THE INNUMERABLE MULTITUDE
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.’ 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 [beginning with Reuben, NU omits: 10 of the were sealed phrases]; of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand; of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand; of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand; of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand; of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand; of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand; of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand; of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.
Here, in chapter seven, we come to a pause in the action before the events of the Great Tribulation continue to be revealed to us. Specifically, this is the first of four interludes in the book of Revelation … the interlude between the sixth and the seventh Seals. In this chapter, we will be given vital and important information about two groups of people who will live during the dark days of the Great Tribulation. We will also read about the sealing of one of these groups before God allows any further judgments to proceed on the Earth. The people that are to be sealed are Jews. This is our first encounter with Israelites in the book of Revelation. Truly, God is not yet through with his people, the Jews. No, not by a long shot, as we see here and as the Apostle Paul so clearly teaches in Romans 9-11. During the Great Tribulation, God will once again be working with and through his chosen covenant people of old. A careful study of the scriptures regarding the Jewish people reveals that the primary purpose of the Tribulation is the re-commissioning, refining, restoration and vindication of the Jews. Here are a few scriptures that prophesy to that effect.
For thus says the LORD: 'We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask now, and see, whether a man is ever in labor with child? So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor, and all faces turned pale? Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day,' says the LORD of hosts, 'That I will break his yoke from your neck, and will burst your bonds; foreigners shall no more enslave them. But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up for them. Therefore do not fear, O my servant Jacob,' says the LORD, 'Nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid. For I am with you,' says the LORD, 'to save you; though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished. Jeremiah 30:5-11
I will bring the one-third through the fire,will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answerthem. I will say, 'This is My people'; and each one will say, 'The LORD is my God.' Zechariah 13:9
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ’The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’ Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Romans 11:25-29
But Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. Isaiah 49:14-16
The Tribulation period will initiate a whole new ball game for God’s people, Israel. It will commence a whole new age and program for them. The Church will be gone from the earth and the Church Age will be over and past. It is very significant that the word church is not found one time from Revelation 4 through 21. That is because, during those days, it will not exist on Earth. The Church will have been removed and God will once again be working with his ancient covenant people, the Jews. At that time, according to Zechariah 13:9 quoted above, God will bring one-third of his people, the Jews, through the fire to refine them. As Jeremiah put it, it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. During those days, the Jews will once again begin to call on the name of their God (Christ, the Jehovah of the Old Testament) and he will answer them. These are amazing prophecies and they will be literally fulfilled during the dark days of the Great Tribulation.
Now, I believe the Jews that we see here in Revelation 7, were saved by direct confrontation. That was the manner in which the Apostle Paul was converted. The confrontation that turned these 144,000 Jews occurred during the sixth Seal judgment. Were those traumatic events effective? Well … here they are … just a few sentences away from seeing their Messiah with their own eyes … seated at the right hand of the majesty on high! Everyone on earth were crying to the rocks and mountains, Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. Those cries have barely died down when we come here to the startling revelation that 144,000 Jews are now standing ready to serve the Lord Jesus Christ! In verse four, we read, 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.
Let's step aside for a moment. The Apostle Paul is the only man in history who was ever saved by a direct confrontation. His story is found in Acts 9. There, on the road to Damascus, as he was traveling to Damascus to arrest and persecute believers in Christ, this zealous Pharisee and Christian hater was literally struck to the ground and spoken directly to by the risen Christ. Jesus said to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? (Acts 9:4). He answered, Who are you, Lord?Jesus said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. It took direct confrontation to turn Saul of Tarsus to the true and living God. Later, he spoke about it this way,
Then last of all he [Christ] was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. First Corinthians 15:8
What did Paul mean by, as by one born out of due time? He was saying that his conversion experience was an anomaly. It was out of place in the age in which he lived. It was out of sequence in the history of God's dealings with men. Paul knew that his conversion experience was like a man who had been born in the wrong time period. He understood that the method of direct confrontation that Christ had used to save him was a method that belonged to a different age than the Church Age. It belonged in the yet future age of The Great Tribulation. It belonged to the time of the aftermath of the sixth Seal … as evidenced by all these Jews we are looking at here in chapter 7.
Someone may ask, Will all the Jews in that day turn to the Lord because of the confrontation of the sixth Seal? The answer, of course, is, No. Even direct intervention and confrontation by God will not be sufficient to change the minds of two thirds of the Jews who will be living on Earth at the middle of the Tribulation. However, many will respond in faith, as the Apostle Paul did. Zechariah prophesied that a third would be brought through the Tribulation and be refined. Doubtless, that will be millions of Jews. Here in chapter 7, we encounter an elite 144,000 of them. The Green Berets, so to speak, of the Jews in that day. Immediately after the sixth Seal, we find this group standing absolutely committed to Christ. The flabbergasted Paul, while still with his face in the dirt on the road to Damascus, responded, Lord what would you have me to do? (Acts 9:6). No doubt, these Jews have asked their Lord the same question and they are now standing ready to be sent out in Christ's name into the perilous days of the Great Tribulation. Doubtless, as with the Apostle Paul before them, they will be a zealous lot, whole-heartedly carrying out their work for their Messiah in the spirit that Paul demonstrated in Philippians 1:20-21,
…according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Armed with that same zeal and commitment, Christ's 144,000 witnesses will surely turn their world upside down during the days of their ministry. Let me share one more thought as to the timing of this great, future conversion of so many Jews. Romans 11:25b, says,
…blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
This term, the fullness of the Gentiles, refers to the time of The Great Tribulation ... the time period of the last three and a half years of the Tribulation. It will be the time of Antichrist’s reign. It is called the fullness of the Gentiles because it will be the time of the pinnacle of Gentile reign on the earth. When that reign begins, as clearly stated in Romans 11:25, and as clearly demonstrated here in Revelation 7, the supernatural blindness of Israel which exists today and was instituted when the Jews rejected their Messiah ... will be lifted. The fullness of the Gentiles is the final phase of what Jesus referred to as the times of the Gentiles in Luke 21:24. The times of the Gentiles began when God's Theocracy on Earth was terminated and the Glory of the Lord departed back to Heaven from Jerusalem, as recorded in Ezekiel 8-11:3. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylon took dominion over the earth being the first of a procession of Gentile kingdoms that have continued down through history to our day. For a more detailed discussion of this subject, see my commentary on Daniel at: http://www.biblebookofdaniel.com/chapter1_2.htm.
Returning to our text, notice that this is a new vision. First, John saw four angels holding back the four winds of heaven. As he continued to watch, another angel appeared out of the east and shouted to the original four, Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads. The word translated harm here, makes it clear that the winds are intended to be symbolic. These winds are speaking of God’s judgments that will shortly come upon the earth. Wind is a very appropriate symbol in this regard. In excess, wind is irresistible, unpredictable and devastating. Often, tornadoes sweep across the plains and southern states of our nation and have winds in excess of two hundred miles per hour. Needless to say, little is left after they have passed by. Here, the symbolic winds of God's judgments are put temporarily on hold until the angel … from the east seals God’s servants. This seal will protect them from the judgments God is about to send upon the Earth. When they come, they will not affect these 144,000 chosen and sealed servants of Christ. This whole scene is reminiscent of the night when Israel was delivered from Egypt, is it not? You will remember that God commanded his people to mark their door-posts with lamb’s blood so that the approaching death angel would not harm them (Exodus 12:23). We read in Exodus 12:13,
Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
The future sealing of God's Jewish servants will function in the same manner as the blood did on Israel's door-posts of old. In 9:4, we will read of its effectiveness. There, demon locusts are instructed to hurt only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. God’s judgments on the wicked are never designed to be inflicted upon his own people. Revelation 14:1, tells us what this seal is.
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.
Now, let’s take one more look at the identity of these servants of God. The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim this scripture is talking about some of them, but obviously these are not Jehovah's Witnesses. Our text specifically says that they are the children of Israel. You can’t make the Bible mean just anything you want it to mean. It says what it means and it means what it says. Furthermore, lest there be any misunderstanding as to who these people are, we are told that they are individuals from 12 specific tribes of Israel and each tribe is listed for us. Twelve thousand are sealed from each tribe. By the way, there are no lost tribes of Israel. Our omniscient God knows exactly where all of his people are and to which tribe each one belongs. When the sealing of the 144,000 takes place, an Old Testament prayer will have been answered.
O LORD, why have you made us stray from your ways, and hardened our heart from your fear? Return for your servants' sake, the tribes of your inheritance. Isaiah 63:17
Notice that the angel from the east calls these Jews, the servants of our God. All through the dark days of the Tribulation, they will be serving him. Doing what? No doubt, they will be busy getting the Word of God out ... the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what God intended for them to do from the day he originally chose them to be his people. That's why, in Matthew 5:13-14, Jesus called them the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This has always been God’s plan for the Jews … that they would be spokespersons for him. At the middle of the Tribulation, his purpose for his people will finally begin to come to fruition when the 144,000 commit their lives and fortunes to the Savior. These fellows are going to be amazing. Like 144,000 Apostle Pauls, they will spread out over the earth with the message of Christ. In the second half of this chapter, we find an innumerable multitude of Gentiles who have come out of the Great Tribulation having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They are not positioned there by accident. Where did they hear about the blood of the Lamb, do you suppose? This great multitude of believers is found in the second half of this chapter as evidence, in my opinion, of the effectiveness of the future ministry of the 144,000.
Before we move on, please notice that one tribe of Israel is conspicuously missing from the list of the 144,000 who will be serving their God during the Great Tribulation. It is the tribe of Dan. That tribe has been replaced or substituted by the half tribe of Manasseh. You will find the original list of the twelve tribes of Israel in Genesis 49. There, the scripture specifically says, these are the tribes of Israel (Genesis 49:28). What is the explanation for the omission of Dan and the substitution of the half tribe of Manasseh? I believe it is this. I believe that the tribal privilege of Dan to serve Christ in that future day has been revoked due to their past history of unfaithfulness to their God. The half tribe of Ephraim along with the tribe of Dan, were responsible for bringing idolatry into Israel. They set up golden calves in Dan and Bethel, which eventually lead the entire nation away from their God and into judgment (Judges 18:30; Hosea 4:17; 1 Kings 12:28). This may well be why they will not be allowed to serve their God during the Great Tribulation. Service is a privilege that is all too often taken for granted by God’s people, is it not? Willful rebellion and failure to follow Christ may well risk disqualification from serving him at some future date and time. I believe that is the case here.
THE INNUMERABLE 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!’ All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped 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? And I said to him, [NU changes: Sir to: My Lord], you know.’ So he said to me, ’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 [NU changes: living fountains of waters to: fountains of the waters of life.] And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
Now, John’s attention shifts from Earth’s scene and the sealing of the 144,000, back up to Heaven. Up there, he finds an innumerable multitude standing before God’s throne. They are from every ethnic group on Earth. They were wearing white robes. You will remember that the martyrs of the fifth Seal were given white robes and told to wait for the arrival of the rest of their brethren that would be killed. The fact that these people are in Heaven, dressed in white robes, indicates that they are those very brethren spoken of back there in 6:11. Again, let me emphasize it will be very difficult to be a Christian during the Great Tribulation. It will literally cost people their lives to follow Christ in that day. John heard the multitude shout, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Then, the angels responded, Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever, Amen.
When these Tribulation saints began to glorify Christ, the angels joined them in their worship. However, the angels couldn't cry salvation because it is not available to them. But they spoke wonderful words of adoration. The only way angels can experience the wonderful grace and mercy of God, by the way, is by observing it in the Lord's Redeemed. As you have it in Ephesians 2:6-7,
…and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
In eternity, from age to age, we believers in Christ will be on display as trophies of God's mercy and grace before all his angels and all other created beings. Here in chapter 7, we find a whole multitude of these trophies. They have come out of the great tribulation and arrived in Heaven to the great amazement and delight of the angels. Jesus said,
…joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth… Luke 15:7
At this point, an elder stepped up to John and asked him a question. Can you identify who these people are, John? His question was put to John to accentuate the uniqueness of this particular group of God’s saints. John answered that he didn't know. This, in itself, is evidence that they are not the Church since John, an Apostle and elder of the Church, certainly would have recognized his own group. The elder then went on to explain to John that these were a brand new category of saint. They are Tribulation Saints … who have come out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. In respect to the fact that they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, they certainly have that in common with the Church. However, there are some differences between them and the Church, as it was described back in chapter 5. Here is a comparison:
Tribulation Saints (chapter 7) Church Saints (chapter 5)
...wear white robes ...wear white raiment
...hold palms ...hold harps and vials of prayers
...are uncrowned ...wear crowns
...stand before the throne ...are seated on thrones
...cry, "salvation to God and His Lamb" ...sing, "Worthy is the Lamb who has redeemed us"
Again, the thing that they have in common with the Church is they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Dr. McGee points out that normally blood stains things, but the blood of Jesus does just the opposite. It washes and removes stains. Regardless of whether one is a Tribulation saint or a Church saint or an Old Testament saint, all who have come to God by faith have been washed from their sins by means of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, provided for us all at the cross. As we had it back in Revelation 1:5,
…and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood…
I once heard of a denomination that was so offended by talk about the blood of Christ that they authorized all references to blood to be removed from their hymns and literature. Unsaved people hate the concept of blood atonement for their sins. It offends them. I think that is because they hate the thought that they are sinners at all. However, men and women cannot change what they are by simply denying it. As you have it in Jeremiah 13:23,
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil.
There is no remedy for the stain of sin in the life of a human being other than the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is his blood that washes away the sin-stains that stand between a sinner and Holy God. It alone is sufficient to cleanse and make someone whole again. As you have it in Ephesians.1:7,
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace…
Praise God for the cleansing blood of our dear Savior, Jesus Christ! Amen?
Now, let’s look for a moment at the position these Tribulation saints are enjoying in Heaven. Notice that they have been given a place, a job, a security and a fellowship. Let's break it down. It says here:
They are before the throne of God. Now, that's the place to be, brother! Standing in the presence of their God! They were truly home.
They serve him night and day. Now, there's a job worth having! Heaven is not a place of inactivity and boredom, by the way. It is a place of real, effective and profitable service to God.
They are promised they will suffer no more hunger, no more thirst and no more heat. Now, that's real security! We have seen the horrible conditions that will prevail during the first half of the Tribulation that will come because of the first five Seal judgments, but the second half of the Tribulation will be far worse. These saints will have come out of that later time period. But, when they get to Heaven, they will never again experience the horrible things that they endured down on Earth. There, they will be protected forever. Suffering, for these Tribulation saints in Heaven, will forever be a thing of the past.
Their ever present and caring Shepherd, the Lamb himself, will ever be at their side. Now, that's real fellowship, brother. It doesn't get any better than that! Never again will they be separated from the physical presence of their loving Lord and his tender care. It says here that he himself will feed them and lead them to fountains of living waters. That reminds me of that wonderful promise to them in Isaiah,
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:11 (KJV)
These are the saints that will come out of the Great Tribulation. They are yet to be. Doubtless, a vast number of them will have been won to Christ by the 144,000. How gracious and wise is our great God. Long after the Church will have been taken from the earth, the Lamb of God will still be calling out a people for his name’s sake. Amazing plan ... amazing love ... and amazing grace, aye?
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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