Read the Passage: Revelation 7
Reminder: The book of Revelation is structured around seven parallel sections, each describing the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. These sections can be delineated into chapters 1–3, 4–7, 8–11, 12–14, 15–16, 17–19, and 20–22.
Protection of the Saints (7:1–8)
In Rev. 6:12–16 John had described the events that surrounded the opening of the sixth seal. As we noted, the sixth seal is the most terrifying of the seals, as it describes cosmic disturbances similar to those identified by Jesus in the so-called Olivet Discourse of Matt. 24:3–31. While there is a sense in which the events described in this passage are ongoing, the picture here is one of the final judgment of mankind at the end of the age. In light of his readers’ understandable unease, rather than immediately describing the opening of the seventh seal, in Rev. 7:1–17 John comforts the church. Here John notes that while divine judgment is prepared, a command has been given, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Rev. 7:3). This sealing pictures protection and ownership, as well as reinforcing divine sovereignty.
In Rev. 7:4–8 John notes that he has heard the number of those who had been sealed, which is 144,000. This same group is mentioned in Rev. 14:1–3. The number 144,000 is the result of 12 (the tribes of Israel) x 12 (the apostles) x 1,000 (a large number). The number should not be understood as a literal head-count, but as a symbolic description, representing all believers throughout the ages who have and will believe in Christ. John writes that these come from the following Old Testament tribes: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. Notably absent from the list are Dan and Ephraim. That this list represents all believers throughout history is can be discerned from the ordering, which lists Judah first (Jesus’ tribe), followed by Reuben (Jabob’s first born), then the sons of Jacob’s concubines, which represent Gentiles believers, followed by Jacob’s other sons, which depicts Israel.
Song of the Redeemed (7:9–12)
In one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture, John further describes the 144,000 sealed saints, as he writes, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9). For the sixth time in this second cycle of his telling the story of history, and his vision of the created order, John records a hymn of praise being sung to God. This group—which includes the redeemed from all the ages—cries out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:10). Followed by this doxology John hears the rest of creation praising God for seven attributes: blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might. Observe that throughout this passage God is praised for who He is (His character) and what He does on and for His own behalf (His acts).
Life in God’s Presence (7:13–17)
Following his review of the doxology being sung to God by the redeemed (cf. Rev. 7:9–10) and all of creation (cf. Rev. 7:11–12), John is asked the rhetorical question, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” (Rev. 7:13). The referent is to those gathered around the throne, who have been described as wearing white robes three times thus far in the larger narrative (cf. Rev. 4:4; 6:11; 7:9). The answer John receives is that they are the redeemed of all the ages. John is then told five facts about this multitude: (1) They are before the throne of God and continually serve Him; (2) God dwells among them; (3) Their material needs are being met—including food, drink, and a proper environment; (4) They are being shepherded by the Lamb; and (5) God has taken away their sorrow, wiping away their tears. In short, the redeemed have been given a meaningful duty, a companion, material provision, a leader, and supernatural comfort.
Excursus: The Seventh Seal (8:1-6)
Back in Rev. 5:5 we are told that the scroll, which represents God’s plan for all of history, had seven seals upon it. Jesus, the Lion and the Lamb, was identified as being the only one worthy to receive and to carry out God’s plan. Rev. 6–7 details the opening and unfolding of this plan utilizing the rubric of the seals. Yet, these two chapters only give us details about six of the seven seals. This is surprising, as John’s second cycle of his telling of the plan of history is recorded in Rev. 4–7. The seventh seal is not actually described until Rev. 8:1–6. The reasons for this delay are two-fold. First, this writing technique helps to tie the entire book of Revelation together. Second, the book is becoming increasingly more eschatological in emphasis with each cycle of the story, and John uses the placement of the seventh seal to aid in this emphasis. Note that Rev. 8:1–6 very is similar in content to what we read in Rev. 5:8.
- Do you regularly praise God for both His character and His works?
- What does it mean to be sealed on one’s forehead (cf. Rom. 12:1–2; Eph. 4:30)?
- What differs between believers’ and unbelievers’ experience of suffering?
- Does the thought that salvation originates from God comfort or concern you?
- Which of the divine provisions in Rev. 7:14–17 is most attractive to you?