A. Past Lessons
- John’s Introduction (1)
- John’s Letters (2)
- John’s Vision in Heaven (4-5)
- First Six Seals (6)
B. Text of Rev 7:1-8
“1After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. They were holding back the four winds of the earth so they would not blow neither on the sea nor against the trees. 2Then I saw another angel coming up from the east (where the sun rises) and the angel had the seal of the living God. The angel cried out in a loud voice to the four angels who were given ability to harm the earth and the sea 3saying, ‘Do not harm the earth neither the sea nor the trees, until we seal the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ 4Then I heard the number of those who had been sealed—144,000—who were sealed from the descendants of Israel. 5From the tribe of Judah: 12,000 were sealed. From the tribe of Reuben: 12,000. From the tribe of Gad: 12,000. 6From the tribe of Asher: 12,000. From the tribe of Nephtali: 12,000. From the tribe of Manasseh: 12,000. 7From the tribe of Simeon: 12,000. From the tribe of Levi: 12,000. From the tribe of Issachar: 12,000. 8From the tribe of Zebulun: 12,000. From the tribe of Joseph: 12,000. From the tribe of Benjamin: 12,000 were sealed.” (Rev 7:1-8) 1
Photo Credit: Matthais Gerung (1500-1570)
C. General Remarks
“Just when you think you are nearly at the top of the mountain, you crest a ridge and there . . . is another ridge half a mile ahead, steeper than the one you’ve just climbed. This is how it feels to get to this point [Rev 7] in the sequence of the ‘seals’ which have kept the purposes of God, written on the scroll, from being put into effect” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 69).
II. FOUR ANGELS READY TO RELEASE HARM (Rev 7:1-3)
A. Four Angels at the Four Corners of the Earth (v. 1)
Μετὰ τοῦτο εἶδον τέσσαρας ἀγγέλους ἑστῶτας ἐπὶ τὰς τέσσαρας γωνίας τῆς γῆς, κρατοῦντας τοὺς τέσσαρας ἀνέμους τῆς γῆς ἵνα μὴ πνέῃ ἄνεμος ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς μήτε ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης μήτε ἐπὶ πᾶν δένδρον.
“After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. They were holding back the four winds of the earth so they would not blow neither on the sea nor against the trees.” (Rev 7:1)
1. After This
Some commentators (Wright, Revelation for Everyone) see the visions of Rev 7:1-8 and Rev 7:9-17 as the same vision at the same time. However, the phrase “μετα τουτο / after this” indicates that this is a new vision just as the phrase indicated in Rev 4:1 and will do in Rev 7:9. Also see Rev 15:5; 18:1; 19:1.
2. Four Corners of the Earth
I once was in a Bible study with men who read this passage and found it funny that a “round” earth is described as having “corners.” I did see the point they were making, yet the Bible frequently speaks of the bounds of the earth using four corners (Isa 11:12; Ezek 7:2; Rev 20:8). Johnson notes that Near Eastern countries often used this phrase in the same way that we use the “four corners” of a compass to describe something that comes from all directions (Johnson, Bible Expositor’s Commentary, vol. 13, 658).
3. Views on the Four Winds
The four winds are the bounds of the world and God’s judgment on them (Jer 49:36; Ezek 37:9; Dan 7:2; 8:8; 11:4; Zech 2:6). My view is that these will be literal winds on the earth that cause destruction. Some say the winds are symbolic in terms of the great shaking that will pass through the entire world of human affairs (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 70).
B. An Angel from the East (v. 2)
Καὶ εἶδον ἄλλον ἄγγελον ἀναβαίνοντα ἀπὸ ἀνατολῆς ἡλίου ἔχοντα σφραγῖδα θεοῦ ζῶντος, καὶ ἔκραξεν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ τοῖς τέσσαρσιν ἀγγέλοις οἷς ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς ἀδικῆσαι τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν θάλασσαν
“Then I saw another angel coming up from the east (where the sun rises) and the angel had the seal of the living God. The angel cried out in a loud voice to the four angels who were given ability to harm the earth and the sea” (Rev 7:2)
Why from the east? Osborne admits that it is hard to figure out, but the most likely option is that the “east” is a symbol of divine blessing for two reasons. First, the east is the source of light (since that is where the sun rises). Second, east is the place of Paradise (Gen 2:8; 1 Enoch 32:3-4). See Osborne, Revelation, 304 for a discussion on four possible views.
2. Seal of the Living God
The seal is a sign of protection on the believers during the seven years of tribulation. However, this might not be physical protection because in Rev 11 the two witnesses are harmed.
3. Angels Given Ability to Do Harm
The phrase, “τοῖς τέσσαρσιν ἀγγέλοις οἷς ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς ἀδικῆσαι τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν θάλασσαν / the four angels were given ability to harm the earth and the sea” includes what is called a “divine passive.” A divine passive is a passive verb that has no explicit subject and in the context the subject is probably God (see Matt 5:3-12). That is the case here. Other translations of this divine passives are:
- “had been given” (NLT, NIV, NRSV)
- “it was given” (KJV 1900, AV 1873)
- “it was granted” (NASB95, NKJV)
- “had been given power” (ESV)
- “who were given permission” (LEB)
While it might be debated whether the power is “given” or is simply “permission,” it is clear that God is the one who is responsible for the chaos sent to the earth. God gives the angels the ability to do harm and God tells them to do harm.
C. Harm Must Wait (v. 3)
λέγων· μὴ ἀδικήσητε τὴν γῆν μήτε τὴν θάλασσαν μήτε τὰ δένδρα, ἄχρι σφραγίσωμεν τοὺς δούλους τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ τῶν μετώπων αὐτῶν.
“saying, “Do not harm the earth neither the sea nor the trees, until we seal the foreheads of the servants of our God.” (Rev 7:3)
1. A Seal on the Forehead
The forehead is a body part that is often mentioned in the Bible and represents one’s attitude toward God. God’s people were to were God’s commands on their foreheads (Exod 13:9, 16; 28:38; Deut 6:8; 11:18). People who turned away from God were said to have a brass forehead (Isa 48:4, ESV), a harlot’s forehead (Jer 3:3, NASB), or a hard forehead (Ezek 3:7, ESV). When King Uzziah sinned against God he was struck with a leprous forehead (2 Chron 26:16-21).
2. God’s People Sealed
It should not surprise us that God will seal his people for protection. When God sent a flood on the earth, God separated Noah and his family and protected them (Gen 7:1). When God destroyed Jericho, he protected Rehab and her household (Josh 6:22-23). Furthermore, in the time of the Great Tribulation God will give protection to these 144,000. According to Walvoord, “The matter is so significant to God that the names of the tribes and the number to be saved from each are given in detail” (Walvoord, Revelation, 139).
3. Brief Word Study on “Seal”
The word “seal” gets used a few times in Revelation and can be confusing. Revelation 7:1-8 refers to these 144,000 people as “sealed,” Rev 13 refers to people who are “marked.” The reason for this is that there are two different Greek words used here.
The Greek word used for “sealed” in Rev 7 is the verb, σφραγιζω while the Greek word used for “mark” in Rev 13 is καραγμα. A distinction among these words must be made for these passages as well as future passages.
The word σφραγιζω is used here in Rev 7:1-8 to show that God is placing a seal upon his people as a means of identification. The seal is a spiritual indicator, not a physical mark. It indicates ownership by God (Johnson, Bible Expositor’s Commentary, vol. 13, 658). When this word is used in this way it is often translated as “seal.”
The same word is used by Paul and John:
- “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” (Eph 1:13, ESV, emphasis added)
- “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph 4:30, ESV, emphasis added)
The word κεραγμα is used in the book of Revelation to designate a physical and visible mark that is engraved, etched, branded, cut, or imprinted. It is often translated as “mark” or “stamp” and is used in Revelation the following ways:
III. THOSE MARKED WITH THE SEAL OF GOD (Rev 7:4-8)
A. The Number Sealed (v. 4)
Καὶ ἤκουσα τὸν ἀριθμὸν τῶν ἐσφραγισμένων, ἑκατὸν τεσσεράκοντα τέσσαρες χιλιάδες, ἐσφραγισμένοι ἐκ πάσης φυλῆς υἱῶν Ἰσραήλ·
“Then I heard the number of those who had been sealed—144,000—who were sealed from the descendants of Israel.” (Rev 7:4)
1. Heard the Count
A. T. Robertson in his superb work—Word Pictures—reminds us that John did not see the count or count them himself, but he “heard” how many where there. Throughout the text of the book of Revelation we must remember that John’s senses work just as ours do. He can hear, see, touch, smell, and maybe even taste!
2. Descendants of Israel
The “descendants of Israel” is from υἱῶν Ἰσραήλ which could be translated as “sons of Israel.” Various translations are listed:
- “of the children of Israel” (KJV 1900, NKJV, AV 1873)
- “of the sons of Israel” (NASB95, LEB, ESV)
- “of Israel” (NLT, NIV) [with the omission of “sons” or “people” or “descendants”]
- “of the people of Israel” (NRSV)
The interpretation of who the descendants of Israel are is often a point of disagreement. See the views on the identity of the 144,000 below.
3. The Sons of Jacob
The following is a list of the twelve sons of Jacob. The first complete list of Jacob’s sons is in Gen 46:8-26:
- Reuben was the oldest son from Leah
- Simeon born of Leah
- Levi born of Leah
- Judah born of Leah
- Issachar born of Leah
- Zebulun born of Leah
- Gad born of Zilpha (Leah’s servant)
- Asher born of Zilpha (Leah’s servant)
- Joseph born of Rachel
- Benjamin born of Rachel
- Dan born of Bilhah (Rachel’s servant)
- Nephtali born of Bilhah (Rachel’s servant)
Joseph’s sons are also listed
The text in Genesis says that the total number of Jacob’s descendants that went into Egypt were sixty-six (including grandchildren).
The book of Numbers list the tribes in Numb 1:1-16:
- Ephraim son of Joseph
- Manasseh son of Joseph
Yet, just a few verses later the list changes in Num 1:22-43:
- Benjamin (he’s not listed in the above list)
You can see other lists of the tribes in Gen 35:22f; Exod 1:1ff; Num 13:f44; 26:34; Deut 27:11f; 33:6ff; Josh 13-22; Judg 5; 1 Chron 2-8; 12:24ff; 27:16ff; Ezek 48. Dan is omitted because of the reasons below and Levi is absent because they did not receive a portion of the Promised Land.
4. No Tribe of Dan
The tribe of Dan is omitted from this list. The reason for this is debated, but most Bible commentators believe it was because there was a belief in John’s time and before his time that the AntiChrist would come from the tribe of Dan based on the tribe of Dan being associated with idolatry (Judg 18:18-19; 1 Kings 12:29-30).
B. Judah, Reuben, and Gad (v. 5)
ἐκ φυλῆς Ἰούδα δώδεκα χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι, ἐκ φυλῆς Ῥουβὴν δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Γὰδ δώδεκα χιλιάδες,
“From the tribe of Judah: 12,000 were sealed. From the tribe of Reuben: 12,000. From the tribe of Gad: 12,000.” (Rev 7:5)
In each list the Greek preposition ἐκ is used. That preposition is often translated as “out of” or “from.” The importance here is that it is not saying that every person from each tribe will total 12,000, but instead it will mean that 12,000 people out of the entire tribe will be chosen (Johnson, Bible Expositor’s Commentary, vol. 13, 662-663).
C. Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh (v. 6)
ἐκ φυλῆς Ἀσὴρ δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Νεφθαλὶμ δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Μανασσῆ δώδεκα χιλιάδες,
“From the tribe of Asher: 12,000. From the tribe of Nephtali: 12,000. From the tribe of Manasseh: 12,000.” (Rev 7:6)
D. Simeon, Levi, Issachar (v. 7)
ἐκ φυλῆς Συμεὼν δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Λευὶ δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Ἰσσαχὰρ δώδεκα χιλιάδες,
“From the tribe of Simeon: 12,000. From the tribe of Levi: 12,000. From the tribe of Issachar: 12,000.” (Rev 7:7)
E. Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin (v. 8)
ἐκ φυλῆς Ζαβουλὼν δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Ἰωσὴφ δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Βενιαμὶν δώδεκα χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι.
“From the tribe of Zebulun: 12,000. From the tribe of Joseph: 12,000. From the tribe of Benjamin: 12,000 were sealed.” (Rev 7:8)
IV. THE IDENTITY OF THE 144,000
A. A Brief Exposition
The 144,000 people are mentioned here in Rev 7:1-8 and again in Rev 14:1-5. In Mark Hitchcock’s excellent work, The End: A Complete History of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days, he lists six main characteristics of the 144,000 servants of God (pp. 289-292).
These 144,000 were “purchased” (NASB) from the earth, meaning, they had been redeemed by Jesus paying the price for them. They belong to the Lord, and they are his possession.
The seal of God has prepared the 144,000 for service (Rev 7:3-4). The evil doers who belong to the earth will accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13), but these 144,000 people have accepted God’s spiritual seal (Rev 14:1).
The seal (as seen in my word study above) serves as a sign of ownership and protection. Before the angels are allowed to harm the earth, land, and sea, the seal must be placed on the 144,000 in order to protect them (Rev 7:3). In Rev 14:1-5 John sees the 144,000 standing triumphantly and victoriously on Mount Zion. They all have been protected.
The 144,000 have never had sex and that is a sign of them being pure and undefiled (Rev 14:4). Paul wrote about the purity of men who have not had sex to the Corinthians, “But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So, from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away. I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible” (1 Cor 7:29–35, NLT).
In the midst of the Great Tribulation the 144,000 follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Rev 14:4). Jesus is the Lamb and the shepherd, and the 144,000 follow him.
The 144,000 are a fulfillment of Matt 24:14: “And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14, NLT). These servants of God proclaim the message of the Lord and as a result John sees the millions and millions of people saved in heaven because of their preaching (Rev 7:9-14).
B. The Christian Church
Some propose that the 144,000 represent the Christian church. In the various commentaries that I consulted I did not find a good explanation of why this would be Israel. Yet, many commentators take this view. This view is held by Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 70-71; Metzger, Breaking the Code, 60; Mulholland, Revelation , 478-482.
C. Representative of the Godly Remnant of Israelite Jews
My position on the 144,000 consists literally of 12,000 people from each tribe of Israel. I hold this view for several reasons.
- First, the word “Israel” is never explicitly used to refer to Gentiles. It is used only used in the Bible (66 times) to refer to those who are racially descendants of Israel or Jacob.
- Second, if the church has “replaced” Israel and Israel now represents the church, then it would not make sense for Jesus and John to—in effect—go backwards to describe the church with the twelve tribes.
- Third, Isa 2:2-4; 11:11-16; Jer 31:8, 31-34; Ezek 37:15-22; and Rom 9-11 gives clear evidence that God still has a future for Israel. This vision of the 144,000 on earth can be a fulfillment of the prophecy of Rom 9:26-27.
- Fourth, if someone believes in the pretribulational rapture, the church and the Holy Spirit are already gone by this point. It would be convoluted for the church to be gone as well as the Holy Spirit that established the church, yet there be another church on earth?
- Fifth, Rev 7 makes a clear distinction between two separate groups of people. In Rev 7:1-8 it describes Jews from the twelve tribes of Israel, while in Rev 7:9-17 it describes Gentiles from every nation, tribe, people, and language. In Rev 7:1-8 it describes people numbered at 144,000, while in Rev 7:9-17 the people are innumerable. In Rev 7:1-8 the people are standing on the earth, while in Rev 7:9-17 the people are standing before God’s throne. In Rev 7:1-8 the people are sealed for protection, while in Rev 7:9-17 the people have ascended after persecution. There appears to be two unique and separate groups of people in Rev 7:1-8 versus Rev 7:9-17. Therefore, a distinction as the first group being Israelites and the second group being Gentiles makes sense.
- Sixth, James starts his letter saying that he is writing to the “twelve tribes” of Jewish believers that are scattered abroad (James 1:1). Therefore, the tribes still exist somewhere in the world and God knows where they are.
This view is held by Walvoord, Revelation, 137; Johnson, Bible Expositor’s Commentary, vol. 13, 660.
IV. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. God has chosen
The idea of God choosing out a special people is not a new idea in the Bible. Originally, God chose Abraham and the nation of Israel to be his chosen people (Gen 12:1-3; 15:6). Then, he further showed this in the Passover where the Israelites were protected from the angel who killed all the firstborn sons in Egypt (Exod 11-12). Later, God marked the foreheads of the righteous to spare them from God’s judgments (Ezek 9). Throughout the New Testament it is also clear that God has chosen his select people (Eph 1:11). This should provide comfort and encouragement to us.
B. God knows where the “lost” tribes went
In 721 B.C., the nation of Assyria conquered the ten northern tribes that made-up Israel. At that time, those ten tribes became lost and forever gone from modern history (the two tribes of the south were Judah and Benjamin, are still known today). While there are modern attempts using DNA testing to discover the identity of these lost tribes, it is clear that God knows who and where these tribes are. It is possible that God still knows where these ten lost tribes are and that he will have a plan for them.