The sealed of Israel: Revelation 7:1-8
Previously: The great day of Their wrath has come — Rev. 6:12-17
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)
The sealed of Israel
Between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals, John witnesses the “sealing” of 144,000 “slaves of our God” from “every tribe of the sons of Israel” (vv. 4-5). He also views a vast multitude from “every nation, tribe, people, and language” standing before the throne of God (v. 9). In this section we’ll focus on the 144,000.
No doubt, numbers are significant in this chapter. John sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, restraining the four winds of the earth. These angels are empowered to harm the earth and the sea. But before they do, another angel tells them to wait until 144,000 servants of God are sealed, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.
A lightning rod for controversy
This passage is a lightning rod for controversy. Jehovah’s Witnesses contend that the 144,000 make up a special class, “the spirit-begotten congregation” that will reign in heaven with Christ. Members of the Watchtower also refer to this class as the “little flock” of Luke 12:32; it is the only class of people who go to heaven. The rest of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called the “other sheep” (John 10:16) or the “great crowd” (Rev. 7:9-17) that hopes for future resurrection and life on Paradise earth.
Seventh-day Adventists say the 144,000 pertain to their communion, who are found observing the Jewish Sabbath when the Lord comes again and raptures them into glory. Other sects find similar solace in the belief that these sealed slaves come from their ranks.
More doctrinally sound commentators, who rightfully reject these views, still cannot agree among themselves. Some argue that these are 144,000 Jews converted and protected by God during the future Tribulation. Others contend that these sealed slaves represent the “true Israel” – the church. Others say this number symbolizes believing Israel, or the believing Jewish remnant to which Paul refers in Romans 9-11, or to the first Jews converted to Christianity.
But where are the tribes of Dan and Ephraim? Why have they been replaced? Should we read the 144,000 as a literal representation of some group of people, or as figurative? How did first-century Christians interpret this passage? And what does it mean for us today?
The number four dominates the first verse of chapter 7. John sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, restraining the four winds of the earth. What is the significance of the number four in this passage? In Old Testament symbolism, the number four refers to the whole earth (see Isa. 11:12; Jer. 49:36; Dan. 7:2; Matt. 24:31).
The writers of BibleStudy.org make the following observations: “Now the number four is made up of three and one (3+1=4), and it denotes, therefore, and marks that which follows the revelation of God in the Trinity, namely, His creative works. He is known by the things that are seen. Hence the written revelation commences with the words, ‘In the beginning God CREATED.’ Creation is therefore the next thing – the fourth thing, and the number four always has reference to all that is created. It is emphatically the number of Creation…. It is the number of things that have a beginning, of things that are made, of material things, and matter itself. It is the number of material completeness….
“The fourth day saw the material creation finished (for on the fifth and sixth days it was only the furnishing and peopling of the earth with living creatures). The sun, moon, and stars completed the work, and they were to give light upon the earth which had been created, and to rule over the day and over the night (Genesis 1:14-19).”
So, the four angels perhaps share some responsibility for the whole earth. Just as there are territorial demons – like the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” in Dan. 10:13 – so, too, there may be angels with assignments to watch over God’s creation, or to bring judgment upon it, for verse 2 tells us the four angels are “empowered to harm the earth and the sea.”
These angels stand at the “four corners of the earth.” The word translated “corners” is the Greek gonia, which literally means angles or divisions. It is related to our modern divisions known as quadrants. The Hebrew equivalent is kanaph and is translated a variety of ways but generally means extremity. It is translated “borders” or “corners” in Numbers 15:38. In Ezekiel 7:2 it is translated “corners” and again in Isaiah 11:12. In Job 37:3 it is “ends” and in 38:13 it is “edges.”
It is doubtful that any religious Jew would misunderstand the true meaning of kanaph. For nearly 2,000 years, religious Jews have faced the city of Jerusalem three times daily and chanted the following prayer:
Sound the great trumpet for our freedom,
Raise the banner for gathering our exiles,
And gather us together from THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH
into our own land.
The Book of Isaiah describes how the Messiah, the Root of Jesse, shall regather his people from the four corners of the earth. They shall come from every extremity to be gathered into Israel (Isa. 11:10-12). So there is little doubt that these angels stand ready to bring down judgment upon the whole earth, perched from the “four corners” where all is in view.
But what are the four winds? There are several interpretations. The rabbis viewed the quarterly winds as evil, and even the apostle Paul may have wondered about the malevolence of the “northeaster” (Acts. 27:14). Others liken the winds to the judgments of God (Jer. 49:36). Matthew Henry has an interesting perspective. He writes: “here the spirits of error are compared to the four winds, contrary one to another, but doing much hurt to the church, the garden and vineyard of God, breaking the branches and blasting the fruits of his plantation. The devil is called the prince of the power of the air; he, by a great wind, overthrew the house of Job’s eldest son. Errors are as wind, by which those who are unstable are shaken, and carried to and fro, Eph. 4:14” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 7:1–12).
It’s difficult to tell whether the winds are God’s instrument of divine judgment or evil forces under Satan’s control. The angels are empowered to harm the earth and the sea and yet are restraining the four winds that will bring destruction. At first blush, it seems contradictory. But often it is this way in scripture until we look more deeply.
God is sovereign over His creation. And although Satan is the ruler of this age and is able to exercise some control over the natural elements of the earth, he can do nothing without his Creator’s permission. The evil that Satan desires to do God allows when it aligns with His divine will and good pleasure. So the issue is not so much who is stirring the winds as what God is accomplishing through them. As Henry explains, “the spirit of error cannot go forth till God permits it, and … the angels minister to the good of the church by restraining its enemies.” No doubt the winds will blow, but first the Lord must accomplish something in the calm before the storm: the sealing of His slaves.
Next: Another angel … from the east (Rev. 7:1-8)
Isaiah 17: Partners in Crime
Listen to an audio file (2.15.09)
Download a worksheet for further study
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
The oracle in chapter 17 describes the fall of Damascus and the fortified cities of Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israel). The events described in this chapter belong to the period of the Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.), when Judah’s king Ahaz asks the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III to rescue him from the attacks of Syria and Ephraim.
Isa. 17:10a For you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and you have failed to remember the rock of your strength.
J. Vernon McGee writes: “Because of the confederacy between Syria and Israel (often for the purpose of coming against Judah), Israel is linked with the judgments pronounced on Syria. Partners in crime means partners in judgment” (Isaiah Volume 1, p.137).
Despite harsh words and a bleak outlook for Israel, the Lord reminds His people of His purpose in judgment – so they will “look to their Maker and will turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. They will not look to the altars they made with their hands or to the Asherahs and incense alters they made with their fingers” (Isa. 17:7b-8).
Prophecy Against Damascus (Isa. 17:1-3)
The northern kingdom of Israel (also called Ephraim) and Damascus, the capital of Syria (or Aram), have joined forces against Judah. For this they will suffer together. Both will be besieged and deported by Assyria (see 2 Kings 15:29; 17:6). The Assyrians conquer Aram in 732 B.C. and, according to their custom, deport many of the citizens, leaving the cities deserted and the land untended. They also likely burn the houses and demolish the fortifications, leaving the capital city a “ruined heap” (v. 1).
Isaiah also says the cities of Aroer, a Syrian province, are forsaken. “God is righteous in causing those cities to spue out their inhabitants, who by their wickedness had made themselves vile; it is better that flocks should lie down there than that they should harbour such as are in open rebellion against God and virtue” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 17:1).
The Syrians are the ringleaders in the confederacy against Judah, so they are punished first and most harshly. The glory of Israel will be no comfort to the Syrian survivors.
Judgment Against Israel (Isa. 17:4-11)
Now Isaiah turns his attention to Syria’s ally, Ephraim. He uses several graphic images to describe the northern kingdom’s imminent downfall: the fading splendor of Jacob (v. 4a); the emaciation of a sick person (v. 4b); the gleaning of a small harvest (vv. 5-6); the abandonment of woods and mountain peaks (v. 9); and the sudden decay of a garden (v. 11). On that day the people will come to their senses and realize that their idols cannot save them. They will turn to their Maker, but it will be too late (v. 7; see also Prov. 1:20-33). In 722 B.C., Assyria sweeps into the northern kingdom, and she is no more.
Warren Wiersbe comments:
The emphasis in this section is on the God of Israel. He is the Lord of hosts (the Lord Almighty), who controls the armies of heaven and earth (Isa. 17:3). He is the Lord God of Israel (v. 6), who called and blessed Israel and warned her of her sins. He is our Maker, the Holy One of Israel (v. 7); He is the God of our salvation and our Rock (v. 10). How foolish of the Israelites to trust their man-made idols instead of trusting the living God (v. 8; 1 Kings 12:25-33). But like Israel of old, people today trust the gods they have made, instead of the God who made them; these include the false gods of pleasure, wealth, military might, scientific achievement, and even “religious experience” (Be Comforted, S. Is 17:1).
Isaiah’s words are echoed in Paul’s letter to the Romans more than 700 years later. Though the Asherah poles used to worship the Canaanite fertility goddess are no longer standing, the first-century world still clung to idols: “For though they knew God, they did not glorify
Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles” (Rom. 1:21-23).
Judgment Against the Nations (Isa. 17:12-14)
These verses spell out the consequences for those who plunder the people of God. Even though God uses surrounding nations to judge Israel, he holds them accountable for their actions and brings them to justice. This passage seems especially to take aim at Assyria, which, after aligning itself with Judah, invades it unsuccessfully. As Matthew Henry writes, “If the Assyrians and Israelites invade and plunder Judah, if the Assyrian army take God’s people captive and lay their country waste, let them know that ruin will be their lot and portion” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary, S. Is 17:12).
The Assyrian army is diverse, made up of many nations. What’s more, its soldiers are noisy and boastful, “like the roaring of the seas … like the raging of mighty waters” (v. 12). They make boisterous threats in order to frighten their enemies into submission and prevent surrounding nations from coming to their enemies’ defense. But God will punish them, scattering them “like chaff on the hills, and like dead thistles before a gale” (v. 13). “How appropriate that though Assyria brought terror in the evening, the enemy would be gone before morning, for such was the case with the Assyrian army (37:36-37). Though the Assyrian soldiers had plundered many cities of Judah, 185,000 soldiers were slaughtered over night” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1065).
Matthew Henry comments: “It was in the night that the angel routed the Assyrian army. God can in a moment break the power of his church’s enemies, even when it appears most formidable; and this is written for the encouragement of the people of God in all ages, when they find themselves an unequal match for their enemies; for this is the portion of those that spoil us, they shall themselves be spoiled. God will plead his church’s cause, and those that meddle do it to their own hurt” (S. Is 17:12).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips
Isaiah 9: Prince of Peace, and Scorched Earth
Download a worksheet for further study
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapter 9 takes place during the reign of Ahaz, Judah’s wicked king. While Isaiah’s ministry focuses on the southern kingdom, this chapter speaks to the northern kingdom of Israel as well. Even though the Israelites will face the darkness of military defeat, the day is coming when they will see “great light” as the Messiah lives and ministers in Galilee.
Isa. 9:6: For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
This chapter highlights God’s Son and God’s sovereignty. Verses 1-7 give us additional information about Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), who will be a gift from heaven, God incarnate, and a light to all people. Verses 8-21 describe the punishment God is about to inflict on His own people, even though their defeat at the hands of the Arameans and Philistines will not lead to repentance.
Verse 6 is one of the clearest Old Testament passages affirming the deity and the humanity of the Messiah. He will be born a male child, yet is from age to age Mighty God and Eternal Father.
The Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:1-7)
The devastation of Israel at the hands of Assyria eventually will give way to an age of universal peace. In fact, the very lands about to experience darkness and death will be the first to see the light of a new day with the coming of the Messiah. As Matthew’s gospel makes clear, the region of Israel referred to in Isa. 9:1 is the first to rejoice in the light brought by Christ’s preaching (Matt. 4:12-17).
While Isa. 7:14 focuses on Messiah’s birth and 11:1-16 on His kingdom, verses 6-7 of chapter 9 lay great emphasis on His person. The first three titles imply deity:
- The word “wonderful” as in “Wonderful Counselor” regularly means “supernatural” in scripture. See, for example, Judges 13:18. In addition, Isa. 28:29 describes Yahweh as “wonderful in counsel” (KJV).
- “Mighty God” is a term ascribed to “the Lord, the Holy One of Israel” in Isa. 10:20-21.
- “Everlasting Father” has no exact parallel but is significant. “Father signifies the paternal benevolence of the perfect Ruler over a people whom he loves as his children. Peace in Hebrew implies prosperity as well as tranquility” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition, S. Is 9:1). While Messiah is a distinct person from God the Father, Jesus clearly claims to be both Messiah and co-equal with the Father (John 10:30). “Father of Eternity” is a better translation, according to Warren Wiersbe. “Among the Jews, the word ‘father’ means ‘originator’ or ‘source.’ For example, Satan is the ‘father [originator] of lies’ (John 8:44, NIV). If you want anything eternal, you must get it from Jesus Christ; He is the ‘Father of eternity'” (Be Comforted, S. Is 9:1).
The fourth title, “Prince of Peace,” speaks to Messiah’s character. Luke 2:14, John 14:27, Acts 10:36, Rom. 5:1-10, and Eph. 2:14-18 are a few of the New Testament passages that point to Jesus as the One who brings peace to human hearts and to a sin-sick world. Matthew Henry comments: “As a King, he preserves the peace, commands peace, nay, he creates peace, in his kingdom. He is our peace, and it is his peace that both keeps the hearts of his people and rules in them” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 9:1).
Finally, verse 7 emphasizes the scope of Messiah’s kingdom. It will be vast and never-ending (see Dan. 7:14, 27; Micah 4:7; Luke 1:32-33; Rev. 11:15). He will maintain righteousness as His rule conforms to God’s holy character. “This will all be accomplished by the zeal of the Lord Almighty. The coming of the millennial kingdom depends on God, not Israel. The Messiah will rule because God promised it and will zealously see that the kingdom comes. Without His sovereign intervention there would be no kingdom for Israel” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1053).
God’s anger, Israel’s arrogance (Isa. 9:8-21)
The rest of the chapter warns that God is about to punish Israel at the hands of the Arameans and Philistines. Even though Israel will be destroyed, she will not repent and turn to the Lord. Lawrence O. Richards writes, “Isa. 9:6-7 describes the universal reign of the Messiah. Then the rest of the chapter suddenly shifts to describe the judgment about to be visited on the Northern Kingdom, Israel (vv. 8-21). How are these linked? Jesus’ reign is marked by universal allegiance to God. Israel’s tragic history was marked from the beginning by rebellion against Him (1 Kings 12). Those who will not submit to the Lord will surely experience not the blessing of messianic times, but the havoc and ruination that crushed Israel” (The Bible Readers Companion, Electronic edition, S. 417).
Verses 9-10 describe the arrogance with which the northern kingdom regards God’s wrath. Though their sun-dried bricks will not stand, the people plan to rebuild with more expensive and durable cut stones. And though sycamores are abundant and used for their antiseptic qualities, which induced the Egyptians to use sycamore to encase their mummies, the northern tribes boast that they will rebuild with the aromatic, knot-free, and more valuable cedar.
Verses 11-12 describe what is about to happen. The foes of Rezin, king of Aram and an ally of Israel, will consume the northern kingdom. Specifically, the foes are other Arameans and the Philistines. While this is the Lord’s doing, it does not bring Israel to repentance and therefore does not quench the wrath of God. Verse 12 ends with a refrain that is repeated three more times in the following verses: “In all this, His anger is not removed, and His hand is still raised to strike” (see Isa. 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4).
The words in verse 14 – “So the Lord cut off Israel’s head and tail, palm branch and reed” – comprise a merism, a figure of speech using opposite extremes to include the whole spectrum. Verses 15-17 provide the needed detail. The elders (the head) and the false prophets (the tail), the leaders and those who are misled – even the fatherless and widows will reap judgment because “everyone is a godless evildoer” (v. 17).
Verses 18-21 describe the wickedness of God’s people as a consuming fire, with the people themselves as fuel. As God directs punishment against them, they are destroyed by enemies from without and rivals from within. “Ephraim’s own wickedness was destroying the nation, the way a fire destroys a forest or a field,” writes Warren W. Wiersbe. “But the sinners would become fuel for the fire God could kindle! In their greed, the people of the Northern Kingdom were devouring one another (v. 20) and battling one another (v. 21); but they would soon be devoured and defeated by Assyria” (Be Comforted, S. Is 9:1).
Matthew Henry writes: “The reason why the judgments of God are prolonged is because the point is not gained, sinners are not brought to repentance by them. The people turn not to him that smites them, and therefore he continues to smite them; for when God judges he will overcome, and the proudest stoutest sinner shall either bend or break” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 9:8).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips