Part 4. The 7 seals (6:1—7:17)
4.4. INTERLUDE 1: visions of salvation (7:1-17)
4.4.1 Sealing of the 144,000 (7:1-8)
4.4.2 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. It forms an interlude with two visions: [a] the sealing of the 144,000 and [b] the blessedness of the great multitude before the heavenly throne. Prior to the trumpet judgments, the last generation of believers is sealed so as to be saved from the destruction that follows. [John distinguishes clearly between “tribulation” (Gr. thlikis) and “wrath” (Gr. horge); the people of God experience the former but not the latter.] The second vision is anticipatory of the eternal blessedness after the destruction.
The 4 winds are the destructive agents of God. They are held in check by the 4 angels until the servants of God are sealed. They are not to blow upon the earth or sea or “against” any tree as trees are especially vulnerable to high winds. Some commentators note that Zec 6:5 describes the 4 horses as 4 winds of heaven and suggest that the 4 winds here may refer to the 4 horsemen in chapter 6.
Some note that people may be referred to as trees (Isa 2:13; 14:8; 61:3) so that trees here may refer to those who dwell upon the earth.
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 commentators interpret the 144,000 as a literal reference to the nation 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. Therefore, the tribes of modern Jews are no longer known today. However, it can be argued that God still knows in which tribe every individual Jew should be classified.
 Some believe these are the totality of 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 is the eschatological people of God who have taken up Israel’s inheritance. Their being sealed does not protect them from physical harm or death but insures that they will be spared of the wrath of God and their eventual entrance into the heavenly kingdom. 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 (Church Father in the 2nd century) noted a tradition that the Antichrist was to come from that tribe.
7:9 While 7:1-8 presents the church militant on earth, sealed before the coming struggle, 7:9-17 presents the church after the battle, triumphant in heaven, as shown by v.14 “come out of the great tribulation”. It is the glorious day in the future when the faithful of every age enter the blessedness of the eternal heaven. It is a glimpse of eternal blessedness and will sustain the hope of those that will soon face persecution in John’s time as well as in all ages.
The elders, living creatures, and angels of chapters 4-5 are now joined with a great and uncountable multitude, filling the court of heaven completely. The universality of the multitude is stressed by the familiar fourfold division into nations, tribes, peoples, and languages (5:9; 7:9; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6). Their white robes 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. A paraphrase of the verse is: “To our God…and to the Lamb, we owe our salvation.”
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. In Greek, the repetition of the article before each attribute tends to heighten its meaning. It is possible that the “Amen” is repeated after every attribute. Glory is the radiance of the divine Person. Wisdom is the divine knowledge of God as exhibited in His plan of redemption. Thanks is the response for salvation. Honour is the public acknowledgment. Power is God’s ability to complete His plan. Strength is His redemptive presence in the events of history. Praise is the response to the incomparable God.
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 keeping with the reverence John shows for angelic beings elsewhere in the book (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. Not all are martyrs as there is no mention of them being slain (as in 6:9).
The multitude have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Both verbs are in aorist tense indicating once-for-all actions. The idea of making robes white by washing them in blood is a striking paradox. It is the sacrifice of the Lamb upon the cross that supplies white garments for the saints. Their act of washing the robes is not a meritorious work but a way of portraying faith.
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). It is the fulfilment of the OT promise that God will dwell in the midst of His people (Eze 37:27; Zec 2:10).
7:16 The promise that they will neither hunger nor thirst would be especially meaningful in an ancient land where both were constant threats. These would also be threats for those who are under persecutions. Yet the promise goes beyond physical privation. It points to that ultimate satisfaction of the soul’s deepest longing for spiritual wholeness. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:6) 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 evokes the image of the shepherd in Ps 23:1. It speaks of the gentle care and daily provision of the ancient shepherd. The Lamb as the heavenly shepherd leads His flock to the wellspring of life (positive aspect: satisfy inner spiritual longings) and wipes away the last trace of earthly sorrow (negative aspect: 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 them 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. This is great honour that we need to be thankful.
† 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.