All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that no wind should blow on the earth, or on the sea, or upon any tree.
“four corners, four winds”
The earth worldwide.
Winds of destruction upon the earth, sea, and trees. “Earth” relates to man and beast, “sea” relates to sea creatures, “trees” relates to the birds of the air. This covers every type of creature on the planet. In regard to the “sea,” this probably has all bodies of water in view [rivers, streams, lakes], since much water flows into the sea from other bodies of water (Rev 8:10-11; 14:7; 16:4).
2 And I saw another angel ascend from the sunrising, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a great 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 shall have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.
To mark with a seal. To authenticate.
This is a seal of identification. It’s a seal of belonging, a seal that identifies and separates the people of God from everyone else, just as we see the seal of those who are identified with the beast (Rev 13:16-17). In both cases, this is a spiritual seal, not a physical seal. One seal represents those without Christ, and the other represents those who belong to Christ.
The four angels are instructed not to hurt the earth, sea, or trees until the servants of God (all believers) are identified. This is in preparation for the trumpets that begin in chapter 8.
4 And I heard the number of them that were sealed, a hundred and forty and four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the children of Israel:
John “heard” in contrast to “seeing” in verse 9. This is a significant distinction, as we’ll see.
Dispensational premillennialists believe this number is literal and that it represents believing Jews during the so-call “seven year tribulation period.” However, based on our study in Rev 5:9-10, we know that this number is symbolic of all believers throughout the whole Christian era, from the first Advent of Christ to the second.
We further know that this number represents all believers of the Christian era, because we see in verse 4 that John said that he “heard” this number of 144,000. In verse 9 we see that John “saw” a “great multitude” – “out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues.” He first hears the number, and then sees those who are represented by that number, which, of course, this passage reveals to be every believer from all over the world throughout the Church age.
The number 12 is significant in both Old and New Testaments. Twelve, in the OT commonly refers to the 12 sons or tribes of Jacob (Israel), and 12 of the NT commonly refers to the 12 Apostles. The 12 tribes of the OT represent all believers under the Old Covenant, and the 12 Apostles of the NT represent all believers under the New Covenant. Together they make up true Israel, spiritual Israel, which is the Church.
When we multiply 12 x 12, we get 144. When we multiply that number by 1000, we get 144,000. The numbering system of the world is in multiples of 10 and multiples of 100 and multiples of 1000, etc. We have ten basic numbers, 1-10. That’s a complete set. Ten complete sets of 10 is 100. Ten complete sets of 100 is 1000. What we see here is perfect order and completion. Thus this number 144,000 is symbolic of perfection and completion. Therefore, this number represents the perfect and complete Church, made up of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. When we consider how we came to this number, the symbolism is obvious, which makes the idea of this number being literal, quite myopic.
Key: Another reason we know that the 144,000 represents all Church-age believers, is because the last three verses of this chapter (15-17) makes it clear that this is a revelation of the Eternal Kingdom of the New Heaven and New Earth, which is described in Rev 21:1-6, which sees all the redeemed in the Lord’s presence.
Therefore, for these reasons, the interpretation of a literal 144,000 people must be rejected. Strict literalism prevents one from considering any other meaning beyond the letter of the words — regardless of how reasonable opposing arguments may be. Such an approach to Revelation blinds one from seeing the true intent of what’s being described in this book.
5 Of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand: Of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand; Of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand;
6 Of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand; Of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand; Of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand;
7 Of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand; Of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand; Of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand;
8 Of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand; Of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand; Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
12 x 12,000 = 144,000
9 After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands;
10 and they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb.
In regard to “I saw,” see verse 4.
As already stated, the 144,000 are in view here, which are the Church-age believers. The sealing of the 144,000 sees them in this life. Here we see the same redeemed in their eternal dwelling in the presence of the Lord.
To be clear, while the 144,000 refers specifically to all Church-age believers, I believe this scene includes all the redeemed throughout history. The 144,000 is the subject and focus of the whole. I think, obviously, the reason why the primary focus is on Church-age believers, is because this book is about the events during that period of history — from the first Advent of Christ to His second.
Furthermore, while there are Church-age believers (from the cross to Christ’s return), I believe the totality of the Church itself is composed of all believers both on earth and in Heaven. Thus the Kingdom of Christ is both now, and includes Heaven. Christ rules over His entire Kingdom, not just over believers on earth. The New Covenant makes us all one in Christ, from the beginning of mankind to the very last one to enter Christ’s Kingdom (Church).
So then, while the whole Church consists of all believers throughout history, the 144,000 has Church-age believers primarily in view.
11 And all the angels were standing round about the throne, and about the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,
12 saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
Included in this revelation are the angels, elders and four living creatures. I believe what’s being revealed in this whole scene is all of Heaven, in complete form, giving worship to the Triune God (Rev 5:6).
13 And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, These that are arrayed in the white robes, who are they, and whence came they?
14 And I say unto him, My lord, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they that come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Symbolic of salvation – forgiven and “washed” and made “white in the blood of the Lamb.”
This is not a reference to some seven year period prior to the return of Christ. The great tribulation is life in this world, as Jesus said, “In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). Thus while tribulation of life extends throughout history and has all the saints in view in this scene of Heaven, the primary focus of this book is the tribulation of life during the Christian era. What this book does is contrast life in the world with life in the presence of the Lord. This book encourages Christians, that, though things be tough now in this life, we’re to live with eternity in view; we’re to keep our eyes on Christ and all the glories that await us. John speaks of this very thing in verses 16 and 17.
15 Therefore are they before the throne of God; and they serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them.
Here we see that glorified believers will be “serving” the Lord. Heaven and the Eternal Kingdom will not be a place of idleness, but of service. We don’t know what our service to God entails, but we do know that we will be busy serving Him in some way.
“shall spread his tabernacle over them”
NASB – “will shelter them with his presence.”
This refers to God’s protective care over His people (Rev 21:3), as the next verses elaborate:
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun strike upon them, nor any heat:
17 for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.
As already mentioned, this describes the Eternal Kingdom of the New Heaven and New Earth, which is confirmed by Rev 21:1-7. The description in both places is basically the same. In the presence of the Lord, we shall not want for anything, but will be fully satisfied forever and ever….all pain and and hardship and suffering will be forever behind us.
As we can see, this chapter is significant in determining the time period of this book, which has to be the entire Christian era — from the cross of Christ to His return. We know that’s true because if this is a revelation of all the redeemed in the Eternal Kingdom – and it is – and if they are the one’s who have come out of the “great tribulation” – and they are – then the great tribulation has to be identified as life in the world — and in the context of this book, during the Church age, not during a so-called “seven year period” prior to the return of Christ.