Pause before The End
All is calm: angelic windbreak1 Then I saw four angels. They spread out and took positions in all four directions: north, south, east, west. There, they stopped the winds from blowing. Wind didn’t blow on the ground or in the sea or in the air. Not a tree rustled. 2 Then I saw another angel. This one rose up out of the eastern horizon, where the sun comes from. He carried the seal of the living God. In a loud voice he called out to the four angels who held back the wind and who had authority to unleash a lot of hurt on land and sea. 3 He said, “Don’t hurt the earth or the sea or the trees. Wait until we can put God’s seal on the foreheads of his people.”
Body count: 144,0004 Then I heard how many people would get God’s seal: 144,000. These people would come from all 12 tribes of Israel.
5 12,000 from each tribe:
Judah, Reuben, Gad,
7 Simeon, Levi, Issachar,
8 Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin.
Roaringly happy crowd9 Then I looked up and saw a massive crowd. No one could possibly count this many people. They came from every nation, tribe, culture, and language on the earth. There they stood in front of the throne and before the Lamb. Everyone in the crowd wore white robes and carried palm branches in their hands. 10 In a loud and united voice they cried out, “God, who’s sitting on his throne, saves us. God and the Lamb both save us!” 11 All of heaven’s angels had been standing around the throne, with the 24 leaders and the four beings. But at this point, they bowed in worship to God as he sat on the throne. 12 They said, “Yes! Forever, God deserves praise and glory and wisdom and gratitude and honor and power, and strength! Yes!”
Who are these white-robed souls?13 One of the 24 leaders asked me, “Who are these people wearing white robes? Where did they come from?” 14 I said, “Sir, you’re asking me? You’re the one who knows.” Then he said, “They are people from the Great Suffering. They’ve washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Because of what they’ve been through, they get the honor of personally serving God day and night, here at his throne, in his temple. God who sits on his throne protects them. 16 Their days of suffering are over. No more hunger for them. No more thirst. The sun won’t beat them down. The heat won’t wear them out. 17 The Lamb at the throne will lead them. He’ll be their shepherd, and he’ll guide them to a spring of fresh water. No more tears. God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
The angels more literally stand at the “four corners of the earth.” In ancient writing, that phrase meant the entire world. John is saying that the wind did not blow anywhere on the planet. Unleashed, the wind can decimate buildings on land and ships at sea. Perhaps the holding back of the wind refers to a pause in the destruction of the world, long enough to secure the safety of God’s people.
“Seal on the forehead,” sounds a little like the brand or the tattoo that many in Roman times put on their slaves, marking them like livestock. Here, many scholars say it’s a metaphor that distinguishes God’s people as those under his protection. It’s a word picture intended to help people visualize an invisible spiritual reality. In this way it’s like the parables of Jesus, in which he used fictional stories to teach people what it means to live like a citizens of God’s spiritual kingdom. This symbolic seal of God would be the opposite of the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16).
There’s no widespread agreement about who the 144,000 represent. Some educated guesses: Jews devoted to God, Christian martyrs who held onto their faith through the Great Tribulation (an anticipated time of intense persecution), Jewish Christians, Christians whether they are Jewish or non-Jewish, non-Jewish Christians because most of the Jewish people rejected Christianity. The number may not be literal, but a symbol of “complete,” as in God saving all the people who hold onto their faith. Twelve is a number, like seven, that represented completeness. Square it, 12 times 12, to get 144—that becomes an even more powerful symbol of completeness. Multiply that by 1,000, which is another number that symbolizes completeness, and we get 144,000, which is quite enough completeness to get the point across. That said, some take the number literally. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that 144,000 Christians will help Jesus rule in heaven. That might seem like a lot, but the United States federal government employs about two million fulltime workers to help lead and maintain the nation.
The 12 tribes of Israel are extended families descended from the dozen sons of Jacob, grandson of Abraham. Taken literally, the “12 tribes” would have meant the Jews. But some take the 12 tribes as a metaphor meaning the church—all God’s people, as Paul taught: “If you’re one of the Messiah’s people, then you’re a descendant of Abraham. You’re part of the family. And you’re going to inherit what God promised” (Galatians 3:29). “You are the true Israel—the authentic people of God” (Galatians 6:16). Peter called followers of Jesus “God’s chosen” (1 Peter 2:9 Contemporary English Version).
Ironically, the Lion from the tribe of Judah—Jesus—becomes the Lamb. The implication is that the battle he won wasn’t through military warfare. It was through a sacrificial death and resurrection. Jews observed Passover by sacrificing a lamb. Jewish leaders orchestrated the crucifixion of Jesus the same day the Passover holiday began.
Literally, “Amen!” It’s a Hebrew word that means “that’s the truth,” or “so be it,” or “you better believe it,” or “you can bet the farm on it.” That’s the idea.
Apparently a reference to those described in 7:9.
Often called the Tribulation. Jesus said, “What’s coming is a time of Great Suffering….worse than anything that has ever happened before” (Matthew 24:21). Centuries earlier, the prophet Daniel predicted the same thing (Daniel 12:1). Many Christians today say this time of intense persecution of people devoted to God will happen shortly before the end of the world. But other Christians say it was already happening when John wrote Revelation. Christians were brutally persecuted during the reign of Roman emperor Domitian, in the AD 90s—when many scholars speculate John wrote Revelation. There was an even worse persecution, called The Great Persecution, which started in AD 303. Rome stripped Christians of their legal rights and ordered them to observe Roman religious practices. Emperor Constantine put an end to this persecution in AD 313. Afterward, Christianity gradually grew to become the Empire’s favorite religion.
A metaphor, many scholars say, referring to the sacrificial death of Jesus, which provides forgiveness and salvation for people who ask for it. “We’re free, no longer held hostage by our sins. We are forgiven. God paid our ransom out of the wealth of his kindness and through the blood of his Son” (Ephesians 1:7).
These white-robed souls seem to have roles comparable to that of ancient Israel’s most revered class of people: priests who served in the Temple. If these white-robed people are Christians martyred because they refused to worship at Roman temples, there’s justice here, since they end up with a job in God’s own temple. If we’re not supposed to take this scene literally, it at least seems to say that God will honor those who refuse to dishonor him.
Welcome words for people who lived in the hot, dry world of the ancient Middle East.
Some scholars say this seems to refer to a prophecy about a Messiah from the family of King David who will become a shepherd to God’s people. See Ezekiel 34:23.
John says an angel told the four angels of the Four Winds to hold off hurting anyone. “Wait until we can put God’s seal on the forehead of his people” (7:3). Scholars don’t know what that seal is. They make educated guesses. What kind of guesses do you think average folks would toss into the hopper for consideration?
The big question in Revelation 7 is this: “Who are the 144,000 John vaguely describes as people ‘from all 12 tribes of Israel’ (7:4)?” What complicates the mystery is that for many early Christians, the definition of ‘Israel’ had changed. It didn’t mean Jews only. It meant everyone devoted to God, whether they’re Jewish or not.
John seems to skip ahead on the timeline before doubling back to finish his story about the end of the world. Suddenly he’s in heaven, apparently after the Second Coming and when all God’s people have arrived into heaven. “No one could possibly count this many people” (7:9). In today’s world, fewer and fewer people seem to believe in heaven. Some call it a fairy tale or a crutch for weak souls afraid of dying. What do you think about that criticism?
One of the 24 leaders in God’s throne room tells John, “Their days of suffering are over. No more hunger for them. No more thirst. The sun won’t beat them down. The heat won’t wear them out. The Lamb at the throne will lead them. He’ll be their shepherd, and he’ll guide them to a spring of fresh water. No more tears. God will wipe every tear from their eyes” (7:16-17). What about this do you think would resonate most with people in the Middle East in John’s day?
LIFE APPLICATION. Christians sometimes say “Amen!” when they agree with something the preacher says. John said angels used that word when praising God: “Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanks, honor, power, and strength belong to our God forever and ever! Amen!” (7:12 Contemporary English Version). Casual English Bible translates “Amen,” which is a Hebrew word, into what it means in English: “Yes.” Or “absolutely.” Or “you better believe it.” You get the idea. How do you express your agreement when someone says something you believe is solid truth?
LIFE APPLICATION. One of the 24 leaders in God’s throne room assured John that in heaven, there’s no more suffering, hunger, or thirst (7:16-17). Those were big problems 2,000 years ago in the hot, dry Middle East. So, heaven would sound like a great place to go, to get away from those troubles. What in heaven would make it a big draw for people today? If God put out a marketing flyer to make people today want to go there, what attractions would he list?