Reading through Revelation – Chapter 7:9-17, “a great multitude” and “the great tribulation”

 


 


Thoughts

Greta with specsStarting here and now, my focus in this series will be to present interpretations of Revelation from Church History – a subject I love. Please think of me as your little old librarian lady with specs on and pray I don’t stumble in the stacks. My hope is that you will be edified by something taken down from the shelves.

Presenting interpretations on Revelation is no longer a simple thing for me. I’m a little afraid of rejection for not believing in what many of my brothers and sisters believe in: a seven-year tribulation before, and a literal Millennium after, Jesus’ return. Though I’m willing to discuss whatever you find here, I’m not interested in debate. Also, please know that I don’t want to discourage you about how you’ve come to understand these things after studying long and prayerfully. I’ve learned that genuine Christians can and do hold different views about them, and that this is fine as long as we are not talking about heresy such as Full Preterism.

May the Lord Jesus be glorified in all that each one of us attempts to do for His Name and eternal Kingdom! 


Revelation 7:9-17

NASB
A Multitude from the Tribulation

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands;  10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying,

“Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. 16 They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”


Related passages

 John 16:33

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Hebrews  11:35-38

35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy),  wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.

Revelation 21:1-4

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be  any death; there will no longer be any  mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

Glorious, brethren!


The 17th Century

John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible – Revelation 7

John Gill was “an English Baptist pastor,  biblical scholar, and theologian who held to a firm Calvinistic soteriology. Born in Kettering, Northamptonshire, he attended Kettering Grammar School where he mastered the Latin classics and learned Greek by age 11. He continued self-study in everything from logic to Hebrew, his love for the latter remaining throughout his life.” ~ Wikipedia

Gill was a premillennialist and historicist

Portrait of John Gill by George Vertue 1684Verse 14

and he said to me, these are they which came out of great tribulation: seeing this company designs all the elect of God, that ever were, are, or shall be in the world; ‘the great tribulation’, out of which they came, is not to be restrained to any particular time of trouble, but includes all that has been, is, or shall be; as all the afflictions of the saints under the Old Testament; from righteous Abel to Zechariah; and all the troubles of the people of God in the times of the Maccabees, Hebrews 11:35; all the persecutions of the Christians by the Jews, at the first publication of the Gospel; and the persecutions under the Roman emperors, both Pagan and Arian; and the cruelties and barbarities of the Romish antichrist, during the whole time of the apostasy; and particularly the last struggle of the beast, which will be the hour of temptation, that will come upon all the world; and in general all the afflictions, reproaches, persecutions, and many tribulations of all the saints, and every member of Christ in this world. . .”

The brief article on Pastor Gill at Wikipedia is very interesting!


A 19th Century Explanation of a 2nd and 3rd Century Expositor

Horae Apocalypticae

APPENDIX TO VOL. IV.  PART I. A SKETCH OF THE HISTORY OF APOCALYPTIC INTERPRETATION.

E. B. Elliott – (1793 – 1875)

Edward B. Elliott “wrote here the most exhaustive historicist defense and exposition of the Book of Revelation, building upon all the commentators before him. The last volume includes a critique of all of the other main interpretations of Revelation. He was a historicist premillennial (as was Charles Spurgeon who has commended it). ‘Horae Apocalypticae’ in the title means ‘of the hours of the Apocalypse’.”

Reformed Books Online: The Best, Free, Biblical, Reformed Books and Articles Online

On Tertullian’s understanding of Revelation, Elliott wrote: “But by far the most interesting to my mind of his passing comments here are those on the 5th Seal’s vision of the souls under the altar, and that of the palm-bearing company, figured before the opening of the seventh Seal.[30] The martyrs of the former vision, he explains as martyrs then in course of being slain under Pagan Rome for the testimony of Christ: thereby distinctly assigning to the then passing æra [era] that particular place in the Apocalyptic prefigurative drama.[31] The palm-bearers of the latter vision, that had to come out of the great tribulation, he identifies as that same second set of martyrs that had been predicted to the souls under the altar; – those that were to make up the martyr-complement by suffering under Antichrist, and so suffering to become triumphant, and attain Paradise. And hence chiefly he formed to himself an Apocalyptic plan, and “ordo temporum” in the prophecy: – how that before the judgment and vindication promised to the souls under the altar, the imperial harlot-city Rome was to be destroyed by the ten kings, (mark, not the ten kings and Antichrist,) after the vial-plagues had first been poured out on its empire: then the Beast Antichrist to rise, make war conjunctively with his False Prophet on the Church, and add an innumerable multitude of sufferers, during the tribulation of his tyranny, to the martyrs previously slain under Pagan Rome, Christ’s two Witnesses, Enoch and Elijah, specially inclusive:[32]. . .”

You can purchase Horae Apocalypticae at Amazon and elsewhere in volumes but it’s expensive. 


A little Greek for some of you from the 19th and 20th Century

Robertson’s Word Pictures

A.T. Robertson

A.T. Robertson from ccel.org

Revelation 7:14

I say (eirhka). Perfect active indicative of eipon, “I have said.” “To the Seer’s mind the whole scene was still fresh and vivid” (Swete) like kekragen in John 1:15 and eilhpen in Revelation 5:7, not the so-called “aoristic perfect” which even Moulton (Prol. p. 145) is disposed to admit. My lord (Kurie mou). “An address of reverence to a heavenly being” (Vincent), not an act of worship on John’s part. Thou knowest (su oida). “At once a confession of ignorance, and an appeal for information” (Swete), not of full confidence like su oida in John 21:15They which come out of the great tribulation (oi ercomenoi ek th qlipsew th megalh). Present middle participle with the idea of continued repetition. “The martyrs are still arriving from the scene of the great tribulation” (Charles). Apparently some great crisis is contemplated ( Matthew 13:19 ; Matthew 24:21 ; Mark 13:10 ), though the whole series may be in mind and so may anticipate final judgment. And they washed (kai eplunan). First aorist active indicative of plunw, old verb, to wash, in N.T. only Luke 5:2Revelation 7:14Revelation 22:14. This change of construction after oi ercomenoi from oi plunhsante to kai eplunan is common in the Apocalypse, one of Charles’s Hebraisms, like kai epoihsen in Revelation 1:6 and kai planai in Revelation 2:20Made them white (eleukanan). First aorist active indicative of leukainw, to whiten, old verb from leuko (verse Revelation 13 ), in N.T. only here and Mark 9:3. “Milligan remarks that robes are the expression of character and compares the word habit used of dress” (Vincent). The language here comes partly from Genesis 49:11 and partly from Exodus 19:10 Exodus 19:14. For the cleansing power of Christ’s blood see als (Romans 3:25Romans 5:9Colossians 1:20Ephesians 1:71 Peter 1:2; Hebrews 9:141 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5Revelation 5:9Revelation 22:14. “The aorists look back to the life on earth when the cleansing was effected” (Swete). See Philippians 2:12 for both divine and human aspects of salvation. In the blood of the Lamb (en twi aimati tou arniou). There is power alone in the blood of Christ to cleanse from sin ( 1 John 1:7 ), not in the blood of the martyrs themselves. The result is “white,” not “red,” as one might imagine.”


The 20th Century

Halley’s Bible Handbook, 1965, p. 714

Chapter 7:9-17. The Great Multitude in Heaven

“The ‘144,000,’ of verse 4, and the ‘Great Multitude,’ of verse 9, seem to be two separate groups. One is the Elect of Israel. The other is from All Nations. With one group the scene was on Earth. With the other the scene is in Heaven. One group was sealed against a Coming Tribulation. With the other group, the Tribulation is Past. Yet they may be One and the Same group, under different aspects.

“One relates to the Call, or ‘Sealing’ period, on Earth; the other to the period of Victorious Blessedness in Heaven: the 144,000 of the Elect of Israel, turning out, in full fruition, to be the Great Multitude from Every Nation.

“The blood-washed throng, safe at last in the Father’s Home, as against the Day of Wrath on Earth (6:16), is the Answer to the Martyrs’ Cry (6:10). Arrayed in white Robes, Palms in their hands, Songs on their lips. They hunger no more. All tears wiped away. In the Land where Fountains are Forever flowing with Living Waters.”

This makes sense when we realize that “the Israel or God” is made up of believers, both Jews and Gentiles:

Galatians 6:12-16

12 Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

Meme Hendriksen Dutch quoteMore than Conquerors, William Hendriksen, Baker Book House, 1962, pp. 113-114

The explanation given by the elder, in a most sublime and beautiful manner, closes this section, chapters 4-7. Constantly bear in mind that this section has as its theme, the Church in tribulation. We have seen the red horse of slaughter, the black horse of poverty and injustice, the livid horse of Death. We have heard the cries of the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held. It has become clear that all these trials are controlled by the One who is sitting upon the throne. Now, in addition, it is made clear to us that the Church does not remain in the tribulation. The countless multitude is composed of individuals who come ‘out of’ the great tribulation. We read ‘And he said to me: “These are the ones coming out of the tribulation, the great one, and they have washed their flowing robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and they worship him by day and by night in his sanctuary, and the One sitting on the throne will spread his tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more: neither shall the sun fall upon them nor any heat, for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd and shall lead them to life’s springs of waters and God shall wipe away every tear out of their eyes.”‘

“The elder tells John that these people who are clothed around with the white flowing robes come out of ‘the tribulation, the great one’. This one tribulation is great because it is all-inclusive: all the persecutions and trials of God’s people, symbolized by the seals, are included in it. That gives unity to this entire section, chapters 4-7. The point is that the saints come out of their trials. The Dutch have a term for ‘dying’ which literally means ‘to get over (or beyond) suffering’. It expresses the truth whenever a believer dies.”

Hendriksen is a heart-felt commentator and I’m looking forward to reading more of his book.


 

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!

.

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!