Notes (NET Translation)
1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so no wind could blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.
The phrase “after this” merely means that this vision succeeded the vision in chapter 6; it does not mean that the events of 7:1-8 will occur chronologically after the events of chapter 6. That the four angels are standing at the four corners of the earth and holding back the four winds of the earth indicates that they are sovereign over the whole world. The four winds are the four horsemen of 6:1-8, who are modeled on the four horsemen of Zechariah 6:1-8, who are identified as the four winds/spirits of heaven (6:5). Therefore, the sealing of the servants of God in 7:3-8 occurs chronologically prior to the release of the four horsemen. The saints are sealed to spiritually protect them from the woes of the four horsemen. That the winds must be held back points to the rebellious and wicked nature of the four horsemen.
Interestingly, these winds are not prevented from blowing on people but from blowing on “land or sea or any tree.” However, destructive winds would devastate people by affecting the land and the vegetation. The sirocco, the hot wind off the desert, could literally wilt a flower in seconds. This imagery is used often by OT writers as a metaphor for divine punishment (Jer. 51:36; Hos. 13:15) as well as of the fragility of life (Ps. 103:16; Isa. 40:6–7). Therefore, the wind became a natural metaphor in Jewish apocalyptic for judgment. The Greek is ἵνα μὴ πνέͅ ἄνεμος (hina mē pneē anemos, so that the wind might not continue blowing) and with the present subjunctive stresses an ongoing wind, probably with hurricane force. It will destroy not just vegetation but also the oceanic waters. Anyone depending on the sea for trade or traffic (namely, everyone living then in the Mediterranean region) would catch the terrible implications of the added “or on the sea” here. By placing this between “land” and “tree,” it has special emphasis. These winds were prepared to destroy all seagoing commerce and travel, thereby destroying the Roman Empire, since it depended on the sea lanes for its whole way of life. These categories also introduce the use of God’s creation for judgment, a theme that will carry through the trumpets and the bowls, with the first four of each being disasters centering on nature. (Osborne 306)
2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, who had the seal of the living God. He shouted out with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given permission to damage the earth and the sea: 3 “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees until we have put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
The four angels in 7:1 were given permission to damage the earth, sea, and trees through the four horsemen. Ezekiel 9, where God commands an angel to place a mark on faithful Israelites but commands other angels to kill unfaithful Israelites, is the main background for “the seal of the living God” (cf. Ex 12:13, 23). This seal (probably a signet ring) does not provide physical protection for Christians since believers and unbelievers seem to suffer similar physical fates (2:10; 3:10; 6:1-11; 7:14; 11:7-8; 12:11; 13:7; 17:6; 20:4). Rather the seal provides spiritual protection and designates the “servants/slaves of God” as being owned by God (14:1; 22:3-4).
4 Now I heard the number of those who were marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed from all the tribes of the people of Israel: 5 From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand, 6 from the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand, 7 from the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
The 144,000 are also described in 14:1-4. In 14:3-4 they are said to be: (a) those who had been redeemed from the earth; (b) those who have not defiled themselves with women; (c) those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes; and (d) the first-fruits to God and to the Lamb. These descriptions suggest that the 144,000 are not a remnant of ethnic Israel but rather a remnant from all of humanity. The number 144,000 represents the church in its entirety, not in part. “The numbering itself, one should note, is 12 x 12 x 1000, which is the number of God’s people multiplied by itself and then by the number of completeness” (Fee 109).
If Gentile believers are clearly identified together with “the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel” as part of the new Jerusalem (21:12, 14, 24; 22:2–5), then it is not odd that John should refer to them together with Jewish Christians in 7:4 as “the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.” This receives confirmation from the prior observation that the “sealing” of 7:2–3 is equivalent to believers receiving a “name.” And it is clear that one of the names written on Gentile Christians, in addition to the names of God and Christ, is “the name of the new Jerusalem” (3:12), which is a virtual reference to all Christians as “new” Israel. (Beale 417)
Further reasons for identifying the group sealed in 7:3–8 with the entire community of the redeemed are: (1) all redeemed believers are included when δοῦλοι (“servants”) is used elsewhere in the book (so 2:20; 19:5; 22:3); (2) the context of Ezekiel 9, which provides much of the background here, knows of no distinction between major groups of the faithful, but distinguishes only true believers from unbelievers; and (3) if Satan puts a seal on all his followers (13:16–17; 14:9–11), God presumably does likewise for all his followers, not just some of them. (Beale 413)
The 144,000 is the enormous crowd that no one could count who worships God in 7:9-17 (cf. 5:9).
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.
Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.
Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.
Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.