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THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST:
Understanding the Apocalypse
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Those Who Were Sealed:144,000 from All the Tribes of Israel
An understanding of Revelation ch. 7 will disclose why the 144,000 were sealed, will reveal the identity of the 144,000 and the timing of the rapture.
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: "Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God."
After this (the vision of the heavenly choruses of praise), John saw 4 angels standing at the 4 corners of the earth holding back the 4 winds. Four is the number that represents the created order. The sun, moon, and stars were created on the 4th day to serve as signs to mark seasons, and days, and years. After the infinite Trinity (3) comes the created order (3+1 = 4). After the sun turns black (as sackcloth), the moon turns red (as blood), and the stars fall to earth, the servants of God are to be sealed with a spiritual mark of protection on their foreheads. The atmosphere will be so filled with smoke, blood and ashes that the light of the sun and moon will hardly pierce the sky. The word in the Greek that has been translated as stars is “aster.” I believe that the stars that fall to earth are both spiritual stars, fallen stars or demons as well as physical, celestial objects such as asteroids or meteorites.
Genesis 4:15b reads, Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” After the sixth seal is opened, there are signs in the heavens of the return of Christ and the servants of God (not the elect or church), are sealed as a sign of God's protection. The 144,000 are sealed prior to the trumpet judgments which will impact the land and the sea, as well as, those who have taken the mark of the beast.
Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, "Bring the guards of the city here, each with a weapon in his hand." And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar. Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, "Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it." As I listened, he said to the others, "Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary." So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple.
The city is Jerusalem. The man clothed in linen is a picture of the high priest, who on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), removes his ornate garments and puts on linen: linen tunic, linen undergarments, linen sash, and a linen turban (Lev 16:4). Jesus, our high priest in the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:6), took off his garments of glory and put on the common garments of frail humanity (Php 2:6-7). The fullness of the deity dwelled among us in bodily form (Col 2:9). The man in linen of Ezekiel 9 was to place a mark on the forehead of those who grieve and lament over the detestable practices taking place in the temple (idol worship/spiritual adultery); so that, they would be spared from the sword of judgment. In the same manner, those who flee the temple in the time of the Antichrist (make desolate) because of the abomination there (image of the beast), shall be saved from the coming trumpet and bowl judgments. Because of the blood shed on the temple mount, it must be ceremonially cleansed (Nu 19:2-6). Before the sacrifices resume and the third temple is built, there must be a red heifer sacrificed. The tribulation temple must also be cleansed and rededicated before Jesus takes up residence in the Holy of Holies during the Millennium.
2 Corinthians l:21b-22 He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come. All born again believers have the seal of God's ownership set on them at the time of their regeneration. The 144,000 servants of God, at the time of the setting of God's seal upon their foreheads, have not been regenerated by God's Spirit. If would have already set his seal of ownership on them.
Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.
From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.
Judah - Praise Him!
Reuben - He has seen my misery.
Gad - Now, I have good fortune
Asher - and happiness.
Manasseh - My struggle
Naphtali - I have forgotten.
Simeon - One who hears
Levi - will become part of me.
Issachar - Reward
Zebulum - and honor
Joseph - may He add
Benjamin - to the Son of my right hand.
The tribe of Dan is not listed. The Danites were disobedient to the LORD's command to possess their allotted portion of the promised land (Jdg 18:27-31), and they continued in idolatry until the time of the Assyrian captivity. Jacob's blessing over his children includes a prophetic description of Dan as a serpent and a viper that bites the horse's heels causing the rider to tumble backwards (Gen 49:16-17). Deuteronomy 33:22 contains the account of Moses' prophetic blessing of Dan which describes Dan as a lion's cub springing out of Bashan. Psalm 22 is a Messianic Psalm which describes the future crucifixion. Verses 12-13 is a symbolic picture of the enemies of Christ: ... strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing at their prey…. Dan is described as a serpent and a roaring lion seeking to devour. Antiochus Epiphanes, a type of Antichrist, was a Selucid King (Greek ruler of Syria). The city of Dan is the northernmost city in Israel, just below the Syrian border. Idolatry marks the worship of the beast and the Danites were idol worshippers. Based on these facts concerning the tribe of Dan, It is speculated that the Antichrist may be a Danite. In any case, the tribe of Dan is excluded from the listing of those who were sealed from all the tribes of Israel.
“The LORD spoke to Moses... He said: Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one” (Nu 1:1-2). The first time the LORD commanded that a census of Israel be taken, only men were counted and their names were written down on a list. More than thirty eight years later, the LORD directed that a second census of the nation be taken. “After the plague the LORD said to Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by families - all those twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army of Israel” (Nu 26:1-2). Only men who were twenty years or older qualified to serve in the army of Israel. The number 144,000 is the sum total resulting from a census of the whole Israelite community by their tribes counting the men who are of fighting age - 20 years or older.
Commentators disagree on the identity of the 144,000 based upon their mode of theology. Those who do not believe in a literal interpretation of these passages, claim that the 144,000 represent the church. Therefore they believe that this group is comprised of men and women, boys and girls. There are also doctrinal disagreements concerning celibacy, whether or not the 144,000 are physical virgins or spiritual virgins as well as their ethnicity and state of salvation.
Those who hold to the view that the Book of Revelation was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD are known as preterists. They hold to the belief that the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled during the reign of Emperor Nero. Gentry states, “…. the preterist view does understand Revelation's prophecies as strongly reflecting actual historical events in John's near future, though they are set in apocalyptic drama and clothed in poetic hyperbole” (Pate 1998, p.38). Therefore Gentry identifies the 144,000 as a literal historic group, although he views the number 144,000 as symbolic. “… these `servants of God' from the `twelve tribes of Israel' (7:4-8) are racial Jews who accept the Lamb of God for salvation (they later appear with him on Mount Zion, 14:1-5) (Ibid., pp.56-57). The preterist identifies the 144,000 as Jewish Christians who escaped from Judea when the Roman generals Vespasian and Titus withdrew to Rome after Emperor Nero's suicide.
There are several arguments which prove that the Book of Revelation was written in 95 or 96 A.D., a quarter of a century after the Fall of Jerusalem:
The persecution of Christians during the reign of Nero was centered in Rome (A.D.64). According to Revelation 2:13, Antipas was martyred in Pergamum. This city was located in Western Asia (modern-day Turkey). The persecution of Christians who failed to worship the reigning emperor (the emperor cult), did not reach Western Asia until the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96).
Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
Nero never even visited the temple in Jerusalem. When revolts broke out in Judea and Jerusalem; Emperor Nero went to Greece on a pleasure trip, while Vespasian campaigned in Judea against the Jews.
The term a synagogue of Satan is used in Revelation 2:9 and 3:9. While followers of Christ were still considered a sect of Judaism by the Romans, they enjoyed freedom to worship under Roman rule. During the siege of Jerusalem, Jewish Christians heeding the warnings of Jesus escaped from Judea when the Roman generals Vespasian and Titus withdrew to Rome after Emperor Nero's suicide. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., non-believing Jews who were angered that the Jewish Christians fled from the Holy City, took the names of Jewish followers of Christ off of their synagogue rolls and turned the names into the Roman authorities. The Christian Jews were no longer protected from observing emperor worship and many were martyred. The synagogues of Satan did not arise until after the Fall of Jerusalem.
In the year 95 A.D., John the Apostle was apprehended by the proconsul of Asia and sent to Rome. Emperor Domitian banished John to the isle of Patmos. The tyrant Domitian was slain in September of A.D. 96. All of his edicts and public acts were declared void by a decree of the Roman Senate on account of his excessive cruelty; and his successor, Nerva, recalled all those whom he had banished. The Apostle John returned to Ephesus in A.D. 97 where he became bishop.
Therefore it can be reasonably concluded that the Book of Revelation was written after the Fall of Jerusalem and there are prophecies yet to be fulfilled including a future sealing of the 144,000.
Pate (a progressive dispensationalist) and Thomas (a classical dispensationalist) identify the 144,000 as Jewish Christians converted during the Great Tribulation (Ibid., pp. 165, 218). Gentry views the 144,000 as Jewish Christians of the first century, while Pate and Thomas view the 144,000 as Jewish Christians yet to be converted during the Great Tribulation.
The pretribulational view based on Dispensational Theology has the church raptured out before the time of great distress and no believer is left on earth to spread the gospel. Therefore, they need not only to identify the 144,000 as Jewish believers but they claim that they are super-evangelists (144,000 Billy Grahams).
First, the 144,000 are sealed on their foreheads to be identified spiritually as belonging to and being protected by God. If these were already born-again believers in Christ as per the pretribulational viewpoint, they would already have been sealed. Second, the biblical seal, or mark, can protect those who refuse idolatry. The image of the beast in the temple will provoke the Lord to jealousy (Exodus 20:5) and result in the outpouring of His wrath upon the earth. Believers in Jesus Christ will not suffer God's coming wrath. The 144,000 are sealed, protecting them from the coming wrath, just as a faithful remnant were marked in Ezekiel 9, saved from the judgment then to come. If the 144,000 were already in Christ as believers, as in the pretribulational view, they would not need what would then be a second sealing in Revelation 7 because they would already be exempted from God's wrath. Thirdly, how can the 144,000 evangelize if they follow a false Messiah (the Antichrist) for the first half of the Great Tribulation and then are in hiding in a place prepared in the desert (probably Petra) during the second half of the Great Tribulation?
Covenant theology views the church as the true Israel of God. “... the church has now become the true Israel of God and will receive all the blessings promised to Israel in the Old Testament..." (Grudem, p.863). The Reformed theologian is prohibited from approaching New Testament scriptural passages concerning Israel with a literal hermeneutic because of the presupposition that the church is the new Israel. Pate offers the following evidences from the New Testament that serve to distinguish Israel from the church:
(a) "There is no clear-cut example of the church being called Israel in the New Testament or in the church fathers before A.D. 160."
(b) The most natural meaning for the term Israel in both Old and New Testament is the physical descendents of the patriarchs.
(c) A distinction between ethnic Israel and the church is amply attested to in Romans 9-11.
(d) Moving from the exegetical data to the level of theological consideration, it seems that the purpose of the Great Tribulation is to win the nation of Israel to its Messiah (Pate, p.164-165).
James 1:1 is often quoted to bolster the position that the term twelve tribes no longer refers to ethnic Jews but is a reference to the church. “..., James can write a general letter to many early Christian churches and say that he is writing To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion (James 1:1). This indicates that he is evidently viewing the New Testament Christians as the successors to and fulfillment of the twelve tribes of Israel” (Grudem, p.862). Evidently, James was writing to New Testament Christians - Jewish Christians. “Some hold that this expression refers to Christians in general, but the term twelve tribes would more naturally apply to Jewish Christians. Furthermore, a Jewish audience would be more in keeping with the obvious Jewish nature of the letter...” (The NIV Study Bible 1995, p.1878). James wrote this letter to Jewish Christians who were scattered to the nations. The members of the Jerusalem church fled from Judea after Stephen was martyred.
Several inconsistencies arise when the 144,000 are identified figuratively as the church: (1). Those who did not defile themselves with women (Rev 14:4b) are not identified as men, but as a group of men and women. (2). The 144,000 are offered as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb (Rev 14:4b). To then identify the 144,000 as the universal church, forces an unnatural interpretation of the term first fruits to mean the entire wheat harvest.
How does the description of the 144,000 help confirm that they are religious and not Messianic Jews? The 144,000 are described as “those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure” (Revelation 14:4a). Many interpret this description to mean that the 144,000 are celibates and virgins, either natural (never having had physical relations) or spiritual (never having been defiled by idolatry). I agree that the passage can be taken in the spiritual sense of purity. On the other hand, there is a natural interpretation to this passage when we understand that the 144,000 are unsaved Israelites. In order for these men to participate in the renewed temple worship and sacrifice, they would have to refrain from sexual relationships, even with their wives (according to Leviticus 15:16-17, an emission of semen renders a person ceremonially unclean). In the middle of the seven, sacrifice and offering are halted by the Antichrist. When they are told to bow before the image of the Antichrist, the eyes of these men are opened. They are then sealed to protect them from the coming judgment and they flee the temple. I therefore conclude that the 144,000 are the firstfruits of the harvest of souls from the nation of Israel. They are a group of ceremonially undefiled men who observe the religious practices of Orthodox Judaism but are from all 12 tribes.
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!"
After this I looked and before me was a great multitude... When did John see this great multitude in the heavenlies? After this: the opening of the sixth seal which revealed the signs in the sun, moon, and stars. These signs were prophesied by Jesus to occur before his return to gather the elect. The 144,000 are sealed to protect them from the judgments to come because they are not raptured with the church at the seventh trumpet. The multitude cries out that salvation belongs to our God. These are not the four living creatures, elders, or angels. These are the blood bought saints that appear in the heavenlies after the distress of those days.
Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes-who are they, and where did they come from?" I answered, "Sir, you know."
And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water...And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
The first to the sixth seals reveal an overview of the last days. The symbolic vision spans from the birth of the church until its rapture. The sixth seal reveals the signs of the return of Christ and subsequent Rapture. These are they who have come out of the great tribulation... The focus here is the state of eternal glory and the rewards that await those who stand firm in their faith. This view of eternal bliss is revealed in order to encourage the church that must endure the refining fires of persecution. May we all have the eternal perspective of the Apostle Paul who said, For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2Cor 4:17).