A. The 144,000.
1. (1-3) Holding back judgment until the servants of God are sealed.
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.”
a. Four angels standing at the four corners of the earth: The phrase four corners of the earth is an ancient (and sometimes modern) equivalent to the idea of “the four points of the compass.” The idea is that these angels effect the entire earth.
b. Holding the four winds of the earth: These winds are a destructive force of God’s judgment, as they often are in the Old Testament.
i. Hosea 13:15 gives an example: Though he is fruitful among his brethren, and east wind shall come; the wind of the Lord shall come from the wilderness. Then his spring will become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up.
ii. The four winds of the earth may refer back to the four horsemen of Revelation 6:1-8, after the pattern of Zechariah 6:1-8. In that passage, four chariots with horses of the same colors of Revelation 6:1-8 go out to all the earth, and are called the four spirits of heaven. Spirits in that passage translates the Hebrew word ruach, which can also be translated winds.
c. Another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: Another angel has a seal, and he seals the people of God. In the ancient world, such seals were familiar. A king or a property owner could use a seal to show ownership or authenticity.
d. Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads: These servants of God will receive a protective seal on their forehead, containing God’s name in some manner (Revelation 14:1).
i. In Ezekiel 9, a similar protective seal is given to the righteous before Jerusalem is judged. The seal is the Hebrew letter tau (“t,” as in the shape of a small cross).
e. The servants of our God: We are not told what exactly their service is, but the 144,000 are sealed for a specific and unique purpose. However, the general idea of being sealed is not limited to them.
i. Jesus was sealed. He said God the Father has set His seal on Him. (John 6:27)
ii. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our eventual total redemption. Paul wrote: God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
iii. This sealing of the Holy Spirit belongs to every believer when they are saved: having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. (Ephesians 1:13)
iv. The sealing of the Holy Spirit is meant to be both a comfort and a challenge to us. We are comforted in that it assures us that we belong to Him. We are challenged by it to depart from all evil and identify ourselves with the One we belong to: Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19) And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
2. (4-8) The number of those sealed.
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 were sealed; of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.
a. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed: This is their general identification. They are of all the tribes of the children of Israel. Ethnically, they are Jewish, and there are 144,000 of these chosen ones.
b. Of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed: This is their specific identification. The 144,000 are divided among the 12 tribes of Israel. Though only God may know their tribal ancestry, there are 12,000 from each tribe.
c. The omission of the tribe of Dan: Why is Dan left out? Some think it is because Dan is the tribe of the Antichrist, based on Daniel 11:37 and Jeremiah 8:16. This may or may not be the case, but without doubt, Dan was the tribe which introduced idolatry into the nation of Israel (Genesis 49:17; Judges 18:30).
i. There is a wonderful redemption for the tribe of Dan. Dan is the first tribe listed in Ezekiel’s millennial role call of the tribes (Ezekiel 48).
d. The slighting of the tribe of Ephraim: This tribe is referred to, but only indirectly. The tribe of Joseph is mentioned, but Joseph was represented by two tribes: Ephraim and Manasseh. Since the tribe of Manasseh is mentioned, by elimination, the tribe of Joseph must mean the tribe of Ephraim - who is listed, but not by name.
i. Why is Ephraim slighted? Perhaps it is because the tribe of Ephraim was also associated with great idolatry (Hosea 4:17).
e. It is often claimed that this list must be purely symbolic because it is “irregular.” But what is a “regular” listing of the tribes?
i. There are not less than 20 different ways of listing the tribes of Israel in the Old Testament, including one that omits the tribe of Dan (1 Chronicles 4-7).
ii. Just because a list is different doesn’t mean it is fanciful symbolism. It is proper to regard each of these lists as legitimate, and to consider that each specific variation serves a purpose, meaning to emphasize something.
3. Who are these 144,000?
a. Many different groups have claimed to be the 144,000. For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses said their entire group was, until they surpassed 144,000 in number. Now they say that the 144,000 are only a select group of Witnesses who go to heaven.
i. Most scholars either regard the 144,000 as the church or as converted Jews, who are still identified as Israelites in some manner.
ii. It is an important issue. If they are symbol of the church, then the church is definitely in the Great Tribulation, but sealed for survival through the Great Tribulation.
b. Some facts about the 144,000 from Revelation 7 and Revelation 14 give us insight regarding their identity.
i. They are called the children of Israel (Revelation 7:4).
ii. Their tribal affiliation is specific (Revelation 7:4-8).
iii. They seem to be protected and triumphant through the period of God’s wrath, meeting with Jesus at Mount Zion at His return (Revelation 14:1).
iv. They are celibate (Revelation 14:4).
v. They are the beginning of a greater harvest (Revelation 14:4).
vi. They are marked by integrity and faithfulness (Revelation 14:5).
c. Taken together, these facts make it difficult to say that the 144,000 are a symbolic picture of the church.
i. Israel is a term never specifically applied to the church in the New Testament, and never by any Christian until 160 a.d.
ii. Their tribal affiliation is emphatic and known to God. Even if God only knows it, there is absolutely no reason to regard their tribal affiliation as symbolic, not literal.
iii. It is difficult to imagine the entire church surviving through the tribulation without martyrdom, and remaining celibate through the period, something that was never required for the church as a whole (1 Corinthians 7:1-6).
iv. If the 144,000 are a symbol of the entire church, what greater harvest are they the beginning of?
d. It is best to see the 144,000 as specifically chosen Jewish believers in Jesus, protectively sealed throughout the tribulation as a sign.
i. They are the beginning harvest of the salvation of Israel (Romans 11:1, Romans 11:26, Matthew 23:37-39).
ii. “They are not a part of the Church proper; for their repentance comes too late for that. They are a superaddition to the Church - a supplementary body - near and precious to Christ, but made up after the proper Church has finished its course.” (Seiss)
B. The Great Multitude.
1. (9-10) More worship at the throne of God.
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!”
a. A great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues: The diversity here is evidence that the Great Commission will be fulfilled before the end, even as Jesus promised (Matthew 24:14).
i. Because John knew they came from different nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, we know that there will be differences among people in heaven, just as there is on earth. We will not all be the same. We will be individuals.
ii. “I suppose as he looked at them he could tell where they come from. There is individuality in heaven, depend upon it. Every seed will have its own body. There will sit down in heaven not three unknown patriarchs, but Abraham - you will know him; Isaac, you will know him; and Jacob, you will know him. There will be in heaven not a company of persons, all struck off alike so that you cannot tell who is who; but they will be out of every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue.” (Spurgeon)
b. Standing before the throne and before the Lamb: Again, John sees everything in heaven in reference to the throne of God. “This is a peculiar subject of their joy: that God has a throne, that he sits upon it, and that he ruleth over all things, and all things do his bidding. The central thought of heaven, then, is divine sovereignty.” (Spurgeon)
c. Clothed with white robes: These robes remind us not only of the covering righteousness of Jesus, but also of priestly service. “They are arrayed for holy service, and arrayed at once, for they wear white robes fitted for their priestly service.” (Spurgeon)
d. The palm branches remind us of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-16), where Jesus was also praised as Savior and King. The word Hosanna means “save now!”
i. Palm branches were emblems of victory. It shows this great multitude celebrates a great victory. “The palm, the ensign of triumph, indicates most certainly a conflict and conquest. As on earth palm would not be given if not won, we may conclude that the Lord would not have distributed the prize unless there had been a preceding warfare and victory . . . From the very fact that the glorified carry palms, we may infer that they did not come from beds of sloth, or gardens of pleasure, or palaces of peace, but that they endured hardness, and were men trained for war.” (Spurgeon)
e. Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! Having an emblem of righteousness (white robes), they worship God for salvation. They recognize that God is the source of salvation, and no one else. Salvation isn’t something we achieve, it is something God gives.
i. Sometimes believers on earth take their salvation almost for granted. This isn’t true of this great multitude in heaven.
2. (11-12) All heavenly creatures join in worship.
All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
a. All the angels . . . the elders and the four living creatures . . . worshiped God: As the great multitude worships God, the others in heaven are compelled to join their voices in praise. All created beings around the throne join in.
b. Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might: As these other created beings hear the worship the great multitude brings to God, they see more clearly the power and wisdom and majesty of God. They can worship God all the more by seeing the salvation He brought to the great multitude.
3. (13-14) The identity of the great multitude.
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, “Sir, 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.”
a. Then one of the elders answered: It was important that John know the identity of this great multitude. But he didn’t know that he should ask, so one of the elders prompts him to ask.
b. These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation: This vast multitude, from every tribe and tongue and nation, are those rescued for God’s kingdom in the period of the great tribulation.
i. They have had trouble on the earth during the great tribulation. In the ancient Greek grammar of this passage, “the” is emphatic. This was a time of great tribulation for this multitude. This has led many to believe that most, if not all, of these are martyrs from the great tribulation.
ii. The presence of so many tribulation saints is a powerful statement of God’s grace and mercy. Even in this time of judgment and wrath on the earth, many are saved.
iii. Because the great multitude are mentioned right after the 144,000, many and thought that they are - at least in part - due to the work of those 144,000 servants of God. Perhaps the 144,000 are evangelists who help reap this huge harvest for the kingdom during the great tribulation.
c. Washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb: Those saved in the great tribulation are saved just like everybody else, by the blood of the Lamb. Even if they are martyred, their martyrdom does not save them. Only the work of Jesus can cleanse and save.
i. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Not one of them became white through his tears of repentance, not one through the shedding of the blood of bulls or of goats. They all wanted a vicarious sacrifice, and for none of them was any sacrifice effectual, except the death of Jesus Christ the Lord. They washed their robes nowhere but in the blood of the Lamb.” (Spurgeon)
ii. White by blood is an interesting phrase; we don’t think of things being made white by blood! But the blood of Jesus cleanses us: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
4. (15-17) What this great multitude does, and how it is blessed.
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 living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
a. They are before the throne of God: In heaven, the redeemed enjoy the immediate presence of God. They can come right into the throne room and be with God. There are no barriers, no waiting lists.
i. These saints knew affliction on earth, and they triumphed over it. But it wasn’t their affliction that saved them. It was Jesus and their relationship of faith with Him. “Affliction of itself does not sanctify anybody, but the reverse. I believe in sanctified afflictions, but not in sanctifying afflictions.” (Spurgeon)
b. And serve Him day and night: In heaven, the redeemed serve God. We don’t know exactly how, but they do. “Heaven is not only a place of rest from earthly toil but also a place of privileged service” (Walvoord)
c. He who sits on the throne will dwell among them: In heaven, God will dwell with His people. This is the ultimate fulfillment of King David’s great desire in Psalm 27:4: One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.
d. The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them: In heaven, the redeemed will know the loving care and nurture of their Savior. He will protect them from every affliction (they shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat). He will also provide for their every need (lead them to living fountains of waters).
i. Doesn’t Jesus shepherd us now? Isn’t He close to us and caring for us now? Yes, but in heaven it will be so much more. “The true Christian life, when we live near to God, is the rough draft of the life of full communion above. We have seen the artist make with his pencil, or with his charcoal, a bare outline of his picture. It is nothing more, but still one could guess what the finished picture will be from the sketch before you.” (Spurgeon)
e. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes: In heaven, the redeemed will know no more sorrow or pain. The hurt and the struggle of this earthly life are gone, and tears are a thing of the past, because God will wipe away every tear.
i. What tender love! We think of a mother’s loving hand, brushing away the tears from her child’s face. God loves us with that kind of nurturing care.
ii. We also understand from this that every tear will only be wiped away in heaven. On this earth, we have our share of pain and tears to endure and bring to God. He shows His love now with sweet consolation and strength for our tears; but one day - in heaven, not now - He will wipe them away forever.
iii. This passage does not have the idea that in heaven, we will weep over our wasted life or unconfessed sin, but God will still wipe those tears away. That idea may be a powerful, guilt-inducing motivator, but it has nothing to do with the meaning of this verse. “The point is that the grief and tears of the past, speaking of their trials in the tribulation, will be over when the get to heaven . . . God will wipe away all tears resulting from their suffering on earth.” (Walvoord)
iv. Many wonder, “How can there be no sorrow in heaven if we have relatives or loved ones who perish in hell? Won’t we be sorry for them?” Spurgeon answers well: “Now, how is this? If you will tell me, I shall be glad, for I cannot tell you. I do not believe that there will be one atom less tenderness, that there will be one fraction less of amiability, and love, and sympathy - I believe there will be more - but that they will be in some way so refined and purified, that while compassion for suffering is there, detestation of sin shall be there to balance it, and a state of complete equilibrium shall be attained. Perfect acquiescence in the divine will is probably the secret of it; but it is not my business to guess; I do not know what handkerchief the Lord will use, but I know that he will wipe all tears away from their faces, and these tears among them.”
© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission