Summary: An exposition of Rev. 7
Who owns you? Not just your body, but your soul? One of the great themes of the Bible is that even in judgment, God always differentiates between His people and the rest of the world.
Ex 8:22-23 22And in that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, in order that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the land. 23I will make a difference between My people and your people…
This is the picture painted by John’s vision. He sees 4 angels standing at the 4 corners of the earth, holding back the tornado of judgment, the calm before the storm when a 5th angel from the east (the direction of Jerusalem) calls for a sealing of the servants of our God (v. 3). This sealing is an act of identifying these people specifically as belonging to God. John doesn’t see the sealing, but he does hear the number of those sealed as being 144,000 of all the tribes of Israel (v. 4), which are listed by tribe in vs. 5-8.
Now here we come to another area of diverse opinions about what John’s vision means.
There are those who see these sealed people as 144,000 literal Jews who come to Christ during the Great Tribulation. Because they come to Christ, they are sealed by the Holy Spirit as belong to God. This view seems to be a more literal interpretation of the verses.
On the other hand, there are others who see this passage (as the rest of Revelation) as more symbolic. The earth is not flat, and so John is speaking symbolically when he talks about the 4 corners of the earth in vs. 1-2. The seal probably not a literal mark placed on the bodies of these 144,000, but God’s way of expressing His ownership of them. 144,000 is another of the Bible’s numbers of perfection or completeness (12 X 12 X 1000). The list is a little unusual, since Judah is listed first (rather than Reuben, the firstborn.) The tribe of Dan and the half-tribe of Ephraim is omitted, while the tribe of Joseph is included. In addition, these 144,000 show up later in Rev. 14:1-3, where they are described in terms that are almost certainly symbolic.
All of this evidence points to the possibility that this vision (like most of the rest of the Revelation) is symbolic of something else, namely, the 144,000 represent God’s people who are alive during the Great Tribulation.
By now you’ve probably guessed I favor the 2nd view, though I cannot completely discount the more literal view. What I do want to focus on is what John’s vision focuses on: even in tribulation, God identifies His people as His own precious possession.
I imagine that was both encouraging and comforting to the people who first read these words. In a world where they were being hunted down, tortured, and killed, where nobody seemed to want them, God reminds them you belong to Me.
In the midst of your own trouble and tribulation, when the world is falling down around you, Jesus reminds us to remember: you belong to Him. He put His own seal upon you:
Eph 1:13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise…