This is what is best described as an interlude between the breaking of the 6th seal and the 7th seal. It does two things: 1. it describes in more detail a better understanding of the background of the seals. Beale* says the the sealing of the saints happens before the seals are opened. (Pg. 406), 2. As Mounce** says, this answers the question posed in 6:17: “who is able to stand?” (Pg. 164), and Beale* (Pg. 405).
1 After this, I saw four1 angels standing on the four corners of the earth2, holding back3 the four winds of the earth so that the wind may not blow on the earth4 , or on the sea, or on every tree.5 2 And I saw another angel going up from the east6 having the seal of the living God7, and he cried out with a great voice to the four angels which was given to them the ability to harm the earth and the sea 3 saying, “Don’t harm the earth, or the sea, or the trees, until we might seal the slaves of our God8 on their foreheads. 4 And I heard the number of the ones who were sealed; one-hundred forty-four thousand9 being sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel10:
5 Twelve thousand being sealed from the tribe of Judah,
Twelve thousand from the tribe of Reuben,
Twelve thousand from the tribe of Gad,
6 Twelve thousand from the tribe of Asher,
Twelve thousand from the tribe of Naphtali,
Twelve thousand from the tribe of Manasseh,
7 Twelve thousand from the tribe of Simeon,
Twelve thousand from the tribe of Levi,
Twelve thousand from the tribe of Issachar,
8 Twelve thousand from the tribe of Zebulun,
Twelve thousand from the tribe of Joseph,
Twelve thousand from the tribe of Benjamin,
1 As before, the number “four” is a continuing theme of this book. Here we have four angels on the four corners of the earth holding back the four winds.
2 ἐπὶ τὰς τέσσαρας γωνίας τῆς γῆς (on the four corners of the earth)
An idiom for “every part of the earth”. Osborne*** (Pg. 305).
It was to the four corners of the earth that Israel was dispersed.
3 κρατοῦντας (holding back)
4 According to Osborne***, the imagery of “blowing wind” is a metaphor by OT writers for divine punishment. Jeremiah 51:36; Hosea 13:15 (Pg. 306).
5 Within the context of the passage, the wind is going to be used to destroy the earth. Mounce** states that the harmful winds are not the ones that blow from the North, South, East, or West, but the ones that blow diagonally as stated in 1 Enoch 76; 34:3. (Pg. 166).
A vivid analogy to the destructive power of this “blowing wind” are the images we see in the aftermath of a tornado touching ground.
6 ἀπὸ ἀνατολῆς ἡλίου (from the east)
Greek: “from the rising sun”. An idiom for “from the east”.
7 An allusion to Ezekiel 9:4-6. This is the seal of protection that Jesus refers to in the message to the church is Philadelphia in 3:10. Note that the protection is from the wrath of God, not from persecution from the world of unbelievers.
Satan seals the unbelievers as well with the mark of the beast. The seal signifies the authority and protection of the one providing the seal.
The seal is probably a signet ring. They were used in the ancient world to seal official documents of a king. Mounce** (Pg. 167).
8 Who are the slaves of God? As one would guess, this is a much debated issue among scholars and preachers alike. I believe that these slaves are referring to christian believers (all believers as a whole, not just martyrs) and not to Israel! John always refers to believers as slaves. We find this out in the opening passages of Revelation. See 1:1. The entire letter is “to show his slaves (believers) what must come soon”. In 2:20, Jesus says that “Jezebel” teaches “my slaves” to commit sexual immorality. Believers are also referred to as “fellow-slaves” as the opening of the 5th seal in 6:11. See Beale* (Pg. 405).
Beale* (Pgs. 404-405), Mounce** (Pg. 164), and Osborne*** (Pgs. 312-313) agree with this.
As is the manner in which Stephen and I approach this study, we normally do not look forward in this book for answers, we look back to reflect. I will break that manner here. To reinforce this idea that the 144,000 refers to believers, I refer to Beale’s comparison of the 144,000 here and the 144,000 in 14:1-5. In 14:1-5, 144,000 are purchased from mankind. Beale states that οὗτοι ἠγοράσθησαν ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων (these were purchased from mankind) is a parallel of 5:9b which states ἠγόρασας τῷ θεῷ ἐν τῷ αἵματί σου ἐκ πάσης φυλῆς καὶ γλώσσης καὶ λαοῦ καὶ ἔθνους (you purchased for God people from every tribe and language and people and nation). If this parallel is correct, then Beale* has proved the point. (Pgs. 412-413).
9 Osborne*** says the number here represents completeness. 12x12x1000 = the “fullness” or “full number” or “complete”. He also says that this represents the “whole” church and not Israel. He says that “Aside from this passage, there is no mention of Jewish believers apart from the Gentile church elsewhere in Revelation”.
Another view of interpretation sees the twelve tribes of Israel listed here as representing Israel. Just as Paul was converted and became such a powerful witness to the Gentiles, it is awesome to consider a large number of witnesses with the zeal of Paul. God then uses them to bring a multitude before Him. The promise God made to Abraham is fulfilled. Israel is faithful to the One who chose them and to their purpose.
This group listing the tribes of Israel is numbered. After this, in verse 9, a multitude that could not be numbered comes out of the great tribulation and is clothed in white robes. The white robes are the result of being washed in the blood of the Lamb.
To back up this view, Paul says in Romans 11 (See Blog) that the Jews were cut off the tree and the Gentiles were grafted in, thus becoming the new Israel, or as Paul puts in Galatians 4:26
“the Jerusalem above” and in 6:16 “the Israel of God”.
Osborne*** goes on to describe the 144,000 as the “conquers” of the seven letters to the seven churches and they would have seen themselves as being part of the “completeness”. This makes sense as they are the original recipient of this entire letter. (Pgs. 312-313).
One consideration on this point is that though converted Jews were part of the early Church, the Church often faced persecution from Jews. Synagogues were even referred to as assemblies of Satan in the course of the letters. The Jewish leadership in Jerusalem considered themselves children of God, but Jesus pointed to another one as their father, even though they were “experts” in the law and had the oracles of God.
10 It is worth mentioning here that the tribes of Israel didn’t exist in John’s time as they had in the centuries before the exile of the Assyrian Empire. 10 tribes were lost during that exile and Judah and Benjamin were lost in 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed. Beale* (Pg. 419), Osborne*** (Pg. 302) and Mounce** (Pg. 168). This gives even greater evidence that this vision is referring to believers (both Gentile and Jewish believers) and not to “Israel”.
Reference to the twelve tribes is noted in several gospels, as well as James, Acts, and 1 Peter. What this tells us may be a interpreted differently by some.
What we do know is that those in Christ are neither Jew or Gentile, man or woman, but are one with Him, and all things are possible for the Lord, even bringing back someone from the dead.
11 Commentators point out that the tribe of Dan is missing! The most probable reason is that Dan of its early connection with idolatry. Mounce** says “When the tribe of Dan migrated to the north and settled in Larish, they se up for themselves the graven image (Judges 18:30). (Pg. 169).
NT = New Testament
OT = Old Testament
ESV = English Standard Version
NASB = New American Standard Bible
KJV = King James Version
TR = Textus Receptus (A late Byzantine Greek text of the NT. A
predecessor of the TR was used in the translation of the KJV)
LXX = Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT)
The Greek New Testament with Greek-English Dictionary B. Aland (Editor), K. Aland (Editor), J. Karavidopoulos (Editor), B. M. Metzger (Editor), C. M. Martini (Editor)
(BDAG) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition Walter Bauer (Author), Frederick William Danker (Editor)
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament Bruce M. Metzger
(Kittel) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (VOLUMES 1-10) Gerhard Kittel (Editor), Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Translator)
*The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.).) G. K. Beale
**The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) Robert H. Mounce
***Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) Grant R. Osborne
+Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics Daniel B. Wallace
++An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek C. F. D. Moule
+++Biblical Greek (Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici) Maximilian Zerwick
A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament Max Zerwick (Author), Mary Grosvenor (Author)
Ἀποκάλυψις 7·1 Μετὰ τοῦτο εἶδον τέσσαρας ἀγγέλους ἑστῶτας ἐπὶ τὰς τέσσαρας γωνίας τῆς γῆς, κρατοῦντας τοὺς τέσσαρας ἀνέμους τῆς γῆς ἵνα μὴ πνέῃ ἄνεμος ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς μήτε ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης μήτε ἐπὶ πᾶν δένδρον. 2 Καὶ εἶδον ἄλλον ἄγγελον ἀναβαίνοντα ἀπὸ ἀνατολῆς ἡλίου ἔχοντα σφραγῖδα θεοῦ ζῶντος, καὶ ἔκραξεν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ τοῖς τέσσαρσιν ἀγγέλοις οἷς ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς ἀδικῆσαι τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν θάλασσαν 3 λέγων· μὴ ἀδικήσητε τὴν γῆν μήτε τὴν θάλασσαν μήτε τὰ δένδρα, ἄχρι σφραγίσωμεν τοὺς δούλους τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ τῶν μετώπων αὐτῶν. Ἀποκάλυψις 7·4 Καὶ ἤκουσα τὸν ἀριθμὸν τῶν ἐσφραγισμένων, ἑκατὸν τεσσεράκοντα τέσσαρες χιλιάδες, ἐσφραγισμένοι ἐκ πάσης φυλῆς υἱῶν Ἰσραήλ·
Ἀποκάλυψις 7·5 ἐκ φυλῆς Ἰούδα δώδεκα χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι, ἐκ φυλῆς Ῥουβὴν δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Γὰδ δώδεκα χιλιάδες,
6 ἐκ φυλῆς Ἀσὴρ δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Νεφθαλὶμ δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Μανασσῆ δώδεκα χιλιάδες,
7 ἐκ φυλῆς Συμεὼν δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Λευὶ δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Ἰσσαχὰρ δώδεκα χιλιάδες,
8 ἐκ φυλῆς Ζαβουλὼν δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Ἰωσὴφ δώδεκα χιλιάδες, ἐκ φυλῆς Βενιαμὶν δώδεκα χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι.