With a general overview, we’re concerned with two things: 1) Why is this expressed here, and 2) what is being expressed?
The scene opens to the 144,000 being sealed. There are specific tribes mentioned from Israel, which happens nowhere else in Revelations. While many have claimed this to be Israel that will survive the Tribulation, and therefore there will be a witness when the Church gets raptured, I find this idea to be repulsive. First, how can this be Israel, and the woman in the wilderness be Israel (Rev 12), and then the woman riding the beast (Rev 17) be Catholicism? It is an utter misuse of the symbolism. I don’t believe the Church will be raptured. We’ll be here through the whole of the Tribulation. There is nowhere that any hint of rapture occurs, unless you either misinterpret texts or pull them entirely from their context.
Others have claimed that these 144,000 are to be the Church, these are they who will survive the Tribulation unto the end. Once again, the question must be pressed, why are there specifically the tribes mentioned? This cannot be brushed under the rug. This detail matters. John isn’t saying that this is the Church that will endure. Where do we claim that these are Gentile representatives? Do we turn to Genesis 48:19 that mentions Ephraim will be a multitude of nations (more literally, a fullness of Gentiles)? Ephraim isn’t mentioned. Instead, the name Joseph appears – I believe strictly so that you cannot draw this conclusion.
This is indeed Israel. However, unlike the dispensationalist, I believe that these are the first fruits. This is not the whole house of Israel, where they “see” Jesus in the clouds and repent. This is only a fraction of the house, a massive ingathering (probably at the time of the abomination of desolation being established). Something drastic happens to cause for a massive ingathering of the Jewish people unto Christ, and I believe that is what we’re seeing here. The timing is clear. When we go to the trumpets, we find in chapter 9 that the two woes do not affect they who have the seal of God. Why is that important? It is important because you line up these fifth and sixth trumpets with Joel 2 to find that this is the Antichrist army marching on Jerusalem to utterly lay it waste. While there will be countless Jewish people to lose their lives in that onslaught, there will be a remnant preserved unto glory.
This is not the final redemption of Israel, though, for we find at the end of the book (Rev 18:4) a call for God’s people to come out from Babylon. The saints have already come out (as we have seen in the language of they who dwell in heaven). This is a call to the reprobate. This is a call to any Jew or Christian who has not severed the ties. Yes, there will be Christians who have not severed the ties. They are part of the Babylon, along with the Jewish people who also do not sever the ties with the Babylon world system. That is important to comprehend. There is an entire world system at play here. Our way of life should be governed by the culture of heaven; otherwise we’re devoted to the kingdom of darkness.
Thus, we conclude that these 144,000 are first fruits, saved either at the beginning of the Tribulation or at the mid-point (depending on how you interpret the seven trumpets). From here we move on to a mass of people, innumerable in size, from “every nation, tribe, people, and language”. These are the saints that have already come unto Christ. They are distinct from the 144,000, not because they are somehow less than or other than, but because they have already come to Christ. John is putting the comparison so that we would consider what each of these mean. Why is it that the 144,000 are mentioned apart from this great multitude? It is because the great multitude represents the Christians – whether Jewish or Gentile – that would endure persecution through the Tribulation. The sealed are not special in that they don’t endure persecution. They are special in that they are the first fruits of “all Israel” to be saved.
In our chronology, we find that the time when these are sealed would best fit before the trumpets (which we’ll discuss later to when that is to happen). In our vision, we see the return of Christ in the opening of the sixth seal, and the sealing here immediately after. This is supposed to represent the ingathering of Israel, and the coming of the saints with Christ Jesus to rule and reign with Him. This is symbolic of the Millennial Kingdom. So, what is important to know is that the vision is expressing these things in one way, to cause us to understand the seals, but the chronology of events is actually different.
These things are here because Jesus has come and established His Kingdom. Therefore, all Israel has been saved, and the saints through the ages join with them in glory before the Lord. This is why we read of palm branches at the end of verse 9, and in verse 10, “Salvation belongs to our God…” The palm branches are symbolic of the Feast of Tabernacles, fulfilled at the coming of Jesus. During the feast of Tabernacles, you would wave palm branches and cry “hosanna”, which means “God save us!”
The final benediction to end the chapter shows all the more that this is the Millennium. We have this hope, that Christ will indeed return and that “He will wipe away every tear”. Considering that we would be coming out of the Great Tribulation (verse 14), it makes incredible sense why we would read about God wiping away our tears. How much would have been endured leading up to this? (I hesitate to imagine.)
We’ll examine in the next post the 144,000 more intently, and from there begin to examine the great multitude. As far as timing and figuring out the placement of the trumpets, we’ll put further detail to this at the beginning of chapter 8.