144,000 & a Multitude - Revelation 7
Prayer: Lord, I thank & praise you that in the midst of a book that teaches of many troubling things there remains hope. Please help us, even as we might struggle with the meaning of individual elements of this passage, to come out on the other side of it with the message of hope. Amen!
Before we took a break for Holy Week we were in a dark & troubling passage in Revelation, and there are more to come; but, just as Easter follows Good Friday there is encouraging news following the trouble we learned about in chapter 6.
This chapter consists of two inter-related visions, the first of which appears to fit chronologically, but the second of which does not. Both of these visions are inserted here as a "pause" in the activity of the flow of the overall book of Revelation, and this is a pattern we will see. There are multiple types of 7s (seals, trumpets, bowls) that each have a parenthetical pause inserted between the 6th & 7th of their type.
Vision #1: Revelation 7:1-8 - Who are these 4 angels, what are they doing? These angels are likely the angels we're going to meet next time in chapter 8, and they have a specific purpose we'll learn about then when we get to the 7th seal & the first 4 trumpet judgements. In any case, they are powerful beings doing God's bidding & at this point they are holding back the winds & holding back judgements that will be coming soon afterward.
I'm hoping that none of you is getting hung up on the "4 corners of the earth" idiom, but just in case you are here are some thoughts for you:
- The Greek word translated "4 corners" here is "gonia" which more accurately would be translated as the 4 compass directions (North, South, East, West). Since they are holding back the winds from the earth it makes sense that they would be referred to as being at each of the compass directions - even today we speak of the winds in these terms.
- Earth has actually been found to have 4 corners, 4 protuberances that stand out from the basic spherical geoid. Earth is slightly flattened at the North & South poles, and bulges at the equator, and along the equator it has been discovered that there are 4 measurable protuberances. But I think this is going a bit into left field, I think the compass directions are more likely what is meant.
So where specifically are these angels located? We don't know, those who have thought this through more than I have speculate there may be one at each pole, and the other two at opposite sides of the Earth along the equator - perhaps one in the Atlantic & one in the Pacific. In any case if they were located in such a manner from a human perspective on the surface of the Earth there would be one in each compass direction.
These 4 angels at this point are holding back the winds, bringing a sort of temporary calm to the Earth after the cataclysmic events of Chapter 6.
There is a 5th angel & he commands the 4 to wait - he has a job to do before they are allowed to cause harm. His job is to seal the 144,000 witnesses of the tribulation.
Who are these 144,000? Here are the predominant points of view:
- Remnant of the nation of Israel, and the numbers are Literal.
- Remnant of the nation of Israel, and the numbers are Symbolic.
- Members of the Church who have taken up Israel's inheritance, numbers Symbolic.
- The people of God in general, Jews or Gentiles, numbers Symbolic.
Let me tell you what I think & why.
- I think option number 4 is stretching things to the breaking point. Those who think this like to justify it mathematically, as follows:
12 Tribes x 12 Apostles x 1000 blessed generations (Exodus 20:6) = 144,000
- I think option number 3 is in error because it represents Replacement Theology, the idea that the Church has inherited the promises of God. There are only weak passages (like Galatians 3:23-29) to back up this idea, and they to me appear to be mutilated to get to that idea. On the other hand there are many strong passages (like Luke 21:5-36, esp. v24) that indicate that God still has a future plan for Israel. Also, the Abrahamic covenant was made by God alone - he put Abraham to sleep so that no man was involved - since God made a covenant with Himself there is no action on man's part can break it; the result, God has a permanent covenant with the descendants of Abraham. I also think the return of the Jews to their land in the last century is proof that God is still preserving them for a future purpose.
- I think option number 2 is weak because it bases the numeric symbolism on the same Exodus passage that options 3 & 4 use.
- I think option number 1 is strong because the language here is very specific, and usually when language in the Bible is meticulously specific (as this is) it is meant to be taken literally. The other reason this option appeals to me is that it makes sense, especially if the Church has been taken out of the world, that Jews would once again be given the opportunity to become God's servants - they at the very least would have the Old Testament scriptural groundwork laid.
What about the "10 lost tribes"? This is a myth that should be rejected! Let me tell you why. When the kingdom of Israel split in two the lands of 10 tribes were in the Northern Kingdom (called Israel) and the lands of 2 tribes were in the Southern Kingdom (called Judah). The tribal lands in the Southern Kingdom were those of Judah & Benjamin, with Judah being the royal family (line of David). Remember that the Levites were dispersed amongst the tribal lands, so Levites would have been living in those territories (that brings us up to 3 tribes). Add to this the passages, like 2 Chronicles 15:9 that tells us that large numbers of people from other tribes (specifically Ephraim, Manasseh & Simeon) had migrated south after the kingdom had split. We must remember that the tribes didn't strictly keep to their assigned lands, and we must also remember that not everybody would have wanted to stay in the Northern tribe - especially after the worship of idols was introduced & eventually forced upon the people.
If that's not enough evidence for you that the "10 lost tribes" are a myth there is more. In 722 BC Assyria defeated the Northern Kingdom. The Assyrians deported a large number of the people & replaced them with peoples from other conquered lands, but the numbers recorded (for which there is historical evidence) show that only about 1/20th (5%) of the Israelites were deported & replaced. This caused some intermingling, and the "Samaritans" are the intermingled "half-breed" group that resulted.
In 586 BC, about 136 years later, Babylon defeated the Southern kingdom. Babylon also defeated the Assyrians, in essence "recapturing" the somewhat-intermingled Jews still living in the North. How many had their blood lines polluted during that 136 year period? It is very possible there were still many non-intermingled people among this group. Being all under the Babylonians, when the Jews began returning to their land they likely had representatives of all the tribes. Remember God is in control of the destiny of the Jewish people, and God always keeps a remnant for Himself.
Are these Jews? I think that it is pretty clear they are. Lest you think the Jews are being unfairly favored take a moment and realize that 144,000 represents less than 1% of the Jews in the world today. Additionally, we will learn in Chapter 14 that these ones are called "pure", they are blameless and do not lie, and they have not defiled themselves with women - the implication is that they are virgin males. In any case they are certainly a group that have hearts soft for God & His ways.
Which tribes are missing from the list? Jacob had 12 sons, and 2 "adopted" sons (Joseph's sons Ephraim & Manasseh), so the list of possible names here could be as many as 14. Each time that the names of the 12 tribes are listed there are "missing" names, and these instances are telling. The most common list removes Levi, since as priests they didn't have a tribal land assigned to them (they were dispersed) & they also would not have been called up to military duty. The most common list also typically removes Joseph & replaces his name with the names of his two sons (Ephraim & Manasseh). In the common case all of the descendants of Jacob are still recognized, but in this case there are two different names removed.
One of the missing tribes is Dan, the other is Ephraim. We could argue that Ephraim's tribe is included in Joseph (and it is) but there is definitely a "jab" being made by not naming this tribe specifically. There is no sight of Dan, and this isn't the first time Dan has gone missing. In the book of 1 Chronicles, chapters 1-8, there are detailed genealogies of the tribes; however, the descendants of Dan are completely missing.
The tribe of Dan is the tribe through which idolatry entered the land (Judges 18:30-31), as had been prophesied by Jacob (Genesis 49:17), and they continued to lead in apostasy until the time of the defeat of the Northern Kingdom. Deuteronomy 29:18-21.
The two golden calves where the people of the Northern Kingdom worshiped were in the area where the tribe of Dan had migrated (far North) & in the tribal area of Ephraim. The slight to Ephraim's tribal name may be because they allowed the idol to be placed in their tribal land.
The last thing I want to talk about before we move on to the second vision is the seal itself, what it is & what it's purposes are. There is a passage in Ezekiel 9:4 where the soft-hearted of Jerusalem are marked, and the mark given was the Hebrew letter Tau - the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Many believe this same mark is implied in this passage, this letter appears like "x" or "+". A scholar named Krodel notes that to Greek Christians this sign would suggest the first letter of Christ (Chi), the Greek word for Messiah, or it would have represented the Cross of Christ. For Greek Christians, reading the passage in Ezekiel would have given them chills. If this is the case then this speaks strongly of Jews who take Jesus as Messiah, perhaps doing so during the events noted in chapter 6. This is further supported by Revelation 14:1 which tells us the seal contains the name of the Lamb (Jesus) and the name of His Father.
What does this seal do? Other than the obvious of marking these as belonging to God, Revelation 9:3-4 indicates that this seal protects the 144,000 from some of the troubles of the tribulation period.
This is not the same seal we as believers are given in which the Holy Spirit indwells, these saved ones are of a different sort & after the Church has been removed; however, the Holy Spirit is still present and active during this time. The Holy Spirit is also not restraining evil in the world during the time period of these 144,000; the role of the Holy Spirit is changed.
This leads me to think there are 3 types of saints: Old Testament saints, New Testament saints, and Great Tribulation saints. I also have to wonder about believers in the Millennium... will they be yet another unique group? Each group has a purpose of their own, and each group has a destiny of their own.
Later in the book of Revelation the unrepentant will take the mark of the Beast. We must remember that everyone chooses, even today those who don't choose God are choosing to reject Him.
Vision #2: Revelation 7:9-17 - This section is chronologically out of order, but I think you'll understand why God placed it here. Who is this throng? These are the Great Tribulation saints! This tells us that those 144,000 witnesses were powerful to draw people to Christ, this innumerable crowd is the fruit of their work. Despite going through portions of what Jesus said would be the greatest time of tribulation on the face of the earth, these came to faith.
A question was asked in Revelation 6:16-17, this passage answers the question. These are the ones who stand. They carry Palm leaves, reminiscent of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem when the people shouted Hosannah & welcomed Him as their King. They no longer suffer, but are led by Jesus Himself to springs of living water, protected by God and set apart to serve Him in His heavenly temple - their specific purpose in heaven.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for bringing out the redemption of man, including us. We thank you that your work is not complete & that your work will bring many souls to salvation. It hurts us to think that many may not come to you, but we can find joy & hope in knowing that an innumerable number will. Amen!
Reflection & Prayer:
- Think about how divided people have become. Countries at war, nations fractured from within, political extremes, vehement hatred of religion & Christianity in particular, extremes differences throughout society (business practices, medical research findings, financial strategies, morality). The world is becoming increasingly polarized. Truth is under attack & people care more about being respected for their opinion than knowing & speaking the truth. Try to imagine how much worse it might be if Christians are removed & disasters are prevalent.
- Think about how God works during times of trouble. Think about how the worst of times can bring about the best in some. Ponder how amazing a harvest is done in 7 years by this relatively small group of witnesses, so that the number saved are beyond a man's ability to number.
- What is your response?
Take some time to pray with one another.