The Message of Revelation 7:4-8
Solving the Mystery of the List
The biblical book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature, and as such is cryptic in nature. There are messages that lie one or more layers deep within the text itself. This is particularly true when considering the 144,000 sealed out of every tribe of Israel recorded in the beginning of chapter seven.
There is much discussion over the 144,000 that are sealed in their foreheads from the book of Revelation 7:4-8. Not seen by most and surely not considered as meaningful is the uniqueness of this particular list of the twelve tribes. First, there is the difference is the names themselves. There never was a "tribe" of Joseph, yet it is so here; while the names of two tribes, which appear everywhere else, are omitted, altogether. Secondly, there is the order to be considered. The tribes have never appeared in this particular order before (below I give the places where the tribes are listed).
So, the inquiring mind would want to know, "Why these anomalies" Why here? and why now? Here is what seems clear to me: The book of Revelation is apocalyptic scripture, which has as its inherent nature a certain covertness. Added to this is the fact that it is also resistance literature written to encourage Christians (who were under deadly persecution) to endure unto death. These things being true, we would naturally look for a covert message in the anomaly itself. We are rewarded when the meanings of the names are connected in just the order they are given to John by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
V5 Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.
V6 Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.
V7 Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.
V8 Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
As has already been observed, this particular list of the twelve tribes is unique to the Revelation. (The OT lists of the twelve tribes are: Gen 35:22f; 46:8ff; 49; Ex 1:1ff; Num 1:2; 13;4ff; 26:34; Deut 27:11f; 33:6ff; Josh 13:22; Jgs ch5; 1 Chr 2-8; 12:24ff; 27:16ff; Ezek 48.)
Here, in Revelation, the tribe of Dan is omitted, and Levi is put in its place; most likely because of Dan’s association with idolatry (Jgs 18:30). The name of Ephraim is missing, perhaps for the same reason (1Kgs 12:28-33). Two idols were made in the image of a golden calf and were placed in Bethel and Dan, respectively. While Bethel was actually in Benjamin it was close to Ephraim’s border and may have been under that tribes control. Regardless, Ephraim would be included within Joseph’s tribe in that he was his son; his name is replaced with that of his father Joseph who has never appeared as one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The mystery of why the names appear as they do in Revelation may be solved when one considers the distinct message given when their meanings are connected together.
Juda: celebrate (praise) (Strong’s H3063);
Reuben: see ye the son (Strong’s H7205 from 7200 raah: to see and 1121 ben: son);
Gad: a troop, to overcome, to crowd upon, i.e. attack (Strong’s H1410 from 1464);
Aser: happy, be straight, to go forward (Strong’s H836 from 833);
Nephthalim: my wrestling (Strong’s H5321);
Manasses: causing to forget (Strong’s H4519);
Simeon: to hear intelligently – implies obedience (Strong’s #H8095 from 8085 shema);
Levi: attached, to twine, to unite, to cleave (Strong’s #H3878);
Isachar: he will bring a reward (Strong’s #H 3485);
Zabulon: habitation, dwell with (Strong’s #H2074);
Joseph: let him add, adding (Strong’s #H3130)
Benjamin: son of the right hand (Strong’s #H1144)
Decoding the Message
The Message: The message that is encoded within the meanings of the names, when given in just this order, is a powerful encouragement to be steadfast in the faith. The resistance literature nature of the Revelation is greatly served by such an encoded message. The message is this:
“Celebrate seeing the Son; as a troop overcomes by crowding upon the enemy – going forward being righteously straight in happiness; wrestling with forgetfulness of our past, while hearing intelligently and obeying (truth); cleaving and intertwined – even attached – to the reward of our habitation, by being added to the Son of His right hand.”
Expanded: Let us celebrate our relationship with the Son of God. Not separately, as isolated from all other believers, but together in solidarity with all others who have believed. Let us mass together, and in the strength of our number become a mighty troop that will press upon our enemy. Let us march forward upon the enemy being holy and straight (true) with the joy produced by living our lives through righteousness. It is true that we are all sinners saved only by His grace and the enemy often reminds us of our past failures. The enemy knows that condemnation destroys the believers confidence and boldness to confront him in battle, so he uses guilt to disarm the saints. We must contend with that, and overcome it by the blood of the Lamb. We also overcome the guilt of our past by our faith; which faith is produced in us by intelligently hearing and obeying the word of God. Let us always have the final reward (heaven) in the forefront of our minds so that all our hopes and visions are intertwined and attached to our very beings. All this is reality because we have been added the the kingdom of the Son who is the righthand of the power and favor of God; thus, we know and are assured that we are in Him that is true and sure - the Amen..
☩ J L Hayes
Bishop's Other Revelation Teachings
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- Introducing the Seven Churches of Asia, I
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- Revelation's Greetings III
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- Revelation's Greetings II
This article continues the John's greetings to the churches of Asia. The saints are called kings and priest, but are warned of a coming judgement.
- Revelation's Greetings
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- Prologue to the Revelation
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- The Literary Form of the Book of Revelation
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- The Key to the Book of Revelation
So much depends on the order of sequence for the visions of Revelation that this question must be settled before any progress can be made is understand this all importunity manuscript.