The 144,000 Witnesses – Revelation 7 Commentary

The greatest revival in the history of the world is yet to come. It will take place in the Tribulation period as 144,000 witnesses are unleashed upon the world to preach the Gospel to those who have never heard.

This chapter answers the question in 6:17, “Who is able to stand?” The faithful believers would be kept safe. This chapter contains two pictures: first, the sealing of the 144,000; second, the great multitude worshiping before God’s throne.

7:1 Then I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds from blowing upon the earth. Not a leaf rustled in the trees, and the sea became as smooth as glass.NLT John saw four angels who were standing at the four corners of the earth (referring to the whole earth, the four points of the compass). The sudden silence and the angels holding back the four winds from blowing upon the earth picture God’s protection from harm; they contrast the peace and security of the believers with the terror of those hiding in the rocks (6:16). The winds described here picture harmful winds as agents of God bringing destruction. The four angels hold back the winds so that not a leaf rustled in the trees, and the sea became as smooth as glass. This scene contrasts with the earthquakes and meteor showers that had just occurred (6:12-13).

7:2-3 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”NIV Another angel came from the east who had the seal of the living God. The east probably indicates the direction of Jerusalem. This seal differs from the seven seals on the scroll that the Lamb had been opening. In ancient days, a king would push his signet ring into wax on a scroll or document as a seal to mark his ownership and to protect its contents. God places his own seal on his followers, identifying them as his own and guaranteeing his protection over their souls. Here, God’s seal was placed on the foreheads of his servants. This seal would be counterfeited by Satan in 13:16 (a seal known as “the mark of the beast”). These two marks would separate the people into

two distinct categories—those owned by God and those owned by Satan. Ezekiel 9:4-7 records God sending a divine messenger through Jerusalem to mark the foreheads of those who still worshiped the one true God. Here, the seal that the angel put on the believers’ foreheads was the name of the Lamb and his Father’s name (see 14:1). We shall see his face, and his name shall be on our foreheads. We are sons with him, heirs of God and fellow heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ. The acquired glory of our Lord is the glory which every saved sinner will share with him.

Arno C. Gaebelein


Why did the believers need this seal of protection? Most likely, they needed protection from what would be a time of intense difficulty on the earth, for the angels at the four winds were told, “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until . . .” At the end of history, people will face a time that will be marked by unprecedented evil and persecution (see Daniel 12:1). In 9:3-4, for example, during the fifth trumpet, stinging locusts descend on the earth and are told “to attack all the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (nlt). In 16:2, “the first angel left the Temple and poured out his bowl over the earth, and horrible, malignant sores broke out on everyone who had the mark of the beast” (nlt). However, the seal would not protect the believers in all instances from the pain and suffering of these judgments, nor would it protect them from death. Ultimately, the seal was a sign of spiritual and eternal protection. Those sealed would be protected from God’s punishment of an impenitent world. They would not face God’s wrath, even though they would face the wrath of those who hate God. Jesus had said, “I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return, a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—with persecutions. And in the world to come they will have eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30 nlt).

Pretribulationists believe that Christians will have been raptured—removed from this world to meet the Lord in the air—just before the Tribulation begins. They believe that this seal means that many others will become believers during the time of tribulation—these new believers will receive this seal. According to this verse, the only believers who will suffer through this terrible evil and persecution will be those who become Christians during the Tribulation, perhaps because they had witnessed the rapture of true believers.

Although there may be differing opinions about who is in the Great Tribulation, the Bible clearly states that God looks after his people (Psalms 1:6; 145:20; Ezekiel 34:12). He promises to protect believers and give them the strength to endure any and all tribulation (Psalm 32:7; John 17:15).

Both those who think that the Christians will be raptured before the Tribulation, as well as those who think they will remain on earth throughout, agree that the seal put on believers’ foreheads will protect them. Both groups also consider 3:10 to describe this: “Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world” (nlt).

The angel foretold that a seal, a mark of ownership, would be placed on faithful believers. This shows how valuable God’s people are to him. Our physical bodies may be beaten, maimed, or even destroyed, but nothing can harm our souls when we have been sealed by God. Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “And now you also have heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us everything he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people” (nlt). Having believed, we were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. In our daily lives, we bear this mark now, although others can’t see it directly. Does your life reveal that you are God’s possession? Do your words and actions convey that you are a marked person?

7:4-8 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.NIV The number of those who were sealed is 144,000; this refers specifically to Jews—that there will be a great revival among the Jews and that many will be saved.

Who are the 144,000? The Seventh Day Adventists claim these are the faithful Sabbath Day worshipers. The Jehovah Witnesses say they are the 144,000. The next time you see one, ask him or her what tribe of Israel they belong to and watch the blank look on their face.

Revelation says the 144,000 come from the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. Just recently, through DNA technology, the Levite Jews have been able to distinguish the identity of the tribe they came from. Some say there are “lost tribes of Israel.”  They are not “lost” to God.  The one who know every hair on our head and every DNA sequence knows the tribes.  The purpose of these twelve tribes of Israel is found in the meaning of their names.

  1. Judah=Praisers of God
  2. Reuben= Looking to the Son
  3. Gad= A company of
  4. Asher= Blessed Ones
  5. Naphtali= Wrestling with
  6. Manasseh= Forgetfulness
  7. Simeon= Hearing and Obeying
  8. Levi= Cleaving to
  9. Issachar= A Reward
  10. 10. Zebulun= A Home & Dwelling Place
  11. Joseph= Adding
  12. Benjamin= Sons at God’s Right Hand

These twelve tribes then are praisers of God that are looking to the Son. They are a company of blessed ones that are wrestling with forgetfulness and are hearing and obeying the Lord. They are cleaving to a reward, a home and dwelling place. They are adding sons at God’s right hand. Notice that the tribes of Dan and Ephraim are omitted. The reason for this may be the fact that these tribes went into idolatry. There is no room for idolatry in the Tribulation.

God seals these believers by giving them special strength and courage to make it through this time of great persecution. No matter what happens, they will be brought to their reward of eternal life. Their destiny is secure. These believers will not fall away from God, even though they may undergo intense persecution. This is not saying that 144,000 individuals must be sealed before the persecution comes, but that when persecution begins, the faithful will have already been sealed (marked by God), and they will remain true to him until the end.


This “vast crowd” is the huge redeemed multitude, the great international family of God, offering praise to him. These are the ones who have been protected, redeemed, and purified.

7:9-10 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God on the throne and from the Lamb!”NLT In 7:4, John had heard the number of those sealed; here, he saw a vast crowd, too great to count. This fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham that he would have descendants too numerous to count (Genesis 15:5; 32:12; Romans 9:6-8; Galatians 3:29).

Who is this great multitude? In 7:14, they are described as those who have “come out of the great tribulation.” Some interpreters identify them as the martyrs described in 6:9. This scene provides great comfort to all believers facing persecution. Those believers who will face the Tribulation have a guaranteed future with God. In this vision, the 144,000 were sealed by God before the great time of persecution and brought to heaven. Before, they were being prepared; here, they were victorious. This multitude in heaven is all of God’s faithful followers throughout the generations. No true believer needs to worry about his or her final destination. God includes and protects each one, and all are guaranteed eternal life in his presence.

The angels, elders, and living creatures of chapters 4 and 5 were joined by this vast crowd of people from every nation and tribe and people and language. No distinctions of race, ethnic background, or gender exist in this worshiping community. These were the redeemed people—those who had accepted Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf and had experienced God’s forgiveness. Thus they say, “Salvation comes from our God on the throne and from the Lamb!” Only human beings can know the reality of salvation from sin—the angels, elders, and living creatures had not fallen. So only the redeemed could sing of the salvation they had received.

These were clothed in white, symbolizing their purity because of the salvation they had received (3:4-5; 4:4; 19:14). The martyrs in 6:11 had been given white robes—thus, some think this crowd that has come through the Tribulation is those who have been martyred for their faith. They were holding palm branches in their hands, symbolizing the joy of this occasion, as they stood before God and the Lamb (see also John 12:13).

The vast crowd was shouting that salvation comes from God and from the Lamb. People try many methods to remove the guilt of sin—good deeds, intellectual pursuits, and even casting blame on others. By contrast, the multitude in heaven praises God, saying that salvation comes from him and from the Lamb. Salvation from sin’s penalty can come only through Jesus Christ and his sacrifice. Suffering, or even martyrdom, cannot save anyone. Have you had the guilt of sin removed in the only way possible? Turn to Christ for cleansing and forgiveness.

7:11-12 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”NRSV The angels, the elders, and the four living creatures had stood before the throne in John’s earlier vision. For more information about the elders, see the commentary on 4:4. For more information on the four living creatures, see the commentary on 4:6-7.

After the redeemed sang their song (7:9-10), the angels, elders, and four living creatures fell on their faces before the throne. They worshiped God and sang to him seven words of praise: blessing, glory, wisdom, Every saint in heaven is as a flower in the garden of God, and every soul there is as a note in some concert of delightful music.

Jonathan Edwards


thanksgiving, honor, power, and might. Compare this to 5:11-13 where the words are explained. Six of the same words are used, but in different order; here “thanksgiving” replaces “riches” in 5:12. Perhaps this shows that to have used all the same words in the same order would have reduced this doxology into a formula. Instead, singing all these praises in different orders causes the singers to think about the importance of each item for which they are praising God.

They were offering praise to God and the Lamb because of the salvation he had given to all the redeemed. Jesus said, “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents” (Luke 15:10 nlt). Imagine the great joy of the angels in heaven when they stand with this countless crowd of believers who had repented of sin and accepted the salvation of the Lamb.

Amen occurs both at the beginning and at the end of this hymn. This word unites us with God’s will and sovereignty. To say “amen” means to say, “may this be according to you, God.”

The angels and the four living creatures praised God by using this seven-part doxology or song of praise. It praises God’s attributes. The song presents a complete and balanced picture of the wonder and power of God. Today, take time to praise God using these seven attributes:
1. Blessing—praise God for the profound happiness he gives.
2. Glory—praise God for his moral perfection and splendor.
3. Wisdom—praise God for the wisdom of his plan of redemption.
4. Thanksgiving—thank God for pardoning sin.
5. Honor—attribute worth to God publicly for saving people.
6. Power—praise God for his power to act.
7. Might—thank God for his presence in past history and in current events.

7:13-14 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know. ” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”NIV One of the twenty-four elders turned to John and anticipated his question regarding the identity of this great crowd in white robes, “Where did they come from?”

These people have come out of the great tribulation. They have persevered, standing true for Christ. Some may have been martyred, but probably not all of them. They have been redeemed, for they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

How did those in the vast crowd of believers wash their robes? The only part humans can play is to come to God for forgiveness, renounce all loyalty to sin and false gods, trust Christ for total cleansing, and rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to live a new life. Have you presented your life to God for cleansing, or are you still making your robes dirty by living in sinful rebellion?

These people had been dirty with sin, but Christ had cleansed them with his blood (see commentary on 5:9-10 regarding how the blood makes them clean). It is difficult to imagine how blood could make any cloth white, but the blood of Jesus Christ is the world’s greatest purifier because it removes the stain of sin. “Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our hearts from deeds that lead to death so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins” (Hebrews 9:14 nlt). White symbolizes sinless perfection or holiness, which can be given to people only by the death of the sinless Lamb of God on their behalf. This is a picture of how believers are saved through faith (see Isaiah 1:18; Romans 3:21-26).

7:15-17 “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. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”NKJV According to 7:1-8, the believers receive a seal to protect them through a time of great tribulation and suffering; in 7:9-17, John receives a glimpse into the future—the believers finally with God in heaven. All who have been faithful through the ages were singing before God’s throne. Their tribulations and sorrows were over: no more tears for sin, for all sins were forgiven; no more tears for suffering, for all suffering was over; no more tears for death, for all believers had been resurrected to die no more.

The phrase “day and night” means continuous, unceasing service to God—that “service” refers to worship and praise (22:3-5). The temple is not limited to some particular building in heaven, nor is it a reference to the temple in Jerusalem; instead, all of heaven is God’s sanctuary.

In this vision, the Lamb is in the midst of the throne. The Lamb himself is God. He will be their shepherd and will lead them to living fountains of waters. As a shepherd, Jesus gives daily care, guidance, and provision. The living fountains picture eternal refreshment in God’s presence (Psalm 36:8-9; John 4:14). He will dwell among his people. This fulfills the Old Testament promises (Psalm 23:1; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 37:27; Zechariah 2:10).

God will satisfy every need. There will be no hunger or thirst, there will not be overwhelming heat from the sun. This echoes Isaiah’s prophecy, “They will neither hunger nor thirst. The searing sun and scorching desert winds will not reach them anymore. For the Lord in his mercy will lead them beside cool waters” (Isaiah 49:10 nlt). The reference to hunger and thirst refers not just to food but also to spiritual fulfillment (Matthew 5:6). The heat and sun refer to God’s shelter and protection. God’s care extends to every part of life—he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. These are the blessings that God will provide to his people.

This beautiful scene describes how God will provide for his children’s needs in their eternal home where there will be no hunger, thirst, or pain and where he will wipe away all tears. When you are suffering or torn apart by sorrow, take comfort in this promise of complete protection and relief. Go to Jesus for strength and patience. He can help you renew your hope.



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Sources: Rod Mattoon, Mattoon’s Treasures – Treasures from Revelation, (Springfield, IL: Lincoln Land Baptist Church, n.d.), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 191.

Bruce B. Barton et al., Life Application Bible Commentary – Revelation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2000), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 115-134.


About dkoop

Lead Pastor of Upwards Church: Leander & Jarrell, TX
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