Part 4. The 7 seals (6:1—7:17)
4.4. INTERLUDE 1: visions of salvation (7:1-17)
a. Sealing of the 144,000 (7:1-8)
b. Great multitude (7:9-17)
† PICTURE: In the centre of the gigantic court of heaven, the Lamb holds the scroll containing the destiny of the world, with only one seal left to be opened. Before the last seal is opened, an angel announces that believers presently on earth will have their foreheads marked with God’s seal. Then, a different vision emerges, the vision of a time after the end of the world. It is a scene of celebration and there are millions of joyous people worshipping God.
7:1 This chapter is a parenthesis between the 6th and the 7th seals. The first vision shows the last generation of believers is sealed so as to be saved from the destruction from God’s wrath that follows. [The people of God experience “tribulation” but not the “wrath”.]
The 4 winds are the destructive agents of God. They are held back by the 4 angels until the servants of God are sealed. Some note the 4 winds may refer to the 4 horsemen in ch.6 (Zec 6:5). Some note that trees here may refer to those who dwell upon the earth (Isa 2:13; 14:8; 61:3).
7:2 The seal here is probably a signet ring like that used by oriental kings to authenticate and protect official documents.
7:3 The servants of God (all faithful believers on earth) have God’s seal on their foreheads. From 14:1, we will learn that the mark it leaves on the forehead is the Lamb’s and His Father’s name. It shows ownership of God and ownership entails protection.
7:4 John does not see but hears the number of those who have been sealed—144,000 out of every tribe of Israel. (Those people are still on earth and the Bible seems to say that they are not seen by John. However, some believe that they actually appear in the court of heaven.) There are 2 possible identities of these people:
 Some interpret the 144,000 as Israel. Historically, the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom was said to be lost after their exile in Assyria, and the remaining 2 tribes (Judah and Benjamin) lost their separate identity when Jerusalem fell in AD 70. The tribes of modern Jews are no longer known today. However, it can be argued that God still knows which tribe every Jew belong.
 Some believe these are all the believers living on earth at that time. The number is most likely symbolic. It is twelve (the number of tribes) squared and multiplied by a thousand—a twofold way of emphasizing completeness. It is a symbolic way of stressing that the church has taken up Israel’s inheritance. The idea that the church is the new Israel is clear in the NT. [according to Jesus, Mt 19:28; Paul, Ro 2:29 and Gal 6:16; James, Jas 1:1; Peter, 1Pe 2:9]
7:5-8 There are irregularities in the list:  Judah rather than Reuben (Jacob’s first son) heads the list. This can be easily explained as Jesus came from the tribe of Judah.  The tribe of Joseph should include Manasseh and Ephraim (Joseph’s two sons) but Manasseh is listed separately. It is possible that Manasseh was included simply to bring the total number to 12 (after Dan was excluded).  Dan was excluded, possibly because: [a] an early connection with idolatry (Jdg 18:30) and [b] later Dan became one of the two great pagan shrines in the Northern Kingdom (1Ki 12:29). Iranaeus noted a tradition that the Antichrist was to come from that tribe.
7:9 The second vision presents the church after the battle, triumphant in heaven, “come out of the great tribulation” (v.14). It is the glorious day in the future when the faithful of every age enter the blessedness of the eternal heaven. It will sustain the hope of those that face persecution.
The elders, living creatures, angels, and the multitude fill the court of heaven completely. Their white robes of the multitude symbolize the victory of faith and the righteousness of Christ (see v.14). The palm branches are used as the emblem of victory in the scene of festive joy.
7:10 They praise God and the Lamb with a single voice. They acknowledge that their deliverance rests on the sovereign will of God and the redemptive sacrifice of the Lamb.
7:11 The thousands upon thousands of angels that surround the throne (5:11) respond to the jubilant cry of the saints by falling prostrate before God and offering a sevenfold doxology of praise.
7:12 The first “Amen” may be in response to the praise of the great multitude. It is possible that the “Amen” is repeated after every attribute. Here again is the 7-fold praise (similar to 5:12).
7:13 One of the elders, anticipating the question that John is about to ask, inquires John with a rhetorical question (not expecting any answer).
7:14 John understands that the question is rhetorical. The term “my Lord” is in John’s reverence for angelic beings (19:10; 22:8-9). However, John’s excessive reverence is later corrected.
The elder then explains that they are the ones who have come out (aorist tense) of the great tribulation which is described with the definite article “the” meaning the final series of woes. John views the entire company of faithful believers in the light of the 144,000 who have just come through the final period of tribulation. However, not all are martyrs (contrasting 6:9).
7:15 “Day and night” is an idiom meaning unceasingly or without pause. This does not conflict with the absence of night in the New Jerusalem (22:5). In John’s vision, heaven itself is the sanctuary (temple); within it, all God’s children are worshipping priests.
The promise that God will spread His tent over them would evoke memories of the tabernacle in the wilderness. The meaning is that the immediate presence of God will shelter and protect them from all that would harm them (Isa 4:5-6).
7:16 The promise that they will neither hunger nor thirst. Yet the promise goes beyond physical privation. It points to that ultimate satisfaction of the soul’s deepest longing for spiritual wholeness. They are sheltered from all discomfort by the presence of God. “Never again” is in the form of a strong double negative.
7:17 This verse speaks of the gentle care and daily provision of the shepherd. The Lamb as the heavenly shepherd leads His flock to the wellspring of life (positively satisfy inner spiritual longings) and wipes away earthly sorrow (negatively eradicate inner spiritual wounds).
Following this interlude, the scene returns to the time of tribulation and the action continues with the opening of the 7th seal.
† The 144,000 were sealed to assure that they are God’s children and that they will not be under the wrath of God during the tribulation later in Rev 9:4. We too have been sealed by God with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13) to assure us that we will receive our inheritance in the kingdom of God.
† The main activity of our eternal life will be worship. In this present life, we try to learn to worship as an apprentice. It is a foretaste of the true worship in heaven. Worship should be a main activity in the church today.