Revelation Jewish New Testament, JNT, CJNT, David H. Stern

chapter 7
1. After this, I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the land, on the sea or on any tree.
2. I saw another angel coming up from the east with a seal from the living God, and he shouted 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 have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads!”
The servants of our God are sealed on their foreheads so that certain plagues, such as the one from the fifth trumpet (9:4), will not affect them. Yechiel Lichtenstein writes, "From 14:1 it seems that on the seal was written the name of the Lamb and of his Father." See also Ezekiel 9:4, where a mark is set on the foreheads of those who oppose the abominations done in Jerusalem. 

4. I heard how many were sealed — 144,000 from every tribe of the people of Isra’el:
144,000. Whether this number is to be taken literally or figuratively, the obvious question is: why exactly this number? The answer is usually along these lines: there are twelve tribes of Israel and twelve emissaries; there are Ten Commandments; squaring the former and cubing the latter bespeaks perfection, the perfection and fullness of Israel. Yechiel Lichtenstein (MJ 3:13N) offers an intriguing explanation:

"Israel numbered 7,200,000 at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. The t'rumah [the offering to cohanim from the firstfruits] is normally one Fiftieth (Mishna, T'rumot 4:3), which here comes to 144,000. At Ro 11:16 Paul remarked that 'if the challah offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole loaf.' Thus the meaning is that if the firstfruits of Israel, the 144,000 Messianic Jews who put Iheir trust in Yeshua, is holy, then the whole loaf, all of Israel, is holy. Therefore Paul continues, 'In this way all Israel will be saved. As the Tanakh says, "Out of Zion will come the Redeemer; he will turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (Ro 11:26).' This is in accordance with my comment on 1:7, which says that when the sign of the son of man is seen in heaven, the children of Israel will repent, recognize the Messiah, and mourn because they pierced him unjustly. That is when all Israel will be saved. Yet the condition for this is the prior salvation of 144,000." (Commentary to the New Testament, on Rv 7:9)

Although there is no way of knowing exactly how many Jews there were in 70 C.E., scholars agree that the number was between five and ten million. The number of Messianic Jews then, as now, was surely in six figures (see Ac 21:20N), but it would be sheer speculation to fix it at 144,000.

From every tribe of the people of Israel. The plain sense, the p'shat, of this phrase is "from among the entire Jewish people." But many commentators say it refers to the Church. In Ro 2:28-29N I suggest that even where the p'shat of a text refers to Jews, there may be a midrashic application to the entire Body of the Messiah. Moreover, at Ga 6:16 and Ep 2:11-13 (see notes there and at Ro 11:26a), "Israel" is used in a way that does include saved Gentiles, new creations formerly distant but now brought near and grafted in (Ro 11:17-24). However, the case that the 144,000 from every tribe of the people of Israel means "the Church" is harder to make here; because v. 9 below speaks of "a huge crowd, too large for anyone to count, from every nation, tribe, people and language." Apparently, this innumerable crowd of saved Gentiles is to be contrasted with the delimited number of saved Jews in the present verse. Furthermore, to emphasize the fact that these 144,000 are Jews, w. 5-8 lists the twelve tribes; this would have no immediate relevance to the Church. See also 14:1-5&NN, where the number 144,000 reappears.

One objection sometimes made to interpreting these 144,000 as Jews is that there is supposedly no reason why Jews would be singled out for special protection. Such thinking contradicts the whole of salvation history as set forth in the Tanakh and reflects an unawareness on the part of Gentile Christian commentators that they have been joined to Israel, that is, to the Jewish people. God, by his grace, has singled out the Jewish people for special protection for thousands of years. After centuries of dispersion and persecution, culminating in the Holocaust, we would not exist at all without such protection. This protection is promised over and over by the Prophets, even when Israel becomes sinful and breaks covenant; though it is not always promised to the entire people, but rather only to a remnant (see Ro 9:27-29, 11:1-32) — such as the 144,000. Moreover, the sealing of the Jewish people from judgment corresponds specifically to God's promise at Zechariah 9:14-16 (see 8:2N on "shofars").

The Jehovah's Witnesses used to claim that their adherents constituted the 144,000. When their membership came to exceed this number, they simply revised their theology! Such a blatant appeal to pride at being among the supposed spiritual elite is a favorite tactic of cults. 

5. From the tribe of Y’hudah 12,000 were sealed
from the tribe of Re’uven 12,000
from the tribe of Gad, 12,000
6. from the tribe of Asher 12,000
from the tribe of Naftali 12,000
from the tribe of M’nasheh 12,000
7. from the tribe of Shim‘on 12,000
from the tribe of Levi 12,000
from the tribe of Yissakhar 12,000
8. from the tribe of Z’vulun 12,000
from the tribe of Yosef 12,000
from the tribe of Binyamin 12,000
8 No matter who the 144,000 are, there is a problem with these verses, in that the listing of the twelve tribes is very strange: (1) Dan is missing, (2) Efrayim is missing but included in Yosef, who was Efrayim's father, (3) M'nasheh is counted twice, since Yosef was also his father, (4) Y'hudah, not Re'uven, is mentioned first, and (5) L'vi is included, even though this tribe is sometimes not counted, since it was not assigned a portion in the Land. Efrayim and M'nasheh were the two sons of Yosef, and their descendants were at first counted as half-tribes; but over time they became elevated to the status of tribes because Yosef, after saving his family from starvation, was treated like the firstborn and given a double portion (Genesis 48:22). On these verses Yechiel Lichtenstein writes in his Commentary to the New Testament:

"Rabbi Yitzchak of Troki's Chizzuk-Emunah accused Yochanan of not knowing the number of the tribes. This is nonsense, since Yochanan in his book demonstrates wonderful knowledge of the Tanakh.

"Some say Dan is excluded because he sinned by worshipping idols (Judges 18:30, 2 Kings 10:29); as proof they quote 1 Chronicles 2-7, where the tribe of Dan is not mentioned. But this is not a valid proof, because Z'vulun is not mentioned there either; and the reason in both cases is that the author, Ezra, wrote in his book only what he found in the scrolls available to him. This is why the subjects there often follow one another without logical connection — there are missing links.

"Concerning Dan, Ya'akov, when blessing his sons, said, 'Dan will judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel' (Genesis 49:16). Moreover, Ezekiel 48:32 attributes one gate to Dan, one to Yosef, since Joseph includes Efrayim and M'nasheh in respect to the heritage, and one to L'vi."

Here is Lichtenstein's solution to the problem:
"It seems to me that a scribal error was made when the book of Revelation was being prepared tor transmission to the world. Instead of "M'nasheh' we should read 'Dan.' Yochanan also mentioned Y'hudah before Re'uven, because the Messiah came out of Y'hudah (see 1 Chronicles 2-7, where Y'hudah is also mentioned first, and the Jewish commentators on it). Next he mentions Re' uven, because he was the firstborn of the tribal patriarchs. But after this Yochanan paid no more attention to the subject."

In other words, when Yochanan proofread the manuscript of his book he failed to notice anomalies in the tribal listing. It is always tempting to attribute a difficult reading to scribal error, but I am not sure this explanation should be invoked so quickly here. Shim'on is missing from Moses' blessing of the tribes in Deuteronomy 33. There too corruption of the manuscript is offered as a possible reason, although a more specific one is that his tribe had no extended area of its own — his inheritance of 19 cities was spread through the territory of Y'hudah (Joshua 19:2-9).

It is suggested that Dan is absent from the present list because the Anti-Messiah is to come from this tribe. This idea can be found in the second-century church father lrenaeus; in Jewish tradition it can be traced back to the Pseudepigraphic Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, written around 100 B.C.E., where Dan is told:

"In the last days you will depart from the Lord.... For I have read in the book of Enoch the righteous that your prince is Satan." (Testament of Dan 5:4—7)

But for this idea there is no biblical evidence.
Another reason for Dan's omission might be this tribe's poor reputation due to its weakness for idol-worship. The Midrash Rabbah explains Numbers 2:25, "The standard of the camp of Dan is to be on the north side," thusly:
"The north.' From there comes darkness [since the sun is in the south]. Why is this relevant to Dan? Because Dan darkened the world by idolatry. For [King] Jeroboam made two calves of gold. And idolatry is darkness, as it is said, 'Their works are in the dark" (Isaiah 29:15). Jeroboam went about all over Israel, but they would not receive his teaching, except for the tribe of Dan, as it is said, 'The king took counsel, made two calves of gold... and set the one in Dan' (1 Kings 12:28-29). This is why the Holy One commanded that Dan should set up his camp on the north." (Numbers Rabbah 2:10)

If it is meant literally that 12,000 from each tribe are to be selected, it can be objected that no one will know who belongs to which tribe, since genealogies no longer exist. One answer: God, who will be doing the choosing, will know. 

9. After this, I looked; and there before me was a huge crowd, too large for anyone to count, from every nation, tribe, people and language. They were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands;
A huge crowd... dressed in white robes. See vv. 13-17. From every nation, tribe, people and language. See 5:9b-13N. 

10. and they shouted,
“Victory to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb!”
Victory. Greek soteria usually means "salvation" or "deliverance," but KJV's "Salvation to our God..." is awkward, since God does not need to be saved. Here (and at 12:10,19:1) the sense is as at Psalm 98:2: "His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him [God] the victory." The Hebrew word there is the verb related to "yeshu'ah" ("salvation"). 

11. All the angels stood around the throne, the elders and the four living beings; they fell face down before the throne and worshipped God, saying,
12. “Amen! “Praise and glory, wisdom and thanks, honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever! “Amen!”
"Amen" always refers back to something said previously (Mt 5:18N). The first "Amen" of the elders and the four living beings in v. 12 is their response to the shout of the crowd at v. 10. The second one is a signal to that crowd to respond by affirming the elders' and living beings' own words of praise (see Ro 9:5N). To our God. Or: "come from our God." See v. 10N. 

13. One of the elders asked me, “These people dressed in white robes — who are they, and where are they from?”
14. “Sir,” I answered, “you know.” Then he told me, “These are the people who have come out of the Great Persecution. They have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb.
The Great Persecution (KJV, "great tribulation"); compare Daniel 12:1, also Mt 24:21-22&N. Verses 14-17 offer comfort to any believer undergoing persecution.

They have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb.
The metaphor, which only gains power from being contradictory when taken literally, means that those who did not capitulate under persecution have become clean and are regarded by God as sinless (compare Isaiah 1:18) because they have remained faithful to Yeshua, who shed his blood for them (see 1:7&N). 

15. That is why they are before God’s throne.
“Day and night they serve him in his Temple;
and the One who sits on the throne
will put his Sh’khinah upon them.
His Temple. According to Jewish tradition, God has a temple in heaven. Compare the book of Messianic Jews, in which Yeshua is presented as a cohen serving God in heaven. See also MJ 8:2-6a&N. which refers to the Tent (Tabernacle) in heaven and gives references in Exodus. Will put his Sh'khinah upon them. Or: "will spread his tent over them," giving protection. The Greek word "skenoser ("will spread his tent, will dwell") is related to the Hebrew words "mishkan" ("tent, tabernacle") and "Sh 'khinah" ("dwelling," used in rabbinic Judaism to mean "God's manifest glory dwelling with mankind"; see MJ 1:2-3N). Compare Ezekiel 37:27, where, in the valley of dry bones, God says, "V'hayah mishkani 'aleihem" ("and my tent will be upon them"). 

16. "They will never again be hungry,
they will never again be thirsty,
the sun will not beat down on them,
nor will any burning heat
" (Isaiah 49:10).
17. “For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will shepherd them, will lead them
to springs of living water
(Isaiah 49:10; Jeremiah 2:13; Ezekiel 34:23; Psalm 23:1–2).
and God will wipe every tear from their eyes" (Isaiah 25:8).
The Lamb can be at the center of the throne because he is identified with God. Springs of living water. See 21:6N. Wipe away every tear. See 21:4N. 

next chapter...