The sealing, part 3
Mar 17, 2016
John says that he “heard the number of those who were sealed,” and that they numbered 144,000. As for the tribal listing, we find that Dan was omitted but replaced by Levi, which, as the tribe of priests, did not receive any territory as a state within the nation of Israel. Further, Joseph replaces Ephraim in the list.
The tribes are not listed by age, nor are they listed by mother. They are arranged in a peculiar order that does not make much historical sense. The question is why John would list the tribes in this way and in this order. Since (as we believe) he spoke by inspiration, there must be a reason.
Let us quote the passage first. Revelation 7:5 says,
5 from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand,
Judah means “praise, confess, give thanks.”
Reuben means “behold, a son.”
Gad means “a troop, fortune has come.”
6 from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand,
Asher means “happy, blessed.”
Naphtali means “my wrestling, strife.”
Manasseh means “forgetting, one who forgets.”
7 from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand,
Simeon means “hearing/obeying” (being in agreement).
Levi means “joiner, adhesion, unification.”
Issachar means “hired, there is wages/recompense.”
7 from the tribe of Zebulon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.
Zebulon means “dwelling, habitation.”
Joseph means “He will add.”
Benjamin means “Son of the right hand.”
The peculiar tribal order in these verses, along with the omission of Dan and the insertion of Levi, makes little sense unless there is a deeper prophecy to be understood. When we string these tribes together in terms of their literal meaning, we see that there is a hidden message for us. It is, in fact, a confession of praise to God, which leads us directly into the praise of the “great multitude” in the next few verses. It is as if we are meant to include this as a Statement of Agreement in their praise to Jesus Christ.
Praise Confession [Judah]:
Behold, a Son, a whole troop whose fortune has come. They are happy and blessed after wrestling and striving, forgetting their past troubles, hearing and obeying, united as one. Their recompense for their labor is to dwell with God, and He will increase and add to them many sons of His right hand.
Hence, in the flow of the narrative about the martyrs, the 144,000 are sealed by the Holy Spirit, not to keep them from being martyred, but to assure them of ultimate victory. The promise to them is that they, as the unified body of Christ, will be recompensed for their labors on earth, for they are marked by God’s signature in their foreheads. These are the sons of His right hand, who will reign with Christ in the Tabernacles Age that is to come.
If Levi had not replaced Dan in the list, we would have missed the whole point of the prophecy. It is not Simeon and Dan, but Simeon and Levi, brothers who, in their time, did not honor their father, Jacob, nor did they hear and obey his instructions. Simeon and Levi are linked to the massacre of Shechem in the incident involving Hamor in Genesis 34. Their cruelty and religious zealotry gave Jacob and God Himself a bad name in Canaan (Genesis 34:30).
Indeed, God’s name is continually blasphemed throughout the nations on account of the lawlessness that is practiced among those with this religious spirit (Romans 2:24; Isaiah 52:5).
The spirit of Simeon gave rise to Phariseeism, which later opposed Jesus. The spirit of Levi was in the priests who also opposed Jesus. Simeon and Levi were united by this cruel religious spirit that was identified in Jacob’s last words about them in Genesis 49:5-7,
5 Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swords are implements of violence. 6 Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with their assembly; because in their anger, they slew men, and in their self-will they lamed oxen. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel…
But later, in the sealing of the tribes, we are told the true purpose of these tribal names. The overcomers hear and obey, united by their agreement with Jesus Christ and the divine plan. For this reason, Dan, the judge, is omitted, having served his role as judge of both Simeon and Levi. The sealed ones are overcomers, and the cruel religious spirit has been corrected through discipline. Hence, there is no longer any need for judgment upon them, and a true spirit of unity in Christ has replaced their unity in crime. Dan is thus omitted.
As for Joseph replacing Ephraim, the two names are closely related. Since Ephraim was the birthright holder, we should view his name as a supplement to Joseph. Joseph means “He will add (another son)” (Genesis 30:24). Ephraim means “double fruitfulness,” which directly refers to the promise of Sonship that is inherent in the name Joseph.
So when we string the names together, we see the climax of the thought: “He will increase and add [Joseph] to them many sons of His right hand [Benjamin].” We could just as easily used the alternate name to read: “He will bring double fruitfulness [Ephraim] in order to raise up many sons of His right hand [Benjamin]. The important thing is that the hidden message in the tribes, as listed in Revelation 7, tells us that the sealed ones are the sons of God.
This is part 58 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones