The book that was sealed with seven seals (Revelation 4:1-8:1)

Purpose

The purpose of this article is to explain the second vision in the Book of Revelation, namely of the sealed book (Revelation 4:1-8:1).

Brief Overview

Revelation 4

Revelation 4 does not describe any specific event but provides a timeless description of God’s throne room.

Crisis in Heaven

Revelation 5:1-4 describes a crisis in heaven symbolized by a book that nobody was able to open or read because it was sealed up with seven seals. Not even Christ was able to open the book (Rev 5:1-3).

A book symbolizes knowledge and a sealed book symbolizes concealed knowledge; things that are not understood. In other words, there are or were things that the beings in heaven do not understand.

        • What are these things?
        • Why do they not understand?
        • Why did God not explain (open the book)?

This causes John “to weep greatly” (Rev 5:4), symbolizing the sorrow in heaven because these things are not understood. 

In Revelation 5:5, the sorrow turns to joy, for Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Then Jesus appears as “a Lamb … as if slain” (Rev 5:6). This refers to His cross and implies that the time of sorrow (Rev 5:1-4) was the time BEFORE His death.

Worthy to open the book

Through His death, Jesus became “worthy” to open the book (Rev 5:5, 9).

To open or read a book means to explain its contents; to make this knowledge available. Before Christ died, there was no way out of this crisis. There was no way to enable the heavenly beings to understand.

        • Why was Jesus not able to open the book before He died?
        • How did His death make Him “worthy” to open the book?

The rest of Revelation 5 focuses on one specific event, namely Jesus’ glorification at His Father’s right hand after His ascension.

The Church Age

In Revelation 6, Jesus breaks the first six seals of the book. Each time that He breaks a seal in heaven, something happens on earth.

Breaking the first seal brings victory (Rev 6:1-2) but the next three bring death (Rev 6:3-8), culminating in the fifth seal where God’s slain people cry for revenge (Rev 6:9-11).

The seals are the things that PREVENT understanding. Breaking the seals means removing these barriers to understanding. Somehow, the deaths of God’s people enable the heavenly beings to understand.

The fifth seal describes a specific point in time, interpreted as the beginning of the time of the endThe sixth seal begins with the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-14) and concludes with “the great day of their wrath” (Rev 6:17), which is the Day of Judgment.

Since Jesus received the book and began to break its seals after His Cross, and since the sixth seal is the Day of Judgment, the first five seals represent the church age. Christ’s death did NOT enable the heavens to understand immediately, but His death made Him “worthy” to explain these things OVER THE CHURCH AGE.

The Sealing of God’s People

After the fifth seal (6:9-11), which is the beginning of the time of the end, and after the sixth seal (6:12-17), which is the Day of Judgment, the first part of Revelation 7 (7:1-8) describes the sealing of 144000 Jews. These verses explain that “the four winds,” symbolizing the end-time crisis before Christ returns, are delayed until ALL of God’s people are sealed with “the seal of the living God” (Rev 7:1-3).

Since God’s people must be sealed BEFORE judgment day, the sealing (7:1-8) describes a time BEFORE the sixth seal.

Since “the four winds,” symbolizing the end-time crisis, are delayed until God’s people are sealed, God’s people are not ready for that crisis. God delays that crisis UNTIL His people are ready (sealed).

        • What is the seal of God?
        • Why are only 144000 people sealed?
        • And why are only Jews sealed?

Judgment Day Continues

Revelation 7:9 picks up where Revelation 6 left off and describes an Innumerable Multitude standing before the throne of God. This, therefore, continues to describe the Day of Judgment. On that day, while one group hides in the mountain from the presence of God (Rev 6:15), the other group stands before God (Rev 7:9).

The End

The seventh and last seal is described in only a single verse (Rev 8:1). It says that all the worship and sounds of heaven, which we read about in Revelation 4 and 5, turn to silence for about half an hour. This website interprets this silence as the sorrow in the hearts of God and His people at the destruction of the lost when Christ returns (Rev 19:21).

Conclusions

These concepts are not merely nice to know. This vision reveals the true significance of Christ’s death and explains why evil still reigns on earth 2000 years after His death. This is “solid food” (Heb 5:14; 1 Cor 3:2).

The average Christian is not even aware of these questions. These are not questions that preachers normally ask. The reader must not expect traditional answers.

Some interpretations attempt to interpret the events that result from breaking the seals without identifying the sealed book. In this commentary, the identification of the book is foundational. We will only understand the catastrophes caused by breaking the seals when we understand what this book is.

This article is a summary of a series of detailed articles (See, List of articles). Links to the detailed articles are provided below.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the NASB.

Table of Contents

Overview of the text

Revelation 5

Revelation 6

Revelation 7

Revelation 8

Overview of the Text

This article first provides an overview of all four chapters (4:1-8:1), listing several questions. Thereafter, it proposes answers.

Revelation 4

The vision begins in Revelation 4 with a description of God’s throne room. It does not describe a specific event or a specific point in time. It describes:

    • A throne and One sitting on the throne (Rev 4:2-3),
    • 24 elders sitting on 24 thrones around the throne (Rev 4:4),
    • The seven Spirits of God “burning before the throne” (Rev 4:5), and
    • Four living creatures; “full of eyes in front and behind” (Rev 4:6-8).

The elders and the living beings continually “worship Him who lives forever and ever,” saying:

For You created all things, and
because of Your will they existed,
and were created
” (Rev 4:8-11).

Jesus is NOT present in the throne room in this chapter.

The 24 Elders

For reasons such as the following, the 24 elders are human beings; not angels:

      • Elder” is a familiar Biblical title for humans but not for angels.
      • Angels never sit on thrones and never wear crowns of any kind, but humans do (Rev 2:10; 3:11; 3:21; 20:4).
      • The number 24 is equal to 12+12 and 12 is a symbol for God’s people. For example, on the New Jerusalem are written the names of the 12 tribes of Israel as well as the names of the 12 apostles (Rev 21:12, 14).

The full articles are available at:

Crisis in Heaven (5:1-6)

Revelation 5 begins by describing a crisis in heaven, symbolized by a book that nobody was “worthy” to open or read because it was sealed up with seven seals (Rev 5:1-3). Since a sealed book symbolizes concealed knowledge, and since this book is in heaven, it means that there were things that the 24 elders and the 4 living creatures were unable to understand.

This causes John to weep greatly (Rev 5:4). Since John is now in heaven (Rev 4:1), his great weeping symbolizes the sorrow among the beings in heaven because they do not understand. Apparently, this knowledge is of vital importance for the happiness of the universe.

But Revelation 5:5 turns that sorrow into joy, for it announces that Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Jesus now appears as a slain lamb (Rev 5:6). In other words, His death enabled Him to open the book. The crisis of the book that nobody was able to open (Rev 5:1-4), therefore, describes the time BEFORE CHRIST’S DEATH.

Christ Enthroned (5:7-14)

After Jesus takes the book (Rev 5:7), the beings in God’s throne room declare Him worthy to break the seven seals and to open the book (Rev 5:9-10). Then the “myriads of myriads” of “angels around the throne,” together with “the living creatures and the elders,” praise “the Lamb.” Lastly, “every created thing” praises BOTH “Him who sits on the throne, and … the Lamb” (Rev 5:11-14). 

Jesus does not open the book immediately. In Revelation 6, He breaks the seals one by one, resulting in catastrophes on earth. Therefore, to know WHEN these things happen, we need to know WHEN the Lamb receives the book.

Some put the meeting in Revelation 5 in the end-time; shortly before Christ returns. However, for the following reasons, Revelation 5:7-14 describes what happens when Jesus arrives in heaven after He ascended.

Firstly, the events described in Revelation 5:7-14 fits exactly with what the New Testament elsewhere says happened when Jesus arrived in heaven after He ascended.

Secondly, Revelation 3:21 provides an outline of the vision of the seven seals (chapters 4 to 7) and, in that outline, Revelation 5:7-14 aligns with the statement, “I (Jesus) also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Thirdly, the similarities with the Synoptic Apocalypse (Matthew 24, etc.) identify the first four seals (Rev 6:1-8) as the entire church age. Since Revelation 5 precedes the first four seals, it describes an event right at the beginning of the Christian era.

These points are explained below in the section Titled – Revelation 5 describes events in heaven after Jesus ascended.

Question

A very important question is this: Why did He not open the book (i.e., explain the contents) immediately after His death made Him “worthy” to do so (Rev 5:9)? Put differently: Why has Christ not returned yet?

Breaking the Seals (6:1 TO 8:1)

First Four Seals (6:1-8)

The first four seals – the famous horsemen of the apocalypse – bring victory but also bloodshed, famine, and death (Rev 6:1-8).

Since the first four seals are all symbolized as horses, they form a unit, meaning that they symbolize one thing consisting of four parts.

Since the seals are the things that prevent understanding, and since breaking the seals causes bloodshed, famine, and death, we can say that Jesus removes those barriers to understanding through catastrophic events on earth.

Fifth Seal (6:9-11)

The fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11) shows the souls of God’s people who have been slain for their testimony. They are under the altar and cry out:

How long, O Lord, holy and true,
will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood?

In Old Testament sacrificial rituals, the blood of animals was “poured out” at the base of the altar (e.g., Exo 29:12). The fifth seal converts this ritual into a metaphor: God’s people are symbolically sacrificed ON the altar. They are not under a literal altar.

Since the fifth seal shows us God’s slain people, the bloodshed of the previous seals is the killing of God’s people. The following supports this conclusion:

As discussed below, the white horse of the first seal symbolizes the gospel. Since the first four seals form a unit, the killing in seals 2 to 4 should be the consequence of the gospel.

Put in different words, the first seal in the gospel. The fifth seal shows God’s people slain for their faith. Given this context, what could the killing in the intermediate seals be other that the killing of God’s people?

The souls under the altar cry out for revenge, but this is not the end yet, for they are told to wait, for more must die for their faith (Rev 6:9-11). This fifth seal, therefore, describes a specific point in time in history. Before that point in history, many have died but, after that point in history, many more must die.

Sixth Seal (6:12-17)

As already stated, the sixth seal has signs of Christ’s return; signs in the sun, moon, and stars (Rev 6:12-14; cf. Matt 24:29-30). It is the Day of Judgment; “the great day of their wrath” (Rev 6:17). Although a great earthquake shifts mountains out of their places, the people hide in the mountains because they are more scared of “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 6:16) than of this great earthquake.

QUESTION: Where are God’s people at this time?

The Sealing of the 144000 (7:1-3)

Chapter seven begins by interrupting the sequence of seals. In a play on words, while the book is being unsealed, “the bond-servants of our God” are sealed with “the seal of the living God” (Rev 7:3).

The sealing of God’s people (Rev 7:1-3) must be completed before the Day of Judgment as described in the sixth seal. The sealing, therefore, describes something that happens BEFORE the sixth seal

The four winds” of destruction (by implication, the sixth seal) are held back until ALL of God’s people are sealed (Rev 7:3). In other words, the purpose of the seal of the living God is to protect God’s people when the end-time winds of destruction are released (Rev 7:1-3). This also means that this seal will ONLY be available in the end-time.

The 144000 (7:4-8)

These verses explain who is sealed. According to Revelation 7:3, “the bond-servants of our God” are sealed. But now we hear that 144000 people are sealed, and they are all Jews; 12000 from each of the tribes of Israel (Rev 7:1-4).

The Multitude before the Throne (7:9-17)

At the end of Revelation 6, the multitude hiding in the mountains asked:

The great day of their wrath has come,
and who is able to stand” (Rev 6:16-17)?

After Revelation has jumped back in time to describe the sealing of the 144000 (7:1-8), Revelation 7 continues to describe:

A great multitude which no one could count …,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9).

The great multitude “standing before the throne,’ therefore, is the answer to the question of the hiding multitude; they are the people who are able to stand on Judgment Day. They have the “white robes” of salvation (Rev 7:9).

Consequently, the sealing of the 144000 (Rev 7:1-8) is an interruption of the sixth seal and the multitude before the throne (Rev 7:9-17) is a continuation of the sixth seal. In other words, the sixth seal describes a point in history, DURING Christ’s return, when:

      • God’s people are standing before God’s throne while
      • The lost hides in the mountains.

The Seventh Seal

The final seal is described in only one verse:

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal,
there was silence in heaven
for about half an hour
” (Rev 8:1).

Revelation 5 began with sorrow in heaven because nobody was able to open the book (Rev 5:1-4). With the seventh seal broken, the book is now fully open.

Questions Raised by the Text

By way of summary, several questions have been raised in this introductory overview of the text, including:

      1. What and why do they not understand?
      2. Why did God not open the book and why was not even the Son of God able to open the book before His death?
      3. How did Christ’s death make Him “worthy” to break the seals?
      4. The seven seals symbolize things that prevent understanding. What are these things?
      5. Why did Jesus not open the book immediately after He received it?
      6. Why are bloodshed, famine, and death necessary to enable the heavenly beings to understand the things written in the book?
      7. What are the “four winds” against which God’s end-time people must be protected?
      8. What is the seal of God and how will it protect God’s people?
      9. Why are only 144000 people sealed and why are they all Jews?
      10. Why are the beings in heaven silent when the seventh seal is broken and the book is fully open?

This is the end of the overview of the text. The remainder of this article proposes some answers. The first question is: What is the sealed book?

Revelation 5 describes Christ’s Enthronement
after He ascended.

This is a summary of the article – Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement.

Revelation 5 describes one specific event when all the billions of angels gather in God’s throne room (Rev 5:11) to witness the Son of God receive the book that is sealed with seven seals (Rev 5:7). He does not open the book immediately. In Revelation 6, He breaks the seals one by one, resulting in catastrophes on earth. Therefore, to know WHEN these things happen, we need to know WHEN the Lamb receives the book.

Some put the meeting in Revelation 5 in the end-time; shortly before Christ returns. However, this article shows that Revelation 5:7-14 describes what happens when Jesus arrives in heaven AFTER HE ASCENDED. This will be argued in three ways:

Firstly, the events described in 5:7-14 fits exactly with what the New Testament elsewhere says happened when Jesus arrived in heaven after He ascended.

Secondly, Revelation 3:21 provides an outline of the vision of the seven seals (4:1-8:1) and, in that outline, 5:7-14 aligns with the statement, “I (Jesus) also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Thirdly, a comparison with the Synoptic Apocalypse (e.g., Matthew 24) identifies the first four seals (Rev 6:1-8) as the entire church age. Since Revelation 5 precedes the first four seals, it must describe an event right at the beginning of the Christian era.

In conclusion, since Revelation 5 describes what happened in heaven after He ascended, Jesus received the sealed book and began breaking its seals 2000 years ago.

(A) Fits the New Testament Description

This section shows that what we see in Revelation 5 fits exactly with what the New Testament elsewhere says happened after His ascension.

A common theme in the New Testament is that, after Jesus died, was resurrected, and ascended to heaven, He was exalted at His Father’s right hand (e.g., Eph 1:20-22; Rom 8:34; Acts 2:31-36). Furthermore, Jesus was exalted at his Father’s right hand BEFORE the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) (e.g., John 7:39; Acts 2:32-33).

This is also what we see in Revelation 5:

Firstly, it emphasizes His death:

Jesus appears as a SLAIN LAMB and is said to be “worthy” because He “purchased for God with Your BLOOD men” (Rev 5:6, 9-10, 12).

Secondly, Revelation 5 describes Him as exalted with God:

The book was ON the right hand (or side) of God (5:1) and Jesus took it FROM the RIGHT SIDE OR HAND of God (5:7). Since the Bible often states that Jesus was exalted AT the right hand of God (e.g. Eph 1:20-22), it is proposed that when He took the book (Rev 5:7), He also sat down at His Father’s right hand.

This is supported a few verses later when Jesus, TOGETHER WITH THE FATHER, is praised by “every created thing” (Rev 5:13). This implies that They are now BOTH on the throne.

This is further confirmed when Jesus is described as “in the CENTER of the throne” (Rev 7:17).

Thirdly, Revelation 5 describes the Holy Spirit as sent out:

Before Jesus appeared, “the seven Spirits of God” were “before the throne” (Rev 4:5) but after He appeared as a slain lamb, God’s Spirit is said to be sent out into all the earth” (Rev 5:6). This corresponds with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Revelation 5, therefore, says that (1) after Jesus died, (2) He arrived in heaven, (3) and was immediately exalted at the right hand of God while (4) the Holy Spirit was “sent out.” This fits the Bible’s description of His exaltation after His ascension quite precisely.

(B) Revelation 3:21

Revelation 3:21 is the climax of the promises given to the overcomers in the seven churches. But, similar to other such verses, it is also an outline of the vision of the sealed book (4:1 to 8:1). It reads:

(a) To him who overcomes,
(b) I will give the right to sit with me on my throne,
(c) just as I overcame
(d) and sat down with my Father on his throne
(NIV).

(a) To him who overcomes

This is in the present tense, meaning that God’s people are NOW overcoming. This is what breaking the seals is all about. As concluded, Revelation 6 describes the gospel going forth into the world, its acceptance and rejection, and the experience of the people of God on earth, throughout the church age, struggling to overcome much opposition and many trials.

(b) I will give the right to sit with me on my throne

This is in the future tense and is fulfilled in Revelation 7 where the overcomers are described as an innumerable multitude who are able to stand before God when Jesus returns (Rev 7:9; cf. 6:17; 7:15, 17).

(c) Just as I overcame

One of the elders similarly said that Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book” (Rev 5:5). Since 5:5 announces an end to John’s weeping because Jesus “has overcome” (Rev 5:4-5), the time of sorrow in heaven, as described in Revelation 5:1-4, describes the time BEFORE He overcame through His life and death. In other words, He overcame somewhere between verses 4 and 5.

(d) and sat down with my Father on his throne

Since 3:21(a) and (b) are an outline of Revelation 6 and 7, and since 3:21(c) fits in 5:4-5, the phrase “sat down with my Father on his throne” (3:21(d)), by implication, summarizes the remainder of Revelation 5. In other words, 5:7-14 describes Jesus sitting down on His Father’s throne after His ascension.

Conclusion on 3:21

Based on 3:21, the entire vision of the sealed book (4:1-8:1) may be summarized as follows:

The struggle of God’s people to overcome and the promise that they will “sit down with Me (Jesus) on My throne” are described by Revelation 6 and 7.

But, before that, the statement that the Lamb “overcame and sat down with … (His) Father on His throne” is described by Revelation 5.

(C) Synoptic Apocalypse

In His sermon in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 (See – The Little Apocalypse), Jesus divided history into three great eras:

      • General realities of the entire Christian age;
      • A great persecution toward the end of that era; and
      • His return.

This fits the seven seals:

      • The first four seals (Rev 6:1-8) are similar to the general realities of the church age,
      • The fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11), read together with the sealing (Rev 7:1-3), describes a great end-time persecution.
      • The sixth seal is His return (Rev 6:12-14).

In conclusion:

      • The book is still fully sealed in Revelation 5 and the seals are broken one by one in Revelation 6. Revelation 5, therefore, precedes the first four seals.
      • Since the parallels with the Synoptic Apocalypse identify the first four seals as the church age, Revelation 5 must describe an event right at the beginning of the Christian era. This supports the view that Revelation 5 is Christ’s ascension and enthronement.

Conclusions

In Revelation 5, Jesus overcame (Rev 5:5), appears as a slain lamb (Rev 5:6), accepts the sealed book at His Father’s right hand (Rev 5:7), and, while the Holy Spirit is sent out into all the world (Rev 5:6), the Son is glorified by the entire universe (Rev 5:13). This fits exactly with His exaltation at His Father’s right hand after His ascension, as described elsewhere in the New Testament – somewhere between AD 30 to 33, based on astronomical calculations. Therefore, since He also received the book when He was exalted at His Father’s right hand, He received the book also somewhere between AD 30 to 33.

At that time, the book was still sealed. In Revelation 6, the Lamb breaks the seals one by one. Each time that He breaks a seal in heaven, something happens on earth. The sixth seal is the return of Christ (Rev 6:12-14, 17). A further conclusion, therefore, is that the first five seals symbolize the present-tense overcoming of God’s people over the church age.

The Sealed Book
is the Book of Life.

In Revelation 6:1 to 8:1, Jesus breaks the seven seals of the book one by one, causing catastrophes on earth. We will not be able to understand what these events are unless we understand what this book is.

Revelation mentions the “book of life” 6 times. As its name indicates, it identifies those who will inherit eternal life (e.g., Rev 21:2, 27; 20:14-15). The main purpose of this section is to show that the sealed book is the book of life. This is based on the following similarities:

1) Both books are written by God:

Book of LifeThe sealed book is in God’s hand (Rev 5:1; cf. 4:11), implying that He wrote it. Since the book of life contains the names of the redeemed and since God is the judge, He also writes that book.

2) The slain Lamb receives both books:

The full title of the “book of life” is “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev 13:8; 21:27). Since Jesus receives the sealed book when He appears as “a Lamb … as if slain” (Rev 5:6-7), the two books must be the same.

3) Both books are required for redemption:

Jesus died to save people but since He also died to open the sealed book (Rev 5:5, 9), opening this book is also required for the redemption of God’s people. The same applies to the book of life, for it identifies God’s elect.

4) Both are opened AFTER Christ’s return:

Since the sixth seal begins with the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-14), the sealed book will only be fully open at or after His return. The book of life, similarly, will be opened in the final judgment (Rev 20:12).

5) Both separate the living from the dead.

The sixth seal divides the people of the world between God’s people, standing before His throne (Rev 7:9), and those hiding in the mountains (Rev 6:15-17), soon to be put to death by Christ (Rev 19:21). The book of life,” similarly, determines who will live and who will die (Rev 20:15).

These similarities identify the sealed book as the book of life. The full article is available at – The sealed book is the Book of Life.

Revelation 12 explains the Sealed Book.

This section shows that Revelation 12 also identifies the sealed book as the book of life. In brief, this section shows that:

(1) Both Revelation 5 and 12 describe a crisis in heaven and, in both chapters, the crisis is caused by things that are NOT UNDERSTOOD.

(2) In both chapters, Christ’s death resolved the crisis in heaven BUT NOT ON EARTH.

For that reason, it is concluded that these two chapters describe THE SAME CRISIS. And by identifying the nature of the crisis in Revelation 12, this section finds additional support for the conclusion that the sealed book of Revelation 5 is the book of life.

This identification of the sealed book does not explain why nobody is able to open the book, what the seals are, or what breaking the seals means. But Revelation 12 does explain these things.

Another article series discusses Revelation 12 in much detail. The following is a brief overview:

Overview of Revelation 12

Christ

Revelation 12:5 describes Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension in a single verse. The dragon attempted to devour Him (Rev 12:4) but Christ escaped and was “caught up to God” (Rev 12:5).

War in Heaven

Revelation 12:7-12 describes a WAR IN HEAVEN between Michael and his angels and the dragon and his angels. The dragon” is “Satan” (Rev 12:9).

The most important point from Revelation 12 is that the nature of the “war in heaven” is indicated by the identification of Satan as “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev 12:10). In other words, he specifically accuses only God’s people, showing that they are sinners and deserve to die.

We see evidence of the nature of the crisis in the universe already in the book of Job – probably the oldest book of the Bible. In that book, “the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them” (Job 1:6). God continued to describe the man Job as “blameless and upright” (Job 1:8) but Satan accused Job, saying “touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face” (Job 1:11). For a discussion of Job, see – Why Satan thought he could win against God.

Another example is where Satan accused Joshua the high priest before the angel of the LORD (Zech 3:1).

Similarly, in Romans 3:25-26, Paul explains that Jesus died as a public demonstration of God’s “righteousness because … He passed over the sins previously committed.” In other words, Christ’s death was necessary because God forgave sins. How this works we attempt to explain below in the section: Why Jesus had to die.

The war in heaven, therefore, is CAUSED BY SATAN’S ACCUSATIONS.

It is not directly stated, but we can assume that Satan’s goal is to save himself. God condemned Satan (cf. Ezek 28:19). Satan responds by showing that God’s elect is sinners and arguing that, if he needs to die, then God’s elect must also die (cf. Rom 6:23; Matt 10:28; Hell). In other words, he argues that God judges unfairly when He forgives some sinners but condemns others. If it can be shown that God’s judgments are faulty, even to the slightest degree, then Satan and his angels would have grounds for their claim that they have been judged unfairly.

Since, in this war in heaven, “Michael and his angels” (Rev 12:7) oppose Satan, they defend God’s judgments and protect God’s people (cf. Dan 12:1). The “war in heaven,” therefore, is a dispute between the angels of heaven OVER GOD’S JUDGMENTS.

If we remember that many of the mighty angels have accepted Satan’s arguments (Rev 12:4, 7; cf. Isa 9:15), we must realize that his arguments are very convincing. Consequently, not even God’s loyal angels are certain that God’s judgments are ALWAYS perfect.

Christ’s Death

But Satan and his angels were defeated, driven out of heaven, and thrown down to the earth” (Rev 12:9-10). “There was no longer a place found for them in heaven” (Rev 12:8).

The series of articles on Revelation 12 shows that Satan was driven out of heaven as THE DIRECT CONSEQUENCE OF and, therefore, immediately after Christ’s victory on earth (cf. Rev 12:13). This means that Jesus died to make an end to this war in heaven and that, without His death, it would not have been possible to refute Satan’s objections to God’s judgments. (This is also explained below in the section, Why Christ had to die.)

War continues on earth.

However, His death did NOT make an end to the war on earth (Rev 12:12).

A single error by God or even the slightest doubt about the perfection of His judgments will limit the perfect happiness of the whole universe for all eternity. If only one person, who should be saved, is condemned to hell, some sorrow will always remain. Therefore, for as long as even one of Satan’s accusations remains unrefuted, and until all understand that His judgments are always perfect, God delays Christ’s return and, therefore, the implementation of His judgments.

The war in heaven is seldomly mentioned from pulpits. The Bible is mostly concerned with things on earth and does not mention the bigger context of the war in heaven much. Consequently, many Christians are not even aware of it. Nevertheless, it should be clear that evil developed in heaven and was brought to this world (Gen 3:1-5). Since an appreciation of the nature of the war in heaven is critical for the interpretation of the sealed book, the reader is advised to read some of the articles in the series – The Origin of Evil; particularly the article – Why Satan thought he could win against GodThe series of articles on Revelation 12 is also important.

See the series on Revelation 12 for further discussion.

The Same Crisis

Based on this explanation, it can be shown as follows that Revelation 5 and 12 describe the same crisis:

1) Both chapters describe Christ’s death:

In both chapters, (a) the first four verses describe the time BEFORE Christ, (b) the fifth refers to His death, and (c) the rest of both chapters describe the time AFTER His death.

2) Both chapters describe a crisis in heaven because of an inability to understand:

Revelation 5 symbolizes the crisis as a book that nobody is able to open, causing John to weep greatly (Rev 5:1-4).

Revelation 12 describes the crisis as a “war” between the angels of heaven, namely a dispute over God’s judgments and an inability to refute Satan’s accusations and to conclusively show that God’s judgments are always perfect.

3) In both chapters, Christ’s death solved the crisis in heaven BUT NOT ON EARTH:

In Revelation 5, Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book,” turning the sorrow in heaven into joy (Rev 5:4-5) but the war continued on earth, as evidenced by the seals (e.g., Rev 6:9-10).

In Revelation 12, after Christ’s death, Satan and his angels were driven out of heaven (Rev 12:8-9), bringing the war in heaven to an end but the war continued on earth (Rev 12:12-13).

4) In both chapters, the crisis will only finally be resolved through God’s people (Rev 6:9-10; 12:11-12).

In Revelation 12, to “overcame” Satan, required both “the blood of the lamb” and the “testimony” of God’s people, “even when faced with death” (Rev 12:10-11). Similarly, in the vision of the sealed book:

Christ, firstly, became “worthy” to open the book because He “purchased” people for God with His blood (Rev 5:9).

Secondly, He breaks the seals. The fifth seal shows God’s people under the altar crying to God to avenge their “blood” (Rev 6:9-10). By implication, it was their blood that was spilled in the previous seals. Since the book is opened by breaking the seals, it means that the testimony (and consequential deaths) of God’s people are required for that purpose.

The Sealed Book is the Book of Life.

Book of LifeFor these reasons, the sealed book and the “war in heaven” describe the same crisis. Consequently, the war in Revelation 12 helps us to understand the nature of the concealed information in Revelation 5.

In both Revelation 5 and 12, the crisis is caused by a lack of understanding. What Revelation 12 adds is that that lack of understanding relates to God’s judgments. The sealed book in Revelation 5, therefore, symbolizes a dispute about God’s judgments. And since His judgments are contained in the book of life (Rev 21:27; 20:15; Rom 8:13), the sealed book is the book of life.

Further Important Conclusions

The conclusion that the two chapters describe the same crisis also allows us to interpret other aspects of the symbolism of the book with the seven seals:

1) The seven seals – the barriers to understanding God’s judgments – are Satan’s brilliantly presented and informed accusations against the people whom God elected to eternal life.

2) That the book is sealed does not mean that God’s judgments were unknown or not explained but that nobody was able to fully refute Satan and show conclusively that God’s judgments are always perfect.

3) John’s tears (Rev 5:4) represent the sorrow in heaven in the time BEFORE Christ’s victory for, at that time, it seemed as if God would NEVER be able to execute His judgments, that Satan and evil would have to exist for all eternity, and that God’s people will never be resurrected.

4) That Jesus breaks the seals means that He directs events on earth to obtain evidence that Satan’s objections are false.

5) To open and read the book does not mean to learn WHO is saved, but to understand WHY they and only they are saved.

6) God is unable to open the book Himself in the sense that He created intelligent beings who are truly free and HE WANTS His creatures to understand His judgments (cf. John 15:15)! He will not force them to accept His judgments.

7) Until all understand that His judgments are perfect, God delays Christ’s return and the implementation of His judgments.

This section is discussed in more detail in the article – The sealed book in Revelation 5 is the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Why Christ had to Die

This section discusses the significance of Christ’s death as explained by the vision of the sealed book. Before His death, nobody was able to break the seals (Rev 5:3) but, after He appeared as a slain lamb, Jesus Christ was declared “worthy” to do it (Rev 5:5, 9). So, we ask, why was He not “worthy” to break the seals before His death and how did His death make Him “worthy?”

The church has been debating this question – why Jesus had to die – for the last 2000 years. (See – Theories of the Atonement.) In my view, the vision of the sealed book provides the answer but, to my knowledge, my website is the only one that uses this vision for that purpose.

Christ’s Saving Death

In Revelation 5, Jesus is worthy to break the seals BOTH because He “overcame” and because He died (Rev 5:5, 9-10). To “overcome” means TO REMAIN FAITHFUL to God despite temptations (e.g., Rev 2:7, 11, 17; 3:21). So, what made Him worthy – the fact that He died or the fact that He overcame?

To ask the same question in more general terms: What does it mean when the Bible says that we are saved by Christ’s death or by His blood? What about His death is able to save people?

Firstly, we are not saved by His literal blood, but by His death. His blood is simply a symbol of His violent death.

Secondly, we are not saved merely because Jesus died but because He died without sin. That is what Revelation means when it says that He “has overcome” (Rev 5:5; 3:21). If He sinned anywhere during His life, His death would NOT have had any saving power.

Thirdly, His death does not refer merely to the moment of death or to the fact that He died, but to His FINAL HOURS. Those hours were Satan’s final and best opportunity to tempt Jesus to sin.

Jesus could have spoken a word and His tormentors would have died but He allowed Himself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter because He knew that that was God’s will.

What Satan attempted to achieve is that the Son of God would disobey God and glorify Himself before the people by using His powers to save Himself from his agony (cf. Luke 22:42; Matt 27:40; 4:3, 6).

But Jesus overcame. He remained “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10). His death, understood as his final hours, was His highest and final test but also His greatest victory.

Fourthly, His final hours reflect how He overcame THROUGHOUT HIS LIFE. If He disobeyed God AT ANY TIME during His life, His mission would have failed.

Lastly, the significance of the MOMENT of His death was that it was THE END of the test He had to endure. Until He died, the heavenly beings watched the battle between Christ and Satan with bated breath. Since He died without ever disobeying God, the moment of His death was the moment of His final victory.

In conclusion, when the Bible refers to His blood or His death, it really refers to the fact that He remained “faithful until death.” That is what gave His death the power to save.

See HERE for the full discussion.

How did His death make him worthy?

The Cross

Why was the Son of God not “worthy” to break the seals before His death (cf. Rev 5:3, 5)? And how did His death make Him “worthy” to open the book (Rev 5:9)?

Firstly, we should agree that the Son of God was not somehow improved by becoming a human being or by overcoming Satan’s temptations.

Neither did Christ’s death make God more willing or able to forgive, as church tradition claims. The opposite is true: God, the Father, is the driving force behind redemption (e.g., John 3:16; Col 1: 12-14, 1:19-20; 1 Tim 1:1; 2:3-5).

In summary, the detailed article argues as follows:

Satan is the accuser of God’s people (Rev 12:10). He shows that they are sinners. Effectively, Satan accuses God of unfair and arbitrary judgment. It seems as if Satan argues that if he (Satan) is condemned, then God’s people must also be condemned, and vice versa.

Since the Son is the One who breaks the seals of the book (e.g., Rev 6:1), meaning to refute Satan’s accusations, He ALWAYS was Satan’s opponent.

Since Satan’s nature is that of an accuser (cf. Gen 3:3-5; Rev 12:10), we can assume that he also accused the Son. In other words, the Son was un-”worthy” before His victory in the sense that Satan brought accusations against Him.

Since the heavenly beings declared Jesus to be “worthy” BECAUSE HE OVERCAME BY REMAINING FAITHFUL TO DEATH, we may assume that Satan claimed that, given the right circumstances, the Son would also sin, and that, for that reason, He is unworthy for the task of defending God’s grace to sinners.

To be trusted to defend God’s judgments, the Son had to refute Satan’s charges against Himself. For that reason, by becoming a human being, He subjected Himself to a test.

Although tempted in every conceivable way (Heb 4:15), Jesus remained “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10). His death made Him worthy in the sense that His death (understood as His final hours) reflected how He overcame His entire life, refuted Satan’s allegations against Him, and DEMONSTRATED Him as worthy.

So, what changed at the moment of death is that that was the end of the test. He passed the test, demonstrating something about Him that was ALWAYS true.

Now, the universe is fully convinced that Jesus is “the faithful and true Witness” (Rev 3:14), meaning that they trust Him to reveal the truth about God’s judgments.

God wants us to understand. The Son’s life on earth was a test, but it was not for God’s benefit. God knew that His unique Son would remain faithful under all temptations. The test was a demonstration for the benefit of the created beings. (E.g., Rom 3:25-26; Col 2:15). (See – The Cross disarmed the rulers and authorities.)

However, even after the Cross, the book remains sealed. This is explained as follows: Satan brought accusations against both the Son of God and the people of God. Christ’s victory over sin refuted Satan’s accusations against the Son of God. However, while Jesus never sinned, God’s people are all sinners. Christ’s victory, therefore, did not refute Satan’s objections against God’s people – symbolized as the seals with which the book is sealed. The purpose of the article – Why did Christ not yet return? – is to explain this.

See HERE for a further discussion.

God’s creatures are truly free.

Created Free

The previous discussion assumes that God allows His creatures to question His judgments. Many Christians think of God as a dictator, deciding unilaterally who will be saved and who will go to hell.

This website takes the opposite view, namely that the Almighty God desires a universe filled with love. For that reason, He has populated the universe with intelligent creatures who are truly free, for true love is only possible where there is freedom. Love cannot be forced.

But that also means that God has sacrificed a great deal of control over the course of events in the universe. He has limited His own freedom.

Since God’s creatures are free to love, they are also free to rebel against their Creator. They have that freedom without even the fear of punishment, for if we obey because we fear punishment, then we are not really free. (God will eventually destroy evil, but not as punishment for evil done in the PAST. He will destroy evil to protect the FUTURE happiness of the universe.)

The Crisis

When God condemned him (Ezek 28:5, 19), Lucifer criticized God’s judgment, claiming that He judges unfairly. Because of the freedom His creatures have, God allows Satan complete freedom to defend himself.

To suppress this rebellion with force, BEFORE the intelligent creatures understand the true nature of the rebellion, would only serve to confirm to them Satan’s accusations that we do not have real freedom, and that God judges unilaterally. For that reason, God allows time and provides evidence of the perfect accuracy of His judgments. That is what the sealed book of Revelation is all about. God’s intelligent beings must decide for themselves whether Satan’s accusations are true. The controversy can only be resolved on the basis of evidence.

Consistent with the principle of complete freedom, the One through whom God created all things (e.g., Col 1:16-17), works in the weakness of a slain lamb (Rev 5:6). This is how God rules the universe. He is infinitely powerful but exercises that power through self-sacrificial love.

For a further discussion:

Revelation 5

This section is a summary of the article – Revelation 5; verse by verse. But it also serves as a summary of the previous conclusions.

The Sealed Book (5:1)

This chapter begins with the sealed book in God’s right hand (Rev 5:1).

The sealed book has been interpreted as the book of God’s judgments (the book of life) and the seals as Satan’s informed accusations against God’s elect.

God’s judgments are known. “Sealed up,” therefore, means that, due to Satan’s accusations, even God’s loyal angels are unable to fully refute Satan’s allegations of unfair judgment.

No one is worthy (5:2-3).

A search is made but no one is found “worthy to open the book
and to break its seals” (Rev 5:2-3).

The Son of God defended God’s people and God’s judgments. As part of Satan’s strategy to discredit God’s judgments, Satan was able to create a level of doubt in the minds of the created universe about the trustworthiness of the Son. In that sense, before His death, not even the Son was not regarded as “worthy” to open the book.

Great Sorrow (5:4)

John began “to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it” (Rev 5:4). John’s weeping symbolizes the great sorrow in God’s creation caused by the inability to conclusively prove the perfection of God’s judgments because, for as long as Satan’s objections to God’s judgments remain unrefuted, God delays Christ’s return and evil must continue to reign over the world.

Jesus Overcame (5:5-6)

But then one of the elders said to John:

“Stop weeping … the Lion
that is from the tribe of Judah
(Jesus Christ) …
has overcome so as to open the book
and its seven seals
” (Rev 5:5).

And I saw between the throne … and the elders
a Lamb standing, as if slain” (Rev 5:6).

HOW did Jesus overcome?

Overcome” means to be “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10); to maintain your testimony “even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11). People are not persecuted for their faith, but for their testimony.

Jesus overcame throughout His life. But His highest test and greatest victory were the hours preceding His death. He remained “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10).

WHY did overcoming make the Son worthy?

Satan claimed that even the Son would sin, given the right circumstances. By remaining faithful to God despite all temptations which Satan put in His path, the Son refuted all of Satan’s accusations against Him personally. Now, the Son is trusted as “the faithful and true Witness” (Rev 3:14) to reveal the true nature of God’s people.

WHEN does Jesus appear in the throne room?

In verse 6, Jesus appears as a slain lamb. That symbolism explains HOW he overcame, namely at the cross as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Revelation 5:5-6, therefore, describes Christ’s ascension to heaven. (See here for more.) Consequently:

      • Revelation 5:1-4 and John’s weeping describe the time BEFORE Christ’s death.
      • The remainder of Revelation 5 describes events in heaven immediately AFTER Christ’s ascension.

The Lion and the Lamb

John hears about a lion (Rev 5:5) but when he looks, He sees a lamb (Rev 5:6). These animals seem like opposites, but reflect two different roles of the same person; Jesus Christ. He “has overcome;” not by using His lion-like power but by restraining His power and, like a lamb, by offering up His life. However, He will return as a lion (Rev 6:16-17).

Sent out in all the world

Before Jesus appeared in the throne room, “the seven Spirits of God” were “before the throne” (Rev 4:5) but, now they are “sent out into all the earth” (Rev 5:6). In the context of a slain lamb, this points to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:33; cf. John 14:26).

Christ’s Enthronement (5:7-14)

Jesus “came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne” (Rev 5:7). This has been interpreted above as Jesus’ enthronement after His ascension. The New Testament frequently states that Jesus sat down “at the right hand of God” (e.g., Eph 1:20; Rom 8:34).

Christ does not open the book immediately. He will break the seals over the church age. The reason is that He, by overcoming, did not refute Satan’s objections against God’s elect. Before His death, the war in heaven was at a stalemate and it seems as if evil will have to exist forever. But His death brought a breakthrough because it showed Jesus to be “worthy” to break the seals (Rev 5:9).

You were slain.

The heavenly beings sang “a new song” (Rev 5:9) because something new has happened. They sang to Jesus:

You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).

The Cross of ChristAs argued above, Christ’s blood symbolizes His death. His death refers not only to when He breathed His last but to His final hours. During those hours the tempter inflicted the most severe torment and temptation possible on Him, but He overcame; just like He lived His entire life in obedience to God.

Praise and Worship

The chapter concludes with “myriads of myriads” angels praising “the Lamb that was slain” (Rev 5:11-12), followed by “every created thing” saying:

To Him who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb,
be blessing and honor and glory and
dominion forever and ever.

And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen’. And the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Rev 5:13-14)

First Four Seals

The White Horse

When the Lamb broke one of the seven seals …
and behold, a white horse,
and he who sat on it had a bow;
and a crown was given to him,
and he went out conquering and to conquer
(Rev 6:1-2).

The Parthians

In the preterist interpretation of critical scholars, the first seal describes the Parthians, a first-century enemy of the Roman Empire, who rode on white horses. However, the seals symbolize spiritual realities; not literal things such as horses. Furthermore, this horse “went out conquering and to conquer.” This implies that it will never stop conquering. Therefore, it symbolizes events leading up to the second coming. It cannot be limited to the beginning of the church age, as the Parthian interpretation does.

The Gospel

For the following reasons, the white horse symbolizes the gospel:

1) The color of the horse is white and, in Revelation, the color white always refers to the things of Christ (e.g., Rev 1:14; 2:17; 3:4-5; 6:11).

2) This rider receives a crown. A diadem crown symbolizes a ruler’s authority (e.g., Rev 19:12) but this rider receives a stephanos crown, which is always associated with Christ and His people (e.g., Phil 4:1; 1 Thess 2:19; 2 Tim 4:8; Rev 12:1).

3) This horse and rider “went out conquering and to conquer.” In the seals, the Greek words for conquering, which are also translated as “overcome,” refer to Christ and his people (Rev 3:21 and 5:5).

4) Furthermore, in the Greek, “conquering and in order that he might conquer” is the most continuous expression possible, meaning that the white horse will never stop conquering. Such an expression fits the gospel because God’s people will suffer but never stop testifying (cf. Rev 2:10; 12:11).

5) In the Synoptic Apocalypse, (Matt 24) Jesus predicted that the church age would be a period of (a) gospel preaching, (b) war, (c) famine, (d) pestilence, and (e) persecution of His people. We see the same things in the seals, implying that the seals also describe the church age. But if the rider on the white horse is not the gospel, then the gospel would be missing in the seals.

6) The other rider on a white horse in Revelation is explicitly Jesus Christ (Rev 19:12).

The Antichrist

In the view of probably most interpreters today, the rider on the white horse is a counterfeit of Christ; mostly because all the other horses bring plagues. However, the arguments above show sufficiently that this rider symbolizes the gospel. Furthermore:

1) When something is a counterfeit, Revelation does not leave us in doubt (cf. Rev 13:11) and there is no direct indication in the text that the rider of the white horse is evil or causes affliction.

2) The white horse will continue conquering until everything is conquered but the Antichrist will be utterly defeated when it is destroyed in the lake of fire (Rev 19:20).

Conclusion

The white horse represents the proclamation of the gospel, beginning with the enthronement of Christ in heaven (Rev 5) and until He returns. That implies that the next three horsemen portray the consequences of gospel preaching.

The four horsemen form a unit.

As indicated by the following, the four horsemen symbolize one thing that consists of parts:

1) All four are horsemen.

2) Seals 2, 3, and 4 symbolize sword, famine, and pestilence. The Old Testament uses these curses as a single expression of judgment. For example, “My four severe judgments … sword, famine, wild beasts and plague” (Ezek 14:21).

3) The Synoptic Apocalypse (Matt 24), when it predicts the nature of the church age, mentions the same things that we find in the four horsemen but describes them as characteristics of the ENTIRE church age; rather than as consecutive events.

4) The grammar of the white horse is extremely continuous and ongoing (Rev 6:2), implying that it covers the entire church age.

5) The fourth seal includes the bloodshed and famine of seals 2 and 3.

6) Revelation has seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowl plagues. As discussed in another article, the first four of each of these sevens are general and should not be individually interpreted.

Conclusion

Since the white horse represents the proclamation of the gospel over the church age, and since the four horsemen form a unit, symbolizing one thing consisting of parts, the next three horsemen symbolize the consequences of gospel preaching.

The full article is available at – Seals 2 to 4 form a unit.

The Red Horse

When He broke the second seal
a red horse, went out;
and to him who sat on it,
it was granted to take peace from the earth,
and that men would slay one another;
and a great sword was given to him” (Rev 6:3-4).

The rider of the red horse has a sword and causes men to “slay one another.” This may refer to general violence. However, for the following reasons, the slaying in the second seal is likely the slaying of God’s people when the gospel is rejected:

1) Since the four horsemen form a unit, the bloodshed of the second must be the consequence of the first, which is the gospel.

2) The Greek word for the rider’s “sword” refers to a smaller weapon used for close-in combat OR FOR SACRIFICE.

3) The fifth seal shows “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9). They are UNDER the altar (Rev 6:9; 18:24), meaning that they have been symbolically sacrificed ON the altar. This makes it evident that many of God’s people were martyred in the first four seals.

4) The word translated “slay” in the second seal is the same Greek word for “slay” as in the fifth seal and it is the primary word used for animal sacrifice in the Greek Old Testament.

As Jesus said:

A time is coming when anyone who kills you
will think he is offering a service to God

(John 16:2, NIV).

The Black Horse

When He broke the third seal
behold, a black horse;
and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.
… a voice … saying,

‘A quart of wheat for a denarius,
and three quarts of barley for a denarius;
and do not damage the oil and the wine.’” (Rev 6:5-6)

This rider has a pair of scales. In times of scarcity, the quantity of things being bought or sold is measured very accurately. To do that, one requires a scale. Since this seal emphasizes food, the scale symbolizes a shortage of food; i.e., famine conditions.

This is confirmed by the “voice,” which sets very high prices for wheat and barley. Based on the quoted prices, it would cost a person his whole day’s wage to buy enough wheat for one day for one person.

For the following reasons, this lack of food can be interpreted symbolically as a famine of the Word of God; a time when the word of God may be hard to find or poorly understood:

1) Since the four horsemen form a unit, this famine must be the consequence of the second seal, namely of the persecution of the people who proclaim God’s word.

2) This horse is black. In the sixth seal, black is the opposite of the light of the sun (Rev 6:12). Since the sun may symbolize the gospel (John 3:18-21), the black horse may represent THE ABSENCE OF THE GOSPEL.

3) The Bible often uses food in a spiritual sense. For example, Jesus is, “the bread of life” (John 6:35).

The Ashen Horse

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal …
behold, an ashen horse;
and he who sat on it had the name Death;
and Hades was following with him.
Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth,
to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence
and by the wild beasts of the earth. (Rev 6:7-8)

The color of the fourth horse (ashen or pale) is the color of a very sick person; on the verge of death.

The name of the fourth horseman is Death. He is death personified. Hades, which is the dwelling place of the dead, followed after him. As in human experience, the grave follows after death. This seal personifies Death as an executioner and Hades as an undertaker.

The fourth horse has both the sword of the second seal and the famine of the third but adds to them pestilence and the beasts of the earth. It, therefore, combines and intensifies the second and third seals.

Since the four horsemen form a unit, the death in the fourth seal must be the consequence of the spiritual famine of the previous seal. It is, therefore, interpreted as spiritual death; permanent exclusion from mercy; the frightful consequence for people who have chosen to exclude God from their lives.

Zechariah’s Colored Horses

Zechariah’s visions also have colored horses and sound very similar to the four horsemen of Revelation 6. However, Zechariah’s horses serve as scouts and signify God’s awareness of what is happening on earth, compared to the four horsemen of the Apocalypse who actively bring the gospel and then major calamities. (Zech 1:8; 10-12; 14-16; 6:1-8) Because of these differences, Zechariah’s horses do not help us to explain the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

For more detail, see – Zechariah’s Colored Horses.

Conclusion: First Four Seals

As discussed elsewhere, the Synoptic Apocalypse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) divides history into three great parts. Revelation 6 follows the same pattern. In this pattern, the first four seals describe the church age:

1) The white horse, which will never stop conquering, is the gospel.

2) The red horse symbolizes the persecution of God’s people when they proclaim the gospel. William Tyndale, for example, was the first to translate the Bible into English and was burnt to death at the stake.

3) The black horse is a famine for the Word of God that follows when the people who proclaim the word of God are persecuted and killed. During the Dark Ages, the church burned Bibles along with their owners.

4) Lastly, the ashen horse is spiritual death; the frightful permanent exclusion from mercy.

The bloodshed, famine, and death of seals 2 to 4, therefore, are the consequences of the preaching of God’s word. The full article is available at – The four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The Fifth Seal

This section is a summary of the article – The souls under the altar.

6:9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal,
I saw underneath the altar
the souls of those who had been slain
because of the word of God, and
because of the testimony which they had maintained;
10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying,

“How long, O Lord, holy and true,
will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood
on those who dwell on the earth?”

11 And there was given to each of them a white robe;
and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer,
until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren
who were to be killed even as they had been,
would be completed also.

A General Principle

The souls under the altar cry out for revenge (Rev 6:10). In response, they receive white robes (Rev 6:11). Is this a specific event at a specific point in time or a general principle?

God’s people would not seek revenge, as they are symbolized to do in the fifth seal. Rather, like Jesus and Stephan, they would say:

Father, forgive them; for they do not know
what they are doing
” (Luke 23:34)!

This, therefore, is not a literal cry for revenge. Rather, similar to Abel’s blood that cried out to God from the ground (Gen 4:10), their cry for revenge symbolizes the general principle that God is aware of the injustice to His people and His desire to set things right. It is not something that happens at a specific point in time.

Since their cry is not a specific event, by implication, receiving white robes is also not a specific event. Rather, it is also a general principle, namely that, during the church age:

They will … kill you, and
you will be hated by all nations because of My name. …
But the one who endures to the end,
he will be saved
” (Matt 24:9-11).

Are the souls under the altar alive?

The reference in this seal to souls under the altar is often used to support the popular belief that believers go to heaven in a bodiless state when they die. However, for the following reasons, this must NOT be interpreted literally:

1) In the Old Testament sacrificial rituals, the blood of the sacrificial animals was “poured out” at the base of the altar (e.g., Exo 29:12; Lev 9:9; Rev 16:6). The fifth seal converts this ritual into a metaphor: God’s people are symbolically sacrificed ON the altar. They are not under a literal altar.

2) The same “souls” who are under the altar in the fifth seal “CAME TO LIFE” when Christ returns (Rev 20:4). In other words, they are not alive today.

3) They are told to “REST” for a while longer (Rev 6:11). “Rest” implies that they are currently inactive. “Rest” is also a synonym for death. For example, an angel said to Daniel: “You will enter into REST and RISE AGAIN … at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13). And those who have died in the Lord “rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them” (Rev 14:13).

4) According to Revelation 6:11, the souls under the altar receive white robes (i.e., confirmation of salvation) NOT while alive or at death but “a little while” before Christ returns. Literally interpreted, since they have not yet received their white robes at death, they cannot go to heaven at death.

The idea that humans consist of two parts – a physical body and an immaterial soul – comes from Greek philosophy. In the Bible, the soul refers to the entire human being (cf. Gen 2:7; 1 Cor 14:45). (See the articles on Death and Eternal Torment.)

In the view of this website, the dead sleep. My mother died recently. From my perspective, she sleeps. But from her perspective, according to her experience, she is already awake and with her loved ones. From the experience of a person who dies, she or he is IMMEDIATELY AWAKE AFTER DEATH. Therefore, Paul could say, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21)!

For a further discussion, see – Souls under the altar.

Completed in Character

The souls under the altar are told:

Rest for a little while longer,
until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren
who were to be killed even as they had been,
would be completed also” (Rev 6:11).

This does not mean that a specific number of God’s people must be “killed” before Christ may return. Rather, it means that God’s people will be “completed” QUALITATIVELY IN CHARACTER. This is justified as follows:

a) This translation adds the words “number of” but there is no such phrase in the original Greek.

b) Would a God of love arbitrarily decree that a fixed number of people must suffer and die before He would intervene?

c) Both the souls under the altar and the innumerable multitude are clothed in white robes (Rev 6:11; 7:9). They are, therefore, the same people. But the innumerable multitude “NO ONE COULD COUNT” (Rev 7:9). The number, therefore, is not important.

d) Elsewhere, Revelation informs us that God’s end-time people will be spiritually mature. This supports the proposal that “completed” should be understood qualitatively, namely that God’s people must be completed in character. For example, in an end-time context:

His bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7-8).

The 144000 are sealed on their foreheads, namely, in their thinking, with the name (the character) of God (Rev 7:3-4; 14:1).

It is said of the 144000 that “no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Rev 14:4-5).

Jesus will “reap” when “the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is RIPE” (Rev 14:15).

God’s end-time people will not be without sin, but they will be completely loyal to God as David apparently was despite his many flaws (1 Kings 11:4-6).

The fifth seal is discussed in more detail when we discuss the sealing of the 144000 (Rev 7:1-3) because, as it will be argued, that sealing begins in the fifth seal.

The Sixth Seal

This section is a summary of the article – The sixth seal.

Rev 6:12 I looked when He broke the sixth seal,

and there was a great earthquake;
and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair,
and the whole moon became like blood;
13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth,
as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.
14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up,
and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave
and free man hid themselves in the caves
and among the rocks of the mountains;

16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks,

“Fall on us and hide us
from the presence of Him who sits on the throne,
and from the wrath of the Lamb;
17 for the great day of their wrath has come,
and who is able to stand?”

After He arrived in heaven after His ascension, Jesus received a book that was sealed up with seven seals (Rev 5:1, 7). Consequently, He breaks the seals over the church age.

Each time that He breaks a seal, something happens on earth. The sixth seal consists of two parts:

Part 1

The natural catastrophes of Revelation 6:12-14 include:

      • A great earthquake that moves all mountains and islands from their places, and
      • Signs in the sun, moon, stars, and heaven. Jesus said that these are the signs of His return (Matt 24:29-30).

Part 2

Revelation 6:15-17 describes the response of the people who refused to repent.  Apparently, Christ has already returned because the people of the world were more scared of Him than of this earthquake, for they attempted to hide from Him in the rocks and caves of the mountains (Rev 6:15-17). They cried out:

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

To be able to stand means to be right with God when Christ returns (Luke 21:36; 1 John 2:28).

After an interruption describing the sealing of God’s end-time people (the 144000 – Rev 7:1-8), the sixth seal continues in Revelation 7:9 with a description of the people who will be “able to stand.” In other words, part 2 of the sixth seal describes the people of the world divided into these two great multitudes:

      • Those who refused to repent attempt to hide from Him (Rev 6:17) and
      • The innumerable multitude who is able to stand before Him (Rev 7:9). 

Not Literal

Literally interpreted, in the sixth seal, everything in heaven and on earth is destroyed. But we should not interpret these things literally. For example, even after the stars have fallen on the earth, and all mountains have been moved out of their places, the unrepentant people are still alive and able to hide in the mountains.

In other words, it is not a real earthquake and the sun is not literally darkened. These are all symbols. The great earthquake, moving the mountains and islands out of their places symbolizes some great upheaval on earth, which may include some natural catastrophes, such as an acceleration of climate change.

Overview of the End-Time Events

The purpose of the next section is to show where the sixth and seventh seals fit in the end-time events. To serve as basis for that discussion, this section provides an overview of the end-time events in Revelation 13 to 20:

End-Time Persecution

The end-time persecution is described in Revelation 13. An image of the beast will attempt to force all people, with threats of violence, to receive the mark of the beast “on their right hand or on their forehead” (Rev 13:14-17). But God’s people, symbolized as 144,000, will refuse. In place of the mark of the beast, “on their foreheads” (Rev 7:3), they will receive “the seal of the living God” (Rev 7:2), which is “His name (Jesus’ name) and the name of His Father written on their foreheads” (Rev 14:1).

The description of that end-time persecution ends in 14:13 and goes over to the return of Christ (Rev 14:14-20), when blood will flow “out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred” (Rev 14:20).

The Seven Last Plagues

The seven last plagues, as described in Revelation 16, jump back to the time before Christ’s return because it describes the people with the mark of the beast (Rev 16:2) as still refusing to repent (Rev 16:9, 11, 21). The plagues begin to fall at a point in time during the end-time persecution when all people have been marked either with the mark of the beast or the seal of God.

In the sixth plague, demon spirits gather the kings of the world together at Armageddon for “the war of the great day of God” (Rev 16:14, 16). This is not the war of Armageddon itself; only the preparation for it.

The seventh and final plague is the destruction of Babylon (Rev 16:19). After Revelation 17 and 18 interrupted the seventh plague, it continues in Revelation 19 where “a great multitude in heaven” praises God because “He has judged the great harlot” (Rev 19:1-2; cf. Rev 16:19).

Christ’s Return

Revelation 19 ends with Christ’s return (Rev 19:11-20:6). The seventh plague, therefore, is followed by or continues into the return of Christ.

Three Stages

In summary, Revelation 13 to 19 represents the end-time events as consisting of three broad phases:

      1. The end-time persecution (Rev 13-14),
      2. The seven last plagues (Rev 16), and
      3. Christ returns (Rev 14:14-20; 19:11-20:6).

The Sixth Seal is Christ’s Return.

So, where does the sixth seal fit in this sequence of events? Under the following headings, it is argued below that the sixth seal is Christ’s return:

      • The sixth seal is later than the seven last plagues.
      • The sixth seal separates the Living from the Dead (which will happen when Christ returns).
      • Matthew 24:29-30 explains the sixth seal (and states that they will “see the Son of man coming”).
      • The sixth seal is the Day of the Lord, and the Day of the Lord is Christ’s return.
      • The sixth seal is “the great day” and that “great day” is described by Revelation 19:19 – during Christ’s return.

1) Later than the Seven Last Plagues

The sixth seal is later than the sixth plague because in both we find the phrase “the great day” but, while the sixth plague is the PREPARATION for “the war of the great day” (Rev 16:14), in the sixth seal, that “great day … has (ALREADY) come” (Rev 6:17).

The sixth seal is also later than the seventh plague because, in the seventh plague, the people still refuse to repent (Rev 16:21; cf. Rev 16:9, 11). The sixth seal must be later because, in it, they attempt to hide in the mountains from “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 6:15-17).

2) Separates the Living from the Dead

As discussed above, the sixth seal divides the people of the world between the living and the dead:

      • Those who refused to repent hide from Him (Rev 6:17) and
      • The innumerable multitude stands before Him (Rev 7:9). 

This is what Jesus said He will do when He returns, “as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt 25:31-32).

3) Matthew 24:29-30 explains the sixth seal.

Fourthly, Matthew 24:29-30 bears a striking resemblance to the two parts of the sixth seal. While verse 29 is parallel to the first part of the sixth seal, describing the signs in the sun, moon, stars, and heavens, verse 30 is parallel to the second part of the sixth seal because it describes the response of “all the tribes of the earth” as mourning. But verse 30 explicitly states that they will mourn when they “see the Son of man coming” (cf. Luke 21:25-28; Mark 13).

4) The sixth seal is the Day of the Lord.

Fifthly, the many similarities between the sixth seal and the Old Testament Day of the Lord identify the sixth seal as that great day. The similarities include:

      • The darkening of the sun, moon, and stars (Isaiah 13:10; Zeph 1:15; Joel 2:1-2, 31; 3:14-15);
      • A huge earthquake (Isaiah 13:13);
      • People hiding “in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains” (Rev 6:15-16; Isa 2:19).

So, the sixth seal is the Old Testament Day of the Lord but, in the New Testament, that day becomes Christ’s return. For example:

After Paul describes what will happen when Christ returns, he refers to it as “the day of the Lord” (1 Thess 4:15-17; 5:2).

Elsewhere, Paul equates “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” to “the day of the Lord” (2 Thess 2:1-2).

Paul also describes the day of judgment as “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7-8), “the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:5), and “the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6, 10).

Consequently, the sixth seal is the Day of the Lord, and the Day of the Lord is Christ’s return.

5) The sixth seal is “the great day.”

Since the seventh plague continues in Revelation 19 and since all ‘sinners’ are killed by the end of that chapter (Rev 19:21), the sixth seal must describe an event somewhere in Revelation 19. Beginning in Revelation 19:11, that chapter describes Christ’s return. As part of that, John saw:

The kings of the earth and their armies assembled
to make war against Him who sat on the horse
” (Rev 19:19).

For the following reasons, I propose that this (19:19) and the multitude hiding in the mountains in the sixth seal (Rev 6:15-17) describe the same event and the same people:

Both describe all the people of the world as gathered. Revelation 19:18 describes them as “all men.”

Both are “the great day.” In the sixth seal, the people are hiding because “the great day of their wrath has come” (Rev 6:17). The only other place in Revelation where we find the phrase “great day” is in the sixth plague, where demons gather “the kings of the whole world” at Armageddon (Rev 16:14, 16) to prepare them for “the war of the great day of God.” Since 19:19 describes the kings of the earth and their armies as gathered together (assembled) “to make war,” that is the “great day” for which the demons gathered the kings (Rev 16:14) and which “has come” in the sixth seal.

The First Part of the Sixth Seal

So, the sixth seal describes a moment during Christ’s return when the people who refused to repent realize that there is no escape from a dreadful fate (Rev 19:17-19). However, as discussed, the sixth seal consists of two parts. Do both parts describe Christ’s return?

For the following reasons, it is proposed that the first part of the sixth seal is the seven last plagues that precede Christ’s return:

Firstly, since the second part of the seal is the response of unrepentant humanity to the massive natural catastrophes in the first part, they may describe two different events.

Secondly, both the natural catastrophes and the seven last plagues are the revenge promised to the souls in the fifth seal (Rev 6:10-11). To explain:

The natural catastrophes in the first part of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14) may be understood as that promised revenge because they follow immediately after the fifth seal.

However, Revelation 19:2 indicates that God will fulfill that promise of revenge through the judgment on Babylon, and that judgment is the seventh plague (Rev 16:19). Furthermore, Revelation 16:5-6 indicates that the third plague is also part of that revenge. Therefore, all seven plagues are that revenge.

Thirdly, both the seventh plague and the natural catastrophes begin with “a great earthquake” (Rev 6:12; 16:18) and conclude with the destruction of “every mountain and island” (Rev 6:12; 16: 20).

For these reasons, it is proposed that the first part of the sixth seal is the seven last plagues and the second part is the subsequent return of Christ.

The Seventh Seal

So, what is the seventh seal? The seventh seal is very brief. It is only a single verse and says “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Rev 8:1). Therefore, it must be understood relative to the context. Since the second part of the sixth seal describes a point in time during Christ’s return, when the people realize that they are doomed (Rev 19:17-19), another article interprets the silence of the seventh seal as the sorrow in God’s heart and in the hearts of His people when God’s enemies are put to death in Revelation 19:20-21.

The Sealing
Revelation 7:1-3

The first verse uses symbols to describe God as “holding back” destruction:

1 After this I saw four angels
standing at the four corners of the earth,
holding back the four winds of the earth,
so that no wind would blow
on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.

In the next verse, the seal of the living God arrives on earth:

2 And I saw another angel ascending
from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God;

Then the angel announces WHEN that destruction will be released on earth: 

and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels
to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea
3 saying,

“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees
UNTIL we have sealed the bond-servants of our God
on their foreheads.

This explains why God is delaying Christ’s return.

Table of Contents

This section summarizes three articles:

      1. Where does the sealing (Rev 7:1-8) fit in the end-time events?
      2. What is the seal which God’s end-time servants will receive?
      3. God’s people are sealed during Daniel’s Time of the End.

These are discussed below under the following headings:

      1. Introduction
      2. Where the sealing fits in the end-time events.
      3. This seal is for the end-time only.
      4. The seal will empower God’s people to remain faithful.
      5. The sealing begins with the fifth seal.
      6. Sealed during the time of the end.
      7. Overview

1) Introduction

FOUR

The number “four” in the “four angels,” the “four corners of the earth,” and the “four winds” (Rev 7:1) symbolize that these things are worldwide. For example, Revelation often uses four synonyms to describe the entire population of the world (e.g., Rev 10:11; 13:7; 14:6).

Earth, Sea, and Trees

The four angels keep the four winds from blowing “on the earth or on the sea or on any tree” (Rev 7:1). The earth and sea symbolize the people of the world (e.g., Rev 12:12; 13:1, 11), but the trees represent God’s people (Rev 9:4). For that reason, the “four winds” are allowed to “harm the earth and the sea” but not the trees (Rev 7:2).

Holding Back

The “four angels” symbolize God “holding back” the forces of destruction  (Rev 7:1). That is not one specific event. God has ALWAYS been restraining the forces of destruction. In contrast, verses 2 and 3 do portray one specific event, namely, when God sends “the seal of the living God” to earth.

We are also told that, as soon as all His people are sealed, God will release the “four winds,” meaning to allow unprecedented destruction. When that time comes, God’s people must be protected by His seal. For that reason, God continues to hold back the forces of destruction until His “bond-servants” are sealed (Rev 7:2-3). In other words; until they are ready.

The Rising of the Sun

The angel ascends “from the rising of the sun” with the seal of God (Rev 7:2). In other words, the angel comes up in the east like the sun or the moon. The sign of the Son of man will also first appear in the east (Matt 24:27-30; cf. Ezek 43:2; Matt 2:2, 9).

2) Where does the sealing fit?

Purpose

Four angels are instructed to hold back the four winds until all of God’s people (symbolically, the 144000) are sealed on their foreheads with the seal of God. As soon as they are all sealed, the four winds of end-time destruction will be released (Rev 7:1-3). The purpose of this section is to determine where this sealing fits in the end-time events as described in Revelation 13 to 16.

The End-Time Persecution

Revelation 13:11-18 describes the end-time persecution of God’s people. The beast from the earth (also called “the false prophet” – cf. Rev 16:13) will convince the people of the world to create an image of the beast (Rev 13:14). In other words, an end-time replica will be made of the persecuting system symbolized by the beast.

This image will attempt to force all people, with threats of death (Rev 13:15; 14:13), to accept the mark of the beast “on their right hand or on THEIR FOREHEAD” (Rev 13:16-17).

144,000 in Revelation 14

Next, Revelation 14 describes the people who refuse to accept the mark of the beast. Instead of the beast’s mark, they have on their foreheads “His (Jesus’) name and the name of His Father” (Rev 14:1).

Since both are 144000 in number (Rev 14:1), the 144000 in Revelation 7, who receive the seal of God (Rev 7:4), are the same as the 144000 in Revelation 14.

Since the 144000 have both “the seal of the living God” and “His name and the name of His Father” on their foreheads (Rev 7:2-3; 14:1), the seal of God is God’s name.

Sealed During Persecution

The Revelation 13-persecution will divide humanity into two classes:

      1. Those with the mark of the beast and
      2. Those with the seal of God of people.

This statement is justified as follows:

1) The text mentions the mark of the beast and the seal of God TOGETHER (Rev 13:16-17; 14:1) IN THE CONTEXT of the end-time persecution (13:11-14:13).

2) Both the mark of the beast and the seal of God are NAMES ON FOREHEADS.

3) While the 144000 are described in Revelation 14:1 AFTER the Revelation-13-persecution, in Revelation 15:2 they are mentioned BEFORE the plagues begin to fall in Revelation 16.

God’s people, therefore, will be sealed (Rev 7:1-8) DURING AND THROUGH the Revelation-13-persecution. In other words, they are NOT sealed to protect them during that time of persecution, but to protect them for what follows AFTER that persecution!

The Seven Last Plagues

The description of this end-time persecution ends in 14:13 and is followed by the return of Christ (Rev 14:14-20), when a sea of blood (of the people with the mark of the beast) will flow “out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred” (Rev 14:20; cf. Rev 19:21).

However, the seven last plagues, as described in Revelation 15-16, jump back to the time BEFORE His return because they describe the people with the mark of the beast still refusing to repent (Rev 16:2, 9, 11, 21).

The Victorious Ones

These seven last plagues are described in Revelation 16. God initiates those plagues in Revelation 15. That chapter, therefore, describes events and conditions AT THE BEGINNING of the seven last plagues:

It describes God’s people as “those who had been victorious over the beast” (Rev 15:2). They, therefore, are the people who have resisted the efforts of the beast to put the mark of the beast on them. In other words, these victorious ones are the 144000!

John saw “those who had been victorious over the beast” (Rev 15:2). By implication, he saw ALL of them. This means that, at the point in history represented by Revelation 15, which is when the plagues begin to fall, all of “the bond-servants of our God” have ALREADY been sealed (Rev 7:3).

No Switching of Sides

This conclusion is confirmed by the observation that there will be no switching of sides after the plagues began to fall:

      • NONE of the people with the mark of the beast will repent (Rev 16:9, 11, 21) and
      • The term “seal of God” implies that the eternal destiny of the sealed people has been permanently settled. Therefore, NONE of them will fall away during the plagues.

Since there will be NO switching of sides after the plagues began to fall, and since Revelation 15 describes the point in history when God sends forth the seven last plagues (Rev 15:7-16:1), we are further able to conclude that the seven last plagues will begin to fall as soon as EVERY person on earth is marked EITHER with the mark of the beast or the seal of God.

Further Conclusions

1) Since the end-time persecution of Revelation 13-14 will divide the people of the world into these two groups, the persecution of God’s people will continue during the seven last plagues (cf. Rev 16:13).

2) Since BOTH the seven last plagues and the four winds will be released as soon as God’s people are all sealed, the four winds are the same as the seven last plagues.

3) The purpose of God’s seal is to protect God’s people during the plagues; not during the Revelation 13-persecution.

4) Since the sealing describes the time BEFORE the sixth seal, and since the “four winds” will be released as soon as all God’s people are sealed, the first part of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14) is the same as the four winds and as the seven last plagues.

For the full article, see – Where does the sealing (Rev 7:1-8) fit in the end-time events?

3) This seal is for the end-time ONLY.

In this section, the question is what the seal of God in Revelation 7 is. According to the apostle Paul, people are sealed at conversion with or by “the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph 1:13; Eph 4:30; 2 Cor 1:22; cf. 1 John 4:13). In other words, that seal was available throughout the church age. However, for the reasons below, the seal of God in Revelation 7 is something that ONLY END-TIME BELIEVERS will receive to protect them during end-time catastrophes preceding Christ’s returns:

1) The seal is given to people who ALREADY are Christians (Rev 7:3).

2) The sealing (Rev 7:1-3) is parallel to Ezekiel 9:1-7. In both, (a) a mark is made on the foreheads of God’s people (b) to protect them from the judgment that follows. Since, in Ezekiel 9, people who are ALREADY faithful to God are marked on their foreheads, the same should apply in Revelation 7.

3) The seal protects against a danger that does not exist in previous ages, namely the four winds, interpreted as the seven last plagues.

4) The seal in Revelation 7 has a different purpose. The purpose of the seal mentioned by Paul is to provide assurance to God’s people but the purpose of the seal in Revelation 7 is to protect God’s people from the tribulations to come (cf. Rev 9:4).

5) The seal Paul wrote about was always available but the seal in Revelation 7 was not. It “ascends” in the east after the angels have already been holding back the four winds for some time.

6) Revelation mentions the seal of God in two chapters and BOTH chapters mention it in the context of the end-time, namely, in the context of the great day of God’s wrath (Rev 6:17-7:2) and the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16-14:1).

The seal in Revelation 7, therefore, is not the same as the seal Paul wrote about. It is something additional that only end-time believers will receive to protect them when the winds (the seven last plagues) are released.

For the full article, see – The seal is for the end-time only.

4) To Empower God’s People

But HOW will it protect God’s people? One possibility is that the seal serves to IDENTIFY God’s people so that the angels would not pour out the plagues on them (Rev 16:2). But, for the following reasons, the seal should be understood as power from God to enable God’s people to remain faithful to God during the destructions caused by the seven last plagues:

1) The seal is God’s name on the foreheads of His people (Rev 7:3; 14:1). Since names in Revelation symbolize character (cf. Rev 17:3, 5) and since the forehead symbolizes the mind, to put the name of God on their foreheads is to change how they think; they like God. They will have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).

(Similarly, the mark of the beast is the name of the beast on the foreheads of people (Rev 13:16-17). They have the beast’s character!)

2) Even in the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1), “His name will be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:4). This is the seal of God but indicates that it is something more than mere identification because then EVERYBODY will have His name on their foreheads.

3) During the second part of the fifth seal “their fellow servants” will be “completed” (Rev 6:11). That completion has been interpreted NOT quantitively to a specific number but that God’s people must be completed qualitative to spiritual maturity. Since another article has shown that the sealing (Rev 7:1-3) is equivalent to that completion, the sealing must also be to spiritual maturity.

4) Revelation indicates several times that Christ will only return when His people have become spiritually mature. For example, He will return (Rev 19:11) after “His bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7-8; cf. Rev 14:15). Another article concluded similarly that the number 144000 is not literal but also symbolizes the spiritual maturity of God’s end-time people.

5) The “four winds,” for which God’s people are sealed, are interpreted as the seven last plagues and one purpose of the plagues is to show that the people with the seal of God would rather die than disobey God. This also implies that the seal of God is more than mere identification.

Rick Joyner, in his book, “The Call,” explains the seal of God well. Quoting Jesus, Rick wrote:

The last-day church will not be greater than Paul’s generation, even if she does greater works. All that is done is done by My grace. However, I will make more of My grace and power available to the last-day church, because she must accomplish more than the church in any age has yet accomplished.

Last-day believers will walk in all the power that I demonstrated, and more because they will be the final representatives of all who have gone before them. The church will demonstrate My nature and My ways as they have never been demonstrated before by men. It is because I am giving you more grace, and to whom much is given much will be required.

For the full article, see – The seal of God will empower God’s people to remain faithful.

5) The sealing begins with the fifth seal.

The first four seals (Rev 6:1-8) describe the timeless realities of the church age. But, AFTER many of God’s people have died for their testimony, the fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11) describes a specific point in history when God’s people are given white robes and told to “rest” for a little while longer UNTIL their fellow brethren have been completed (Rev 6:9-11).

In Revelation 7:1-8, AFTER the four angels have been holding back the four winds of destruction for an undefined period, an angel brings the seal of God to earth and tells the four angels to continue holding back the four winds UNTIL all of God’s people are sealed.

For the following reasons, the sealing (Rev 7:1-8) is parallel to the fifth seal: 

1) Both precede the sixth seal. Since the sixth seal begins with the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-14) and ends with Judgment Day (Rev 6:15-17), the sealing of God’s people, logically, must be completed BEFORE the sixth seal. The fifth seal, obviously, is also before the sixth.

2) Both refer to a specific point in history that divides time into the past, the present, and the future.

3) Both announce a delay:

        • In the fifth seal, God’s people must continue resting.
        • In the sealing, the angels must continue holding back the four winds.

4) In both, the purpose of the delay is to allow God’s people to become ready:

        • In the fifth seal, the delay is required because their brethren must be “completed” (Rev 6:11). This has been interpreted as completion in character; not in literal number.
        • In the sealing, the delay is required because God’s people must be “sealed” (Rev 7:3).

5) In both, a token of salvation is given to God’s people, namely white robes and the seal of God (Rev 6:11; 7:3).

6) Both are followed by massive destruction:

        • The fifth seal is followed by the massive destruction of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14).
        • The sealing is followed by the release of the four winds of destruction.

These similarities imply that the fifth seal and the sealing describe the same thing. In particular:

(a) The point in time in the fifth seal is when the angel brings the seal out of heaven.

(b) The completion of “their fellow servants” is equivalent to the sealing of the 144000.

For the full article, see – The sealing is parallel to the fifth seal.

6) Sealed during the Time of the End

(6a) The Beginning of the End

As discussed above, the seal of God is only available in the end-time. This section proposes further that God’s people are sealed during Daniel’s “time of the end:”

Since the book of Daniel is the foundation on which Revelation rests, we should be able to find the point in history, as described in the fifth seal, also in Daniel.

In the fifth seal, God’s people are killed both before and after this point in time. There is a similar point in time in Daniel 12, namely the beginning of “the time of the end” (Dan 12:4, 9):

      • Before “the time of the end,” God’s people will be persecuted for “a time, times, and half a time” and
      • During “the time of the end,” God’s enemies will “finish shattering the power of the holy people” (Dan 12:7).

For these reasons, it is proposed that the point in history, when the souls under the altar are told to rest for a little while longer, and when the angel brings the seal of God, is the beginning of “the time of the end.” Consequently, God’s people will be sealed during “the time of the end.”

This section is a very short summary of a much larger section. For the full article, see – God’s people are sealed during Daniel’s “time of the end.

(6b) The Little Book

This conclusion finds support in Revelation 10. In that chapter, an angel brings something else out of heaven at a specific point in time, namely “a little book which was open” (Rev 10:1-2). He gives it to John to eat and tells John to “prophesy again” (Rev 10:9-11). In doing so, John symbolizes the church receiving a special message from heaven.

What makes the prophecy of Revelation 10 particularly relevant to the discussion above is that the similarities between Daniel 12 and Revelation 10 imply that the little open book is understanding of the book of Daniel. This means that the little book comes down from heaven at the beginning of the time of the end (Dan 12:4). Therefore, both the seal of God and the little book come out of heaven in “the time of the end.

For the full article, see – The little book.

7) The Sealing – Overview

Based on the discussion above of the sealing (Rev 7:1-3), the end-time events may be summarized as follows:

Four angels hold back “the four winds” of the earth. This symbolizes that God has always been holding back the forces of destruction.

These four winds have been identified as the seven last plagues (Revelation 16).

At the beginning of the time of the end (Dan 12:4, 9), an angel brings “the seal of the living God” to earth (Rev 7:2). This is not the same as the seal Paul wrote about. The seal of God in Revelation is something additional that only end-time believers will receive to protect them when the seven last plagues are released. It is power from God to enable God’s people to remain faithful to Him during the destructions caused by the seven last plagues when it seems as if the earth has lost its capacity to harbor life.

Since the seal must protect His people after the plagues have been released, God continues to hold back the plagues until all of His “bond-servants” are sealed (Rev 7:2-3); in other words, until His people are ready to remain standing during the plagues.

Revelation 13 describes the end-time persecution in which the beast will attempt to put his mark on all people (Rev 13:15-16). That end-time persecution will divide the population of the world between those with the mark of the beast and those with the seal of God. God’s people will be sealed DURING AND THROUGH that persecution. In other words, they are NOT sealed to protect them during that time of persecution, but to protect them for what follows AFTER that persecution, namely, the seven last plagues!

As soon as all of God’s people are sealed, on earth is marked EITHER with the mark of the beast or the seal of God, God will release the seven last plagues. The persecution of God’s people will continue during the seven last plagues but there will be no switching of sides. NONE of the people with the mark of the beast will repent (Rev 16:9, 11, 21), and the NONE of the people with the “seal of God” will fall away either.

The reader may then well ask what the purpose of the seven last plagues is. I discuss that in the series on the plagues and conclude that the purpose is to show that God’s judgments are perfect, namely that:

        • The people with the mark of the beast are hardened beyond repentance. Even when they KNOW that they are wrong, they will NOT repent.
        • That God’s people will die rather than disobey God.

When the purpose of the plagues has been achieved, Christ will return. Then, while the great multitude of people who lived in rebellion against God hides in the mountains (Rev 6:15-17), an innumerable multitude of God’s people will stand before His throne (Rev 7:9).

The 144,000 (7:4-8)

  • In Revelation 7, an angel “ascends” with “the seal of the living God.” He commands four other angels to continue holding back the four winds of disaster “until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads” (Rev 7:1-3). Then John heard that 144,000 were to be “sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Rev 7:4).

This section is a summary of the article – 144000 are sealedThe purpose is to determine who the 144,000 “sons of Israel” are. It begins by showing that it cannot be interpreted literally; that it is a symbol. That symbol consists of two parts:

      • The number 144,000 and
      • The sons of Israel.

It then continues to discuss these two parts of the symbol separately.

Not Literal

For the following reasons, the 144,000 “sons of Israel” are not literal:

1) The twelve tribes of ancient Israel no longer exist in any literal sense. For one reason, the ten northern tribes broke away from the rest after the death of Solomon – thousands of years ago, were assimilated into the peoples of the Middle East, and essentially disappeared from history.

2) The list in Revelation 7 is not a valid list of tribes. It excludes the tribes of Dan and Ephraim. On the other hand, it includes both Joseph and his son Manasseh; which is effectively a double count.

3) 12000 from each of the 12 tribes (Rev 7:4) is too exact to be literal. It simply does not make any Biblical sense.

4) It is said of the 144,000 “sons of Israel” that they “have not been defiled with women” and “no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Rev 14:4-5). Literally interpreted, this means that they are all men and never sinned, which is impossible (cf. Rom 3:23).

A Symbol

For the following reasons, the 144,000 “sons of Israel” are a symbol:

1) Revelation is a book of symbols. One indication of this is that the book has been received in “signified” form (Rev 1:1 – Literal Standard Version). The Greek word means to give in the form of signs. Another indication is that this book is filled with obvious symbols, such as the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Rev 6:1-8) and a beast with seven heads (Rev 13:1).

2) All numbers in Revelation are symbols. For example:

The number 4 signifies THE WHOLE WORLD (e.g., Rev 7:1). It is often hidden in phrases that use four synonyms to describe ALL the people of the world (e.g., Rev 10:11; cf. 7:9; 11:9; 14:6; 17:15).

The number 7 is derived from the seven days of the week and often indicates a sequence of events (e.g., seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, etc.). It, therefore, has to do with time and should be understood as THE WHOLE TIME. For example, God’s seven Spirits (Rev 4:5; 5:6) mean that He will ALWAYS be with us.

The Sons of Israel

The 144,000 “sons of Israel,” therefore, are a symbol. As stated, it consists of two parts. This section discusses the second part of the symbol, namely, the phrase “sons of Israel” (Rev 7:4). The number 144,000 is discussed in the subsequent section. 

Old Testament things become symbols.

Firstly, Revelation frequently uses literal things from the Old Testament as symbols for spiritual realities during the church age. For example:

1) Jerusalem becomes “the New Jerusalem” a symbol for God’s people (Rev 21:2, 9-10; cf. Heb 12:22).

2) Babylon – the main enemy of God’s people in the Old Testament – becomes “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots;” a symbol for the enemies of God’s New Testament people (Rev 17:5).

3) In chapters 2 and 3, the seven churches are promised the things that previously belonged to Israel, such as the tree of life (Rev 2:7), manna (Rev 2:17), the book of life (Rev 3:5), the temple (Rev 3:11), and Jerusalem (Rev 3:12).

Revelation merges the Church into Israel.

In the view of many Christians, the nation of Israel has a distinct role during the end-time events. However, secondly, Revelation merges the church and Israel. For example:

(a) Revelation uses one of the things in the Jewish temple, namely, the seven-fold lampstands, to symbolize the seven churches (Rev 1:20).

(b) The woman of Revelation 12 first represents Israel but, after Christ, she represents the Church. For a discussion, see – Who are the woman, the dragon, and the child?

(c) “Those who had been victorious over the beast … sang the song” of both Moses and the Lamb (Rev 15:3); the two main characters in the Old and New Testaments.

(d) “The New Jerusalem” – a symbol of God’s people (Rev 21:9-10) – has written on it the names of both the 12 apostles and the 12 tribes of Israel (Rev 21:12, 14).

(e) John hears about 144,000 Jews but then sees the innumerable multitude from ALL NATIONS (Rev 7:4, 9). As discussed, Revelation uses such hear/see combinations to describe different perspectives OF THE SAME THING (e.g., Rev 5:5-6; 17:1, 3).

(e) In the seven letters, there are people “who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9; 3:9). In this context, to claim to be a Jew is a claim to be a true Christian (cf. Rom 2:28-29). What value would a claim to be a literal Jew have in a Christian context?

The many references in the book of Revelation to Jewish things, therefore, must be understood as referring to Christians.

The New Testament merges the Church into Israel.

This is a huge study. Whole books have been written on this subject and I will not attempt to do justice to this topic here. The following are a few examples:

(A) My study of Romans 9 and 11 – two key chapters for this purpose – concluded that God elected a remnant from Israel to inherit Israel’s promises and covenants, but included believing Gentiles into this chosen remnant. Remember, when Paul wrote, the majority in the church still was Jews. See, Early Church History.

(B) Paul illustrated this principle by saying that Gentiles are grafted into Israel’s olive tree (Rom 11:17).

(C) “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29). In the detail below, many more verses are listed.

(D) By choosing twelve disciples and not eleven or thirteen, Jesus signaled His intention to reshape Israel.

Conclusion

This section shows that Revelation often uses literal things from the Old Testament as symbols for New Testament realities. It also noticed that Revelation and the New Testament do not distinguish between Israel and Christianity but merge Christianity into Israel.

To explain this, Paul compared Christianity to an olive tree. While unbelieving literal Jews are removed from the tree, believing non-Jews have been added. The important point is that the root of the tree, symbolizing the things God gave to Israel (Rom 3:2; 9:4-5), now belongs to this re-engineered olive tree = Christianity.

Therefore, all references in Revelation to Israel and the things that previously belonged to literal Israel, now refer to Christianity. The “sons of Israel” (Rev 7:4) and “Jews” (Rev 2:9; 3:9), therefore, are Christians from all nations.

What makes this difficult to understand for us today is the fact that Christianity has become essentially a non-Jew organization. But when Paul wrote and when Revelation was received, most Christians were Jews. We need to interpret Revelation against that context.

The Number 144,000

But what does it mean that they are 144,000 in number?

The number 12 symbolizes God’s People.

The number 144,000 is derived from the number 12 because it is equal to 12 x 12 x 1000. Therefore, to determine the meaning of the number 144,000, we first need to determine the meaning of the number 12.

The number 12 appears more than a hundred times in Scripture and consistently represents THE PEOPLE OF GOD. For example:

      • The lists of the tribes in the Old Testament differ, but there are always 12 in the list.
      • Jesus chose exactly 12 disciples; not 11 or 13.
      • Judas fell away, leaving only 11 disciples, but Revelation still refers to “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14).

Revelation also uses the number 12 to symbolize God’s people:

The pure woman (Rev 12:1), representing God’s people both before and after Christ, has a crown of “twelve stars” (Rev 12:1).

The New Jerusalem, the future home of “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9-10), has 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel written on them (Rev 21:12) as well as 12 foundations with the names of the 12 apostles written on them (Rev 21:14).

The Number 144,000

Since the number 12 symbolizes God’s people, and since the number 144,000 is derived from the number 12, the number 144,000 symbolizes something about God’s people. This section argues that this number symbolizes the perfection of the remnant of God’s people. For a fuller discussion, see – The numbers in the Book of Revelation.

Military Language

Firstly, the number 144,000 is modeled after Israel’s army:

In ancient Israel, each tribe had an army of between 30,000 and 75,000 (Num 1:17-43).

A thousand” was a military unit (cf. Num 31:5); equivalent to what we today may call a regiment or a platoon.

In preparation for Israel’s war to invade the promised land:

There were furnished from the thousands of Israel,
a thousand from each tribe,
twelve thousand armed for war
” (Num 31:5)

It is proposed that the 144,000 in Revelation 7:4-8 are based on this verse. Both are in preparation for the war to invade the promised land. (Revelation 7:1-8 describes the preparation of God’s end-time people for the final evil onslaught before Christ returns.) In both, a certain number of God’s people, counted in thousands (military units), are selected in equal numbers from the 12 tribes.

Based on Numeri 31:5, we may interpret the 144,000 as follows:

      1. It is the end-time army of God’s people.
      2. It is a select group of elite warriors.
      3. Since a thousand is a military unit, it consists of 144 military units.
      4. Since the number 12 symbolizes God’s people, the repetition of the number 12 (12×12=144) symbolizes the perfection of God’s people.

Conclusions

One of the articles on the sealing (Rev 7:1-3) concluded that the 144,000 will also be sealed DURING and THROUGH the Revelation-13-persecution. During that persecution, nominal Christians will flee. Those who remain are the remnant. They are the 144,000 “sons of Israel.”

The second article on the sealing argued that those who remain (the 144,000) will be strengthened by receiving additional power from God. We should not understand this in terms of physical strength. Revelation 14 helps us to understand the nature of the seal. It describes the 144,000 as follows:

They have “His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads” (Rev 14:1), meaning that they think like God.

No lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Rev 14:5).

They “have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste” (Rev 14:4), meaning that they have not been defiled by Babylon and her harlot daughters (Rev 17:5).

The 144,000 “sons of Israel,” therefore, symbolize the perfection of the remnant of God’s people. They will remain “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10; cf. Rev 12:11).

For further discussion, see – 144000 are sealed from the tribes of Israel.

The Innumerable Multitude

This section is a summary of the article that discusses Revelation 7:9-17 verse by verse. This section first provides an overview of the text and then asks: Who is this Innumerable Multitude? 

Overview of the Text

Context

Revelation 6 has ended with the sixth seal, which has been interpreted above as Christ’s return. The first part of Revelation 7 jumps back in time to explain the sealing of God’s people BEFORE His return (Rev 7:1-8). Revelation 7:9-17, then, continues where chapter 6 left off. In other words, these verses continue to describe a point in time DURING Christ’s return.

No one could count.

John saw “a great multitude which no one could count” (Rev 7:9). This does not literally mean that they cannot be counted. It is a way of saying that this is a very large group.

From Every Nation

While the 144000 in the first 8 verses of this chapter are from Israel only, this “multitude” is “from (1) every nation and (2) all tribes and (3) peoples and (4) tongues” (Rev 7:9). Revelation often uses such four-fold descriptions of the people of the world (e.g., Rev 10:11; 14:6; 17:15) because the number 4 symbolizes worldwide extension (cf. Rev 7:1).

Able to Stand

They are “standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9). In the sixth seal, the multitude hiding in the mountains asked:

“The great day of their wrath has come,
and who is able to stand?
” (Rev 6:16)

The multitude before the throne, therefore, is the answer to that question. This implies that Revelation 7:9 describes them ON THAT “great day of their wrath.

White Robes

They are “clothed in white robes” (Rev 7:9). In Revelation, the color white always describes Christ and His people. See, the discussion of the white horse of the first seal.

White robes were also given in the fifth seal to the people who have been martyred “because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev 6:9-11). The great multitude in Revelation 7, therefore, is the same people. They have all died for their faith. In Revelation, symbolically, all of God’s people die for their faith.

Salvation belongs to God.

They cry out with a loud voice, saying,

Salvation to our God who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb” (Rev 7:10).

While the multitude in the mountains acknowledges their doom (Rev 6:16), the multitude before the throne acknowledges that they are not the authors of their own salvation but that they have been saved by God and the Lamb.

Come out of the Great Tribulation

One of the elders said to John:

These who are clothed in the white robes, … 
These are the ones who come out of
the great tribulation
” (Rev 7:13-14).

Tribulation” means oppression and affliction (e.g., Matt 24:9), or simply difficult circumstances (e.g., 2 Cor 8:13). But, in this chapter, it is “THE great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). In other words, it is one specific tribulation that the reader already knows about. Given the context, and as emphasized by the fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11), it is the martyrdom of God’s people during the entire church age.

The Blood of the Lamb

The elder added:

They have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14).

The CrossIt is not literally possible to make clothes white in blood. It is a metaphor: As discussed, Christ’s blood is a symbol of His death. Furthermore, His death does not only refer to His last moment but to His final hours when the tempter inflicted the most severe torment and temptation possible on Him. But His final hours were also His greatest victory, for He overcame by remaining “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10). He subjected Himself to God’s will to the end. The significance of His death is not that He died, but that He died without sin, meaning that, even under the most excruciating circumstances, He never used His powers contrary to God’s will.

They washed their own robes.

The elder said:

They have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14).

White robes are a sign of being right with God (cf. Rev 3:4-5). But the people clothed in the white robes had to wash their own robes (Rev 7:14). Revelation states several times that people have to work for their salvation (e.g., Rev 3:4-5; 19:7-8; 16:15). This principle is consistent with the teaching of the whole Bible. Man is judged by his deeds (cf. Rev 20:12). It is sometimes claimed that Paul taught something different, but he also taught that:

God … will render to each person according to his deeds” (Rom 2:6; cf. Rom 2:9-13; 8:13; 14:12).

People find it difficult to reconcile the principle that man is judged by his deeds with the fact that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (e.g., Rom 3:20). However, the “works of the law” refer to the external ceremonies and rituals of the Mosaic Law and are very different from the “deeds” by which people are judged. For a discussion, see – The doers of the Law will be justified but NOT by the Works of the Law.

People are judged by their deeds but saved by grace because people DO NOT EARN salvation through their deeds. Nobody deserves to live. We all deserve to die. Judgment by deeds determines WHO must be saved. By grace is HOW those people are saved. For further discussion, see the articles on justification.

The Lamb in the center of the Throne

The Lamb is not “around the throne,” as the elders and the angels are (Rev 4:4; 5:11), or “before the throne,” like the great multitude is (Rev 7:9, 15); He is “in the CENTER of the throne.”  This confirms that He ascended to the throne of God when He took the sealed book (Rev 5:7). He had been “exalted to the right hand of God” (e.g., Acts 2:33).

The New Jerusalem

The remainder of the chapter is similar to the description of the New Jerusalem in the “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1) in Revelation 21 and 22. For example, both these descriptions say: 

      • He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them” (Rev 7:15; cf. Rev 21:3).
      • They will no longer be hungry or thirsty (Rev 7:16-17; cf. Rev 21:6; 22:17).
      • The Lamb … will guide them to springs of the water of life” (Rev 7:17; cf. Rev 21:6; 22:1, 17).
      • God will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:17; cf. Rev 21:4).

If this passage was the end of the Book of Revelation, we would not have noticed anything missing. It describes the glorious reward of the eternal life of the redeemed.

Who is the Innumerable Multitude?

A Hear/See Combination

The great multitude described in Revelation 7:9-17 seems very different from the 144000 (Rev 7:1-3):

144000
Innumerable Multitude
Exactly numbered Cannot be counted
From the tribes of Israel From every nation
On earth Before God’s throne

However, some argue that the 144000 are THE SAME as the Innumerable Multitude because this is one of the hear/see-combinations in Revelation where John first hears about something and then sees something completely different but the two things really are the same. For example:

In Revelation 5:5-6, John first hears about a lion and then sees a lamb, but both symbolize Christ.

Similarly, John first hears that the woman sits on “many waters” (Rev 17:1) but then he sees that she sits on a beast (Rev 17:3).

In the same way, John first hears of the 144000 (Rev 7:4-8) and then sees a great multitude that no one can number (Rev 7:9). It is proposed here that what John first hears and then sees are not exactly the same but DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES OF THE SAME THING:

The lion and the lamb symbolize two different roles which Christ has. On earth, He was a lamb. But when He returns, He will tread “the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (Rev 19:15). Then He will be a lion.

The waters and the beast on which the woman sits, similarly, are two different perspectives of humanity:

        • The “waters” simply symbolize all the peoples of the world (Rev 17:15).
        • The beast, on the other hand, has “seven heads and ten horns” (Rev 17:3). The seven heads are the seven phases of the beast (cf. Rev 17:9-10) and the ten horns symbolize the end-time confederacy that will oppose God (cf. Rev 17:12). The beast, therefore, symbolizes humanity divided into kingdoms.

In the same way, the 144000 and the innumerable multitude are different perspectives of God’s people. To explain:

The sixth seal has been interpreted above as the return of Christ. In it, the question is asked: “Who is able to stand” on “the great day of their wrath” (Rev 6:17)?

Revelation 7 answers this question in TWO ways:

The first part (Rev 7:1-8) jumps back in time to describe how God’s people will be sealed BEFORE His return. The seal will enable them to remain standing during the end-time crisis. They, therefore, are God’s end-time people.

Then verse 9 describes the Innumerable Multitude. That they stand BEFORE THE THRONE (Rev 7:9) implying that this describes them WHEN CHRIST RETURN. They, therefore, are the same as the 144000 but describe God’s people at the end of the end-time crisis.

Not the same as the 144,000

But, as the fifth seal explains, the Innumerable Multitude is NOT exactly the same as the 144000:

The Innumerable Multitude is “clothed in white robes” (Rev 7:9). This reminds us of the fifth seal. That seal describes a specific point in history when WHITE ROBES are given to God’s people who have ALREADY died. But they are told to wait for “their fellow servants … who were to be killed even as they had been” (Rev 6:9-11). By implication, this last group will ALSO receive white robes. The innumerable multitude, since they are dressed in white robes, includes BOTH groups.

This is confirmed by the statement that the innumerable multitude comes out of “the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). In the context, this “great tribulation” refers to the slaughtering of God’s people as described in the first five seals. Since both groups of people in the fifth seal are martyred, both groups come out of “the great tribulation.

The 144000, however, are only the second group in the fifth seal (those who must still die) BECAUSE, as discussed above, “the seal of the living God” comes down out of heaven (Rev 7:2) at the specific time in history to which the fifth seal refers.

After Christ’s Return

Does Revelation 7:9-17 describe the innumerable multitude before or after Christ’s return? The following seems to indicate that it describes the time AFTER His Return:

1) If they, as argued, include God’s people who have already died, then it must be AFTER His return.

2) They stand BEFORE GOD’S THRONE, and His throne is in heaven (Rev 11:19; 16:17).

3) In Revelation 6:17, a multitude hides from the throne and asks, “who is able to stand” on “THE GREAT DAY of their wrath?” Since the Innumerable Multitude stands before the throne, they are the answer to that question. This implies that they are described on “THE GREAT DAY,” which is Christ’s return.

4) The palm branches in their hands (Rev 7:9) foreshadow the bliss of eternity.

5) The souls under the altar cried out for revenge (Rev 6:10), symbolizing God’s desire to set things right. The multitude does not cry out for revenge, implying that God has already set things right.

6) Their description in Revelation 7:15-17 is the same as the description of the eternal state of God’s people (Rev 21:3-4, 21:6; 22:1) AFTER Christ has returned, implying that the innumerable multitude includes all of God’s people of all time.

Conclusion

Revelation 7:1-8 jumps back in time to describe the sealing of the 144000. Verse 9, then, continues exactly where Revelation 6 left off. In other words, while the one multitude hides in the mountains (Rev 6:15-17), the other great multitude stands before God’s throne. As Jesus said:

When the Son of Man comes in His glory …
All the nations will be gathered before Him;
and He will separate them from one another,
as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats
(Matt 25:31-32)

The Seventh Seal

This section is a summary of the article – The seventh seal Christ’s Return.

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal,
there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Rev 8:1)

For the following reasons, the seventh seal is the sorrow in heaven when the multitude that hides in the mountains in the sixth seal (Rev 6:15), is put to death at Christ’s return (Rev 19:21):

Satan’s Objections Refuted

Book of LifeAs argued, firstly, the seventh seal is the last seal of the Book of Life; which identifies the people whom God had elected to eternal life. The seals of the book are Satan’s informed objections to those people. That nobody is able to open the book symbolizes that the heavenly beings are unable to refute Satan’s objections. In other words, they are unable to prove that God always judges perfectly. That Jesus breaks the seals means that He directs events on earth to refute Satan’s objections.

Therefore, when the last (seventh) seal is broken, all of Satan’s accusations have been refuted and all barriers to understanding God’s judgments are removed. Then God can make an end to the reign of evil on this earth through the return of Christ.

The Sixth Seal is His Return.

Secondly, it was argued in the previous section that the sixth seal is Christ’s return but BEFORE the people who live in rebellion against God are put to death. The seventh seal, therefore, should be the next phase of His return.

All main parts end with Christ’s Return.

Thirdly, Revelation consists of five main parts. Except for the first main part (the letters to the seven churches – Revelation 1-3), all other main parts cover the entire church age, and all end with Christ’s return:

      • Seven trumpets – Revelation 8-11 (Rev 11:15);
      • Seven wars – Revelation 12-14 (Rev 14:14);
      • Seven last plagues – Revelation 15-19 (Rev 19:11).

Therefore, the seven seals should also end with His return. For a further discussion, see – Does the Book of Revelation describe events in chronological sequence?

Conclusion

For these reasons, it is proposed that the silence in heaven of the seventh seal is caused by the immeasurable sorrow in the heart of God and in the hearts of His people at the destruction of billions of people at the return of Christ (Rev 19:21).

The Seventh Seal and
the Seven Trumpets

This section is a summary of the article – Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?

Two Views

The Book of Revelation divides into several main parts. It begins with the letters to the seven churches (ch. 1-3) and ends with the Millennium (ch. 20) and “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1) (ch. 21-22). In the body of the book, we find four great sections:

      • The Seven Seals (ch. 4-7);
      • The Seven Trumpets (ch. 8-11); and
      • The Seven Wars (ch. 12-14); and
      • The Seven Plagues (ch. 15-19).

The seven plagues begin at the end of the end-time persecution of God’s people as described by Revelation 13 and 14. (See – Sealed against the plagues.) The plagues, therefore, are limited to the end-time only. The following are two views with respect to the seals, trumpets, and wars:

One view is that they describe the same period, namely the church age; from the cross to the return of Christ; each adding a different perspective to that period. This is called ‘recapitulation’.

Another view is that the visions of Revelation are listed strictly chronologically FROM BEGINNING TO END, with only one final climax at the end of the book. In this view, the seventh seal includes the seven trumpets.

The following seems to support the view that the seventh seal DOES INCLUDE the seven trumpets:

      • Chapters 8 to 11 of Revelation describe the trumpets and the seventh seal (Rev 8:1) is part of chapter 8.
      • Nothing happens in the seventh seal—only silence. So, perhaps this means that the real action of the seventh seal is the seven trumpets. 

However, for the following reasons, the seventh seal CANNOT include the seven trumpets:

1) Chapters and Verses

Chapter and verse breaks are not inspired. They were only added in the 13th century.

2) Different Themes

The themes of the seals and the trumpets are very different; even opposites. The seals are about GOD’S PEOPLE and their experience on earth (e.g. Rev 6:9; 7:3; 7:14). In contrast, the trumpets focus on GOD’S ENEMIES (e.g., Rev 8:13; 9:4; 11:10). This difference in themes implies that the trumpets are not part of the seventh seal.

3) The seals end with the New World.

The sixth seal is the Return of Christ (Rev 6:12-14; 6:17) and introduces the New Heaven and New Earth (e.g., Rev 7:17). The seventh seal, therefore, must be even later. It follows, since the trumpets describe the old world of sin and sorrow, that they cannot be included in the seventh seal.

4) Satan’s Objections Refuted

The seventh seal describes what happens when the seventh seal of the book is broken. Since the book had seven seals (Rev 5:1) preventing the beings in heaven from reading it (Rev 5:3), when the seventh seal is broken, they are able to read the book. The silence of the seventh seal (Rev 8:1) must be the consequence of reading the book.

As discussed:

The sealed book is THE BOOK OF LIFE, containing God’s judgments, indicating who will inherit eternal life and who will suffer the second death (Rev 20:15; cf. Rom 6:23). 

The seals are Satan’s accusations against the people whom God elected to eternal life. Satan accuses God of bad judgment.

Breaking the seals means to refute Satan’s objections. When the seventh seal is broken, it means that all of Satan’s accusations have been refuted.

In this interpretation, since God will execute His judgments when Christ returns, God delays Christ’s return UNTIL Satan has been FULLY refuted. Therefore, when the seventh seal is broken, and God’s judgments are fully explained, there remains no further reason to delay the execution of His judgments. Consequently:

1) The silence of the seventh seal results from the sorrow in God’s heart when billions of people are put to death (Rev 19:21). (See, Silence when the hiding multitude is put to death.)

2) The trumpets, describing the disasters of the old earth, CANNOT be part of the seventh seal but describe an earlier time.

5) Switches jump back in time.

The trumpets end with Christ’s return (Rev 11:15) but the next vision (the seven wars) jumps back to the time of Christ’s birth (Rev 12:2; 12:5). Since this happens in the switch from the trumpets to the wars, the same probably also happens in the switch from the seals to the trumpets.

6) From Christ’s Birth to His Return

Both the seven seals and the seven wars explicitly begin with Christ’s first advent and end with His return (Rev 5:5; 6:17; 12:5; 14:14). Both, therefore, cover the entire Christian era. Consequently:

1) It is clear that Revelation uses recapitulation.

2) Since the two main parts before and after the trumpets both cover the whole Christian era, and since ALL THREE of these main parts conclude with Christ’s return, it is very likely that the trumpets also begin with Christ’s first advent.

7) The Time, Times, and a Half

Both Daniel and Revelation describe the “time, times, and a half a time” as a period of persecution of God’s people (Dan 7:25; 12:7). Both the trumpets and the wars cover this period (Rev 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:6). Since the focus of the seals is also the persecution of God’s people (Rev 6:9; 7:14), IT MUST ALSO COVER THIS PERIOD. But that would mean that the seals, trumpets, and wars all three cover this period.

8) The Chiasm

Revelation 8:2-6 is the introduction to the trumpets and has a literary structure called a chiasm. This shows that these verses form a unit. Since Revelation 8:1 is not part of this unit, it does not form part of the trumpets. (For more detail, see Chiasm.) 

9) Recapitulation in Daniel

Daniel the prophetSince, as is generally accepted, Daniel is the foundation on which Revelation is built, and since, as is also generally accepted, the visions in Daniel build on each other—each providing additional insights concerning periods covered by previous visions, we might the same in Revelation.

10) A literal reading results in many contradictions.

The idea that the seven trumpets are included in the seventh seal is part of a strictly literal and chronological interpretation of Revelation. But such an interpretation results in many contradictions. For example, in the first trumpet, all the green grass is burned up (Rev 8:7) but, in the fifth trumpet, the grass is protected (Rev 9:4).

Conclusion

The trumpets are not part of the seventh seal.

Another article shows that Revelation does NOT describe events in chronological sequence. 

Why has Christ not yet returned?

About 2000 years ago, Christ redeemed humanity at the Cross. We must assume that God will not allow evil to exist for a second longer than required. So, why has God allowed sin and suffering to continue for another 2000 years? Why does God delay Christ’s return? What else does God need, in addition to Christ’s death, to make a final end of evil?

To an extent, this section is the end result of this series of articles on the seven seals (4:1-8:1).

The Answer

The vision of the sealed book (cf. Rev 5:1) provides the answer. In this vision, God is delaying Christ’s return until Jesus has broken all seven seals. But, what does that mean?

What is the Sealed Book?

The sealed book has been interpreted as the book of life, which contains God’s judgments as to who will receive eternal life (cf. Rev 3:5).

Satan is the accuser of God’s elect (Rev 12:10). The seven seals with which the book is sealed up are interpreted as Satan’s accusations against the people identified in the book of life.

Breaking the seals would then mean providing the evidence required to refute Satan’s accusations of unfair judgment.

In Revelation 5:1-4, no one “was able to open the book” (Rev 5:3), meaning that nobody was able to refute Satan’s accusations fully and show that God’s judgments are perfect. This, therefore, is a crisis IN HEAVEN: The heavenly beings do not understand!

When are the seals broken?

But the next verse announces that Jesus has overcome so as to open the book (Rev 5:5-6). Then the beings in heaven declared Him “worthy” to break the seals because He was “slain” (Rev 5:9).

Since He receives the book while appearing as a slain lamb (Rev 5:5-7), another article concluded that He received the book at His ascension.

Since the sixth and seventh seals describe the final events of the earth’s history (cf. Rev 6:12-14), the seals are broken over the ENTIRE church age.

Why Jesus had to die

The CrossSo, why was the Son not “worthy” to break the seals before He died? And how did His death make Him “worthy?” The article – In the book of Revelation, why Jesus had to die – explains:

Before Christ was born, Satan also accused the Son of God, saying that the Son, given the right circumstances, would also sin.

In response, the Son of God, by becoming a human being, submitted himself to a test. Satan tempted Him to the fullest extent possible, but Jesus overcame by remaining obedient to God to the end. In this way, He demonstrated Himself to be “worthy” to break the seals.

As a result, Christ received the book with the authority to open it (Rev 5:7, 9). 

But Christ’s victory over sin did not resolve the crisis. The book remained sealed, meaning that Christ’s death did NOT provide the evidence required to refute Satan’s objections to God’s judgments.

How will Satan be refuted?

The question then is, WHAT evidence is required to finally refute Satan’s charges and HOW will that evidence be obtained? We learn the answers to these questions by noting what happens when Jesus breaks the seals:

1) Through Events on Earth

Each time that Jesus breaks a seal, a catastrophic event occurs on earth (Rev 6). By implication, that Jesus breaks the seals symbolizes that He directs events on earth to obtain the required evidence to refute Satan’s objections THROUGH events on earth.

2) Through God’s People

When the seals are broken, the focus is on God’s people. For example:

The first five seals describe THE CHURCH AGE. In summary, God’s people will preach the gospel but they will be “slain because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9).

Revelation 7:1-8 describes THE PREPARATION FOR THE END-TIME. At that time, God’s people will be sealed with the seal of God (Rev 7:1-3) to empower them to remain faithful during the seven last plagues.

This emphasis on God’s people implies that Jesus obtains the evidence through God’s people.

3) Through Their Faithfulness

Specifically, when the seals are broken, the point is not merely to say that God’s people will suffer but, much more important, that THEY WILL REMAIN FAITHFUL to God (Rev 6:9, 11; 7:3, 14). The evidence required to refute Satan, therefore, is that God’s people will testify for Him in the face of danger, “even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11; cf. 2:10).

Job may serve as an illustration of how God’s people will validate God’s judgments. God gave Satan permission to test Job (Job 2:6). Satan killed Job’s children, destroyed his property, and afflicted Job with horrible sores. “Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:22).

4) Through the Seven Last Plagues

God’s people are sealed with God’s seal for when “the four winds” will be released (Rev 7:1-3). These “winds” have been interpreted as the seven last plagues. Another article concluded that God’s people will receive God’s seal (Rev 7:3) to protect them DURING THOSE PLAGUES. Therefore, the seven last plagues will be the final and ultimate test of God’s people.

The seal of God, which only end-time believers will receive, but which ALL end-time believers must receive (Rev 7:3), will equip them with every spiritual power available to humans (cf. Eph 6:10-11). But God will also allow Satan the full use of his satanic powers (Rev 16:14) to persecute and deceive. Amid the plagues, God’s people are called to keep their clothes and “not walk about naked” (Rev 16:15), meaning to remain faithful to God (cf. Rev 3:18; 6:11; 7:14). The seven last plagues, therefore, will be intense spiritual warfare.

The obedience of God’s people will be tested by the most severe temptations and circumstances. By choosing death rather than going against God’s laws, God’s end-time people, as a representative sample of God’s elect of all time, must show that the people identified in the book of life will not surrender God’s principles. In this way, they must refute Satan’s accusations against God’s elect and validate God’s decision to grant eternal life to these sinners.

Satan’s followers will also be tested and revealed by the seven last plagues. The frequent mention in the plagues that the worshipers of the beast do not repent (Rev 16:9, 11, 21), implies that the purpose of the plagues is ALSO to show that the people with the mark of the beast will not repent under any circumstances; that they have become haters of God—solidly confirmed in their ways—irreversibly committed to evil.

In this way, the deeds of people during the seven last plagues will reveal to the heavenly beings that which the Almighty is already able to see in the hearts of people, and on which He based His judgments. This will be the final evidence required to assure the heavenly beings that God’s judgments are perfect. Then Christ will return (Rev 19:11) and implement God’s judgments (Rev 19:21; 20:4).

Redemption

These tests of God’s judgments must not be confused with how God redeems people. These seal-events will serve as tests of the perfection of God’s judgments of ALL people that lived EVER since Adam. God’s end-time people, therefore, will not suffer and die for themselves but for God’s people in all generations. How individuals are saved is something very different.

Why does God delay?

But we must also ask: Why does it take such a long time?

Another article argues that the sealing of God’s end-time people (Rev 7:1-3) is another description of the ‘completion’ of God’s people as described in the fifth seal. Both describe the preparation of God’s people for the seven last plagues. Both show that God has not yet brought the seven last plagues on the world because His people are not ready. He is waiting for a people who will remain faithful to Him throughout the tremendous suffering and temptations of that time (Rev 7:1-3; 6:11).

Sealed Through Persecution

But will God EVER have a people who will be able to stand? As another article concludes, God’s people will be sealed THROUGH the end-time persecution (Rev 13:15-17). In other words, eventually, to have a people who will be able to remain faithful throughout the seven last plagues, God will have to allow the beast to be resurrected (Rev 13:3), followed by that severe end-time persecution of His people. THROUGH that persecution, they will be refined, as “gold refined by fire” (Rev 3:18). THROUGH that persecution, God will give to them the seal of the living God (Rev 7:2). Once they are all sealed, the seven last plagues will be poured out.


OTHER ARTICLES

The Book of Daniel:

The Book of Revelation:

Other

Who and when is the Great Multitude of Revelation 7:9-17?

This is an article in the series on the vision of the book with the seven seals (Rev 4:1-8:1).

PURPOSE

This article discusses Revelation 7:9-17 verse-by-verse. Two of the main questions in this passage are:

      • WHO is the Innumerable Multitude? Are they the same as the 144000?
      • WHEN are they described; before or after the return of Christ?

SUMMARY

REVELATION 7:9

After these things I looked, and behold,
a great multitude which no one could count,

It is not literally true that they cannot be counted. This is a way of saying that this is a very large group.

from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues,

Revelation uses such four-fold descriptions of people (e.g., Rev 10:11; 14:6; 17:15) because the number 4 symbolizes worldwide extension.

In contrast, the first 8 verses of Revelation 7 describe the sealing of the 144000 from the 12 tribes of Israel. 

standing before the throne and before the Lamb,

The multitude hiding in the mountains, asked: “Hide us from … Him who sits on the throne … for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:16). Since the Innumerable Multitude stands before the throne, they are the answer to that question. This also implies that this multitude is described as on “the great day of their wrath.

clothed in white robes,
and palm branches were in their hands;

In Revelation, the color white always describes Christ and His people. Since white robes were given to the people who have been martyred “because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev 6:9-11), the great multitude includes all who have died for their faith. However, in Revelation, symbolically, all of God’s people die for their faith. In other words, the great multitude includes all of God’s people from all ages.

REVELATION 7:10

and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,

In the fifth seal, God’s martyrs cried for revenge also “with a loud voice” (Rev 6:10). Now, they no longer cry for revenge, which implies that the time of the vision is after that judgment has been executed.

“Salvation to our God who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

While the hiding multitude acknowledges their doom (Rev 6:16), this great multitude acknowledges that they are not the authors of their salvation; they were saved by God and the Lamb.

REVELATION 7:11-12

and all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures;

This is similar to the scene in Revelation 5 of a multitude of angels, the 24 elders, and the four living creatures in the heavenly throne room (Rev 5:11).

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.”

The Greek words translated “fell on their faces” and “worship” have similar meanings. For a discussion, see the discussion of Rev 4:10 or 5:8 above, or Worship in God’s presence.

REVELATION 7:13-14

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me,
“These who are clothed in the white robes,
who are they,
and where have they come from?”

I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me,
“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation,

Many translations put “come out” in the past tense (e.g., KJV), but it translates an extremely continuous Greek expression, implying that the multitude is still coming out of the tribulation. In other words, their dwelling in heaven is an eternal reality but not yet visible or experienced.

Tribulation” means oppression and affliction (e.g., Matt 24:9), or simply difficult circumstances (e.g., 2 Cor 8:13). But, in this chapter, it is “the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). It refers to one particular tribulation that the reader already knows about. Given the context, it is the martyrdom of God’s people during the entire church age as emphasized by the fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11).

and they have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

The CrossIt is not literally possible to make clothes white in blood. This is a metaphor: The discussion of the sealed book proposes that Christ’s blood is a symbol of His death. Furthermore, His death refers not only to His last moment but to His final hours when the tempter inflicted the most severe torment and temptation possible on Him. But the hours of His death were His greatest victory, for He overcame by remaining “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10). Through faith, He subjected Himself to God’s will.

The people with the white robes had to wash their own robes because “God … will render to each person according to his deeds” (Rom 2:6). This is discussed in the next section.

PEOPLE ARE JUDGED BY THEIR DEEDS.

White robes are a sign of being right with God (cf. Rev 3:4-5). The people clothed in the white robes had to wash their own robes (Rev 7:14). This principle, that people must work for their salvation, is expressed several times in Revelation (e.g., Rev 3:4-5; 19:7-8; 16:15).

Judged by deeds – This principle is consistent with the teaching of the whole Bible that man is judged by his deeds (cf. Rev 20:12). It is sometimes said that Paul taught something different, but he taught the same thing (Rom 2:5-8; 9-13; 8:13).

Works of the law – Sometimes people have difficulty reconciling the principle that man is judged by his deeds with the fact that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom 3:20). However, these “works of the law” refer to the external ceremonies and rituals of the Mosaic Law and are very different from the “deeds” by which people are judged.

Faith – People also struggle to reconcile the judgment of deeds with salvation by faith, but these are two ways of saying the same thing. Firstly, salvation by faith does require a judgment of the person’s faith. Secondly, God sees and judges the entire being. The “deeds” by which people are judged include character, words, deeds, thoughts, desires, and faith.

Grace – Another objection that people may offer to judgment by deeds is that we are saved by grace. But that is also not a challenge, for people are judged by their deeds but saved by grace. People DO NOT EARN salvation through their deeds. Judgment by deeds determines WHO must be saved. By grace is HOW those people are saved. For a more detailed discussion, see People are not justified by the works of the law but are judged by their deeds.

REVELATION 7:15

For this reason,

Because they have washed their robes.

they are before the throne of God;
and they serve Him day and night

“Day and night” means continually.

in His temple;

There is no temple in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:22). There is no physical temple in heaven either. The temple on earth was a symbolic representation of heavenly realities; of how God deals with sin. John’s visions use things from the Old Testament as symbols. The throne of God, which is in His temple (Rev 16:17), is a symbol of God’s presence. This is what Revelation 21:22 confirms: “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

and He who sits on the throne
will spread His tabernacle over them.

Revelation 21:3, depicting the time after the millennium, when God has come down to earth with the New Jerusalem, describes God’s “tabernacle” as where God lives. 

REVELATION 7:16-17

They will hunger no longer,
nor thirst anymore;
nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat

In this life, being a believer does not guarantee physical comfort. But, in eternity, things will be different.

for the Lamb in the center of the throne

The Lamb is not “around the throne,” like the elders and the angels (Rev 4:4; 5:11), or “before the throne,” like the great multitude (Rev 7:9, 15); He is “in the center of the throne.”  This confirms that He ascended to the throne of God when He took the sealed book (Rev 5:7). He had been “exalted to the right hand of God” (e.g., Acts 2:33).

will be their shepherd,

That “the Lamb” will be “their shepherd” is a bit ironic, but shows the symbolic nature of Revelation.

and will guide them to springs of the water of life;
and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Revelation 21:4 repeats: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The sorrow, that the innumerable multitude suffered during the great tribulation, will end.

If this passage was the end of the Book of Revelation, we would not have noticed anything missing. It describes the glorious reward of the eternal life of the redeemed, as explained in more detail in Revelation chapters 21-22.

WHO ARE THE INNUMERABLE MULTITUDE?

While the 144000 are exactly numbered, from the tribes of Israel, and on earth (Rev 7:1-3), the great multitude cannot be counted, is from every nation, and before the throne of God, which is in heaven (Rev 11:19).

One way to describe the relationship between the innumerable multitude and the 144000 is as a hear/see combination. In Revelation, in these combinations, the prophet first hears about something, but when he looks, he sees something completely different. For example, John hears about a Lion but then sees a Lamb (Rev 5:5-6). What John first hears and then sees is not exactly the same. In this example, both the lion and the lamb represent Jesus but different aspects of His work. Similarly, John hears the number 144000 (Rev 7:4-8) but sees a great multitude that no one can number (Rev 7:9). They are not exactly the same but different perspectives of God’s people.

While the 144000 symbolizes His end-time people, based on the following, the innumerable multitude includes all of God’s people of all time:

The fifth seal divides God’s people into those that have already died and those who still must die. In that seal, those that have already died receive white robes. By implication, the people who must still die will also receive white robes. The innumerable multitude, since they are dressed in white robes, includes both groups. On the other hand, the article on the Sealing shows that the point in time in the fifth seal is when the seal comes down out of heaven. This implies that those in the fifth seal who must still die, are the 144000; God’s end-time people.

The innumerable multitude has come through “the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). Since both groups of people in the fifth seal are martyred, both came out of “the great tribulation.

WHEN – AT WHAT TIME ARE THEY DESCRIBED?

AFTER HIS RETURN

Does Revelation 7:9-17 describe the time before or after Christ’s return? The following seems to indicate that it describes the time AFTER His Return:

    • They stand before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev 11:19 & 16:17).
    • Revelation 6:17 asks, “who is able to stand” on “the great day of their wrath?” Since the Innumerable Multitude stands before the throne, they are the answer to this question. This implies that the time is “the great day of their wrath,” namely Christ’s return.
    • The palm branches in their hands foreshadow the bliss of eternity.
    • The souls under the altar cried out for revenge. The multitude does not. This implies that they have had their revenge.

BEFORE HIS RETURN

However, the New Testament sometimes describes things that are an eternal reality, but not yet visibly realized, as if they already happened (e.g., John 5:24). Revelation, similarly, often depicts God’s people on earth as if they are in heaven (Rev 13:6-7; 14:1-5; 15:2). This may also apply to Revelation 7:9-17.

An important aspect of Revelation 7:9-17 is the verb tenses. Verses 15 to 17, describing what God will do for His people, are in the future tense. For example: “God will wipe every tear.” In contrast, the activities of the great multitude are in the present tense. For example, they “come out of the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). This implies that Revelation 7:9-17 describes the time BEFORE the return of Christ.

PROPOSAL

Revelation 7:1-8 jumps back in time to describe the sealing of the 144000. It is proposed that verse 9 continues exactly where Revelation 6 left off. In other words, the hiding multitude (Rev 6:15-17) and the great multitude describe the same point in history; immediately BEFORE the return of Christ.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

REVELATION 7:9

After these things I looked, and behold,
a great multitude which no one could count,
from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb,
clothed in white robes,
and palm branches were in their hands;

After these things – This phrase often signals a new section in Revelation. The previous verses described what John heard. The current verse and the remainder of the chapter describe what he saw.

Great multitude – In Revelation 5:11, John saw another great multitude, numbering millions and millions, but that was a multitude of angels. The multitude in this verse is people.

Which no one could count – Jesus said: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14). Still, the image of the Innumerable Multitude assures us that God’s people are vast and diversified.

In reality, this multitude can be counted.  This is symbolic language to say that this group is without limit. In contrast to the 144000, who are a specific subset of God’s people, the Innumerable Multitude comes from all times and places.

From every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues – This four-fold grouping signifies that the redeemed will come from all over the world; from all nations (cf. Rev 10:11; 14:6). The number 4 in Revelation symbolizes ‘worldwide’ (cf. Rev 7:1).

STANDING BEFORE THE THRONE
AND BEFORE THE LAMB

Revelation 7:1-8 described things on earth. Standing before the throne shifts the focus from earth to heaven. To stand before the throne implies two things.

      1. This is the highest possible position. The ultimate goal of every intelligent creature is to be as close as possible to the One who exists without cause and who created all things.
      2. Standing before the throne also implies readiness to serve, as stated in Revelation 7:15: “They are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night.” Or, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you” (Luke 1:19). The redeemed will not be idle. They will be very busy people. “They will reign upon the earth” (Rev 5:10).

WHAT TIME IS IN VIEW?

Since this great multitude is before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev 11:19 & 16:17), this scene seems to be AFTER the Second Coming of Christ. However, it is also possible to take this as a symbolic description of God’s people BEFORE His return:

Throughout the book of Revelation, “those who live on the earth” (Rev 14:6; cf. 1:7; 3:10; 6:10) are the people who rebel against God.

By contrast, God’s people on earth are often depicted as in heaven (Rev 13:6-7; 14:1-5; 15:2).

So, it is possible to understand the Innumerable Multitude as standing before the throne as a permanent and eternal reality, but not yet visibly realized. The New Testament sometimes presents things are ‘already, but not yet’. For example:

I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

AT HIS RETURN

On the other hand, the great multitude, hiding in the mountains, asked:

Hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:16).

Since the Innumerable Multitude stands before the throne, they are the answer to the question of the hiding multitude. This implies that this is “the great day of their wrath,” to which the hiding multitude refers, which is the return of Christ.

To stand “before the throne” is what Jesus promised in Revelation 3:21 when He said, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

DRESSED IN WHITE ROBES

They are “clothed in white robes” because they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:14). Similarly, the overcomers in Sardis have been promised that they will “be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life” (Rev 3:5). And, Laodicea is also advised to buy from Christ “white garments” to cover their nakedness (Rev 3:18). As shown in the discussion of the white horse of the first seal, the color white in the book of Revelation always refers to Christ and His people.

Since white robes were given to the people who have been martyred for their faith (fifth seal – Rev 6:11) and since the great multitude has come through “great tribulation” (Rev 7:14), the great multitude is or includes all people who have died for their faith (Rev 6:9). As discussed, these “souls underneath the altar” represent all of God’s people; including those who have not literally died for their faith (cf. Rev 20:4). In Revelation, all of God’s people have symbolically died for their faith. In other words, the Innumerable Multitude includes God’s people of all ages.

HAVING PALM BRANCHES IN THEIR HANDS

Palm branches are associated with “the Feast of Booths” (Lev 23:33, 40; Neh 8:14-15). This was the last feast of the year; starting 5 days after “the day of atonement” (Yom Kippur—the great judgment day):

You shall take … palm branches … and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days” (Lev 23:40).

The Feast of Booths, therefore, foreshadowed the bliss of eternity. Consequently, the palm branches in the hands of the Innumerable Multitude imply that that great destiny has been reached; the wonderful new world.

REVELATION 7:10

and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

CRY OUT

Cry out” is in the present tense, which implies that this is an ongoing activity; not just a single event.  They continually thank God and the Lamb who “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13).

In the fifth seal, God’s martyrs also “cried out with a loud voice,” but there they cried for revenge (Rev 6:10). Now, they have had their revenge, which implies that the time of the vision is after the return of Christ.

SALVATION TO OUR GOD
WHO SITS ON THE THRONE,
AND TO THE LAMB

Most translations interpret the grammar as implying salvation “belongs to” our God. The hiding multitude acknowledges their doom (6:16) but this great multitude acknowledges that they are not the authors of their salvation; they were saved by God and the Lamb.

These people “come out of the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). They have been saved from sin and its consequences. But, in particular, they have been delivered from the murderous intentions of the beast, the image of the beast, and Babylon (Rev 13:15; 17:6; 18:24).

In this verse, only God and the Lamb are praised for this salvation. Although “the seven spirits before the throne” are included in the heavenly trio (Rev 1:4-5), nowhere in Revelation is the Spirit praised.

REVELATION 7:11

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

ALL THE ANGELS … ELDERS … FOUR LIVING CREATURES

This refers to the scene in Revelation 5 of a multitude of angels, the 24 elders, and the four living creatures in the heavenly throne room (Rev 5:11). The current verse (Rev 7:11), therefore, depicts two vast groups – an innumerable multitude of people and millions of angels.

FELL ON THEIR FACES BEFORE THE THRONE
AND WORSHIPED GOD

The Greek words translated “fell on their faces” and “worship” have similar meanings. This doubled language of worship also appears in Rev 4:8-10 and 5:14. For a discussion, see worship in God’s presence.

In the previous verse, the Innumerable Multitude gave praise to both God and the Lamb but now these heavenly beings only worship God.

REVELATION 7:12

saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

The first song in this chapter was sung by the great multitude of redeemed humanity (Rev 7:10). This second song in the current verse is sung by angels and the twenty-four elders.

The song begins and ends with “Amen.” The origin of the term is in the Hebrew Bible (âmên). The LXX translated âmên with “may it be.” “Amen,” therefore, strongly affirms the truth of something that has been said previously. So, this song begins by affirming the truth of the song of the great multitude in verse ten.

The heavenly host offers a seven-fold praise to God that is very similar to the one in Rev 5:12, with four differences:

      • In Rev 5:12, the seven nouns are all introduced with a single article. In Rev 7:12, each noun has its own article.
      • The nouns are listed in a different order.
      • Riches” (Rev 5:12) is replaced by “thanks” (Rev 7:12).
      • The seven-fold praise in Rev 5:12 is directed to the Lamb. Here it is directed to “our God”.

In Revelation, the number 7 signifies completeness in time. The fact that the praise is seven-fold indicates that this praise is for all time.

REVELATION 7:13

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me,
“These who are clothed in the white robes,
who are they,
and where have they come from?”

This is one of the twenty-four elders introduced in Revelation 4.

The word “answered” seems odd because John has not asked a question. But the elder discerns that the previous vision does not make sense to John and moves in to provide additional information.

The reference to white robes identifies this as the great multitude of verse nine. Therefore, this passage explains to John the vision of the great multitude in Rev 7:9-10, rather than the worship of the heavenly host in Rev 7:11-12. The elder’s explanation continues to the end of the chapter.

By commencing his explanation with a question, the elder provides dramatic vividness which will make the explanation easier to follow.

REVELATION 7:14

I said to him, “My lord, you know.”
And he said to me,

“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation,
and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

In verse 13, the elder asked two questions:

      • Who are these dressed in white robes, and
      • From where have they come?

the current verse answers these two questions:

      • They are the ones who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.
      • They have come out of the Great Tribulation.

MY LORD

My Lord” (Greek: kurie mou) is a typical term of respect in the ancient world. It is usually directed to a superior by one who is inferior in rank or age. In John 4:11, the woman at the well addressed Jesus using the same term. In that instance, the NASB translates it as “Sir.” Similarly, some Greeks said to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21).

John addresses the elder respectfully as “my lord” because he saw the elders around the throne of God and he knows that that suggests a very high status in the universal order of things.

WHO COME OUT OF

Many translations put this phrase in the past tense, for example, “came out of” (KJV) or “have come out” (NIV), but it translates an extremely continuous Greek expression. In other words, they don’t come out of the Great Tribulation all at once, but over time. The focus is more on the process than on the conclusion.

The tense supports the idea that the great multitude is still coming out of the tribulation. In other words, their dwelling in heaven is an eternal reality but not yet visibly and experientially realized. They are counted as already being “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6) and “having already passed from death to life” (John 5:24), even while in the midst of suffering. This is very compatible with the “already, not yet” perspective of the New Testament.

THE GREAT TRIBULATION

To readers of Revelation who are still in the midst of “tribulation,” it is encouraging to know that those who endure with patience (Rev 13:7; 14:12) will be triumphant at the end.

The word “tribulation,” in general, means oppression and affliction (Matt 24:9; Acts 11:19; Col 1:24), or in some instances, simply difficult circumstances (2 Cor 8:13; James 1:27). In other words, it is not limited to religious persecution. But, in the current verse (Rev 7:14), where it is “the great tribulation,” it refers to one particular tribulation that readers already know about. Given the context, “the great tribulation” refers to the martyrdom of God’s people in the seals; as emphasized in the fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11).

This is the only time the phrase “the great tribulation” occurs in Revelation. Rev 3:10 refers to “the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world,” but that is not limited to God’s people and might refer to the seven last plagues.

The angel in Daniel 12 referred to similar events when he said: “There will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Dan 12:1). That verse is followed by the resurrection of God’s people (Dan 12:2). This, therefore, also seems to refer to the end-time catastrophic events, symbolized in Revelation by the seven last plagues and the Sixth Seal.

In Matthew 24:21, Jesus spoke of “great tribulation” (without the article). In that case, it seems to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem (compare Luke with 21:20).

Great tribulation” without the article (the) in Acts 7:11 refers to the slavery in Egypt before the Exodus. This phrase also appears in Revelation 2:22, but that is a tribulation specifically on “those who commit adultery.

THEY HAVE WASHED THEIR ROBES AND
MADE THEM WHITE IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB.

The Greek word for “washed” is in the past tense, compared to the “come out” earlier in this verse, which is in the present tense. This implies that the washing was completed before they come out of the great tribulation.

METAPHOR

It is not possible to make clothes white in blood. This is a metaphor:

      1. Christ’s blood is a symbol of His death.
      2. His death symbolizes His entire life.
        If Jesus submitted to Satan’s temptations anywhere during His life, His death would have had no value. The hours of His death were the most severe temptation He had to resist His entire life on earth but, through faith, He continued to subject Himself to God’s will. For that reason, His death, understood as the last hours of His life on earth, symbolizes His entire life.

PEOPLE ARE JUDGED BY THEIR DEEDS.

White robes are a sign of being right with God (or justified, if one prefers Latin-sounding words). For example:

He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life” (Rev 3:4-5).

IN REVELATION, PEOPLE WASH THEIR OWN ROBES.

The people clothed in white robes had to wash their own robes (Rev 7:14). White robes or garments are mentioned a number of times in Revelation and consistently indicate that people must work for their salvation. For example:

      • He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments” (Rev 3:4-5).
      • His bride has made herself ready.
        The fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:7-8). (Robes symbolize character.)
      • Blessed is the one who … keeps his clothes” (Rev 16:15).

BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE JUDGED BY THEIR DEEDS.

The principle that people must clean their own robes is consistent with the principle argued above that Christ will refute Satan’s accusations through the deeds of His people. It is also consistent with the teaching of the whole Bible that man is judged by his deeds (cf. Rev 20:12). It is sometimes said that Paul taught something different, but he taught the same. For example:

God … will render to each person according to his deeds: To those who by perseverance in DOING GOOD … eternal life; but to those who … OBEY UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, wrath and indignation” (Rom 2:5-8; cf. 2:9-13)

If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13; See Smashing Idols for a more complete list of examples.).

NOBODY WILL BE SAVED BY THE “WORKS OF THE LAW.”

Paul also taught that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom 3:20). This does not contradict the principle that people will be judged by their deeds. Paul’s references to the “works of the law” must be read in their historical context. In his day, some Pharisees who became Christians argued:

Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

It is necessary to circumcise them (the Gentile Christians) and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).

In their view, sins are washed away by these ceremonies and rituals. It was to oppose this erroneous view that Paul stated that NOBODY is “justified” by the “works of the law.” These “works of the law” refer to the external ceremonies and rituals of the Mosaic Law, of which circumcision is the leading example, by which the Jews attempted to justify themselves before God and are very different from the “deeds” by which people are judged.

TO BE SAVED THROUGH FAITH
IS TO BE JUDGED BY DEEDS.

By grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8).

To be saved “saved through faith” is the same as to be judged by our deeds:

Firstly, to be saved “through faith” does require a judgment of the person. God assesses or judges the person’s faith.

Secondly, God does not judge only our external deeds. He also sees and judges the “inner man.” That God judges our deeds means that He judges the entire being, including his words, deeds, thoughts, and desires. These things are summarized by the word “faith.”

WE ARE JUDGED BY OUR DEEDS BUT SAVED BY GRACE.

People are judged by their deeds but saved by grace, for all have sinned. We are all doomed if we are to be judged by our deeds alone, for all have sinned. God’s people DO NOT EARN salvation through their deeds. This is also indicated in Revelation:

      • They wash their clothes “in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14).
      • They must “buy” white garments from Christ (Rev 3:18).
      • Christ “released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev 1:5).

Similarly, when “Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel,” the angel (Jesus?) gave instructions that the filthy garments be removed from him and said to Joshua: “See, I have taken your iniquity away” (Zech 3:3).

Judgment by deeds determines WHO must be saved. By grace is HOW those people are saved.

CONCLUSION

The Jewish system of salvation can be compared as follows with Paul’s proposed system:

    • The same moral principles apply in both systems.
    • The difference is in how our sins are forgiven, for the Jews agreed with Paul that we have all sinned:
        • In the Jewish system, sins are washed away by the rituals of the law. In other words, people are saved by the “works of the law.
        • For Paul, sins are forgiven by grace.

People dislike the idea of being judged by their deeds because they know that their deeds are evil.  But that fear must be replaced by faith. To have faith in God does not simply mean to know that He exists, it also means to trust Him. We must be concerned about our sins but then we must put our trust in God. We must know that He loves us and we must trust His promises (e.g., John 3:16).

This is a subject about which confusion reigns in the Christian world.  For a more detailed discussion, see People are not justified by the works of the law but are judged by their deeds.

ATONEMENT

They cleaned their own robes, but without the sacrifice (blood) of the Lamb, that would not have been possible. He “released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev 1:5), but the question is, HOW did His death do that? This matter is highly disputed.

Compare the phrase, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” to the following statement:

Christ … loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” (Eph 5:25-27).

Note the similarities:

      • Gave Himself up for her” is equivalent to His blood (His death).
      • Sanctify her,” “cleansed her” and “that she would be holy and blameless” are symbolized in Revelation 7 by clean robes.
      • Both verses refer to washing, but in Ephesians, it is not a mysterious washing with blood; simply “sanctify her … by the washing of water with the word.

Several articles are available on this website on the Atonement and on the question, Why did Jesus have to die?

REVELATION 7:15

For this reason,
they are before the throne of God;
and they serve Him day and night in His temple;
and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.

For this reason – This points back to the previous verse where the great multitude have washed their robes. That gave them the right to stand before the throne.

Before the throne of God – See the discussion of Rev 7:9.

And they serve Him – Since the throne of God is the governing center of the universe, to serve Him is to rule with Him.

Day and night – This phrase occurs five times in the book of Revelation (Rev 4:8; 7:15; 12:10; 14:11; 20:10). It means “constantly” or “continually.” Day and night together constitute the whole of time. On earth, daily toil is suspended so people can rest during the night. But in heaven, there will be no weariness or a need for rest.

In his templeThis is the heavenly temple (Greek: naô), which is mentioned frequently in the book of Revelation (Rev 8:3-5; 11:19; 15:5-8, etc.).

While there is a temple in heaven in this verse, there is no temple in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:22): “I saw no temple in it.” I would like to explain this as follows:

There is no physical temple in heaven. The temple on earth was a symbolic representation of heavenly realities; of how God deals with sin. For an example of the symbolism; “he who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple“ (Rev 3:12).

John’s visions use things from the Old Testament as symbols. This also applies to the temple. The throne of God, which is in His temple (Rev 16:17), is a symbol of God’s presence. This is what Revelation 21:22 confirms: “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

HE WHO SITS ON THE THRONE
WILL SPREAD HIS TABERNACLE OVER THEM.

Revelation 21:3, describing the time after the millennium, when God has come down to earth with the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:2-3), also refers to God’s “tabernacle:”

Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men,
and He will dwell among them
.”

The similarity of the two phrases implies that to “spread His tabernacle over them,” means to “dwell among them.

The word “will” perhaps implies that Revelation 7:15 describes the time BEFORE the return of Christ.

The “tabernacle” is another connection to the Feast of Tabernacles (or “booths”).

REVELATION 7:16

They will hunger no longer,
nor thirst anymore;
nor will the sun beat down on them,
nor any heat

This verse is a series of four negatives. It tells us what the life of eternity will not be, in sharp contrast to the experience of the wicked in the fourth bowl plague (Rev 16:8):

The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.  Men were scorched with fierce heat” (Rev 16:8-9).

In this life, being a believer is no guarantee of adequate food and drink and certainly does not guarantee physical comfort. But, in eternity, things will be different.

In the New Jerusalem, the sun won’t even be needed “for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:23).

This whole verse is one of the strongest verbal parallels to the Old Testament in the whole book of Revelation for Isaiah 49:10 promised that, after Israel’s return from exile in Babylon, “they will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them“ (NIV). This promise was never literally fulfilled to Old Testament Israel, but here Revelation re-activates it and applies it spiritually to New Earth and the New Jerusalem.

REVELATION 7:17

for the Lamb in the center of the throne
will be their shepherd,
and will guide them to springs of the water of life;
and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

If this was the end of the Book of Revelation, we would not have noticed anything missing. Although it is still fairly early in the narrative of Revelation, this passage describes the glorious reward of the eternal life of the redeemed. This is explained in more detail in Revelation 21-22.

IN THE CENTER OF THE THRONE

The Lamb is not “around the throne,” like the elders and the angels (Rev 4:4; 5:11). He is also not “before the throne,” like the Great Multitude (Rev 7:9, 15). He is “in the center of the throne.” This confirms that He ascended to the throne of God when He moved from “between the throne … and the elders” (Rev 5:6) to take the sealed book (Rev 5:7). He had been “exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33; 7:55; Rom 8:34; etc.)

THEIR SHEPHERD

That “the Lamb” will be “their shepherd” is a bit ironic, but it shows the symbolic nature of Revelation.

SPRINGS OF THE WATER OF LIFE

Revelation 22:17 also mentions the “water of life.” This “water” is still another allusion to the Feast of Booths. Zechariah 14 predicts the return of Christ and the new world. Notice how that passage connects the “living waters” to “the Feast of Booths:”

A day is coming” (Rev 14:1) when “the LORD will … fight against those nations” (Rev 14:3). “Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him” (Rev 14:5; cf. 19:11-14). “In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle” (14:6). 

In that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem” (Rev 14:8) “and the LORD will be king over all the earth” (Rev 14:9). “Any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths” (Rev 14:16).

AND GOD WILL WIPE AWAY EVERY TEAR FROM THEIR EYES.

Revelation 21:4 repeats this statement. The sorrow that the Innumerable Multitude suffered during the Tribulation will come to an end. Eternal life will be a mixture of joyous things added to human existence and unhappy things that will be removed.

WHO IS THE INNUMERABLE MULTITUDE?

As stated at the beginning of this article, one of the questions that must be answered is whether the Innumerable Multitude is the same as the 144000.

HEAR/SEE COMBINATIONS

One of the arguments used to show that these two groups are the same is the hear/see combinations in Revelation. We will, therefore, start by discussing these combinations.

In the sixth seal, at the end of Revelation 6, after the cataclysmic events preceding the Second Coming of Christ, the rebellious portion of the human race acknowledges that it is doomed and cries out:

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

In other words, who is able to stand when Christ returns? Revelation 7 answers that question by describing two groups of people:

      • 144000 from the tribes of Israel (Rev 7:1-8) and
      • An Innumerable Multitude from all the nations, “standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9-17).

OPPOSITES

At first glance, these two groups are complete opposites:

144000 INNUMERABLE MULTITUDE
Exactly numbered (Rev 7:4) Cannot be counted (Rev 7:9)
From the tribes of Israel (Rev 7:4) From every nation (Rev 7:9)
On earth (Rev 7:1-3) Before the throne of God (Rev 7:9)
Before the four winds are released (Rev 7:1-3) After the Great Tribulation (Rev 7:14)
Seal of God on their foreheads Clothed in white robes

HEAR/SEE-COMBINATIONS

However, they are not opposites. Revelation uses hear/see combinations in which the prophet first hears about something, but when he looks, he sees something completely different. Nevertheless, the two things are different symbols or perspectives for the same or similar realities.

Revelation 7 is one of these hear/see combinations. John never sees the 144000. He hears their number (Rev 7:4). But when he looks, he sees a great multitude that no one can number (Rev 7:9). Does that mean that the 144000 are the same as the innumerable multitude? Consider other hear/see combinations:

John hears about a Lion but then sees a Lamb (Rev 5:5-6). Both represent Jesus, namely different aspects or phases of His work.

John hears that the harlot sits on “many waters” but then sees a woman sitting on a scarlet beast with seven heads (Rev 17:1, 3). The waters represent the multitudes of people of the world (Rev 17:15). The beast symbolizes the “kings” of the world (Rev 17:9), which are the political powers into which the people are divided (Rev 17:18). The “many waters” and the scarlet beast, therefore, are different parts of the (population of) world. The harlot’s influence on the two groups is also different:

CONCLUSION

Based on these two examples, when John hears one thing and sees something completely different, what John hears and sees are NOT exactly the same. Rather, they are different perspectives or aspects of the same reality. They are different enough for us to conclude that the 144000 and the Innumerable Multitude are different parts or perspectives of God’s people.

OPPOSITES

Secondly, the differences in the descriptions of the 144000 and the Innumerable Multitude (e.g., from Israel – from all nations) indicate that they are not exactly the same. From time to time, Revelation gives different names to the same thing or group, but never describes the same thing in such contradictory terms.

WHITE ROBES

Thirdly, the fifth seal refers to a specific point in history when white robes are given to God’s martyred people. But the fifth seal also mentions people who must still be “killed even as they had been” (Rev 6:11). By implication, the people who must still be killed will also receive white robes. The Innumerable Multitude is clothed in white robes. They, presumable, therefore include all people in white robes; both groups of people in the fifth seal.

Further evidence of this is that the Innumerable Multitude has come through “the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). This confirms that this group includes both groups of people in the fifth seal.

Now comes the important point: The discussion of the Sealing has concluded that the 144000 are the same as the people in the fifth seal who must still be killed. Therefore, the Innumerable Multitude includes both the martyred souls that receive white robes in the fifth seal and the 144000.

CONCLUSION

It is, therefore, fairly clear that:

      • The 144000 are God’s end-time people in the time of restraint before the winds are loosed (Rev 7:1-3).
      • The Innumerable Multitude represents all of God’s people.

WHAT POINT IN TIME IS IN VIEW?

Another question is, what time is described in Rev 7:9-17? Does this passage represent the Innumerable Multitude before or after the return of Christ? 

AFTER CHRIST’S RETURN

Factors to consider include the following:

      • They stand before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev 11:19 & 16:17).
      • Revelation 6:17 asks, “who is able to stand” on “the great day of their wrath?” Since we see the Innumerable Multitude standing before the throne, this, presumably, is the answer to the question and “the great day of their wrath,” which is the return of Christ.
      • The palm branches in their hands are associated with “the Feast of Booths,” which foreshadowed the bliss of eternity.
      • Like the souls under the altar, they are clothed in white robes, but unlike the souls under the altar, they do not cry for revenge. This implies that they have had their revenge.

These factors seem to indicate that the point in time is AFTER the Return of Christ. However, as explained above, the New Testament sometimes describes things that are a permanent and eternal reality, but not yet visibly realized, as if it already happened. This may also apply to Revelation 7:9-17.

BEFORE CHRIST’S RETURN

Prophets normally describe visions as in the past tense because the vision was a past experience for the prophet. So, the prophet may even describe events that lie in the prophet’s future in the past tense.  However, Revelation sometimes switches to the present and future tenses.  That must be significant. In Rev 7:9-17:

      • Rev 7:11 and 12, describing the song of the heavenly beings, are in the past tense.
      • Rev 7:15 to 17, describing what God will do for His people, are in the future tense, for example, “God will wipe every tear.
      • On the other hand, the activities of the Innumerable Multitude are described in the present tense:

        • standing before the throne (Rev 7:9);
        • clothed in white robes (Rev 7:9);
        • cry out with a loud voice (Rev 7:10)
        • come out of the great tribulation (Rev 7:14);
        • are before the throne of God (Rev 7:15);
        • serve Him day and night (Rev 7:15).

There are two exceptions to this, but both can be explained:

      • Palm branches were in their hands” (Rev 7:9) (past tense) but this is not something that the multitude does. This is the normal way of relating a vision.
      • They have washed their robes” (Rev 7:14) is also in the past tense, but this is because they washed their robes before they “come out of the great tribulation.”

This present tense, when describing the Innumerable Multitude, therefore, seems to be intentional. Combined with the future tense of verses 15-17, the implication seems to be that Revelation 7:9-17 describes the time before the return of Christ.

PROPOSAL

It is proposed that Revelation 7:1-8 jumps back in time to describe the sealing of the 144000. The description of the Innumerable Multitude then is a continuation of the sixth seal. In other words, the hiding multitude (Rev 6:15-17) and the Innumerable Multitude describe the same point in time; namely immediately before the return of Christ. That would make the seventh seal the Return of Christ.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

      • The great tribulation refers to the martyrdom of God’s people in the seals.
      • Christ’s blood is a symbol of His death.
      • His death symbolizes His entire life.
      • God will render to each person according to his deeds
      • The 144000 and the Innumerable Multitude are not the same.
      • The Innumerable Multitude includes God’s people of all ages.
      • The Innumerable Multitude describes the same point in time as the hiding multitude in the sixth seal (Rev 6:15-17), namely immediately before the return of Christ.

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