Is there really a hearing/seeing theme in Revelation?

Purpose

John hears about a lion, but when he looks, he sees a lamb (Rev 5:5-6). He hears about 144,000 Jews but sees an innumerable multitude from all nations (Rev 7:4, 9). He hears that the harlot sits on many waters but sees she sits on a beast (Rev 17:1, 3). He hears the angel will show him the bride, but he sees a city; the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:9-10).

The purpose of this article is to determine the relationship between what John hears and sees. Are these things related? If so, are they exactly the same? This article discusses these verses and shows that what John hears and sees are not exactly the same but two perspectives of the same thing:

1) The lion and the lamb represent two roles Christ has, namely His death on the Cross and His return, when He will “rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev 12:5; 19:15)

2) The 144,000 Jews and the innumerable multitude both symbolize God’s people, but at the beginning and at the end of the last seven plagues respectively.

3) The many waters and the beast both symbolize unrepentant humanity, but the beast divides humanity into 8 phases.

4) The bride and the New Jerusalem are both symbols of God’s people. The bride reflects Christ’s love for His people and the city symbolizes God’s people as eternally united with the perfect bond of peace, which is love.

Introduction

I came across this question on Stackexchange. It stated:

Many claim there is a hearing/seeing theme in the book of Revelation, where John hears something, then sees something (or the other way around), and that both what he sees and hears have the same referent.

Many scholars use this hearing/seeing principle to identify referents throughout Revelation. For example, some scholars identify the 144,000 with the Great Multitude (Rev 7), because John hears the number 144,000, and then sees a great multitude.

However, it seems the only clear example ever appealed to for such a hearing/seeing principle is Rev 5:5-6. Is it reasonable to establish a seeing/hearing principle merely on the basis of one clear example?

I posted the following answer in which I defended the hearing/seeing theme:

No, it would not be fair to postulate a seeing/hearing principle merely on the basis of one example. However, I am aware of four possible hear/see combinations in Revelation and I believe that it is possible to show the hear/see principle in all four instances. The question is: Is what John hears about the same as what he sees?

The Lion and the Lamb

In Revelation 5:5-6, he hears about a lion but sees a lamb. It is generally accepted that the lion and the lamb are both symbols of Jesus Christ. But He is not always a lion and He is not always a lamb. Certainly, these are aspects of His eternal character. However, they are also specific roles He has at specific times: While on earth, He allowed Himself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter, but He will return as a lion.

The description “lamb,” therefore, is both an identification of Christ and a specific role He had when He was on earth. In the context of Revelation 5, which is His enthronement after His ascension, the emphasis of the description “lamb” seems to be on that role rather than on identification.

The same could be said of the description “lion.” He is always the “lion” but His enthronement in Revelation 5 emphasizes that role.

Consequently, the referents in this hear/see combination are not exactly the same but two different perspectives of the Lord.

The Bride and the City

In Revelation 21:9-10:

      • John heard that the angel will show him “the bride, the wife of the Lamb,” but then
      • John saw “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”

Bride” is a familiar symbol for God’s people (cf. Matt 25:10; Mark 2:19; Rev 22:17). For the following reasons, in Revelation, the bride and “the holy city, Jerusalem” are symbols of the same reality, namely, of God’s people:

1) Revelation 21:2 makes a connection between the city and the bride when it says that the “new Jerusalem” is “made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.”

2) In Revelation, there are two women opposing one another; the bride and the harlot:

Since the harlot is explicitly described as a city (Rev 17:18), it stands to reason that the bride is also a city.

3) The New Jerusalem is not a literal city. It is a symbol of something. The following indicates what it symbolizes:

(a) The names of the 12 tribes are written on its 12 gates, meaning that only true Israelites will be allowed to enter into the city (Rev 21:12). But, as discussed in another article, in Revelation, the “sons of Israel” are Christians from all races.)

(b) The names of the 12 apostles are written on the city’s 12 foundations, meaning that the city is built on the Christian gospel (Rev 21:14).

(c) It is 12,000 furlongs in length and in width and in height (Rev 21:16). These are not literal measurements. 12 in the number of God’s people. The triplication of 12 symbolizes the perfection of God’s eternal people.

(d) Its wall is 144 cubits thick. Both the 144,000 sons of Israel (Rev 7:4) and this 144 cubits-wall are symbols using military language to reflect the spiritual invincibility of God’s people (cf. Rev 14:4-5). In other words, never again can they be tempted into sin. 

Consequently, the “holy city, Jerusalem” symbolizes God’s people.

For these reasons, both the bride and the New Jerusalem symbolize God’s people. They symbolize different aspects of His people:

Bride” emphasizes Christ’s love for His people.

A city is not a collection of buildings; it is a collection of people and their things. His great city is a fortress of truth for the whole world to behold. It symbolizes God’s people as eternally united with the perfect bond of peace, which is love.

The Water, the Beast, and the Seven Heads

In Revelation 17:1, 3, John first hears that the harlot sits on “many waters” but then he sees that she sits on a beast with seven heads and ten horns. She also sits on the seven heads of the beast (Rev 17:9). For the following reasons, I propose that the “many waters” and the beast and the seven heads are different symbols of the same reality, namely, the people of the world who refuse to repent:

(A) The Waters are the People.

The “many waters” are explicitly identified as the people who support the harlot Babylon (Rev 17:15). They are the false worshipers; the killers of God’s people (Rev 18:24) who refuse to repent (e.g., Rev 2:5, 21; 9:20; 16:9).

(B) The Beast is the Seven Heads.

The beast has seven consecutive heads (Rev 17:9), symbolizing the seven phases of the beast (not the seven hills of Rome!). In other words, the beast is the sum of the seven heads. Interpreted as such, the beast and its heads are different symbols of the same thing.

(C) The Seven Heads are the People.

The seven heads are identified as “kings” (Rev 17:9-10). In Revelation, “kings” are associated with people. For example, the following is one of several verses in Revelation that use four words as synonyms to refer to ALL the people in the world:

“You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (Rev 11:11; cf. Rev 6:15; 17:2; 18:3; 19:18-19; 21:24).

Conclusion

Both the seven heads (seven kings) and the “many waters,” therefore, are symbols of the people of the world who live in rebellion against God. And since the beast is the sum of the seven heads, it is another symbol of the same reality.

These three things are not exactly the same, but different perspectives of the same thing; similar to the lion and the lamb. While the “many waters” seems to symbolize the mass of peoples of the world, the beast with its seven heads divides them into ages.

The 144,000 and the Innumerable Multitude

John hears about 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel (on earth) but then sees an innumerable multitude “from every nation and all tribes” standing before God’s throne (Rev 7:4, 9). The 144,000 and the innumerable multitude seem to be complete opposites. However, in another article, I argue that the 144,000 Jews are a symbol of the perfection of the remnant of God’s people after the end of the persecution described in Revelation 13.

To understand the relationship between these two groups, we need to understand the sequence of events:

The sixth seal, at the end of the previous chapter, began with the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-15; cf. Matt 24:29) and ends with Judgment Day (Rev 6:15-17). The sealing (Rev 7:1-8), logically, therefore, must be completed before the sixth seal.

After all of God’s people have been sealed, the four winds of destruction will be released (Rev 7:1-3).

At the end of Revelation 6, the great multitude hiding in the mountains “from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” asks:

The great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand” (Rev 6:15-17)?

A few verses later, we see the innumerable multitude from all nations “standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9). The innumerable multitude, therefore, is the answer to the question above. The great multitude hiding in the mountains and the innumerable multitude before the throne, by implication, describe the two classes of people at the same point in history, namely, on Judgment Day.

Sequence of Events

Therefore, we see the following sequence of events:

1. The Sealing

While the four winds are being held back, God’s people are sealed = 144,000 (Rev 7:3).

2. The Four Winds

As soon as all of God’s people are sealed, the four winds of destruction are released (Rev 7:3). These winds have been interpreted as equivalent to the seven last plagues (Rev 16). During those plagues, the people still refuse to repent (Rev 16:9, 11, 21).

These four winds or seven plagues may also be the same as the first part of the sixth seal; the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-15).

3. Judgment Day

But, at a point in time, something changes and the people realize that they are lost. Then the great multitude hides from God in the mountains (Rev 6:15-17). At the same time (as I propose above), the innumerable multitude of God’s people stand before His throne (Rev 7:9). This is Judgment Day, and Christ has made a separation between the sheep and the goats.

Conclusion

So, are the 144,000 the same as the Innumerable Multitude standing before the throne? Yes, argued as follows:

The 144,000 describe God’s people AT THE END OF THE SEALING; when the four winds are released.

Since the seal of God implies that NONE of them will fall away during the four winds, the 144,000 also describe God’s people when the four winds are completed.

But that is also when the innumerable multitude describes God’s people.

Final Conclusion

I would like to conclude that there really is a hearing/seeing theme in Revelation but I would not like to use it to prove anything. I would like to do it the other way round: Since the 144,000 are the same as the innumerable multitude, there is a hearing/seeing theme.


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