The 144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8)

In ancient times a seal indicated ownership.  Cargo, documents, packages and so forth would be sealed with the insignia of the individual who owned it.  The object was the possession of the individual who had marked it with his seal.  These 144,000 are the possession of the Lamb, they belong to Him and no other.  

When I hear someone is teaching on Revelation the first passage I go to is chapter 7.  One of the first things I want to know, to know where the teacher is coming from, is how they interpret this chapter.

There are many good teachers of the Bible who disagree on a good many of issues.  That’s okay.  More than once I’ve realized that teachers I hold second-to-none in a number of areas will surprise me when they come to this chapter.  I find myself in disagreement with their conclusions, and, their method of interpreting.  And believe me when I say I study their study of the passage and try to think along with them and understand why they are seeing the text in the way they do.  But, while I hold from their own intelligence, and certainly in no way establishing any of my own, I walk away agreeing with them in so many other areas, but, unfortunately not Revelation 7.

Revelation 7 is about the Jewish people.  Frankly, God’s plans for the future of this earth, for the nations, are all predicated on His plans for Israel, the Jewish people.  

God made promises to ancient Israel.  And God will keep them.  He promised to Regenerate them spiritually; to Reunite them with their land; and to make them Revered by the nations.  These promises will find their fulfillment when Jesus returns to the earth to establish His kingdom over the entire earth for 1,000 years.  Before He returns – before Israel gets its promises met, there will be a 7 year Tribulation period, where the nation of Israel will have a relationship with the wrong Christ, the Antichrist.  During this 7 year period, this prophetic 70th week, God will have His wrath break loose with a long series of dreadful judgments.  This 7 year period is described in great detail for us here in Revelation 6-19.

Today we come to chapter 7.  Chapter 7 is one of the “interludes”.  It’s where the text takes a break from describing the judgments to give us a different picture of what God is doing in the world.  It is divine multi-tasking.  This interlude in chapter 7 is given to us in between the 6th and 7th seal.  The next series of judgments is 7 trumpet judgments.  Another interlude is found in chapters 10-11 and also happen in between the 6th and 7th trumpet.

What is this interlude in chapter 7 about?  Well, we are shown that God is going to still be saving people in this world even while He is barraging it with judgment.  Chapter 7 shows us 2 groups of people who will be redeemed.  First we see the 144,000 Jews and then we see the multitude of Gentiles.  Today we are going to look at the first half of the chapter focusing on the 144,000 Jews that God plans to specially redeem during the Tribulation.

 

Four Angels (1-3)

First, we are introduced to 4 angels.  These four angels are in charge of holding back the four winds.  God is marshaling His angels against humanity.  Episode after episode they charge forth with their assignments to execute God’s justice against rebellious mankind.  God has multitudes upon multitudes at His disposal.  And just as He placed each star in the sky and named them, each angel in Revelation has been personally selected for some assignment from the One Who sits on the throne.  In chapter 9 verse 15 it says there are 4 angels “who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year”.  

Now we have 4 angels in chapter 7 designated with power over the earth’s winds.  Let’s notice a couple points here about our angels.

First, the text is not “unscientific” when it says “four corners of the earth.”  A lot of people criticize this verse thinking that John wrote in ancient times when people ignorantly believed the earth was flat and square.  Thus they and John, thought the earth had “four corners”.  But that’s not what is meant here.  Henry Morris [pg 126]

Second, without any wind blowing on the earth, the earth’s hydrologic cycle is going to be disrupted [Read Morris, pg 126].  This is interesting.  These angels are said to have power to harm the earth by letting loose powerful winds, yet, by simply holding back all wind from blowing on the earth it is going to have catastrophic effects on the hydrologic cycle on the earth.

Thirdly, however, when these four angels let the winds loose it was going to be very destructive.  Notice the language in the text in verse 2 and 3, “the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea.  ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees….”  When these four angels release the winds the earth may experience storms, hurricanes, gale-force winds like never before.  Wind, you may remember, was one of Satan’s selected weapons against Job.  He sent a powerful wind and collapsed the house where Job’s 10 children were feasting at, killing all 10 of them (Job 1:19).

Fourthly, the wind, the sea, the land, and the trees are all real.  There are a lot of people who say these things are allegorical and symbolic, not literal.  For instance, many believe the wind refer to the persecution of God’s people by evil people, or that trees refer to God’s righteous people.  However, there is no compelling reason to deny the plain text when it is reasonable to accept what it plainly says.  And it is reasonable to accept that these judgments are going to bring great destruction on the land, sea and trees.  Otherwise, we have to explain away as allegory all kinds of verses that specifically say the earth is going to be damaged.  For instance, we will see during the 7 trumpet judgments that the earth is going to be greatly affected by the judgments:  a third of the earth burned up, the sea turned into blood, the river waters turned bitter, a third of the lights in the sky turn dark.  Here’s the thing, when God wants you to know something is symbolic He very clearly tells you that what He is saying is symbolic.  For example, turn to chapter 1:20.  Then to chapter 11 verse 8.  Then turn to chapter 17 verse 15 and then verse 18.  Just because something is beyond anything we’ve every known or experienced before doesn’t mean we need to deny it and turn it into an allegory or symbol.  

 

The 144,000 (v2-8)

Now we come to the 144,000 in verses 2-8.  These 144,000 also appear in chapter 14.  The reason for holding back the four winds was in order to seal these 144,000.  This seal would be placed on their foreheads (v3).  That seal will be the name of the Lamb and the Father (14:1).  

In ancient times a seal indicated ownership.  Cargo, documents, packages and so forth would be sealed with the insignia of the individual who owned it.  The object was the possession of the individual who had marked it with his seal.  These 144,000 are the possession of the Lamb, they belong to Him and no other.

We are sealed with the Holy Spirit.  He indwells every Christian (Eph. 1:13) and His presence within us all is itself the seal God has given us.  Him in us is His proof we belong to Him and are His possession.

It should go without saying that these are 144,000 Jews.  However, many people come with such strong presuppositions to this text that they have to have it mean the Church rather than the Jews.  This in spite of detail after detail given to make it undeniable that it is the Jews who are meant.  But this text is not referring to the Church.  The Church is not ever equated with Israel in the NT.  The Church is not the “New” Israel, the “True” Israel, “Spiritual Israel” or the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).  

First we see in verse 4 the statement:  “Then I hear the number of those who were sealed:  144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.”  Nowhere in Scripture is the Church ever referred to as the 12 Tribes of Israel.  But that’s not all, the Lord wants to make it even more clear that it is 144,000 Jews by listing the 12 tribes by name.  And out of each tribe 12,000 will be sealed with the name of the Lamb and the name of the Father, totaling 144,000.  The Church has definitely never been subdivided into 12 groups that correspond with the 12 tribes of Israel.  God most certainly wants 144,000 Jews sealed and redeemed.

Just like people don’t believe it means Jews even though it says Jews, many don’t believe it is 144,000 even though that’s the specific number given.  Some folks insist it simply means a great number of those who are saved.  If that were true, why wouldn’t verse 4 read like verse 9?   If God doesn’t mean 144,000 exactly, and instead He means a very large number, why wouldn’t He have said “a great multitude which no one can count” as He does in verse 9?  He doesn’t say that because an ambiguously large number is not what He means.  He means 144,000.

When God uses numbers in the Bible He is true to those numbers.  For example, when the Jews failed to observe the Sabbath year every 7th year and they disobediently worked their land rather than giving it rest, God kept track of every Sabbath year they didn’t observe.  After they had disregarded a total of 70 Sabbath years God sent them into Babylonian captivity for 70 years to give the land its overdue rest.  Or, another example, when God told Daniel it would be 69 “weeks” before the Messiah would be cut off that was exactly the length of time before it occurred.  Or we can look to the prophecy that Messiah would be betrayed for 30 silver coins which is exactly the number Jesus was betrayed for.  Or, when Jesus said 3 days and 3 nights He would be dead that is just how it went.  When God uses numbers for a certain time, or for a certain amount, that’s exactly what He means and that’s exactly how it will be fulfilled.  We have every reason to expect 144,000 Jews will be sealed during the Tribulation.

Looking more closely at the list of 12 tribes, you will notice that Dan is not included.  It is suggested that the tribe of Dan has been denied because of his idolatry (Lev. 24:11; Judg. 18; 1 Kings 12:28-29)

Before we cut the Jews out we ought to consider the implications of doing so.  God made unconditional promises to them, promises that when fulfilled would last forever, promises that are not yet fulfilled.  If God is faithful to His word He still must deliver to the Jews.  But, if God has abrogated the promises He made to the Jews based on their unrighteousness, what hope do we have?  God’s faithfulness to Israel is not predicated on their faithfulness – His faithfulness is despite their unfaithfulness.  That is the very essence of grace – the trait of God so touted by those who deny Israel’s future.  But if God promised eternal things unconditionally to Israel and yet has retracted those things, what possible assurance and security do we Christians have in the eternal things God has promised us unconditionally?  None.  The ground cut out from Israel by Christians is actually the ground on which Christians stand:  the integrity of God.

Be sure of this:  God does not lie or change His mind (Numbers 23:19).  He hasn’t for Israel.  He won’t for us who are in Christ.

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