Four angels holding back the wind while 144,000 receive seals

After the lamb opened the scroll sealed with seven seals, John saw four angels holding back the winds of the earth so no wind could blow on land, the sea, nor rustle the leaves on trees. A fifth angel, having the seal of the living God, descended from the east.

The Last Judgement - Fresco in the Sistine Chapel by MichelangeloThe angel called in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given the power to harm the land and the sea.

“Do not harm the land or the sea until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of God.”

Then John heard the number of those who were sealed. They were 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,

from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,

from the tribe of Gad 12,000,

from the tribe of Asher 12,000,

from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000,

from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000,

from the tribe of Simeon 12,000,

from the tribe of Levi 12,000,

from the tribe of Issachar 12,000,

from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000,

from the tribe of Joseph 12,000,

from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.

What the story means to us today

During End Times, will Christians endure the wrath of God?

imageAfter opening the sixth seal, just prior to the judgment of the seventh seal, the angels prepare to “stop the winds” while mankind huddles in terror. John had just posed the question, “The day of wrath has come and who can withstand it?” Revelation 7 answers John’s question when God steps in to protect those that he loves. However, it is unclear whether God steps in to protect *everyone* that he loves. Some interpretations say the 144,000 does not include Christians.

When interpreting bible symbolism, we must remember God’s intent. Symbolism is meant to be interpreted *during* or after the events – not prior. Incorrect interpretations formed prior to the events may mislead followers after the actual events transpire. In addition, we must look at all readings and consider that there may still be interpretations we have not considered.

In addition, we must not mold symbolism into an interpretation simply because it makes us feel good. It is true, the 144,000 who are given a protective seal may not include Christians and thus, followers of Jesus may endure hardships during end days. In such a case, we must bear the pain while striving to help others – just as Jesus did for us.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Four angels at four corners of the earth, holding back the wind

John sees angels at the four corners of the earth holding back the wind. Just as “sunrise” does not mean we believe the sun rotates around the earth, “four corners of earth” does not mean ancients incorrectly thought the earth was square. “Four corners of earth” was a phrase used to represent the entirety of earth similar to our modern-day expression “all around the world”. In other words, God’s final judgement will impact everyone on earth.

The four winds being held back could be literal wind or represent the four horsemen mentioned earlier (Revelation 6:1). In Zechariah 6:5, when describing the four horsemen, we are told of “four spirits of heaven (wind) sent from God into the whole world” which sounds much like the description John provided us.

The seal

A fifth angel appears with the “seal of the living God”. The seal was placed on the foreheads of God’s servants. In purpose, the seal was similar to ancient seals placed on official communications – to authenticate the bearer of the seal and to identify the people of God.

Who were the 144,000?

image144,000 from all the tribes of Israel were given a protective seal. The list of tribes appears like a military census from the Old Testament. Although there are varying views on the identity of the 144,000, they will appear in later verses described as those who were “redeemed from the earth” and follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

The number 144,000 can be calculated as 12 (the number of tribes listed in the Old Testament) times 12 (the number of New Testament disciples) times 1,000 (the number of completeness, perfection, or the world pervaded by the divine).

12 x 12 x 1,000 = 144,000

The calculation hints the intent may be to portray an innumerable or unknown number of people – all of God’s people.

Jewish converts to Christianity

Some believe the 144,000 represent ethnic Jews who have converted to Christianity allotting them the important status of a Christian compounded by their prestigious ancestry.

Jewish people who have not converted to Christianity

Others believe the 144,000 are Jews in general, including those who have failed to believe in Jesus. All Jews will be granted special privileges despite their failure to follow the Son of God. The protective seal is similar in function to how God saved Noah from the flood and Israel from Egypt’s plagues.

Christian church and its believers

The 144,000 could be symbolism for the massive growth of the Christian church which sprouted from the foundation laid by the Twelve Israelite apostles. The verses call the 144,000 “servants of God”, a phrase used frequently when referring to Christians. In addition, the Bible frequently mentions Christians being marked with a “seal of his ownership”. If the 144,000 represent the Christian church, the seal could be considered a marker for Gentile believers who have the name of Jerusalem written on them.

Note that in the verses that follow, John sees a “great multitude” of people from every nation, people, and language. This group may include Christians – and we are told that they have come out of the great tribulation.

Even though the identity of the 144,000 is unknown, we must not taint our interpretation of the Bible’s symbolism

Or course, each person would like to think they will be “sealed” and protected from the wrath that follows the opening of the seventh seal. But being a Christian is not always easy. When interpreting verses, don’t let what you want overshadow what the verses tell us, even if the meaning of the verses is uncertain. In cases where verses can be interpreted to glean various meanings, leave the interpretation of the symbolism open. Then, when the prophetic events occur, we will not be influenced by preconceived notions that could distract from the truth.

The uniqueness of the list of Twelve Tribes in Revelation

The verses list the 12 tribes of Israel, noting that 12,000 members from each tribe will be sealed. The first tribe in the list, Judah, is Jesus’ tribe.

It is interesting to note that Dan has been omitted and replaced by Manasseh, Joseph’s oldest son. Ephraim (Joseph’s second oldest son) is also missing and replaced by Joseph. This is unusual – Joseph is never mentioned in the Old Testament as one of the twelve tribes. Furthermore, the order of the tribes listed differs from the order of tribe listings in the Old Testament.

The reason for the list’s uniqueness is unknown. It has been proposed that Dan is missing from the list because (1) his tribe was notorious for idolatry in the Old Testament, (2) potentially the False Prophet arises from Dan’s tribe, or (3) the tribe is now extinct – it was absorbed into the tribe of Judah. Possibly other tribes were added to fill the missing gap(s). As is stands today, there is no explanation for why John presented the list in this manner.

The science and history behind the story

What would happen if the wind stopped blowing?

imageThe verses tell us that angels held back the four winds of earth (in all directions) to prevent any wind from blowing. This of course, could be symbolic – or it could be a literal stoppage of all winds across the planet. If wind truly ceased to exist on Earth, it would be catastrophic to our planet.

Wind derives from differences in pressure across various regions of the earth. Varying degrees of pressure across the surface of earth are the result of unequal heating. This unequal heating can occur for a variety of reasons including the angle of the earth to the sun, variations in topography and altitude, or the location with regards to the poles. Winds serve to redistribute unequal heating. For the winds to stop blowing, all pressure would have to be equalized, a seemingly impossible act.

If winds stopped blowing across the earth’s surface, ocean currents would stop, rain would stop in inland areas, and oxygen would not spread through the sea’s waters. Carbon dioxide would begin to pool across the earth’s surface. Plant life would no longer propagate and life in oceans and on land would begin to die. The poles would become colder and areas near the equator would become hotter. Eventually temperatures on earth would destabilize making the planet inhospitable to all forms of life as we know it.

Notes on Biblical translation

“From the east”

John saw a fifth angel “come up from the east”. This phrase is translated more accurately as “from the rising of the sun”. Typically this phrase would be taken to mean the geographical direction but could possibly relate to the act of the sun rising and thus incorporate timing into the prophecy too.

“From all the tribes of Israel”

John says the 144,000 were from “all tribes of Israel”. The phrase is more accurately translated as “from the sons of Israel”. The phrase is typically taken as idiom for Israelites but in this case, could refer to Christians who have expanded beyond ancient Israel into new lands. This is strengthened by the next verses where John witnesses an innumerable multitude of people “from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”

Bible Text

NIV

7 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3 “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” 4 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

5 From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,

from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,

from the tribe of Gad 12,000,

6 from the tribe of Asher 12,000,

from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000,

from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000,

7 from the tribe of Simeon 12,000,

from the tribe of Levi 12,000,

from the tribe of Issachar 12,000,

8 from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000,

from the tribe of Joseph 12,000,

from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The Message

7 Immediately I saw Four Angels standing at the four corners of earth, standing steady with a firm grip on the four winds so no wind would blow on earth or sea, not even rustle a tree.

2–3 Then I saw another Angel rising from where the sun rose, carrying the seal of the Living God. He thundered to the Four Angels assigned the task of hurting earth and sea, “Don’t hurt the earth! Don’t hurt the sea! Don’t so much as hurt a tree until I’ve sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads!”

4–8 I heard the count of those who were sealed: 144,000! They were sealed out of every Tribe of Israel: 12,000 sealed from Judah, 12,000 from Reuben, 12,000 from Gad, 12,000 from Asher, 12,000 from Naphtali, 12,000 from Manasseh, 12,000 from Simeon, 12,000 from Levi, 12,000 from Issachar, 12,000 from Zebulun, 12,000 from Joseph, 12,000 sealed from Benjamin.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

The NET Bible

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. 7:2 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: 7:3 “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.” 7:4 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:

7:5 From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed,

from the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand,

from the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand,

7:6 from the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand,

from the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand,

from the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand,

7:7 from the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand,

from the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand,

from the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand,

7:8 from the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand,

from the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand,

from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

King James Version

7 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. 2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, 3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. 4 And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.

5  Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand.

Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand.

Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.

6  Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand.

Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand.

Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.

7  Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand.

Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand.

Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.

8  Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand.

Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand.

Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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