As in the book of Ezekiel, before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, when the judgement was held back until the angel marked those who mourned for the sins of the nation, so here in Revelation, the winds representing the final judgement on Jerusalem are held back, until that generation has heard the gospel and the harvest has been reaped. (Ezekiel 9:4) The Roman invasion and destruction of Jerusalem would be restrained, even as Paul noted in Thessalonians, until the Jewish harvest of that generation had been gathered. (2 Thes 2:6-7)
This is the period of delay in judgement Peter spoke about, as noted in Rev 6, above. It is the same period which Peter compared figuratively to 1,000 years. This could be the millennium Rev 20 spoke of, in which satan’s purpose in destroying Jerusalem was held back, until the harvest of that generation was fully reaped.
Our problem with our “millennial” theories from Revelation stem from our later Greek views. It’s like we “highjacked” the text from its initial Hebrew, first century setting. We will look at this later.
Then 144,000 of the nation of Israel are sealed. This is the initial harvest of believers within Israel, through the preaching of the first apostles. This resembles the parable, where the land owner wanted to remove the fruitless tree, but the gardener asked for one more chance. He put manure around the tree to see if it would bear fruit. (Luke 13:7-9) This was the ministry of the apostles, through which many in Israel came to faith. Then the tree was cut down, just as John the Baptist said. (Luke 3:9)
The 144,000 is a symbolic number. The 12 stands for the tribes of Israel. The 12 x 12 x 1,000 means many believers are reaped from the nation. This symbolic number may not be limited to the Jews who were saved in the first generation. It may also include Jews coming to Christ through the whole church age, before the resurrection of our bodies.
We will discuss this later, but it seems from the text, that those who were martyred, or otherwise died in Christ, in the first century, were ushered straight into the bodily resurrection at the end of this age, along with all others from the whole church age who believed.
The resurrection is in a totally different time frame to our current lives. Therefore, when the first century believers died, they would enter the resurrection at the end of this age immediately, at the same time as all other believers from church history The 12 tribes mentioned in Rev 7 leave out Dan and Ephraim.
Joseph is included, maybe for Ephraim. Many lists of tribes in the Old Testament include 13, with Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. I don’t know why Dan is left out of Rev 7. Revelation doesn’t say, and speculations don’t seem to help. Ezekiel 48 also mentioned the tribes of Israel, in a similar symbolic format to Revelation: a redeemed, new Israel in Christ. Ezekiel included Dan among the redeemed.
Israel were the first-fruits of those who believed, and then the gentile nations are reaped. This is the next part of John’s vision, of the throngs from the nations of the world worshipping God. This harvest began through the ministry of the first apostles in that generation. It was happening when John wrote the Revelation. But it has continued throughout the church age. So, this vision, in Rev 7, spans the whole period from the first century to the resurrection at the end of our church age.
The whole church is seen together as one body, one family, worshipping God and the Lamb. This is symbolic language and does not describe a worship service in heaven. The vision used Old Testament temple language to describe worship. Worship in a restored world would be more like what we saw in the Garden before the fall: people and God living together as one family.
The vision John had here, wasn’t set in heaven, away from this earth. John saw, in symbolic terms, the new heavens and new earth. This is after the resurrection of our bodies, at the end of the church age, when heaven comes down and fills the earth with the glory of God. John saw the early church martyrs, “fast forwarded” at death, to be present with all believers from our whole church age, in resurrection life. The martyrs were present, with God, in a redeemed creation, just as was described in Rev 21-22 “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:16-17)
This is the vision Ezekiel had. He saw a new temple, symbolic of a redeemed Israel. And out of Israel, that is from their apostles, flowed a river of life into the whole world. Finally, the world was made new and God and heaven filled the earth with restoration and presence. Rev 21-22 quoted Ezekiel’s vision more fully, but here in Rev 7, John began to see it and encouraged the church suffering martyrdom in his time.
And this encouragement followed the narrative of Daniel, who foretold that the Messiah was to come in that first century AD, to bring life and bodily resurrection, and a new world. As Daniel 12 said, the first generation of Messiah-following Jews would pass through great persecution into this resurrection. This is the vision of John.
John’s vision wasn’t of heaven, but of resurrection life. The church in John’s day was going through persecution, but they were entering God’s promise of a renewed world in resurrection. The vision of the Prophets was of God’s throne, which had lifted off from Jerusalem in Ezekiel 10, returning to this world in the New Jerusalem. This is the vision Jesus in John 14-16. There is no vision in the Old Testament of God’s people leaving earth and going to heaven. The visions of Revelation are not showing something different from what the Prophets taught.
A major part of the Hebrew story is tracing their promises of deliverance. These began in Egypt, from where God delivered them from slavery. The promises continued through the lives of the judges, like Samson. The kings of Israel were deliverers, messiah type figures. The promises continued when Israel went into exile in Babylon. The book of Daniel forecasts future deliverances, during the reign of other pagan empires, like Persia and Greece. Daniel claimed that the final deliverance would happen during the reign of Rome, in the resurrection of their bodies into the kingdom of God, that would flourish in the whole world. This was the Rome of the first century. This is what Revelation traces as being fulfilled in that day.