The sealed 144,000 are so connected to God’s kingdom that it is as if they are in heaven even while still on earth during the time of trouble. This dual state of being secure citizens of heaven while still on earth is indicated by the language used in chapter 7. “And one of the elders answered saying to me, ‘These which are arrayed in white robes, who are they and from where did they come?’ And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple, and He who sits on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more; neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun beat on them, nor any heat” (Revelation 7:13-16).

They are pictured as standing “before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes” (Revelation 7:9) with “all the angels…and the elders and the four living creatures” (v.11), in other words, they are portrayed as if they are in heaven. But paradoxically, they still seem to be on earth in the midst of the time of trouble. When John dialogues with the angel about who these people are, he is told, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation” (v. 14). The Greek present participle verb for “coming out” (erhomeni ) [1] has the definite sense that while they are standing before the throne they are still in the process of coming out of the tribulation! Moreover, verse 15 says that “they are before the throne of God,” using the present tense. But in the next verse it says that “they shall hunger no more neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat on them…and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (vs. 16,17). The future tenses that are used in the original Greek imply that at the time they are before the throne, relief from hunger, thirst and the heat of the sun is still in the future, as is having their tears wiped away. But despite the fact that they are still experiencing severe trials of their faith, the seal in their forehead is a sign to the universe that they are so absolutely secure in the Kingdom that they are essentially already there.

This passage also specifies that “They…serve Him day and night in His temple” (v. 15), which cannot refer to the future heavenly kingdom or the new earth. First of all, there is no night in the future kingdom (see Revelation 22:5). Moreover, when John saw the vision of heaven he “saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22). The temple ministry will cease with the eradication of sin, so the service “day and night in His temple” refers to the ministry of God’s faithful servants on earth[2] before the Second Coming of Christ.[2] As we will see in chapter 14, this passage describes the ministry of the 144,000, which takes place during “the hour of His judgment” (Revelation 14;7) as they call the captives in “Babylon” to “come out of her my people” (Revelation 18:4). Their present service on earth is contrasted with their future when “They shall see His face” (Revelation 22:4) and “He who sits on the throne shall dwell among them” (v. 15).

In chapter 14, which is a parallel of chapter 7, the 144,000 are again shown in both heaven and on earth. In verses 1-5 they are “on mount Zion”, “before the throne of God” with “the four living creatures and the elders” singing “a new song”. But in verses 6-13 they are on earth, preaching “to those who dwell on earth” (v.6), patiently enduring the persecution of the beast (v.12) and even suffering martyrdom (v.13).

Again in chapter 15 the same group is pictured “on the sea of glass”, “having harps of God”, singing the victory “song of Moses.”[3] In verse 2 they are called “those who have the victory over the beast.” Again the present participle is used (“those having the victory”), indicating that this is a victory that is still in progress. In the very next scene we see seven angels coming out of the temple to pour out the seven last plagues. The sealed saints are spiritually in heaven on the sea of glass, and at the same time they are on earth, victorious over the beast while all around them the most fearsome plagues in human history are falling! This incredible experience is unique in all human history[4] and will be an eternal blessing to those who live through it, as evidenced by the new song that they sing, “and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth” (14:3).

Continue to next section: 7:4-8 THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL

[1] The Greek word “erhomeni” is translated in the New King James version “the ones who come out,” which gives the sense of something they do repeatedly or habitually. This is closer to the meaning than the King James version “they which came out,” or New International version “they who have come out,” both of which give the sense of a completed action. The difficult-to-translate present participle of the passive verb is perhaps best translated as in The New Living Translation, “these are the ones coming out,” which shows that the coming out is still in process at the time they are standing before the throne.

[2] The New Testament makes it clear that the temple is the body of believers. The ministry of the 144,000 is to bring people into the temple, in other words, to unite them with other believers in the church. See 1Corinthians 3:1,17, :19, 2Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21, 1Peter 2:5.

[3] This position is supported by the statement of Paul in Acts 26:7, “To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain.” Obviously Paul was referring to service on earth (the same verb as in Revelation 7:15, latreuo is used), not future service in the eternal kingdom.

[4] The victory song of Moses is found in Exodus 15 where the children of Israel celebrate God’s victory over the Egyptians.

[5] There have been a few, such as Enoch, who have “walked with God” while on earth (Genesis 5: 22-24, Hebrews 11:5), but the 144,000 will have this experience during the great time of trouble.