A Preterist Commentary on Revelation 7: Summary and Highlights
In the following preterist Bible commentary on Revelation 7 the reader will be exposed to evidence that Revelation 7 has been fulfilled. In this chapter the 144,000 are sealed to preserve them from the coming war. The 144,000 appear to be the body of first century believers that survived Israel’s first century war with Rome. According to Eusebius first-century Jewish Christians fled to Pella at the start of this war. As predicted, these Christians and their Gentile brethren not living in Israel were kept safe from the coming plagues of Revelation.
The following may seem unbelievable. However, all information is taken from unbiased historical records and is easily verifiable. Sources listed at the end.
Holding Back the Storm
This chapter follows the precedent set in Ezekiel 9:3-6. In Ezekiel 9, an angel marks the foreheads of all the Jews still faithful to God in order to preserve them from the coming slaughter at the hands of the Babylonian army. In the same way, the faithful are marked here to preserve them from the coming war with Rome.
1After 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.
Revelation 7 Commentary: When do the Four Angels of the Four Winds Act?
This chapter opens with four angels holding back the destructive winds of the four cardinal directions. Few commentators believe that these four angels are holding back literal wind. According to Hebrews 1:7, winds represent angels: “In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds.’”1 I believe the four winds being held back in v. 1 are the four horsemen of Revelation 6. As noted by G.K. Beale the four horsemen of Revelation 6:1-8 are “modeled” after the four horsemen of Zechariah 6:1-8 who are explicitly identified as “the four winds of heaven” in Zechariah 6:5:2“And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the four winds of heaven, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth [emphasis mine].”3 The word translated winds in Zechariah 6:5 is ruach which is also often translated spirits. Ruach means breath, wind, spirit.
The fact that the four winds which appear to be the four horsemen of Revelation 6:1-8 are held back in the beginning of Revelation 7 implies that the events predicted in Revelation 6 take place after those of Revelation 7. This fact is again implied in Revelation 7:3. In this v. an angel from the east says to the angels of the four winds, “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.” It is clear that the earth is, in fact, harmed earlier in the text by the four horsemen in Revelation 6:1-8 therefore the four horsemen of the previous chapter appear to have enacted their punishments after the sealing of the saints in Revelation 7.4
Revelation 7 Commentary: When are the Four Horsemen Set Loose?
If the four horsemen do not act until the saints are sealed, then when are they cleared to act? These angels must be released at some point. But Revelation never explicitly mentions when the angels of Revelation 7:1 finally release the four winds of heaven which appear to me to be the four horsemen of Revelation 6.
As previously stated in Revelation 6: A Preterist Commentary, even though the seven seals are broken before the start of the seven trumpets and bowls, the events they predict actually unfolded during the seven trumpets and bowls. This idea is strongly implicit in the fact that Revelation 6:14 and Revelation 16:20 are clearly describing the same event. Revelation 6:14 reads, “[E]very mountain and island was removed from its place.” Compare Revelation 6:14 with Revelation 16:20: “Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found.” How could every mountain and island flee away in the seventh bowl if they had already both been removed earlier in Revelation 6:14? Though the seven seals were broken before the seven trumpets, Revelation 6:14 and 16:20 prove that the plagues these broken seals unleashed did not actually unfold before the seven trumpets and bowls. Instead, the consequences of the broken seals took place at the same time as the seven trumpets and bowls. In other words, the four horsemen of Revelation; which I believe are also the four winds of Revelation 7; appear to act during the seven trumpets and bowls.
In further confirmation of this idea, an angel from the east tells the four winds not to “harm the land or the sea or the trees” until the saints are sealed (Revelation 7:3). [Emphasis mine.] The earth and trees were harmed during the first trumpet (Revelation 8:7). The sea was harmed in the second trumpet (Revelation 8:8-9). This fact proves that the four winds—just like the four horsemen—also begin to act during the seven trumpets and bowls. Of course, this is exactly what one would expect if the four winds and the four horsemen are one and the same, as I believe they are.5
2Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God.6 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.” 4Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. 5From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, 6from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, 7from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, 8from the tribe Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.
Preterism and the 144,000: Is the 144,000 of Revelation 7 Literally 144,000 People?
In Revelation 7 John lists twelve thousand men from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to be sealed and protected from the coming judgment. Because the tribal identity of the ten tribes exiled by the Assyrians had likely been lost by the first-century A.D. due to a history of intermarriage in foreign lands, it seems likely that the reference to the twelve tribes in Revelation 7:3-8 is symbolic.7 And if the twelve tribes are symbolic of course the exact number of individuals from each tribe is probably also not literal.
Preterism, A Commentary of Revelation 7:3-8: Who are the 144,000?
In Matthew 10, Jesus is approached by a Canaanite pleading to be healed. Initially reluctant, Jesus responded, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:24).” Similarly, in Matthew 10 Jesus sent out His disciples with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6).” The fact that Jesus refers to the future Jewish converts in Israel as “the lost sheep of Israel” to the exclusion of the Gentiles implies that Jesus may see these people as the typological fulfillment of the lost tribes of Israel who were exiled by the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires. If the unconverted Jews of Israel are typologically the lost tribes of Israel, then it is possible that the 12,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel mentioned above are just Jewish Christians living in Israel during the first-century war with Rome.
Though the 144,000 may refer to just first-century Jewish Christians living in Israel, this number could also represent the entirety of first-century believers whether Jew or Gentile. Galatians 3:29 reads, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants . . .” In Romans 11:17-24, Paul likens Gentile Christians to branches grafted into an olive tree representing Israel. In keeping with this theme that the true Israel is the church, Christians whether Jew or Gentile are called the “Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16. Furthermore, concerning his Christian audience, James addresses his epistle “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations[.]” (James 1:1.) Because the true Israel is the Church, the fact that 12,000 people are taken from each of the twelve tribes in Revelation 6:4-8 need not signify just Jewish Christians. And it should be noted that like the 144,000 of this chapter, these Gentile believers should have been kept safe from Israel’s first-century war with Rome since nearly all of these people lived outside of Palestine.
A Full Preterist View and Commentary of Revelation 7:3-8: The Preservation of the 144,000 and the Escape of First Century Jewish Christians to Pella . . .
A similar mark on the foreheads of the saints is also mentioned in Ezekiel 9:4-6. The sealing of the 144,000 is one of the first of many allusions to the story of Exodus found throughout Revelation. The sealing of the 144,000 is reminiscent of the marking of the Jews during the tenth plague of Exodus. In this plague, the Jewish slaves sacrificed a lamb and spread its blood over the doorframes of their homes. This act marked the followers of God so that when the angel of death came through the land killing all the firstborn, he would pass over these homes. The 144,000 Christian saints of Revelation 7, like the Jews of Exodus, escaped the angel of death by being marked with the blood of Jesus, the sacrificial lamb of Revelation 5:6 and the true Passover lamb of Exodus 12. Thus it appears that the seal given to the 144,000 in v. 3 and 4 like the blood of the Lamb marked on the doorframes on Passover is the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 reads, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit [emphasis mine.]” The sealing of the Holy Spirit is also referenced in Ephesians 4:30 and 2 Corinthians 1:21-22.
Later symbolized by the woman of Revelation 12:14, the 144,000 are, I believe, the Christian saints who survived Israel’s first century war with Rome just as the Hebrew slaves of Exodus survived the plague of the firstborn. In Revelation 12:14, a woman flees to the desert to escape the serpent pursuing her. There she is taken care of for a time, times and half a time. While she is gone, Israel and Rome are afflicted with the ten plagues of Exodus as will be addressed in detail throughout the remainder of this commentary.8 Similarly first century Jewish Christians escaped the plagues of Revelation and the ravages of the Jewish War because they fled to Pella at the start of this war.9 Thus as predicted, these Christians in Jerusalem and perhaps their Gentile brethren already living outside of Israel like the 144,000 and the woman of Revelation 12 were kept safe from the coming plagues of Revelation.
9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” 13Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
A Preterist View and Commentary of Revelation 7:14: What was the Great Tribulation and Who are Those Who came out of It?
Who are those who come out of the great tribulation in v. 14? What is the great tribulation? The great tribulation is also mentioned in Matthew 24:15-21. In these verses, the great tribulation may signify the Roman siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In Matthew 24:15-21, Jesus warns Christians to flee the city at this time. Matthew 24 and Luke 21 record Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse slightly differently. In Luke 21:20-24 Jesus warns His people to flee Jerusalem when they see it surrounded by armies. The ones who come out of the great tribulation in v. 14 thus appear to be those Christian saints mentioned above who according to Eusebius fled to Pella before Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans in A.D. 70.10
It is also possible that the great tribulation mentioned in v. 14 could be the persecution that first century Christians faced prior to the Jewish War. If this is true then the “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” in v. 14 is comprised of those Jewish Christians killed in Israel after Jesus’ death in addition to those Christians martyred during the Neuronic persecution. In A.D. 64, Nero Caesar set fire to downtown Rome and blamed the deed on the growing body of Gentile and Jewish Christians and according to Tacitus “vast numbers” of Christians were executed in public arenas with the ambiguous charge of crimes against humanity. Where these “vast numbers” of Christian martyrs the “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne” who had come out of the “great tribulation” in Revelation 7:9-14?11
Revelation 7:9-11 Commentary: Revelation 7:9-11 indicates that the Great Multitude from Every Nation are in the Presence of Angels and Before the Throne of God. Isaiah 66:1 places the Throne of God in Heaven, Not on Earth. The Saints Have Finally Entered Heaven.
One of the central themes of these commentaries is to show that events on earth are often typological of heavenly events or realities. The preservation of the 144,000 appears to be one such example of this correlation. See On Earth as it is in Heaven. Revelation 7:9 indicates that this great multitude from every nation were seen “standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” This verse depicts these people in heaven. Notice that these people are before the throne of God. The throne of God is in heaven, not on earth: “This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool (Isaiah 66:1).”’ If these people from every nation are before the throne of God that can only mean that they are in heaven.
This interpretation is confirmed in the following vs. especially in v. 11: “All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God[.]” Notice that in the company of these people from every nation are angels. The fact that there are angels in the company of these people from every nation again points to the fact that the resurrected saints had finally entered heaven.12 Thus vs. 9-11 appears to also give a glimpse of the resurrection of these Christian saints to heaven.
15Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 16Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation 7:15-17 Commentary: The 144,000 are the Living Representatives of the Resurrected Saints.
I believe the “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” in v. 9 is the heavenly counterpart of the 144,000 Christians who had been saved from the Jewish War. As will be shown throughout the course of this commentary, events said to occur in heaven in John’s vision often have earthly shadows or types. I believe that the 144,000 are living representatives of the resurrected saints. These Christians outlived the resurrection at the last trumpet. Their eventual return to Israel after the Jewish War is an earthly mirror of the entry of the departed saints into the temple of God in heaven at the resurrection just as the return of the Jews from Exile in Babylon also symbolized the resurrection in Ezekiel 37:1-14.
Revelation 7:15-17 Commentary: Death Before and After the Resurrection . . .
This raises an important question. What is expected to happen to people after death who have outlived the resurrection? And how does this differ from the postmortem experiences of the dead saints prior to the resurrection? See the commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:50-54.
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Interested in THE PRETERIST VIEW OF ESCHATOLOGY, or are you a PRETERIST struggling with a prophecy or verse? It DID happen just like the Bible says! If you liked this essay, see PRETERIST BIBLE COMMENTARY for a detailed explanation of the FULFILLMENT OF ALL MAJOR END TIME PROPHECIES IN THE BIBLE. The more unbelievable the prophecy, the more amazing and miraculous the fulfillment!
Also see Historical Evidence that Jesus was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. For an explanation of how the end of the age and its fulfillment during the Jewish War mirror Genesis 1-3; how the Bible teaches that the resurrection of the dead is a resurrection of heavenly bodies to heaven, not a resurrection of perfected earthly bodies; and how the resurrection is a mirror opposite of the fall see How the Jewish War and Resurrection to Heaven Mirror Genesis and the Fall; and How Preterism fixes the Age of the Earth Problem and unravels the Mysteries in Genesis.
A Realized Eschatological View and Commentary of Revelation 7: Conclusion
In the above preterist commentary on Revelation 7, the reader was shown the miraculous fulfillment of all the above prophecies throughout the course of the Jewish War.
- This verse calls to mind Daniel 7:2-3 in which the four winds of heaven blow across the sea exposing four beasts. As stated earlier, each beast symbolizes a different Gentile empire that would conquer Israel.
- G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013), 406.
- G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013), 408.
- In Revelation 9:4 the locusts from the Abyss are told “not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” This order is almost identical to the command of Revelation 7:3 when the angels of the four winds are told, “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.” (G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013), 409.)
In Revelation 7:2-3 the four angels with the power to release the four winds are commanded to halt and not yet release these destructive winds. In other words, these angels appear to be bound in Revelation 7:3 just as Satan had been bound several times throughout Old Testament history according to the Book of Jubilees (Jubilees 23:25-30, 40:9, 46:2). In each of these instances in which Satan was bound in the Book of Jubilees it meant that Satan was restricted from acting in some way just as these four angels are in v. 3. The fact that the four angels of the four winds are implicitly bound in v. 3 links these angels to the four angels who are explicitly said to be bound at the Euphrates in Revelation 9:14-16.
I believe the four horsemen which are also the four winds or angels of heaven are bound at the start of the Jewish revolt to allow the saints to flee the coming war. This binding is concurrent with the sealing of the 144,000. These four agents are then cleared to act at the start of the seven trumpets and bowls (Revelation 8:7-9) which I believe began at the start of Vespasian’s and Titus’ military campaign in Palestine. These four angelic beings are then held back or bound yet again in Revelation 9:4 when the command in this v. so closely mirrors that of Revelation 7:2-3. These four are then set loose again in Revelation 9:14-16 when the four angels bound at the Euphrates are released. Thus these four angelic beings were active throughout the Roman offensive under Vespasian and Titus. They were then bound again when Vespasian paused his assault in A.D. 68 and 69 after the death of Nero which corresponds with the fifth trumpet and bowl. Then when Vespasian became emperor at the end of A.D. 69, they were unbound yet again during the sixth and seventh trumpets/bowls and thus were active during the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 under Caesar Titus. This view implies that the four angels of Revelation 7:1 are called many things throughout the Bible: They are the four living creatures of Revelation 4, the four seraphs of Isaiah 6, the four cherubim of Ezekiel 10, the four charioteers of Zechariah 6, four horsemen of Revelation 6:1-8, and the four angels bound at the Euphrates in Revelation 9:14-16.
Coming up from the east like the rising sun, the angel with the seal of the living God appears to be Christ. Could this verse be a heavenly reflection of the Law set forth in Ezekiel 46? Here Ezekiel orders that at the building of the second temple, the eastern gate of the temple is to remain shut only to be opened on the Sabbath and on the day of the New Moon. During these days, the prince is instructed to enter through the eastern gate and present six male lambs and a ram on the Sabbath and a young bull, six lambs and a ram on the day of the New Moon. In v. 2, Jesus is seen coming from the east as though preparing to enter the eastern gate of the temple.
Perhaps the earthly shadow of this heavenly event is recorded in The Wars of the Jews? According to Josephus, on the eighth day of Nisan, one month before the start of the revolt, and seemingly on the day of or the day before the anniversary of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the eastern gate of the Temple opened by its own accord (According to John 12:1 and 12:12, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was on the 9th day of Nisan, five days before Passover on the 14th of Nisan.):
Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner [court of the] temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night (Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.3).
Around the same time as this miracle Josephus says that a heifer gave birth to a lamb. The heifer giving birth to a lamb is, I believe, a miraculous sign of the virgin birth of the Messiah. Recalling a conversation with his father on a farm, Ed Stevens remembers his father saying, “A heifer is a young female [cow] who has never had a calf. It is a young cow girl, who has never mated with a bull, in other words, a young virgin cow.” Ed Stevens then goes on to say, “Now when I remembered that conversation with my dad on the farm, I suddenly understood the significance of this young virgin cow giving birth to a Lamb in the temple in Passover! Mary was a young virgin who had never had a child of her own, who gave birth to the true Passover Lamb of God whose blood on the doorposts protects all who are in His household from the Death Angel.” (Edward E. Stevens, Final Decade Before the End, (Bradford, PA: International Preterist Association, Inc., 2015), 122-123.) Also keep in mind the fact that if a cow truly did give birth to a lamb, this fact implies that the father of the lamb was not a bull in the same way that Jesus’ father was not a man according to the Gospels.
- G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013), 419.
- Though not specifically implied anywhere in the Book of Revelation, the plague of gnats and the plague of flies would have been an inevitability. During the siege of Jerusalem, the Israelites within the confines of the city walls did not bury their dead. This would have made the city swarm with flies and gnats feeding on the dead strewn about the city. Zechariah 14:15 predicts a plague of livestock during the time of the end. This had been fulfilled during the plague of boils and the plague of darkness at the fifth trumpet and bowl. As is shown in Revelation 9: A Preterist Commentary–Who is Apollyon? and Revelation 16: A Preterist Commentary, these plagues were largely fulfilled during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. After the eruption of the volcano, Cassius Dio states that the volcanic ash caused a terrible pestilence in Rome. It also “wrought much injury of various kinds, as chance befell, to men and farms and cattle.” Perhaps the “injury of various kinds” included a plague of livestock? (Cassius Dio Roman History 66.23.)
- Eusebius The History of the Church 3.5.
- Tacitus Annals 15.44, cited in Ralph P. Martin and Lynn Allan Losie, gen. eds., Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 52B, Revelation 6-16, by David E. Aune (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 466.
- If the innumerable multitude in heaven who had “come out of the great tribulation” are those killed by the Jewish persecution and the Neronic persecution, then these saints appear to be those referred to in the first resurrection of Revelation 20:4: “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”