CHAPTER 7 –The True Israel
"The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 'Son of man, say "Lor
Ethical Stipulations cont.
d Yahweh says this to the land of Israel: Finished! The end is coming for the four corners of the country." -Ezekiel 7:1-2
"The glory of the God of Israel rose from above the winged creature where it had been, towards the threshold of the Temple. He called to the man dressed in linen with a scribe's ink-horn on his belt and Yahweh said to him, 'Go all through the city, all through Jerusalem, and mark a cross (a taw) on the foreheads of all who grieve and lament over all the loathsome practices in it.'" –Ezekiel 9:3-4
Jesus' warning to the priests of the Temple: "I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit." Matthew 21:43
Please Read Hebrews 9:1-10 and Hebrews 12: 21-29: (The inspired writer of the New Testament Book of Hebrews is addressing the Jews of the New Covenant Church circa 67AD.
Hebrews 9:8 "By this, the Holy Spirit means us to see that as long as the old tent (or tabernacle, meaning the Temple in Jerusalem) stands, the way into the Holy Place (the heavenly Jerusalem) is not opened up." When Jesus died on the cross Matthew, Mark and Luke record that the huge curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. (seeMat. 27:51). No longer will anything separate us from the presence of God as the curtain separated the people from the Holy of Holies. The New Covenant in the blood of Christ has been established but as long as the Temple of the Old Covenant and its imperfect animal sacrifice remains, it impedes the establishment of the New Covenant Kingdom.
In the second passage the inspired writer of Hebrews is comparing the establishment of the Old Covenant (when God came down in fearful fire and smoke and trumpet blasts on Mt. Sinai) and the New Covenant in Christ: Heb. 12:21-29"The whole scene was so terrible that Moses said, 'I am afraid and trembling.' But what you have come to is Mt. Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church of first-born sons, enrolled as citizens of heaven. You have come to God Himself, the supreme Judge, and to the spirits of the upright who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator of a New Covenant, and to purifying blood which pleads more insistently than Abel's. Make sure that you never refuse to listen when He speaks. If the people who on earth refuse to listen to a warning could not escape their punishment, how shall we possibly escape if we turn away from a voice that warns us from heaven? That time His voice made the earth shake, but now He has given us this promise: I am going to shake the earth once more and not only the earth but heaven as well. The words once more indicate the removal of what is shaken, since these are created things, so that what is not shaken remains. We have been given possession of an unshakeable kingdom. Let us therefore be grateful and use our gratitude to worship God in the way that pleases Him, in reverence and fear. For our God is a consuming fire."
The contrast is not so much between Moses and Christ but between the receivers of the two Covenants: the Old Sinai Covenant with its earthly symbol, the Temple in Jerusalem, and the New Covenant where Christ is our high priest in a heavenly Jerusalem (as viewed by John in Revelation). The Old Covenant regulated life on earth only as an imperfect shadow of the heavenly life given us by the New Covenant in the blood of Christ. Therefore, to turn away from the New Covenant merits greater punishment (see verse 25) than the punishment that fell on the people of Judah when they turned away from the Old Covenant in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586(7)BC. "The removal of what is shaken" refers to the removal of the earthly Temple so that the unshakable kingdom of the New Covenant can be fulfilled. The passage prophesizes the destruction of the Temple in 70AD. In every case when God has brought judgment on Old Covenant Israel/Judah ( 722BC & 586/7BC), His prophets bring, in advance, the message of that destruction. If John's message is not written prior to 70AD and if it is not a prophesy of the destruction of the Old Covenant Temple and the fall of the covenant curses on the Jews who rejected the Messiah, then for the first time in Salvation History God did not send a warning of judgment. It makes far likely that John is God's holy prophet in the same tradition of Isaiah (prophet of the destruction of Israel prior to 722BC) and Jeremiah & Ezekiel ( prophets of the judgment against Judah prior to the destruction of 586/7BC).
The amazing parallels between Ezekiel visions 7 years before the destruction of Judah and John's visions in Revelation support this interpretation. If you will consult the Ezekiel vs. John's Visions Chart you will notice that the first six of John's vision parallel Ezekiel's visions and appear in the same order:
1). The Throne Room of God
Ezekiel chapter 1
Revelation chapter 4
2). The Book written on both sides
Ezekiel chapter 2-3
Revelation chapter 5
3). The Four Horsemen
Ezekiel chapter 5
Revelation chapter 6
4). Those slain under the altar
Ezekiel chapter 6
Revelation chapter 6:9-11
5). The wrath of God
Ezekiel chapter 7
Revelation chapter 6:12-17
6). The seal on the Saint's foreheads
Ezekiel chapter 9
Revelation chapter 7
If the letter recording John's visions was reaching the churches of the New Covenant in Asia Minor in AD68 or 69 the prophesized judgments of Chapter 6 were already taking place. "The Day of the Lord," as Peter prophesized on the 2nd Pentecost by quoting the prophet Joel, was fast approaching. Read Acts 2:14-20. Peter finished his homily by calling on all the Jew's of Jerusalem who were listening to him to "Save yourselves from this perverse generation!" (Acts 2:40). This statement recalls Jesus' warning to the city of Jerusalem that "so you will draw down on yourselves the blood of every upright person that has been shed on earth, from the blood of Abel the holy to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. In truth I tell you, it will all recoil on this generation."(Matthew 23:36). Not some generation hundreds or thousands of years later but THIS generation: Peter and John's generation. A generation is 40 years.
Question: Assuming that Jesus was crucified in 30AD, what year would it be 40 years later at the close of that generation?
Question: When did the Roman army destroy Jerusalem and the Temple?
Answer: the 9th of Ab, 70AD. Incidently, the 1st Temple (Solomon's Temple) was also destroyed on the 9th of Ab in 586BC.
Question: Is this a coincidence that both Temples of Yahweh (586BC and 70AD) would be destroyed on the same date? Is it a coincidence that both the Old Covenant Church and the New Covenant Church had a 40 year period until each entered their "Promised Land"? Hebrews 9:8-10: "The Holy Spirit was showing thereby that while the first tabernacle was still standing, the way into the sanctuary had not yet been revealed. This is a symbol of the present time, in which gifts and sacrifices are offered that can never make perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but can only cleanse in matters of food and drink and various ritual washings: regulations concerning the flesh, imposed until the time of the new order."[New American translation]. While the old Temple still stood it was a symbol of the past. When it fell the way into the New Covenant order was opened fully for New Covenant believers, the New Israel-- the Universal Church.
It is important to remember that before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70AD Christianity was still identified internally and externally with Israel. The founders of the New Covenant Church were not separatists. They believed themselves to be, as Paul defined them, as the true heirs of Moses and Abraham. The New Covenant Church was the fulfillment of all the prophecies and promises made to the fathers down through Salvation History. The faithful remnant of Galilean Israelites and Jews could not imagine that they would exist apart from Israel (Judea), Yahweh's Covenant Bride. Christ's message to the Church is that she is the New Israel who will be preserved in the collapse of the Old Covenant Israel and who will obtain salvation through the risen Christ (1Thess. 5:9-10 "...you broke with the worship of false gods when you were converted to God and Jesus, His Son, whom He raised from the dead, to come from Heaven. It is He who saves us from the Retribution which is coming.") to become the New Covenant Bride of Christ.
In Matthew 24:15-25, Mark 13:14-23, and Luke 21:20-24, Jesus had given explicit instructions about how to escape from the Tribulation that would fall on Jerusalem. When the Roman army began to march on Judea they remembered, obeyed, and they were saved. Over a million Jews died in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem but there is no account of Christians perishing in that destruction. It was as Jesus promised in Matthew 24:13 "But he that endures to the end shall be saved." It is evident from the context of this verse that the end is not the end of the Christian's life on earth at the end of time but instead the end of Jerusalem, the Temple and the Old Covenant. This verse in Matthew is verified in Luke 21:18.
Revelation Chapter 7
Chapter 7 is an intermission or interlude between the breaking of the 6th and 7th Seals of destruction. But in this interlude we see another kind of Seal. This is the Seal of the Living God. The purpose of the this pause before breaking the 7th Seal is to secure God's people before the destruction unleashed by the 7th Seal. John's vision in chapter 7 deals with the theme of salvation, a theme which will be continued in chapters 12, 14, the end of 19, and in chapter 21. John's vision in chapter 7 has been a vision of hope for suffering Christians down through the centuries.
Read Chapter 7:1-8
Verse 1: "Next I saw four angels, standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the world to keep them from blowing over the land or the sea or any tree." Four is the number of the earth (4 seasons, 4 winds, etc.) Yahweh commands the 4 angels-messengers to hold back their wrathful judgment on the earth. While the words 'land' and 'sea' are in the genitive case, 'tree' is in the accusative, indicating that St. John wishes to draw special attention to it. Throughout the Bible, trees are images of men (Judges 9:7b-15 "Hear me, leaders of Shechem, so that God may also hear you! One day the trees went out to anoint a king to rule them. They said to the olive tree, 'Be our king!'...etc). Trees are most often used as symbols for the righteous people of God (Ex. 15:17; Ps. 1:3; 92:12-14; Isaiah 61:3; Jeremiah 17:5-8) Jeremiah 17:7: "Blessed is anyone who trusts Yahweh, with Yahweh for his reliance. He is like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream: when the heat comes it has nothing to fear, its foliage stays green; untroubled in a year of drought, it never stops bearing fruit."
The wind in Scripture is used in connection with the coming of God and the action of His angels in either giving blessings for obedience or curses of the Covenant for disobedience (Gen 8:1; 41:27; Ex. 10:13, 19; 14:21; 15:10; Num. 11:31; Psalms 18:10; 104:3-4; 107:25; 135:7; 147:18; 148:8; Hosea 13:15-16; John 3:8; Acts 2:2). The four angels are holding back God's judgment on the land, sea, and man.
Verse 2-3: "Then I saw another angel rising where the sun rises, carrying the Seal of the living God; he called in a powerful voice to the four angels whose duty was to devastate land and sea. 'Wait before you do any damage on land or at sea or to the trees, until we have put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God..'
According to Jewish tradition, angels were divided into 2 groups. Both groups are represented in verses 1-3:
1). Angels of the Presence and Sanctification (verses 2-3)
2). Angels who were God's agents for controlling the forces of nature (verse 1)
The four angels are restrained from bringing judgment by another angel who St. John sees "rising where the sun rises"...coming from the East where the sun rises, where God's actions in history traditionally came (Isa. 41:1-4, 25' 46:11' Ezek. 43"1-3), and the direction in which the Tabernacle (and later the Temple of God) had to face.
This powerful messenger either comes, as some scholars suggest, as the representative of Christ or as others suggest, as Christ Himself. Holy Scripture may help us in interpreting this passage.
(1). Read the Song of Zechariah in Luke 1:77b-78: "..because of the faithful love of our God in which the rising Sun has come from on high to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow dark as death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace." Also see Malachi 4:2; Ephesians 5:14; and 2 Peter 1:17-19 ="He was honored and glorified by God the Father, when a voice came to him from the transcendent Glory, This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. We ourselves heard this voice from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have confirmation of the words of the prophets; and you will be right to pay attention to it as to a lamp for lighting a way through the dark, until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in your minds."
(2). This messenger carries "the Seal of the living God", in other words, He possesses the Spirit without measure: John 3:28-36 (verse 31c –34b) "He who comes from heaven bears witness to the things He has seen and heard, but His testimony is not accepted by anybody; though anyone who does accept His testimony is attesting that God is true, since He whom God has sent speaks God's own words, for God gives Him the Spirit without reserve."
Question: On who is the angel instructed to place God's Seal?
Answer: on God's servants.
Question: Are we also sealed as God's servants?
Answer: Yes, in our Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. Read Ephesians 1:13-14 "Now you too, in Him have heard the message of the truth and the gospel of your salvation, and having put your trust in it; you have been stamped with the Seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance, for the freedom of the people whom God has taken for His won, for the praise of His glory." And Ephesians 4:30 "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God who has marked you with His Seal, ready for the day when we shall be set free." In John 6:27 Christ Himself declared that He was marked with His Father's seal. Also see another reference to Christians marked with a seal in 2Cor 1:22 and read CCC #698, 1121, & 1295-96.
Historically and Biblically a seal was:
1). a symbol of a person: persons of importance had their own seal or symbol either carved into a ring or worn on a chair around their necks. This emblem could be impressed on a document to show ownership or authority.
2). Roman soldiers were marked with their unit's seal or the seal of the Emperor
3). Slaves were marked with their owner's seals
4). Trade guild members were sometimes sealed (tattooed) with a mark indicating their membership
5). A seal also authenticated a juridical act or document (like a will) and occasionally made it secret (see 1Kings 21:8; Jeremiah 32:10; Isaiah 29:11)
6). God's holy prophets were marked or sealed by God: 1Kings 20:41; Zech 13:6; Isaiah 44:5
7). And circumcision was seen under the Old Covenant as a seal "for the day of redemption."
We can summarize by saying that this messenger
Question: Why does the angel/Christ who carries the Seal tell the other angels to "wait" before they devastate the land?
Answer: It is important to remember that the Seal of the Holy Spirit (remember Ephesians 1:13 & 4:30) covers the righteous before the Seals of wrath are applied to the wicked: Pentecost precedes Holocaust!
This passage in verses 1-3 has the same imagery and message as Ezekiel chapters 7-9 in which God gives Ezekiel a vision of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 (7) BC but not before those who are righteous are "marked with a taw" (can also be spelled tav; it is the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet and it is in the form of a cruciform). The early Church father, Tertullian, (writing between 197-220) believed that God had given Ezekiel "the very form of the cross, which He predicted would be the sign on our foreheads in the true Catholic Jerusalem." (Tertullian, Against Marcion, iii.22, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol III, pp. 340ff.
It has already been mentioned that in the ancient world to mark anything with the "seal" of a person marked ownership, or power, or authority, or a guarantee of protection. In this case all of the above apply. As in the case of Ezekiel's vision, which parallels John's vision, the godly are marked as God's possessions for protection by His authority and for the same purpose as in Ezekiel, in order that the apostates in Jerusalem may be destroyed. Please read Ezekiel chapter 9.
The Seal of God "on their foreheads" also has special significance. A mark on the forehead is a symbol of man restored to fellowship with God or a symbol of God's protection. One example of this was the High Priest in the Old Covenant whose forehead was marked with gold letters proclaiming that he was "Holy (or consecrated) to Yahweh (Exodus 28:36). Then too, in Deuteronomy 6:6-8 all God's people are sealed on the forehead and on the hand with the law of God: they literally wore the first profession of faith, called the Shema, in little boxes attached to their foreheads and warped with leather straps on their right hands. These are called 'teffelim' or phylacteries and are worn by Orthodox Jews today. The literal act, in Deuteronomy, symbolized a life characterized by faithful obedience in thought and action to every word of God. A third example would be the mark that God place on the forehead of Cain in Genesis 4:15 "So Yahweh put a mark on Cain, so that no one coming across him would kill him."
For us, raised to life in the New Covenant, Holy Baptism, the Seal of the Holy Spirit, marks us as believers and as the covenant keeping bond-servants of our God, who will be preserved from God's wrath as the ungodly are destroyed. In our passage in Revelation, the sealing of the godly was not to save them from tribulation; just as in Ezekiel's time the godly that were sealed still faced the exile to Babylon. God's messenger sealed the godly to preserve the true Israel of God as a holy seed, saved from the Old Israel to become the "firstfruits" (see Rev. 14:4) of the New Covenant. Even though the old Israel will perish, the New and holy Israel, the catholic= universal Church, is to be chosen and sealed with the Spirit of the living God.
Verse 4-8 "And I heard how many had been sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand had been sealed; from the tribe of Ruben, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Simeom, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand; and from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand had been sealed."
We are told that the 144,000 to be sealed are 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. This is obviously a symbolic number: 12 x 12 x 1000. 12 is the number of governmental perfection while 10, and its multiples, is symbolic for perfection of order. It is unclear exactly who the 144,000 represent. We are told that they are collected from the 12 tribes of Israel and that they are specifically marked by God. There are various interpretations:
1). Some commentators believe they are those who are the New Israel; those (gentiles and Jews) baptized into the New Covenant which Paul speaks about in Galatians 6:15-16 "It is not being circumcised or uncircumcised that matters; but what matters is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this as their rule and to the Israel of God." (also Gal 3:6-9, 29; 4:21-31; Rm 9:6-8).
2). Other commentators interpret them as being Christians of Jewish background or those Jews who will become Christians'the remnant of Israel who become the new Israel (Isaiah 4: 2-4; Ezekiel ch. 9). This new Israel has been inaugurated by the descendants of Jacob who accepted the Messiah and received baptism over the course of history. However, these are not the only ones to receive salvation. The gentiles who become Christians over the course of history appear in the next vision and that is why I think the second interpretation is more likely correct.
Of course, the Jehovah's Witnesses believe they will be the 144,000 out of all the whole of believers that will be sealed and saved. It is far more likely these are the ones that Paul calls the "first-fruits" of the restoration in Romans 11:25-32; the Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah. In John's next vision the 144,000 are part of the great multitude "from all tribes, and peoples, and tongues"; Jewish and gentile Christians united in the family of God.
In these verses (4-8) the names of 12 tribes are listed (the tribes hadn't existed as 12 since the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722BC). The names are manipulated to make 12 in a curious fashion. The tribe of Dan is omitted and the half tribes of Joseph, which were Manasseh and Ephraim, are manipulated so that Ephraim is omitted and both Joseph and his son Manasseh are listed as tribes. Scholars have puzzled over the order of the tribes in this list. Obviously Judah is named first instead of the firstborn, Reuben, (even though he was the 4th son of Israel) because that is the tribe of Jesus Christ. But why that particular order for the others? The fathers of the Church mention a tradition that the Antichrist will come from the tribe of Dan and so that may be why his name is omitted. He seems to have been a rather unsavory character and Scripture has very little good to say about him or his tribe. On his deathbed his father Jacob/Israel pronounced these words for Dan: Gen 49:17 "May Dan be a snake on the road, a viper on the path..." This passage may be the origin of the tradition that the Antichrist would come from Dan. Or Dan may have been omitted because his tribe had no descendents. Many scholars simply assume the order after Judah is without any plan but given the biblical writers' attention to detail, especially St. John, this seems unlikely.
If you are interested in working out this puzzle find the Chart of the 12 Tribes in the Chart section. I have found 10 lists of the tribes from Genesis to Revelation. No two lists are the same but each list has a reason for the differences. One suggestion for John's peculiar list that seems to have merit is that the names correspond to the pattern the 12 tribes made as they camped around the Tabernacle in the dessert and later with the names of the 12 tribes that will be written on the gates of the four-cornered New Jerusalem in Rev. 21:12 (see Ezekiel 48:30-35 for the list) starting from the eastern gate and working north, south and last, west. If you are interested, try drawing out the patterns of the encampment around God's holy Tabernacle (which by the way forms a cross) as well as the pattern of the Temple gates and compare them. When drawing out the plan of the encampment pay special attention to Numbers 2 verse 3. The 3 tribes on each side of the "Dwelling of the Testimony" are not side by side but extend perpendicular to the holy shrine: "Encamped on the east side: Furthest toward the east, the standard of the camp of Judah..." Also take into consideration that Judah was almost twice as big as most of the tribes so that the east side of you plan should extend farthest from the center. You will notice that after placing and labeling the various tribes that they form a cruciform shape around the Tabernacle. After working out the encampment plan and the Temple gate plan compare them. This comparison works for the first 6 tribes but then the pattern falls apart by jumping to Simeon and doesn't explain the absence of Ephraim and Dan.
Other listings of the 12 tribes are listed on the chart. If you are interested you might lay out the arrangement of the tribes in all these passages. Remember Manasseh and Ephraim were the sons of Joseph and constituted ˝ a tribe to equal Joseph. There also might by a relationship to the women who gave birth the 12 sons of Israel: LEAH =Ruben, Simon, Levi, Judah. From Leah's maidservant Zilpah= Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun. RACHEL=Joseph and Benjamin, and from her maidservant Bilhah= Dan, Naphtali. In the Tabernacle plan the Levites surround the Tabernacle and 12 tribes (made by dividing Joseph into Manassah and Ephraim) camp in 4 sets of 3 tribes. It is also worth noting that the tribe Levi has no land. Remember Israel as a people was called to the priesthood of believers but they lost that place in the sin of the golden calf to the tribe of Levi. In the New Covenant Israel, the people of God replace the Levites and take their place once again in the 'priesthood of believers.' Scholars have been trying to figure out the significance of John's list for centuries so don't be discouraged if you can't solve the mystery. Let me know if you come up with any 'revelations!'
Getting back to verse 4: As I mentioned the symbolic number 144,000 makes use of the perfect number 12 = divine perfection in (governmental) order. 12 the number of Israel is squared, then multiplied by 1,000 (the number 10 and its multiples reflect divine perfection in cardinal order). Multiples of 10 always symbolize abundance in perfection of divine order: see Deut 1:11; 7:9; Psalms 50:10; 68:17; 84:10; 90:4). In this symbolic number we are given the ideal Israel. It is Israel as it was meant to be in all its perfection and completeness as the holy Army of God when each of the 12 tribes is able to field twelve full divisions in a numerically perfect divine army of soldiers for Yahweh!. The unit of a thousand was, after all, the basic military division of the camp of Israel. See Num. 10:2-4, 35-36; 31:1-5, 48-54; 2Sam. 18:1; 1Chron. 12:20; 13:1; 15:25; 26:26; 27:1; 28:1; 29:6; 2Chron. 1:2; 17:14-19; Psalms 68:17.
Also you will recall the Prophet Micah's prophecy of the birth of the Messiah in 5:1-15 when he prophesies that even though Bethlehem is too insignificant to be considered seriously in the nation's military strategy in being counted "among the thousands of Judah," yet "from you One will go forth for Me to be Ruler in Israel." This is a repeated pattern of the first destruction of Jerusalem in BC586(7) when Isaiah prophesized that a "holy seed", a remnant would be saved (Isaiah 6:13; 10:21-23). It is the same remnant of which Paul speaks when he quotes the Isaiah chapter 10 passage in Romans 9:27-28: "And about Israel, this is what Isaiah cried out: Though the people of Israel are like the sand of the sea, only a remnant will be saved; for without hesitation or delay the Lord will execute His sentence on the earth." Paul continued in 11:5: "In the same way, then, in our own time, there is a remnant set aside by grace." God will not destroy 1st century Jerusalem and make it desolate until He first chooses and seals a select number as the beginning of a New Israel. The New Israel (the Christian Church) is formed out of the chosen servants of God from the people He had set aside as holy at Mt. Sinai: the "12 tribes of the dispersion." St James, bishop of Jerusalem certainly saw the Christian Church this way as he wrote in his letter to the universal church before his death in 62AD: James1:1 From James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Greetings to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion." James certainly sees the New Covenant Church as the New Israel.
Question: After the first "Pentecost" at Mt Sinai, when God came down in fire on the mountain and established the Old Covenant Israel, how long did God give them to adjust to the laws of the Sinai Covenant before they took possession of the promised land?
Answer: 40 years.
Question: After the second great Pentecost in the Upper Room when God the Holy Spirit descended on the community in tongues of fire, how long did God give the New Covenant Israel before He removed the Temple in Jerusalem which was the center of worship for the Old Covenant? Hint: Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in AD70. Jesus' resurrection is dated by most Biblical scholars as AD30. Do you think there is a connection between these two events?
Answer: There are 40 years from Jesus' Resurrection [Sunday] and Ascension of Christ to the Father [40 days later] and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the second great Pentecost [50 days from the Resurrection] until the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70AD by the Roman Army.
Please read Verses 9-17
Verse 9-10: "After that I saw that there was a huge number, impossible for anyone to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted in a loud voice, 'Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'
Once again John uses the literary device of hearing, then seeing. (See 1:10-13; 5:5-6; and 6:1-8). In verse 4 John tells us ,"I heard the number of those who were sealed," then "after these things" after hearing the number of the redeemed "I looked, and behold, a great multitude" in verse 9. John has heard the "things that are" and now he sees "the things that are to come." In another sense John has heard the people of God who are definitely numbered; none of the elect are missing or unaccounted for and the Church is perfectly symmetrical and whole. But now, from another standpoint, the Church is innumerable, a great multitude "that no one could count." From one perspective the Church is the New, True Israel of God: the lost sons of Jacob (Israel) gathered in Christ, full and complete. From another perspective, equally true, the Church is the whole world: a great uncountable multitude redeemed "from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues." John's vision of verses 1-8 can only refer to a part of the whole'those Jews who by accepting Christ as Messiah make up the original nucleus of the Universal Church but now in verses 9-12 he see the whole Church without any differences or distinctions. It is the fulfillment of the prophecy to Abraham in Genesis 15:5 that those who inherit the blessing of Abraham are as numberless as the stars of the heavens and in Genesis 22:17-18 that "the whole world will be blessed" when the Church becomes the whole world! The salvation of Israel alone had never been God's intention. He sent His Son "that the world should be saved through Him" (John 3:16-17). It is what God the Father said to God the Son in planning the Covenant of Redemption in Isaiah 49:6 "It is not enough for You to be My Servant to restore the tribes of Jacob, and to bring back the survivors of Israel; I shall make of You a Light to the nations so that my salvation may reach the remotest parts of the earth." Question: Why is it that only the 144,000 is mentioned as being in need of being "Sealed"? Answer: That the 144,000 are actively being sealed is not to suggest that the multitude hasn't been sealed. That is why most scholars believe that the second vision looks forward in time. In the earlier passage it seems to be imperative that the faithful remnant be sealed because they are in imminent danger from the wrath this is shortly to come just as the faithful remnant in the Ezekiel passage are in danger and must be sealed.
In verses 9-10 the multitude of saints is standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb in worship. They wear white robes symbolizing righteousness and the carry palm branches. Question: What does the mention of Palm branches remind you and what do they symbolize? Answer: Palm branches are a symbol of the restoration of God's people to Paradise. It was during the Feast of Tabernacles, the 7th of the 7 Holy Days of Obligation under the Old Sinai Covenant which fell in the 7th month, that the people waved palm branches, built shelters out of palm branches, and celebrated the building of the Tabernacle and the establishment of their divine liturgy. (Please refer to the chart of The Seven Holy Feasts of the Old Covenant Church). It is probably not a coincidence that the word 'tabernacle' occurs in this passage in verse 15. It is also worth mentioning that 4 of the Holy Feasts of the Old Covenant are each fulfilled in the first Advent of Christ. Refer to the far right hand column of the chart. Passover was fulfilled in the establishment of the Covenant feast of Eucharist (The Last Supper)Ex. Ch 12; Lev 23:5;Mt 26:17, etc. It was the next day, on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, that Jesus was crucified: Ex 12:15-20; 13:3-10; Lev. 23:6-8; Mk 14:1, 12, etc. According to the calendar of the Old Covenant feast days, the day after the Sabbath of Passover week is the Feast of Firstfruits: Lev. 23:9-14; Mt. 28:1;Ro. 8:23. That day was Resurrection Sunday: Mt. 28:1; Mk 16:1-2; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1. And then, fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits is the Feast of Weeks; in Jesus' day it was known by the Greek word Pentecost = fiftieth day: Ex. 23:16; 34:22a; Lev 23:15. The day the Jews of Jerusalem were celebrating Pentecost was the day of the second great Pentecost and the birth of the New Covenant Church with the descent of God the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and Apostles in the Upper Room: Acts 2:1-4; 20:16; 1Cor. 16:8. The last three feasts have yet to be fulfilled. Between the first 4 feasts and the last 3 is the great summer harvest = the spread of the Gospel of the Risen Savior to the whole earth. It has been speculated that Christ will come again in the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah: Lev. 23:23-25; Nu. 29:1-6), the Last Judgment will be the Feast of Atonement (Yom Kippur: Lev 23:26-32; Nu. 29:7-11), and the creation of the New Heaven and New Earth to correspond to the Feast of Tabernacles: Ex 23:16b; 34:22b; Lev. 23:33-36; 39-34; Nu 29:12-24. Could this fulfillment of the final feast be John's vision?
Question: What else does the mention of palm leaves remind you?
Answer: the palm branches remind us of Palm Sunday, four days before the Passover sacrifice when the lambs to be sacrificed were chosen and Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem hailed as Messiah and King as prophesized in Zechariah 9:9. It was prescribed by the Law of the Sinai Covenant that the lambs for the Passover sacrifice be chosen on the 10 of Nisan and the sacrifice had to take place on the 14th. The 10th of Nisan, the day the perfect male lambs were chosen (Ex. 12:3-6), was what we call Palm Sunday, when Jesus, "the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world"(John 1:29) rode into the city of Jerusalem for all to see His perfection. In John's vision the heavenly Jerusalem honors the King of King... the victorious Lamb of God. This is undoubtedly the parallel John wants us to see because the word in Greek that he uses and that is translated 'palm'= phoinix occurs only two times in the New Testament'here and in the Gospel of John 12:13 in John's account of Palm Sunday. Read John 12:12-15. In this passage John quotes Zechariah 9:9 which is a reference to the prophecy of Genesis 49:11.
Question: What do the multitude shout and what connection is there to the shouts of the crown on Palm Sunday?
Answer: The multitude join in the heavenly liturgy with shouts of "Hosanna!" (Hebrew/Aramic) = 'Salvation' or'Save Us!' Today it would be the equivalent of "God save the King!.' It is what the people shouted in John 12:13 on Palm Sunday.
Verses 11-12 "And all the angels who were standing in a circle round the throne, surrounding the elders and the four living creatures, prostrated themselves before the throne, and touched the ground with their foreheads, worshipping God with these words: 'Amen. Praise and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.'"
The proper position before Christ is on our knees. Platitudes like: "it doesn't really matter if I kneel at the consecration or not, after all it is what is in my heart that counts" are statements without meaning. It is our actions that display the intentions of our hearts!
Question: Once again the saints and angels pronounce 7 themes to God's perfection. What are the 7 themes?
Answer: 1).praise, 2). glory, 3). wisdom, 4). thanksgiving, 5). honor, 6) power, and 7) strength.
Verses 13-17 "One of the elders then spoke and asked me, 'Who are these people, dressed in white robes, and where have they come from?' I answered him, 'You can tell me, sir.' Then he said, 'These are the people who have been through the great trial; they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb. That is why they are standing in front of God's throne and serving Him day and night in His sanctuary; and the One who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them. They will never hunger or thirst again; sun and scorching wind will never plague them, because the Lamb who is at the heart of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.'"
One of the elders uses the Socratic method in order to get John to ask the right question; he asks a question in order to get John to look for an answer. When John confesses that he doesn't know the answer the elder explains that these are the ones who have endured the Great Tribulation...translated in the New Jerusalem as 'great trial.' This is the same great trial or Tribulation that Jesus warned his disciples about as He spoke to them on the Mt. of Olives in Matthew 24:20-21 "Pray that you will not have to make your escape in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unparalleled since the world began, and such as will never be again."
(also see Mark 13:19). This is the Great Tribulation that Jesus stated would take place during their generation in Matthew 24:34 "In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place." (also see Mark 13:30 & Luke 21:32).
Question: What is the difference between the way the world sees the poor and persecuted for God and the way God sees them?
Answer: God sees them as conquerors who had "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." They have become united with Christ through His blood and they are standing before God's throne clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This washing in blood to be made white is an ironic contrast. It is the promise of the Beatitudes Matt. 5:10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs."
In verses 14-17 the blessed before the throne of God are viewed in 2 different situations:
1). Before the resurrection of the body (v. 14) and
2). When the body and soul have been reunited (v. 15-17).
In verse 15 the elder continues to explain that because of their redemption and union with Christ, through His sacrifice, they stand before God's throne in worship in God's Temple. The Greek word used for 'temple' is naos, which in Greek temples was where the god was enthroned...in other words the equivalent of the Holy of Holies of the earthly Temple in Jerusalem. This great multitude in v. 9-17 includes all the saved and not just the martyrs because the Elder states that they washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, not in their own blood. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that everyone has to become associated with Christ's passion through suffering. St. Augustine explains it this way: "Many are martyrs in their beds. The Christian is lying on his couch, tormented by pain. He prays and his prayers are not heard, or perhaps they are heard but he is being put to the test....so that he may be received as a son. He becomes a martyr through illness and is crowned by Him who hung upon the Cross." (Sermon 286,8).
Question: What is the blessing they receive?
Answer: That He who sits on the throne will spread His Tabernacle (tent) over them. This is the shade or covering of the Glory-Cloud which hovered over both the earth at creation (Gen.1:2) and Israel in the wilderness (Deut. 32:10-11).
Question: What will be the result of this blessing? Verse 16 = there are 7 promises of this blessing. Answer: 1). never hunger; 2). or thirst; 3). shielded from sun; 4). and wind; 5). the Lamb will be their shepherd; 6). springs of living water; 7). God will wipe away all tears. In other words, in their resurrected bodies they cannot suffer pain or discomfort of any kind. The have what the catechism of St. Pius V calls the gift of "impassibility." (cf. St Pius V Catechism, I, 12, 13. Also see CCC #1508 & 1521.
Question: What incident in the New Testament reminds you of the reference to the springs of Living Water?
Answer: Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 and Jesus' promise in 7:37 "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me! Let anyone who believes in me come and drink! As scripture says, 'From his heart shall flow streams of living water.'" (Jesus referring to Isaiah 44:3).
This scene of the great multitude of believers has comforted believers down through the centuries. Pope John Paul has commented on this passage in verses 9-17 as follows: "The people dressed in white robes whom John sees with his prophetic eye are the redeemed, and they form a 'great multitude', which no one could count and which is made up of people of the most varied backgrounds. The blood of the Lamb, who has been offered in sacrifice for all, has exercised its universal and most effective redemptive power in every corner of the earth, extending grace and salvation to that 'great multitude'. After undergoing the trials and being purified in the blood of Christ, they'the redeemed'are now safe in the Kingdom of God, whom they praise and bless for ever and ever." Homily, 1 November 1981.
If John's vision was sometime between 68-70AD the Church of the first century was about to witness the Great Tribulation that Jesus had warned them was to come to this generation of the Jews. They were also in the early years of a great persecution that would continue for several centuries for Christians. It was not the Church's intention to destroy Rome as the Jews wanted but, faithful to Christ's instructions to spread the Gospel over the entire world, their desire was to convert Rome! Many would lose their lives, families and possessions in these early centuries before the first Christian Roman Emperor would officially protect the Church from persecution (AD 313 Edit of Milan). But Christian persecution was not death but birth - the birth of the worldwide Kingdom of Christ. It was John's vision of victorious saints washed in the blood of Christ would sustain them through their persecution. Peter and Paul were martyred under the Roman Emperor Nero's orders between 64-67AD. Peter had requested that he be crucified upside down because he was not worthy to be crucified as his Lord was crucified. The Romans agreed to his request and an obelisk marks the very place where Peter entered eternity. The beastly Roman Emperor Nero has long since passed to his eternal judgment but the obelisk still is standing. It stands in the center of the great square in front of St. Peter's Basilica in the city of Rome. Chiseled on its base are these words which are taken from the martyrs' hymn of triumph: "Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat" = Christ is conquering; Christ is reigning; Christ rules over all!
Please consult the Time Line 30AD – 79AD for a better understanding of the conditions of the world in which 1st Christians were struggling to spread the Gospel of the Risen Christ.
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