Rev. 12:12 – Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows he has a short time. (HCSB)
Rejoice, O heavens … woe to the earth and the sea
As a result of Satan’s expulsion from heaven and the victory won by the blood of the Lamb and the word of the saints’ testimony, the voice in heaven declares, “Therefore rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows he has a short time” (v. 11).
There is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents, being transported by faith out of Satan’s kingdom of darkness into Christ’s kingdom of light (Luke 15:7). There is rejoicing on earth when Jesus casts out demons; when He rides triumphantly into Jerusalem; and when He rises from the dead, being declared the Son of God with power and defeating the Devil and his works. And there is rejoicing in “the heavens” – the sky, the stellar heavens, the unseen spiritual realm – when Satan is banished and his span of influence is severely restricted. The angels, the redeemed – even creation itself – exults in this epic event with everlasting benefits. There is rejoicing everywhere the glory of God dispels the darkness of Satan.
But in this passage there also is woe, because Satan has not yet been banished to the abyss for a time, or to hell for eternity. For a short time, Satan and his demons are confined to earth, and knowing his time is short, he rules his fleeting kingdom with great fury. It’s interesting to look ahead one verse, where the dragon sees that he has been thrown to earth. It’s as if he cannot believe his lot. Once an anointed cherub, once a mighty, beautiful, intelligent servant of God, with the universe at his disposal, he now finds himself confined to the “earth and the sea,” and he is not happy about it.
Rev. 12:6 – The woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, to be fed there for 1,260 days. (HCSB)
The woman fled
Finally in this section we are told, “The woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, to be fed there for 1,260 days” (v. 6). Keep in mind that the woman in this vision is Israel. So, we might ask: When does Israel flee? Where is the wilderness? What is the special place God prepares for her? And what is the meaning of 1,260 days?
As we noted earlier, some commentators see the woman as the Virgin Mary and conclude that this flight into the wilderness is her departure with Joseph and Jesus into Egypt after Herod’s decree to kill all infant males in and around Bethlehem. Others say the woman is the church on its pilgrim journey through the present age, nourished by God while living among a vast multitude of heathens. While these interpretations have some merit, they do not seem to fit the context as well as the understanding that the woman is Israel.
Rev. 10:11 – And I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” (HCSB)
You must prophesy again (v. 11)
Finally, John is told he “must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings” (v. 11). Another possible translation is that John must prophesy “against” or “concerning” many peoples. While the Lamb redeems a countless throng from every tribe, language, people and nation (Rev. 5:9; 7:9-17), there are hoards of stiff-necked unbelievers who resist the gospel John preaches, war against Christ and His people, and bring upon themselves certain destruction (Rev. 11:9; 13:7; 17:15; 19:11-21). Kings in particular will take their stand on the side of evil and will pay dearly for it (Rev. 6:15; 16:12-14; 17:2, 18; 19:18-19).
“The apostle is made to know that this book of prophecy, which he had now taken in, was not given him merely to gratify his own curiosity, or to affect him with pleasure or pain, but to be communicated by him to the world” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 10:8-10).
We are continuing to work through the Book of Revelation with a focus on four major views of the so-called Apocalypse of John, as well as a firm conviction that in this book are many clear doctrinal truths around which all believers may rally. We still have a long way to go in our study. You can read the commentary to date by clicking here.
Whether you’re a preterist, who sees the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the Christian era, a historicist, who views the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history, a futurist, who sees most of Revelation as yet unfulfilled, or an idealist, who sees Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil, there are important truths the Lord reveals to all of us in this book.
We would do well to approach Revelation with caution — and with great anticipation, knowing God will fulfill all His promises to us. We also should be comforted by the fact that Revelation is the only book in Scripture specifically promising a blessing to those who hear its prophecies and keep them.
With that in mind, and to make it easier to keep our notes together, we have captured the commentary into single Adobe files (pdfs) that you may download, print and share. Click on the links below to capture notes on chapters 6-7. If you missed the link to notes on chapters 1-3 or 4-5, links are provided as well.
Rev. 7:1 – After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, restraining the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. 2Then I saw another angel rise up from the east, who had the seal of the living God. He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels who were empowered to harm the earth and the sea: 3“Don’t harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we seal the slaves of our God on their foreheads.” 4And I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 512,000 sealed from the tribe of Judah, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 612,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 712,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 812,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 sealed from the tribe of Benjamin. (HCSB)
I heard the number …
Johns hears a roll call of the sealed servants. Perhaps it is the angel from the east who calls the roll, the same angel who tells the four other angels not to harm the earth until the 144,000 receive the seal of God on their foreheads. John learns that the 144,000 are from “every tribe of the sons of Israel,” and then he listens as 12,000 from each of 12 tribes are called out.
R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and D. Brown provide the following perspective of John’s use of numbers: “Twelve is the number of the tribes, and appropriate to the Church: three by four: three, the divine number, multiplied by four, the number for world-wide extension. Twelve by twelve implies fixity and completeness, which is taken a thousandfold in 144,000. A thousand implies the world perfectly pervaded by the divine; for it is ten, the world number, raised to the power of three, the number of God” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Re 7:4).
Some key questions come to mind:
- Why are the tribes of Dan and Ephraim missing? Many commentators believe it’s because Dan and Ephraim are largely responsible for leading the nation of Israel into idolatry. Some conclude that the Antichrist will come from Dan (see Gen. 49:16-17; Jer. 8:16). Just as there is a Judas among the 12 apostles, there is a traitor among the tribes of Israel. Evidently, the priestly tribe of Levi replaces Dan. Ephraim is not mentioned by name, but rather by his father’s name. Joseph is sometimes substituted for Manasseh or Ephraim when referring to either tribe.
- Are the 144,000 ethnic Jews, or a symbolic representation of some other group? Many scholars believe these are ethnic Jews because the text plainly says so and lists them by tribe; they also argue that the clear references to “tribe” and “Israel” distinguish the 144,000 from the Gentile multitude in the second half of Revelation 7. Some who hold this view contend that the 144,000, who are mentioned as “firstfruits for God and the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4), are the first Jews converted in the early days of the church. Other interpreters argue that the 144,000 are God’s faithful people, both Jew and Gentile. Just as Paul declared that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom. 9:6), the “true Israel” consists of Jews and Gentiles who have trusted in Christ; therefore the 144,000 symbolize the true church.
- Is the number 144,000 to be taken literally or symbolically? Commentators are divided on this question. Most futurists read this literally and believe that during the coming Tribulation God will anoint 144,000 Jewish evangelists. Others believe that 144,000 Jewish Christians heed the warnings of Jesus and escape the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But many Bible interpreters insist we must see this number as symbolic. The 144,000 may be seen as 12 x 12 x 1000, which stresses the completeness of the number; this is, after all, apocalyptic language, and reasonable readers should see it as such, they argue.
- Are the 144,000 in chapter 7 the same 144,000 we encounter in chapter 14? Again, there is no consensus among scholars. Some insist they are the same, since they are sealed by God on their foreheads and are redeemed from the earth. Those who hold this view stress that we see the 144,000 on earth in chapter 7 and in heaven in chapter 14. Other interpreters, however, say that these are two different groups: Jews in chapter 7 and the “redeemed from the human race” in chapter 14 (v. 4).
While these questions leave many of us scratching our heads and wondering whether the “right” answers may ever be known, we should not overlook the clear teachings that believers throughout the church age have embraced:
- God is not finished with Israel. Whether the 144,000 are ethnic Jews or redeemed of all the earth, Jews are welcome in the kingdom of heaven and have been receiving their King since the Day of Pentecost. Although proponents of “replacement” theology (also known as “completion theology”) contend that the church has taken the place of Israel in this age, no reasonable Christian would deny that ethnic Jews throughout the church age have trusted in Jesus as Messiah as therefore are members of the true church. One other point should be kept in mind: There are many scriptural promises of Israel’s future glory, including the city of Jerusalem, that are difficult to spiritualize and are better understood in light of a geographic location and ethnic people.
- God always keeps a faithful remnant. Even though the nation of Israel often has fallen into gross idolatry, the Lord has preserved a number of Jews faithful to Him. And even when Christianity is the particular target of persecutors – whether Roman or Jewish in the early centuries of the church, or communist or radical Muslim today – Christ preserves, strengthens, and expands His church. Clearly, the “forces of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18).
- God will judge the world one day in righteousness. The sealed servants in Revelation 7 and 14 are set apart before the Lord brings His particular judgment of the wicked to bear. While there is no doubt that many believers suffer persecution at the hands of the ungodly, God’s final judgment of the earth will target those who shake their fists at the Son of God as He returns in power and great glory. Whatever price believers have paid for their faithfulness on earth will be vindicated by Christ in His coming and compensated in eternity.
Four major views of the 144,000
So, how do proponents of the four major interpretations of Revelation view the 144,000?
- Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – say the 144,000 is a symbolic number representing Jewish Christians who escaped Jerusalem before its destruction in 70 A.D. Because this group is called “the firstfruits for God and the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4), and because the church age has witnessed a continuous harvest of souls, the 144,000 must be early Jewish Christians rather than future ones. “God always has had a remnant in Israel who are faithful despite widespread apostasy,” writes Steve Gregg, explaining the preterist view. “This faithful remnant in the first century was the original core of the entity we now call the church; many Gentile converts have been added to their company since that time” (Revelation: Four Views, p. 130).
- Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – see the 144,000 as symbolic of the entire church, “the Israel of God.” Some historicists, however, take the 144,000 to be a select number of Jews spared during the destruction of Jerusalem (similar to the preterist view), or symbolic of God’s chosen remnant in the world.
- Futurists – who argue that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – say the 144,000 constitute a godly remnant of Jewish people who are sealed for protection from later plagues. These are physical Israelites, not to be confused with the church, which is never described by tribal divisions. Hal Lindsey, author of The Late, Great Planet Earth, refers to this group as “144,000Jewish Billy Grahams.”
- Idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – argue that this company represents the church as the true and spiritual Israel. The irregular listing of tribes – with Judah named first as Messiah’s own tribe, and the omission of Dan and Ephraim, argue against a literal interpretation. “In any age, it is the church that is preserved from God’s judgments upon nations, though this does not mean the church does not suffer at the hands of sinners,” writes Gregg, summarizing the idealist view (pp. 132-33).
Next: A vast multitude — Revelation 7:9-17