Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Review of Revelations--Part 5--The Sealing of the 144,000

Ottheinrich Bible, Page 290: Angels Holding the Four Winds / The Sealing of the 144,000, Revelation 7:1-8
[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11] [Part 12]

This is the continuation of my series reviewing Revelations as part of my reading of The Book of Revelation: Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass by G. Erik Brandt. In my last installment, we were still reviewing the events of the Sixth Seal and, in particular, the mission of the four angels mentioned at the beginning of Chapter 7 of Revelations. 

In this installment, we are still looking at Chapter 7 of Revelations, but examining the next major event, which is the sealing of the 144,000. Near the beginning of Chapter 7, we read:
 2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,

 3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
The "angel ascending from the east" is Elias who is given authority and power over the gathering of Israel. (See D&C 77:9). Elias' role is to restore "all things" in preparation of the coming of the Lord. (See Mark 9:12; Luke 1:17).

The fact that the four angels are forbidden to hurt the earth, sea or trees until after the sealing of the 144,000 lends credence to my earlier supposition that the "great earthquake" mentioned in Chapter 6 should be translated as a great "commotion" or "tumult" rather than an earthquake. For an earthquake would be a "hurt" to the earth; something that is forbidden. Moreover, it matches up with what we know of the release of the four angels being a prelude to the First World War.

Turning back to the Revelation, the next question is: who are these 144,000? From Chapter 7 of Revelation, we read:
 4 And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.
  5 Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.
 6 Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.

 7 Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.

 8 Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
Who are the 144,000? In D&C 77:11, the Lord explained:
We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn.
Brandt makes note that the tribe of Dan is not included in the list of tribes. Brandt does not believe that the omission of Dan was deliberate, writing: "Dan was never omitted in any other record and there is no reason to remove his name at this point." I disagree. Typically, when listing the 12 tribes, Levi might be omitted because the Levites were devoted to serving the temple (and, thus, not subject to military service); in such cases, the tribe of Joseph was split into two: Ephraim and  Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph.  (Ephraim received the birthright from Joseph--see Genesis 48:17-20--so the listing of "Joseph" is simply a referral to Ephraim). However, in this case, Levi is listed, as are both of the "tribes" of Joseph. Obviously, attempting to explain the omission is merely speculation. There are many theories set forth, including that the Dannites are omitted because the tribe was one of the main seats of idol worship in ancient Israel. There may also be a more practical reason, which is that the Ethiopian Jews claim to be descended from the tribe of Dan. A large number of these Ethiopian Jews reside in Israel. It is possible that the Ethiopian Jews, whether in Ethiopia or Israel, will not be the subject of proselyting during the time of the Sixth Seal, or that, because of their small numbers, they will not provide any high priests.

Brandt accepts the theories of other scholars that the 144,000 is not to be taken literally. Citing Draper, Brandt indicates that "twelve" represents the priesthood; that Biblical peoples would square a number to amplify the meaning (thus bringing us to 144); and, finally, that "John gives an image of superlative quantity by multiplying it by 1,000," which represents completeness. To Brandt, "John's symbolic and impressive number, 144,000, represents an impressive body of the priesthood holders, ordained out of every nation to administer the everlasting gospel," ordained by the authority of the four angels (in reference to the line of authority that all priesthood holders have stretching back to Christ).

I am not necessarily convinced that 144,000 is merely figurative. Brandt notes several sources, including an explanation from Joseph Smith, that the sealing on the forehead represented that the person so sealed had his "calling and election made sure." As members of the Church are aware, having one's calling and election made sure carries with it a special significance. Bruce R. McConkie explained:
“To have one’s calling and election made sure is to be sealed up unto eternal life; it is to have the unconditional guarantee of exaltation in the highest heaven of the celestial world; it is to receive the assurance of godhood; it is, in effect, to have the day of judgment advanced, so that an inheritance of all the glory and honor of the Father’s kingdom is assured prior to the day when the faithful actually enter into the divine presence to sit with Christ in his throne, even as he is ‘set down’ with his ‘Father in his throne.’ (Rev. 3:21.) (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Bookcraft, 1973, 3:330–31.)
Thus, even though the process of the sealing began as early as 1844, as Brandt writes, this is no guarantee that sum total of such persons will have exceeded 144,000 by the time of the end of the Sixth Seal.

In any event, the 144,000 do not represent all those welcomed into God's kingdom. Chapter 7 continues by describing a second group of persons:
 9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;

 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.

 11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,

 12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.

 13 And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?

 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

 15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.

 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.

 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
 Brandt writes that "[t]he second group seen by John is a great host of faithful, gathered out of every nations, dressed in white robes [i.e., their sins have been washed away] with palms in their hands [see Matt. 21:9]. Each individual in the multitude has the seal of the Father reflected in their countenance, as they now stand in His presence." Brand also indicates that "[t]his great throng represents the exalted Saints of God; members of the Church from all the dispensations including Latter-day Saints who had passed on." In other words, just as with the first group of 144,000, the members of this group have also received their exaltation and live in the presence of God. That the number of this second group were without number should bring each of us comfort because it indicates that there is room for all of us to live with the Father and the Son.

It is notable that this latter group consisted of those who had come out of "great tribulation." Brandt writes that "[t]he Greek text uses a definitive article for the term 'the great tribulation,' indicating a specific and tumultuous event." This is a reference to the great persecutions that will come upon the Saints. While our focus is generally on the judgments and plagues to be poured out upon the wicked, as described later in Revelations, this would also include all those that have been tested in this life. In any event, Brandt points out that "[t]he plagues are not directed at the honorable or elect, but the faithful are nevertheless impacted and suffer in many trials. If they do not falter and are not overcome, the trials will have a refining and purifying effect."

Brandt cautions, however, that we should not read Chapter 7 of Revelations as indicating that only the Saints will be spared from the final day of wrath. Rather, "the honorable of the earth will flock to Zion and her stakes for safety," for, in the last days, "it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another." D&C 45:69.

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