What follows in this chapter is still a continuation of the sixth seal, for the seventh seal is not opened till the beginning of the next chapter. We suggested that the sixth chapter speaks of judgments God would bring on the Roman Empire for tribulations it brought on Christians in the early centuries. This chapter is related to the sixth and the enemy that afflicted the church. I agree with those who believe that chapter 7 reveals more troubles were in store for some power that afflicted the church, but before those troubles were unveiled in chapters 8 and 9, God's true people under the Christian religion are separated, identified, and assured that God loves them and cares for them. These judgments were not intended for Christians, but for their persecutors.
First, I would like to present a brief synopsis of Revelation 7. This chapter opens with a vision of four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, and they were holding back destructive winds which were to injure both land and sea. The destruction intended is revealed in the seventh seal which follows in chapters 8 and 9. However, God sends a message to these four angels that no damage is to happen to earth, land and trees until God's servants were sealed in their foreheads. John is informed that exactly 144,000 people are to receive a mark on their foreheads first out of the 12 tribes of Israel. Exactly 12,000 from each tribe received the mark on their forehead. But to our surprise the names of Dan and Ephraim are left out, and in their place are Joseph and Levi. Dan and Ephraim are probably omitted because they were notable idolatrous tribes.
Of course, 12,000 sealed out of each tribe comes to a total of 144,000. After this, John sees a different group people around the throne, and there are so many they cannot be numbered. They were from all nations, races, peoples and tongues. Every nation on earth was represented among them. The 144,000 were Jews and the countless number from all nations were Gentiles. Both groups were praising God and the Lamb for their salvation. Since Jews were worshiping the Lamb, they had to be Jewish Christians. Each one of them was given a white robe and palm branch in their hands, and when they started to praise God and the Lamb, the four cheribims, all the other angels around the throne, and the 24 elders all fell on their faces and worshiped God and the Lamb. Then one of the elders helps John to understand what this was all about by asking him this question, “Who are these arrayed in white clothes, and where did they come from?” John answered, “ Sir, you know.” The elder's
reply to John is given in words familiar and precious to every Christian, “These are the ones who came 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 any more, 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 all tears from their eyes.”
Next, let us consider an explanation of this vision according to the Historical Interpretation. The four angels holding back hurtful winds represent hurtful agencies and works. They seem to be holding back dark storm clouds about to rush upon the earth. They are commanded to hold back their damaging power until God's people are sealed on their foreheads. The angels are God's messengers, and they indicate that it is God's will that both land and sea be injured because of what is called in verse 14, “the great tribulation,” a terrible persecution some world power has brought on the church of God, also called the Church of Christ. These judgments and troubles to be brought on the persecuting power are revealed in chapters 8 and 9. But the angels are restrained until God's people are identified and sealed. These judgments were not meant for any displeasure God had with His church.
Next, what was the mark on their foreheads and what did this sealing signify? A seal in ancient times was an impression or mark made on documents of writing as an evidence of their authenticity. Also in ancient times, marks were placed on the body of slaves to signify ownership. Among the ancient Hebrews, if a slave was allowed to go free, but decided to reject his freedom and remain with his master, one of his ears was pierced to indicate permanent ownership. The seal on the foreheads of the two groups of heavenly people in this vision was a symbol of identification or mark of ownership. The seal was to signify God's love and care for the true people of God on earth. It was a sign that the woes to come on the earth were not intended for them. It did not mean they would be exempted from the sufferings associated with these judgments. Rather, it was to let them know that these judgments were meant for their persecutors and enemies. The forehead seal signified the approval of God, and that He would protect them from ultimate harm.. There was a similar sealing of the foreheads of those
in the Old Testament church in the days of the Babylonian captivity(Ezekiel 9:4) Beyond al dispute, all those sealed on their foreheads represent Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, who were in a time of great tribulation. They remained faithful to Christ, and many of them went to their graves for refusing to deny Christ. God's true people at the time John wrote and God's true people on earth today are Christians and no one else. The mark on the Christian's forehead is not some literal mark. I agree with those who suggest this mark on the forehead is nothing more than a symbol of what Christians believe and practice. Those who are true Christians cannot hide their loyalty to Christ. If we are Christians, those around about us will surely know it.
Furthermore, we must pay careful attention to the fact that this large number of heavenly beings were divided into two different groups.
The smaller group numbered 144,000 who had received the mark on their foreheads. Exactly 12,000 were marked out of the 12 tribes of Israel. 12 times 12,000 equals 144,000. It is important that we understand that the book of Revelation is not a future history of the Jewish nation but of the Christian nation. The word Israel in the Old Testament stood for the 12 fleshly tribes of Israel, but in the book of Revelation the word Israel stands for the New Testament church. It is written in a code language The word temple in olden times stood for Solomon's temple in Jerusalem, but in the book of Revelation the word temple refers to the Church of Christ, the spiritual temple of Christ, and the only temple God has in the Christian age of the world.
As the Church of Christ was first formed out of the Jewish church, so in Revelation 7 Christian Israel alone is mentioned first. The first thousands of Christians were all Jews, and they had accepted the Christian religion out of all the tribes of Israel. Some of all the 12 tribes became Christians. The 144,000 from 12 tribes of Israel represent all the Jews who became Christians in the early centuries of the Christian religion. There are hints to help us realize that the 144,000 represent only Christian Jews. The names of the 12 tribes are not mentioned in the same method and order as in Old Testament times. Dan and Ephraim are left out, probably because they were idolatrous tribes. Judah is mentioned first in this list instead of Reuben, probably because from him descended the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. The thousands Israelites who became Christians from 12 tribes multiplied by the 12 apostles equals 144,000 which becomes a sacred number throughout the Revelation. The religion of Christ unites both Jews and Gentiles into one new religious nation in Christ. Scripture speaks of the church composed of Jews and Gentiles as “one new man.”
This interpretation of the 144,000 is put beyond all dispute, when we are told there was another group of people so great in number they could not be counted, standing together with the 144,000. Verses 9, 10 tells us that by the side of those from Israel who became Christians there was an innumerable multitude of “all nations” clothed in white robes and a palm branch in their hands. These represent Gentiles who embraced the gospel and became Christians. This vision could very well be a description of the state of the New Testament church in Constantine's time, consisting of Jews and Gentiles from all parts of the Roman Empire. Constantine belonged to the 325 A.D. time period. Historically speaking, this vision of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians worshiping Jehovah God together in a heavenly setting is most certainly a correct representation of the Church of Christ in those years of persecution by the Roman Empire.
The Holy Spirit has given us another hint as to the time period indicated in this vision .in verses 13-15. When one of the elders asked John who all these people were wearing white robes John said, “Sir you know.” Then the elder said, “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.” The time period is that of some great tribulation period in church history. This is not talking about ordinary times or time in general. We are talking in terms of “the great tribulation.” All historians, secular and religious, know that Christians were horribly persecuted by the political, pagan, idolatrous Roman Empire of the Caesars. Shall we ignore this historical fact, and totally ignore any reference to that terible event in the book of Revelation. If so, what tribulation will we refer this chapter to? How could the book of Revelation be a book of prophecy, and a future history of the church and make no reference to one of the most terrible vents that befell the Church of God in the early centuries? It would seem very reasonable that God would warn and foretell the church about such a traumatic event that was to befall them a short time in the future. John was suffering in this persecution as related in Revelation 1:9, and this persecution became much worse just a century or two down the way.
In my closing remarks on this chapter, I think it is important that we answer a question many have asked about this book. If the multitude of people in this vision are Christians who have remained faithful to Christ in the great tribulation afflicted by the Roman Empire, who are asking God to do something about such injustice, why all the
secrecy and symbolism? Why didn't God use plain language, tell it like it was, and say that these Christians are my people, and the Roman Empire is evil and has mistreated, persecuted and even killed My people. Furthermore I am angry with the Roman Empire, and I will bring judgments on that Empire that will wipe it out of existence? If God had spoken in such plain language, the Christians would have been branded as rebellious traitors to the Roman Empire, judged worthy of severe persecution and even death. This would have made the persecution much worse than it was. This book would have been destroyed by the pagan Roman rulers and their people. The Roman Empire had to be identified as the persecuting power by means of symbols so that they would not understand, but Christians would understand. It was never intended that Christians would not understand who were the persecutors mentioned n this book. The symbolic language protected Christians, the inspired writings and saved the lives of many Christians.