Revelation 7 (NRSV)
The 144,000 of Israel Sealed
Chapter 7 is an interlude between the sixth and seventh seals: two visions (vv. 1-8 and vv. 9-17) which provide assurance that God’s people are secure from the plagues and judgments. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on earth or sea or against any tree. 2 I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea, 3 saying, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.”
4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand,
We are not told what exactly their service is, but the 144,000 are sealed for a specific and unique purpose. However, the general idea of being sealed is not limited to them.
Jesus was sealed: God the Father has set His seal on Him. (John 6:27)
We are sealed with the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our eventual total redemption. Paul wrote: God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
This sealing of the Holy Spirit belongs to every believer when they are saved: having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. (Ephesians 1:13)
The sealing of the Holy Spirit is meant to be both a comfort and a challenge to us. We are comforted in that it assures us that we belong to Him. We are challenged by it to depart from all evil and identify ourselves with the One we belong to: Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19) And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel:
5 From the tribe of Judah twelve thousand sealed,
from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand,
6 from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand,
7 from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand,
8 from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand sealed.
Many Bible scholars regard the 144,000 as converted Jews, who are still identified as Israelites in some manner. They are the beginning harvest of the salvation of Israel.
Romans 11:26 (NRSV)
And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,
“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”
(There are alternative interpretations: the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, once said their entire group were these sealed ones, until they surpassed 144,000 in number. Now they say that the 144,000 are only a select group of Witnesses who go to heaven.)
The Multitude from Every Nation
9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
A hymn of praise from the multitude of humans leads to a sevenfold declaration of adoration from the angels.
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
The great tribulation (ordeal in NRSV) refers to that expected time of trial which God’s people would undergo in the last days. For the early Christians, this was believed to have begun with the death and resurrection of Christ. This vision assures the churches that, far from being overwhelmed by this, they will be enabled to pass safely through it. Their local difficulties are incorporated into a larger picture by what John sees. Generations of Christians ever since have found the same inspiration to hold to the values of the Lamb.
15 For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
“Behold a Host” is in my top three favorite hymns, and the words are based on a question and answer from this chapter. This beautiful melody is a Norwegian folksong; Edvard Grieg later made an arrangement of it. The words were put together as early as the mid-1700’s. This hymn was sung at my mother’s funeral and will be, I hope, sung at mine. HERE it is performed by the Mandal Kantori, a church choir from Mandal, Norway.
Den Store Hvide Flok (Behold a Host)
1 Behold a host, arrayed in white,
Like thousand snow-clad mountains bright!
With palms they stand;
Who is this band
Before the throne of light?
Those are the saints of glorious fame,
Who from the great affliction came
And in the flood
Of Jesus’ blood
Are cleansed from guilt and shame.
They now serve God both day and night;
They sing their songs in endless light.
Their anthems ring
As they all sing
With angels shining bright.
2 Despised and scorned, they sojourned here;
But now, how glorious they appear!
Those martyrs stand,
A priestly band,
God’s throne forever near.
On earth they wept through bitter years;
Now God has wiped away their tears,
Transformed their strife
To heav’nly life,
They now enjoy the Sabbath rest,
The heav’nly banquet of the blest;
The Lamb, their Lord,
At festal board
Himself is host and guest.
3 O blessed saints in bright array
Now safely home in endless day,
Extol the Lord,
Who with His Word
Sustained you on the way.
The steep and narrow path you trod;
You toiled and sowed the Word abroad;
Rejoice and bring
Your fruits and sing
Before the throne of God.
The myriad angels raise their song;
O saints, sing with that happy throng!
Lift up one voice;
Let heav’n rejoice
In our Redeemer’s song!