Reading through Revelation – Chapter 7:1-8, The 144,000 bond-servants of our God


Meme Generator - Revelation 7.4


Thoughts

These commentaries offer a non-literal or figurative interpretation of the identity of the 144,000. I had planned as before to include commentary offering the literal approach – Bible.org – but decided to limit this post to the figurative view. 


Quote addressing figurative and literal views

“Each passage of Scripture must be interpreted according to its literary genre. We cannot arbitrarily interpret figurative passages literally. Genre analysis must be practiced.”

Dr. Sam Waldron, “Eschatology: The Doctrine of Last Things“, Lecture 9: The Eschatological Kingdom (Continued), Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary free to audit online course.


Revelation 7:1-8

NASB

1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”

And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were  sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.


Related passages

Ezekiel 9:3-6

Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the [c]temple. And He called to the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case. The Lord said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.” But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. [d]Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary.”  

Revelation 14:1-3

Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they *[a]sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth.  

This passage from Ezekiel is both frightening and wonderful. The protective mark seems to be visible only to angels and the Lord. What might this mean in reference to the mark of the Beast? Invisible to humans perhaps?


Commentaries

Early Commentators cited by E. B. Elliott

“Edward Bishop Elliott (24 July 1793, Paddington – 30 June 1875) was an English clergyman and premillennarian writer. . . Unknown to many Baptists today, Elliott, a most eminent Baptist preacher, held to the historicist view of eschatology that the book of Revelation covers history from the time of the apostle John up to the second advent of Christ.”  ~ Wikipedia

Horae Apocalypticae, E. B. Elliott. 4 Volumes: Vol. I; Vol. 2; Vol. 3; Vol. 4 From Google Books

“5. Jerome. [28]

The Apocalyptic 144,000 seen by St. John with Christ on Mount Zion, or sealed ones out of each and all of the tribes of the Apocalyptic Israel, are sometimes expounded by Jerome of the Christian apostles, martyrs, and saints generally, sometimes of Christian virgins or celibates more especially; [32] never of an election distinctively out of the Jews, or natural Israel. . .”

“6. Augustine.

“2. That the 144,000 of the sealing vision (as also of Apoc. xiv.) depicted distinctively (not the earthly professing visible Church, but) the Church of the saints, or elect,[61] the constituency of what he calls the City of God, ultimately united into the heavenly Jerusalem: [62] while the appended palm-bearing vision figured the blessed and heavenly issue assured to them of their earthly trials and pilgrimage. [63]“. . .

“7. To which expositor, Tichonius, last of this æra, now proceed we.

“So arrived at the sealing and palm-bearing visions he expounds the one of the Church’s ingathering of its mystical number, the 144,000; [86] the other of Church privileges enjoyed by them under the present dispensation: [87] for he regarded the 144,000, and palm-bearing company, as one and the same body, [88] constituted of the elect out of both Jews and Gentiles.”

It’s wonderful to have a view back in time to what earlier Christians believed and taught. I’m fairly certain that they believed they were being Biblical and faithful to the testimony of the Apostles. Probably, all true Christians believe this. 


A Post-Reformation Commentator

A Key to the Apocalypse, Discovered and Demonstrated from the Internal and Inserted Characters of the Visions.
Joseph Mede (1586-1638)
Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids

Mede’s Clavis Apocalyptica[5] (1627 in Latin, English translation 1643,[6] Key of the Revelation Searched and Demonstrated[7]) was a widely influential work on the interpretation of the Book of Revelation. It projected the end of the world by 1716: possibly in 1654.[8] The book also posited that the Jews would be miraculously converted to Christianity before the second coming.[9]  ~ Wikipedia

“For as in the beginning, we saw the theatre of the visions, or the Apocalyptical Assembly, described according to the image and state of the ancient synagogue, and great part of this book of types has a reference to the same; so that, as false Christians in the epistles to the churches may on that account be spoken of as false Jews, so likewise here, the universal church of the Gentiles, secured by the seal of God, is figured under the type of Israel, the twelve apostles of the former aptly corresponding with the same number of the patriarchs in the latter.”

Joseph Mede, a student of God’s Word, stumbled by setting dates for the Lord’s Return, a fault among some teachers of prophecy in our day as well.


Later Commentators

Halley’s Bible Handbook, Zondervan, 1965, p. 714

“144,000 is the square of 12, multiplied a thousandfold, and is thought to be understood, not numerically, but symbolically, representing the Sum Total of the Elect of Israel, the Firstfruits of the Gospel, or the Sum Total of Christians. . .

“‘The Sealing of God’s Servants’ (7:3), seems to refer to the process of Evangelization going on, in the Roman Empire, before it fell, or, in the Whole World, throughout the Whole Course of History, before the Final Day of the Lamb’s Wrath.”

Meme Generator - William Hendriksen

More than Conquerors, William Hendriksen, Baker Book House, 1962, pp. 110-111

John hears the number of the sealed. He does not see their exact number for these sealed ones are still on earth. Only God knows how many truly sealed people there are on earth. The number is 144,000. This, of course, is symbolical. First, the number three, indicating the Trinity, is multiplied by four, indicating the entire creation, for the sealed ones shall come from the east and the west, the north and the south. Three times four makes twelve. This number there indicates: the Trinity (3) operating in the universe (4). When the Father through the Son in the Spirit performs His saving work on earth—the divine (3) operating in the universe (4)—we see in the old dispensation the twelve (3 x 4) patriarchs and in the new the twelve apostles. In order to arrive at the conceptions of the Church of the old and of the new dispensation we shall have to multiply this twelve by twelve. This gives us 144.

“Entirely in harmony with this representation we read in Revelation that the holy city Jerusalem has twelve gates and twelve foundations. On these twelve gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. On the twelve foundations were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:9-14). We also read that the wall is 144 cubits in height (2:17).

It is very clear, therefore, that the seal multitude of Revelation 7 symbolizes the entire Church militant of the old and new dispensations. In order to emphasize the fact that not a small portion of the Church is meant but the entire Church militant, this number 144 is multiplied by one thousand. One thousand is 10 x 10 x 10, which indicates a perfect cube, reduplicated completeness. (See Rev. 21:16). The 144,000 sealed individuals out of the twelve tribes of literal Israel symbolize spiritual Israel, the church of God [of both dispensations] on earth. . . 

“. . . in chapter 14 we again see this same multitude, the 144,000. Here we are plainly told that they are those who have been purchased out of the earth. They represent those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes, and entire Church militant, therefore, as is also clearly taught in Revelation 22:4. Christ, having purchased them by His own precious blood, owns them, and the Faith (through Christ, in the Spirit) protects them. Let the winds blow; they will not harm God’s people. Let the judgments come; they will not hurt His elect!”

Revelation 22:4 – “They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.”

Biblical numbers are significant. In Revelation, numbers are especially significant. Everything in God’s Word is significant – everything!

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Meme Generator Rev. 7.4

Temple Institute

The Final Prophecy of Jesus, Oral Edmond Collins, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2007, pp. 165-166

The number of those who were sealed: 144,000, is as nearly all commentators recognize, a symbolic number, the square of the 12, times 1000. It is also the number by which the tribes of Israel were conventionally counted—that is, by ‘thousands’. . . The number of the sons of Jacob, the number 12, became in Israel a sacred number, reiterated by our Lord in the naming of twelve apostles. In the New Jerusalem, the names of the patriarchs were written on the twelve gates (21:12), and the names of the apostles were written on the twelve foundations (21:14). . . All the tribes of Israel in the list of verses 5-8 do not include Dan (as does Ezekiel 48) and Joseph is named in place of Ephraim. The omission of Dan whereas it is included in the prophecy of Ezekiel argues for the symbolic nature of this list in Revelation.”

Oral Collins isn’t the first to notice that the tribe of Dan is missing from the listing of “all the tribes of Israel” (verse 4). Its absence must have meaning we should explore.

May God be praised! 


 

Ancient thoughts on the human will, and a contemporary portrait of genuine “Calvinism”

 


Matthew 1:21

NASB

21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

1 Corinthians 4:7

NASB

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

Romans 9:15-17

15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.”


Thoughts

A blogger friend and brother in the Lord has been discussing the doctrines of grace, so here is my response. Not my own thoughts here – though I agree with those I’ve presented – just insights from two Christians who lived many centuries apart. Let’s praise God for the great cloud of witnesses who have testified to the love and grace of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ!


Augustine’s Doctrine of the Bondage of the Will

Monergism.com

Augustine of Hippo

Quotes from Augustine

“How have you come? By believing. Fear lest while you are claiming for yourself that you have found the just way, you perish from the just way. I have come, you say, of my own free choice; I have come of my own will. Why are you puffed up? Do you wish to know that this also has been given you? Hear Him calling, ‘No one comes to me unless my Father draws him’ [John 6:44 p.].” – Augustine, Sermons xxvi. 3, 12, 4, 7 (MPL 28.172, 177, 172f., 174)

“Why then, do miserable men either dare to boast of free will before they have been freed, or of their powers, if they have already been freed? And they do not heed the fact that in the term ‘free will’ freedom seems to be implied. ‘Now where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ [II Cor 3:17]. If therefore, they are slaves of sin, why do they boast of free will? For a man becomes the slave of him who has overcome him. Now if they have been freed, why do they boast as if it had come about through their own effort? Of are they so free as not to wish to be slaves of him who says: ‘Without me you can do nothing'” [John 15:5]

“. . . the human will does not obtain grace by freedom, but obtains freedom by grace; when the feeling of delight has been imparted through the same grace, the human will is formed to endure; it is strengthened with unconquerable fortitude; controlled by grace, it never will perish, but, if grace forsake it, it will straightway fall; by the Lord’s free mercy it is converted to good, and once converted it perseveres in good; the direction of the human will toward good, and after direction its continuation in good, depend solely upon God’s will, not upon any merit of man [anything deserving in man]. Thus there is left to man such free will, if we please so to call it, as he elsewhere describes: that except through grace the will can neither be converted to God nor abide in God; and whatever it can do it is able to do only through grace.”

Excerpts from the author of the article

“Augustine argued that there are four states, which are derived from the Scripture, that correspond to the four states of man in relation to sin: (a) able to sin, able not to sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare); (b) not able not to sin (non posse non peccare); (c) able not to sin (posse non peccare); and (d) unable to sin (non posse peccare). The first state corresponds to the state of man in innocency, before the Fall; the second the state of the natural man after the Fall; the third the state of the regenerate man; and the fourth the glorified man.”

One thought here: Augustine’s explanation is helpful but incomplete because it doesn’t address the struggle involved in not sinning:

Romans 7:21-25

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

“There are times when Augustine uses the term ‘free will’ in a positive sense, as R. C. Sproul explains,

‘Augustine did not deny that fallen man still has a will and that the will is capable of making choices. He argued that fallen man still has a free will (liberium arbitrium) but has lost his moral liberty (libertas). The state of original sin leaves us in the wretched condition of being unable to refrain from sinning. We still are able to choose what we desire, but our desires remain chained by our evil impulses. He argued that the freedom that remains in the will always leads to sin. Thus in the flesh we are free only to sin, a hollow freedom indeed. It is freedom without liberty, a real moral bondage. True liberty can only come from without, from the work of God on the soul. Therefore we are not only partly dependent upon grace for our conversion but totally dependent upon grace.‘”


The Practical Implications of Calvinism

(pdf file)

Albert N. Martin

[Emphasis added]

“Matthew Henry, in his simple, homely, quaint way, says, ‘When God deigns to bless his people he sets them a-praying for the blessing which he desires to give them’. And so, if I believe the confession that God saves sinners, that he not only regenerates them, bringing them to repentance and faith, but that he keeps them and ultimately brings them into his presence — if that is his work then it will produce a consistent prayerfulness, not only a holy watchfulness and distrust of myself, but a constant application to him that he would perform in me that which he has promised. For what is prayer in the last analysis? It is a conscious spreading out of my helplessness before God. The true Calvinist is the man who confesses with his lips that grace must not only awaken him, regenerate him, but that grace must preserve him, and he Amens his confession by his prayer when on his knees he cries out, ‘Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil. I cannot even get my bread for today, Lord, unless you sustain my life and bless the labours of my hands: Give me this day my daily bread’. The doctrine of confession, God saves sinners, will produce in the heart of a true Christian the sane biblical pursuit of godliness, holy watchfulness, a consistent prayerfulness, and in the third place. . . A trustful dependence on God to fulfil all that he has purposed. . .

“For a person to claim to be a Calvinist, confessing the soteriological creed that God saves sinners, without this holy watchfulness, some measure of consistent prayerfulness, and a trusting dependence upon God in Christ to fulfill all that he, in grace, has promised, is a contradiction of terms. One of the great cries that is raised today, and some of it has justification, is that people, especially young men, who get hold of Calvinism, and seem to view it as an unanswerable, unassailable philosophical system, become proud, go back now to their secular schools and in ten minutes shoot holes in the views of their Professor of Philosophy. They become proud, cocky. That is a caricature, that is not real Calvinism.”

“What is the personal practical effect of the confession of Calvinism in the life of a man? If he sees God, it will break him, and if he understands that God saves sinners, it will make him a trustful, prayerful, watchful person pursuing practical godliness. Is that what these doctrines are doing for you right where you sit this morning? Some, perhaps, to whom these things are new have feared them and said, ‘Oh, that stuff will just lead to spiritual barrenness and dryness’. It is not so! For these are the truths of God’s Word; I am convinced they are. In their totality they are the truth which is according to godliness, the truth that sanctifies us in answer to the prayer of our great High Priest. May God grant that the truth will do that in you and in me!”


John 17:9-19

“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10 And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. 12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.


 

Incredible quotes – The Incarnation


1 Timothy 3:16

NASB

16 By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness:

He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory.

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Galatians 4:4

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law. . .


Christian Quotes of the Day

“He was created of a mother whom he created. He was carried by hands that he formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, he the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.”

Augustine of Hippo

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“The glory of the incarnation is that it presents to our adoring gaze not a humanized God or a deified man, but a true God-man – one who is all that God is and at the same time all that man is: one on whose almighty arm we can rest, and to whose human sympathy we can appeal.”

Benjamin B. Warfield


 

The Pilgrim Church, Broadbent’s understanding of Augustine

 

As I continue to read E. H. Broadbent’s The Pilgrim Church, I’m finding more that is helpful. 

Recently I took part in an online discussion about John Calvin and Martin Luther, in which they were criticized for continuing the practice of infant baptism after leaving the Catholic Church; and because of their practice of infant baptism, the genuineness of their faith was called into question. The blame for this ultimately landed at Augustine’s feet – these Reformers had refused to set aside his views. This saddened and frustrated me because I know that believers differ about infant vs. believer’s baptism, and that not all who practice infant baptism consider it regeneration.

So, these men were merely men – they sometimes erred. Their views on nonessentials shouldn’t be a test of the genuineness of their faith and eternal destiny. 

1 Corinthians 4:5

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

I just finished reading Broadbent’s analysis of Augustine. He points out issues that are more troubling than infant baptism. One of these is that Augustine held the view that coercion was justified when heretics refused correction. So yes, we respect these men whom the Lord gave to the Church as teachers, but we cannot refuse to critique their views. That is wrong – just as being hypercritical is wrong.

2 Timothy 2:24-25

24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;

The following excerpt is taken from the chapter entitled “Christianity in Christendom”, from the hardback edition of the book, published by GOSPEL FOLIO PRESS, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1999. (Emphasis added.)

“Augustine was baptized by Ambrose in Milan (AD 387) and became later Bishop of Hippo (later named Bona) in North Africa (AD 395). His busy life was one of constant controversy. He lived at the time when the Western Roman Empire was breaking up; indeed a barbarian army was besieging his city of Hippo when he passed away. It was the fall of the Western Empire that led him to write his famous book, The City of God. Its full title explains its aim: ‘Though the greatest city of the world has fallen, the City of God abideth for ever.’

His view, however, of what the City of God is led him into teachings that have given rise to unspeakable misery, the very greatness of his name accentuating the harmful effects of the error he taught. He, beyond others, formulated the doctrine of salvation by the Church only, by means of her sacraments. To take salvation out of the hands of the Saviour and put it into the hands of men, to interpose a system of man’s devising between the Saviour and the sinner, is the very opposite of the Gospel revelation. Christ says: ‘Come unto Me’ and no priest or church has authority to intervene.

Augustine, in his zeal for the unity of the Church and his genuine abhorrence of all divergence in doctrine and difference in form, lost sight of the spiritual, living, and indestructible unity of the Church and Body of Christ, uniting all who are sharers by the new birth in the life of God. Consequently he did not see the practical possibility of the existence of churches of God in various places and in all times, each retaining its immediate relation with the Lord and with the Spirit, yet having fellowship with the others, and that in spite of human weaknesses, of varying degrees of knowledge, of divergent apprehensions of Scripture and differences of practice.

His outward view of the Church as an earthly organization naturally led him to seek outward, material means for preserving, and even compelling, visible unity. In controversy with the Donatists, he wrote:

‘It is indeed better…that men should be led to worship God by teaching, than that they should be driven to it by fear of punishment or pain; but it does not follow that because the former course produces the better men, therefore those who do not yield to it should be neglected. For many have found advantage (as we have proved and are daily proving by actual experiment) in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching, or might follow out in act what they had already learned in word…While those are better who are guided aright by love, those are certainly more numerous who are corrected by fear. For who can possibly love us more than Christ, who laid down His life for the sheep? And yet, after calling Peter and the other Apostles by His words alone, when He came to summon Paul…He not only constrained him with His voice, but even dashed him to the earth with His power; and that He might forcibly bring one who was raging amid the darkness of infidelity, to desire the light of the heart, He first struck him with physical blindness of the eyes. Why therefore should not the Church use force in compelling her lost sons to return?…The Lord Himself said, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in”…Wherefore is the power which the Church has received by divine appointment in its due season, through the religious character and faith of kings, be the instrument by which those who are found in the highways and hedges – that is, in heresies and schisms – are compelled to come in, then let them not find fault with being compelled.’

Such teaching, from such an authority, incited and justified those methods of persecution by which papal Rome equalled the cruelties of pagan Rome. So a man of strong affections and quick and tender sympathies, departing from the principles of Scripture, though with good intentions, became implicated in a vast and ruthless system of persecution.

As I read through The Pilgrim Church, I hope to post more excerpts from it.

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