In our study of Revelation chapter seven, we look at two groups of people. The first is the tribulation witnesses and the second is the tribulation saints. In this chapter, there is a brief pause in John's description of the opening of the seven seals of chapter six. John describes two groups of people and we get to learn about them and their purpose.
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After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.
Can you imagine this? We have all seen calm days when there doesn't seem to be the slightest breeze anywhere. This verse describes the calmest day where there is not a wind anywhere in the entire world. God used the wind in many cases throughout the Bible such as Genesis 8 where He used the wind to cause the waters of the flood to subside. In Exodus chapter ten, God used an East wind to bring the plague of locusts on Egypt and, in Exodus chapter fourteen, God used an East wind to part the Red Sea. In Acts 2, the coming of the Holy Spirit is described as the sound of a mighty wind. We see, in this verse, that God has sent angels to restrain the winds until it is time for the continued judgment.
Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 'Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.'
John sees an angel coming from the east to mark some very special servants of God. In early times, kings would have a ring with special markings on it that identified himself and anything that the mark (seal) was put on was identified as coming from the king. The same is true here as the King of Kings is putting His seal on some of His people. This will identify them in the tough times that are described in chapter six and also the chapters to come. Everyone that is left on the earth will know that they are from God. We saw another example of God marking His people in Ezekiel chapter nine. There, the people were marked with the Hebrew letter taw which is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The mark originally looked like an "x".
Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.
We must remember here that these 144,000 are sealed (marked) as special servants of God. They do not represent all of the saved Jews but they are to be witnesses to the people during the days that follow. God has always had His witnesses on this earth and this will continue until the final judgment and the renewal of all things.
From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.
In this passage, God gets specific about who those that are sealed actually are. We see that there is a list of twelve tribes of Israel and there are 12000 witnesses from each tribe. First of all we must understand that the number twelve represents supreme authority which comes from God. These twelve tribes are chosen and granted supreme authority by the very God of the universe. There are also some important things to notice about this list such as they are not listed in the traditional order of the oldest son being first. (Judah is listed first instead of Reuben who was the first born son of Israel.) Reuben was removed from the place of honor (being listed first) because of the sexual sin described in Genesis 49:4 (he went up on his father's bed). Also, this is not the same list as in Genesis. (Dan is not listed but is replaced by Levi which was the priestly tribe.) Dan lost the privilege of being a sealed witness here because they were the first tribe of Israel to go into idolatry and became a center of calf worship (Judges 18:30). Another difference between this list and that of Genesis is that Ephraim is replaced by Joseph who was his father. Ephraim is replaced because of their idolatry and their leading the division of the kingdom (Hosea 4:17). We must remember, at this point, that this is not a list of those that are saved but it is a specific list of those that are chosen to be witnesses at this specific point in time. (The tribes of Dan and Ephraim have not lost their salvation they are simply not chosen for this special mission.)
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Now, we take a look at the second group described in Revelation chapter seven. Unlike the first group, this group is not given a specific number but we are told that there are too many for ONE man to count. (That does not mean that it is an infinite number; it just means that it is too much for one man to count.) We also see that they are from all groups of people that were on the earth. They are standing before the throne and are robed in white which lets us know that they are redeemed (saved). We have seen some pretty great evangelistic crusades in history, where large numbers of people accepted Jesus Christ, but none of them compare to the harvest from those 144,000 witnesses. We also see that they are "holding palm branches" which refers back to the Festival of Sukkot which celebrated the last of the harvest and was a time of remembrance of Israel's wandering in the desert. This festival is commonly referred to as the "season of our rejoicing". The waving of palm branches was a sign of victory in Jewish tradition.
And they cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'
This great bunch of people are rejoicing in their salvation. They were saved during the great period of tribulation and are so grateful that they just praise God.
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: 'Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!'
Now, we are told of the angels around the throne. They fall down and worship God praising Him but do not mention salvation because they did not need or receive salvation.
Then one of the elders asked me, 'These in white robes- who are they, and where did they come from?' I answered, 'Sir, you know.' And he said, 'These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'
Now, we see what seems to be a very odd conversation between one of the elders of the church and John. The elder asks John who all the people are and John is sorta surprised as we see by his answer. Have you ever had someone ask you about something where you do not have a clue as to the answer but you know that the person who asks knows the answer? That is exactly what is happening here. When John says "Sir, you know", he is basically saying "How should I know?" and he knows that the elder knows who they are. Then, the elder tells John that they are those that have been saved through the great tribulation because they heard and believed what the 144,000 spoke. They have had their sins forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (the Lamb).
Therefore, 'they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'
This group of tribulation saints find rest in the presence of God and here we see a list blessings. They will not hunger or thirst anymore (Remember that, in chapter six, we saw famines plagues, etc. and these people went through all of that.). Most of these people were probably martyrs (killed for their faith) but now they live! God's grace and mercy were in effect even during this most difficult time!