Revelation Bible Study #7 ; THE OPENING OF THE SEALS , the 144,000 in Revelation, chap 7

Revelation (Apocalypse) #7 ; THE OPENING OF THE SEALS , the 144,000 in Revelation

sermon Revelation 7 : Pierre Constant, 2022_10_07, AB Lausanne church

title : Revelation Bible Study #7 ; THE OPENING OF THE SEALS , the 144,000 in Revelation, chap 7

Revelation #7 THE OPENING OF THE SEALS, God’s people persevere

“For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall take care of them, and shall lead them unto springs of the waters of life, and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7. 17

Interlude: The People of God (Revelation 7)

Between the 6th and the 7th seal, John inserts an interlude, a pause in the story, before proceeding to the opening of the 7th seal. Far from being an unimportant parenthesis, John presents here a recurring theme of apocalyptic literature: the identity and nature of the people of God.

These interludes answer some questions that first-century Christians may have asked themselves: Will we be able to persevere? Is God really at work and in control of the situation? What will happen to us next? To a persecuted people without political or legal protection, God responds that He knows the destiny of His own and that He sees to their ultimate protection.

This chapter is much debated among evangelicals. One of the main questions, if not the main question, is whether John is describing two distinct groups (the 144,000, and then the great crowd), or whether he is describing only one group, but from two different aspects.

The main contrast is not between the 144,000 and the great crowd, but between the “dwellers of the earth” (6.10 and many times in the apocalypse), including the various groups mentioned in 6.15 and the people of God mentioned in chapter 7.

  1. First part of this vision: 4 angels, 4 winds, a pending judgment, the 144,000 “sons of Israel” sealed with the seal of God (vv. 1-8) John describes a new vision (7.1-8): 4 angels to the 4 corners of the earth, sent to harm the earth and the sea and the trees (vv. 2-3) by holding back the 4 winds of the earth (v. 1). Their judgment is not to be made until they have sealed the foreheads of God’s servants with the seal of God (v. 3).

Then comes the number of these servants, marked with the seal of God: 144,000. Note that John does not describe what he sees, but what he hears (v. 4).

Almost all exegetes agree to understand this number symbolically, except the most literalist. 144,000 is simply 12 X 12 X 1,000. New Jerusalem is cubic, 12,000 stadia on each side. We saw the 24 elders (12 + 12). There may be an allusion to the 12 tribes of Israel in the OT and the 12 apostles of the NT, the number 1000 meaning the totality, the 12 X 12 X 1000 then signifying the totality of the people of God. Where opinions diverge is how to understand the sequel, in vv. 5-8:
Are they Jews in the proper sense of the term? Rev 14.4-5 identifies them as Jewish virgins (literally?), who never lie.
Some believe that since we have an accurate list of the 12 tribes of Israel, there is no doubt that they are literally Jews. However, this interpretation is very difficult to support, for the following reasons:

-The 144,000 of Revelation 14 are those who “have his [Lamb’s] name and his Father’s name in their foreheads,” without it being stated that they are Jews; they are the 144,000 “redeemed from the earth”; they are virgins, redeemed from among men, firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. They represent the entire people of God.

-Being sealed with God balances another seal, that of the mark of the beast. Either one is sealed with the seal of God and faces the wrath of the enemy of God, or one is sealed with the mark of the beast and faces the wrath of God.

-The seal is a mark of belonging; one cannot receive both the seal of God and the mark of the beast.
The list of 12 tribes does not match any known list in the OT or NT;

-Judah (not Reuben) appears first (probably because Judah was promised kingship – cf. Gen 49:8-12, and several other OT texts)
instead of having Ephraim and Manasseh, we have Joseph and Manasseh (Ephraim is absent) Dan is not mentioned, a tribe notorious for idolatry in the OT.

-Since the destruction of the temple and the archives in the year 70, no one among the Jews can say exactly to which tribe he belongs; the tribes were lost, mixed up, impossible to trace.

-Throughout the NT, we find the idea that the separation between Jews and non-Jews has been abolished (Rom 2.25-28; 1Pet 2.9-10; Galatians 3–4, Gal 6.16; Ephesians 2–3). This separation between Jews and non-Jews is obsolete, abolished and obsolete in Jesus Christ!

-The main point of this text is not that these people are Jews, but that these people are sealed (or marked) with the seal of God – vv. 4, 8. What John is presenting here, using OT language, is that all of God’s people are sealed with the seal of God, that these people are God’s people and will be kept from the wrath of God and of God’s judgment (judgment that angels cannot perform until God’s people are sealed with the seal of God – v. 3).

Second part of the vision: the great crowd around the throne (vv. 9-17)
In the 2nd part of his vision, we are in the presence, not of what John heard, but of what he saw: “After that, I looked. . . (v. 9).

What he sees is a great crowd, which cannot be counted (no contradiction with the 144,000, a figure symbolizing the totality of the people of God), composed of people of all peoples and all languages.

They are before the throne and before the Lamb (therefore, in heaven),
dressed in white robes (a symbol of purity),
hand palms (a symbol of joy, associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover).
They recognize that their identity depends entirely on the saving work of God on their behalf.
They are accompanied by all the angels standing before the throne, the 24 elders and the 4 animals (cf. Rev. 5.6-13, mentioned in reverse order).
Again, praise is made up of 7 elements: all glory, all reality and all existence depends on God and the Lamb!
The 144,000 and the great crowd actually refer to the same people and not two distinct groups:
Unless the 144,000 are read very literally, these represent the entire people of God.
This same totality is then presented under the image of a large crowd (typical of apocalyptic literature to present the same realities twice, but with different images).
This mixed metaphor echoes Rev 5, where the lion of the tribe of Judah is the Lamb slain and victorious.
We find the same expression: “I heard” (or its equivalent – ​​5.5, 7.4) and “I saw” (5.6, 7.9).
So these are the same people, the same people of God presented with the help of two different metaphors.
What is this “great tribulation” from which these people in white robes come?
A period of 7 years? Nothing in the context supports such an interpretation; one must first accept a whole system of interpretation to this effect. Even the expression “a time, times, and half a time” (absent here) which is found in other places (OT and Revelation) must be interpreted symbolically (which we will see later) .
The term “tribulation” is used (45 times) in the NT to describe all kinds of difficulties, troubles, trials, and cannot be restricted to a single period of 7 years:
the expression great tribulation is found in Matt 24.21, in reference to the destruction of
in Acts 7:11, the expression refers to the famine in Egypt and Canaan which caused Jacob and his sons to go and look for wheat in Egypt;
in Revelation 2:22, Jesus says he throws Jezebel onto a bed and into a great tribulation;
the word qli/yij can mean any tribulation joined to persecution (Matt 13.21, Mark 4.17), torments (Matt 24.9), afflictions or tribulations in the world (John 16.33), the pain of childbirth (John 16.21), Joseph’s tribulations in Egypt (Acts 7.10), the persecution after Stephen’s death (Acts 11.19), the many tribulations we must go through to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14.22), and so on. immediately (cf. 1 Thess 1.6, 3.3).
The great tribulation referred to here is presumably the entire period between the first and second comings of Jesus.
The language used in vv. 15-17 (Isaiah 49.10, Ezekiel 34.11-23, Jeremiah 23.5, Isaiah 25.8) is also used in Revelation 21–22 in reference to all of God’s people.
Conclusion :
John therefore describes in chapters 6 and 7, a first series of judgments of God on the “dwellers of the earth” and specifies that the people of God, those who have received the seal of God on their foreheads, will have to face the wrath of the enemy of God, but they will not have to face the wrath of him who sits on the throne nor the wrath of the Lamb (6:16-17).

Key Bible Passages

Revelation 7 / KJV Bible

1. And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.
2. And 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 given to hurt the earth and the sea,
3. Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
4. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.
5. Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.
6. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.
7. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.
8. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
9. After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
10. And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
11. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,
12. Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
13. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?
14. And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
16. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
17. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

Related Links / Notes

Revelation (Apocalypse) Bible Study

Study Notes are translated from the original French version prepared by Pierre Constant who has been Associate Professor of the New Testament at the Toronto Baptist Seminary since 2003. The orginal French notes are in “note” form, and are not a direct transcription of the video. The notes provided here follow that form, but are detailed enough to help provide a deep understanding of the texts in the book of revelation.

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