Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation
'Daniel spoke, saying, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea.' As we advance further into the prophet's record of his vision, in Daniel 7; we can see that these winds were metaphorical for the judgment of God being 'stirred up' upon the nations, and through them upon the 'land', upon God's ungrateful and disobedient children, whom He had scattered among the nations. ( Jeremiah 31:10 ( Genesis 11:8 ), Matthew 24:31 )
After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.
As John continues in the revelation of his vision, we see a similar circumstance: as we've discussed before, briefly, I believe, the Greek word translated 'earth' here, could be as well, maybe better, translated 'land', referring, in the covenant context of Scripture, to the 'land' or people, of Israel. ( Let me make a brief explanation of what I mean by the 'covenant context'; I was explaining this morning to an acquaintance about the fact that the Bible is the record, from chapter 1 of Genesis, all the way through Revelation 22, of God's dealings with His people, from the children of Israel under the Old Covenant, up to the inauguration of the New Covenant in Christ, and the final Revelation of 'the Israel of God'. ( Galatians 6:16 ( Isaiah 65:15 ). I think that most Christians accept this 'idea' ( except for the first several ( 11 ) chapters of Genesis, and all the book of Revelation ) as fact, but most fail to see all of Scripture in the context that I've described above, of Scripture focusing on God's covenant people. ) In Jeremiah 49:36; God, in pronouncing His 'woes' against the nations, says 'Against Elam I will bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, and scatter them toward all those winds; there shall be no nations where the outcasts of Elam will not go' ( an interesting note here, is that, in Ezekiel's 'Valley of Dry Bones' prophecy, in Ezekiel 37, these same 'four winds' ( verse 9 ) bring life to God's people ( see also Genesis 2:7, Acts 2:2)
Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”'
We understand now why the 'four angels' ( notice the multiples of four here, as well as in the last study ) were holding back these 'four winds': they were told to 'put the brakes on' the purposed judgment till the 'angels' had 'sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads', or until those that God had purposed to bring into the covenant had been brought in. ( Revelation 9:4 ) When God revealed to the prophet Ezekiel what He was about to do to His apostate children, as recorded in Ezekiel 9, God showed the prophet a vision very similar to John's above, telling the 'angels' ( messengers ) , 'Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.'
And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed: of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed;[a] of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.
As I understand it; there are many out there who believe that this number (144,000 ) is a physically accurate, literal number of the children of Israel, or physical Jews, who will be saved before the end, but I believe that as several other instances in Scripture ( Psalm 50:10, Psalm 105:8 ( Deuteronomy 7:9 ), Jude 14 ( Deuteronomy 33:2, etc. ) seem to point out, this word is not always indicative of a certain quantity, but of, as with the numeral seven, a completeness, a perfection, a wholeness, even infinity. Remember God's words to Elijah, in I Kings 19:18? When Elijah thought that he was the only true follower of God left ( 'and they seek to take my life' ): God told the prophet 'Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him'. Several interesting facts that we might notice in the passage above, in the Revelation; first off, the multiples of the number twelve, again, a very significant number in the prophetic Hebrew Scriptures, along with the number seven, of completeness, wholeness, speaking of God's perfect purpose. Second; my readers may have noticed, comparing the names listed above with passages like Genesis 49, that John not only mentions the children of Israel in a different order, he also neglects to mention the tribe of Dan. Although he does mention the tribe of Manasseh, he doesn't mention the other son of Joseph, whom ( Joseph ) he does mention! ( My understanding was that the tribe of Joseph was split into the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. ) Somewhat confusing, unless you accept the fact that this number ( 144,000 ) refers, not to a certain number of Jews who will be saved, but to the perfection of God's purpose in the salvation of His people, the Church, or 'the Israel of God', as Paul calls them.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Those that I mentioned above as believing in a physically accurate, strictly literal interpretation of Such passages as Revelation 7:4-8, for instance, would most likely argue that this 'great multitude' refers to a different group of people than the prior passage, about the '144,000', but I would like to remind my readers of God's promise to Abram, in Genesis 17:4-6, 'As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.' Although in His first words with Abram, God had promised to make a 'great nation' of him, He promised, in a beautiful prefigurement of the Gospel, to bring forth from him 'many nations', or, in John's words above, 'great multitude..........of all nations'! I believe the John's words above refer to the '144,000' that he mentioned earlier. We've noted before, as in the dreams of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, in Genesis 41:32, that when God purposes to bring something to pass very shortly, He will often repeat the warning twice, in a form of 'biblical parallelism', to show the certainty and imminence of it. ( Genesis 6:13, Matthew 24:38-42 ) Here again, we see the 'great multitude' ( Revelation 5:11 ), praising the Lamb ( Jesus ) and 'Him who sits on the throne' for His wondrous salvation, ascribing to Him all glory and honor!
All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “ Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
When David, king of Israel fled from his son Absalom; he was inspired to write these words, in Psalm 3:8, 'Salvation belongs to the LORD. Your blessing is upon Your people. Selah' As the multitude above, the angels carry on this refrain of David's. In Isaiah 44:3, God promised, 'I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring' ( Joel 2:28 & 29 ) He also said, in Isaiah 65:8, speaking this 'multitude which no man could number', 'As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one says, ‘Do not destroy it, for a blessing is in it,’ so will I do for My servants’ sake, that I may not destroy them all', and in Ezekiel 34:26, that 'I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing; and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing'. Luke recorded the Ascension of Jesus in the 24th chapter of his gospel with these words, 'Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising andj[j] blessing God. Amen.[k]' ( verses 51-53 ) In particular I would like my readers, to notice the similarities between verse 53 and the 'worship in Heaven' that John records. Finally; Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ' ( Ephesians 1:3 ) The blessings that He received in the Revelation are ours!
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir,[b] you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.[c] And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
'For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.' ( Matthew 24:21, ( Mark 13:19, Romans 8:35 )
Jesus spoke these words to His disciples after they had asked Him about 'the end of the age' ( Matthew 24:3 ). The Jewish historian known as Flavius Josephus, who defected to the Romans during the Roman conquest of Palestine in AD63-70, referring to the increasing wickedness and lawlessness ( Matthew 23:27 28, II Thessalonians 2:7 ) of certain men, wrote 'God, out of his hatred of these men's wickedness, rejected our city; and as for the temple, he no longer esteemed it sufficiently pure for him to inhabit therein, but brought the Romans upon us, and threw a fire upon the city to purge it; and brought upon us, our wives, and children, slavery, as desirous to make us wiser by our calamities' in the Preface to his 'Wars of the Jews'. Bringing to mind the opening of the third seal, in the previous study, Josephus writes, in chapter 12 of book 5 of this same work; 'For God had blinded their minds for the transgressions they had been guilty of, nor could they see how much greater forces the Romans had than those that were now expelled, no more than they could discern how a famine was creeping upon them; for hitherto they had fed themselves out of the public miseries, and drank the blood of the city', and further, in chapter 1 of book 6, 'It was now a miserable case, and a sight that would justly bring tears into our eyes, how men stood as to their food, while the more powerful had more than enough, and the weaker were lamenting [for want of it.] But the famine was too hard for all other passions, and it is destructive to nothing so much as to modesty; for what was otherwise worthy of reverence was in this case despised; insomuch that children pulled the very morsels that their fathers were eating out of their very mouths, and what was still more to be pitied, so did the mothers do as to their infants; and when those that were most dear were perishing under their hands, they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops that might preserve their lives: and while they ate after this manner, yet were they not concealed in so doing; but the seditious every where came upon them immediately, and snatched away from them what they had gotten from others; for when they saw any house shut up, this was to them a signal that the people within had gotten some food; whereupon they broke open the doors, and ran in, and took pieces of what they were eating almost up out of their very throats, and this by force: the old men, who held their food fast, were beaten; and if the women hid what they had within their hands, their hair was torn for so doing; nor was there any commiseration shown either to the aged or to the infants, but they lifted up children from the ground as they hung upon the morsels they had gotten, and shook them down upon the floor.'
These 'arrayed in white robes', according to the elder that spoke to John, were those who had obeyed God, and escaped this 'great tribulation' ( Amos 9:4-6, Luke 21:35 ( Matthew 24 ), being warned by Jesus Himself. I believe that this would also include those Christians who had 'overcome', in Revelation 3:4 & 5, as well as those one who all 'died in faith', listed in Hebrews 11. Now they worship God continually before His throne and are eternally in His presence. Some would assert that this refers to our state ( as Christians ) after physical death, but I would like to remind my readers of Jesus' words in John 14:23, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him' ( Revelation 21:3 ). Referring to these people blessed by the Lord, Isaiah wrote, 'They shall neither hunger nor thirst, neither heat nor sun shall strike them; for He who has mercy on them will lead them, even by the springs of water He will guide them' ( Isaiah 49:10, John 6:35 ). Remember too, what Jesus told the woman at the well in Samaria, in John 4:13 & 14, 'Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life'. In Psalm 36:9, David blesses God, praising Him and saying 'For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light'. The prophet Jeremiah acknowledges this too, in Jeremiah 17:13, when he laments Israels unfaithfulness and apostasy. He writes, in God's words, 'Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters' ( Jeremiah 2:13 ). Isaiah prophesies of this coming New Covenant in Christ in these words, which should sound somewhat familiar to most of us, 'He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken' ( Isaiah 25:8 ). More familiar, maybe, are the Lord's words, in Isaiah 65:19, concerning the 'new heavens and new earth', 'I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people; the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying'.
May God bless you with understanding of the truth of His Revelation to us, and, as always, may He receive all the glory, for I want none!
In the service of His fulfilled Kingdom,
and for His glory,