The Tribes of the Earth and the Innumerable Multitude
1And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.
A. And after these things...Edit
John has seen a vision of the four horsemen that God calls to judgment against Jerusalem. They appear, but have not yet acted.
B. I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth...Edit
We see these four angels in Zechariah 6. These are the four horsemen ready to wage war against the earth (land), which is Judaea.
C. holding the four winds of the earth...Edit
The four winds are representative of the machinations of God within the kingdoms of the world. In Ezekiel 37:9 they blow and resurrect the cause of righteousness in the valley of dry bones. In Daniel 7:2 they blow and cause the four great empires to rise up and later in Daniel 8:8; and Daniel 11:4 further maneuver the four empires. In Jeremiah 49:36 Elam is scattered by the four winds to the four winds, meaning throughout those empires. The vision here then is that the machinations of God read about and prophesied about with regard to the world empires associated with Judah are coming to fruition. The whole world stands ready to come against Jerusalem. This is the Roman army which is comprised of every nation in the world.
D. that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree...Edit
Though they stand ready, they are not released yet against the Jews (earth), the Gentiles (sea), or any families/genealogies/lineages (trees: Isaiah 7:2; Isaiah 10:19; Isaiah 14:8; Isaiah 41:19; Isaiah 44:14; Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 60:13; Isaiah 61:3; Ezekiel 17:22-24). Essentially nobody in the land of Judaea, regardless of race or nationality, was to be hurt by these machinations yet.
2And 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 given to hurt the earth and the sea,
This is again Christ, not as Lamb or Conqueror, but as Evangelist. Compare to Matthew 24:27; Luke 1:78. The seal is the seal of the Holy Spirit through the gospel in the hearts of Christians of that time in this context (Mark 4:15; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30; Colossians 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:19; Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 10:16).
3Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
The four horsemen are not to begin until the gospel had reached and been acted on by all those in Judea who were going to act on it. Herein we see the providence of God reaching all of those who would obey the gospel. In modern times, we can apply this to the question of “what about person x in location y who has never heard the gospel?” If such a person actually exists and if they would respond to the gospel appropriately, then I firmly believe God’s providence will preach the gospel to them, even if it requires the wicked to do so (e.g. the Catholics through the Dark Ages preached the Bible to everyone and it was everyone’s responsibility to reason through the tradition and understand the Truth only by that which was actually written in scripture).
4And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. 5Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. 6Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. 7Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. 8Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
The 144,000 of the tribe of Israel here is:
- 1) Those of the descendants of Jacob who are converted.
- 2) This relates to the membership of the church at that time. This has no other future application except to John’s time. The sealing spoken of took place in John’s timeframe, the first century before the destruction of Jerusalem. It has nothing whatsoever to do with anything outside of that time frame or the church today.
In essence, John is saying that he hears a symbolic census of every Jew who was going to become a part of the church before the fall of Judah was given the time and opportunity to do so. It is a symbolic number, not a literal one. 12 squared for the number of tribes and 1000 to show that it would be a complete listing of all of them. Some important things to note:
- 1) Dan is not listed -- Dan is not listed because of the prophecy in Amos 8:14.
- 2) Joseph is listed for Ephraim -- Joseph was the son of Jacob who was faithful to God, but the tribe of Ephraim named after one of his two sons did not remain so. Joseph then is honored and Ephraim (who is referred to continually in lieu of the northern tribes and associated with their wickedness) is not.
- 3) Levi (who had no physical inheritance in the promised-land) is listed -- They have an inheritance in the new earth.
9After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
John then sees a numberless group. It was a multitude of such magnitude it could not be numbered. This multitude is not just the 144,000 converted Jews, but the people that would be converted to Christianity before the events described in John’s book would come from every nation, tribe, race, and language. The 144,000 = converted Jews before the fall of Jerusalem. The multitude includes the 144,000 but is all Christians to be converted before the destruction of Jerusalem. These faithful servants stand before the throne figuratively. These are not the dead martyrs for the cause of Christ (who are under the altar), but the living faithful who still serve in the physical realm at that time. They have white robes (they are faithful and pure of sin because of the blood of Christ), and palms in their hands (pay homage to Christ - John 12:13).
10And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
These faithful acknowledge that Jehovah is the source of salvation through Christ (Jonah 2:9).
11And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
So the sealing ends and all who are of the church praise God for what He has done and what He is about to do.
13And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
This is of course the explanation again of the 144,000 and the numberless multitude dressed in white. They are not all members of the church of all time. They are those who survived great tribulation (Matthew 24:21; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 1:9) still faithful to God! To assign it to any other/larger group is to ignore the very plain explanation given right within the immediate context. And it is very important to understand that these are not the martyrs, not dead at all, but those who are still living after the tribulation.
15Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
Once again, let me reiterate. These people are the very specific group of people who survived the great tribulation with their lives and faith intact. They serve God “in His temple” meaning they serve God being a part of the church, which is the Temple. God comes to dwell among them (John 14:23).
16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
Pay attention now. These faithful, who are still alive after the tribulation, from that moment on would not hunger, or thirst, or feel the heat, nor shed tears any more. This is NOT Heaven nor the end of the kosmos. This is the living faithful after the tribulation. It is echoed in chapter 21. The hungering and thirsting is after the Truth. Christ provides the gospel and addresses those needs. They need no sun (Jewish king) because the new heavens have a new Sun (Christ - Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5). The wiping away of tears is of special interest because of what so many incorrectly associate it with. Read Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 65:19; and then forward to Revelation 21:4. This wiping away of tears/crying is not in Heaven, but an end to the persecution and trouble from a given context. In Truth and Love.