Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (LIII)

June 9, 2010

Before getting into the roles of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:1-8 and 14:1-5, we will do well to consider some of the biblical “echoes” in chapter 6 that seem to provide a kind of scriptural backdrop for 7:1-8.  In doing so, I am going to initially develop an angle that seems to me to be strangely overlooked by even some of the adamantly pretribulational writers.

It has to do with the fact that, since the most obvious—and more or less universally agreed upon by scholars, in a rarity—biblical allusion in 6:1-8 is Zechariah 1-6, why the historical background of the rebuilding of the Temple is not discussed more seriously in regard to Revelation 6.  I don’t get it.

After all, besides the clear echoes of the four horsemen/horses scenes in Zechariah 1 and 6, there is also the question “How long, Lord…” in 1:12 (see Rev. 6:10).  And, if we continue into Revelation 7 (see v. 1), the mention of “four winds” looks back to Zechariah, also, with the people of Israel having been dispersed to the four winds, from which a remnant was to be assembled.  Further, Zechariah 2:13—“Let all people be silent before the Lord” (HCSB) is too close in concept to the half-hour of silence in heaven spoken of in Revelation 8:1 to be mere coincidence. Finally, if we see fit to continue further in the Apocalypse, “the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth” (HCSB) is unquestionably drawn from Zechariah 4.

No matter what else the various passages in Zechariah 1-6 might deal with, though, there is no getting around the fact that all this was being laid out in Zechariah’s time against the historical backdrop of the erection of the Second Temple.  And, if it was the “biggest deal” in Zechariah’s day, is there not at least a fair likelihood that at least the imagery of the Temple—and maybe more than symbolism—is in play in this section of Revelation?  After considerable reflection, I have come to think that interpreters have to be fooling themselves based on preconceived hermeneutical decisions to think otherwise.

So, what do the echoes from the first six chapters of Zechariah in Revelation 6-7 mean in regard to the 144,000 in 7:1-8?  It is impossible to be sure in the greatest detail, but, broad brushstrokes might be a different story.  At the least, even as the strong effects of the unsealing sequence is playing out in chapter 6, the imagery leaves the strong impression that two things parallel to the historical rooting of Zechariah 1-6 will take place: 1) the Temple will be rebuilt; and 2) a godly remnant of Israel will be gathered.

No, I do not mean to imply at all that “the Shekinah glory” will return at this point to the “sanctuary” (i.e., Holy of Holies) in a rebuilt Temple.  Without question, in the Apocalypse, the Shekinah glory resides in the true “sanctuary” in heaven (see 7:15; 11:19).  Yet, passages like Daniel 9:27, Matthew 24:15 and 2 Thessalonians 2:4 certainly sound like there actually will be a “sanctuary” in a rebuilt Temple at the end of the age, as described in Revelation 11:1-2.

Back to the 144,000.  As I just said, it appears that there will be a rebuilt Temple during the seven-year Great Tribulation period.  It also seems likely that the 144,000 are being depicted as parallel to the “remnant” which went back from Babylon for the primary purpose of rebuilding the Temple, under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua, the high priest.

What about this latter observation might be in play as suggestive echoes informing Revelation 7:1-8?  Several thoughts are worthy of at least being considered here: 1) If the “interlude” nature of chapter 7 places it at some point before the seventh seal, which opens the scroll for viewing and the beginning of the seven-year Great Tribulation, then technically the 144,000 are a “remnant” group that is saved just before the Great Tribulation.  That may be in keeping with Paul’s idea in Romans 11 that, during the present age, only a remnant will be saved.  (In fact, it is not impossible at all that the 144,000 play a role not unlike Paul’s reference in Rom. 11:4 to 7,000 faithful ones who had “not bowed down to Baal” during Elijah’s ministry, especially since there is an Elijah figure on the scene in Rev. 11:6.)  But, after the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (i.e., Rev. 7:9ff.), “all Israel”—whatever that verse is taken to mean, but its other clear NT usage makes it clear that it is talking about Jewish people—will be saved; 2) The 144,000 would be saved out of the world system, which Revelation 14-18 makes clear is either Babylon the Great or so inextricably related to her as to be virtual “spiritual Siamese twins; and 3) Since the role of the 144,000 is made no more clear in 7:1-8 than that they are “servants”/“slaves” (Gk. doulous) of God, might not at least some of them be involved in the rebuilding of the Temple or running it after it was completed (given that the tribe of Levi is included in the list?  If that is the case, their stance would be somewhat like Messianic Jewish synagogues today: they believe in Jesus as Messiah, but remain Jewish in many other respects; and 4) This is probably the most significant of the possibilities—if the parallelism I have sketched here is viable, it would make sense for the two witnesses of 11:3ff. to emerge out of the 144,000. After all, Zerubbabel and Joshua were part of the remnant that came back after the Babylonian Captivity.  Of course, by virtue of who they were, they were the leaders of that remnant group.  Why could that not be the case with the two witnesses in Revelation 11:3ff.? Yes, their miracles (vv. 5-6) sound like those of Moses and Elijah (and the complete fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy [see 4:5] that Elijah would come before the Day of the Lord is involved here).  However, as I pointed out earlier, Revelation 11:4 does refer to these two as “the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth,” meaning that their roles are also being purposely paralleled to those of Zerubbabel and Joshua.

Where does this leave us in regard to what can be discerned about the role(s) of the 144,ooo from the first half of the Apocalypse?  At the least, they appear to be: 1) a “remnant” group saved at some point before (just before?) the seven years begins; 2) involved in either the building of the Tribulation Temple or its administration and/or protection; 3) the group out of which the two witnesses of 11:3ff. emerge.  They could certainly be more.  Believe it or not, I am trying to restrain myself to following up only pretty clear biblical allusions.

In my next post, I will finally get to the information on the 144,000 in Revelation 14:1-5.  At least, I will get to it if I do not have any more “brainstorms” about 7:1-8 between now and when I have an opportunity to sit down and write some more.


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