At the end of chapter 6, in looking at the events coming with the sixth seal, the great and small of the earth cry out to the mountains and the rocks,
Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand? (6:16-17)
Who can stand? The answer is found in chapter 7. Here John sees four angels, ready to release the winds of judgment upon the earth. But another angel comes, and says,
Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the forehead of the servant of our God. (7:3)
This is very reminiscent of another time when God sealed his own people to protect them from the judgment that was coming in the book of Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 9:3-7)
And here we see God sealing 144,000 people from the tribes of Israel.
This is one of those things that people argue endlessly about. Who are the 144,000? I think the number is symbolic of all the redeemed. You see 12 (tribes of Israel) times 12 (apostles) times 1000 (a number signifying completeness). These compose the new Israel that is in Jesus Christ.
Why wouldn’t they be literal Jews? First, it’s not the original 12 sons of Jacob (Dan is omitted and Manasseh, Joseph’ son is included), nor is it the 12 tribes that inherited the promised land (Dan is omitted, Levi is included, and Joseph is listed instead of Ephraim). Add to to the fact that all the tribal lines are completely mixed, and it seems unlikely they are talking about literal Jews.
And just as you see a mixing of metaphors concerning Jesus where he is the Lion and the Lamb in chapter 5, it seems likely to me that there’s another mixing of metaphors where the 144,000 are the great multitude seen in 7:9; a people from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne of God and the Lamb.
And they cry out,
Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. (7:7)
The elder then explains to John,
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.
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 spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe every tear from their eye.” (7:14-17)
What is he saying?
Times of trouble are to come. When antichrist comes, there will be persecution, and many will die for the sake of Christ. But as Jesus told the church of Smyrna (2:8-10), it is only for a time.
Though we may face the wrath of the Satan and his antichrist, we will be sealed and protected from the wrath of God and his Christ.
And in the end, we will stand before God, and serve and worship him forever. Never again will we have to suffer as we do on earth. And on that day, we will see Jesus face to face. He will give us life eternal. And every tear we’ve cried while here on earth will be wiped away. That is the hope for all who put their faith in Christ.
So we have a choice. Do we take the seal of God and face the wrath of Satan? Or do we take Satan’s mark and face the wrath of God. There is no other option.
What will you choose?