The Concordant Version
1And after this I perceived four messengers standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind may not be blowing on the land, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.
2And I perceived another messenger ascending from the orient, having the seal of the living God. And he cries with a loud voice to the four messengers to whom it was given for them to injure the land and the sea, 3saying, "You shall not be injuring the land, nor yet the sea, nor yet the trees, until we should be sealing the slaves of our God on their foreheads." 4And I hear the number of those sealed: a hundred forty-four thousand. Sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel are: 5out of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand are sealed; out of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand; 6out of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand; 7out of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand; 8out of the tribe of Zebulon twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand; out of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand are sealed.
THE HUNDRED FORTY-FOUR THOUSAND
WHO is able to stand? The terrors of the sixth seal seem to be beyond human endurance. Our Lord Himself says "for in those days will be affliction such as has not occurred from the beginning of the creation which God creates till now, and under no circumstances may be occurring. And, except the Lord discounts the days, no flesh at all would be saved. But because of the chosen, whom He chooses, He discounts the days." (Mark 13:19,20).
On the human side, it will appear as if some are saved because they endure to the end of these terrific trials. But from the divine viewpoint no one is able to do this if the judgment should be allowed its normal course. It is an illuminating commentary on the character of God, that He stretches grace to loiter along for centuries, but judgment is not allowed even its allotted time. He lets His sun shine day after day; but the lightning sears its path but a second.
But He not only shortens the days so that some of the non-elect pass through the inferno, but He protects His own in it. He chooses two classes in Israel, both of which survive the day of His indignation. Many in Israel will die a martyr's death, such as those whose voices from beneath the altar call down this judgment on the earth. But two special companies of saints are saved through it, one a definite number, the other, an innumerable multitude.
The hundred and forty-four thousand are to be specially selected to go unscathed through the fire, much as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and their Deliverer walked in the midst of a fiery furnace so hot that it dealt out death to the men who cast them in. So, in the time of the end, the great king of the nations will seek to destroy the choicest company of Israelites, but will not be able to harm them.
The seal, in Scripture, speaks of safety and security. To keep the disciples from stealing the body of our Lord they sealed the stone (Matt.27:66). Satan's prison will be sealed during the thousand years (Rev.20:3). We are sealed with the holy spirit until the day of deliverance (2 Cor.1:22; Eph.1:13; 4:30). The hundred and forty-four thousand will be sealed in their foreheads (Rev.9:4) to make them safe and secure during the great afflictions which are about to befall the earth. The effect of this sealing is especially seen under the fifth trumpet, when the monstrous locusts torment mankind five months. They are prohibited from injuring those who have God's seal on their foreheads, which applies only to the hundred and forty-four thousand (Rev.9:4).
This is sufficient evidence for taking this sealing as a visible token, plainly seen, placed on their foreheads. The seal of God today is invisible, unperceived even by our fellow men, unless they, too, have God's spirit. Such a seal cannot be imprinted on our forehead. It would not be recognized by the awful horde of locusts. Their seal is an actual mark as much as the emblem of the wild beast, worn by all his followers. It is not a badge affixed by men, but an imprint placed by a divine messenger. It is not in the heart, but on the forehead. Just as the blood on the lintel was a sign to the destroying messenger in Egypt, shielding those within from his hand, so this seal will shield the hundred and forty-four thousand from the furious inflictions which follow.
In this, the throne section of the Apocalypse, this company appears as slaves. In the temple section they reappear as singers and worshipers (14:1-5). There we learn that the seal consists of the name of the Lambkin and of the Father, in written form. And there we also learn that they are all unmarried males. Celibacy is their distinguishing feature. No woman or married man will have any place in their ranks. When we come to consider the religion of the wild beast, we will see the full force of this. Impurity is the most popular feature of human religions, and it will have full sway at the time of the end. Hence God's avowed worshipers are absolutely divorced from any suspicion of social immorality. They are all celibates, and no woman can have a place among them.
If this sealing were simply a symbolic scene, in which Israel's twelve tribes are representative of the redeemed, the usual enumeration would certainly be given. Elsewhere Levi is not counted among the tribes, and Joseph is represented by his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, thus making the twelve (Gen.48:5; Num.1:47). But here Ephraim is not mentioned. Instead we have his father Joseph. And Levi is included, while Dan is omitted. What is the reason for this?
Beside the covenant made with Israel in Horeb, there was a special one on the subject of idolatry made in the land of Moab (Gen.29:1-20). After they had taken Heshbon and Bashan, and the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh had settled in the land once given over to idol worship, He promises to establish them if they cleave to Him, but if any man, woman, family, or tribe should introduce the worship of idols, He would blot out his name from under heaven and they would be subject to His curse. The eighteenth chapter of Judges gives an extended account of how the tribe of Dan stole a graven image from Micah. They set up the graven image and had a priest for it until the time of the captivity. Hence they, as a tribe, are not sealed from the terrors of the end time.
Besides this, when the kingdom was divided after Solomon's death, Jeroboam was afraid to allow the people to go up to Jerusalem to worship, so he set up two golden calves, one in Dan, and one in Beth-el, in Ephraim. This is continually referred to as the great sin which the son of Nebat introduced into Israel. Therefore both Dan and Ephraim are left to suffer with the idolators of the end time and lose their representation in the hundred and forty-four thousand. The sin of Dan is flagrant, hence the substitute is Levi. Ephraim, however, has his name blotted out, but possibly, many in the tribe itself will be sealed, as belonging to the tribe of "Joseph," which can refer only to Manasseh and Ephraim, his two sons. As Manasseh is mentioned, it must refer to Ephraim, or those in the tribe who repudiate Ephraim's sin.
The exclusion of Levi from an allotment in the land was no hardship to them because they were supported by the tithes of their brethren. But to be excluded from this sealing would have been a dire calamity, and very unjust, hence they must be given their quota of twelve thousand.
This re-arrangement of the tribes is only a temporary one, for the purpose of preserving them during the end time. In the kingdom Dan will, indeed, be, as always, far from the center of worship, yet restored to its larger allotment. Ephraim resumes his usual place and larger portion. Levi shall have a special portion in the center besides the offerings of the other tribes (Ezek. 48).
There is a designed contrast between the exact number of the hundred and forty-four thousand and the vast throng which no one was able to number, which will next come before us. It is not mystical or symbolic but literal and exact. We have a little suggestion of this in the war against Midian (Num.31). There one thousand men were taken from each tribe, exactly twelve thousand in all. And the marvel of it was that not a man perished. When the troops were counted at the close of the war not a man was lacking of all that host. So it will be with the hundred and forty-four thousand. The number is fixed. So many will be sealed and so many will be preserved unscathed through the judgment. Not one of them can be injured. Not one can lose his place in that elect company.
There can be no doubt, however, that the number is significant. The close connection of the number twelve with administration and the nation of Israel is too apparent to miss. Not only were there twelve patriarchs, but the Lord chose just twelve apostles to rule the twelve tribes. When Judas fell, there must be another chosen to complete the number. In this enumeration we have twelve squared, so we feel sure that the sealed slaves must be, in some sense, commissioners of the kingdom. We cannot think of a thousand rulers for each tribe, and tribal rule has already been delegated to the twelve, none of whom are among the hundred and forty-four thousand.
The number twelve is here combined with ten. It is the square of twelve with the cube of ten. In this scroll the number ten is often used of the horns of the wild beast, which, we will see, bring before us the military powers of the earth. The horns are crowned with ten diadems (13:1). We know that Israel will rule the nations, and it is more than probable that the hundred and forty-four thousand will be the commissioners of the great King, who will represent Him among the nations and who will rule them with an iron club. This thought suggests their identity with the "overcomers" or conquerors of Thyatira (2:27). Being celibates, they certainly are not implicated in the teaching of Jezebel, and thus, they are entitled to shepherd the nations in the day of the Lord.
It also suggests (what we hope to elaborate in due time) that these are the male son (12:5) brought forth by Israel at this time, who is also said to be about to shepherd all nations with an iron club.
The many attempts to claim membership in the hundred forty-four thousand by saints in the present administration of God's grace are effectively nullified by their number. Millions have maintained that they belong to this privileged class, for the saints, alas, are eager to exalt themselves, and few are concerned about the faithful of other administrations. The spirit that leaves all the judgments for Israel and appropriates all the blessings for ourselves will always prevail until the truth of our transcendent blessings has so taken possession of our hearts that we have no desire to rob Israel even of the very highest of her privileges. One who anticipates a place of rule in realms celestial is not eager to grasp the iron club with which the hundred forty-four thousand will regulate affairs among the nations in the millennial earth. Then there will be saints of various ranks, for this is a necessity in such an administration. Politically, the twelve apostles will rule the twelve tribes and the hundred forty-four thousand will administer justice among the nations. Religiously, the priests and the Levites will serve in the sanctuary. But it will not be so with us. There is only one body, and this is a "joint" body, in which each member is of equal rank with every other member. Rewards for service will be individual, not by classes. So great is our grace, so vital is our union with Christ, that we all shall enjoy an exultation, among the celestials, far above that given to the hundred forty-four thousand on earth. Those who are so weighted with wealth as we are, should not seek to seize the property of others who are not so fortunate.
The hundred and forty-four thousand, therefore, we take to be the millennial commissioners and deputies of Him Who will shepherd the nations with an iron club (19:15), the great Rider on the White Horse, the King of Kings And Lord of lords.