Revelation 7 Commentary

Click here to download the Commentary.

vv. 1-3 “The ‘four angels’ at ‘the four corners of the earth’ hold ‘the four winds of the earth’ from blowing on the earth until the servants of God are sealed on their foreheads. The expression ‘the four corners of the earth’ was used in antiquity among the Near-Eastern nations much as we use ‘the four points of the compass.’ Since nowhere in Revelation do we read of the four winds actually blowing, they may be taken as representing the earthly catastrophes that occur under the trumpets and bowls.
“The sealing language would have the effect of assuring God’s people of his special concern and plan for them. Even when facing persecution and martyrdom at the hand of the beast, they can be certain that no plague from God will touch them but that they will be in his presence forever because they are his very own possession (cf. 3:10). Therefore, the seal on the forehead is a divine mark of ownership, the presence of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2Co 1:22; Eph 1:13; 4:30). Consequently, those thus sealed must be Christians and not unconverted Jews or Gentiles.”
“The four winds correspond to the ‘four corners of the earth’ (also a judgment image in Jer. 49:36), a common phrase that simply means the four directions. Here they serve to show God’s sovereignty over the furthest reaches of the earth, like Zechariah’s four horsemen, who were the four spirits of heaven going patrolling in four directions (Zech. 6:1-5).”

vv.4-8 “But who are the 144,000? The matter is open to question, but the form of the text may suggest a census, usually used in the Hebrew Bible to assess military preparation (Num. 1:3, 18, 20; 26:2; 3; 1 Chron. 27:23); this also explains the specification of adult males in 14:4. […]
“This vision may thus represent an end-time army, prepared for a spiritual battle (cf. 12:7-9). If so, it may be the army that returns with Jesus in 19:14, clothed with the righteousness acts of the saints. The only other time in Revelation where John hears a ‘number,’ it is the number of the world’s army, two hundred million strong (9:16). God’s earthly army may be overwhelmingly outnumbered by the world’s army (9:16; cf. 20:8; but cf. 5:11), but they will surely overcome.”

v.4 “John next gives the number of those sealed – 144,000 – and their identification: ‘From all the tribes of Israel.’ There are two principal views regarding the identification of this group: (1) The number and the tribal identifications are taken literally and refer to 144,000 Jewish Christians who are sealed (to protect them from destruction) during the time of the Great Tribulation. (2) John uses the language of the new Israel and thus refers the 144,000 to the completed church composed of Jew and Gentile. […]
“The number 144,000 is obviously obtained by combining 12,000 for each of the twelve tribes of Israel (vv.5-8). Earlier (cf. 4:4), twenty-four (a multiple of twelve) served as a symbolic number. The ‘thousand’ multiple appears again later, in relation to the size of the Holy City: ‘He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long’ (21:16). Thus, 12,000 is symbolic of completeness and perfection. Even the wall is ‘144 cubits’ (i.e., twelve times twelve; v.17). The tree of life bearing ‘twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month’ (i.e., twelve months; 22:2) further supports the view that John intends the number twelve to be taken symbolically. By 144,000, he signifies the sealing of the total number of God’s servants who will face the Great Tribulation.

vv.5-8 “John goes even further. He enumerates each of the twelve tribes and their number: ‘From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,’ etc. Why was it necessary to provide this detailed enumeration? And why the particular tribal selection? In answering these difficult questions, some facts about the list should be noted. John places Judah first, evidently to emphasize the priority of the messianic King who came from the tribe of Judah (5:5; cf. Heb 7:13-14). Nowhere in the tribal listings of the OT except in the space arrangement of the wilderness camp (Nu 2:3ff.) does Judah come first. This exception may itself be linked with the messianic expectation through Judah (Ge 49:10; 1Ch 5:2). John’s priority of Judah is comparable to the emphasis placed in Judaism on the tribe of Levi (the priestly tribe). It is significant that John includes Levi among the other tribes, and thus gives no special place to the Levitical order; he places Levi in the comparatively unimportant eighth place.
“The particular order and names of the tribes as given here by John are unique. The OT has no fewer than twenty variant lists of the tribes, and these lists include anywhere from ten to thirteen tribes, though the number twelve is predominant (cf. Ge 49; Dt 33; Eze 48). The grouping of twelve may be a way of expressing the corporate identity of the elect people of God as a whole and may be maintained – even artificially at times – to preserve this identity (cf. the ‘twelfth’ apostle chosen when Judas fell [Ac 1:25-26]). John omits Dan (which elsewhere is always included) and Ephraim. In order to maintain the ideal number twelve with these omissions, he must list both Joseph and Manasseh as tribes. This is peculiar because the tribe of Joseph is always mentioned in the other lists by either including Joseph and excluding his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Ge 49), or vice versa (Eze 48). Moreover, only when the Levitical priesthood gained more prominence was the tribe of Levi omitted from the lists and replaced by the two sons of Joseph.
“Various efforts have been made to solve the enigma of John’s list and especially to explain the absence of the tribe of Dan. While no solution is completely satisfactory, the early church held that the Antichrist would arise from the tribe of Dan (this belief may in fact be a pre-Christian Jewish tradition). Furthermore, Dan was associated in the OT with idolatry (Jdg 18:18-19; 1Ki 12:29-30). This may be the clue. If John sought to expose Christian idolatry and beast worship in his day by excluding Dan from the list of those sealed, it may also be possible to explain, on the same basis, why Manasseh and Joseph were chosen to fill up the sacred number rather than Manasseh and Ephraim, for in the OT Ephraim was also explicitly identified with idolatry (Hos 4:17). […]
“It is important to note that John does not equate the 144,000 with everyone in the tribes. Rather, his repeated use of the preposition ‘from’ (lit., ‘out of’…) in vv.4-8 implies that the sealed were an elect group chosen out of the tribes. If John had the actual Jewish Israel in view, this use of ‘from’ would indicate an election from the whole nation. On the other hand, if he intended to imply something about the church, his language might indicate God’s selecting the true church out ‘from’ the professing church. This thought has already been mentioned (cf. 2:14ff., 20ff.; 3:16ff.) and is supported by Eze 9:4-7, where the seal distinguished the true servants of God from the false ones among the professing people of God. Paul states the same thought: ‘Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness’ (2Ti 2:19).”

v.9 “Their ‘white robes’ impress John and are an important feature of the vision (vv.9, 13-14). We cannot fail to connect them with the white robes given the martyrs under the fifth seal (6:11). The white robes symbolize salvation and victory (v.10), and their possessors obtained them by ‘[washing] their robes and [making] them white in the blood of the Lamb’ (v.14). This implies that they were true recipients of Christ’s redemption in contrast to others who, though professing belief in Christ, were not genuine overcomers (cf. 3:5-6, 18). ‘The blood of the Lamb’ connotes here more than the profound reference to the sacrificial death of Jesus (5:9); it also suggests faithful witness in following Jesus in his death (2:13; 12:11).”

vv.13-14 “After the manner of the OT apocalyptic passages, the interpreting angel asks concerning the white-robed throng, ‘Who are they, and where did they come from?’ (cf. Da 7:15-16; Zec 1:9, 19; 4:1-6). Here and in 5:5 are the only references in Revelation to an elder speaking individually, a fact that supports the view that the elders in Revelation are angels and not a symbolic group representing the church. The reference to the washed robes should be viewed in relation to 3:4, where soiled clothes represent defection from Christ through unbelief and worship of false gods (cf. 21:8). On the ‘great tribulation,’ see comments on 7:9-17.”

v.14 “The meaning of the ‘great ordeal’ (v.14) is unclear. The phrase … is found only here … and echoes similar themes in the Gospels (e.g. Matt. 24:21; cf. Dan 12:11). A passage like Rev 3:10 points to the whole gamut of upheaval described in the book. Such an ordeal would have a peculiar dimension for those who identify with the Lamb and who experience social ostracism or even persecution. What John is offered here is a proleptic glimpse of those who have made it through the time of trial, particularly as a result of resisting the pressure to conform to the beast and the allure of Babylon.”

v.15 “This and the following verses describe the activity and condition of the true servants of God in their future and eternal relation to the Lamb. This scene is one of the most beautiful in the Bible. In it those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb are described as being before the throne of God without fear or tremor, fully accepted by the divine Majesty. What are they doing? Theirs is no state of passivity but of continual service of God in praise and worship.
“To ‘spread his tent… over them’ calls to mind the Shekinah presence in the OT tabernacle or temple (Ex 40:34-38; 1Ki 8:10-11; cf. Eze 10:4, 18-19) and later in Jesus (Jn 1:14) and also the idea of a permanent heavenly dwelling (Rev 21:3). Never again will these people endure torment. They have the supreme protection of the living God himself.”

v.17 “We now have a beautiful pastoral figure – that of the Lamb shepherding his people (cf. Jn 10:1-8; Heb 13:20; 1Pe 2:25). It is not through some perfect environment but through the continual ministry of the Lamb that their sufferings are forever assuaged. Whereas on earth their enemies may have tormented them, now the Lamb guides them: ‘He will lead them to springs of living water.’ In contrast to the burning thirst they experienced in their tribulation, now they will enjoy the refreshing waters of life. Thus in the future life the saints will not know stagnation, boredom, or satiation (Ps 23:1-2; Jer 2:13; Eze 47:1-12; Zec 14:8).
“Finally, even the sorrowful memory of the pain and suffering of the former days will be mercifully removed by the Father: ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’ (cf. 21:4). Tribulation produces tears. Like a tenderhearted, devoted mother, God will wipe each tear from their eyes with the eternal consolations of glory itself. Never again will they cry out because of pain or suffering.”

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Response