Revelation 7 Bible Study Questions and Answers: Who Are the 144,000?
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Revelation 7:1-17 Bible Study Questions and Answers
"After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” 4 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
5 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
6 12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
7 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
8 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 “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 shelter them with his presence. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Let’s remember where we’ve been: what happened in the chapter before this (6)? And what has happened in the Book of Revelation overall?
In the previous chapter, the Lamb of God began opening the seven seals on the Scroll of Judgement. He opened 6 out of the 7, featuring an antichrist figure, war, famine, death, the martyrdom of God’s witnesses, and God’s judgment poured out on the earth. The judgment, which is in the form of natural disasters, is being poured out against those who persecute God’s witnesses.
In the Book of Revelation, John has been taken to heaven and is currently given a vision of the events that will occur on earth someday in the future.
Do the events of chapter 7 appear to come chronologically after chapter 6? Why or why not?
I do not believe that the events of chapter 7 come after the events of chapter 6. In chapter 6, the first six of the seven seals are broken on the Scroll of Judgement, which the Lamb has taken from the right hand of God Almighty. Since the 6th seal judgment featured a plethora of natural disasters, it makes sense that the events of chapter 7, which according to verse one, occur before the natural disasters begin, happen before the 6th seal is broken. It is also possible that they happen simultaneously with the 6th seal being broken or all the seals being broken. We cannot say definitively.
It is also important to note that the 144,000 sons of Israel who are servants of God (vv.3-4) appear to be sealed with God’s seal before natural disasters break out on the earth.
Who are the 144,000 servants of God who are sealed with God’s seal?
While much debate exists in the scholarly world about who these 144,000 witnesses are, the best place to start is with the text itself. They are “sons of Israel” (v.4), meaning they are Jewish, and they collectively represent the 12 tribes of Israel (Manasseh has replaced Dan).
While many point to the Book of Revelation’s numerous figurative numbers and symbols, I cannot believe that the 144,000 witnesses are anyone but whom they are explicitly stated to be. Many New Testament scholars see them as a representation of the entire church throughout history. However, I do not think this is accurate.
It is possible that the 144,000 sons of Israel and the multitude of witnesses from every tribe, nation, people, and language (v.9) collectively represent the entire church throughout history. That makes sense to me. However, I believe the 144,000 are specifically Jewish and that God has raised them up during the Great Tribulation to act as a last days army of evangelists (more on that in chapter 14). This is consistent with Bible prophecy, which states that there will be a significant revival of Jewish people to their Messiah in the last days (Zechariah 12-14/Romans 9-11).
Thus, I believe both bodies of people in chapter 7 (the 144,000 and the innumerable multitude) represent specific people who will live during the last days and the church throughout history. The more I read the Book of Revelation, the more I see things like this as being simultaneously literal and figurative at the same time. Is there a specific body of people God refers to when discussing the 144,000? Yes. Could they also represent the Jewish faction of the church throughout history? Yes.
Lastly, many claim that the 144,000 can’t be a reference to literal Jews from the literal 12 tribes since the tribes have been lost to the sands of time (no Jew living today knows for sure what tribe they’re from). I have a simple reply: no person knows where the 12 tribes have disseminated. But God does. Every Jewish person alive today descends from one of the twelve tribes, and God knows exactly what every individual’s heritage is going back to Adam and Eve, let alone the 12 sons of Jacob.
Who are the people who make up the “multitude that no one could number”? What details are given about them, including where they’ve come from, what they declare in heaven, and what their future holds?
The multitude that no one could number is a vast number of people from every tribe, nation, people, and language on the earth. This is, to be straightforward, the assembly of God (the church) in heaven. While the 144,000 sons of Israel who were sealed just before this were specifically Jewish and were on earth, this multitude is in heaven and is composed of every tribe and tongue – Jew and Gentile alike.
Many people claim that Chapter 7 is a picture of the rapture. The saints in the innumerable multitude have just been raptured, and this happened specifically before the tribulation began. There is one main reason why this cannot be the case: they are coming out of the Great Tribulation. In order to come out of something, you must have first been in it. While I believe that saints from throughout church history (and before) are represented here (indeed, all saints who have made it to heaven have endured some form of tribulation), we must do our best to honor both the literal and symbolic meaning of the passage. When the Bible says that the 144,000 are sons of Israel, I believe it.
How does this inform our understanding of the last days overall? And how does it inform our understanding of things like martyrdom and personal sacrifice as the cost of following Jesus?
The saints in heaven have received a white robe: the sign that they have each endured through life and have not swerved from the hope of eternal life. They are now in heaven in the presence of God the Father and the Lamb. They declare a song of victory: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
The chapter ends with one of the twelve elders seated around God’s throne declaring that the future for every member of this multitude is bright. God’s presence will always shelter them. They will serve him day and night in his temple. They will never hunger or thirst again, and they will be protected from all the trials and tribulations that once plagued their earthly life (scripturally, the sun and its “scorching heat” is often a picture of the trials we face in life).
They have endured into glorification and now get to enjoy a never-ending future with God in his Kingdom. This is a reminder that the sacrifices we make in this life will one day seem wholly and utterly trivial compared to the future we have before us.
Who are the 144,000?