of redemption from sin, but oh how they rejoice when a sinful human being opens his heart to Christ. The Lord Jesus Himself told us so in Luke 15:10, "Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents."
c. The Account of the Multitude
Suddenly one of the 24 elders turns to John and asks, "Who are all these folks anyway, and how did they get here?" (verse 13, free translation).
John is rather startled. He doesn't know who they are, and furthermore he is quite sure the elder does know. Why should he be asking him? His answer (verse 14) is "Sir, you know."
And he did know, for he tells John who they are and where they came from. "These are they who came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (verse 14).
How could these people come out of the Great Tribulation (and incidentally, the definite article appears in the Greek text)? Isn't it the church that is removed from the Great Tribulation? No, the church isn't removed from the Great Tribulation; the church is removed before the Great Tribulation (Revelation 3:10). In other words, they were in the Great Tribulation, but now have been taken out of it; they share the same blessing the church received several years before this time. The only way I know for them to be delivered from the Great Tribulation is to die.
So as Revelation 6:9 indicates, they are the Tribulation martyrs. They were slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held. It seems as though the majority of saints in the Tribulation, except for the 144,000, will be killed. Some will be martyred for refusing to worship the beast (Revelation 13:15). Some will probably die as a result of the catastrophic disturbances recorded in this book: earthquakes, wars, diseases, and the like. But death will be victory, as they experience blessed deliverance from the Great Tribulation and entrance in to the presence of God.
What qualified them to enter heaven? Was it just that they didn't bow to the beast? Was it their good works on earth? Certainly not! Their robes were washed white in the blood of the Lamb. Blood doesn't normally wash things white, but this is an exception, because it speaks of spiritual purity, the kind of purity necessary to enter heaven. It can only be obtained through the blood of Jesus Christ.
There are multiplied thousands of sophisticated 20th century religionists who cringe at the mention of blood. They have stopped talking about it in their churches. They have removed every mention of it from their hymn books. They say it is vulgar and uncouth. But God says it is precious. "Forasmuch as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver and gold. . . But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19). Hebrews 9:22 says "And without shedding of blood is no remission."
There is no possible way under God's heaven for you to have forgiveness of sins, except through the shedding of blood. If you have never put your faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for forgiveness, then your sins have not yet been forgiven. You will suffer for them in eternity. Paul says ". . . we have redemption through His blood, and forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7). There will be a multitude before God who come out of the Great Tribulation who will have acknowledged the faith in the blood of Jesus Christ for salvation. Have you?
d. The Activity of the Multitude
Now note what this multitude is going to be doing throughout eternity. "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." You see, heaven is not only a place of rest from our earthly toils, but a place of ministry. Oh, it won't be tedious ministry. There will be no weariness, no tediousness, no boredom, no need for sleep and restoration--just joyous, privileged service. And God shall be right there with them, making the blessing of His personal fellowship ever present.
e. The Abundance for the Multitude
Having looked at what the multitude will be doing for God, now look in closing at what God is doing for the multitude. What an abundant provision! "They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat" (Revelation 7:16). On earth, when the fourth bowl judgment is poured out, the sun shall scorch men with fire (Revelation 16:8-9). But there shall be no glaring sun nor scorching heat in heaven.
Furthermore, the Lord Jesus shall pastor them, and lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall remove all sorrow, wiping all tears from their eyes (Revelation 7:17).
You know, I'm looking forward to that day. I don't really have a pastor, you know--except the Lord. But someday I'm going to be in His presence and see Him face to face. And I'll tell you something else: You don't have a very good pastor. Human pastors are fallible; they're weak; they make mistakes. They aren't always there when you need them. They don't always know needs, and even when they know them, sometimes they're unwilling to meet them for some reason or other. Human pastors are fallible.
It says right here the Lamb who was in the midst of the throne is going to pastor you when you enter God's presence. This is true of all believers when we get to heaven, even though it's talking about Tribulation martyrs. We're going to be there in His presence and He's going to pastor us. He's going to lead us unto living fountains of water and God shall wipe away all tears--not only from their eyes but ours as well.
That same prospect awaits every person who knows Jesus Christ. Have you been shedding some tears over something lately? Lots of folks have. Someday God's going to remove every memory of those sorrows and there will be unending joy in His presence. Oh, I know it sounds too good to be true, and some folks accuse us of sitting around thinking about "pie in the sky by and by," and paying little attention to the problems of this earth in which we live. Oh, we're a part of this scene and God wants us to be concerned about its problems, inequities, and injustices, but thank God someday all that's going to be gone. What we can't correct, God is going to correct.
I hope you're going to be there. You only will be if you know Jesus Christ as your Savior. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the evidence of Your power through this Great Tribulation, protecting some, removing others--but in both cases, bringing glory to Your name. Thank You for the prospect we have of spending eternity in Your joyous, blessed presence. God, we pray if there is anyone uncertain of his own soul's salvation in our midst today, he may long to experience that joy and that pleasure and that satisfaction, that removal of all sorrow, and would be willing to acknowledge his sin and put his trust in Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. We ask it in His name. Amen.
Continue to RV-07B: The Sound of the Trumpets