Revelation 7:1-8, The 144,000 Who Were Sealed
The Sealing of the 144,000
In my previous article on the book of Revelation, we reviewed the cataclysm that took place when the Lamb (the Lord Jesus) opened the sixth seal of the scroll of prophecies and judgments.
In this article, we will review and try to understand what happened afer this great catclysm.
Angels in The Corners
After the cataclysm in the previous chapter, John shifts his focus, but we should remember that the events he describes in this sevent chapter are still taking place during the sixth seals.
There were seven seals on the scroll, and the Lord opened the sixth seal in the previous chapter. The seventh seal will not be discussed in this chapter: therefore, the events that take place in this chapter fall under the sixth seal.
Therefore, the first thing that John tells us in chapter 7 is that, after the cataclysm in chapter six (which was the immediate consequence when the Lamb opened the sixth seal), is that, immediately after the catclysm, he saw four angels standing on the four corners of the Earth and holding the four winds of the Earth so these winds would not blow on the earth, the sea, or on any tree. According to Revelation 7:2, these four angels had been assigned to hurt the earth (which would also include the trees) and the sea.
Although these four angels may remind us of the four spirits of the heavens (Zechariah 6:5), they are not necessarily the same. The number four, on the other hand, represents the four corners of the Earth (if we were to think of the Earth as a square or a cube), or the four cardinal points. In other words, the number four represents the whole world, the entire planet (see Jeremiah 49:36).
These four angels are holding back the four winds so they will not blow on the Earth: in other words, they are preventing rain throughout the world.
Such a catclysmic event as the one that took place in the previous chapter of Revelation would certainly alter the weather of the world and have negative effects upon the whole planet. Accoridng to Revelation, these negative effects consist on a lack of wind throghout the world, which situation would greatly impact the weather of the world and cause worldwide droughts.
The Seal of God
A fifth angel ascends from the east. The east is significant in the Bible: God planted the garden eastward in Eden (Genesis 2:8); cherubim were placed at the east of the garden (Genesis 3:24), the tower of Babel was built eastward (Genesis 11:2).
Looking at a map, the countries of Jordan, Iraq, and Iran lie east of Israel, and we all know that the sun rises from the east, which is also a biblical concept (Numbers 2:3).
The east may represent that which is very far, and which leads to the end of the Earth. John may have seen an angel rising from the end of the eastern horizon just as the Sun does.
Now, this angel had in his hand the seal of God, and he was able to cry with such a loud voice that even though he was far away in the east, he was still heard by the four angels, each of which was at a different corner of the Earth. This angel was obviously very powerful.
He told the other four angels not to hurt the earth, the sea, or the trees until they had sealed the servants of God in their foreheads. Thus, the seal is used to distinguish God's servants from the rest of the world, most likely so that they would not be hurt by what the four angels would do to the world, and by the rest of the things that would happen on Earth. These who were sealed would most likely be protected by the horrible things that would hurt the rest of the world, just as God protected Israel when He sent the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 8:23, 9:4, 9:26, 10:23, 11:7). Perhaps this is the reason why the Lord, when speaking to His disciples about the end times, told them that not even one hair of their head would perish (Luke 21:18).
Number and Identity of the Sealed
John tells us that he heard that 144,000 were sealed; and John also tells us that these 144,000 are sealed from all the tribes of the children of Israel. In other words, the 144,000 are descendants of Jacob, who was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham: the 144,000 are Jews.
Now, John states that 12,000 individuals were sealed from each tribe:
- From the tribe of Judah
- From the tribe of Reuben
- From the tribe of Gad
- From the tribe of Aser
- From the tribe of Nephthalim
- From the tribe of Manasses
- From the tribe of Simeon
- From the tribe of Levi
- From the tribe of Issachar
- From the tribe of Zabulon
- From the tribe of Joseph
- From the tribe of Benjamin
Thus, John tells us that 12,000 individuals were sealed form 12 tribes. Nevertheless, if you read Genesis 29-30, and 35:19, you will see that Jacob had 12 sons (and 1 daughter). His sons were:
- Reuben, by Jacob's first wife, Leah
- Simeon, by Leah
- Levi, by Leah
- Judah, by Leah
- Dan, by Bilhah, the servant of Jacob's second wife
- Naphtali, by Bilhah
- Gad, by Zilpah, the servant of Leah
- Asher, by Zilpah
- Issachar, by Leah
- Zebulun, by Leah
- Joseph, by Rachel, Jacob's second wife
- Benjamin, by Rachel (see Genesis 35:18)
Jacob also had a daughter named Dinah by his wife Leah.
When we compare the list of tribes in Revelation with the list of Jacob's sons in Genesis, we find that the name of Dan is missing, and that the name Manasseh has been added. Why?
Jacob's son, Joseph, became a ruler in Egypt, where he begat two sons before the death of Jacob: his firstborn was Manasseh, and his second born was Ephraim.
Before passing away, Jacob claimed Manasseh and Ephraim as his own sons (Genesis 48:5 and 16). By the time the descendants of Jacob (who is also called Israel) were led by Moses, the descendants of Manasseh and Ephraim had become tribes (Numbers 1:33, 35), and were sometimes described as half tribes (Numbers 1:10, 32:33, 34:13).
When the descendants of Jacob, the children of Israel, marched, the descendants of Levi went in the center, and they were surrounded by twelve tribes of Israel: on the east, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; on the south, Reuben, Simeon, and Gad; on the west, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin; and on the north, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali (Numbers 2).
Throughout the Bible, Israel is said to have twelve tribes (Genesis 49:28, Exodus 24:4, Exodus 29:14, Joshua 4:8, 1 Kings 18:31, Ezra 6:17, Ezekiel 47:13, Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:30, Acts 26:7, James 1:1, and Revelation 21:12), but that number is clearly symbolical, for Israel had a total of 13 tribes: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Manasseh, and Ephraim.
Joseph was not a tribe, but was instead divided into the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim; and Levi was often not numbered among the twelve because it was placed at the center of the other tribes (compare with Ezekiel 48, where Levi is given land in the midst of the other tribes, and where Joseph, not Ephraim and Manasseh, is identified with one of the gates of the city as the other children of Jacob).
In Revelation 7, John (or rather, the Lord who gives the vision) seems to hold on to the ideal of 12 tribes, but in naming them he identifies Joseph as a tribe, whereas Joseph would normally be counted a child of Jacob, but not as a tribe of Israel; and he fails to mention Dan and Ephraim. Why does he do this?
Clearly, Revelation 12 is giving a priority to the symbolical nature of the number 12: which represents the entire nation of Israel. The symbolical nature of the number 144,000 and 12,000 from each tribe is reinforced in that the measurements of the New Jerusalem are equal: 12,000 furlongs are its breadth, width, and height; and the measurement of its wall is 144 cubits. That all these numbers are multiples of 12 is hardly a coincidence: we must accept their symbolical nature. John's 144,000 sealed ones thus represent all Israelites who serve God, for the number 12 represents all of Israel.
But why does John not mention Ephraim and Dan? The vision is communicating that these children of Israel who have been sealed are servants of God, not of idols, and in order to emphasize this idea it avoids the two tribes that were mainly associated with idolatry, Ephraim and Dan (Hosea 4:17, 5:3; Judges 18:29-31, 1 Kings 12:28-30, Amos 8:14).
Just as God protected His people, Israel, during the plagues He sent against Egypt, God will also protect His Israelite servants, those who refuse to commit idolatry and remain faithful to Him, from the plagues that He will send against world in the end times.
Questions for Reflection
- What is idolatry? How is idolatry practiced in our world today?
- Why did God protect Israel from the plagues He sent against Egypt?
- Why will God protect Israel from the plagues He will send against the word?
- How can we separate ourselves from idolatry today?
Links to Other Studies on Revelation
© 2019 Marcelo Carcach