Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 15 - The Hundred and Forty-four Thousand (ch. 7)

The connection of Revelation 7 with its preceding chapter is close and obvious. Instead of going on immediately to describe the opening of the Seventh Seal, the development of the prophecy pauses to answer the aweful question with which Seal Six concluded: “Who shall be able to stand?” It will be noted later that there are similar characteristics about the development of the Sixth and Seventh Trumpets (ch. 10, 11).

The apostle saw four angels at the four corners of the earth (or Land), controlling the four winds. These winds (the first four Trumpets: see especially ch. 8:7, 8) were not to go forth in destruction against the earth, sea or trees until a certain 144,000 had been sealed unto God. That seems to be required by ch. 9:4 where the pointed contrast is made between “grass of the earth, and trees” and “those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.” In this passage, to attempt to make grass and trees symbolize any form of human organization is to import a distinct element of incongruity into the interpretation.


It is important before going any further to recognize that the 144,000 sealed out of the twelve tribes of Israel are to be taken as referring to Israel after the spirit, i.e. saints, and not to literal Jews. The reasons for this are copious enough.

Elsewhere in Revelation the symbolism of natural Israel is appropriated to describe the saints; e.g. “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” is described also in terms of a city, “the holy Jerusalem,” upon the gates of which are “the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel’s (21:9-12). And in Revelation 3:12 “the name of my God,” which is the Seal applied to the 144,000 (see ch. 14:1) is promised to the faithful in Philadelphia, most of who would assuredly be Gentiles.

By contrast, in Revelation also, the name of Jew is denied to those who are the fleshly descendants of Abraham; ch. 2:9 and 3:9.

The same obvious spiritual idiom is employed by Peter, James and Paul. The idea was well-recognized in the early churches. Peter’s 1st Epistle is written to “the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion” (ch. 1:1 R.V.). All three terms used here were normally applied to Israel, and the second and third to the Jews not resident in Palestine. Yet nothing is more certain than that Peter wrote primarily to Gentiles, not Jews (e.g. 4:3; 1:14). The Epistle of James begins similarly, and again an attempt to apply his words literally to “the twelve tribes scattered abroad” breaks down almost before it has started (2:1; 5:14). Paul’s language in Galatians 6:15, 16 and Romans 9:6-8 and 2:28, 29 is conclusive.

If the twelve tribes of Revelation 7 are the literal tribes, then to be consistent the numbers - 12,000 from each tribe - should also be taken literally. Yet it is unthinkable that that is how God has worked, choosing exactly 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, but none at all from Dan (Samson? Judges 13:2; Hebrews 11:32).


It will be convenient here to pause and note some of the spiritual lessons to be derived from the apparently arid list of 12,000’s catalogued in this chapter. Here is something other than wasted paper.

First place is not accorded to Reuben, the first born, but to Judah, because from Judah came Christ who is “the First-fruits,” “the Beginning of the Creation of God,” “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.”

There is no regard here at all to family arrangement (by contrast with every other similar list of these twelve names in Scripture), because the people typified here are they whose standing in the sight of God does not depend on natural relationship.

Levi is catalogued along with all the rest, thus indicating the end of the Aaronic priesthood, which had made Levi separate, distinct and superior.

The omission of Dan is significant. It has to be remembered that Dan was the first tribe in idolatry (Judges 17, 18), and idolaters are banned from God’s holy city (Revelation 22:15). Also Dan deserted the inheritance assigned to him. And of all the twelve tribes Dan was completely content to stay in captivity - there is no mention of Dan in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 4-8.[26] The symbol of the tribe of Dan was a serpent (Genesis 49:17) when it should have been the eagle (Numbers 2:25); the destruction of the serpent is one of the main themes of Revelation (20:2, 10). Because of this serpent symbol it was traditional among the very early Christians to assert that in the Last Days Antichrist would arise from the tribe of Dan (cp. Genesis 49:17 and Jeremiah 8:16, 17). Is it just coincidence that so many of the men of the Kremlin have been - like Dan - apostate Jews, men happy in their estrangement from the Land, seeking to lose their nationality amongst the enemies of God and even working actively and powerfully for the destruction of the new state of Israel?

Ephraim is omitted, but instead there is mention of Joseph, suggesting that only those out of Ephraim who are like their worthy progenitor will be fit for inclusion in the Lamb’s great multitude; cp. Ezekiel 37:16, 19.


Bearing in mind that the 144,000 are symbolic of spiritual Israel, it now becomes a matter of some importance to interpret the sealing, which is commanded. Beyond all question the basis of this is to be sought in the similar passage in Ezekiel 9. (It will be demonstrated later on that this is just one item in a whole series of allusions to Ezekiel traceable in Revelation 7, 8). In Ezekiel 9 the prophet saw seven angels of destruction who were bidden withhold slaughter from Jerusalem until a mark had been set on the foreheads of "the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof." Then divine judgement went forth.

This Old Testament original is one of several cognate Scriptures, which has led to the sealed of Revelation 7 being described as taken from the twelve tribes of Israel.


It is possible to go even further back in seeking the meaning of this sealing. Revelation 7 has also copious allusions to Israel's deliverance from Egypt and subsequent wilderness journey. Before judgement fell upon Egypt, God's elect were sealed by the blood of the Lamb, on lintel and doorposts, thus Succeeding generations of Jews would readily recognize this mark as the letter H of the Hebrew alphabet which almost by itself spells the name of God: . This is precisely how Revelation itself describes the sealing mark: "having his Father's name written on their foreheads" (ch. 14:1). [27]

These Old Testament associations of the sealing of spiritual Israel dovetail beautifully with the New Testament emphasis: "And grieve not the holy spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30). The powers of the Holy Spirit extant in the early church constituted the Father's method of writing His name in the forehead of those set apart for Himself. It was the Holy Spirit of God, an earnest (Ephesians 1:13, 14) of full and certain redemption.


To what time in history shall this sealing of the 144,000 be assigned? The close connection between this vision and that of the Six Seals would suggest that just as the Seals were seen to have more than one fulfilment, so with this vision also. This is immediately emphasized by the mention of "the four winds of the earth," in v. 1. Two passages are of special value here. The first is Zechariah 6:1-o where the fourfold cherubim-chariot is described as going forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth (cp. Chapter 10 - The Seals). But the language of Zechariah's angel is: "These are the four spirits (R.V.: winds) of heaven." Thus the four winds of Revelation 7 are seen to have intimate connection with the first Four Seals, since they were introduced by the four cherubim.[28] And since there is more than one fulfilment to the Seals, should not the same be true of chapter 7 also?

Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones has language with a similar ring: "Come from the four winds, O breath (or spirit), and breathe upon these slain, that they may live" (Ezekiel 37:9). There is here a hint that the four winds of Revelation 7 also have to do with Israel.


The strongest reason of all for looking for a fulfilment of chapter 7 in the First Century is the undeniable parallel with Ezekiel 9, already mentioned. It needs only to be emphasized that Ezekiel 9 had primary reference to the first overthrow of Jerusalem (by Nebuchadnezzar). There is therefore clear reason to believe that its counterpart in Revelation 7 also has reference to the exercise of special Providence over the Lord’s people who would otherwise have been similarly involved in the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. Hence the description of them as coming out of the great tribulation.

That such Providential protection was extended to the saints in the troublous times just mentioned is well known. First, there was the warning given by Jesus himself: And when ye shall sec Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh ... then ... let them which are in the midst of her (R.V.) depart out ... (Luke 21:20, 21).

To advise anyone to flee from a city already encircled by a besieging army sounds the height of absurdity; nevertheless this was the instruction, which the saints of those days received from their Lord. Nor was there any absurdity, for throughout the siege Titus, the Roman general, seems to have been actuated by an earnest desire to keep destruction of both life and property to a minimum - so much so that, according to Josephus, in the early days of the siege there were several opportunities for flight. At one time, for example, the siege of Jerusalem was as good as raised for a period of four days, so casual was the watch maintained by the Roman army. In another place Josephus writes (B.J. 2.20.1): After the first attack upon the city many of the most considerable of the Jewish folk forsook it as men do a sinking ship. Eusebius, the Christian historian, has this similar narrative: The whole body of the church at Jerusalem having been commanded by a divine revelation given to men of approved piety[29] there before the war removed from the city, and dwelt in a certain town beyond Jordan, called Pella; there those that believed in Christ having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judaea, the divine justice for their crimes against Christ and his Apostles finally overtook them, totally destroying the whole generation of those evil-doers from the earth (Eccl. Hist. 3.5).

Thus if the interpretation of Scripture by Scripture is of any value as a guiding principle in Apocalyptic study and if there is any force in its full confirmation by detailed and authentic history, one is led to conclude that the sealing of the 144,000 in Revelation 7 had at least a primary application to God’s Providential care for His own, when wrath and desolation and curse came upon the Holy City.


But here it is needful to emphasize that such fulfilment was only primary. Once again, with Scripture as the key to unlock Scripture, the reverent student is led on further to conclude, on the basis of many indications, that a further fulfilment of far more force and far greater importance (to the saints of the last days) is just round the corner:

Further consideration is asked of the correspondences listed earlier (see chapter 10) between Revelation 6, 7 and the Olivet Prophecy of Jesus. At least five of these belong to Revelation 7 and all save one go back to that part of the Olivet Prophecy which indubitably refers to the Last Days. Nor is the apparent exception any difficulty.

The description of a great multitude with palms in their hands crying "Salvation" (Hosanna) is an obvious reminiscence of Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, which in its turn was beyond all doubt intended as a kind of "dress rehearsal" of the Second Coming (Zechariah 9: 9, 10).

The sealing of the 144,000 comes immediately before the breaking of the Seventh Seal, which is the last. Thereafter, nothing of the outworking of the Divine Purpose remains hidden. "The words are closed up and scaled to the time of the end" (Daniel 12:9).

The angel with the seal of the living God is described as ascending "from the sun-rising" (R.V.). This immediately suggests Christ who is "the bright and morning star" (Revelation 22:16; 2 Peter 1:19; Luke 1: 78). If the objection were put: Why does it not say "Christ" or "the Lamb" or some other term to identify the Messiah expressly? Answer is immediately available in that dual fulfilment. The sealing of those to be saved from Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is not stated in Scripture to have been done by Christ in person (though it may have been!) but of the Second Coming this is described unequivocally in Matthew 24:31. Incidentally, this Matthew 24:31 explains why Revelation 7:3 reads: "until we have sealed the servants of our God." The "we" includes Christ and his angels.

The symbolism of the Passover throughout this chapter forms an easy link with Isaiah 26: 20, 21- "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment until the indignation be overpast" - words which are demonstrably an allusion likewise to judgement and Passover deliverance in the Last Days.

Isaiah 4, another prophecy which clearly has reference to the bringing in of Christ's Kingdom, has several points of contact with Revelation 7 - the washing of filthy garments, the tabernacle of God's people, the canopy (R.V.) of the pillar of cloud to protect from the heat - these are unmistakable.

A similar set of allusions is to be traced in Ezekiel 37 - the four winds (v. 9), "they all shall have one shepherd" (v. 24), "my tabernacle shall be over them" (v. 27 R.V.m.). And the Last Day application of Ezekiel 37 none will dispute.

The concluding words cited from Isaiah 25:8 bring the vision to the grand consummation: "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

If the sealing is a symbol of the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1: 13), Joel 2:28 and the use of that Scripture in Acts 2 definitely sanction an application both to the First Century and the Twentieth.

The repetition of the vision of the 144,000 (14:1) suggests a second fulfilment; otherwise what is the point of it?

It follows then, that just as the Seals were found (from Scripture) to follow the pattern of the Olivet Prophecy in having reference both to the First Century and the Last so likewise this vision of the Redeemed has a double fulfilment And so also will be found to be the case with the Trumpets of chapters 8 and 9, soon to be considered.


Thanks to the detail of our Lord’s Olivet Prophecy and the full narrative of Josephus it is possible to trace with exactitude how in the First Century the Lord’s elect were sealed and preserved from misery and harm. Any such precision is impossible to the one who attempts to anticipate how the elect of the Twentieth Century will be sealed unto a like preservation. Matthew 24:31 is explicit that, as in the days of Lot, so also at the Coming of the Lord the angels will be used to bring the Lord’s people to safety. The suggestion may be hazarded with a fair degree of confidence that in A.D. 70 events were manipulated by angels, all unseen, so as to provide a suitable opportunity for saints in Jerusalem to escape to Pella. It may well be that in the Great Day soon to come the saints will similarly be unaware of the unseen presence of angels.

Isaiah 26:20 suggests a parallel between the Passover and the Last Day. Exodus 12:23 makes it clear that wherever there was the blood of the Lamb on the door, there a protecting angel hovered or “passed over,” and would not “suffer the Destroyer to come in.” Yet so far as the record goes none of those angels was seen either by Israelite or Egyptian. It would seem that similarly in the Last Day some kind of protection will be contrived by angels working invisibly on behalf of those are who the Lord’s own.

What kind of protection, and where? Two Scriptures suggest a possible explanation: “And the Lord shall create upon all the dwelling-place of mount Zion and upon her assembly, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for because of all the Glory there shall be a defence” (Isaiah 4:5, 6). “For in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, even among the remnant whom the Lord shall call” (Joel 2:32).


There is one principle, which can be established with a fair degree of probability: The safety to be provided will be one to be accepted or rejected at will. All the available Scriptures point to this conclusion. The Israelite could put the blood on his door or could refrain from so doing, as he chose. Lot’s family was given the option of clearing out of the city or not, as they pleased; and even after that, human volition still entered in -”remember Lot’s wife.” In A.D. 70 no Christian was taken by the lock of his head and dragged from the doomed city willy-nilly.

Likewise at the Lord’s return, some virgins will answer the call only when they think they have equipped themselves to meet the Bridegroom. On another occasion Jesus said: “One shall be taken, and the other left.” “Left where, Lord?” Jesus replied: “Those who are spiritually dead will be left to the vultures.” His earlier words: “Remember Lot’s wife,” seem to require this interpretation (Luke 17:32-37).

“Be ye like men that wait for their lord ... that when he cometh they may open unto him immediately” (Luke 12:36). What is the point of that last word if it is not to imply or emphasize reluctance on the part of some to “open unto him?”

[26] Revelation 7:4 “all the tribes of Israel.” But Dan is omitted. Therefore Dan must have ceased to be one of the twelve tribes by this time. Note the parallel in the twelve apostles.
[27] Note how both Abram and Sarai had the Divine Name written into their own! ABRM became (in Hebrew) ABRHM, and SRY became SRH. The point is not so readily perceptible in the Anglicised forms.
[28] Note also that v.2: "the seal of the living God" means "the seal of the God of the Living Creatures."
[29] Is it proper to see in these phrases an indication of a further warning revelation given through Spirit-guided elders of the church at Jerusalem?
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