I am confused over Revelation 7. Who does the chapter refer to, Jews or Gentiles? Also it sounds as though they are saved during the Great Tribulation. I thought no one would be saved at that time.
If we look at chapter 7 carefully, we will find two distinct groups mentioned—Jews and Gentiles. And, yes, people will be saved during the awful period we refer to as the Tribulation. Many people share a misconception about this seven-year event. Believers in Christ, who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, will be raptured, or caught away, to be with Christ just before the Tribulation begins. Therefore, some people assume that the Holy Spirit will not be present during the Tribulation and that, consequently, people will not be saved.
This is simply not so. The Holy Spirit came at the beginning of the Church Age on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4). Second Thessalonians 2:7 refers to the Restrainer, Who will be taken out of the way at the Rapture. That removal relates only to the way that the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost. After the Rapture, He will still work on earth, but in a different way—something similar to His ministry in Old Testament times, before the church.
Salvation occurred in the Old Testament, and it will occur during the Tribulation. In fact, Revelation 7 is a tremendous testimony to the faithfulness of God. It fulfills a promise He made in the Old Testament concerning individual salvation during the Tribulation, when Israel will finally recognize and accept the Messiah. Many passages in the Old Testament speak of the national salvation of Israel as God’s chosen nation, but we must always remember that the salvation of a nation hinges on the salvation of individuals. The Old Testament records that many individuals among both Jews and Gentiles will be saved after the rapture of the New Testament living believers.
Concerning Jews, the prophet Joel wrote, “And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed. . . . And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Loan shall call” (Joel 2:27, 32).
Of Gentiles Isaiah wrote, “And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising . . . because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee. . . . And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness” (Isa. 60:3, 5; 62:2).
These Old Testament passages are precisely what Revelation 7 is describing. Please look carefully at the chapter. The two groups of people are there. First, verses 1–8 mention Jewish believers. Then verses 9–17 deal with converted Gentiles. (Some Bible scholars include some Jewish believers in this second portion of the chapter, such as those who are martyred for their faith.)
The first section of the chapter, speaking of Jews, specifies an exact number—144,000. This preciseness bothers some people, but it shouldn’t. They say that such an exact number suggests a mere representation of something. To this argument we offer a couple refutations. First, God can do anything He wants. He used exact figures in other places in Scripture, such as the three hundred men joining Gideon, six literal days of creation, an exact number of times prescribed to Joshua for marching for the fall of Jericho, and so forth. We have no reason not to take this figure literally. Second, the 144,000 are not necessarily the only Jews who are saved during this period. Scripture indicates that there are more—those who are not protected (sealed) and those who will be martyred.
Others charge that 144,000 is a comparatively small group of individuals, compared to a whole race of people. To this we say that God has always used small groups (remnants) rather than majorities to do His will or to be used as an object lesson, and what an object lesson we have here as this company is equally divided into the separate tribes of Israel. They are divinely sealed and protected and, during the worst days the world has ever known, they will carry on the most ambitious and effective missionary program ever.
Incidentally, we have at least one cult today that has the audacity to claim the distinctiveness of this number of people for itself. The claim is totally out of line. But equally guilty are those who toss out these precious promises to Israel and concerning the company of Gentiles who are converted. So we see in this portion of the chapter that many Gentiles will be saved, but also much martyrdom will take place. Some believe that this passage speaks of martyrs from all ages. But the Greek seems to indicate they are from a specific period, the period of the context here (the Tribulation). Verse 14 might best be rendered, “These are they which came out of the great tribulation,” or “These are they which came out of tribulation—the big one.”
Some people have argued that individuals might postpone salvation during this present age if they knew people could be saved during the Tribulation. No one should count on this possibility. To go through the horrors of the Tribulation would be unfathomable, but there is no guarantee of one’s being saved during that time just because others are (see 2 Thessalonians 2:10–12). Further, if one is saved during that time, chances are he will die for his decision. It still remains true that now is the time to be saved (2 Cor. 6:2). Tomorrow may never come.
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