INDUCTIVE STUDIES ON REVELATION
Part One: The 144,000
Although Rev. chapters 12-14 are an interlude between the sounding of the seventh trumpet and the pouring out of the first bowl of wrath, it is such a long and important interlude that I decided to take it totally separate from the rest of the interludes. With Rev. 7 we come to one of the most important interludes in the entire book of Revelation, the 144,000 and their identity.
Before looking at the interlude, we first need to look at where this passage falls in Revelation. In Rev. 6 Jesus has already started pouring out wrath upon His enemies and the enemies of His people. In the first set of wrath 1/4 of the entire world is affected by God's wrath. The situation is bleak for the enemies of Christ and His people. But what about Christ's people? Are they going to be destroyed by the wrath God pours out upon the earth? This chapter assures us (1) that Christ's followers will NOT be harmed by any of the wrath He pours out upon the earth and (2) that Christ's followers are eternally and ultimately safe because they are Christ's followers.
THE FOUR PROTECTING ANGELS (Rev. 7:1)
At the beginning of this interlude, John sees 4 angels. Where are they standing and what are they doing?
Whatever else this verse means, it means that everything that is about to happen is under God's control. I like what Milton Cunningham said the Sunday after our pastor's tragic car accident: "We can't know the mind of God." He went on though to say that God is in control. God is sovereign. We don't know how it all works out, but God is working things out.
Milton went on to compare our limited view of life with an incident when he was a boy. When he was a little boy, Milton used to watch the Texas Longhorn baseball team through the knot holes in a fence around the Longhorn baseball field. His sight was definitely limited on what was going on. We look at life through knot holes. God has the fullest perspective of everything going on in this world--and actually in ALL worlds.
SEALING THE 144,000 (7:2-8)
Another angel arises from the east. What does he carry in his hand (7:2)?
What does this angel instruct the other 4 angels NOT to do (7:3)?
The question now becomes, why does the angel seal the bondservants of God? Earlier we saw that the mark which was on the forehead of the followers of the Beast protected them from the Beast. They were not put to death by the Beast; they were not kept from buying food. Well, just like the Beast puts a mark on the forehead of his followers, so God puts a mark on the forehead of His people in order to protect HIS people from HIS wrath. In Rev. 9:1-4 an angel releases a plague of "locusts" upon the earth. These locusts are NOT to harm plants, trees, etc. Whom else are they not to hurt (9:4)?
There is a precedent for this. When the Pharaoh refused to let the children of Israel leave Egypt, God sent 10 plagues upon the Egyptians. These plagues devastated the Egyptians and everything else in Egypt, except for one thing. What was that thing?
In many ways what takes place in Revelation mirrors what happened to Israel in Egypt. God will pour devastating wrath upon the enemies of His people; however, His people who are still on earth will not suffer on iota from God's wrath. They WILL suffer great tribulation at the hands of the Antichrist, but none of God's wrath will affect them one bit. In case you think that is impossible, you need to understand then that you have a very limited view of God's power.
How many people does the angel brand with God's seal and where do these people come from (7:4-8)?
It is at this point that many conservative Christians will claim that John here is referring only to the Jews. Moreover, since only the Jews are sealed, Christians are not sealed because they don't need to be--they've already been raptured (even though Revelation has not mentioned the rapture or anything like it before this chapter). Are these 144,000 NECESSARILY the Jews? No.
Who might they be then? Remember that in the first study we saw that John is using symbols and numerology to communicate his message to his readers. When we study Rev. 2-3 (John's message to the 7 Christian churches), we will see that he describes the Christian churches in OT, Jewish terms. In fact, the entire NT claims that the church actually is the new Israel. This does NOT mean that God is not going to work dramatically among the Jews in the last days. I believe He is (we will see that in the interlude in chapter 11); however, that is not what this passage is saying. The 144,000 from the tribe of Israel most likely are referring to Christians, the new Israel of God (remember that the Beast persecutes the followers of "Jesus.")
Now what about the number 144,000? That number is to be broken down this way: 12 x 12 x 1,000 with 12 standing for the people of God and 1,000 standing for completion. In other words, not a single one of Jesus' followers is going to be harmed by God's wrath during the Great Tribulation. Yes, they will suffer terribly at the hands of the Beast; however, because the angel has sealed them with the seal of God, they will not experience God's wrath during the Great Tribulation.
Just a side note here. In 721 B.C. the northern tribes of Israel were wiped out by the Assyrians. They were no more. Only the southern tribes of Simeon, Judah, Levi, and Benjamin were spared the devastation of 721 B.C. I'm not even sure that you can say any more than any of the northern tribes still exist.
ASSURANCE OF VICTORY (7:9-17)
The first 8 verses of this chapter have assured us that God's wrath will not affect God's people; however, there is no such assurance for God's people when it comes to the tribulation and sufferings brought about by the Beast. In fact, God tells Christians who have been martyred during the tribulation that the tribulation will last how long (Rev. 6:11)?
Now THAT does NOT sound comforting, and Revelation is supposed to comfort the saints. So what does the ultimate future hold for the Christian who is put to die or who suffers during the great tribulation? In Rev. 7:9-12 what does John see in his vision?
According to verses 13-14 who are these people?
Now some will claim that these people represent all those Christians who were raptured BEFORE the Great Tribulation kicked into gear. There are 2 serious problems with this view. First of all, the elder explains that this multitude came "out" of the Great Tribulation. Well, when you come "out" of a house, you were first "in" the house. If you come "out" of the Great Tribulation, then you were at one time "in" the Great Tribulation. You can't be rapture BEFORE the tribulation and then come "out" of the tribulation. That interpretation violates the very meaning of the words John uses here.
Second, remember the 2 purposes of Revelation: (1) the comfort and encourage Christians who live during the Great Tribulation that ultimately everything is going to be OK in the end; (2) the encourage us to faithful to Christ even to the point of death. Well, how in the world does this interlude comfort Christians living during the time of the Great Tribulation? According to the view up above (which many conservative Christians believe), Christians living during the Great Tribulation would actually get ticked off if they read that and believed it applied to those Christians raptured before the Great Tribulation. "Oh, I'm really glad THEY escaped the Great Tribulation!"--said facetiously. It would tick me off rather than comfort me that I missed out on that scene because of bad timing on my part in coming to Jesus. Instead of referring to those Christians who were raptured before the tribulation, this passage most likely refers to those Christians who come "OUT" of the tribulation (as John said). Because they were faithful to Christ during the tribulation, they are going to experience a time of great joy at the end of time.
Read Rev. 7:15-17 and answer the 2 following questions. First, what kind of future awaits those who are faithful to Jesus Christ during the time of the Great Tribulation?
Second, would these verses comfort and encourage Christians living during the Great Tribulation if these verses applied to them?