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The Redeemed of the Tribulation (Rev 7:1-17)

With chapter 7 the narrative sequence or chronological order is interrupted and we are taken into an interlude. That this is an interlude is obvious from the change in tone seen in a change of the subject matter and in the suspension of judgment. Chapter 6 closes with the sixth seal and the seventh is not opened until chapter 8. This chapter, then, is a parenthesis, but it is one which answers some very important questions. From the very nature of the judgments of the preceding section it would appear no one could possibly be delivered physically, much less saved spiritually. In fact these judgments give rise to the desperate question at the end of chapter 6, “for the great day of their wrath has come, who is able to stand?” Chapter 7 answers this question, and demonstrates that even in the midst of this awesome display of God’s wrath, the mercy of God is still present and seeking to bring men to Himself. Even in the midst of this wrath, God is providing an opportunity for men to be saved (Matt. 24:l4).

So, before the seventh seal and the intensified trumpet judgments of chapter 8, God gives us a panorama of salvation and the evangelistic activity of this period known as Tribulation or Daniel’s Seventieth Week. The fifth seal was a revelation concerning the martyrs who had been killed for their faith in Christ. Since the church has been raptured and the Tribulation begins with only unbelievers, how do people come to faith in Christ? We find the answer to this in the sealing of the 144,000 who are sealed at the beginning of the Tribulation. These are the first converts (Rev. 14:4), and it would appear from the juxtaposition of the sealing of the 144,000 in 7:1-8, followed by the great multitude saved in 7:9-17, the 144,000 become the great evangelists of the Tribulation period. They are supernaturally protected by God in their witness.

The Sealing of the 144,000 Jews
(7:1-8)

The Withholding of Judgment (1-3)

Immediately after the cry, “who is able to stand,” John sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. Angels, who are so prominent in Revelation, are the instruments that God uses to temporarily suspend judgment on the earth. They are used both to withhold judgment (7:1-3) and to execute it (8:2). The indication is that judgment is impending, it is about to be poured out. But prior to this, before any of the judgments of the Tribulation ever get under way, God will save, set apart, and protect 144,000 servants. Remember, this chapter is not chronological from the standpoint of the sequence of events, but deals with the issue of salvation during the entire Tribulation. The suspension here is not a suspension between the seals and the trumpets, but looks at what will occur just before the judgments begin.

The “four corners of the earth” speak of global authority and activity under God’s sovereignty. “Holding back” is the Greek word kratew. It is a strong word meaning, “to grasp, seize, restrain.” It comes from kratos which stresses power or ability in relation to a job to be done.

“The four winds” relate the restraint and the judgments that follow to the entire globe, the whole earth is affected. In several places in scripture “wind” is used as a symbol of divine judgment (Jer. 49:36; Jer. 51:1; 2 Sam. 22:11).

“So that no wind should blow on the earth” points to the purpose of the restraint: to keep these four angels from executing judgment upon the earth. But what about “the earth … the sea … and the trees”? Because of the mention of these three things, some have identified the judgments of these four angels with the trumpet judgments to follow (Rev. 8:7), i.e., the earth and trees smitten, and the sea harmed. But this is unlikely for the following reasons:

(1) The first trumpet judgment affects the earth, trees, and grass and is accomplished by the first angel alone. The second angel judges the sea (the bodies of salt water). The third angel brings judgment upon the fresh water, and the fourth brings judgment on the heavenly bodies. The point is there is no real parallel here to the four wind angels who are told not to smite the earth, trees and sea only.

(2) Revelation 14:4 teaches us that the 144,000 are those “who are purchased from among men (redeemed) as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” This means they are the first converts after the Tribulation begins. They are saved at the beginning of the Tribulation. But the four trumpet judgments occur much later, at least in the first part of the second half of the Tribulation. So again, the four winds refer to the impending judgments of the Tribulation in general, pictured here as temporarily restrained.

Next, John sees “another angel” who is superior with authority over the other four angels (compare Ephesians 3:10 for the concepts of rank and authority among the angels of God).

“Having the seal of the living God.” For this concept and meaning of the seal see below.

“And he cried out with a loud voice” stresses the urgency of what must first take place. With the rapture of the church, there is no voice among men for God. Throughout history there has always been a voice from God among men, a remnant of believers. The Tribulation cannot go on without the raising up of a new remnant. The spiritual vacuum left by the rapture will be quickly filled by this work of God to bring 144,000 Jews to Christ.

“Do not harm … until” shows that the suspension of judgment is only temporary, until the sealing of these new bondservants of God.

“Sealed … on their forehead” The servants are sealed on their foreheads. But what exactly is the meaning and significance of this seal?

The verb “to seal” is sfragizw. It means “to make an imprint in wax” and it was often done with a signet ring. This was done in ancient times in various kinds of business transactions. It could signify a number of ideas: (a) It often showed a completed transaction had occurred. For the 144,000 it was their personal redemption. (b) It was often a mark of identification and ownership. These became the servants of God and God’s people. (c) Finally, it was often a mark of protection or security. This is clearly the emphasis here.

The sealing guaranteed their physical and spiritual protection. This is suggested by two things. First, by the fact judgment is suspended until the sealing occurs which indicates the sealing was done as a means of protection. Second, as survivors of the Tribulation, the 144,000 are seen standing on Mount Zion with the Lamb in 14:1, evidently a reference to the earthly Jerusalem. Some, however, take Zion here as a reference to heaven.

The seal is stated to be on their foreheads and in 14:1 this is described as “His (the Lamb’s) name and the name of His Father.” They will become quickly identified as the servants of God, i.e., His agents and evangelists versus the servants of the beast. They will not be ‘secret service’ believers! This undoubtedly also includes the gift of the Holy Spirit, the inward seal and capacity for service (Eph. 1:13-14).

In addition to the physical protection from death, the seal may also point to their protection from the apostasy and deceptions of the beast. It stresses their invulnerability to the beast and the false prophet both physically and spiritually. As the followers of the beast have his mark, so these have the mark of God. Today we are susceptible to certain things, though God may sovereignly protect us, and does, but evidently they will not at all be vulnerable. Further evidence of this is given in 14:1f where these are seen unharmed, standing with the Lamb on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem, and undefiled by the evil of the system of the beast (14:4-5). This passage is a prophetic portrait of the ultimate victory of Christ at the beginning of the Millennium. Ezekiel 9:4-7 undoubtedly provides the OT background for this passage. Referring to the Ezekiel passage, Alan Johnson writes:

In this passage a divine messenger with stylus in hand was to go through apostate Jerusalem of Ezekiel’s day and put a mark upon the foreheads of those who deplored the faithless idolatry of the Israelites. Those so marked were the faithful and true servants of God in contrast to the professed but false servants who had abandoned him. The sealed would be spared the divine slaughtering of the rebellious inhabitants of the city. Interestingly, the “mark” (taw) in the Phoenician script looked like a cross … and was later adopted by early Jewish Christians as a symbol of their faith in Jesus …107

They are called “bond servants” because throughout the Tribulation they will be serving the Lord as the great evangelists. The juxtaposition of the 144,000 mentioned here in the first half of this chapter followed by the description of the multitudes saved in the second half of this chapter would indicate a causal relationship. Note verse 9 and the statement, “After these things …”

The Identity of Those Sealed (5-8)

Who are the 144,000? When interpreters come to this passage, it is amazing to see just how wild their imaginations can get. Some argue that these could not be literal Jews, others would say that the numbers are not literal, but are merely symbolical of God’s preservation of His people. But the language, if language means anything, must be understood in its normal usage. If we do not take it in its literal sense then there is no check on one’s imagination nor guide for the real meaning of the passage. As an illustration, some say these are the 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, or they are Mormon elders, or they are symbolical for the church.

The 144,000 are Jews. The passage says they are from the 12 tribes of Israel, repeating the fact that 12,000 come from each of the 12 tribes making a total of 144,000. That these are Jews further fits with the entire scheme of Bible prophecy, with the fact this is the 70th week of Daniel, and with the nature of the Tribulation as the time of Jacob’s distress (Dan. 9:27; Jer. 30.7). The Tribulation is a time when God is concluding His dealings with Israel to establish and fulfill His promises to the nation (Dan. 9: 24f).

J. A. Seiss wrote:

Nor is there a vice or device of sacred hermeneutics, which so beclouds the Scriptures, and so unsettles the faith of men, as this constant attempt to read Church for Israel, and Christian people for Jewish tribes. As I read the Bible, when God says “children of Israel,” I do not understand Him to mean any but people of Jewish blood, be they Christians or not; and when He speaks of the twelve tribes of the sons of Jacob, and gives the names of the tribes, it is impossible for me to believe that He means the Gentiles, in any sense or degree, whether they be believers or not.108

How will they be saved? Since all believers are gone when the Tribulation begins, including the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit or the Restrainer from the New Testament standpoint, just how will these be saved?

(1) The work of the Holy Spirit will be more in accord with that of Old Testament times. But being omnipresent, the Holy Spirit will still be in the world working to convict and draw them to Jesus Christ (John 16:8-11; Gen. 6:3), to regenerate the human heart (John 3:3-4), and to select individuals for special service.

(2) There will still be copies of the Scriptures, books, tracts, and material on the internet containing the gospel message. Undoubtedly, this will be found and used by the Holy Spirit. Some are even hiding copies of the Bible in caves.

(3) Some Jews will have heard the gospel from friends or on the radio or TV before the rapture. Then when the church suddenly disappears, the Holy Spirit will convince these select 144,000 that the gospel message is indeed true.

(4) Perhaps others will simply be perplexed over the disappearance of thousands of people through the rapture of the church. Some will seek answers and the Holy Spirit will lead them to Christ. Regardless of the methods God will use, these will come to trust in Jesus Christ as their Messiah-Savior.

So there is really no problem with the identification of the 144,000 if we take the language used here in the normal, plain meaning of the text. But as Ryrie points out, there are three problems in the list as it is found in this text. He writes:

The first is the inclusion of Levi among the twelve tribes. Normally Levi, being the priestly tribe, was considered to have no inheritance among the twelve tribes. Perhaps he is included here because the priestly functions ceased with the coming of Christ. The second is the mention of Joseph instead of Ephraim. Normally Manasseh and Ephraim are both mentioned since they both received an equal portion of territory along with the rest of the tribes. Of course, a double number is counted in this list, but under the names of Joseph and Manasseh rather than Ephraim and Manasseh.

The third problem concerns the omission of Dan from this list, something that was necessary if Levi were to be included. The usual reason given for this omission is that Dan was guilty of idolatry on many occasions (Lev. 24:11; Judges 18:1-2, 30-31; 1 Kings 12:28). The same reason is often given for the omission of Ephraim. It has been suggested further that the antichrist may come from this tribe and that this accounts for its omission from this list (cf. Gen. 49:17; Jer. 8:16). Whatever the reason for Dan’s omission from the tribes from which 144,000 elect will come, this is not the end of God’s dealings with that tribe. The Danites will receive a portion of the land during the millennial kingdom. Indeed, in Ezekiel 48:1 Dan heads the list of the tribes as the inheritance is divided to them (cf. also v. 32). So the exclusion of Revelation is not permanent, for the gifts and calling of God with regard to his people, including Dan are without repentance.109

The Salvation of a Great Multitude
(7:9-17)

The Persons Saved (9)

(1) The Connection: “And after these-things” i.e., after the above vision concerning the sealing and salvation of the 144,000 Jews, John looked and saw another awesome sight—an innumerable multitude. As mentioned previously, by the juxtaposition of this passage (vss. 9-17) with the previous (vss. 1-8), this seem to point to a cause/effect relationship. In the fulfillment of God’s purposes for Israel, these 144,000 become the instruments God uses to lead multitudes to a saving knowledge of Christ as declared in these verses.

“And behold” is the Greek, idou, an aorist middle imperative of a verb “to see,” but it is used as a demonstrative particle to arrest the attention and/or to express amazement. The marvel is that in such a time as this, a time of God’s wrath, God’s mercy is equally manifest and He will save many people.

(2) The Innumerable Number: “A great multitude …” Not only will men be saved, but their number will be beyond human computation. Of course God numbers them and knows everyone that is His (2 Tim. 2:19), but unlike the 144,000, there is no definite number here.

(3) Their Nationalities: “From every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, …” The 144,000 were all Israelites, but this group is composed of all nationalities and groups. Undoubtedly this will include redeemed Jews beyond the 144,000 for this is the period of Jacob’s trouble when all Israel will be saved (cf. Rom. 11:26). In addition, these are from every nation which must include Israel and from all tribes which would include the 12 tribes of Israel.

(4) Their Position: The multitude is seen “standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (see also 7:15). This is the same throne mentioned earlier (Rev. 4-5) and shows they are in heaven in the presence of the Lamb of God as saved people. This is a place of privilege and honor. These are martyred Tribulation saints who are now in the presence of God and the Lamb. They are here in their intermediate state without their resurrection bodies since the resurrection of Tribulation believers does not occur until after the Tribulation (Rev. 20:4; Dan. 12:1-2). Death for the Tribulation saints, as with the New Testament saints, means being in the presence of the Lord in heavenly bliss and away from the trials of this life (7:15-17), but also in a conscious state (no soul sleep) where believers are still concerned about the glory of God (cf. 6:10).

(5) Their Spiritual Condition: “Clothed in white robes” again speaks symbolically of the imputed righteousness of Christ given to them at the point of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. This means they are in Him and share in His righteousness as justified saints. As verses 14 and 15 will show, this is the reason they have immediate access into God’s presence.

“And palm branches in their hands” suggests the element of joy and worship. The use of palm branches according to ancient traditions symbolized festive joy and worship as well as victory or triumph. “And this is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith, and who is he that overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4-5). “Thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:14).

Comparisons Between to the Two Groups Described in Revelation 7

144,000 of 7:1-8

The Multitude of 7:9-17

Are Israelites only, 12,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel.

Come out of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.

Consist of a specific number.

A great multitude which no one can number.

Still upon the earth in mortal bodies that need the protection of God.

In a state of glory before the very throne of God.

The Praise for Salvation (10-11)

The Praise of these Saints (vs. 10): Both “cry out” and “saying” are in the present tense. This is either what may be called the progressive present tense, looking at the scene in progress, or the customary present, that which will (since this is prophecy) characterize their lives.

“Cry out” is the Greek word krazw which means “to cry aloud,” but here it is a cry of joy and loud jubilation over their salvation. In John’s gospel the word is used of proclaiming the person of Christ.

“Salvation to our God” undoubtedly means salvation belongs to God. He alone is the source and means of salvation. Only God, the one sitting on the throne, and the Lamb can give salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

The Praise of the Angels (vs. 11): Angels are always seen in attendance to God, obeying His will, or in the worship of God’s person and work as in creation (Job 38:1-7), or as in man’s salvation (Luke 2:13-14). More particularly, the angels rejoice over the salvation of sinners (Luke 15:8-10).

More Particulars About the Multitude (13-17)

    The Questions, “Who” and “Where” (13)

The words, “and one of the elders answered,” indicates John had been puzzled over the identity of this group and God, who knows our thoughts, answers John’s question. The answer comes first through a question followed by more particulars about the multitude.

    The Answers (14-17)

Their origin: They are identified as those who come out of the Tribulation, literally, ‘The Tribulation,’ the great one. These are martyrs killed in the last half of the Tribulation during the reign of the beast as depicted in Revelation 13.

Note the contrasts and comparisons between these and believers of the church age. This shows that these Tribulation saints are distinct and different from the church age saints.

Church Age Saints

Tribulation Saints

Kept out of the Tribulation by the rapture (3:10)

Come out of the Great Tribulation through Martyrdom (7:14)

Clothed in white raiment or garments (%imation, mantle, cloak (3:5; 4:4)

Clothed in white robes (stolh, a festal robe) (7:9)

Sit on thrones about the throne (4:4)

Stand before the throne (7:10)

Wear crowns (stefanos, the victor’s crown as promised to the church) (4:4)

No crowns mentioned

Have harps and golden bowls full of incense (5:8)

Palm branches in their hands (7:9)

Sing a new song (5:9)

Cry out with a loud voice (7:10)

Declared to be a kingdom of priests who will reign with Christ (5:10)

Serve Him day and night (7:15, cf. 20:4)

Their actions: “Have washed their robes and made them white” (7:14b). What a paradox: white robes made white by blood. Of course, this is obviously a reference to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The point is they acted in faith, trusting in the person and work of Christ and God then justified them, imputing or crediting the righteousness of Christ to their account (Rom. 4-5).

Their position: Their position before the throne is mentioned twice in these verses (vss. 9, 15) perhaps to stress the awesomeness of having access to the very throne of God through faith in Christ in contrast to the awful conditions on the earth. The focus here is on the reason. Such access is the result of having the white robes, the righteousness of Christ. Note especially the words, “for this reason” that introduces the statement about being before the throne.

Three things are prominent in verses 15-17 that we need to note about these saints in heaven: Their service, their satisfaction, and their sufficiency.

Their service (vs. 15b): John is told that these “serve Him day and night in the His temple” (7:15b). We must remember that this whole scene is prophetic of the future time of the Tribulation. The question is, does the scene describe the service of the multitude going on during their time before the throne, or does this looks forward in anticipation of the millennium and their service of God in the millennial temple. The tense of the verb, “serve,” is present. This could be the futuristic present describing what will certainly take place in the future, i.e., these will be busy in the service of the King. But more than likely, it is a descriptive present and describes the scene in progress as they wait on the Lord in service before the throne. Undoubtedly, it refers to heaven and stresses that heaven is not only a rest from life’s pressures and toil, but it is especially a place of worship and privileged service even before the kingdom on earth ever begins.

“Night and day” reinforces the concept of constant service. They have no need for rest or sleep or restoration from fatigue. The temple probably speaks of God’s presence, being in the place where God dwells. Concerning this statement, Walvoord writes:

The fact that they are declared to serve “day and night” has been taken by some as an indication that this is a millennial scene rather than heaven since there is never any night in the temple of God in heaven. The expression, however, can be understood as meaning simply that they will continually serve the Lord, that is, they will not need sleep or restoration as is necessary in earthly toil. They are delivered from the limitations of this life.110

Their satisfaction (vss. 15c-16): “And He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle …” (7:15c-17). The verb is skhnow, “to live, dwell, have one’s tent, encamp.” It was used of setting up or spreading a tent over something. It comes from skhnh (a tent, booth, tabernacle) and was used of the Mosaic tabernacle (Heb. 8:5; 9:2, 3, 6, 8, 21), of its heavenly prototype (Heb. 8:2; 9:11; Rev. 13:6; 15:5), and of the dwelling of God in the New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven (Rev. 21:3). In John’s writing, the only place where skhnow is used, this verb refers to God’s presence among men. M. J. Harris writes:

Whereas in the body of the Fourth Gospel Jesus is pictured as the new temple (Jn. 2:19-22), in the Prologue he is the tabernacle (eskhnwsen, Jn. 1:14), the focus of God’s presence among men on earth (cf. Exod. 25:8-9). Where Christ is, there is God’s dwelling. Rev. 7:15 pictures one of the elders before God’s throne informing John that God would “encamp” (skhnwsei) over those who had come out of the great tribulation; he would “shelter them with his presence” (RSV), dwell with them continuously within his temple.111

The preposition, “over” (Greek, epi) answers the question of where, but also, with the meaning of the verb and the context (vs. 16), suggests the picture of spreading God’s presence like a tent over the innumerable host for their protections, blessing, and fellowship with God. These tents were places of rest and protection from adverse elements, and in the Old Testament the Tabernacle was a place of worship. These saints will have access to God’s perfect provision, protection, and fellowship in an unlimited way.

But when does this occur? Does this begin when the great multitude is in heaven or is this looking forward to the millennial reign of Christ and beyond? All the verbs are in the future tense except one, but even it has a future connotation. In view of the fact they are first seen before the throne in the process of serving the One on the throne, the statements refer to what will happen once they are before the throne and in the presence of God.

So, once they are before the throne, they will be under God’s tabernacle and in His presence, and so also delivered from everything evil or harmful that men are subjected to on earth, such as hunger, thirst, heat and even sorrow. These believers will know God’s personal and direct comfort, indeed, the personal comfort of the Great Shepherd Himself.

Here there is perfect sufficiency and perfect satisfaction. All the elements which can bring pain, suffering and sadness are absent like the sinful nature, the hostile world system, and the attacks of Satan. In addition, they will experience all that is needed for relief, joy and satisfaction. Namely, the Lamb Himself who will shepherd, guide and wipe away the tears, every single one with the understanding and comfort which He alone can give.

Some have argued that this passage suggests that there will be tears in heaven because of failure and wasted opportunities. But the emphasis of this verse is that the tears of the past, because of the trials of life as in the Great Tribulation, are removed when men arrive in heaven in the presence of the Lamb, for there they “will be occupied with the beauty and wonder of heaven and the worship of the Savior.”112

Their sufficiency (vs. 17): It is important to note that their sufficiency stems from the shepherding ministry and the presence of the Lamb who is seen in the center of the throne. This stresses the importance and centrality of the person and work of Christ to the Godhead and the preeminence He should always have to us. How often in this life we experience insufficiency, but only because, like sheep who tend to wander, we fail to walk under the shepherding care of the Great Shepherd.

“Springs of the water of life” is literally “life’s water springs.” The emphasis is strongly on the word “life” which serves to stress that from death onward, with our arrival into the presence of our Great Shepherd, we will drink of life on the highest level, both life eternal and life abundantly.


107 Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, pp. 478-479.

108 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse, Zondervan, 1865, I, pp. 405-6.

109 Charles Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, pp. 51-52.

110 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 148.

111 M. J. Harris, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown, General Editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, p. 813.

112 Walvoord, p. 14.

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)