Heard a Trumpet, Saw The Son of Man: Heard About a Lion, Saw a Lamb: Heard of 144,000, Saw a Great Multitude
“I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel…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, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 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, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 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. “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. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 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.”
Revelation chapter 6, in which six seals that represent God’s judgement and justice on earth are broken, ends with the question; “who can stand?” But is that the end of the context? Have we been jettisoned from the seals and thrust upon a new, unrelated image or place?
We must remember that Revelation is a letter, with no verse or chapter breaks, and certainly no headings or titles inserted by the translators. While very helpful at times, it can also hinder our hermeneutical method. Chapter breaks allowed me, for example, to inform you where we find the phrase, “who can stand?” And while there is a certain separation between chapter 6 and 7, the chapter break can lead us to place a partition between the two chapters–this should not be. There could be thousands of years between the end of chapter 6 and chapter 7 to some, but to others it will be in the twinkling of an eye. Chapter 6 ends with a question in need of an answer. Who can stand?
We have read about and discussed, however briefly, the number heard by John–144,000. 12,000 from each of the out-of-order, and Dan exclusive list of the tribes of Israel. Was Dan excluded for leading the Israelites into idolatry? Probably, but one cannot say with certainty. Was Judah listed first because Christ is the Lion of Judah. It is entirely possible, yet one cannot be sure. Notice O.O.T.T. “Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant: Gad and Asher.”
Yet in Revelation 7, the last mentioned, illegitimate sons of Israel have been promoted to 3rd and 4th. Manasseh, whose mother was from Egypt, has been not only promoted to a full tribe, but has also been promoted in the order. I believe this is God demonstrating that the illegitimate and foreign-born are full heirs–especially when using the CAGED method–all nations, all tribes, all peoples, all tongues. The context absolutely seems to indicate this. However, it is all conjecture. Good conjecture–a solid hypothesis but difficult to prove. Nevertheless, the 144,000 that John heard are the bondservants of an uncountable number that John saw, the context demands it. The genre commands it.
You have probably noticed by now that I have, for the most part, not included the verse numbers in the text, and absolutely never include the headings and titles written in by the translators. I will, however, mention the chapter or verse at times for ease of reference. This is the reason they were added and it is a great help in that respect. However, over time, they have led to us taking verses, that were never intended to stand alone, out of context. We must keep Revelation 7 in its proper context within the theme and imagery presented in its genre. In fact, the theme reaches back into chapter 6.
The four horsemen represent conquest, wars, famine and death. The fifth seal shows those who have died, who have gone to be with the Lord, begging for justice. And then we notice: “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” 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. 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, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads. I heard the number of the sealed , 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel… (For time’s sake), 12,000 from each out-of-order tribe of Israel. 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, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!
Once again, a common theme in Revelation is for John to hear something but upon looking, the imagery changes. Using the CAGED method, clearly contemplating the context, understanding the genre, looking for the aspirations of the author to the first century audience, seeing the repetitive patterns, the themes, the use of numbers…There is a multiplicity of manifestation! The genre and the themes and the context cry out; the 144,000 are the multitude. The only way to derive any other opinion is to take verses and passages out of context and then weave them together based on one’s own opinions and presuppositions–in other words, what one has been taught.
But the genre and context confirm that the 144,000 heard are the countless multitude saw. Are they in heaven or in the New Heavens and New Earth? We cannot say with certainty– there exists arguments for both. I lean heavily to the present heaven, based on the context, imagery and genre but at this point it doesn’t matter because: it’s not about a place but rather, about a people. Who are these innumerable people?
I love it when a missive comes full circle. I also love it when the text tells us. “Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 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.” We will discuss the tribulation in great detail soon. For the sake of the context, can we suspend our disbelief and entertain the thought that seven is a heavenly perfect number and not literal? Paul’s says to Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And to the Romans, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance…” In Matthew Jesus says, “Rejoice and celebrate, because great is your reward in heaven; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.” Tribulation equals suffering and trials, not necessarily, The Tribulation as we think of it. Seven years of Tribulation. In Revelation nomenclature, that means perfected through trials. We see that based on the genre and context that these souls are the sealed people of God. Nevertheless, based on complete context, who are they? Remember chapter 6 and the rhetorical question presented by the perishing; who can stand? Zoom back in on verse 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.” The Palm Sunday of Palm Sundays–the 144,000, the great multitude, the ones out of tribulation, are the ones who can stand!