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Today, we continue examining the Book of Revelation, in particular, those verses which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary readings used by most Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches.

Revelation 7:5-8 are among those verses, qualifiying them as Forbidden Bible Verses, which are equally essential to our understanding of Scripture.  Interpreting this passage is often problematic.  Fundamentalists read the numbers below literally, whilst other Christians view them in light of the symbolism used in Messianic literature.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version.  Exegetical sources are listed at the end of the post.

Revelation 7:5-8

512,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 612,000 from the tribe of Asher,12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 712,000 from the tribe of Simeon,12,000 from the tribe of Levi,12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 812,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.


In Revelation 7, St John has already seen Jesus Christ open the six seals (Revelation 6) and now has a vision of the ‘seal of the living God’ being placed on the saints’ foreheads.  It is likely that Our Lord is the ‘angel’ of Revelation 7:2 announcing that His servants must receive this seal.  Many biblical scholars say that the world will not end until all of the elect receive it.

St John hears the numbers of the ‘sealed’ tribes of Israel announced.  The 17th century Calvinist minister Matthew Henry explains the possible interpretations in his commentary.  He acknowledges that some scholars believe that the numbers refer to those Jews saved during the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.  Others believe that the number refers to Christ’s faithful remnant who will be saved at the end of the world.

The Lutheran pastor, the Revd Thomas Messer, of Peace Lutheran Church in Alma, Michigan, believes the number 144,000 is symbolic, relating to Messianic literature.  One of the reasons why Revelation is so difficult for us to understand today is that we lack the understanding of this symbolism which was evident to the Jews who were alive at the time St John had these visions in 95 AD.

Pastor Messer explains the numerical significance for us, explaining the equation 12 x 12 x 1000.  The number 12 is used twice: once to designate the Old Testament tribes of Israel and again to represent the number of Christ’s apostles in the New Testament. Multiplied together, we arrive at a number of Old Testament and New Testament believers — the faithful of all time.  It should also be noted that many Bible scholars believe that the number 12 represents the number of believers in God and, furthermore, signifies an applied spiritual truth.

Now, what of the use of 1,000?  Messer examines the use of 10 and 3, as in 10 x 10 x 10=1,000.  He points out that if 10 indicates a completeness and if 3 indicates, as many scholars believe, God’s will, then, 103 symbolises ultimate, absolute completeness and fulfilment.

In Revelation 7:9, St John sees a multitude that could not be numbered.  Messer writes:

John first hears the number of those sealed (which means those who have been sealed with faith by the Holy Spirit – cf. Eph. 1:13) in Rev. 7:4. Then, immediately after hearing the number, he looks and sees “a great multitude which no one could number” (Rev. 7:9). The 144,000 equals this great multitude that cannot be numbered, which, as said above, refers to all believers of all times.

What, then, of the tribes of Israel being named in a particular order?  Henry notes that the tribe of Dan has been omitted, possibly because of their idolatry.  As for the order in which they are listed, he believes that it could refer to their faithfulness to God.  Having said that, the important thing to remember, he counsels, is that the number of Gentiles will be from every land and all languages.  They will comprise the majority of the elect on the final day:

Observe, [1.] God will have a greater harvest of souls among the Gentiles than he had among the Jews. More are the children of the desolate than of the married woman. [2.] The Lord knows who are his, and he will keep them safe in times of dangerous temptation. [3.] Though the church of God is but a little flock, in comparison of the wicked world, yet it is no contemptible society, but really large and to be still more enlarged.

Pastor Messer agrees with God’s protection of the Church and says that Israel does not represent the modern nation of Israel, but:

the New Israel, the Christian Church. The Church has its roots in ancient Israel. What better way to depict the Church than with the faithful tribes of Israel. The Church is a continuation of Israel (cf. Acts 10:47-48; 13:46-48; 15:14-18; Rom. 4:16-17; 9:6-8, 24-27; 11:17-24; Gal. 3:14, 27-29; 6:16).

Further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

‘Revelation – Chapter 7 Notes’ — The Revd Thomas C. Messer

‘Meaning of Numbers in the Bible – Number Three (3)’ – Bible Study

‘The Numbers in the Scriptures!’ – Tony Warren

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