Friday, May 23, 2014




Abbreviations:  ESV = English Standard Version; ESVSB = ESV Study Bible; NIV = New International Version; NIVSB = NIV Study Bible

Scripture quotations are from ESV unless otherwise noted.


An interlude:  In the previous article I discussed the breaking of seals 5 and 6.  I now shall consider the material in chapter 7.  One must always keep in mind that the chapters and verses of the Bible were added long after the original books were written.  The present system of chapters was added in the 13th century, and the verses of the New Testament were added in the 16th century.  Thus, one must ask the question:  “Is chapter 7 an extended continuation of the description of the sixth seal, which is given in Revelation 6:12-17?”  Ladd describes chapter 7 as an “interlude, painting a picture which is essential background to the flow of the narrative.”  (Ladd, 110) 

Actually, verses 1-3 indicate that this material is a part of the narrative.  Angels hold back the winds that can harm the earth, and an angel orders them not to harm anything until after the servants of God have been sealed.  Thus, further action, presumably similar to the six seals is delayed.  The angel who gives the orders also is said to hold the seal of God.  The actual act of sealing is not described, but it is simply implied to take place.

Verses 7:1-3:  The chapter follows immediately after the statement that “the great day of their [the one who is seated on the throne and the Lamb] wrath has come, and who can stand?”  (6:17) In the these opening verses, four angels stand at the four corners of the earth and hold back the four winds.  Another angel appears in the east and tells the four angels not to do any harm before the servants of God are sealed.  This angel is carrying the seal of God.  The direct implication of these verses is that harm is about to come upon the earth.  It appears that this harm is part of the “great day” of God’s wrath. 

            A seal was a sign of ownership.  It protected whatever it sealed.  If a communication was sent and it had a seal on it, then only a person who was authorized to break the seal could do so and read the contents of the communication.  The seal was not powerful in itself.  It was simply a piece of wax with the imprint of a person’s seal.  (The term “seal” refers both to the wax with an impression pressed into it and to the metal piece that was used to make the impression.)  The power of the seal was the person it represented.  To violate the seal was to violate the authority of the person.  To violate the seal of a person of great authority would carry severe consequences. 

            So, the angel was going to impress upon the servants the seal of God.  This seal is called the “seal of the living God.”  The adjective “living” reminds us that behind the seal was the authority of a living and true God.  If one thinks about it, it would not be necessary to seal these people from harm that God might directly do to the earth.  Since God knows His own servants, He would avoid doing them harm.  However, as one progresses through the coming troubles that come upon the earth, it is evident that some of these troubles are not directly from God.  Rather, in some cases God sets loose demonic and even Satanic forces to do harm.  These forces do so with the permission of God, under the supervision and limitation of God.  It is probable that the seals were to protect these people from such demonic and Satan-inspired harm, especially the spiritual component of this harm.  For example, if we consider that the Tribulation period that is depicted in Revelation is equivalent to the reign of the Lawless One who is described in II Thessalonians 2, then we recognize that that reign will include great spiritual evil, as is described in the following:

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.  (II Thessalonians 2:9-12)

Verses 7:4-8, the 144,000:  John states that those who were sealed were from all the tribes of Israel.  He states the number, 12,000 from each tribe that is sealed, and this totals 144,000.  The list in Revelation 7:5-8 has been commented on considerably.  Hence, I shall take some space to discuss the tribes.

            Rist (419) states that there are 19 different lists of the tribes of Israel.  The tribes were the progeny of the sons of Jacob.  The birth of the sons (and one daughter, Dinah) of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) is described in Genesis 29-30, and the children and their mothers are re-capped in Genesis 35.  Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel.  He had children by both wives and also by their concubines, Bilhah (Rachel’s servant) and Zilpah (Leah’s servant).  The sons and their mothers are listed in the table below, along with the listing in Revelation 7.


Genesis 29-30, 35
Genesis 48)
Revelation 7
First sons
of Leah
Sons of
Sons of
More sons
of Leah
Sons of
His sons

*Manasseh was the first-born to Joseph, but Jacob reversed their order in his blessing.


Among other lists in the Old Testament, is the account of Jacob’s blessing of his sons in Genesis 49.  The sons are not listed in exact birth order in that list.  The sons of Leah are all listed first, but not in exact order.  Then there is one son from each concubine, and then the other sons of concubines, in reverse order.  Finally, the sons of Rachel are listed. 

Another list is the march and encampment arrangement of the tribes in the wilderness along with the census of fighting men (Numbers 1 and 2).  There is somewhat an arrangement by ancestral mothers.  In addition, there is a certain symmetry to the census totals.  The largest total is the east group, 186,500, which was the group that led in the march.  The least total was the west group, 108,100, which was the rear guard.  The north and south groups, with 157,600 and 151,450 respectively, would be on each side in the march.

Yet another list is the list of land allotments to the tribes in Ezekiel 48.  This does not follow any order that can be discerned by me.  Keep in mind that these are land allotments envisioned at some time in the future.  The order from north to south does not necessarily reflect the favor of God, since the quality of the land would not necessarily be best in the north. 

One cannot observe a reflection of any of these lists in the listing in Revelation 7.  One may note the list in Revelation 7 has some peculiarities, as follows.

·         Judah, the fourth son, is listed first.  Possibly because it is the tribe to which Jesus belonged.

·         Three sons of concubines are listed before some of the sons of wives.  Leah was not the favored wife, but her concubine’s (Zilpah) sons, Gad and Asher, are listed early.  They are followed by Naphtali, the son of Rachel’s concubine (Bilhah).

·         Dan, the other son of Bilhah is not listed at all.  Rist refers to Irenaeus, who said Dan was omitted because the Antichrist was supposed to come from Dan.  (Rist, 419)  This was an early belief, but not necessarily why John omitted him.

·         Joseph had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Each of these families developed into a tribe.  Manasseh was the older, but Jacob gave Ephraim the blessing of the older son (Genesis 48:12-28), and Ephraim became a dominant tribe in the north (the Northern Kingdom was sometimes called Ephraim).  Because Levi did not receive an inheritance of land, the two half-tribes maintained a division of the land into 12.  In Revelation 7, Manasseh is listed before several of the older sons of Jacob who came from Leah.  Ephraim is not listed, but Joseph is.

·         As I stated in the previous item, Levi did not receive a land allotment (the Levites and priest were scattered among the tribes).  Since Revelation 7 lists two representatives of Joseph (“Manasseh” and “Joseph”) and lists Levi, the number of tribes would come to 13.  However, as I already have stated, Dan was omitted to bring the number to 12.

Commentators have taken notice of these peculiarities in the list of tribes in Revelation 7.  Rist says there are 19 different arrangements of the tribes in the Old Testament, so the “exact order is of no great significance.” (Rist, 419) 

Ladd has a table that lists the order of the tribes in Genesis 49, Ezekiel 48, and Revelation 7.  I have already commented on these Old Testament lists.  One would not necessarily expect the list in Revelation 7 to correspond to either one. 

When we try to discern some logic behind the order of the tribes in Revelation 7, we cannot reach any conclusion. 

Ladd and Metzger both believe that the features of the list that I have detailed reflect that this list is “symbolic.”  Because it does not conform to Old Testament patterns, it must be that John is giving us the hint that this list does not represent flesh-and-blood Israelites, but, rather, “spiritual Israel,” which is the church.  (Ladd, 112-117 and Metzger, 60-62)  ESVSB, without necessarily endorsing the view, also puts forward this understanding.  There may be merit in this view, but it is a little shaky. 

Rist believes that 144,000 is ”the total number of the martyrs that must be completed before the prayers of those in heaven can be answered (cf. 6:11).” (419)

Dispensationalists, on the other hand, believe that the group of 144,000 will be literal Israelites.  Pentecost believes that they are a “remnant within the remnant” of saved Israel during the Tribulation. He argues the number is literal and these are to be witnesses and are to be kept from death whereas other of saved of Israel will die under the Antichrist. (Pentecost, 297-298)  He believes their mission is to witness to the nations and bring about many converts.  (Pentecost, 214)  Their message is the “gospel of the kingdom”  (Pentecost, 472), which is similar to the announcement of the Kingdom by John the Baptist and Jesus (Matthew 3:1 and 4:17) as well as a message of salvation through faith in Christ.  Their message and ministry will also target Israelites (Pentecost, 295). 

J. S. Russell, who laid the foundation for the Preterist interpretation of last-day Scriptures, has yet another view of chapter 7.  He believes that there are at least three parallel Scriptures all relating to the same event.  These are the following:

·         Matthew 24:31, in which Jesus predicts the gathering of the elect from the four winds.

·         I Thessalonians 4:13-18, in which Paul predicts the resurrection and rapture of the saints.

·         Revelation 7, in which people are depicted as (in his view) being rescued from great danger.

Russell combines these into his scheme in which all New Testament prophecies of end-time events are fit into the events surrounding the Roman-Jewish war of AD 69-70 and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  He applies Revelation 7 as being a reiteration of a promise of deliverance of Christians from the horrors of the Roman invasion.  He sees two groups in the chapter as two groups of Christians.  The 144,000 are Jewish Christians which will escape harm during the war.  The Great Multitude from the Gentile nations in 7:9ff are Gentile Christians who are delivered from the persecutions of Nero.  He does not consider whether they are martyrs.  (Russell, 401-406) 

Verses 7:9-17, the Great Multitude:  In verse 7:9, John describes a second sight that came before him, a huge group of people, a “great multitude.”  In some ways, the identity of this group is not as difficult or controversial as the 144,000.  They are described in two stages.  First, their location and external appearance are described in 7:9.  They are from all the people-groups of the world.  They are wearing white robes and are waving palm branches as signs of worship and celebration.  Their location is “before the throne and before the Lamb.”  This is a clue to some interpreters that the scene is in heaven, but not everyone agrees (see below).

Second, they are identified by their spiritual condition in verse 7:14.  One of the 24 elders (Revelation 4:4) asks John and answers his own question as to the identity of these people.  They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.  This appears to be the only use of this expression in Scripture.  It is a powerful image that brings together several ideas.  First is the blood of Jesus.  Second is the cleansing through that blood.  (Compare Psalm 51:7.  See also Hebrews 9:11-28, 10:1-20.)  Then, there is the idea of a white robe covering one’s body, giving it full dignity.  I once heard a lady in Arkansas say that a certain person was a “full-blooded Christian.”  These persons in this multitude were full-blooded Christians. 

They also are Christians who have experienced the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21 and 29).  This is the only specific mention of the Great Tribulation by this name in Revelation.  However, it is probably referred to by “hour of trial” in Revelation 3:10.  They are described as “coming out” of the Tribulation.  One of three meanings could be inferred.  First, they could be coming out by dying, especially by being martyred.  Second, they could be coming out by outlasting the Tribulation—that is, by living to the end of that period.  Third, they could be coming out by escaping to a safe place where the Tribulation could not harm them.  When one considers the additional description of the Great Multitude, the third inference is very unlikely. 

 The Great Multitude is described as worshiping.  (7:10) They shout that “salvation belongs” to God and the Lamb.  Psalm 3:8 comments also that salvation belongs to the Lord, or, as NIV puts it, “From the Lord comes deliverance.”  So, the praise of the Great Multitude is that the source of salvation (both our traditional understanding of the word and the idea of deliverance) is the Lord.  To this praise “all the angels” respond with their praise, in essence saying that a whole list of prerogatives rightfully belongs to God. (7:11-12)

Finally, the destiny of the Great Multitude is described (7:15-17).  Their destiny shall come about “because of this”—the Greek expression (which NIV and ESV translate as “therefore”) that precedes the idyllic description that follows.  The inference must be that it is because they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and because they have come out of the Great Tribulation—it is because of their spiritual condition and their experience that they will enjoy the blessings to be enumerated.  The blessings may be described as follows:

·         They shall be blessed by being in the very presence of God, serving Him in His “Temple.”

·         They shall experience physical comfort—described in the simple terms of the first century of avoiding hunger and thirst and the discomfort of a scorching sun.

·         They shall enjoy the shepherding of the Good Shepherd, who will lead them to “springs of living water.”  (See John 4:10-14.)  The blessings of the abundant life will be an ever-deepening experience throughout eternity.

·         They shall know surpassing happiness and the end of sorrow.

Three commentators understand the Great Multitude to be a second manifestation of the same people who are represented by the 144,000.  Rist and Metzger both understand the scene before the throne to be in heaven.  For Metzger, the 144,000 that are sealed represent the church about to undergo persecution (not necessarily the future Great Tribulation, but a reality in the late first century).  The same church is pictured as the Great Multitude in heaven after it has become victorious (even through martyrdom) over persecution. (Metzger, 60-62)  Rist understands the 144,000 in the light of Revelation 6:11 as the “number” that must be martyred.  Then, the Great Multitude is the “entire company” of the martyrs in heaven.  (Rist, 419-421)

Ladd also understands the two groups to represent the church, but he believes the two scenes are a frame around the Tribulation.  The 144,000 are “at the threshold” of the Tribulation, and the Great Multitude have come through the Tribulation.  Therefore, the scene before the throne is not in heaven but on earth.  He recognizes a surface contradiction between Revelation 7:15 and 21:22.  The earlier verse says the Multitude serve in the Temple whereas the latter verse says there will be no more Temple.  He rectifies this by saying “Temple” simply refers to where God is.  This does accord with 21:22, which says that God and the Lamb constitute the Temple.  (Ladd, 112-120)

ESVSB sums up the view of many who view the 144,000 of verse 7:1-8 to be in anticipation of suffering and the Great Multitude to be the same group experiencing joy and reward after suffering.

Pentecost focuses on the fact that the Great Multitude has come out of the Great Tribulation.  However, as a Dispensationalist, he believes the church will be absent during the Tribulation.  Therefore, this group of Gentiles cannot be the church (following Kelly, Pentecost, 196), but they are Gentiles who have been brought to Christ through the ministry of the 144,000 during the Tribulation (Pentecost, 300).

I have already stated Russell’s understanding of the Great Multitude.  He believes they are Gentile Christians who were delivered from the persecutions of Nero. (Russell, 401-406)


1. The Preterist View:  Russell believes that chapter 7 is parallel to other passages that refer to the Rapture of the church (for example, I Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Matthew 24:31).  His only logical justification for equating the passages is that the two groups—the 144,000 and the Great Multitude—appear to him to be rescued or preserved from harm, and he seems to understand the Rapture passages to be saying the same thing.

            I have discussed Russell’s understanding of the Rapture and Resurrection in another article.  Briefly, Russell’s interpretation of I Thessalonians 4:13-18 and I Corinthians 15 is consistent with his overall view that all of these “last-day” passages predict events that took place in the first century in conjunction with the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem.  Furthermore, he does not totally shy away from literal interpretation of these Scriptures.  Thus, he believes that the Resurrection and Rapture took place in AD 70.  To defend this belief, he posits an invisible and undetectable Resurrection/Rapture (Russell, 210-211).  Such an understanding of the Resurrection/Rapture does not hold up well at all to an examination of Scripture, since that event is understood in Scripture to be at the beginning of the consummation of history and not at all a hidden event (see, for examples, Matthew 25:31-46, John 5:28-29, I Corinthians 15:54-55, I Thessalonians 4:17, II Peter 3:10-13, Revelation 21-22).   

            Moreover, he is hard-pressed to equate his interpretation of the Rapture/Resurrection to the rescues that he sees in Revelation 7.  Whereas he believes that the Rapture will be an invisible event, he tries to relate it to the preservation of Jewish Christians in Judea from the Roman army and of Gentile Christians elsewhere from the persecution of Nero.  Thus, his interpretation of Romans 7 just does not hold up under scrutiny.

2. The Dispensationalist View:  Pentecost, who represents the Dispensationalist view, has two major guiding ideas as he approaches this Scripture.  First, he advocates a Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the church.  This means that the church is not on earth during the Tribulation.  Second, he believes that there is a “remnant” of Israel that will be saved. 

He accepts a literal interpretation of the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel.  I cannot find that he comments on the oddities in the list of tribes.  He believes that these who are sealed—at the beginning of the Tribulation period—are kept from death during the Tribulation.  However, he recognizes that other Israelites will be killed.  This group of 144,000 has a mission to preach the “gospel of the kingdom.”  This version of the gospel is a combination of an announcement of the coming kingdom (during the Millennium) and of a presentation of Jesus as the Savior from sins.  As a result of the evangelistic witness of the 144,000 (plus other witnesses), many Israelites will be saved along with the Great Multitude of Gentiles. (Pentecost, 294-301)

There are some questions about whether the Israelites of Revelation 7:5-8 are literal Israelites and Pentecost’s other teaching about the 144,000 and the Great Multitude.

·         How will the 144,000 come into being?  There are only a few tribes who seemed to have survived the Assyrian invasion of 722-723 BC.  Judah, which is the origin of “Jew,” was one.  The Levites, which included the priests was another.  Paul mentions his own lineage to be from Benjamin (Philippian 3:5).  Zebulun and Naphtali are mentioned in Matthew 4:13-15, but they probably are used to refer to an area of Galilee.  Certainly, it is not beyond God’s power to reconstitute the tribes, but the “10 lost tribes” really seem to be lost at this time.

·         Why are the tribes listed in such an odd manner in verses 7:5-8?  Probably the biggest question is why Dan is missing.  The use of “Joseph” instead of Ephraim is also odd.  Are these oddities signals that this is symbolic list?  Pentecost does not address this question. 

·         Pentecost’s presentation creates some confusion.  If one follows his whole discussion, he seems to vacillate between two views.  One is that the 144,000 are the only believing Israelites during the Tribulation period, set apart to witness both to Israel and the Gentiles.  Under this view, the remainder of those of Israel who are to be saved will be saved at the Second Coming.  He states that “the remnant of Romans 11:26 is not converted until the second advent of Christ and the 144,000 are ministering as sealed witnesses immediately after the church has been raptured.” (Pentecost, 298)  On the other hand, he refers to Revelation 12:10-11 as an indication that “many [of Israel] will be saved during the tribulation period” (Pentecost, 295-296) and that the 144,000 are part of the remnant of Israel. (Pentecost, 297-298)

·         Pentecost does not make a certain case that the 144,000 have a mission to witness to Israel and the Gentiles.  He seems to infer this, but I cannot find a Scriptural basis for this idea.

·         He does refer to Revelation 12, which sings of the victory of “our brothers” over Satan (12:10-11) and “hold to the testimony of Jesus” (12:17) as proof of a remnant and that this remnant is a witness. (Pentecost, 297)  However, the identity of the “brothers” of Revelation 12 and the offspring of the woman in Revelation 12 is not necessarily to be made with the Israelites.  That discussion will await the analysis of chapter 12.  Moreover, it is certain that these brothers of chapter 12 are not sealed from death (12:11). 

·         The Dispensationalists believe that the Great Multitude is a huge group of Gentiles who will be saved during the Tribulation period, especially through the witness of the 144,000. (Pentecost, 300, 418)  However, these Gentiles, who will be saved by the blood of Christ, will not part of the church, which will have been raptured at the beginning of the Tribulation period. (Pentecost, 196 and 296)  The accumulation of such a great number of saved persons that is separate from the church strikes me as problematical.  It seems to me that there would be need of some sort of nurturing organization for these people.     

·         This multitude will “populate the millennium with a multitude of saved Gentiles…” (Pentecost, 238) Pentecost characterizes the blessings of 7:15-17 as “millennial in scope,” (Pentecost, 273) which he believes is evidence that the scene of 7:9-17 is on earth at the beginning of the Millennium.  Pentecost argues from two mentions of the throne—Revelation 7:15 and 14:3—that this must be the “throne of David” of the Millennium.  (Pentecost, 301)  So, he places the scene of 7:9-17 in the Millennium and describes the blessings of 15-17 as “millennial in scope.”  (Pentecost, 301 and 273)  However, much of the scene that is described in 7:9-17 looks more heavenly (especially the abundance of angels) than earthly.  Moreover, the descriptive clause “he who sits on the throne” is used in the description of heaven throughout the book.  Those who are at some distance from the Dispensational arguments (Metzger and Rist) (and thus perhaps less biased on this point) understand the Great Multitude to be martyrs.  Pentecost does not address their martyrdom.

·         Finally, there is no particular evidence that the Great Multitude is composed only of persons who have been saved during the Tribulation period.  That conclusion rests on the assumption that the church has been removed at the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.  That assumption has a number of problems associated with it.
3. The views of Metzger and Rist:
  These two views are not exactly the same, but are similar.  Neither sees these descriptions in chapter 7 in a futurist sense.  Rather, they understand that great suffering and martyrdom is anticipated in the near future of the church of John’s day.  Rist considers the two groups—the 144,000 and the Great Multitude—to be representations of the martyrs of the church.  The first group is an exact number of martyrs who are destined to die before the prayer of the heavenly martyrs is answered (see 6:11).  The second group represents all the martyrs of all the ages. (Rist, 419-421)  Metzger understands the two groups to be a “before and after picture” of the martyrs.  The first scene is an assurance of spiritual protection through martyrdom.  The second scene is the victory celebration of the martyrs in heaven.  (Metzger, 60-62).  Both of these commentators consider that these word pictures are general
lessons on martyrdom, reassuring the church that God does not forsake her even in her worst trials. 

            The message of reassurance to a church that was beginning to experience persecution would certainly be important to the first century readers of Revelation.  That message would be a blessing in the years to come in the second and third centuries when some of the worst persecution would take place.  However, the message of Revelation definitely has a futurist component.  If one considers especially chapters 19-22, the future is in view.  Moreover, the entire book is understood to be leading up to those future events.  The Second Coming of Christ that is pictured in 19:11ff is obviously a future event.  It is not a concept that is unique to Revelation.  The Parousia of Christ is a consistent understanding in the gospels and throughout the epistles.  So, the futurist scenario of Revelation is not simply John’s imaginative way of reassuring Christians who were undergoing persecution.  With this in mind, the scenes of chapter 7 take on futurist significance.  The “great day” of the wrath of God and the Lamb is about to come about (6:17).  There is a sealing in the pause before further action can take place.  Then, there is the Great Multitude of (apparently) martyred Christians after the Great Tribulation (a future period).  Rist and Metzger choose to ignore these clues of the time frame.  However, I believe those clues are evidence for a futurist interpretation.

4.  Ladd’s view:  Ladd interprets chapter 7 from a futurist perspective.  He understands the seven seals to hold the book of the future closed.  Once those seals have been broken, then the future can be “read” from the book.  Before the seventh seal is broken, Ladd believes that the “interlude” of chapter 7 is provided to reassure the church (of the future) “that God will safely see her through her terrible ordeal.” (Ladd, 110)

            The first scene of the interlude describes the sealing of the 144,000.  Ladd devotes a great deal of space, as well as a table, to make the case that the list of the 12 tribes is evidence that this is really a picture of “spiritual Israel,” the church.  Quite honestly, the evidence he supplies is not overwhelming, as I have detailed above.  Without additional evidence, the case based simply on the oddities of the list would not be convincing.  However, note verses 2:9 and 3:9, which describe the Jewish persecutors of the church as not being true Jews.  These verses indicate that, in fact, the church is regarded in Revelation to be the present-day Israel.  This concept (also expressed by Ladd, 116) supports the conclusion that the 12 tribes of chapter 7 are representative of the church.

            Ladd understands the two groups—the 144,000 and the Great Multitude—both to represent the church.  The first group is at the beginning of the Tribulation period and the second is at the end.  (Ladd, 116)  He understands both scenes to be on earth.  He believes the second scene is a picture of the Kingdom of God on earth with the throne of God among people. (Ladd, 118)  Ladd calls this “the first proleptic vision” in Revelation.  He means by that it is a vision out of time sequence, anticipating events to come later. (Ladd, 118-119)  Ladd does not believe the evidence that the Great Multitude is a group of martyrs is strong. (Ladd, 117)  One reason for his hesitation is probably that he does not regard the locale of the Great Multitude to be in heaven.  Other commentators assume a heavenly locale from the mention of angels and the throne, and they move from that assumption to the idea of martyrdom.

5.  My own view:  I tend to agree with much of what Ladd has to say, though I recognize that the interpretation of any passage in Revelation must remain tentative and that any interpretation reveals one’s preconceptions.  I shall repeat some of what I have already said in the following statements.

·         I believe that a consideration of the latter part of the book of Revelation pushes one to a futurist interpretation of the book.  This idea must be moderated by some common sense.  It is obvious to me that the first five chapters should be understood to reflect “real time” events or statements (such as the letters to the churches) at or about the time of the writing of the book. 

·         I believe that Ladd’s understanding of the seven seals is the most helpful.  The seven seals are broken over the period of time leading up to the Tribulation period and (possibly) including some of that period.

·         The understanding that the church is spiritual Israel seems to me to be an accurate representation of the viewpoint of Revelation.  This does not rule out a role for Israel in the future (see Romans 9-11).  Therefore, the 144,000 probably represent the church at the beginning of the Tribulation period.

·         The sealing of the 144,000 would not necessarily seal them from physical death.

·         The Great Multitude may or may not be in heaven as they worship the Lord.  Since, the final chapters of Revelation indicate what may be thought of as a fusion of heaven and earth, the difficulty of making the distinction is understandable.  The descriptors of the throne and the angelic beings seem to favor heaven, especially the expression “he who sits on the throne” (7:15).

·         I agree with Ladd that one cannot make a definite decision about whether the Great Multitude is a group of martyrs.  The fact that they are “coming out of the great tribulation” (7:14) indicates that they have suffered whether or not they have died.  Probably a good assumption would be that they have all suffered and some of them have been martyred.  They are either enjoying heaven in the intermediate state or enjoying the future Kingdom in the resurrected state.  The fact that their future destiny is described (7:15-17) is evidence that they have been either resurrected or raptured and are in the Kingdom.  However, the present-tense verb (accurately translated by ESV as “are coming out of”) in 7:14 is evidence for their arrival as martyrs in heaven throughout the Tribulation period.

·         One can accept a futurist interpretation of this chapter and still recognize that its message would be relevant to a persecuted church in the first century.  Moreover, its message is still relevant to those who experience persecution and suffering for the cause of Christ in every age.


Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Ladd, George Eldon.  A Commentary on the Revelation of John.  Grand Rapids:  William B.

      Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.

Metzger, Bruce M.  Breaking the Code.  Understanding the Book of Revelation.  Nashville: 

      Abingdon Press, 1993.

Pentecost, J. Dwight.  Things to Come.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publ. House, 1958.

Rist, Martin.  “The Revelation of St. John the Divine” Exegesis.  The Interpreter’s Bible.  Vol. XII. Nolan B. Harmon, Ed.  New York:  Abingdon Press, 1957.  

Russell, J. S.  The Parousia, A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our

      Lord’s Second Coming.  (Google Internet Book)  London:  Daldy, Isbister

      & Co., 1878.

Zondervan NIV Study Bible.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publ., 2002


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