Summary: In the Christian classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan wrote this parable about the character Faithful: First they scourged him, then they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after that they stoned him with stones, then pricked him w
In the Christian classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan wrote this parable about the character Faithful:
First they scourged him, then they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after that they stoned him with stones, then pricked him with their swords, and last of all, they burned him to ashes at the stake. Thus came Faithful to his end.
Now, I saw that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses waiting for Faithful, who was taken up into it, and straightway was carried up through the clouds with sound of trumpet the nearest way to the Celestial Gate.
The martyrdom of Faithful stands out as an exciting episode in Bunyan’s famous story. Is Faithful a heretic, as the jury finds, or is he a true disciple of Christ? It all depends on your perspective.
Are the martyrs of Revelation to be pitied or to be praised? It all depends on your perspective, but the best answer is both!
Have you ever noticed how looking at people from a different vantage point changes what they appear to be? We live in San Diego County. If I arrive in San Diego from the east, I would come over the hills and come through sprawling suburbs, shopping malls, well groomed subdivisions, that merge from dry golden hills. If I were to approach from the west, via the ocean, I would be struck with the sight of a glittering metropolis, skyscrapers and the Coronado bridge that rises over the horizon.
So what is San Diego, a glittering metropolis or sprawling suburbs? It all depends on your perspective, but the best answer is, both. Keep this in mind as we look at chapter 7.
This chapter forms an interlude between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals. It also introduces two groups of people from the tribulation. Here lies the principal exegetical difficulty with our chapter. Who are the 144,000 and the innumerable multitude clothed in white? Is the reference to the tribes of Israel symbolic, representative or literal? Are those described in the multitude martyrs?
Before we begin to deal with the whole chapter in detail, remember that John is seeing the vision of what is to happen in the last days. In these final days there will be an assault by every evil and demonic power with devastating effect. Just before the onslaught of evil, the faithful are to be sealed with the seal of God in order that they may survive it.
Who are these people?
John’s vision is still from heaven. He is high above the earth and can see four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. This phrase does not mean John thought the world was square, but refer to the four primary points on the compass, from which direction the four winds blow.
These angels hold back the wind for the duration of this interlude. There will be no wind, no breeze, no waves breaking on the shore, no movement of clouds in the sky, everything will be deathly still.
The reason for this becomes clear as John sees another angel coming up from the east (sun rising) with a promise of blessings. The seal of the living God is different from the seals on the scroll (Chapter 5). Here the seal is to protect God’s people from the destructive effects of the coming judgment.
What is the seal? Let’s look back for a moment. In Egypt, Israel marked their doorposts with blood. Years later Rahab place a scarlet cord out her window. You and I have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. This seal will be on their foreheads in contrast to the coming seal of the Antichrist.
The angel places the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God. Being a servant indicates that they are already redeemed. They will have remained faithful to the Lord in the midst of the chaos of the first six seals.
Now we come to the famous 144,000. Who are they? There are many theories as to who they are. The Seventh-Day Adventist apply it to the faithful who will be found observing the Jewish Sabbath at the Lord’s return.
Those who follow Joseph Russell, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, teach that the 144,000 are the overcomers of their church who continue faithful to the end.
There are many more who have appropriated this number to their select group. All of these overlook a very simple fact, the 144,000 are composed 12,000 from each tribe of the children of Israel. Some believe that this refers to the church citing New Testament passages that identify the church as Israel.
To understand this correctly I believe that we must interpret the term Israel in accordance with its normal Old and New Testament usage as it refers to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If we do that, we must ask then, where are the twelve tribes today? We know that there are Jews in almost every country of the world. As to which tribe they belong to, well practically all the tribal records were lost when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in AD 70, so only God knows all the genealogies.