REVELATION 7 AND THE SECOND EXODUS MOTIF
Revelation posits the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel in the last days where there would be a “Second Exodus,” and Yahweh would lead His people to the “True Sabbath” rest and the “True Promised Land” of the heavenly country and heavenly city (Heb. 11:13-16, 12:22-23). At this time I will limit the comments, but suffice it to say that the Second Exodus motif is one that permeates the N.T. in ways that, lamentably, most modern Bible readers never discern, and never discover the beauty of this theme. (The Gospel of Luke is focused on demonstrating that what was happening in the first century was the fulfillment of Israel’s Kingdom hopes. Her Second Exodus was underway, Yeshua was the Second Moses and the promised land was near. Scholars have recognized this theme in several NT books: Jay Smith Casey, Exodus Typology in the Book of Revelation, Doctoral Thesis, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dec. 1981; Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 1997); David Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2000), just to name a few.).
Beale succinctly shows how the Exodus theme is presented in Revelation 7 (NIGTC, 439). John presents the Second Exodus motif in Revelation 7 in the following ways:
1.) There is a great multitude coming out of tribulation (cf. Exod. 4:31, LXX / Rev. 7:14).
2.) They wash their garments (Exod. 19:10/ Rev. 7:14).
3.) They are sprinkled by the blood (Exod. 24:8 / Rev. 7:14) to clean them in order for them to be able to dwell in the presence of God.
4.) Notice the Feast of the Tabernacles motif in chapter 7 and its inseparable link with Israel’s exodus once they enter the promised land (Cf. Lev. 23:10, 40 / Rev. 7:9-17).
Now, was John merely adopting the language of Israel’s covenant promises, of her last days hopes, but was in fact divorcing that language from its roots to apply to the church coming out of bondage from the world, at the end of time? Where would we find justification for that kind of application? John is concerned about the fulfillment of what the prophets foretold (Rev. 10:7, 22:6). He is not manipulating, allegorizing, or otherwise mishandling the prophetic word. He is conveying in apocalyptic, symbolic manner the fulfillment of those hopes and prophecies. And if that is true, then this can mean only one thing: Revelation is about the last days of Israel. It is about the fulfillment of the Old Testament. It is about God’s faithfulness to His promises to [true] Judah and Israel.
Now, if Revelation is about the fulfillment of God’s last days promises to Israel, and the Second Exodus, then who was being delivered from bondage, and who is the enslaving power?
The answer to the first question is that it was the remnant of Israel, and the “great multitude” of others (Gentiles), that was involved in the Exodus. In Isaiah 11, the prophet foretold the restoration of the twelve tribes. (Isa. 11:10-16/ Cf. Rev. 7:4-17). The prophet said, “the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left.” This shows us that the 144,000 of Revelation 7 and 14 comprise the righteous remnant, and do not represent some kind of “universal salvation.” This exodus would occur when Yahweh would raise the “banner to the people” and the Gentiles would seek God, along with the twelve tribes (Isa. 11:10-13). Paul, citing these very verses, said that Christ, the Root of Jesse, had been raised, and the Gentiles were seeking the Lord. This can only mean that the Second Exodus was underway when Paul wrote.
It should be clear that while Paul saw his ministry and the early church as the fulfillment of these Second Exodus prophecies, that there is no way to perceive the fulfillment that Paul presented as a nationalistic and geographical restoration. And while the salvation / exodus of the righteous definitely involved believers from the Abrahamic blood line, (see for instance Acts 2; Hebrews especially), to ensure the faithfulness of God, one cannot miss that the ultimate goal and aim of those promises was that Abraham’s seed would come to be known, not by race, but by grace (Rom. 2:28-29, 4:13-16, 9:4-8, 10:12; Gal. 3:16, 26, 28-29; Phil. 3:2-3; Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4, 9:25-26; John 8:39-47; Heb. 6:12).
If then the promised Second Exodus was underway, what was the enslaving power? Who was “Egypt?” Before we get John’s answer, let’s take a look at Paul, since we will have a great deal to look at later about the relationship between Paul’s message, mission and ministry, and the Apocalypse. For Paul, bondage to the Law was of paramount concern. He speaks of this
bondage in Romans 5-7 particularly. In Galatians 5 he addresses the issue, and what cannot be missed is that Galatians contains many Second Exodus themes and ideas. Thus, in his discussion of the bondage of the Law, Paul incorporates the Second Exodus motif. This means that Old Covenant Judaism was “Egypt.”
This is verified when we examine Galatians 4. As we show in eschatology Study Series 16 Lesson 3 (in Rev. chapter 11), Paul discusses two women, Sarah and Hagar, and their sons, Isaac and Ishmael. These two sons represent the New Covenant people and the old. The Old Covenant people were persecuting the New Covenant people (Gal. 4:29). So what did Paul say was to happen? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son” (Gal. 4:31). The question is, who was Hagar and her son?
She was Egypt. Hagar was an Egyptian (Gen. 16:1; 21:9). So, Paul presents Hagar, the Egyptian, as representative of Old Covenant Judah, persecuting the seed of Abraham, and holding them in bondage. And he presents the true Seed of Abraham as those who, whether of race or grace, as those who had to be delivered from the bondage of the Law. This is excellent Midrash. (Paul, it must be remembered, was trained in the Law and in Rabbinic forms of interpretation and methodology. Midrash is a form of commentary used and honored in Judaism. For Paul to present Hagar as the enslaving, persecuting power was nothing less than to say that Old Covenant Judah was in fact Egypt. These subtleties of thought are pretty much foreign to the modern western reader, but helpful to properly understanding the N. T. which was, by and large, written by those trained in Jewish hermeneutics and thought)
Does John agree with these motifs and ideas? Indeed. He presents the exodus motif as we have seen. And, in Revelation 11:8 we find the following, “Their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was slain.”
Beagley says, “The Christian community is depicted as the counterpart of the Israelites who were preserved from judgment, while the Egyptians themselves suffered fearful torments. Jesus Christ is presented as the Passover Lamb. But who or what is the new Pharaoh, the new oppressor of the people of God? The author himself provides his readers with a clue: there is one explicit mention of the name of ‘Egypt’ and it is applied to ‘the great city … where their Lord was crucified’ (11:8). This final phrase seems to leave no room for doubt that the author has in mind the city of Jerusalem. We thus have prima facie evidence that the plagues of Revelation are to fall on Jerusalem” (Apocalypse, 27+).
So, John says that Babylon, spiritual Babylon, is also spiritually called Sodom and Egypt (See the more in-depth discussion on Sodom in Study Series 16 Lesson 3 in chapter 11). For now, notice that just like Paul, John presents the story of two women. One is Babylon, and is the enslaving, persecuting power. The other is the new Jerusalem. Babylon, i.e. Egypt is to be destroyed, and the people of God will be led to the new Jerusalem, where, “The tabernacle of God is with men” (Rev. 21:3). John does not leave us hanging in doubt about who “Egypt” is, it is Old Covenant Jerusalem and her children. It is the city “Where also our Lord was slain” (Rev. 11:8).
So: Babylon is the great city, “Where our Lord was slain.” Babylon is spiritually called Egypt, and Paul identifies that as Old Covenant Jerusalem and her seed. Babylon is Sodom, and only one city in all of the Bible ever wears the spiritual name of Sodom, and that is Old Covenant Jerusalem and her sons.
John’s use of the Second Exodus motif in chapter 7 therefore lays the groundwork for our understanding of Revelation and the identity of Babylon. The enslaving power was the Law, the Seed of the Law was persecuting the seed of Abraham. But the believing righteous remnant had been delivered from that bondage, and was on its way to the heavenly city and country foreseen by Abraham himself (Heb. 11:13-16). This means that Babylon was Old Covenant Jerusalem, and the eternal heavenly promised land was near. God was about to rescue His New Covenant people and bring them to their new heavenly home.
REVELATION 14 AND THE 144,000
“I looked and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty four thousand.”
Twice in the Apocalypse, the 144,000, are mentioned. The significance of the 144,000 for the dating and application of the Revelation seems to be lost on all but a handful of commentators. This is somewhat strange however, for what is written about them definitely has dramatic implications for the dating and interpretation of the book.
The referent to 144,000 is symbolic of the righteous remnant. The number 12 multiplied by hundreds is symbolic of perfection. One thing that confuses a lot of people is the idea that “all Israel will be saved” was a promise that the totality of national Israel, or at least a majority, will one day be saved. This is misguided. The Biblical idea is that only the remnant, but all of the remnant, would be saved.
It seems to have escaped the notice of commentators that God had never, at any point of time in His dealings with Israel, saved a majority. There had always only been a righteous remnant. This is Paul’s point, partially, in Romans 9-11. The apostle draws on Yahweh’s past dealings with the remnant – as well as the prophecies of the salvation of the remnant in the last days – to make his point that, “At this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5). Paul’s “this present time” was his generation. (See Mark Adam Elliot, The Survivors of Israel, A Reconsideration of the Theology of Pre-Christian Judaism. (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2000. Elliott shows that in Jewish writings there was no belief that “all Israel” in a comprehensive sense was to be saved in the last days. It would only be the righteous remnant. Paul is consistent with this.).
What is so significant about this is that for Paul, the righteous remnant was being saved, as witnessed by his own conversion (See eschatology Study Series 11 Study on Romans 11 for an in-depth study on this). The last days salvation of the remnant was being fulfilled during his time. Furthermore, that last days work of Yahweh would not drag on for centuries and millennia, “For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth” (Rom. 9:28).
So here is what we are saying: Revelation 7 and 14 is concerned with the salvation of the righteous remnant of Israel (as well as a great multitude of Gentiles). The salvation of the remnant was foretold by the Old Testament prophets and would occur in the last days. According to Paul, that last days work of the salvation of the remnant was present in his day, and even in his person. Not only was the salvation of the righteous remnant present in his day and in his person, the consummation of that last days work would be consummated shortly, “He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness.” Thus, unless John was writing about the consummation of a different salvation of the remnant than Paul, we must confine John’s discussion to the first century.
Paul was concerned with the salvation of the righteous remnant of Israel. John was concerned with the salvation of the righteous remnant of Israel. Paul said that God’s work of bringing that salvation to consummation would be fulfilled shortly. John was told that the fulfillment of his vision was “at hand” and “must shortly come to pass.”
As we shall see below, Paul confined the salvation of “all Israel” i.e. all of the righteous remnant, to the time of the completion of his personal ministry. This means that unless Paul and John were writing of two totally different salvations of Israel, at two totally different times, at two different comings of the Lord, in two different last days, then the events of Revelation 7 and 14 must be confined to the first century generation. Paul’s discussion of the salvation of the remnant has a strong influence on our understanding of the dating of Revelation and its application to first century events, therefore.
If there is, as seems evident, a delineation between the 144,000 and the “great multitude” of Revelation 7:9, this raises a serious question: If the destruction of Jerusalem was in the past (if you believe in the late date writing of Revelation), implying that God had terminated His relationship with Israel, then why is the book of Revelation concerned about the fate of Israel, represented so unmistakably by the referent to the 12 tribes? The Apocalypse is concerned about the consummation of God’s promises to the people represented by the 144,000. But, again, if Israel’s history had been so dramatically terminated almost a quarter century beforehand, why is the book so focused on the future, yet imminent, salvation of Israel? (The fact that in Revelation 7 the great multitude (v. 9), along with the 144,000 (v. 4) are represented as observing the Feast of Tabernacles, is highly suggestive, again, of an early writing for the Apocalypse. This means that the typological significance of God’s feast days He gave to Israel was now reaching their fulfillment. When coupled with the New Testament insistence that those feast days were finding their fulfillment in Christ and the church, and were now on the verge of passing away (Colossians 2:14-22): this is strong evidence for an early date. The vision would not have the same power after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.)
Notice what is said of the 144,000 in Revelation 14:4, “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” We need to notice – the 144, 000 were the first fruits of those redeemed by Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. The text does not say that the 144,000 were the first fruit of the nations. The text emphasizes that the 144,000 were followers of the Lamb (Interesting irony, is it not? The Lamb is known as the animal that follows, but here, the Lamb is the one that leads.) These were Christians.
But, these are not just Christians, they are Christian “Jews.” They are out of the 12 tribes of Israel, and they are followers of the Messiah. Further, these are not just Jewish Christians, they are the first generation of Jewish Christians. As Stuart says, “The writer doubtless refers to the 144,000 as being among the earliest Christians.” (Moses Stuart, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, (Eugene, OR, Wipf and Stock, 2001)294.). Russell concurs, “They are the first fruits unto God and the Lamb; the first converts to the faith in Christ in the land of Judea” (Parousia, 470). Notice that they “were redeemed from among men, being first fruits (Greek: aparche) to God and to the Lamb.” The significance of the first fruits must not be missed, or dismissed, for it places the book of Revelation in an early context.
You and I are living 50 generations beyond the time of the first fruit of Christians. Furthermore, the longer time marches on, the farther removed we are from the generation of the first fruits redeemed from among men. The 144,000 were the first fruit of “Jewish” Christians. You and I live 50 generations removed from the generation of the 144,000. You cannot posit the 144,000 anywhere except the first century generation, the generation of
the first fruit.
James wrote early in the first century generation, and wrote, “To the twelve tribes scattered abroad” (Jam. 1:1). What did he have to say about the first fruit concept? Hear him, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of His mouth, that we might be a kind of first fruit (aparche) of His creatures” (Jam. 1:18). Likewise, the writer of Hebrews said, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven” (Heb. 12:22). Chilton is certainly correct to note, “The New Testament uses the term first fruits to describe the church of the Last Days, the ‘first generation’ Church” (Vengeance, 357).
There can be no doubt as to the meaning of “first fruits.” When Paul wrote to the saints in Rome, he gave greetings to Epaenetus, “who was the first (aparche) convert to Christ in the province of Asia” (Rom. 16:5 NIV). Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 16:15, the same apostle sent greetings to the household of Stephan as that was “the first (aparche) converts in Achaia.” Paul was referring to the very first converts.
John did not say that the 144,000 were the first fruit of some far distant time. He did not say that they were to be the first fruit of a different preaching of a different gospel message. The idea of the term “first fruit” has a temporal significance that cannot be mitigated. The 144,000 were simply the very first Christians, and this has profound implications for not only the dating of the Apocalypse, but for many of today’s eschatological paradigms.
John saw that the 144,000 were to come out of the Great Tribulation (7:14). If the 144,000 were the first Christians, and if they were to endure the Great Tribulation, then if follows undeniably, that the Great Tribulation was to occur in the first century generation. Of course, this is precisely what Jesus predicted in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:21-22). You cannot divorce the 144,000 from the Great Tribulation. No other generation can ever be “the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4), than that first century generation. Patently, the Great Tribulation was in the first century.
See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:
Related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 2 Rev. Chapters 5 thru 9”]
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 5 Rev. Chapters 14 thru 16”]