On account of the cataclysmic events that happen as a result of Jesus opening the sixth of these seven seals of this scroll binding up the finality of God’s will for mankind, John records, beginning with Revelation 6:15, that “the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’”
With this query “who is able to stand?” still ringing out in this future scene, as we transition into chapter 7 but before we get to the seventh and final seal presented in Revelation 8, John is going to take a break from the action in order to address this core question.
Scholars refer to Revelation 7 as being a parenthetic chapter whereby there is a clear intermission from the narrative in order for God to reveal to John and by extension you and I what else was happening on the earth during these first six seal judgments.
Revelation 7:1-4, “After these things (after witnessing these seal judgments) I saw four angels (these would be new angels) standing at the four corners of the earth (this was an ancient way of referencing the four points of a compass: north, south, east, and west), holding (back) the four winds of the earth (principle streams of air), that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.” (John is describing a global calm or a restraining of judgment in order for something very important to happen first.)
Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea (angelic forces are involved in God’s judgment), saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’ And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed…”
Revelation 7:5-8, “…of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.”
In order to round out our understanding of what’s going on, it’s important we read a few verses at the beginning of Revelation 14, “Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps.
They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.”
So what do we know about these 144,000? First, before God’s wrath was poured out on earth, 144,000 or more specifically 12,000 virgin, Hebrew men from “all the tribes of the children of Israel” were “sealed” by these angels with “the seal of the living God” — which will likely be a physical and visible marking of the name of God “written on their foreheads.”
Secondly, it would appear more than just indicating these men had been “sealed by God” there was also something about the seal that provided them some type of supernatural protection so that they could survive the Great Tribulation. To this point, we’ll see a perfect example of this in action with the fifth trumpet judgment recorded in Revelation 9.
Beyond the general destruction wrought by the wrath of God, while we know that with the fifth seal a persecution of the tribulational saints will occur, in some way, these 144,000 men will be considered untouchable when it came to the vengeance of the Antichrist.
Thirdly, John tells us this group had also been “redeemed from the earth… being the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.” Because John adds that these men “follow the Lamb,” we know they’ll accept Jesus as their Savior following the Rapture of the Church, but before the Tribulational Period begins with the revealing of the Antichrist. Again, there is no debating the reality these 144,000 men are believers living in the Great Tribulation.
Fourth, we also know these men had been selected, redeemed, and sealed in order to fulfill an important task during these seven years. You see the job of these men will be to act as God’s representatives on the earth during the tribulational period ensuring humanity understood what it was they were experiencing. In many ways, the 144,000 were witnesses whose job it was to testify. As John describes, “In their mouth was found no deceit.”
I should add the fact the four angels standing on the four corners of the earth are also charged with sealing these men implies the 144,000 were spread out across the globe. During the Tribulation, the Word of God will have a tangle presence all over the earth.
There are some who try to argue that what we have with these 144,000 is really nothing more than a symbolic depiction of the Church. They’ll do this in order to substantiate the belief the Church will endure half if not all of the Great Tribulation. And yet, aside from bailing on any kind of literal understanding, there are significant issues with such a position.
Aside from the fact it takes a Simone-Biles-level amount of theological gymnastics to allegorize 144,000 male, Jewish virgins as representing all Christians, the larger problem with an allegorical interpretation centers on the lack of any expositional precedents.
For example, never once in the entirety of the Bible do we find the Church called “Israel” or Christians being referred to as “the Children of Israel” let alone being given specific tribal affiliations. Yes, we correctly see these 144,000 as being followers of Jesus, but the fact they are only men, ethnically Hebrew, uniquely descendants of these 12 Tribes, and redeemed and sealed for a specific purpose relevant to the Great Tribulation is inescapable.
One of the reasons people struggle with such a literal reading of the 144,000 centers on the fact the Jewish people currently have no ability to trace their lineages back to these particular tribal distinctions. Following being doubled-crossed by the Wise Men, Herod the Great had many of the genealogies destroyed. From there, any record apart from those contained in the Scriptures were consumed during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
And yet, while it may be true that no one knows who is a descendent of which tribe today, who’s to say that at some point in the future records aren’t discovered? Aside from that, it really doesn’t matter because God knows and He’s the one calling the shots.
Concerning this list of tribes… If you study it, you will come to see that the Tribe of Dan is missing and that, instead of a reference to the Tribe of Ephraim, we have this unique reference to the Tribe of Joseph — Joseph was the father of Ephraim and Manasseh.
Some theorize that, since Hosea 4 and Judges 18 cite these two tribes as introducing idolatry to the Nation of Israel, they are left off the list as a judgment. While this may be the case, the truth is no one knows why Dan and Ephraim are missing and in truth, it really doesn’t matter. Of the 29 places where the tribes are listed, you’ll find 20 different variations.
Before we move on to the rest of the chapter, there’s something about the very existence of these 144,000 servants of Jesus sealed for His purposes during this insane period of human history that demands a moment of consideration. One of the main reasons for this particular intermission between seal six and seven is to help us see that, even in the midst of incredible judgment, in an act of His grace, God still maintained a witness on this earth.
What makes this reality so deeply fascinating is that, in being referenced as the “firstfruits to God and to the Lamb,” it would appear the 144,000 were just the beginning of a great harvest that would occur during the most challenging period of human history. In fact, the case can be made the greatest harvest of souls will happen in the midst of Tribulation.
Revelation 7:9-13, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number (so this isn’t the 144,000), of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues (wasn’t limited to the Jews), standing before the throne and before the Lamb (keep in mind the scene John is witnessing has re-centered in heaven), clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’ Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’
It’s interesting that while John hadn’t asked a question, the perplexity on his face as he tried to identify this new group of people before the throne necessitated one of the 24 elders come over to initiate a conversation… “John, you want to know who these people are?”
Revelation 7:14, “And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation (literally “the tribulation, the great tribulation”), and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Amazingly, this “great multitude which no one could number” made up of every “nation, tribe, peoples, and tongues” are those who came to faith during the tribulation likely through the ministry of these 144,000 and were eventually martyred as documented with the fifth seal. I should add the idea of the robes becoming “white” by “washing them in the blood of the Lamb” implies a translucent color — they were like light shining, illuminating.
Revelation 7:15, “Therefore (because they’ve been washed in the blood and not on account of anything good they may have done) they (these tribulation saints) are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. (While pre-tribulational believers will rule and reign with Jesus, those who come to faith during the tribulation will have a different job serving in the throne room of heaven. The idea of “dwelling among them” was to tabernacle over them.)
Revelation 7:16-17, “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat (the implication is that these believers had suffered from hunger, thirst, and by the affliction of the heat from the sun before being martyred); for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Always remember this glorious promise is absolutely reserved for heaven.)
In the middle of a terrible judgment, the unbelieving world cries out, “Who can stand?” Chapter 7 illustrates a twofold answer: The 144,000 can stand for they’ve been sealed by the living God with the commission to be His witnesses in this world. The other group are the believers who stood up, counted the cost, and were willing to lay down their lives for the Savior who’d already laid down His life for them so many years beforehand.
Revelation 8:1, “When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” Again, the idea of “when Jesus opened the seventh seal” it resulted in a “silence for about 30 minutes” presents the notion of chronological sequencing. There is no doubt chapter 8 picks up where chapter 6 left off leaving Revelation 7 as an intermission.
Up until this point, with the opening of each seal, John looked and heard all kinds of various things. And yet, with the opening of this seventh seal he neither hears nor sees anything at all. Instead, he tells us a silence swept over heaven that lasted “about half an hour.”
Regarding what we’ve learned about heaven and mainly the throne room at this point in our travels through this book, it’s safe to say heaven is a rather noisy place. Aside from the strange thunderings and voices coming from the throne, you have the continual refrain of the four living creatures of “holy, holy, holy” and the perpetual worship of the elders.
Not only can you imagine the deafening nature of such a silence, but you have to wonder if this was the first time since Creation that such a silence had taken place? You see the idea of this silence was to be unusual. Beyond this being a calm before the storm or a silence of awe and one filled with an expectancy of what was about to be unleashed, there was something sobering and somber about such a silence happening in heaven.
All of heaven knows what’s about to happen with the opening of the seventh seal. Included in this seventh seal will come seven trumpet and seven bowl judgments. God’s final act for mankind is about to be finished. His plan is about to come to its inevitable completion.
What’s been bad is about to grow much worse. The beginning of sorrows will manifest into the full wrath of God. While heaven is aware of what’s coming next, earth has no clue.
I believe in such a scene the worship and praise of God through singing instantly ceased for there was an awareness by all that this particular moment demanded silence and contemplation. In fact, worship would have been inappropriate. In Ezekiel 33:11 we read, “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways!’”
Again, to this point, in 2 Peter 3:9, the Apostle wrote, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” John 3:17, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
Have you ever been in the presence of someone who just received terrible and devastating news — someone who’s heart was literally breaking right before you? It’s in these moments when there is nothing to say that nothing should be said. Silence is warranted. Heaven shuts up for 30 minutes in order to acknowledge the grief of a broken-hearted Father.
Revelation 8:2, “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.” This is a great example of John’s descriptions of heaven being incomplete. Back in chapter 4 John told us about the four living creatures, but he made no mention of these “seven angels” he now sees “standing before God.”
Not only do we have the use of the definite article “the angels” meaning this group of seven presented a unique classification of angelic beings, but the idea of them “standing before God” implies a type of rank. In his introduction to Zacharias, in Luke 1:19, we read, “And the angel answered and said to him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.’”
Jesus opens the seventh seal. This is followed by silence in heaven occurring for about 30 minutes. Presumably, in the midst of this silence, John watches these seven special angels being given seven trumpets. Once the instruments have been divvied up to this crew, John documents what happens as they prepare to sound in sequence…
Revelation 8:3-6, “Then another angel (not one of these seven), having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar (the Altar of Incense). He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.
Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.”
In this scene we again see something happening in heaven that manifests on the earth. After offering the “prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar,” this angel takes his censer, fills it with coals from the altar, and then throws it to the earth. From the earthly perspective, this resulted in “noises (voices), thunderings, lightenings, and an earthquake.” As best as we can figure the purpose of this was to provide a warning shot to the planet.
Approaching the Trumpet Judgments it would seem the first four target the environment and the last three fall specifically on mankind. Also with the sounding of each trumpet John does his best to describe for us what resulted on earth by providing the cause and effect.
As we work on unpacking these really interesting things, it’s helpful you keep in mind the effect will be rather straightforward, but the cause will be much more difficult to interpret. I’ll do my best to interpret what John is seeing without unnecessary speculation.
Revelation 8:7, “The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.”
Effect of the first trumpet: “A third of the trees and all of the green grass (or more accurately translated “herbage”) was burned up.” Aside from the incredible smoke, such a fire would create, compound that with the reality 30% of our oxygen is gone as well and you’re just beginning to scratch the surface of how devastating this is to the environment.
Cause: John sees something “thrown to the earth” he describes as being “hail” (physical objects coming from the sky) “followed by fire” (trailed by fire) and “mingled (mixed) with blood” — which is likely the color of the entire object. It’s likely the world experiences a global meteor shower that sets the world ablaze and not the byproduct of global warming.
In Exodus 9 we find a similar occurrence, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt… And Moses stretched out his rod toward heaven; and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire darted to the ground. And the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt. So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, so very heavy that there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. And the hail struck throughout the whole land of Egypt, all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail struck every herb of the field and broke every tree of the field.”
Revelation 8:8-9, “Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.”
Effect of the second trumpet: “A third of the sea became blood (most likely a third of the sea became the color of blood), as a result, “a third of the living creatures in the sea died,” and whatever this was also resulted in “a third of the ships being destroyed.” Can you imagine the smell of a third of the sea creatures dying? They estimate that losing a third of the plankton in the sea would cut our global oxygen supply by another 20%.
Aside from this at any given moment, there are a little more than 50,000 cargo ships out to sea. That doesn’t even begin to account for military vessels and other commercial and recreational boats. Again, it’s hard to even conceptualize such destruction.
Cause: John describes “something” being “thrown into the sea” that was “like a great mountain burning with fire.” To be fair, John doesn’t know what hit the sea other than the fact it was on fire and incredibly massive. In Luke 21:25, Jesus may provide a clue, “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring.” A case can be made that John is seeing a massive asteroid hit the sea which in turn creates a massive title wave.
Revelation 8:10-11, “Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.”
Effect of the third trumpet: “A third of the waters (the rivers and underground springs) became wormwood” or “were made bitter” and “many men died from the water.” The Greek word “wormwood” simply means bitter and can be translated as absinth. Because men died from presumably drinking the water, we know a third of the aquifers are poisoned.
Cause: John says, “A great star fell from heaven” and that this star somehow “fell onto a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.” Like the previous trumpet, it’s reasonable to see this as another asteroid striking a section of land that causes irreversible ecological damage to the world’s drinking water. John adds “the name of the star was Wormwood” and that visually it had the appearance of looking “like a burning torch.”
Revelation 8:12, “Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night.
Effect of the fourth trumpet: “A third of the sun, moon, and stars were darkened” so that “a third of the day or the night did not shine.” From the earthly perspective, because John adds this qualifier that the effects were equally noticeable whether it was day or night, it’s likely the entire atmosphere of the earth has become so blackened by a contaminant that only a third of the normal light could be seen regardless of the hour.
As to particulars of what this fourth trumpet caused, John only tells us “a third of the sun, moon, and stars were struck.” If the previous trumpets were the result of meteors or asteroids hitting the earth, you can imagine this fourth trumpet would be the natural result. In fact, we’ve seen similar occurrences in areas where volcanos suddenly erupt.
After the sounding of this fourth trump, John records… Revelation 8:13, “And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!’”
In the Greek, the one word we have translated as “the midst of heaven” literally means middle heaven and spoke of the space occupied by the sun and moon whereby everyone on earth could see. John is telling us that this angel was visible to everyone on earth and his declaration could be heard by everyone. It was an audible warning.
For “the inhabitants of the earth” or those who’d settled down making this earth their home, God is issuing a profound warning! Linguistically the triplicated “woe, woe, woe” was the strongest emphasis available in the Greek. God is making it clear to all of humanity that what was about to manifest from the “remaining blasts of these three trumpets” would be incredibly terrible and utterly terrifying. It’s as though He’s saying, “Buckle up planet earth!”
In closing out a section of Scripture that documents some of the most alarming judgments poured out on earth by God since Noah’s Flood, I want to point out two ways in which we see the amazing grace of God manifest itself in such calamity.
First, 11 times in this passage we’ve run across the phrase “a third.” Whether you’re a glass half full or glass half empty type of person, our dynamic leaves us choosing between a glass 1/3rd full verse a glass with 2/3rds remaining. The idea of God only judging a third of the trees, seas, skies, or fresh waters implies He’s actively sparing 2/3rds when He didn’t have to! You see even in judgment God preserved more than He destroyed.
Aside from this… Look back at the song sung by those who’d been martyred for their faith during this Great Tribulation. In Revelation 7:10, we read them “crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
Understand, while the purpose of this Great Tribulation will be to judge the world of sin, God’s desire to save mankind remains very active. For those who came out of this judgment, they declare, “Salvation belongs to our God!”
You see, while these judgments were required for God to be just (how can this wicked world continue on without there ever being a reckoning with its Maker), He’s still actively pursuing ways in which He can save sinful man. So much so… Jesus designates 144,000 to act as His witnesses on this earth and before the greatest judgments, He sends angels to provide mankind ample warnings as to what was coming next.
No Additional Links.