Between the 6th and 7th seals there’s a pause where two important events take place, one on Earth and the other in Heaven. Both involve the disposition of a group of God’s people, but neither one is the Church. It won’t be mentioned again until the end of chapter 17.
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000. (Rev. 7:1-8)
The multiple use of the number four here emphasizes that the Creation is in focus, because by the end of the Fourth Day of Creation light had been distinguished from darkness, the atmosphere had been formed, the land had been separated from the water, vegetation had begun to grow and with the addition of the sun, moon, and stars, day had been divided from night. By the end of Day Four the Creation was complete and ready to support life, and so the number four is thought of as the number of Creation.
But the next cycle of judgments will be delayed until one other event takes place. This is the commissioning of the 144,000 Jewish believers who many believe will be the Lord’s primary evangelists during the remainder of Daniel’s 70th week. They carry the seal of God on their foreheads which makes them the only ones on Earth to be protected from the coming judgments. In Ezekiel 9:4we read of a similar case where before the City of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, angels went through out, searching out and sealing the faithful to protect them from the destruction. Here the Lord again delays the coming judgments until His faithful can be sealed, but this time it’s just a select few that He’s chosen for His specific purpose. Everyone else on Earth will be at risk, whether believers or not.
After Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:5), there were fourteen names to choose from in naming the tribes of Israel. But the Bible never lists more than 12 at a time, so sometimes the mix is different. The Levites received no land and never went to war, so they’re often omitted. Joseph was also left out when Ephraim and Manasseh were included, since each of them received half of his tribal allotment as an inheritance. But the listing in Rev. 7 is unique in that Levi and Joseph are included while Dan and Ephraim are not.
Most scholars believe that Dan was omitted because it was through the tribe of Dan that idolatry was introduced into the land after Solomon died (1 Kings 12:28-30). Jacob had prophesied in Genesis 49:17 that Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backward hinting that Dan would be responsible for Israel’s fall back into idolatry. There’s a tradition that Dan was a ringleader in the kidnapping and sale of Joseph into slavery, and another one that the anti-Christ will come from the tribe of Dan, but neither one of these can be confirmed Biblically. For these or other reasons, no one from the tribe of Dan will receive God’s protective seal. But God is merciful, and the faithful from the tribe of Dan will survive. We know this because at the beginning of the Kingdom Age when the land is redistributed, Dan’s descendants will receive the first share. (Ezekiel 48:1)
Although Ephraim is not mentioned by name, his people are included since they make up the group called Joseph here. Remember, the tribe of Joseph was divided between Ephraim and Manasseh. Including Joseph and Manasseh in the list means the people from both halves of Joseph’s tribe are sealed without mentioning Ephraim’s name. 1 Kings 12:28-30 also tells us that a golden calf was set up in Bethel, in the land of Ephraim, in addition to the one in Dan. The Lord hates idolatry.
Efforts to spiritualize this passage into a group symbolic of all believers are a woefully inadequate attempt by replacement theology advocates to deprive Israel of its End Times role in God’s redemptive plan. The passage is simply too clear to justify any interpretation other than a literal one.
And those who say the list can’t be accurate because 10 tribes disappeared in 721 BC when the Northern Kingdom was scattered would do well to read 2 Chronicles 11:16. Those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the LORD, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the LORD, the God of their fathers. Josephus reported that this migration caused a substantial increase in Jerusalem’s population. God has always maintained a faithful remnant of His people.
Now we’ll identify the other group, the one in Heaven.
The Great Multitude in White Robes
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come 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 spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:9-17)
There are differing opinions as to who this multitude is. By their white robes and their declaration as to the Author of their salvation, everyone agrees that they’re believers from Earth.
But the facts that 1) John, the disciple most closely associated with the Church, didn’t recognize them, 2) their arrival in Heaven follows the Rapture by three chapters, and 3) their destiny is that of servants in the Temple and not co-regents of the Universe, mean they are post rapture believers and not part of the Church. They’ve been victims of the destruction on Earth during the Seal judgments and have paid the ultimate price for their new-found faith.
They’re called Tribulation martyrs or Tribulation saints, but technically that’s not accurate either, because the Great Tribulation hasn’t begun yet. We’re still in the first half of the 70th week.
How do we know that? The Greek word translated “out of” in the phrase “these are they who have come out of the Great Tribulation” is the same word that’s translated “from” in Rev 3:10 where the Lord promised the Church deliverance from the end times judgments. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. According to The Strong’s Concordance it’s a primary preposition denoting origin. It means “from, or out of, the place, time, or cause” of a specified event.
So, like the Church, these saints have been removed from the place, the time, and the cause of the Great Tribulation. They didn’t come to faith in time for the Rapture so they won’t share in the Church’s unique destiny and blessing. But most likely they’ll finally be persuaded to believe by the Church’s disappearance. They will be martyred early in the 70th week, and so will escape the worst of the end times judgments. Later on the living will envy the dead so much that they’ll long for death, but death will elude them. (Rev. 9:6)
These saints will live a privileged existence in eternity, always in the presence of the Lord. They’ll serve Him day and night in His Temple and will never want for anything. The Lord will spread His tent over them, meaning that He’ll be personally responsible for their welfare. They’ll neither hunger nor thirst, and the Lord will remove every regret from their minds, wiping every tear from their eyes.
But although they serve the Lord in His temple, they’re never called priests, as the Church is. Neither will they ever sit on a throne at the side of their Beloved as examples of the incomparable riches of God’s grace, expressed in His kindness to the Church, His work of art (Ephes. 2:6-10). They’ll never share in His inheritance or be counted among the most favored group in all of Creation. When push came to shove they needed one final unmistakable sign that it was right to believe. Lacking the faith to accept what they could not see, they required evidence. That evidence came to them in the form of the Rapture of the Church, when those who believed by faith alone disappeared before their very eyes. Too late to be included in that incredible event, they will finally believe because of it.
As the Lord said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
With the coming seventh seal, the Trumpet judgments are introduced. This second cycle of judgments will complete the first half of Daniel’s 70th week and set the stage for the introduction of the anti-Christ and the Great Tribulation.