An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 24 May 2011; Revised 9 April 2015
Scripture: The Scripture text of Revelation used below is prepared by Blaine Robison with consideration given to the American Standard Version (which is in the public domain) and the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. See my web article The Jewish New Testament. Other Bible versions are also quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet. Messianic Jewish versions are CJB, DHE, GNC, HNV, MW, OJB, & TLV.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Works by early church fathers may be found at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the definitions of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations. Definitions of Hebrew words are from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981). The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
Vocabulary: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Torah (Law), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
The Divine Imprint (7:1-3)
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 should blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.
After this: John is given a break from the seals of destiny to view a new scene. I saw four angels: This is another group of angels with a special assignment. standing at the four corners: Grk. gonia means corner, as in street corner (Matt 6:5), or cornerstone (Matt 21:42). Gonia was also used as a metaphor to refer to a secret or hidden place (Acts 26:26). He sees four angels standing or perhaps hovering over the four corners of the earth. Johnís reference to four corners does not mean that he either believed in or borrowed from sources that believed in a flat earth. Scripture, of course, teaches that the earth is spherical (Isa 40:22).
Cf. Luke 17:34ff where the Second Coming of Yeshua occurs when some are asleep at night and others are working in the daytime, which refers to day and night caused by the rotation of the earth. The ancient Greeks also believed in a spherical earth and measured its circumference with remarkable accuracy. ("Who Invented the Idea of a Flat Earth?" Creation Ex Nihilo, Sept.-Nov. 1992).
The four corners John mentions may correspond to a modern discovery that the earth does indeed have four corners or protuberances. The earth is not a perfect sphere, but is slightly flattened at the poles, making the earth what scientists call an oblate spheroid. These four protuberances disrupt the normal curvilinear shape of the earth and have been located as follows, in terms of latitude and longitude: (1) 55į N, 10į W (near Ireland), (2) 50į S, 48į E (near South Africa), (3) 15į N, 140į E (near the Philippines), (4) 18į S, 80į W (near Peru). (W.H. Guier and R.R. Newton, "The Earthís Gravity Field-Doppler Tracking of Five Satellites," Journal of Geophysical Research, 1965, quoted in BBMS 248).
The topographical expression "four corners" occurs twice in the Tanakh. Isaiah 11:12 says, "And He will lift up a standard for the nations and assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth" (Isa 11:12). Ezekiel 7:2 says, "And you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD to the land of Israel, ĎAn end! The end is coming on the four corners of the land.í" In both cases the Hebrew word for "corners" (kanaph, SH-3671) refers to the extremities or the end of the earth or land (BDB 489). As a word picture the four corners indicates the limits of the horizon in the four directions of a compass as viewed by an observer on the earth. However, Johnís narrative is not as general as the Tanakh usage. Each angel is standing at a precise location and there is no reason why it could not be the four protuberances.
holding back the four winds of the earth: Not only are there four angels, but also four winds. Some think the four angelic horsemen of Zechariah 6:5 are the four winds here. However, John received no explanation that would require taking the description symbolically. Daniel had a similar visionary dream in which the "four winds of heaven were stirring up the sea" (Dan 7:2). In Danielís vision "heaven" most likely referred to the atmosphere, and the action of the winds served to enable four terrible beasts to come forth from the sea. Rabbis have called these the cardinal winds, i.e., winds directly controlled by God (Sevener 67). John reports in a matter-of-fact manner that the angels not only stop the four winds but all the winds from blowing.
In fact, these positions are ideal for angels of super power to control the wind currents that circumnavigate the globe. The wind is very important in the hydrologic cycle to transfer water vapor from the oceans to the land in the form of precipitation. A lengthy period of stopping the winds would have catastrophic effects. While 11:6 says that the two witnesses have authority to cause environmental harm, the only ones actually depicted doing so in Revelation are angels. However, winds can also be destructive as evidenced from manís experience with hurricanes and tornadoes. Stopping the winds temporarily would provide a reprieve from the formation of any ravaging storm.
so that no wind should blow on the earth or on the sea: Three aspects of earthís environment are mentioned that allude to the hydrologic cycle. Water evaporates from the sea, rises into the atmosphere where it condenses, then is released by the atmosphere as precipitation on the land from which all plants draw their nourishment, and finally runs back to the sea to start the cycle again. The word "earth" probably refers to land. The word "sea" should be taken in a general sense and not a specific named body of water. In reality there is only one sea that circumnavigates the globe. or on any tree: The trees that would be of primary concern as related to the hydrologic cycle would be those that bear edible fruit.
2― And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was given to harm the earth and the sea,
John sees a fifth angel come into view ascending, or going up into the sky. from the rising: Grk. anatolē means rising and is used in the apostolic writings in three ways: (1) the rising of stars or planets as an astronomical phenomenon (cf. Matt 2:2); (2) a metaphor for the direction of east or the orient; (3) figuratively of the coming of the Messiah. The expression normally refers to the direction "east" from a position on the earth. In this case the intention of the phrase may be more literal, that is, the angel ascends in the sun light at dawn.
of the sun: Grk. hēlios (Heb. shemesh), the sun, the star that is the central body of the solar system, created on the fourth day to "govern the day" (Gen 1:16-19). Its mean distance from the earth is about 93 million miles, which assures the right balance of heat, light and photosynthesis to sustain all of earth's physical and biological processes. In both the solar system and on the earth "there is nothing hidden from its heat" (Ps 19:6). The sun moves in an orbit through the Milky Way Galaxy (Ps 19:5-6), at a speed that scientists estimate to be 600,000 mph (BBMS 165). The radiant heat energy from the sun provides the physical power to sustain all of earth's physical and biological processes. The sun is certainly "the light of the world (John 18:12), and on the earth, "there is nothing hidden from its heat" (Ps 19:6).
having the seal: Grk. sphragis. In secular usage sphragis referred to a physical tattoo or imprint with a variety of commercial and religious applications. In apostolic usage sphragis may refer to the phylactery worn on the forehead and hand by Jewish priests (Rienecker). the special seal refers to an instrument that leaves an impression, although the word can have a spiritual meaning of something that confirms or attests (cf. Rom 4:11; 1Cor 9:2; 2 Tim 2:19). No description of the shape, size or content of the seal is offered, but 14:1 indicates that the name of the Lamb and the Father are written on the foreheads of the 144,000. The seal may bear the inscription "Holy to the Lord" as was originally prescribed to be engraved on a plate of gold and affixed to a turban worn by the Jewish High Priest and thus was on his "forehead" (Ex 28:36ff; 39:30f). Zechariah also prophesied that "Holy to the Lord" would be engraved on a variety of items in the millennial kingdom (Zech 14:20f). Being "holy" to the Lord is primarily a matter of ownership and whatever bears His seal can only be used for His purposes.
of the living God: The seal is the property of God, a special designation that occurs frequently in Scripture. Parallel forms of the title occur in Revelation at 1:18; 4:9f; 10:6 and 15:7. Mounce observes that the title particularly occurs wherever God is about to intervene on behalf of His people. The mention of God as "living" emphasizes that only the God who revealed himself to Abraham, Jacob, Moses and the nation of Israel has real existence (Deut 32:39; 2Sam 7:22; Ps 86:10; Isa 43:10-11; 44:6-8; 45:5-6, 21; Dan 3:29; 1Cor 8:4). In the NASB the phrase "living God" occurs 28 times in the Bible. The parallel expression, "as the LORD lives" occurs 35 times in the Tanakh. All other deities claimed in the world and worshipped in other religions have no existence accept in the imagination of deceived humanity. Throughout Scripture the prophets and the apostles assert the reality and power of the God of Israel. There is no other God.
and he cried out with a loud voice: The fifth angel has an important order for the four angels and "cried out," using what is called in the military a "command voice," which is achieved by raising the volume and pitch sufficient for a group to clearly hear the orders. The four angels not only have the duty of holding back the winds temporarily, but also have authority to harm the land and sea. They may be part of the team of seven angels who sound the trumpets of judgment on earthís inhabitants. While angels are not omnipotent as their Creator, their powers are nonetheless awesome. The instruction to the angels may indicate that the event that follows actually precedes the second seal of the book.
3― saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God in their foreheads."
Do not harm: Grk. adikeō, aor. subj., to do wrong in a moral sense or cause harm or injury in a physical sense. The latter meaning is intended here. The subjunctive mood seems a strange choice for a command, which normally takes the imperative. The subjunctive is the mood of probability and is a close relation to the imperative. When used in the manner of a prohibition, as here, it is more of an appeal, since the mission of the angels is being delayed for something of greater priority.
the earth: The word "earth" in this context probably means arable farmland, since sea (Grk. thalassa) and trees (Grk. dendron) follow it. In the apostolic writings thalassa is used of both inland lakes (or "seas" as the Sea of Galilee) and the Mediterranean Sea when not otherwise identified, which may be intended here since the word is singular. Dendron is used particularly in the apostolic writings of fruit-bearing trees (e.g., Matt 3:10; 7:17ff; 12:33; Luke 21:29). These three points of reference were the principal sources of the food economy in ancient times and all three suffer severe calamities in the seal, trumpet and bowl visions.
until we have sealed: Grk. sphragizō means to mark with a seal as a means of identification. The mark, which denotes ownership, also carries with it the protection of the owner. The angels are told not to do any harming of the earthís natural resources until the servants of God are branded with the heavenly imprint, which implies that this crowd is on the earth in contrast with the innumerable multitude in verse 9. Apparently, the holding back of the winds is only a temporary action until the sealing is accomplished and no significant harm results from it.
the servants of our God: Although the Greek text uses the standard word for a Roman slave, it is more likely that the term here conforms to the Hebrew concept of a servant of the Lord. The common elements in the Greek and Hebrew terms would be exclusive loyalty and absolute obedience. However, Roman slavery denied people their freedom, but becoming a servant of the Lord assures liberty. A Roman slave would give grudging obedience, but the servant of the Lord gladly gives all to the One who purchased salvation with His blood.
in their foreheads: Grk. metōpon means "between the eyes" (Rienecker). The hallmark of divine ownership is impressed on the foreheads of His bond-servants. In Scripture the word for "sealed" is only used of the saints, whereas the description of marking those who follow the beast employs a different Greek word (13:16-17). In ancient times sealing referred to marking animals for identification and to show ownership. A cult at Mithra also marked their adherents on the forehead. Barclay adds that slaves and soldiers were marked so they could be recognized if they deserted.
However, John is not borrowing from a cultural practice, since tattooing the body is forbidden in the Torah (Lev 19:28). God knows who are His (John 10:14; 2Tim 2:19), so the sealing is not for His benefit. The primary purpose of the seal of God is to protect the people of God. While the divine seal does not shield the saints from the ravages of the Antichrist and his forces who likely cannot see the mark (20:4), the sealing does safeguard the saints from the destructive plagues wrought by the angels. The purpose of the sealing becomes apparent in 9:4 where those who do not have the seal of God suffer the torment of the fifth trumpet.
The first biblical marking of this nature was the Passover-mark that the children of Israel employed to escape the last plague on Egypt brought by the angel of death (Ex 12:7, 12f). Ezekiel relates a similar story to Johnís report in which God directed an angel to go through the midst of Jerusalem and "put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in the midst" (Ezek 9:4). Those who were marked would be spared the divine judgment that would fall on the inhabitants of the city. Interestingly, the word for "mark" mentioned in Ezekiel in the Phoenician script looked like a cross and was later adopted by early Jewish Christians as a symbol of their faith in Yeshua (Johnson).
This sealing action is comparable to the sealing of the Holy Spirit spoken of by Paul, since the same Greek word is used. In addition, spiritual sealing is similar to the concept of circumcision of the heart. Physical circumcision was the sign and seal of the Abrahamic covenant (cf. Gen 17:11; Ex 12:44, 48; John 7:22f; Acts 7:8; Rom 4:11). Of particular relevance is Paulís statement that believers are "sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph 4:30), which fits the context here. Similarly, circumcision of the heart is necessary to enable Godís people to love Him fully and to qualify them to enter His sanctuary, whether on earth or in heaven (Deut 30:26; Isa 52:1; Jer 4:4; 31:33; Ezek 44:9; Rom 2:26-29). The sealing will later protect the saints from Godís wrath in the same way as the lambís blood on Israelite doorposts in Goshen spared their families from Godís wrath on Pharaoh (Ex 12:13).
4― And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
And I heard the number: In consequence of the angel applying the seal of God John says that he "heard" the number of the tribes of Israel who were sealed. What remains unclear is what John meant by "heard." Did he hear the angel speak the words "one hundred and forty-four thousand?" Or, perhaps more likely, did the group make some sound or voice praise to the Lord? of those who were sealed: The word "sealed" is a perfect participle meaning the sealing was completed before John heard the number, so it was not the sealing itself that he heard.
one hundred and forty-four thousand: Grk. chilias, which is actually plural. Interpretation of Johnís narrative involves two issues. First, who are the 144,000, and second, what is the purpose of singling them out in contrast to the innumerable host described later in the chapter? The second question cannot be completely answered from this text, but certain conclusions may be drawn from the second scene of the 144,000 in 14:1ff. from every tribe: Grk. phulē has two basic meanings: (1) a tribe of Israel and (2) a nation or people. Phulē derives from phuo, to bring forth, produce, grow, be born. In the LXX phulē occurs over 400 times and translates three different Hebrew words, meaning tribe, clan or nation.
of the sons of Israel: Grk. Israēl, a transliteration of the Heb. Yisrael, which means "God prevails" (BDB 975). On the identity issue, there are two basic views. Commentators recognize that the plain sense of the idiom "sons of Israel" means representatives of the Jewish people and blood descendants of Jacob, but many historicist, preterist and spiritual interpreters since the time of the church fathers have believed that the 144,000 is a symbolic number representing the Church based on the assumption of replacement theology that "Israel" in Romans 2:28f; 11:17-26, Galatians 6:16f and Ephesians 2:11-13 refers to a "New Israel" of (Gentile) Christianity.
These commentators also cannot believe that God would seal unbelieving Jews or Messianic Jews for special protection, but not Christians (Gregg). Besides, the ten tribes of the Kingdom of Israel (supposedly) disappeared into Assyria and the remaining tribes in the Kingdom of Judah lost their separate identity when Jerusalem fell in 70 (Mounce). This latter refrain was especially repeated by commentators from former generations who considered the possibility of any application to a politically restored Israel as an absurdity. Stern rightly points out that God in His grace has indeed given special protection to Jews for thousands of years as promised to Abraham or there would be no Jewish people today. (See my article The Twelve Tribes of Israel.)
The second viewpoint held by futurists is that since the Lord does not treat the names of the tribes as symbolic, then there would be no sufficient reason not to take this section literally, especially given the specific language "from every tribe." In other words, the text does not simply mention 144,000 Jews or merely "Israel," either of which might symbolize in general terms the Body of Messiah. The appeal to the use of Israel in Paulís letters to symbolize the Church here fails to recognize that for Paul the term "Israel" referred to the commonwealth of Israel that consists of the faithful blood descendants of Jacob (Rom 9:6f) with Gentile believers grafted in to receive the covenant privileges (Rom 11:17-24; Eph 2:11-16).
John specifically reports that 12,000 human beings were chosen from twelve separate and named tribes, each of which points to both the tribeís existence and its much larger constituency. The equal numbers from each tribe stresses the equality that all the tribes share in the special honor of being chosen and sealed by the Messiah. The text offers no allegorical explanations and none are required. The literal identification is also contrasted and reinforced by the description of diverse membership of the people of God in verse 9 below. The group John saw may possibly represent the first fruits of native Messianic Israelites alive or resurrected at the Lordís coming (cf. 1Cor 15:23), since the Gospel is for the Jew first and then for the Gentile (Matt 10:6; 15:24; Rom 1:16; 2:10).
The evidence for the literal approach is simple. While the ten tribes of the northern Kingdom of Israel never returned to the holy land and there were Rabbinical debates whether they ever would do so (Sanh. 110b), there is no suggestion in Scripture, the Talmud or other ancient historical sources that the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel disappeared from existence.
Identifying the ten tribes that became the Kingdom of Israel (1Kgs 11:31, 35) must consider the overall tribal situation. The tribe of Simeon, while sometimes mentioned with the ten "lost" tribes, was actually located entirely within the land of Judah (Josh 19:1). Thus the Kingdom of Judah consisted of the tribes of Benjamin, Simeon and Judah. The tribe of Levi was never considered a member of the northern kingdom, given their distribution throughout the tribal territories. The Kingdom of Israel, then, consisted of Reuben, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, and Ephraim, plus the two half-tribes of Manasseh that occupied separate allotments on either side of the Jordan (cf. Num 32:33; Josh 13:7-8).
After Assyria invaded the northern kingdom and took many of the ten tribes into exile (cf. 2Kgs 15:29; 17:6, 21; 2Chr 32:17, 23), there were members of those tribes that migrated to Judah or were already there at the time of the invasion (2Chr 30:1, 21, 25; 31:1; 34:9, 21; 35:17; 36:13). The continuing survival of the ten tribes, whether in Judah or in exile, may also be seen in that the Lord still referred to Himself as the "Lord God of Israel" (2Kgs 21:12; 22:15, 18; 2Chr 34:23, 26; 36:13). Eventually the Jewish descendants in exile either voluntarily or by forced relocations migrated to Hyrcania, Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece and Italy (Tarn & Griffith, 219. Schurer, II, 223.). The truth about the ten northern tribes means that the British-Israeli movement and the Mormons have perpetuated an elaborate anti-Jewish mythology.
The Letter of Aristeas (ca. 200 BC) recounts that King Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 BC) requested the Jewish High Priest Eliezer to provide representatives of all twelve tribes in order to translate the Hebrew sacred scriptures into Greek, which became known as the Septuagint. The request could not have been made or accomplished if the twelve tribes did not exist. In the apostolic era Jews knew their tribal connections, as is evident from the mention of Anna from the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36), Barnabas from the tribe of Levi (Acts 4:36) and Paul from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom 11:1; Php 3:5), as well as Yeshua from the tribe of Judah (Matt 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).
In addition, Jacob (aka "James") addresses his letter to the "twelve tribes in the Dispersion" (Jas 1:1) and Paul in his defense to King Agrippa definitely referred to the twelve tribes as in existence at that time (Acts 26:7). The Jewish apostles would not refer to Gentile disciples as "twelve tribes." In A.D. 93 Josephus could report that "the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers" (Ant. XI, 5:2). Moreover, Yeshua promised His apostles authority over the twelve tribes of Israel "when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne" (Matt 19:28; cf. Luke 22:30), which may indicate that the twelve apostles were representatives from the twelve tribes.
So, not only did the twelve tribes exist when Yeshua was on earth, but he affirmed they would exist when he returns to establish his millennial reign. Orthodox Jews have never accepted the idea that the ten tribes were lost because of all the prophecies about a restored and reunified Israel. The twelve tribes may have lost family records as a result of Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, and Roman invasions and wars, but they did not cease to exist or lose their ethnic and tribal identity. Since God has a complete record in heaven of every person born on the earth and will be the One doing the choosing, tribal identification should not be a difficult process. Mark Twainís often quoted saying - "the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated" - could certainly be applied to the common myth about the demise of the tribes of Israel.
Commentators point out that certain differences exist between the list in Revelation and lists in the Tanakh: (1) Dan is missing, (2) Ephraim is missing, but Joseph is present, which was not a single tribe, (3) Judah, not Reuben, is mentioned first, and (4) Levi is included, even though this tribe is sometimes not counted, since it was not assigned a portion in the Land of Israel (Stern). However, and there are no fewer than twenty variant lists of the tribes in Scripture, and these lists include anywhere from ten to thirteen tribes, though the number twelve is predominant (cf. Gen 49; Num 1; Deut 33; Ezek 48) (Johnson). These anomalies actually serve to discredit the symbolic interpretation. Dan is also omitted from the lengthy tribal list and genealogy in 1 Chronicles 2-10 and many commentators believe Dan and Ephraim were left out in Revelation because of a history of idolatry. Of the two Dan has the earliest offense (Jdg 18:30), but King Jeroboam placed idols in the territory of both Dan and Ephraim (1Kgs 12:29). Irenaeus (ca. 202) believed the Antichrist would come from the tribe of Dan, based on interpretations of Genesis 49:17 and Jeremiah 8:16.
Yet, all the tribes engaged in idolatry at various times in biblical history and suffered Godís judgment as a result. While not in the list of the 144,000 Dan and Ephraim will have an apportionment of land in the millennial kingdom along with the rest of the tribes (Ezek 48:1, 5). It should be noted that in the census of Numbers 1, Joseph is listed as a tribe followed by a parenthetical comment "namely Ephraim" (Num 1:32; cf. Num 26:28; Deut 33:13), so in reality Dan is the only missing tribe. Tribal listings in the Tanakh are also not consistent in the order in which tribes are listed. For example, in Numbers 2 Judah is listed first in the description of the arrangement of the wilderness camp, whereas in Numbers 1 Reuben is first and in Ezekiel 48 Dan is first. The tribal order always has a purpose, which can only be determined from the context of the list. In the final analysis God identified the tribes as He desired. The text says that the list that follows is from "every tribe of the sons of Israel," which indicates that the intention is to focus on the twelve sons of Jacob. Joseph and Levi have every right, therefore, to be included in the list.
The name "Israel," of course, was given to Jacob after he wrestled with the angel at Peniel (Gen 32:28). Many commentators express a patently prejudicial view of Jacob, wrongly accusing him of cheating Esau out of his birthright. Normally the firstborn gained both double inheritance (Gen 27:28; Deut 21:17) and leadership rights in the clan (Gen 27:29). God had declared unequivocally before the twins were born that these rights would go to Jacob (Gen 25:23). Esau might have gained the advantages of his legal rights if not for two factors. First, he inexplicably and irresponsibly sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup (Gen 25:29-34). Such thoughtless and selfish disregard for his future disqualified him from privilege.
Second, the successful plan of Rebekah prevented Isaac from overruling Esauís imprudence and transferring the inheritance and leadership rights to Esau in direct disobedience of Godís will. Of particular importance to Godís sovereign plan, the inheritance included the permanent tenancy of Canaan, which God intended from the beginning to belong to the descendants of Jacob. The phrase "fatness of the earth" in Genesis 27:28 probably should be translated as "fatness of the land," meaning the Land of Israel. Nowhere in Scripture does God criticize Jacob, but the Lordís attitude toward Esau is clearly stated, "I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau" (Mal 1:2-3; Rom 9:13).
While Gentile scholars are inclined to take up an offense for Esau (as well as his descendants), God chose Jacob to be the one through whom the Messiah would come (cf. Gen 49:24). Throughout the Tanakh God constantly identifies Himself intimately with Jacob by referring to Himself as the God of Jacob, the Holy One of Jacob, the portion of Jacob, the Mighty One of Jacob, the God of Israel, the Mighty One of Israel, and the Holy One of Israel. God calls Himself by the name of this man, not the nation. The Lord was never embarrassed to be associated with Jacob, as He said to Isaiah, "But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham My friend" (Isa 41:8). The progeny of Jacob are privileged to bear his name and call themselves Israelites.
Entrance to eternal life comes through union with Israel and the saints will be reminded of Godís choice forever by the ministry of the 144,000 and in the memorials to the sons of Israel whose names are inscribed on the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:12).
5― From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand,
From the tribe of Judah: Grk. Ioudas, a transliteration of Heb. Yíhudah, which means "praised" or "object of praise" (Gen 29:35; BDB 397). from the tribe of Reuben: Grk. Roubēn, a transliteration of Heb. Reíuven, which means "behold a son" (BDB 910). Leah gave birth to Jacobís first four sons with Reuben being first (Gen 29:32). In Jacobís deathbed prophecy to his sons, he reminded Reuben of his firstborn status (Gen 49:3). Yet, Reuben and his descendants did not enjoy the birthright privileges because he defiled his fatherís bed (Gen 35:22; 49:4; 1Chr 5:1ff). Jacob had not forgotten the treachery and predicted that Reubenís life would be characterized by instability.
Jewish tradition affirms that Reuben later repented, which may account for his efforts to save Joseph from being murdered by his brothers (Gen 37:20-30) (Varner 31f). While no important leader ever came from the tribe of Reuben, on this great day on Mount Zion Reuben will contribute members to the nationís honor roll. The blessing of Moses on Reuben has eternal implications, "May Reuben live and not die, nor his men be few" (Deut 33:6). Reubenís place in this list is a reminder that Godís grace restores one to a position of privilege and responsibility in spite of the worst failure of the past.
Although born fourth (Gen 29:35) Judah benefited greatly from Reubenís forfeiture of his inheritance and leadership rights. Indeed, far more is said about the tribe of Judah in the Scriptures than any other tribe. In his patriarchal blessing Jacob offers four prophecies of Judahís future (Gen 49:8-12). Moses summarizes these themes in his blessing on Judah (Deut 33:7). First, Judah would be the leader of his brothers. As a testament to this preference Judah went first in the order of march in the wilderness and was always the largest tribe in numbers. Second, Judah would be a great conqueror, which was manifest very early by Caleb and Othniel (Jdg 1:11-15, 20; 3:9-11). King David who came from Judah then accomplished the greatest military conquests in Israelís history.
Third, Judah would produce a royal line of kings and after King Saul God would never give legitimacy to any king that did not come from the tribe of Judah. Fourth, Jacob used the name "Shiloh" to promise that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah. The Talmud lists Shiloh as one of the names of the Messiah (Sanhedrin 98b) and the most ancient Jewish commentary on Genesis also adopts this interpretation (Bereshit Rabba 99), as does the noted Jewish commentator Rashi (Varner 47). Moreover, the Messiah would be born of Davidís line in a town of Judah, Bethlehem (2Sam 7:12-16; Mic 5:2). The genealogy of Yeshua in the Gospels confirms Jacobís prophecy. Thus, Judah is probably listed here before Reuben in honor of the Lion of Judah that conquered the enemy of our souls.
from the tribe of Gad: Grk. Gad, a transliteration of Heb. Gad, which means "fortunate" (Gen 30:11; BDB 151). Gad was the seventh son of Jacob, born of Leahís maid Zilpah (Gen 30:9ff). On his deathbed Jacob gave this short prophecy of Gad, "As for Gad, raiders shall raid him, but he will raid at their heels" (Gen 49:19).Varner notes that four of the six Hebrew words in Jacobís prophecy are some form of the word "Gad" (63). In other words, Gadís descendants would be harassed by bands of hostile enemies, but eventually would overcome their enemies. Gadís settlement on the east side of the Jordan with Reuben and half of Manasseh subjected them to incursions from Ammonites, Moabites and Philistines. However, Gadites were fierce fighters and served in Davidís army (1Chr 12:8).
The most notable Gadite mentioned in Scripture is Jair, who judged Israel for 22 years (Jdg 10:3-5), in part fulfilling Moses blessing on Gad, "For there the rulerís portion was reserved; and he came with the leaders of the people; he executed the justice of the Lord and His ordinances with Israel" (Deut 33:21). In Jewish tradition, Elijah the prophet was also from the tribe of Gad (Varner 65), and in the last days Elijah will come again and give honor to this little mentioned tribe. The lesson of Gadís place in the list is that God will honor those who teach and live by His commandments and serve the cause of justice.
6― from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Asher: Grk. Asēr, a transliteration of Heb. Asher, which means "happy one" (BDB 81). Asher was the eighth son of Jacob, born to Leahís maid Zilpah (Gen 30:12f). Jacobís deathbed prophecy alludes to Asherís good fortune, "As for Asher, his food shall be rich, and he will yield royal dainties" (Gen 49:20). The Hebrew word for "rich" literally means olive oil and the territory of Asher has always been known for its vast olive groves. Even today most of the olive oil produced in Israel comes from fertile valleys in Asherís territory (Varner 67). Jacobís words are echoed and amplified in Moses blessing on Asher, "More blessed than sons is Asher, may he be favored by his brothers, and may he dip his foot in oil. Your locks will be iron and bronze, and according to your days, so will your leisurely walk be" (Deut 33:24-25).
While in biblical history Asher may have excelled in agriculture, no judge, leader or military hero came from the tribe, which may explain why the tribe never cleansed their territory of Canaanites during the period of the Judges (Jdg 1:31f). Yet, the tribe of Asher survived invasions of the major empires so that when Yeshua was dedicated at the temple as a baby, Anna the prophetess of the tribe of Asher was there to greet Him (Luke 2:36ff). The place of Asher is a reminder of the joy the saints experience now because of the abundance of Godís grace and the blessings God will bestow in His eternal kingdom.
from the tribe of Naphtali: Grk. Nephthalim, a transliteration of Heb. Naftali, which is explained in Genesis 30:8 as "my wrestling," but may originally have meant "crafty, cunning one" (BDB 836). Naphtali was the sixth son of Jacob, born to him by Rachelís maid Bilhah (Gen 30:7f). Jacobís deathbed prophecy offered a short but significant saying of this son, "Naphtali is a doe let loose, he gives beautiful words" (Gen 49:21). In Jewish tradition Naphtali was a swift runner and supposedly ran all the way from Egypt to Israel carrying the news to the aged Jacob that Joseph was still alive (Varner 68). Moses blessed Asher by saying, "O, Naphtali, satisfied with favor, and full of the blessing of the Lord, take possession of the sea and the south" (Deut 33:23). Some interpreters believe Jacobís prophecy was fulfilled in the defeat of Canaanite forces by the army led by the Naphtali general Barak (Jdg 4:6, 15f).
The Song of Deborah and Barak praised the tribe of Naphtali for being willing to volunteer when other tribes refused and to lay their lives down for the sake of all Israel (Jdg 5:9, 18). A more pertinent application may be found in the fact that Yeshua began His ministry in the region of Naphtali, fulfilling the prophecy to make Naphtali glorious (Isa 9:1; Matt 4:13-16). As mentioned in the blessing of Moses Yeshua then took the Gospel south and the apostles took the message of salvation over the sea. Perhaps Paul had the picture of Naphtali in mind when he said, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things" (Rom 10:15). Naphtaliís place in the list emphasizes that God will honor those who are swift to spread the Good News of salvation.
from the tribe of Manasseh: Grk. Manassēs, a transliteration of Heb. Mínasheh means "making to forget" (Gen 41:51; BDB 586). The inclusion of Manasseh may seem like an anomaly since he was a grandson of Jacob and firstborn of Joseph and his Egyptian wife Asenath (Gen 41:51). The tribe of Manasseh descended through Manassehís son, Machir; Machirís son, Gilead, and Gileadís six sons (Num 26:28-34) and was always treated as a separate tribe. In the settlement of Canaan, Manasseh received land on both sides of the Jordan. The tribe was known for its valor and could boast two famous judges: Gideon (Jdg 6:11-15) and Jephthah, (Jdg 11:1). During Saulís reign men from Manasseh joined David at Ziklag (1Chr 12:19f) and later many men from both western and eastern Manasseh rallied to make David king at Hebron (1Chr 12:31, 27). Since the tribe of Manasseh was not spiritually superior to Ephraim in Israelís history, their inclusion in the 144,000 represents a special honor to Joseph as a replacement for Dan. The lesson of Manassehís name in this context is to forget the former things and look forward to the wonderful things God has in store for those who love Him.
7― from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand,
from the tribe of Simeon: Grk. Sumeon, a transliteration of Heb. ShimĎon is derived from shama and means "to hear" (Gen 29:33; BDB 1035). Simeon was the second son and Levi the third son born to Jacob. Jacobís deathbed prophecy (Gen 49:5-7) noted the close relationship between the two brothers and cursed them for their cowardly killing of many innocent men as revenge for the rape of their sister Dinah (Gen 34). Jacobís curse promised that Simeon and Levi would be separated and scattered within the apportionment of the Promised Land, which occurred as promised (Josh 19:1-9). Simeon especially suffered the ignominy of being left out of Mosesí personal blessings (Deut 33), perhaps because Simeon had been the leader in the idolatrous rebellion at Baal-Peor (Num 25:1-18).
Simeonís "saving grace" was being included in the half of Israel that stood on Mount Gerizim to hear the blessings promised in Deuteronomy 28 (Deut 27:12; Josh 8:33ff). And, even though their numbers were reduced in half after the wilderness years, the tribe of Simeon distinguished themselves by helping Judah in the conquest of Canaan (Jdg 1:3, 17), by destroying the remnants of the Amalekites as prophesied by Moses (Ex 17:14; 1Chr 4:43), and by defecting from the northern kingdom to support King Asa of Judah (2Chr 15:9). The place of Simeon among the chosen of Revelation is a reminder that the Lord rewards those who hear what the Spirit says and supports the people of the Messiah.
from the tribe of Levi: Grk. Loui, a transliteration of Heb. Lívi, which means "joined," i.e. husband to wife (Gen 29:34; BDB 532). Levi is one of the most honored tribes in Israel, in spite of Jacobís negative deathbed prophecy. In Mosesí final blessings on the tribes his longest compliment goes to Levi (Deut 33:8-11). Only to the tribe of Levi did God entrust the Thummim and Urim, the Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle of the Lord, and the privilege of serving as priests to the Lord (Num 1:50; Deut 10:8). Levi was also given the awesome responsibility of teaching the Torah to the fathers of the nation (Lev 10:11; Deut 24:8; 33:10) and providing the judicial system that would ensure enforcement of Godís righteous standards (Deut 17:8f).
Godís attitude toward Levi is demonstrated in Malachi: "Then you will know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant may continue with Levi, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name" (Mal 2:4-5). Even though no functioning Jewish Temple and priesthood exist today, there is an unbroken tradition regarding the identity of the descendants of the Levitical priests (Varner 40). David Brickner, Executive Director of Jews for Yeshua, reports that Jewish groups have set up yeshivas to educate and train priests for the day that the Temple is restored (Brickner 62f). On the day of sealing the Lord will make His own selection.
from the tribe of Issachar: Grk. Issachar, a transliteration of Heb. Yissakhar, which means "there is recompense" (BDB 441). Issachar was the ninth son of Jacob and born of Leah. Jacobís deathbed prophecy had good news and bad news for Issachar. "Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down between two saddlebags. When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor" (Gen 49:14-15). Moses in his final blessings amplified the promise of good things. "RejoiceÖIssachar, in your tents. They will call peoples to the mountain; there they will offer righteous sacrifices; for they will draw out the abundance of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand" (Deut 33:18-19). In fulfillment of these words Issachar received choice land in the fertile Jezreel Valley between the "two saddlebags" of Mount Tabor and Mount Gilboa (Josh 19:17-22).
The tribe of Issachar consisted mostly of peaceful and hard-working farmers, but eventually suffered tribute and exile imposed by Assyria due to the sin of the northern kingdom. Issachar produced two notable leaders: Tola who judged Israel for twenty-three years (Jdg 10:1) and Jehoshaphat the son of Paruah who served as King Solomonís deputy in Issachar (1Kgs 4:17), as well as one significant military exploit in helping Deborah and Barak (Jdg 5:15). Of special note is this assessment of their character when they supported Davidís ascendance to the throne, "Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do" (1Chr 12:32). In these last days God still needs such men and He will honor their service.
8― from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
from the tribe of Zebulun: Grk. Zaboulon, a transliteration of Heb. Zívulun, which is explained in Genesis 30:20 and probably derived from zabal, means "to exalt," "to honor" or "to dwell" (BDB 259). Zebulun was the tenth son of Jacob and born of Leah. Little is said of Zebulun and his descendants in Scripture, but that little is praiseworthy. While Jacobís prophecy for the other tribes spoke of great events, the only word for Zebulun identified his apportionment in the promised land: "Zebulun will dwell at the seashore; and he shall be a haven for ships, and his flank shall be toward Sidon" (Gen 49:13). "Seashore" is actually "seas," denoting Zebulunís allotted area between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea (Varner 51). However, Mosesí blessing suggested a future spiritual ministry: "They will call peoples to the mountain; there they will offer righteous sacrifices; for they will draw out the abundance of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand" (Deut 33:18-19). The only notable leaders in the tribe of Zebulun mentioned were Elon, who judged Israel for ten years (Jdg 12:11), and Ishmaiah, the chief officer of Zebulun during the reign of David (1Chr 27:19).
Zebulun is especially commended in Scripture for the virtues of self-sacrifice and singleness of heart. First, in the defeat of the Canaanites (Jdg 4:6, 15f), Deborah and Barak praised the tribe of Zebulun as "a people who despised their lives even to death" (Jdg 5:18; cf. Acts 15:26; Rev 12:11). Second, during Davidís reign Zebulun provided "50,000 who went out in the army, who could draw up in battle formation with all kinds of weapons of war and helped David with an undivided heart" (1Chr 12:33; cf. Matt 5:8). The area of Zebulun, including Sidon, shared in the glory with Naphtali of being the land in which Yeshua began His ministry (Matt 4:13-16; 15:21). Sidon later became an important Christian center (Acts 27:3). Zebulunís name expressed the hope of Leah that Jacob would dwell with her (Gen 30:20), and Zebulunís place among the 144,000 is a reminder that the Lord is our dwelling place (Ps 90:1) and will soon make His dwelling with His people forever (Rev 21:3).
from the tribe of Joseph: Grk. Iōsēph, a transliteration of Heb. Yosef, which is explained in Genesis 30:24 and means "he adds, increases" (BDB 415). [NOTE: while in English "Joseph" begins with the letter "J," ancient Greek and Hebrew had no "J" sound. The letter "J" was introduced centuries later in the development of Latin, which influenced the English alphabet. Therefore, all names of persons and places in Christian Bibles beginning with "J" are incorrect.] Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob and fulfilled Rachelís longing for a child (Gen 30:22ff). Joseph had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, who became separate tribes in the Land of Israel. Josephís name is sometimes listed as a synonym for Ephraimís name (Num 1:32; Ps 78:67; Ezek 37:16, 19) and sometimes for both his sons (Deut 27:12; Josh 18:5; Jdg 1:22, 35; 1Kgs 11:28; Ps 80:1; 81:5; Ezek 47:13), usually to distinguish them from the half-tribe of Manasseh whose territory lay east of the Jordan.
In the various tribal census lists after Genesis 49 Ephraim and Manasseh appear as separate tribes, giving double honor to Joseph for being the savior of his family in Egypt. That double honor is repeated in the list of Revelationís chosen and Joseph's name appears instead of Ephraim and follows that of his first-born brother. Many commentators and teachers have identified parallels between the life of Joseph and Yeshua to the point of considering him a type of Messiah, although nowhere in Scripture is Joseph accorded this lofty honor. (See my web article Was Joseph a Type of Jesus?)
Jacob offered a lengthy and glowing prophecy about his favorite son and begins by complimenting him as a "fruitful bough" (Gen 49:22), probably an allusion to the gifts of immense wealth, including the best land, from Pharaoh through Joseph's influence (Gen 45:17-23; 47:5f). Moses also offered a high commendation of Joseph and blessed him and his posterity with all the best that heaven has to offer (Deut 33:13-17). In spite of many difficulties and questionable decisions Josephís life was one of faithfulness to God and fruitfulness for God. Josephís most shining virtue was that by being able to recognize the sovereignty of God he could forgive his brothers and provide for their needs (Gen 50:15-21). The authority and ability to forgive come from God, the exercise of which makes the blessing of Godís forgiveness possible (Matt 6:14).
from the tribe of Benjamin: Grk. Beniamein, a transliteration of Heb. Binyamin, which means "son of the right hand" (BDB 122). Benjamin was the last son born to Jacob and the hard labor brought about the death of Rachel (Gen 35:16-20). While Benjamin was the second most beloved son of Jacob (Gen 42:4, 36), Jacobís prophecy reveals none of it: "Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, and in the evening he divides the spoil" (Gen 49:27). The word picture Jacob painted portended a history of warfare, as well as descendants who would be ferocious, courageous, zealous and daring. The "whoís who" of the tribe of Benjamin began with the left-handed Ehud, who delivered Israel from Moabite oppression by personally and boldly killing the King of Moab in his private quarters, giving Israel 80 years of peace (Jdg 3:15-31).
The next notable Benjamites were King Saul who subdued surrounding kingdoms (1Sam 14:47), his son Jonathan who successfully attacked the Philistines (1Sam 14:1-15) and his cousin Abner, the commander of Saulís army. While a few Benjamites rebelled against David, most of the tribe followed Jonathanís example and supported the tribe of Judah, even after the northern kingdom separated. The best Benjamites in Scripture are Esther who saved the Jews from the murderous scheme of Haman (Esth 7-9) and the apostle Paul (Php 3:5ff) whose zeal sought to "devour the prey as a persecutor, but, in the evening, divided the spoil as a preacher" (Henry 93). The tribe of Benjamin is "beloved of the Lord" (Deut 33:12) and zeal for the Lord will again distinguish them in Revelationís chosen.
The Great Multitude (7:9-12)
9― After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one was able to count it, from every nation and tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches in their hands;
After these things I looked: The phrase "I looked" would be better translated "I saw" (Marshall), emphasizing the certainty of his visual experience. (See 4:1 on "looked.") and behold, a great: Grk. polus means much or many. The plural adjective would denote numerous in quantity. multitude: Grk. ochlos refers to an assembled company of people. The noun occurs 60 times in the LXX to translate several different Hebrew words, each pertaining to a different context, and 174 times in the Besekh, all but four (which are in Revelation) occur in the apostolic narratives. Ochlos designates those that came to hear Yochanan the Immerser and Yeshua from a particular locality. In many passages the people are contrasted with the ruling classes (Pharisees, scribes, Saduccees) who despised the ochlos as ignorant masses accursed for not keeping Torah (DNTT, II, 800f). In this case "multitude" is not so much defining the size of the crowd as simply identifying those present before the throne of God (cf. Matt 14:19). God is the final arbiter of who is accursed and who isn't.
which no one was able to count it: Like a sudden dawning John now sees a great multitude standing before the throne. In contrast to the living creatures and the angelic elders who repeatedly fall down on their faces in Revelation (4:10; 5:8, 14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4), those identified as saints are always seen standing (7:9; 14:1; 15:2; cf. 6:9). John further clarifies the quantity to be so numerous that they could not be counted. For John observing the crowd his comment was not hyperbole, and it may be a simple reference to his own inability to compile a statistical report.
Johnís account is reminiscent of Godís promise to Abraham, "I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered" (Gen 13:16). Later, Abraham was challenged to count the stars, because if he could determine the number of the heavenly bodies he could also count his descendants (Gen 15:5). The comparisons of the quantity of dust and stars to the number of Abrahamís children by faith are apt. A similar comparison relevant to this passage is the word of the Lord to Hosea:
Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and in the place where it is said to them, "You are not My people," it will be said to them, "You are the sons of the living God" (Hos 1:10 NASB).
The text does not imply that mankind lacks the ability to count, but simply states as a matter of reality that if John started counting he would not be able to complete the job before his lifetime on earth was over. In addition, the number of the saints John saw may correlate to the capacity of the New Jerusalem (see 21:16 on the measurement), and it would take superhuman power to count the people of God just as it took an angel to measure the size of the heavenly city. Another consideration is that since this crowd consists of martyrs from the global "great tribulation" (v. 14), then Johnís assessment may mean that the numbers buried in mass graves all over the earth were so many that no government official could have counted them all. Since the beastís goal is to exterminate the saints (13:7), then he probably would not even be interested in keeping records.
from every nation: Grk. ethnos. "Nation" is a grouping based on common culture and may or may not be confined within specific political borders (cf. John 11:52; Acts 26:4). and tribes: Grk. phulē. "Tribes" is a grouping based more narrowly on blood kinship and is often used in Scripture to refer to the tribes of Israel. (See 1:7 on "tribes.") In this list "tribes" may have a more general meaning. and peoples: Grk. laos. The word translated "peoples" are ordinary folks in contrast to those who have power and are bound together by common culture, values and religion. Wycliffe Bible Translators has identified over 3,000 people groups in the world. and tongues: Grk. glossa. "Tongues" refers to the subdivision of all the former groupings based on language and dialect. In this context the term is not used of the physical organ. Wycliffe reports there are close to 7,000 languages in the world. Unlike modern governmental race categories Johnís groupings are a much more natural method of describing divisions in the human population. (See 5:9 on these categories.)
Besides numbers John also saw genuine diversity which reaffirmed Peterís declaration, "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him" (Acts 10:34f). John sees the fulfillment of all the Hebrew prophecies of Gentile nations being included in the people of God (Gen 22:18; Isa 2:2; 11:12; Zech 2:11; 8:22f; Luke 2:32). For Stern the great multitude represents the "fullness of the Gentiles" of Romans 11:25 (418). Yeshua had prophesied, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come" (Matt 24:14). In other words, the fullness of the Gentiles comes to pass when all major groups and sub-groups of humanity are represented in the Kingdom. This innumerable multitude then represents the full company of nations promised to Jacob (Ex 35:11).
There is another important point to consider. None of the categories used to describe the crowd include the modern concept of race based on evolution. The truth is there is only one race, the human race (Acts 17:26). All who stand before God for reward or retribution are descended from Adam and Eve, which means that all people are genetically related.
standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes: The members of the multitude, Jew and Gentile, male and female, are all clothed in white, a symbol of purity. and palm branches: Grk. phoinix, the palm-tree, the date-palm, a palm-branch or palm-leaf. Palm branches were typically employed in Bible times as a sign of festive joy, particularly in Sukkot, the Feast of Booths (Lev 23:40), and waved as a welcome to visitors, kings, conquerors or a deliverer, as in the triumphal entry of Yeshua into Jerusalem (John 12:13) (Edersheim 731). John is the only Gospel that mentions the specific type of tree from which branches were taken to welcome Yeshua. Jewish coins of the period 140 BC to 70 AD frequently contain palms and some have the inscription "the redemption of Zion" (Johnson).
in their hands: lit. "palms" (Marshall). Seeing the palm branches in the hands of Gentiles would no doubt remind John of the prophecy given to Zechariah that all the nations would celebrate the Feast of Booths in the future age (Zech 14:16). The presence of the palm branches or leaves does suggest there are date-palm trees in the heavenly city, just as there is the tree of life that produces twelve fruits (22:2). Rosenthal contends that the multitude clothed with white robes and holding palms branches in their hands represents the resurrection of raptured saints because they must have bodies, whereas the martyrs in 6:9 are described as "souls" (184f).
However, there is no mention in either of these texts of a resurrection and the terminology used does not prove resurrection. The word "souls" is used in the apostolic writings to refer to people who have not even died (Acts 2:41) and the "souls" under the altar were given white robes (6:11). If they couldnít be clothed, why give them clothing? Conversely, the mention of physical features does not prove resurrection since the rich man in Hades had "eyes" (Luke 16:23). Rosenthal may be assuming that the soul is an apparition with no form or substance of its own. The truth is that we know nothing of the "physical" nature of the soul, and there was no way for God to show John these events and for John to describe them without resorting to terminology of human experience.
10― and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God, the one sitting on the throne, and to the Lamb."
and they cry out with a loud voice: While such a multitude would be naturally loud when speaking in union, the saints add volume and no doubt exuberance in praising the One on the throne (the Father) and the Lamb or Son who may have been at His station on the right side of the throne. saying, "Salvation: Grk. sōtēria is used in the sense of preservation in danger, deliverance from impending death or eternal salvation. The context of this important theological term is the loss of freedom. "Whenever men by their own fault or through some superior power have come under the control of someone else, and have lost their freedom to implement their will and decisions, and when their own resources are inadequate to deal with that other power, they can regain their freedom only by the intervention of a third party" (DNTT 3:177). That third party is the God of Israel and his agent to accomplish deliverance is the Messiah. In the LXX sōtēria translates six different Hebrew formations derived from the root verb yasha, to deliver (DNTT 3:206).
to our God: The phrase "salvation to our God" is an awkward English rendering of the original Hebrew idiom, since God does not need to be saved. The phrase probably was intended to mean "salvation belongs to our God," for consistency with 12:10 and 19:1. From its Hebrew roots "salvation" presumes a condition of distress and deliverance must come from somewhere outside the party in such dire condition. In the Hebrew Scriptures the distress, both national and individual, includes enemies, natural catastrophes and sickness. The one who brings deliverance is known as the "savior," and while there may be human agents involved in the salvation, the obstacles surmounted were so impressive that the God of Israel is the only one that can be credited with the deliverance.
Thus, God is known as the "God of our salvation" (1Chr 16:35; Ps 65:5; 68:19; 79:9; 85:4). The idiom occurs as "salvation of our God" in the Greek text of Revelation 12:10 and 19:1. Often though, salvation was defensive in the sense that God became a refuge to await His eventual victory and deliverance (Ps 62:7). The term "salvation" also developed the spiritual meaning that God delivers from the power and penalty of sinning, which required a righteous savior since sinning necessitated judgment (Ps 51:14; Isa 45:21). God was (and is) that savior.
the one sitting on the throne: Not only was Godís salvation for Israel but the prophets announced that Godís favor would be extended to the nations and become permanent with His reign established on the earth (Ps 67:2; Isa 45:22; 49:6; TWOT 1:414ff). and to the Lamb: The TR reverses the word order of the praise and has "Salvation to the one sitting on the throne, the God of us and (to) the Lamb." The heavenly multitudeís praise echoes the historic Hebrew meaning of salvation in all its aspects.
11― And all the angels were standing around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
As in 4:4 and 5:11 the angels are seen in an outer circle or outside the elders and living creatures. The worship reaction of the angels, elders and creatures echoes the praise of the great multitude and rejoices with them in their victory. (See 3:9 and 4:10 on "worship.") The heavenly servants of the most high God are so overcome with joy and their devotion is so complete that there is no hesitation to prostrate themselves before the Lord as described in 4:10, 5:8 and 5:14.
12― saying, "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God into the ages of the ages. Amen."
The worship hymn of praise offered by the angels in response to the song of the saints is characterized by simplicity and power, similar to the doxology offered by John in 1:6. The angelic doxology begins and ends "amen," which always refers back to something said previously. The first "amen" affirms the declaration in verse 10 and the second "amen" at the end of the verse affirms the truth of all the praise just given to God. The content of the angelic praise repeats almost all that was offered in 4:9 and 5:12 to the Lamb with the addition of "thanksgiving," and demonstrates that the Lamb and God the Father are worthy of equal adoration (Barnes). (See 5:12 on the doxology of the angels.)
The Great Tribulation (7:13-17)
13― And one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who have been clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?"
who are they: One of the angels approaches John and asks him an important question, probably anticipating Johnís confusion. Based on his experience there was no way this group could be the Body of Messiah John knew, which had been in existence for only 60 years. Moreover, first century membership could be numbered in the tens of thousands, but not millions as the phrase "multitudes which no one can count" would indicate. John can be forgiven for being confused, and if he did not recognize them as the great body of the Messiah, then he certainly would not know their origin. Hence, the question is appropriate in the circumstances to prepare John for the coming disclosure.
14― And I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
And I said to him, "My lord: Grk. kurios. The use of the address "Lord" does not mean that John was addressing Yeshua, since the term could be translated "Sir." Kurios was also used in the first century as an address of respect when conversing with people of rank in society (Matt 18:25, 27). John immediately professes ignorance of the groupís identity and seeks enlightenment. These are the ones coming: Grk. erchomenoi, to come, is a pres. mid. part. of erchomai, which indicates an ongoing arrival (Robertson). Although the verb does not indicate a completed group, commentators are still divided over the verb's application. out of the great: Grk. megas means large or great and may refer to an extension of space in all directions or the measure of something, whether in intensity or quantity.
tribulation: Grk. thlipsis (derived from thlibō, to press, squeeze or crush) means oppression, distress, or affliction. In the LXX thlipsis rendered a number of Hebrew terms, especially tsarah (straits, distress, affliction, trouble, BDB 865). The terms all denote need, distress, and various afflictions depending on the context, e.g. war, exile and personal hostility (DNTT 2:807). Thlipsis is a word picture of being crushed under a weight. The angel replies by stating very precisely that these countless saints are martyrs from "the great tribulation." Yeshua forewarned his disciples to expect tribulation (John 16:33) and the apostles echoed its reality (Acts 14:22; 1Th 3:4).
The Greek word thlipsis, which occurs 44 times in the apostolic writings, sometimes refers to suffering that is experienced as a part of life. Most of the occurrences in the apostolic writings refer to persecution or opposition that disciples endure from the world. In his Olivet Discourse Yeshua gave the word "tribulation" a two-fold meaning Ė "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name" (Matt 24:9). Imprisonment is also included in the definition of tribulation (Acts 7:9-10; 20:23). Paul concurred that such had been his experience (2Cor 4:8; 2Tim 3:11).
The Mishnah, which generally reflects rabbinic teaching in the first century, likewise anticipated that the days preceding the coming of the Messiah would be a time of great suffering and persecution.
"In the footsteps of the Messiah [i.e., the time preceding His coming] insolence will increase and honor dwindle; the vine will yield its fruit [abundantly] but wine will be dear; the government will turn to heresy and there will be none [to offer them] reproof; the meeting place [of scholars] will be used for immorality; Galilee will be destroyed; Gablan desolated; and the dwellers on the frontier will go about [begging] from place to place without anyone to take pity on them; the wisdom of the learned will degenerate; fearers of sin will be despised; and the truth will be lacking; youths will put old men to shame, the old will stand up in the presence of the young, a son will revile his father, a daughter will rise against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a manís enemies will be the members of his household; the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog, [impervious to shame] a son will not feel ashamed before his father. So upon whom is it for us to rely? Upon our Father who is in Heaven." (Sotah 9:6)
Grammatically the sentence could pertain to the time of Johnís experience, and if the multitude was in heaven when John was in heaven, then they must have arrived before him and the term "great tribulation" would possibly point to the persecution that brought John to Patmos (1:9) or perhaps the cumulative persecution of the saints in the first century. Historicist commentators (Barnes, Clarke, Henry, Wesley) tend to view the great tribulation as corresponding generally to afflictions and persecutions of every kind that the saints experience during the present age. However, there are some good reasons to take the present participle in a future sense as a prophecy yet to be fulfilled.
Prophecy is not bound strictly by grammatical forms. Revelation frequently uses the past tense to describe events which are still future to emphasize their certainty and finality. The present tense of sentence structure chosen by the Lord or the angel enables the observer, such as John, to experience the drama of the event as it will happen.
The generations of Christians that followed the apostles in the early centuries were repeatedly warned by the church fathers that the Antichrist would come first to rule the world and initiate the great tribulation, which was interpreted as the Antichristís war against the saints, not Godís wrath on the world (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, 16; The Epistle of Barnabas, 4, 15; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, 25-30; Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 14.). Christians were exhorted to be faithful in the face of temptation and trials lest they lose their inheritance in the Kingdom of the Lord. Irenaeus specifically warned that the beast would "put the Church to flight" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.26.1. Cf. Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 60f.). The writers of this period offered no panacea of being secretly rescued from tribulation, but encouraged the saints to persevere. Once Yeshua returned the wicked Antichrist will be destroyed and Yeshua will establish His reign of peace and righteousness.
The terminology of a great tribulation occurs only a few times in Scripture, and all refer to an event of historic proportions. The Hebrew prophets are unanimous in asserting that at the end of the present age there will occur a terrible time of affliction. The prophets spoke of a great time of distress after Israel was restored to its own land ("Jacobís Distress," Jer 30:7). A hostile persecutor will rise up to subdue the whole world and seek to destroy the people of God and all who oppose him (Dan 7:23-25; 12:1, 7-12; cf. Zech 14:2; Rev 11:2; 12:13-17; 13:1-18; 16:13-16; 19:19). Daniel described the time affliction as "such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time" (Dan 12:1). Yeshua echoed Danielís prophecy in the Olivet Discourse and pointed to a tribulation of the elect, "such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will" (Matt 24:21). The preterist contention that the "great tribulation" refers to the Roman siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 in which over one million Jews died and the temple was destroyed does not satisfy the last clause "nor ever will," since far more Jews were massacred by Hitler and Stalin.
The second, and perhaps the most important, reason for a futurist interpretation is that in the straightforward chronology Yeshua gave to His disciples in the Olivet Discourse the great tribulation occurs after the abomination of desolation ("for then there will be a great tribulation" Matt 24:21) and immediately before His glorious coming in the clouds ("but immediately after the tribulation" Matt 24:29). When Daniel was told by divine messenger about the "time of distress" (Dan 12:1) that would come upon his people after the abomination of desolation, he naturally wanted to know how long it would last. In sworn testimony the angel stated his answer twice and in two forms, thus confirming its divine decree: "that it would be for a time, times, and half a time" (Dan 12:7) and "from the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days" (Dan 12:11). Therefore, the great tribulation lasts about 3Ĺ years (cf. Rev 13:5). However, those days will be "cut short" (Matt 24:22), so no one can be certain how long the great tribulation will actually last. Of importance is that no biblical text clocks the great tribulation at seven years as commonly supposed.
Third, while the persecutions of the first century were certainly evil, they were largely localized and did not succeed in posing a significant threat to the existence of the Body of Messiah or its influence in the world at that time. Large-scale persecutions did not begin until Trajanís reign after Johnís death. In the first four centuries, Christian martyrs were numbered in the thousands, but John reported seeing a multitude that could not be counted, surely well into the millions. The diversity of the great multitude of martyrs also indicates nothing less than the global campaign of the Antichrist to exterminate the saints and expunge every symbol or expression of biblical faith and values in every community. In the war on the saints the Antichrist will succeed as no previous despot ever dreamed (11:7, 12:17, 13:7).
Many Christians today believe they will not experience the great tribulation. Katterjohn asks, "Why, if the church has nothing to do with the tribulation, was Revelation even written? Surely Godís people have enough discouragement to ward off without adding more unnecessarily" (85). Yeshua intended that everything He revealed to be for the congregations (22:16). Unfortunately, modern interpreters often associate the term "great tribulation" with the plagues of Revelation, even though these judgments are never mentioned as belonging to the great tribulation. In the rest of the apostolic writings tribulation is something that the saints must endure. Rather, the severe judgments of the trumpets and bowls represent God doing justice for the saints in repaying the Antichrist and his followers for the tribulation they caused (cf. Rom 2:9; 2Th 1:6ff). The good news for the saints is that neither common tribulation nor the great tribulation is able to separate anyone from the love of the Messiah (Rom 8:35). Moreover, in His grace God has limited the time the great tribulation lasts. The best news is the welcome in heaven and all the gifts from the Father that will be lavished on the faithful saints as described in the verses that follow.
and they have washed: Grk. plunō means to lit. wash something, such as clothes or nets, or figuratively in the sense of freeing from, i.e., from the impurity of sin. their robes and made them white: Unlike the original Garden of Eden where man and woman were naked, the saints will be clothed in the new Eden, and the clothing will be white (3:4, 5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9; 19:8, 14). White is the symbol of purity.
It is interesting that the people are described as having washed their robes. At Mt. Sinai the people were required to wash their garments as an act of consecration before they met with God through Moses (Ex 19:10, 14). In the apostolic writings "washing" by immersion became the obedient response to the call of God to repentance and visually represented the inward change that takes place by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5; Acts 2:38; 22:16). in the blood of the Lamb: Since the linen clothing symbolizes the righteous acts of the saints (19:8) and the "washing" is in the "blood of the Lamb" and not their own blood, then the description is stating simply that the righteousness of the tribulation saints is grounded in the atonement of Yeshua. However, the juxtaposition of the "washed" metaphor with the identity of the crowd implies an additional meaning. Stern then suggests, "The metaphor, which only gains power from being contradictory when taken literally, means that those who did not capitulate under persecution have become clean and are regarded by God as sinless because they remained faithful to Yeshua, who shed His blood for them (cf. Isa 1:18)."
One additional factor should be considered. The mention of washing may be an allusion to the requirement of priests to bathe before beginning their daily service (Ex 30:18-21). Edersheim describes the practice during the second Temple period:
"But then the preparations for the service of the morning required each to be early astir. The priest whose duty it was to superintend the arrangements might any moment knock at the door and demand entrance. He came suddenly and unexpectedly, no one knew when. The Rabbis use almost the very words in which Scripture describes the unexpected coming of the Master (Mark 13:35), when they say, ĎSometimes he came at the cock-crowing, sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later. He came and knocked, and they opened to him. Then said he unto them, ĎAll ye who have washed, come and cast lotsí (Mishnah Tamid I:2). For the customary bath required to have been taken before the superintending priest came round, since it was a principle that none might go into the court to serve, although he were clean, unless he had bathed. A subterranean passage, lit on both sides, led to the well-appointed bath-rooms where the priests immersed themselves. After that they needed not all that day to wash again, save their hands and feet, which they had to do each time, however often, they came for service into the Temple." (112f)
Priestly washing seems particularly apt since the next verse speaks of the people serving God in His temple.
15― "For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and the one sitting on the throne will dwell over them.
For this reason emphasizes the fact that the basis for the saints having the privilege of standing before the throne and seeing our Savior face to face resides only in the sacrifice of Yeshua mentioned in the previous verse. In fact, no other reason can be given why any one of the human race is or should be admitted to heaven. The miracle of the New Covenant is that this crowd of mostly Gentiles is permitted to come into Godís heavenly presence, whereas in biblical days Gentiles were restricted in their worship with Jews at the temple from going any farther than the Court of the Gentiles. day and night in His temple: the time reference could indicate service in the millennial temple on earth because in heaven there is no night (21:25) or, if the location is heaven, the expression would emphasize continual devotion to the Lord, just as the Levites were to serve in the temple day and night (1Chr 9:33; cf. Luke 2:37). This is another way of emphasizing that the saints will have the same status and rights as the Jewish priests.
and the One sitting on the throne: The reader and audience is reminded yet again of both the location of God and the activity of God in his sovereign control. will dwell over them: The verb Grk. skēnoō means to live, dwell or encamp, but with the preposition "over" the idea is one of providing shelter. Stern points out that skēnoō is related to the Heb. words mishkan ("tent, tabernacle") and shíkhinah ("dwelling") used in Rabbinic Judaism to mean "Godís manifest glory dwelling with mankind." A special promise to these redeemed is enjoying Godís presence as the ancient Israelites did. This sacred tent was the place where Godís shekinah glory dwelled. For God to dwell over them is to experience His very presence, protection and fellowship.
16― "They will hunger no longer, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat;
Hunger, thirst and heat injuries were a common occurrence in biblical times (cf. Ex 17:3; Deut 8:15; Ps 107:4f; 121:5f; Lam 4:4; 2Cor 11:27). The blessings given to the martyrs may indicate in particular the sort of privations they experience in the great tribulation and is reminiscent of the promise in Isaiah, "They will not hunger or thirst, nor will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; for He who has compassion on them will lead them and will guide them to springs of water" (Isa 49:10). Yeshua is certainly adequate to meet every need (John 6:35), but He did not promise His disciples that they would never physically hunger or thirst again while they were on the earth. Heaven will be a different story. To say that the martyrs will no longer hunger or thirst does not necessarily mean the end of consuming food or water. It may only mean that the supply is so abundant that the need of resurrected bodies will be fully met (cf. 22:1-2).
17― for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."
In John 10 Yeshua described Himself as the Shepherd who tenderly cares for the sheep. The promise also includes irony by pointing out that the Shepherd is also the Lamb. The "water of life" is a recurring symbol in the apostolic writings of both who Yeshua is and what He provides. The promise of the "springs" was given to the Samaritan woman (John 4:10, 14), just as He had offered to His Jewish countrymen, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink" (John 7:37). Here the glorious promise of life-giving and life-sustaining water is offered to the martyrs of the great tribulation.
The angelic elder adds a final promise, alluding to Isaiahís prophecy, "He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces" (Isa 25:8). The Jewish midrash Bereshit Rabbah says this promise is for non-Jews as well as Jews (p. 56). Such a personal and tender act could be a metaphor for leaving the sorrows and suffering of this life behind. It should be noted that "wiping" is not forbidding, but comforting. And, there is the possibility of heart-breaking sorrow when the gravity of the general judgment takes place and many loved ones are separated away from eternal blessedness. God offers His consolation to heal all emotional wounds and free the people of God from the last vestige of the curse.
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Barnes: Albert Barnes, New Testament Notes. Baker Book House, 1949. Online.
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DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Colin Brown, ed. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
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Sevener: Harold A. Sevener, Godís Man in Babylon. Chosen People Ministries, 1994.
Shulam: Joseph Shulam, A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans. Messianic Jewish Publishers, 1997.
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TWOT: Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 Vols. ed. R. Laird Harris. Moody Bible Institute, 1980.
Varner: William C. Varner, Jacobís Dozen. The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1987.
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