Many weeks ago when we were discussing the plan of the book of Revelation, we mentioned that three series of judgments occur sequentially, and that each series contains seven judgments, and in each series of seven, there is an interval, or interlude, between the sixth and seventh judgment. Intervals describe spiritual events — we will see this pattern repeat.
Revelation chapter 7 describes the first interval, that between the sixth seal and the seventh seal. We know this to be true, because chapter 6 describes the first six seals, and the first verse of chapter 8 reads, “Now when the Lamb opened the seventh seal there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” We are still progressing sequentially through the book, and through history.
It seems to me that John sees three things in chapter 7. First, he sees five angels, four standing at the four corners of the earth, waiting to bring judgment on the earth (these I believe are the angels who carry out the next judgments, the first four trumpets which are blown in chapter 8); and one which is telling the four judgment angels to wait to carry out that judgment. This last angel carries the seal of the living God. The symbolism is not explained, because the seal of the living God has already been described in Scripture: The Holy Spirit is the seal with which every believer is sealed as God’s upon conversion (Ephesians 4:30, 2 Corinthians 1:22). This chapter describes conversion.
Second, John sees who are sealed: 12 thousand from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, or 144,000 Jews. I think this is very straightforward. Paul teaches us concerning the Israelites: “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace,” and “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” In other words, the Gospel Age, when Jesus Christ, the Door to the Father, is standing open in Heaven, is primarily an age of the Gentiles, when the Gentiles will come to Christ. But last of all, after the Gentiles have come in, the Jews too will come to Christ (Romans 11). Now here in Revelation, we see God sealing a remnant of the Israelites with His seal, sealing them for conversion.
What about the number, 144,000? Is it literally how many Jews will be saved, or is it figurative in some way? I don’t know the answer to that.
Third, John sees an innumerable multitude standing before the throne, “from every nation, tribe, people, and language,” — including Israelites — dressed in white robes, praising God. An elder tells John they have come out of the great tribulation, they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. They are not described as martyrs only. Many historicists say that the “great tribulation” is the persecution of the Romans which had just ended, the ten terrible persecutions in which multitudes of martyrs without number were made.
But I wonder if this scene in chapter 7 presents a picture of the conversions of the entire Gospel Age; for not every nation, tribe, people, and language had yet been reached for the Gospel by 380 ad. And also, the Catholic church recently estimated how many Christians had been martyred in the 20th century alone, and they came up with a number greater than in the Roman persecutions. So perhaps the great tribulation of the persecution of Christians is still ongoing? I don’t know, but it seems possible to me.
To be continued …
Update: continued in Revelation 8: the seventh seal