“Who stands fast?” Those words are similar to the closing question in Revelation 6:17: “who is able to stand [the wrath of the Father and of the Lamb]?” When the unbelievers asked this question, they had no idea that two groups of believers would be able to answer. One group would stand on earth throughout the remainder of the tribulation, having been sealed with God’s personal protection. The other group would stand in heaven, in victory and joy, even though they had lost their lives during the tribulation. We see this take place in Revelation 7.
In this passage, we see an angel carrying the seal “of the living God” (Revelation 7:2). This is a title that is used whenever God is about to intervene on behalf of His people. In this case, God’s seal not only indicates ownership (2 Corinthians 1:22) and authenticity (John 6:27), but also protection (Ephesians 4:30). The “bond-servants” (Revelation 7:3) who are to receive God’s seal will be protected from divine judgment throughout the remainder of the tribulation and most likely from death.
The seal bears the name of the Lamb and of the Father (Revelation 14:1) and will be placed on the foreheads of those who are chosen (Revelation 7:3)—the forehead being the most conspicuous and notable part of the body. There will be no mistaking who these people serve. In the same way, Antichrist will also mark his followers, either on their foreheads or on their right hands (Revelation 13:16–18; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20).
Revelation 7:4-8 tell us that the “bond-servants” of Christ are 144,000 sealed people who come “from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Revelation 7:4). There are no Gentiles among them. And what’s more, there is no mention of the church, because these are not representatives of the church.
Some people question, “If the rapture has already occurred, how will these 144,000 be saved?” God’s Word doesn’t tell us. But God’s Word will remain and God’s Spirit will still be active on earth during the tribulation. He will convict these Jews to come to faith in Jesus as Messiah, and He will seal them with God’s signet ring. The sealing of the 144,000 Israelites indicates God’s special selection and protection during unprecedented global disaster.
Because the 144,000 will be protected from God’s wrath during the tribulation, God grants them power to fulfill the Old Testament calling of Israel—to be God’s witness of grace among the nations (Isaiah 43:1–12). God’s plan for Israel has always been for them to shine God’s light of love on the Gentiles (Matthew 5:14–16)—to be a blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:1–3).
During the tribulation they will fulfill that mission, surviving to become the first fruits of Israel in the millennial kingdom.
We find the second group who will stand strong during the Tribulation in heaven. Beginning Revelation 7:9, the scene shifts to heaven where we see the result of the ministry of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists.
Just as Revelation 7 opened with “After this,” to indicate a new vision (Revelation 7:1), so Revelation 7:9 opens with “After these things.” After the vision of the 144,000 Jewish missionaries, John is now given a new vision of countless Gentiles praising the Father and the Lamb.
During the tribulation, countless numbers of people will come to faith in Christ from every political orientation, lineage, race, and language—“every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Revelation 7:9). This means both Jews and Gentiles. And they will praise God and the Lamb for their salvation and subsequent victory over Satan and the Antichrist (Revelation 12:10; 19:1–2).
The 144,000 Jews are sealed and saved from God’s wrath during the tribulation, meaning they will not experience the judgments God pours out on the unbelieving of the earth.
But that is not true of these new believers saved during the Tribulation. Some will no doubt become martyrs, like the ones in Revelation 6:9–11. Others will die as a result of not having the basics of life—food, water, and shelter.
These Gentile believers in heaven are also given long, flowing white robes as a sign of their righteousness and purity. These believers carry palm branches and praise God for their salvation and victory.
As the 144,000 are sealed and go out on their ministry, people are responding to their message of salvation, coming to faith in Christ, and subsequently dying or being killed, where they are transported to heaven and join the heavenly choir in continuous praise to the Father and the Lamb.
The sealing of the 144,000 teaches us that God keeps His promises. He may have set Israel aside for a time, choosing to work His plan of redemption through the church. But He never forgets us, and He never forsakes us. And nothing is ever lost to God. Although the world at large, or your world in particular, may seem out of control, God has a plan that He is working out and you can count on Him to keep His promises to you.
That majestic scene of the Tribulation martyrs before the throne of God reminds us that God will ultimately—not immediately—reward the faithful. Writing to encourage the believers in Rome, Paul wrote: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
It is God’s will to keep His promises and to reward the faithful. In the end time, He will do both for Israel and the tribulation saints, but He will also do the same for you today.