When we discussed the plan and design 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.
Rev 6 described the first six seals. Rev 7 describes the first interval between the sixth and the seventh seal. We know this to be true, because Rev 8:1 reads, “When He 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.
John sees three things in Rev 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 Rev 8); and the fifth who tells the four judgment angels to wait to carry out their 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 (Eph 4:30, 2 Cor 1:22). This chapter describes conversion.
Second, John sees who are sealed: twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, for 144,000 persons sealed. Now, because we have thoroughly gone through our Old Testament history already, we know that these were not 144,000 Jews who were sealed. The Jews came primarily from Judah and Benjamin, and Levi. But persons from the ten tribes of the northern kingdom, who were carried away captive by Assyria and not returned to the Land, are also included in this sealing. They are known as the Ten Lost Tribes today. What happened to them is a mystery, but the prophecies of them declare that they would become a fullness of Gentiles (Gen 48:19) , or become dispersed among the Gentiles (Amo 9:9), and we assume that is where they are today.
The third thing which John sees:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Rev 7:9-10
So we begin with the twelve tribes of Israel, and we end with every tribe, nation, and tongue on the earth. We begin with 144,000, a number which can be counted, and we end with a great multitude which no one can count, worshiping before the throne of God. Please let us remember one of the pivotal events in world history: the Tower of Babel rebellion (Gen 11), in which every tribe, nation, and tongue rebelled against God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and established new gods for themselves. In response, God created out of one man, and he as good as dead, one nation to serve and worship Him, Israel (Gen 12).
This is what I think this chapter is describing. Out of that one nation, Israel, twelve thousand were sealed of each tribe. They had believed in Messiah Yeshua and sealed with the Holy Spirit wherever they were at the time in history this interval occurs, toward the end of the Roman Empire. Many of them probably did not even know that they were descendants of one of the tribes, being dispersed from the Assyrian captivity centuries before. They and their descendants bore fruit, multiplied, and continued to spread to the four corners of the earth, and their witness touched others, who also came to faith. Because of their witness, spreading like ripples in a pond down through the centuries, the end result of it will be what we see in Rev 7:9-10: a great uncountable multitude from every tribe, worshiping before the throne.
In other words, the reversal of the evil the enemy planned for mankind by the Tower of Babel rebellion. No one can out chess God!
P.S. The heading in my Bible, describing the third thing which John sees, the great multitude before the throne, says, “A Multitude from the Great Tribulation.” We have to keep in mind that the headings and notes are not inspired as the text is. What Great Tribulation? Where did a Great Tribulation come from? So many assumptions had to have been made, about the meaning of other passages of Scripture, in order for this heading to say anything about a Great Tribulation. So let’s examine all things closely!
Christine’s book The Revelation of Jesus Christ Revealed, based on these studies but greatly expanded, is now available at Revelation Revealed Online. You may also be interested in reading the Book Extras and joining in on the Discussion.