“Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?’ I 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.’ (Revelation 7:13-14, NIV).
The opening of the seven-sealed scroll in Revelation Chapter 6-8 is the beginning of the end of the world as we know it! As each seal is opened, the scroll is unrolled a little more, revealing the series of judgments God has in store.
Revelation 7 is an interlude in the events taking place. This interruption in the apocalyptic events is to explain God’s program of grace and salvation during the coming tribulation. The “pause” may occur before the opening of the seals or after the first six seals have already run their course and before the seventh seal is opened. Either interpretation is consistent with the apocalypse as God’s final altar call.
The winds in 7:1 represent the already started judgment of Earth and the four angels who hold them back pause the Great Tribulation until God’s special servants can be sealed. These four angels appear to be holding back the physical destruction of Earth (or a portion of Earth) that occurs with the opening of the seventh seal.
The identification of the 144,000 in 7:4-8 has been much discussed. Most Bible scholars either regard the 144,000 as the church or as converted Jews who are still identified as Israelites in some manner.
For me the better explanation of the 144,000 is that they are specially chosen or selected Jewish people who come to faith in Jesus, protectively sealed (by the Holy Spirit) throughout the Great Tribulation as a sign that God is still at work saving people–even during this end-time great tribulation. Although they are not a part of the pre-apocalyptic Church, they are the post-apocalyptic Church!
Immediately after the 144,000 are identified, John sees a great multitude from every nation standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb wearing white robes and holding palm branches. It is explained to John that this great multitude of people have been saved during the Great Tribulation (vs. 14).
The presence of so many tribulation saints is a powerful statement of God’s grace and mercy. Even in this time of judgment and wrath on the earth, many are saved. So, it’s not hard to connect the great multitude wearing white robes and worshiping God to the 144,000 special servants of God.
Perhaps the 144,000 are evangelists who reap a huge harvest for God’s Kingdom during the Great Tribulation!
And, what looks like Great Tribulation to us is really a Great Revival to God!
I’m reminded of the first and fundamental spiritual reality that Henry Blackaby teaches in Experiencing God: God is always at work around you.
God has been actively involved in human affairs throughout history and Revelation 7 assures us that God will be actively involved in human affairs right up to the end of the world!
God the Father is always working through Christ to reconcile the world to Himself. God has been at work throughout the history of the human race; God is working in His world now; and, God will be at work during the Great Tribulation at the end of time to bring about the redemption of those who are alienated from Him and facing imminent judgment and destruction.
In God’s sovereignty He has chosen to accomplish His work through His people: Abraham, Moses, the nation of Israel, the Apostles, the Church and finally the 144,000.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8, NIV)