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! 


 

Four very different approaches to the Book of Revelation – Resources



2 Corinthians 13:11

NASB

11 Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.


Intro

Throughout church history, there have been four different views regarding the book of Revelation: idealist, preterist, historicist, and futurist. The idealist view teaches that Revelation describes in symbolic language the battle throughout the ages between God and Satan and good against evil. The preterist view teaches that the events recorded in the book of Revelation were largely fulfilled in AD 70 with the fall of the Jerusalem Temple. The historicist view teaches that the book of Revelation is a symbolic presentation of church history beginning in the first century AD through the end of age. . . The futurist view teaches that Revelation prophesies events that will take place in the future. . .

Dr. Patrick Zukeran, Four Views of Revelation

I’ve come to believe that if we would try to see what other Christians have observed and taught in different views of Revelation, that we would grow in love and discernment. That’s why the following comment on Puritan Board makes sense. Obviously this can’t mean that all of the views are completely Biblical and therefore of equal value. With one exception, we aren’t speaking about heresy. 


PURITAN BOARD forum

THREAD ANSWERING THIS QUESTION:

Historicist Hermeneutic: No Longer Feasible?

Comment by “greenbaggins,” Administrator and Staff Member

[Emphasis added]

“While I have some sympathy with the historicist idea that Revelation is a road-map of history, the problem is that historical identifications with elements in Revelation become, if not fanciful, at the very least, highly debatable. It is my opinion (along with Poythress) that Revelation has seven cycles of seven, wherein each cycle crescendos from the previous cycle, thus climaxing each cycle with the second coming.

Each of the four main interpretive approaches to Revelation has strengths and weaknesses. The strength of the preterist is that John wrote Revelation to a certain audience at a certain time, and any interpretation which fails to take this into consideration will get considerably jumbled. However, preterists go too far when they limit the applicability of Revelation to the first-century (either too much, as in partial preterists, or much too much, as in the heretical full preterists). Revelation is part of the canon. It must apply not only to the first-century audience, but also to the church of all ages. It does speak of the second coming of Christ and the new heavens and new earth, and not just in the last three chapters.

“The futurist approach’s strength is in recognizing the references to the second coming, and giving them full weight. Futurists tend to forget, however, the historical situatedness of Revelation. They also forget (sometimes) Revelation’s canonical status, applying to the church of all ages. They have, therefore, the corresponding and opposite strengths and weaknesses of the preterite positions.

“The strength of the historicist position is in recognizing Revelation’s canonical status, and that therefore it must apply to the church of all ages. The weakness has been already identified above, as its historical identifications are quite tenuous. I find myself thinking, ‘Yeah, possibly, but couldn’t it also mean a dozen other historical events?’

“The strength of the idealist position is in recognizing the cyclical (or better yet, spiral) nature of Revelation. Some idealist positions have a weakness, however, in de-concretizing the imagery of Revelation, and making just about everything quite vague.

“I believe that the strongest interpretation of Revelation will take elements of truth from all the four approaches, while seeking to minimize their weaknesses. As such, there are three main areas of applicability, all of which have to have their day in court: the first century, the history of the church, and the second coming of Christ. This is why I advocate a modified idealist approach wherein the beginning and the end both get full attention, and not just the cycles of how God works in history. I believe that John is describing over and over again (seven times, in fact) the time between the first and second coming of Christ.”


Hattip: Meg’s blog, The Antipas Chronicles

SO FAR MUST THE BEAST HAVE A HAND IN IT


RESOURCES

Chart explaining the major distinctive of each view of Revelation:
Historicism.com

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The Four Views of Revelation

Preterism

Partial Preterism (orthodox)

Full Preterism (heretical)

Futurism

Historicism

Idealism

(The most recent of the major approaches to Revelation)


Four Views of Revelation

Dr. Patrick Zukeran

Dr. Patrick Zukeran presents a summary of four of the major approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation and its meaning for the end times. . . For each, he presents the basic approach, strengths of the approach and weaknesses of the approach. Recognizing that God is the central mover in all of these, he encourages us to keep these questions from dividing Christians in our mission of sharing Christ with the world.


Interpreting Revelation

Dr. Cornelis P. Venema

One helpful way to meet the challenge of interpreting the book of Revelation is to become acquainted with some of the main approaches to its interpretation. In the history of the church, five predominant approaches have emerged: the futurist, the preterist, the historicist, the idealist, and the eclectic approach. While these approaches are not necessarily incompatible at every point, they represent distinct views of the message and themes of Revelation. Familiarity with these approaches, though no substitute for a direct reading and interpretation of Revelation, does provide a helpful map of the well-traveled paths that previous interpreters have found illuminating.


 

Insight on prophecy from the Historical perspective


Revelation 13

And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.


Stephan, our brother from Germany, published an image of the following page at his blog, SheepAlert, in a post entitled,

500 Jahre Gegenreformation / 500 Years Counter-Reformation

(Pocket BIBLe Handbook, Henry Halley, 17th edition, 1946 page 636)

You can read the posts at SheepAlert by using a tool such as Google Translate. It is well worth it.

Here is a transcription of the text of the page above:

“. . .the persecution of Nero and Domitian. 42 months meant a temporary period.

   “To the Futurist interpreter, the Beast is the Antichrist himself, in his 10-kingdom federated empire, the last form of Gentile dominion, in the Tribulation period, just before the Lord Comes. His blasphemies, and his brutal war on the saints, will make it a time of trouble, the like of which the world has never before known. The 42 months are taken to be a literal 3 1/2 years.

   “To the Historical interpreter, the Beast represents the Concentration and Personification of World-Power, thru the whole period of history, as one Entity, but manifesting itself in various forms and in various ages; with many and diverse modifications. The Seven Heads are the Seven Great Powers which have dominated history: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and Papal Rome. The healing of the death-stroke refers to the rise of Papal Rome out of the ruins of Pagan Rome, and its domination of the world on a vaster extent, and for a longer time, and with a more despotic hand, than any of its predecessors. The blasphemies refer to the claims of the Popes to infallibility, authority to forgive sins, grant indulgences, etc. The war on the saints is taken to refer to the Papal persecutions of the Middle Ages and early Reformation Era, in which, some historians have estimated, over 50,000,000 martyrs perished at the hands of Papal Rome and which constituted one of the cruelest and most brutal chapters in the history of mankind. The 42 months, 1260 days, is taken to mean 1260 years, the approximate duration of the Papacy as a World-Power, 6th to 18th centuries.”


Cropped - Jan Hus Before the Council of Constance Vaclav Brozik

Jan Hus Before the Council of Constance in 1415, by Vaclav Brozik.


 

Go read! Oral Collins

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The following article by Dr.  Collins is really helpful. (I only had one quibble with him!) He is also the author of The Final Prophecy of Jesus: An Introduction, Analysis, and Commentary on the Book of Revelation. Here is a quote taken from this article on interpreting prophecy:

“The serious student will want to study the bib­lical text and develop his personal understanding with some assurance.  To do this, it is absolutely necessary to know and to apply sound principles of biblical interpretation.”

Oral E. Collins

THE INTERPRETATION OF BIBLICAL PROPHECY

http://www.historicism.com/Collins/interp.htm

Historicism.com

Matthew Henry on the man of sin

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2 Thessalonians 2

NKJV

Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

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The Biblical commentaries written by Matthew Henry, credit - Pete unseth, Wikimedia

The Biblical commentaries written by Matthew Henry, credit – Pete unseth, Wikimedia

Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714)

“Verses 1-3 In these words the apostle confutes the error against which he had cautioned them, and gives the reasons why they should not expect the coming of Christ as just at hand. There were several events previous to the second coming of Christ; in particular, he tells them there would be, I. A general apostasy, there would come a falling away first, v. 3. By this apostasy we are not to understand a defection in the state, or from civil government, but in spiritual or religious matters, from sound doctrine, instituted worship and church government, and a holy life. The apostle speaks of some very great apostasy, not only of some converted Jews or Gentiles, but such as should be very general, though gradual, and should give occasion to the revelation of [the] rise of antichrist, that man of sin. This, he says (v. 5), he had told them of when he was with them, with design, no doubt, that they should not take offence nor be stumbled at it. And let us observe that no sooner was Christianity planted and rooted in the world than there began to be a defection in the Christian church. It was so in the Old-Testament church; presently after any considerable advance made in religion there followed a defection: soon after the promise there was revolting; for example, soon after men began to call upon the name of the Lord all flesh corrupted their way,—soon after the covenant with Noah the Babel-builders bade defiance to heaven,—soon after the covenant with Abraham his seed degenerated in Egypt,—soon after the Israelites were planted in Canaan, when the first generation was worn off, they forsook God and served Baal,—soon after God’s covenant with David his seed revolted, and served other gods,—soon after the return out of captivity there was a general decay of piety, as appears by the story of Ezra and Nehemiah; and therefore it was no strange thing that after the planting of Christianity there should come a falling away. II. A revelation of that man of sin, that is (v. 3), antichrist would take his rise from this general apostasy. The apostle afterwards speaks of the revelation of that wicked one (v. 8), intimating the discovery which should be made of his wickedness, in order to his ruin: here he seems to speak of his rise, which should be occasioned by the general apostasy he had mentioned, and to intimate that all sorts of false doctrines and corruptions should centre in him. Great disputes have been as to who or what is intended by this man of sin and son of perdition: and, if it be not certain that the papal power and tyranny are principally or only intended, yet this is plain, What is here said does very exactly agree thereto. For observe, 1…” 

To finish reading, go to Bible Study Tools

HT: Carlos Gonzalez, THE POPE = THE MAN OF SIN (PART 3),  COVENANTER REFORMATION

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Please note,

The other passage in which the term “the son of perdition” appears is in John’s Gospel, where the Lord is praying and refers to Judas Iscariot, though not by name:

John 17:12

NKJV

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.

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