In the previous chapter, John was given an overview of the major events that will take place in the Last Days through the opening of the First Six Seals. Before revealing the opening of the Seventh Seal, John was shown the servants of God who will live through these events; namely, the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel and the Martyrs of the Great Tribulation. The fact that John was shown the 144,000 and the Martyrs of the Great Tribulation, before he was shown the opening of the Seventh Seal, tells us that the events of the 144,000 and the Martyrs of the Great Tribulation will take place within the events of the Seven Seals themselves.
The 144,000 From all the Tribes of Israel
When John looked, he saw the four angels who were given the power to harm the land and the sea before the 144,000 were sealed.
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. Rev. 7:1-4
In the above verses, the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel are described as a Remnant of faithful Israelites who will be set apart by a seal that will be placed on their foreheads. The sealing of the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel will not be dependent upon the 144,000 being able to recognize their tribal affiliation or prove their ancestry. Instead, the Seal of God will be placed by the angels and will not be visible to those on earth. In this way, the 144,000 will be set apart from the Inhabitants of the Earth before the angels are released to harm the land, the sea, and the trees.
From this account, the question often arises as to whether the 144,000 are a literal or symbolic representation of God’s people. In answer to this question, it can be said that in every instance in the Old and New Testament where the phrase Tribes of Israel is used, it always refers to the literal Twelve Tribes of Israel. (See: Matt. 19:28, Lk. 22:30, Acts 26:7, Jas. 1:1) No other group of people, including the church, is ever described as the Twelve Tribes of Israel. From this we can say that the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel will come from the literal descendants of Jacob (Israel).
The Plagues on the Land, the Sea, and the Trees
In the above passages, we read that after the 144,000 are sealed, the angels will be released to harm the land, the sea, and the trees. The purpose of the Plagues on the Land, the Sea, and the Trees will be to warn the Inhabitants of the Earth before the Prayer of the Martyrs for judgment and revenge is answered, as previously described in the events of the Fifth Seal.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. Rev. 6:9-11
In the above account we read how when the Martyrs in Heaven pray for judgment and revenge, they will be told that they must wait a little while longer until their brothers and sisters were killed just as they had been. This event will be followed by the sealing of the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel and the Plagues on the Land, the Sea, and the Trees. The purpose of the Plagues on the Land, the Sea, and the Trees will be to provide an opportunity for the Inhabitants of the Earth to repent before the prayer of the Martyrs in Heaven for judgment and revenge is answered. In this way, the Plagues on the Land, the Sea, and the Trees will be similar to the events that took place during the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. In that case, it was the children of Israel who cried out to God, and it was Moses and Aaron who struck the land with plagues as a warning to the people of Egypt. In the same way, when the Martyrs in Heaven cry out for judgment and revenge, God will send two prophets, known as the Two Witnesses, who will call down the Plagues on the Land, the Sea, and the Trees as a warning to the Inhabitants of the Earth. (We will read more about the Two Witnesses in a later chapter.)
The Martyrs of the Great Tribulation
When the Two Witnesses call down the Plagues on the Land, the Sea, and the Trees, the Inhabitants of the Earth will not repent and, instead, will respond by attacking God’s people in the events of the Great Tribulation. The martyrs of this event are described in the following passages, which tell us that the martyrs of the Great Tribulation will form a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”…Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Rev. 7:9-10, 12-14
As these passages describe, rather than repenting at the sight of the Plagues on the Land, the Sea, and the Trees, the Inhabitants of the Earth will respond to the warnings of the two prophets by killing God’s people in the events of the Great Tribulation. In the above verses, the word that is translated as tribulation is the Greek word thlipsis (SEC 2347)*, which means affliction. By itself, this word can refer to any suffering that Believers experience for their faith but, in these passages, the word tribulation is preceded by the word great to describe the period when the brothers and sisters will be killed in numbers so great that they cannot be counted. These are the same brothers and sisters who are mentioned in the prayer of the Martyrs in Heaven who were told that their blood would not be revenged until the full number of their brothers and sisters were killed just as they had been. When God’s people are killed in the Great Tribulation, this condition will have been met, and the Wrath of God will be poured out as we previously read in the events of the Sixth Seal.
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” Rev. 6:12-17
From the above account, we can construct the following list of events that will take place in the Last Days.
1.) During the Last Days, the world will experience wars, famines, and plagues, which will increase in frequency and destruction the closer we get to the end.
2.) In addition to wars, famines, and plagues, during the Last Days, God’s people will suffer increasing persecution and martyrdom. These martyrs will be gathered before the Throne of God where they will cry out for judgment and revenge as described in the events of the Fifth Seal.
3.) When the Martyrs in Heaven pray for judgment and revenge, they will be told that they must wait until the full number of their brothers and sisters were killed just as they had been.
4.) Following the prayer of the Martyrs in Heaven, the 144,000 will be sealed and two prophets will appear who will call down plagues as a warning to the Inhabitants of the Earth before the prayer of the Martyrs in Heaven for judgment and revenge is answered.
5.) Rather than repenting during the events of the Plagues on the Land, the Sea, and the Trees, the Inhabitants of the Earth will respond to God’s warning by hardening their hearts and attacking God’s people in the events of the Great Tribulation.
6.) When the full number of God’s servants are killed in the Great Tribulation, the condition given to the Martyrs in Heaven concerning their brothers and sisters who would be killed will have been fulfilled, and the Wrath of God will be poured out, as described in the events of the Sixth Seal.
Those will Live Through the Events of the Seven Seals
The above account gives us the three groups of people who will be present on earth during the events of the Seven Seals as follows 1.) The 144,000 From all the Tribes of Israel, 2.) The followers of Christ from every nation, including those who will be martyred in the Great Tribulation, and 3.) The Inhabitants of the Earth, which is a description of the unrepentant among mankind.
Order of Events of the Last Days
1. Wars, Rumors of Wars, Earthquakes, and Famines (Seals 1-4)
2. The Martyrs Pray for Judgment and Revenge (5th. Seal) – The 144,000 are sealed
The Plagues on the land, the sea, and the trees begin
3. The Great Tribulation – The full number of God’s people are killed
4. The Great Earthquake and Severe Hailstorm – The Battle of Armageddon (6th. Seal)
5. To be Announced (7th. Seal)
 From the description of the 144,000 from all the Tribes of Israel, it is often taught that the number 144,000 is a symbolic number that should not be taken literally. This is because 144,000 is a product of the number12, which is used repeatedly in the Scriptures in such cases as the 12 apostles, the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 24 elders etc. This has lead to the belief that the number 12 is a symbolic number representing government and that the number 144,000, which is a product of 12, is a symbolic number as well. This idea is countered by the fact that, although, the number 12 does have spiritual meaning in the Scriptures, in each of the above instances, the number 12 is also the literal number of people being described i.e., there are 12 literal apostles, 12 literal tribes of Israel, and 24 literal elders. From this, we can say that the number 144,000 does have spiritual significance in the Bible, but it is also the literal number of people who will be sealed. The use of a number that is both spiritual and literal, such as 144,000, can also be seen in the story of Gideon, whose army was reduced down to just 300 men (Judg. 7:4-7), and in the events of Elijah who, along with the 7,000 others, did not bow his knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). As in the case of the 144,00, the numbers 300 and 7,000 come from two of the most spiritually significant numbers in the Bible, 3 and 7 but are also the literal number of people being described. Accordingly, the numbers 300, 7000, and 144,000 each have spiritual meaning but they also describe the literal number of those who were set apart by God.
 The Greek word that is translated as tribulation is used 45 times in the New Testament where it is also translated as distress, troubles, or persecution, etc., to describe the general suffering of Believers. (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom. 5:3,12:12; 2 Cor. 1:4, 4:17; Eph. 3:13; Col. 1:24; 1Thes. 1:6)
*The numbers in ( )’s are from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (SEC)