Revelation 7: The Jewish evangelists who will win countless people to Christ
Actor, filmmaker and liberal activist Rob Reiner once said, “I think Jews are the smartest people in the world.” For once, I agree with him. My respect for the Jewish people is profound. President John Adams said of them:
“The Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations.”
Adams’s estimate of the Jews is borne out in the promise God made to Abraham, the father of their race when he called them out as a people:
“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.'”
We owe so much to the Jewish people. It was through them God revealed himself. Moreover, it was through them that the Messiah, the world’s Savior, Jesus Christ came.
God indeed gave them their own land. He did make them into a mighty nation. But he forewarned them from the start that if they forsook him and his commandments, if they became idolatrous, they would be “vomited out of the land” (Leviticus 18:24-30). They also rejected their Redeemer, Christ, and had him crucified. Thus, they were scattered throughout the nations for centuries and brutally oppressed and persecuted.
Nevertheless, they are remarkably resilient, which demonstrates in a special way that God is not finished with them.
Dr. George Sweeting, former president and chancellor of Moody Bible Institute, has written:
“A list of the persecution of the Jews since 1,000 B.C. would be many pages long, but just as God promised Abraham, every nation that has persecuted the Israelites has passed from the world scene; every ruler who has oppressed them has been deposed; and every society that has abused them has fallen.”
Sweeting also brings up another dynamic that shows the unique place of the Jewish people in God’s economy. He adds:
“[T]hroughout all the years of dispersion, the Jews held the hope of returning to the land God promised to their Fathers. Every year, each Jewish family that observes the Passover feast ends the ritual with the words ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’
“Incredibly, centuries after the dispersion, the modern state of Israel officially came into being on May 15, 1948. In our lifetime, we are seeing the people of Israel return to their homeland from all the nations of the earth, just as the Scriptures prophesied. In the face of unbelievable odds, this tiny nation has grown in a few decades to become a dominant force in the Middle East. And with these events, the stage is being set for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s purpose for Israel, his people.”
Revelation Chapter 7 appears as a parenthesis before the seventh seal of the scroll is opened. The Tribulation has been underway, but now four angels have been instructed to create a pause by holding back the winds of judgment temporarily. Then a fifth angel appears in the East.
“And he shouted to those four angels, who had been given power to harm land and sea, ‘Wait! Don’t harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants.’ And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God — 144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel: 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, from Benjamin.
After this, I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. They sang,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and strength belong to our God
forever and ever! Amen.’
Then one of the 24 elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?’ And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.” Then he said to me, ‘These are the ones who died in the great Tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. That is why they stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his Temple. And he who sits on the throne will give them shelter. They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun. For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
The identity of the 144,000 in this text has been a matter of some theological controversy. Some scholars argue its language shouldn’t be taken literally but symbolically. They say these verses reference the Church, the new Israel, and the Church will go through the Tribulation.
However, this approach to the passage hermeneutically seems to do violence to it. There isn’t any clear example of the Church being called “Israel” in the New Testament. The apostle Paul also makes a clear distinction in Romans 11:25-26, saying:
“I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,
“‘The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is my covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.'”
Formerly the pastor of the First Baptist Church, Dallas, and sometimes called the prince of preachers, the late W.A. Criswell asked:
“What is wrong with taking the text as it is? What is wrong with understanding it as it is written? ‘I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an 144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel.’ That is what God said. Let us take the text as meaning just what he said. The 144,000 were all of the tribes of Israel.”
Someone may argue, “Well, no one knows where the tribes of the children of Israel are anymore. It’s an absurd interpretation.” Are we to believe the One who will raise the dead from the earth’s elements; from the ground; from the ashes; from the waters; doesn’t know the location of the 12 tribes?
Here we are told this one 144,000 are sealed by God. They are elected by God, redeemed, and marked as His own. It’s unclear what the seal is. Some contend the seal is the power of God’s Spirit. The apostle Paul told the Ephesians, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).
However, this seems to be more of an outward sign than an inward one. The seal sets these Jews apart for protection during the wicked days of the Tribulation period. It’s a seal like the circumcision required of the Jews in the days of Moses and the mark above the door which made the angel of death pass over the Hebrews in Egypt. Furthermore, it’s in contrast to the 666 seal voluntarily accepted and placed on the right hand or foreheads of the doomed mentioned later in Revelation.
Lastly, the passage connects a great multitude so massive they can’t be counted to the 144,000. They are people converted to Christ from all over the world during the Tribulation period, people who have suffered greatly for their faith, but are now dressed in white robes and safely worshipping in Heaven.
So, what do we have here? There seems to be only one reasonable conclusion. The 144,000 are Jews who turn to Christ, become incomparable evangelists who proclaim the Gospel, win countless souls to the Savior from their own nation and every other in the world. And God specially protects them with a seal to complete this mission.
The passion of a Jew in right relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ is an amazing thing to witness. The disciples of Christ were Jews; although their number was small, they turned the world of their day right-side up for Christ with their testimony. The apostle Paul was a Jew, writing most of the New Testament, penning 13 books, and evangelizing much of the Mediterranean.
A more modern-day example would be Richard Wurmbrand, author of Tortured for Christ. Wurmbrand was a hardened atheist before his conversion. But an old carpenter in Rumania prayed, “My God, I have served you on earth, and I wish to have my reward in heaven. But I wish my reward should be that I not die until I bring a Jew to Christ because Jesus was from the Jewish people.”
One day, Wurmbrand was strangely and irresistibly drawn to a little village where out of 12,000 people, he was the only Jew. Discovering that Wurmbrand was a Jew, Wurmbrand said, “the old carpenter courted me as never a beautiful girl had been courted.”
The older man prayed for hours for Wurmbrand’s salvation and gave him a Bible to read. Wurmbrand finally gave his life to Christ and would become a central figure of the underground church in Romania, suffering tremendous persecution, yet bringing about the conversion of countless people to Christ.
Shortly, there will be 144,000 Wurmbrands and innumerable people from every nation who will follow Christ after hearing their preaching.
Dennis Prager, a conservative radio talk show host and author, as well as a Jew who is a graduate of the prestigious Yeshiva of Flatbush, has said:
“When Jews left Judaism, they didn’t stop being religious. They simply swapped God-based Judaism for godless secular humanism and leftism. For left-wing Jews, Judaism is their ethnicity; leftism is their religion.”
According to Revelation, all of this will change in the future. Being the brilliant people they are and empowered by the Spirit of God, the Jews will realize Jesus is their Messiah and convince much of the world of the same.
I can hardly wait.
Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.