SYNOPSIS: 144,000 males from the tribes of Israel are numbered and assembled for transit to the Promised Land – Revelation 7:4-8.
The “sealing of God’s servants” follows a literary pattern set in Chapter 5, the introduction of the “lion of the tribe of Judah,” the “slain Lamb.” What John “sees” interprets what he first “hears.” In verses 4-8, he will “hear” the “number” of the “sealed servants.” In verses 9-17 he will see its interpretation (Revelation 5:6-14).
- (Revelation 7:4-8) – “And I heard the number of the sealed,—a hundred and forty-four thousand,—sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel:— Of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand sealed, of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand, Of the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand, Of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand, Of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand, of the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand, sealed.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The text does not state whether John saw the group about to be numbered; only, that he heard its number. In the fifth seal, the martyrs were told they must remain “under the altar” until the completed number of the saints destined to die “just as them” was assembled. That “number” is now portrayed in the image of the numbering of the 144,000 men from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.
The number 144,000 is based on the number ‘12’ squared and multiplied by a thousand. The number is figurative. It stresses fullness, the full congregation of God’s people. The number ‘12’ is associated with Israel, the “twelve tribes of Israel,” and symbolizes the full number of the people of the Lamb.
The squaring of twelve is done by multiplying the twelve tribes of Israel by the names of the twelve “apostles of the Lamb.” In Chapter 21, New Jerusalem is laid out with square numbers. Its wall is 144 cubits, or 12 times 12 (“The city lies foursquare…its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits”). The figure of 144,000 echoes the ancient image of the army of Israel arrayed for battle by its “thousands” (Numbers 31:14, 31:48, Deuteronomy 1:15, 1 Samuel 8:12, Revelation 21:12-14).
When the twelve tribes are listed in the Old Testament, the order they are listed varies. Reuben is often first, Israel’s first-born. Distinctive in the passage from Revelation is the placement of Judah first in the list, the position of prominence. In Chapter 5, one of the twenty-four “elders” declared that the Messiah sprang from Judah. The present list echoes this previous statement – “The lion out of the tribe of Judah” (Genesis 35:23-26, Exodus 1:2-4, Numbers 1:5-15).
Now, John “hears” the number of the sealed – “Out of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand sealed, out of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand,” and so on. Also, he “hears” the names of the twelve tribes. In Chapter 5, John heard the “elder” declare – The “lion out of the tribe of Judah.” However, when he looked, John “saw” the slain Lamb.
In other words, what John saw interpreted what he first heard. The “lion of Judah” fulfills his messianic role as the “slain Lamb.” This same interpretive pattern is employed in Chapter 7. John first “hears” the “number” of the “sealed.” However, when he looks, he will “see” something quite different and extraordinary, a vast innumerable multitude of men and women from every tribe, nation, people, and tongue (Revelation 7:9-17).
The tribe of Dan is excluded from the list of the twelve tribes. The image portrays ancient Israel assembled for travel to and the conquest of the Promised Land. Under the old covenant, the tribe of Levi was excluded from the census because it was prohibited from participation in warfare. Its priestly duties took priority (Numbers 1:47-53).
Why is the tribe of Dan excluded from this “number?” Most likely, so the tribe of Levi may be included among the “twelve tribes” assembled for the march to the Promised Land. Under the rule of the Lamb, all members of God’s people belong to the priestly class, and in this vision, the entire company is assembled:
- (Revelation 1:6) – “And he hath made us [to be] a kingdom—priests unto his God and Father, Unto him, be the glory, and the dominion, unto the ages. Amen.”
- (Revelation 5:10) – “Worthy, art thou, to take the scroll and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain, and didst redeem unto God by thy blood [men] out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, And didst make them unto our God a kingdom and priests,—and they reign on the earth.”
In ancient Israel, only males of military age were numbered. Likewise, only “males” are numbered here, the “sons of Israel.” This is another indicator this company is figurative since “females” are excluded (Numbers 1:1-3, 1:18-20, 1 Chronicles 27:23, 1 Samuel 24:9).
The paragraph ends with God’s servants sealed, numbered, and, presumably, ready for whatever awaits them on their journey to New Jerusalem.