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 earth or on the sea or on any tree. 2 And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”
After the six seals were opened and the six judgments ensued, John saw four angels at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind was blowing anywhere. Another angel was ascending from the rising of the sun with the seal of the living God. He cried out to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, and he told them not to act until a select group of the bond-servants of God were sealed on their foreheads. Based on verses 4-8, it appears that those who were sealed during the tribulation are limited to a particular group of firstfruit believing Jews, numbered at 144,000. Believers of all times and places are already sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption (2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13, 4:30). Their seal is, according to 2 Timothy 2:19, “The Lord knows those who are His.” God has set His seal on Jesus first (John 6:27), and all Who belong to Him are sealed by Him and known by Him. The earth has already been harmed by famine and war, but the earth and sea will be directly targeted in future judgments (Revelation 8:7-11).
4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:5 from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6 from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7 from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
The number sealed was 144,000, 12,000 from each tribe of Israel. God always promised that a remnant of the nation of Israel would be saved (Isaiah 6:12-13, Zechariah 13:8-9, 14:1-5). He would open their eyes and help them to understand and believe the truth concerning the Lamb (Ezekiel 36:22-38, Zephaniah 3:11-13, Hosea 2:14-23). The 144,000 are the firstfruits (see Revelation 14:4) of the Jews who would come to faith (Zechariah 12:1-14). More came to faith in Revelation 11:13, and more will believe in the very end even as Christ descends upon the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14). In Revelation 9:4, God exempts those who are sealed from having to endure a particular plague of demonic judgment. This should have been a clear declaration to those watching that God was more powerful than Satan and that they should fear Him. It is likely that tribulation saints would have also been spared that particular judgment given that they are sealed by Christ on account of their faith.
9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
After the sealing of the 144,000 Jews, a great multitude so large it couldn’t be counted from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation appeared standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and had palm branches in their hands. They had welcomed and recognized Jesus as the true King and Messiah while on earth during the tribulation period by believing in Him and turning their lives over to Him (c.f. Matthew 21:8-9, John 12:13). While most people hardened their hearts and wished rocks would fall on them to keep them from Jesus, some turned to the Rock of salvation (v. 13-17). These cried out loudly and praised God Who sits on the throne for their salvation. They praised the Lamb for making their salvation possible, for salvation is impossible through any other. All the angels were standing around the throne and the elders and creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God. They agreed with the praise of the tribulation saints, and they blessed God and declared Him deserving of all glory, honor, power, and might forever and ever.
13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. 16 They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
One of the elders asked John who this multitude of people clothed in white was and where they came from. John answered and told him that he, the elder, knew and would have to explain it to him. The elder told John that those who came out of the great tribulation were the ones who appeared in the presence of God clothed in white. They were those who came to Christ during the tribulation period and died either through martyrdom or other means. Though their robes had been dirty with sin, having missed the rapture of the church, they found Christ and believed the gospel during the tribulation period. Thus, by the mercy of God and on account of the shed blood of Christ, they were made clean in Christ and enabled to worship God in heaven before His throne and to serve Him forever by participating in His kingdom reign (Revelation 22:14). Jesus in the New Jerusalem makes His dwelling among the redeemed literally (this promise is duplicated in Revelation 21:3 and echoed in Revelation 21:22). God Himself will be among them, and as Revelation 21:4 says, “And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (see also Isaiah 25:8). The redeemed in heaven will not go hungry or thirsty, the climate will be stable and comfortable (in contrast to the tribulation experience of Revelation 16:9), and their Good Shepherd will guide them to heavenly springs of the water of life (John 4:14, Revelation 22:1, 17). Everything they could want or need will be met in Him, and there will be no sadness there.