Who Are the Seven Angels in Revelation 8:2?

After the seventh seal is opened, John sees “the seven angels who stand before God.” “Standing before” someone is an idiomatic expression for serving, so this could be translated as “served” the Lord. According to Jewish tradition the angels must be standing because they did not have knees. This is based on Ezekiel 1:7 (cherubim with straight legs).

Who these seven angels? Revelation 9 does not identify them. Are these the “the seven archangels who occupy a very particular role in the angelic hierarchy,” as David Aune suggests? (2:509). On the other hand, Beale finds it “tempting to identify them with the seven guardian angels of the seven churches” (Beale 454). John may have intended these seven angels standing before God to be the seven spirits which were before the throne of God in Revelation 1:4 and 4:5.

Other Second Temple Period literature refer to seven archangels, Michael and Gabriel being among them. For example, in Tobit 12:15, the angel Raphael says, “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One” (RSV).

The tradition of seven archangels is present in the apocryphal book of Tobit. In Testament of Levi 8 Levi sees seven men clothed in white who prepare him to be a priest.

In 1 Enoch 20, the Greek text has seven angels: Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Sariel, Gabriel, and Remeiel (missing in the Ethiopic text, see OTP 1:23–24).

  • Suruʾel, one of the holy angels—for (he is) of eternity and of trembling.
  • Raphael, one of the holy angels, for (he is) of the spirits of man.
  • Raguel, one of the holy angels who take vengeance for the world and for the luminaries.
  • Michael, one of the holy angels, for (he is) obedient in his benevolence over the people and the nations.
  • Saraqaʾel, one of the holy angels who are (set) over the spirits of mankind who sin in the spirit. 7
  • Gabriel, one of the holy angels who oversee the garden of Eden, and the serpents, and the cherubim.

3 Enoch 17 says “There are seven great, beautiful, wonderful, and honored princes who are in charge of the seven heavens. They are, Michael, Gabriel, Šatqiʾel, Šaḥaqiʾel, Baradiʾel, Baraqiʾel, and Sidriʾel.:

However, in Revelation 9 the angels are not named nor are them described as special in any way except they are given the honor of announcing the judgements by blowing on trumpets. There is another series of angels in Revelation 15-16 as the final seven bowl judgements are poured out on the earth.

The Seventh Seal – Silence in Heaven – Revelation 8:1

This seal has caused far more debate among commentators than any other. There are dozens of plausible (and not a few implausible) suggestions for what this short period of silence means. It is possible this is simply a rhetorical pause, the calm before the storm.

Some see it connected to the Jewish practice of silent prayer, which is connected to incense burning found in the same context as the silence. In the context of chapter 8 this is possible, since the angels are lighting incense in the temple of God. David Aune offers several rabbinic texts implying a ritual silence was practiced during the burning of the incense (m. Tamid 5:1-6 does not explicitly say that the incense was offered in silence; 2:508). This suggestion has some merit, since silence is associated with worship of God in the Old Testament (Psalm 46:10) and even among the Greeks (Thucydides, for example).

Thuc 6.32.1  The ships being now manned, and everything put on board with which they meant to sail, the trumpet commanded silence, and the prayers customary before putting out to sea were offered, not in each ship by itself, but by all together to the voice of a herald; and bowls of wine were mixed through all the armament, and libations made by the soldiers and their officers in gold and silver goblets.

Greg Beale observes silence is associated with Gods judgment. The nations are silenced when they fall under God’s judgment (Revelation, 446). In Isaiah 47:5 Babylon is told to “sit in silence,” in Ezekiel 27:32, Tyre is silenced. Zephaniah 1:17 the day of the Lord is an occasion for silence because it is like a sacrifice to the Lord.

Isaiah 47:5 “Sit in silence, go into darkness, Daughter of the Babylonians; no more will you be called queen of kingdoms.

Ezekiel 27:32 As they wail and mourn over you, they will take up a lament concerning you: “Who was ever silenced like Tyre, surrounded by the sea?”

Zephaniah 1:7 Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.

Both silence in judgment and silence as worship appear in the pseudepigrapha. In 1 Enoch 18:2, Enoch sees the fifth heaven where encounters the innumerable armies called Grigori” (the watchers) who had turned aside from the Lord. The gigantic beings are perpetually silent and “there was no liturgy in the fifth heaven.” In 4 Ezra 7:30, after the messiah dies “the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days.”

The Letter of Aristeas describes Temple worship as “well ordered silence” (92), “a general silence reigns, so that one might think that there was not a single man in the place although the number of ministers in attendance is more than seven hundred” (95).  The Testament of Adam begins with a list of the twelve hours, concluding with “the twelfth hour is the waiting for incense, and silence is imposed on all the ranks of fire and wind until all the priests burn incense to his divinity” (1.12). Notice the connection between silence (Rev 8:1) and incense (Rev 8:2-5).

I think it is best to see the seventh seal, trumpet, and bowl as parallel. Just prior to God’s intervention to defeat his enemies (the seventh bowl), there will be worship in heaven. First, this is silence, but it is followed by loud worship. Revelation 12:15 says when the seventh trumpet sounds, there were “loud voices in heaven” because the kingdom of God has come.

Why “about a half an hour?”  Once again, there are dozens of suggestions. It is a short and indefinite time, much like Daniel 4:16,19, Daniel was amazed and struck with silent awe for about an hour. Later in Revelation, several judgements all take place within an hour (18:10, 17, 19).

Who Are The 144,000 in Revelation 7?

The 144,000 are specially appointed witnesses during the great persecution at the end of the age. The witnesses are “sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (7:3; 14:1). In Revelation 15:4-5, these 144,000 witnesses have “not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins” and they “follow Lamb wherever he goes.” The 144,000 “have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits.” There are two passages which may help to

144000This text may allude to marking those who grieve over idolatry in Jerusalem in Ezekiel 9. In this apocalyptic vision, six men with swords enter Jerusalem to judge those who practice idolatry, and a seventh is appointed to mark those who have not practiced idolatry. The ones who have been marked by God will survive the slaughter of idolaters when Jerusalem falls. The ones who have been marked by God are the remnant of Israel which survives. In Revelation 14, the 144,000 are sealed by God in contrast to those who are sealed with the “mark of the Beast” a few verses before Rev 13:13-18).

It is also likely the description of the 144,000 is modeled on Matthew 10. Jesus sends out his specially trained twelve disciples two-by-two for the purpose of announcing the messiah to the nation of Israel. They are given authority to heal and cast our demons (10:1) and are specifically instructed to avoid Gentiles since they are sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (10:5-8). Anyone who welcomes these witnesses welcomes Jesus, and anyone who gives even a cup of water to one of the witnesses has welcomed Jesus (10:40-42). In Luke there are two sets of missionaries. First in Luke 9:1-9 Jesus sends out twelve, a passage parallel to Matthew 10. Second, in Luke 10 he sends seventy or seventy-two missionaries (72×2 = 144, although the number 72 is only found in textual variants, so if may or may not be significant). Much of Luke 10:1-24 is also parallel to Matthew 10.

If these are Jewish witnesses to the coming of the Messiah, then the difficult interpretive problem is how to understand “the tribes of Israel.”  If these are literally Jews (as opposed to Christians who are not ethnically Jewish), then there are a few problems: Many will argue that the twelve tribes did not exist in the first century, and they certainly do not today. Josephus, however, does refer to the 12 tribes in the first century (Ant 11.33), and the Jews did have a hope that in the kingdom the full tribal structure would be restored. A restoration of Israel to Palestine in our future may include some kind of tribal structure, or this passage may signal the beginnings of the revival of the twelve tribes. The millennial kingdom will include the twelve tribe ruling and judging the gentile nations.

The order of the tribes is also troublesome. They are re-arranged to place Judah at the top, likely because the Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah (Smith 215). The main problem is that Joseph is included and Dan is omitted. Richard Bauckham, “The List of the Tribes in Revelation 7 Again” JSNT 42 (1991) 99-115; 112, for example, solves the problem by noting that the “list as an attempt to list the tribes in an intelligible order which failed owing to faulty memory.” Joseph was not a tribe, recall from Genesis 49 that his two sons were adopted by Jacob and became tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh).

The list in Revelation 7 does not correspond to any of the lists in the Old Testament, see Genesis 35:22-26; Numbers 1:5-15 and 13:4-14, for example. (In Numbers 13 Joseph is mentioned parenthetically as being represented by Manasseh; Levi is rarely mentioned since it was not allotted land). Nor does the list conform to the birth order of the sons, either literally, or by wives (Leah, Bilah, Zilpah, Rachel). One suggestion is that 7:5c-6 is misplaced, if it is moved after verse 8, then the order is more correct, the sons of the wives in order followed by the wives of the concubines in order.

By way of some sort of conclusion on the list of the tribes in Revelation 7, we might have to let some of the mystery remain and confess we cannot know for sure why the tribes are ordered as they are, nor why Dan is missing. Sometimes it is best to remember Grant Osborne’s advice to apply the “hermeneutics of ignorance” when reading Revelation.

Bibliography: Richard Bauckham, “The List of the Tribes in Revelation 7 Again” JSNT 42 (1991) 99-115; Christopher Smith, “The Tribes of Revelation 7 and the Literary Competence of John the Seer” JETS 38 (1995) 213-18.

The Sixth Seal – Revelation 6:12-17

God Zapping WorldThe sixth seal contains apocalyptic imagery drawn from the whole canon of the prophets. In fact, the sixth seal seems to be a combination of all the stock imagery found in the Old Testament, Second Temple apocalyptic literature, even Greco-Roman imagery of disaster. This does not necessarily mean John used other apocalypses, however. Just as John drew on the Hebrew Bible for this apocalyptic imagery, so too did other Jewish apocalyptic literature.

The apocalyptic elements in the sixth deal (earthquakes, mountains melting, the sun and moon growing dark, etc.) are “stock apocalyptic images.” Just a few examples: Haggai 2:21-22 the Lord will “shake the heavens and the earth.” In Joel 2:10 the earth and sky trembles and the sun, moon and stars no longer shine. In Isaiah 24:18-23 the earth reels like a drunkard and splits apart. Amos 8:9 describes the day of the Lord as “a day of darkness and gloom.” These examples can be easily multiplied in the Hebrew Bible and are found throughout the apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple Period (2 Apoc. Bar. 27; 4 Ezra 4:52-5:13; 6:20-24). For example:

T. Mos. 10:5-6 The sun will not give light. And in darkness the horns of the moon will flee. Yea, they will be broken in pieces. It will be turned wholly into blood. Yea, even the circles of the stars will be thrown into disarray.

Sib. Or. 8.231–238 A lament will rise from all and gnashing of teeth. The light of the sun will be eclipsed and the troupes of stars. He will roll up heaven. The light of the moon will perish. He will elevate ravines, and destroy the heights of hills. No longer will mournful height appear among men. Mountains will be equal to plains, and all the sea will no longer bear voyage. For earth will then be parched with its springs. Bubbling rivers will fail.

Even the Romans considered these types of things to be signs of impending doom. David Aune cites Lactantius’s Epitome 71 (Revelation 2:414, compare to Tacitus, Hist. 1.3.3):

Lactantius Epitome 71 To these plagues will be added also miraculous signs [prodigia] from heaven, that everything may combine to increase human alarm. Comets will frequently be seen. The sun will be darkened with perpetual gloom; the moon will be dyed in blood, nor will it renew its lost light; all the stars will fall, nor will the seasons observe their proper course, for winter and summer will be confounded.

In Rev 6:17, all of the people of the earth who are afflicted by these plagues attempt to hide themselves in the rocks and caves because the “great day of God’s wrath” has come. The reaction is similar to several Old Testament passages, such as Isaiah 2:19-21. But even this reaction is found in other apocalypses. For example:

Sib. Or. 3.601–607 Therefore the Immortal will inflict on all mortals disaster and famine and woes and groans and war and pestilence and lamentable ills, because they were not willing to piously honor the immortal begetter of all men, but honored idols made by hand, revering them, which mortals themselves will cast away, hiding them in clefts of rocks.

What should we make of this parallel material? Is this “revelation or research”? Or, is this like the throne room scene in that John uses the sort of language for the “great and dreadful day of the Lord” that would be expected by Jewish readers (drawn from the Hebrew Bible) and even the Greco-Roman world (drawn from the prodigia)? More difficult, how literal are these stock apocalyptic images? Perhaps John’s point here is to simply describe the standard cosmic catastrophe in terms that everyone in the first century would understand. To say that God is going to judge the world and not use this sort of language would have made little sense to his original readers.

The whole point is to strike terror into the readers because the “great and dreadful day” has come. It is not really necessary to worry over what sorts of natural disasters John is witnessing in his vision, and it is especially not appropriate to declare some modern even “fulfills” this seal. John’s point is that Wrath of the Lamb of God is fearsome indeed!

The Fifth Seal: Martyrs in Heaven – Revelation 6:9-11

When the fifth seal is opened John sees all the souls of those had been slain for the word of God gathered under the altar of God calling out for vengeance.

Souls under the Altar

The altar (θυσιαστήριον) can refer to the altar in the court of the temple used for the daily sacrifices or the altar of incense inside the temple itself (Luke 1:11). But it can also refer to the sacrifice on the altar itself.

Who are these souls under the altar in Revelation 6? Are they just people killed in the tribulation or throughout the history of the church? Revelation refers to people killed for their testimony and their refusal to worship the beast (13:15) or refused his mark (20:4). The souls are under the altar because the resisted the kingdom of the beast. This could refer to all the martyrs for the whole history of the church (an idealist view) or just those who died in the tribulation (a futurist view). Beale suggests their location under the altar “emphasizes the divine protection that has held sway over their “soul” despite even their loss of physical life because of persecution” (Revelation, 392).

The people under the altar call out to God as “Sovereign Lord.” Lord is δεσπότης (despostes), a term that is normally used by a slave addressing their master, although it is used in the LXX 17 times for God. Aune points out it is a “regular Greek translation of two Latin terms for the Roman emperor” (Aune, Revelation 6–16, 407). This is a hint of the identity of the source of the persecution of God’s people in Revelation, the master who rules the world is not the real, “holy and true” master in heaven.

The people crying out are wearing white robes and are standing under the altar of God. To be under the altar is to be covered in the blood of the slain Lamb of God. In the seven letters, the ones who have overcome are given white robes (3:4-5; 18).

These souls ask God how long he will wait before avenging their deaths. The cry “how long?” appears in the Psalms and Zechariah 1:12. For example, Psalm 6:3, “my soul is greatly troubled, But you, O Lord, how long?” Psalm 13 begins with the words “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Psalm 74:10, “How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever?”

The Lord tells them to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers is complete. This answer can be taken several ways. First, it could refer to the total number of martyrs is reached. This implies God knows how many have been chosen to give their lives. Second, some would take this as a reference to when the last martyr dies, then Christ will return and destroy the kingdom of the Beast. The view of the early church was that God had established a “number” for the martyrs. A third possibility is this refers to the end of suffering on earth in general This may include martyrdom, but some will survive until the end to enter into the kingdom.

The souls call on God to avenge them. This is a common Old Testament theme: God is the avenger of the innocent. The souls under the altar are making a legal complaint to God for justice. Since God is the “just judge,” the martyrs can ask him to give them the justice they deserve by punishing the ones who put them to death.

Psalm 9:13 O Lord, see how my enemies persecute me! Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,

Fourth Ezra has a similar theme. In 4 Ezra 4:35-37 the souls of the righteous call out “how long” and look forward to the harvest when they would be rewarded. Like Revelation 6:10, they are told they must wait until “the number of those like yourselves is completed.”

4 Ezra 4:35–37 Did not the souls of the righteous in their chambers ask about these matters, saying, ‘How long are we to remain here? And when will the harvest of our reward come?’ 36 And the archangel Jeremiel answered and said, ‘When the number of those like yourselves is completed; for he has weighed the age in the balance, 37 and measured the times by measure, and numbered the times by number; and he will not move or arouse them until that measure is fulfilled.’ ”

In 1 Enoch 9:10 the ones who have died of blood and oppression bring a lawsuit to the gate of heaven, described as groaning under in the face of their oppression.

1 Enoch 9:10 And now behold, the Holy One will cry, and those who have died will bring their suit up to the gate of heaven. Their groaning has ascended (into heaven), but they could not get out from before the face of the oppression that is being wrought on earth

The fifth seal therefore vividly pictures those who have given their lives resisting the empire and holding on to their testimony for the Lord waiting on the Lord to avenge their deaths. The Lord’s words are comforting, they only need to wait a little while. The Lord will judge rightly between the oppressor and the oppressed and he will punish and reward with justice.

A Rider on a Pale Horse – Revelation 6:7-8

If the natural result of war was famine, the natural result of famine is plague. The fourth horse is a sickly pale color, the color of death. The Greek χλωρός (chloros) is pale greenish gray (BDAG). Although the world is sometimes used for green grass or the flow of water, in medical texts the color is used in contrast to a healthy body, a “sallow” complexion (BrillDAG) or “typical of a corpse” (LN 79.35).

This is the only one of the four horsemen who is given a name: Death, and Hades following behind. Death is personified in Isaiah 25:8, for example. Hosea 13:14 refers to death and the grave as malevolent powers. In the Testament of Abraham16-20 personified Death comes to Abraham in the guise of youth and beauty.

Hades is the god of the underworld, the place of the dead. In the Septuagint, the word Hades is used to translate sheol, a Hebrew word meaning pit which is used for the place of the dead (Psalm 6:5, for example).

The four ways that Death is allowed to kill is drawn from Jeremiah and Ezekiel; this is a standard list of disasters which occurred when Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C. A similar list appears in 4Q171, and David Aune suggests Psalms of Solomon13:2-3, “The arm of the Lord saved us from the sword that passes through, from hunger and the death of sinners. Wicked beasts ran at them.” Dio Cassius describes the Second Jewish revolt in A. D. 135 using similar language (Aune 2:402).

Jeremiah 14:12 Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.”

Ezekiel 14:21 “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: How much worse will it be when I send against Jerusalem my four dreadful judgments—sword and famine and wild beasts and plague—to kill its men and their animals!

4Q171 Col. i (frag. 1 line 26-27) Its [interpretation] concerns the Man of Lies who misdirected many with deceptive words, for they have chosen worthless things and did not lis[ten] to the Interpreter of Knowledge. This is why Col. II (frags. 1 II + 2 + 4Q183 3) they will die by the sword, by hunger and by plague.

Dio Cassius 69.1-2: Five hundred and eighty thousand men were slain in the various raids and battles [i.e., the sword], and the number of those that perished by famine, disease and fire was past finding out. Thus nearly the whole of Judaea was made desolate, a result of which the people had had forewarning before the war. For the tomb of Solomon, which the Jews regard as an object of veneration, fell to pieces of itself and collapsed, and many wolves and hyenas rushed howling into their cities.

Greg Beale suggests the four ways Death is given to kill humans is based on “the covenantal curse formulas of Lev. 26:18–28 and Deut. 32:24–26” (Revelation 383). He does not think there is a logical sequence from the first rider who is bent on conquest to the second (war), third (famine) and the fourth (pestilence). Although recognizing the curses do affect nations, they have “the dual purpose within the covenant community of purifying the faithful and punishing those disloyal to Christ” (384). For Beale, those slain by the plagues are “Christians as ‘slain’ and ‘killed’ (ἀποκτέννεσθαι) ‘because of the testimony that they held’” (386). This view does provide a neat segue into the fifth seal, the martyrs under the altar of God.

However, it seems best to see a general sequence of tribulation and persecution in the four horsemen, not unlike Jesus’s own words in the Olivet Discourse. In Matthew 24 Jesus describes a progression from international strife (wars and rumors of wars) to famine, earthquakes, persecution, and general apocalyptic events (eclipses of the sun and moon, falling stars, shaking of the “powers of heaven”). Revelation 6 follows this same pattern.

A Rider on a Black Horse – Revelation 6:5-6

When the Lamb opens the third seal, a rider on a black horse appears. The meaning of the black horse is famine. The natural result of war is famine, and the third horse is black horse, clearly intended to represent famine.

Scales Revelation Famine was well-known in the Roman Empire in the late first century. In A. D. 90 there was such a glut of wine and lack of grain that Domitian issued an edict forbidding new vineyards and commanding the destruction of half of the present vineyards so the land could be converted to grain production (Aune 2:398-99; Seutonius, Domitian 7.2). Asia Minor protested this edict and it was eventually reverse in A.D. 93.  It is possible John has this edict in mind with the time “do not damage the wine” (Aune does not think it is in the immediate background).

The rider is given set of scales used to measure grain and a voice declares a quart of wheat will cost one denarius. The English “quart” translates χοῖνιξ (chonix), a day’s ration for one person (BDAG). One denarius is about what an average working person could expect to earn for a day’s work. This means someone needs to work a whole day to earn enough to buy food for themselves for that day. If a man is supporting a family, his day’s labor will not feed his wife and children. Normally a denarius would buy as much as eight times the food. (Charles, 1:167; Aune 2:397).

A Roman soldier was issued thirty-two measures of wheat a month. According to Polybius, the standard ration was one “measure” for a man, and three for his horse (6.39.13). Barley is usually the grain given to animals, to feed one’s family with barley would be an indication of poverty.

Famine was an expected hardship in the ancient world. In 2 Kings 7:1 Elisha predicts merchants at the gates of Samaria will sell food at inflated prices: “a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel.” Although the weight/price is different, the idea is the same. Because of war, Samaria experienced famine and inflated food prices.

Famine is also common in apocalyptic literature. In the second Sibylline Oracle, the writer predicts famine, pestilence and thunderbolts in the final generation.

Sib. Or. 2.20–24 Then there will be bloody precipitation from heaven, but the entire world of innumerable men will kill each other in madness. In the tumult God will impose famines and pestilence and thunderbolts on men who adjudicate without justice.

Later in the same oracle, famine is one of the signs of the end:

Sib. Or. 2.154–157 But whenever this sign appears throughout the world, children born with gray temples from birth, afflictions of men, famines, pestilence, and wars, change of times, lamentations, many tears.

In the third Sibylline Oracle “a sign to mortals of sword, famine, and death” (Sib.Or. 3.335) combines several of the images found in the four horsemen of Revelation 6. See also 3.317; 3.476).  in fact, famine is mentioned often in the Oracles as a sign of God’s punishment. So too 4 Ezra 15:5, the Lord says ““I bring evils upon the world, the sword and famine and death and destruction.” In 4 Ezra 16:21, “the calamities shall spring up on the earth—the sword, famine, and great confusion.”  In 2 Baruch 27.6 famine and drought are included as the appointed calamities before the coming of the messiah (cf., 2 Baruch 62:4).  The Apocalypse of Abraham 30.5 lists pestilence and famine among the “plagues on the heathens.”

The irony of this famine is that the luxury items, the “oil and wine” are not in short supply.  These things are plentiful, but the people cannot afford them since them must spend all their money on the day’s bread.

Greg Beale suggests the inflated prices for food has Christians specifically in mind (Revelation, 381). He argued the second horse was not war in general but rather persecution of Christians. So too the third horse refers to the economic difficulties faced by Christians suggested by Revelation 2:9. In addition, those who do not receive the mark of the beast will not be permitted to buy and sell, forcing them the pay inflated prices outside of the price-contrlled agora.

While it is clear the book of Revelation describes the economic effect of loyalty to Jesus (they cannot buy or sell, they hunger and thirst), to limit this famine to Christians does not do justice to the scope of the first four seals. The first rider is bent on conquest, which results in war; continual wars result in famine. Food shortages in the Roman world were not limited to Christians.